Charest and Poilievre, a contrasting study in the election campaign

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It is a contrasting study to say the least. Starting the day at a downtown Toronto hotel with coffee with Jean Charest and ending it at a Pierre Poilievre gathering in a rowdy bar. The settings and the atmosphere could not be more different, the energy of the two campaigns is a thousand miles away and yet the two men are convinced that they will be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

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Charest arrives shortly after 9 a.m. after having already done several interviews. He is smiling, engaging and seeks to discuss his love of Canada and his reasons for participating in this race. We swap stories of places we’ve both visited across the country before diving into a discussion of politics and what a government under his leadership would seek to accomplish.

Before we get too into the discussion, the waiter stops to speak with Charest in French and thanks him for his work in politics. It’s unlike the roaring crowds Poilievre has drawn, but the kind of low-key support Charest relies on to win the race.

We discuss his perspective on why the Trudeau Liberals are getting it wrong on health care, trying to dictate to the provinces, and why his experience as prime minister would help the country heal separatist sentiments and move on. forward. All the while, Charest maintains that he is racing to win and that he can beat Poilievre and his many crowds.

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“It’s about selling memberships, as you know,” he says before detailing where he goes, the in-person and virtual meetings he hosts.

As he gets up to leave, a couple from Regina, Dick and Melinda Carter, stop him to express their support. After a brief exchange, Charest left for the next media appearance, and I ask the Carters why they support him.

“He’s going to make the tent bigger,” said Dick, a longtime political operative in Saskatchewan provincial politics.

“It’s good he’s in the race,” Melinda said, adding that not everyone in Western Canada is supporting Poilievre.

In the middle of the afternoon, in another hotel in downtown Toronto, Poilievre holds a press conference on the cost of housing. He lays out his plan to take down the “gatekeepers” he says are driving up house prices in Canada’s largest city.

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“A Poilievre government will link the growth in infrastructure spending for a given major city to the number of housing units that will actually be built,” he said.

In the evening, at a Toronto bar a short walk from where the Leafs face the Flyers, Poilievre holds his own crowd captive not with athletic seats, but with the promise of a brighter and better future. He makes jokes about Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in general and receives enthusiastic applause with promises to cut CBC funding and sell their headquarters a few blocks away to pay for affordable housing.

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“We need to stop printing money and start building houses,” Poilievre said.

He talks about fighting inflation so that people can afford to live again, by making sure that people who build houses can afford to buy them. He promises to mandate the Bank of Canada to fight inflation and control government spending so that ordinary Canadians have more to spend.

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However, he is mostly about freedom, a word liberals now use with contempt but Poilievre embraces while even quoting a liberal prime minister from more than a century ago.

“Canada is free and freedom is its nationality,” said Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

As he prepares to leave the stage, no couple in Regina are waiting to say they have their support. Instead, there’s one of the biggest contrasts, a long line of people waiting for a quick shot with the man of the hour, Poilievre.

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