It’s Pierre Poilievre’s Canada now. That’s what the pundits say. That’s what the numbers say. It’s a brave, perhaps deluded, outlier who will take odds on the Liberal government remaining in power after the next election. Between February 15 and 21, Abacus Data found 41 percent of surveyed Canadians intended to vote Conservative, well ahead of the Liberals, who sit at 24 percent. Over at 338 Canada, a March projection based on a weighted average of polls had the Tories at 211 seats, compared to 63 for the Liberals. All that shakes out to a greater than 99 percent chance Poilievre wins a—possibly massive—majority government in 2025.

The Liberals, in their heart of hearts, must realize how bad things are—not that you’ll get any of them to admit as much. In December, Zita Astravas, long-time Liberal adviser, responded to talk of Justin Trudeau stepping down by claiming, “He performs best when there’s a challenge ahead of him.” There is indeed a challenge ahead. The “hope and hard work” spell that captured voters in 2015 has fizzled. People are strapped for cash, struggling, angry. The national average home price is now nearly $660,000; the average asking rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,000 a month. Households have racked up a record amount of debt. Consumers are missing credit card payments. More than 6.5 million Canadians can’t find a family doctor. Interest rates remain high.

Few across the country, especially in critical provinces and regions, now believe the middle-class dream that Trudeau and company sold for the better part of ten years. The Liberals face strong headwinds in Quebec, which is essential to their chances at holding on to power: Abacus found the Conservatives just six points behind the Liberals with committed voters. In Atlantic Canada, the blue side is up a staggering seventeen points—to 50 percent—over the Liberals. Ontario is as critical for the Conservatives as Quebec is for the Liberals, and there Poilievre’s team sits at 41 percent, compared to 24 percent for the Liberals.

We’ve seen this before. Voters have a long history of launching politicians to extraordinary heights, only to drag them back down and leave them lower than low. In 1958, the Progressive Conservatives led by John Diefenbaker won 208 of 265 seats in the House of Commons—78 percent of the legislature—leaving the Liberals with just 48. By 1963, Diefenbaker was out of power and down to 95 seats. In 1984, the late Brian Mulroney won 211 seats, compared to 40 for the Liberals, giving him one of the highest seat counts in Canadian history. Perhaps more remarkable was the fact that after the 1993 election, the PCs—led by Kim Campbell, with Mulroney now retired—were down to two seats and reduced to the fifth, and weakest, position in the legislature.

Historical patterns aside, the sheer unlikelihood of what Trudeau is attempting can’t be overstated. Not since Wilfrid Laurier did it in 1908 has a prime minister won a fourth election in a row. The Liberals may be hoping that, despite the polls, recent past will be precedent for them once more. Trudeau appeared to be in trouble in both the 2019 and 2021 elections but managed to hold on to government despite winning fewer votes than the Conservatives in each outing. Popular support and raw votes don’t decide governments in parliamentary and electoral systems. Seat count does. This time, however, the itch for change is overwhelming.

In a post on X, David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, shared that a mere 12 percent are saying the Liberals “should definitely be re-elected,” compared to 59 percent who think it’s “definitely time for a change in government in Canada.” As Coletto notes, during a campaign, it’s hard to change a voter’s mind when they firmly believe the government should go. “In fact, for the last 3 campaigns, the desire for change number goes up, not down over the life of a campaign,” he posted on X.

In this, Poilievre is the beneficiary of timing. The Liberal government is approaching a decade in power, which is an eternity, even for a party used to long stints in Parliament. As a government ages, voters tire of the status quo and beg for something, anything, different. Also, scandals accumulate. Many Canadians will remember the SNC-Lavalin affair and the Aga Khan trip. They’ll remember the We Charity kerfuffle. They won’t forget the more recent Winnipeg lab breach and ArriveCan procurement fiasco. Conservatives will be certain to bring up $6,000-a-night hotel rooms and blackface photos. Even if voters can’t cite details, they feel the worm has turned. Over time, the electorate stops giving a government the benefit of the doubt. For years after winning the 2015 election, Trudeau and his team seemed untouchable. Teflon coated. Not so much anymore, particularly as Poilievre will relentlessly remind Canadians of every screw-up until the gist—Liberals are too corrupt to keep around—sticks.

Timing isn’t the only significant factor in why Conservatives are dominating the political scene. They are also seizing their moment. Since Poilievre won the party leadership, his team has focused on jobs, affordability, and quality-of-life issues—concerns that routinely appear at the top of the list of what matters to Canadians. It’s true that, from time to time, backed by his base, Poilievre veers into cynical and dangerous culture-war territory, attacking trans people and railing against woke politics. But if his core messaging is any indication, the Conservative brain trust believes the next election will be won on economic issues. “Axe the tax” has become a cherished rallying cry when Poilievre attacks carbon pricing, as has the refrain that Trudeau isn’t “worth the cost.” The slogans are resonating.

The approach echoes that of his predecessors, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole. But Poilievre runs a savvier, and more ruthless, operation. He strikes without discretion or attention to nuance—bulldog politics that reaps dividends as exasperation with Trudeau grows. Complexities of governance aside—namely, that the federal government must contend with global markets, other countries, provinces, municipalities—Poilievre intends to convince voters that Trudeau and the Liberals are to blame for each and every problem they face. Housing is expensive? Trudeau’s fault. Can’t find a family doctor? Trudeau’s fault. Russia’s war in Ukraine driving up food prices? That’s on Trudeau. Your partner left you? Trudeau again.

What Poilievre is instead offering Canadians is a “common sense” plan that “cuts waste and caps spending to bring down inflationary deficits and interest rates.” It’s never made clear what that plan actually is—Poilievre and his crew might not know either—but similar common-sense appeals have been used successfully by the right before. Diefenbaker’s economic populism in the 1950s and ’60s brought a long Liberal reign to an end. The playbook was also used notably by Ontario premier Mike Harris in the ’90s and, later, by both Rob and Doug Ford. With compelling cadence but awkward syntax, Poilievre aims his words at working-class voters as he visits big factories and small businesses and holds rallies where he promises to “bring home” just about everything you could imagine: jobs, “powerful” paycheques, resource dollars, housing, and lower crime. His message of better times is packaged in an accessible narrative about freeing Canadians from bureaucratic barriers. His pledge of delivering big results for everyday folks echoes—or rather amplifies—their feelings of frustration as they struggle to pay for groceries, fill up on gas, make rent, buy a home.

Whatever it is, it’s working. Conservatives are outpolling, out-fundraising, and out-campaigning their opponents. That Poilievre’s fixes may not live up to his promises are complications for the future. Just as Diefenbaker and Mulroney fell, just as Trudeau is set to fall, thus may go Poilievre. But for now, the goal is to win. And Poilievre is set to do just that.

David Moscrop
David Moscrop is a political theorist, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, and the author of Too Dumb for Democracy?