As Prime Minister…
In his second year as an international relations student at the University of Calgary, he was a finalist in the 1999 “As Prime Minister, I Would …” essay contest. “The most important guardian of our living standards is freedom,” he wrote. “As Prime Minister, I would relinquish to citizens as much of my social, political, and economic control as possible, leaving people to cultivate their own personal prosperity and to govern their own affairs as directly as possible.” The finalists’ essays were published in a book that features a photo of Poilievre and his pet corgi, Champ.
In the same essay, Poilievre articulated a principle he would later abandon. “Politics should not be a lifelong career,” he wrote. “Therefore, I would institute a limit of two terms for members of Parliament.” Poilievre is now in his seventh term in office. He qualified for his full pension at age 31.
While he was president of the University of Calgary’s conservative club, Poilievre called Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark a failed leader with “a record of attacking young people who are interested in new ideas,” for his rejection of the Unite the Right movement. His position threw him into conflict with the national Tory youth president — a certain Patrick Brown, his future leadership rival. Poilievre left university without graduating, and returned to finish his degree in 2008.
He was a key player in the campaign to draft former Alberta Cabinet minister Stockwell Day to seek the leadership of the nascent Canadian Alliance, successor to the Reform Party. He launched a website for Day in 2000, long before an online presence was a given, and said the 50-year-old had a “youthful appeal” in contrast to “Jurassic Clark and Ancient Chrétien.”
In 2002, when Chrétien announced he would resign after more than a decade as prime minister, Poilievre and future far-right Rebel News co-founder Ezra Levant wrote an op-ed. “The logjam of Canadian politics has broken, and with it comes a rare opportunity for a political coalition on the right,” they declared. Stephen Harper had just succeeded Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance, and would unite the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives to form the Conservative Party of Canada the following year.
To the capital
After following Day to Ottawa to work as his assistant, Poilievre won his first election for the Conservatives in 2004, in the suburban-rural riding of Nepean-Carleton, where he unseated a Liberal Cabinet minister. “I told [my parents] that I expected to lose because I didn’t want them to be disappointed if I did,” he later told the Ottawa Citizen. He had just turned 25 and would be the youngest MP in the House of Commons, where the Harper-led Conservatives would form the official opposition to Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government. “A bunch of the ladies on the campaign actually bought me some clothes because they thought I was very badly dressed,” he recalled. At the time, Poilievre was dating political operative Jenni Byrne, now a senior adviser on his leadership campaign. He told the Ottawa Citizen’s editorial board she was “very nice.”
On the eve of his first session in the House of Commons, Poilievre expressed confidence. “I feel completely prepared for this job — I don’t feel lacking in any area,” he told the National Post. He launched a website shortly after his election, called www.fightingforyou.ca, where he boasted he’d been named “one of Ottawa Life Magazine’s Top 50 People of 2005.” When he rose in the Commons for the first time, it was to accuse Martin of “a smorgasbord of patronage that is so impressive it would make even his predecessor blush.” He would soon be nicknamed “Skippy” by John Baird, a Conservative Cabinet minister at the time.
On Jan. 23, 2006, he was reelected as Harper won his first minority Conservative government. “Do you want someone who will fight for you,” he said on the campaign, “or do you want a Liberal lapdog who will take orders from the party boss?” A few months later, Poilievre was caught saying “fuck you guys” to fellow MPs in a committee meeting and giving a “bras d’honneur” salute in the House of Commons, for which he apologized.
In a 2006 op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, he claimed there are two Ottawas: “The one made up of the hoity-toity chattering class of special interest groups and lobbyists” that has “a disproportionately loud voice in the media” and the “real Ottawa” made of “real people” he claimed to represent. At the time, he was working to pass the Federal Accountability Act that would ban corporate political donations and protect government whistleblowers.
He voted for a Conservative motion in December 2006 to repeal Canada’s same-sex marriage law. The motion was defeated, 175-123, and Poilievre has recently said he considers same-sex marriage “a success.” In 2012, he would vote for a motion to study whether a fetus is a human being before birth. That motion was also defeated, 203-91, and Poilievre now says he is “pro-choice.”
In June 2008, hours before Harper was to deliver an apology for Canada’s residential schools, Poilievre went on local radio and questioned the accompanying compensation package for Indigenous survivors. “Are we really getting value for all of this money?” he asked. “My view is that we need to engender the values of hard work and independence and self-reliance.” He apologized the next day.
Taking on institutions
During the Conservatives’ “in-and-out” election spending scandal in 2008, Poilievre cast doubt on the impartiality of Elections Canada, saying it had “unleashed the dogs of war over a very minor disagreement.” He would later dismiss the affair as an “accounting dispute.” It wasn’t the last time he would take aim at the nonpartisan agency — in 2014, he would accuse the chief electoral officer of wanting “more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.”
A very nice guy
On Oct. 14, 2008, Poilievre was elected to a third term in Parliament, at age 29, receiving the second-highest vote total of any candidate. In his victory speech, he paraphrased former Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker: “I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak out.” Shortly after the election, he was named Harper’s parliamentary secretary. “Oh c’mon, I’m a very nice guy,” he told reporters when asked about his partisan tone. He would soon be known as Harper’s attack dog.
Mortise and tenon
The Ottawa Citizen once wrote about “understated and masculine” renovations he’d made to his Barrhaven home. “I don’t know anything about renovating or redecorating, but I had a vision of what I wanted and a modest budget,” Poilievre said.
Eye of the tiger
He won his fourth election May 2, 2011, with more than half his riding’s votes, as the Conservative Party swept to its first — and only — majority government. He made his way to the stage to the theme music from “Rocky,” and said he was “very humbled.”
Cross and fit
He adopted an intense circuit training program under the guidance of Ottawa fitness guru Tony Greco — though as he once told CTV News, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” He also told the Ottawa Citizen he played online chess to take his mind “entirely out of the real world.”
That costume has not aged well
He dressed up as Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, to open a constituency office in Ottawa. Macdonald’s greatest achievement was “stitching together a nation comprised of different ethnicities, religions, cultures, backgrounds, into a peaceful, harmonious and, most importantly, free nation,” he once said. Macdonald has lately become a controversial figure for his role in establishing residential schools.
Where are those bootstraps?
During the 2012 European debt crisis, when Harper refused to contribute funds to a bailout plan, Poilievre had this to say: “The profligacy of one nation becomes the hardship of another through international bailout. Everybody takes, nobody makes, work does not pay, indulgence does not cost, money is free and money is worthless.”
Poilievre finally joined Harper’s Cabinet in 2013 as minister of state for democratic reform, a challenging file as the Conservative government was trying to transform the Senate into an elected body with term limits, following an expense scandal involving several Conservative senators. “The Senate must either be reformed or, like its provincial counterparts, it must be abolished,” Poilievre said. Harper would abandon Senate reform in 2014, after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it would require a constitutional amendment supported by most or all provinces.
Those pesky elites
In 2014, Poilievre introduced the contentious Fair Elections Act, which eliminated the ability for voters without ID to have someone vouch for their identity. The provision was widely criticized for potentially disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of people, but Poilievre dismissed the concerns as emanating from the Ottawa elite. He pointed to “the massive gulf between those in the political bubble and everyday Canadians on the ground.” The bill passed, but many of its provisions were later repealed by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
He once told the Ottawa Citizen he was “on an extra high level of alert” for months after the 2014 shooting on Parliament Hill, when he and the rest of the Conservative caucus were barricaded in a committee room with the shooter on the other side of the door. “I had a lot of dreams,” he said. “I had this need to constantly close my window drapes. I don’t think the drapes would stop a bad guy, but it was something I had to do.”
Lesser of two evils
He took over one of the government’s largest departments in February 2015 when Harper named him employment and social development minister. In his new role, he was responsible for the expansion of a universal child care benefit, somewhat at odds with his small-government philosophy. He told The Globe and Mail the policy was at least better than a full-fledged government day care program: “Everything has to be compared to its alternative.”
On Oct. 19, 2015, Poilievre was relegated to the opposition benches when the Liberals, led by Trudeau, swept to a majority government. “I’m going to let them get a start,” he said when asked for his thoughts. “I don’t want to criticize them for things they haven’t done.”
His forbearance didn’t last long
In April 2016, in his new role as Treasury Board critic, Poilievre penned an op-ed in the National Post slamming the Liberals for, among other things, considering a bailout for Canadian manufacturing giant Bombardier: “The Liberal politician is the ultimate economic busybody — always turning up uninvited, always trying to be the centre of attention, always in the way and always causing more problems than he solves.”
In a surprise move in August 2017, newly minted Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer named him finance critic. Poilievre quickly became a thorn in the side of then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau. He once described Morneau, formerly executive chairman of Canada’s largest HR firm, founded by his father, as the “very definition of the privileged few, the old-money elite who have taken generational wealth handed down from those who came before.” He called Trudeau and Morneau “trust-fund twins.”
That winter in Portugal, he married Anaida Galindo, a former Senate staffer, and announced the birth of their daughter, Valentina Alejandra Poilievre Galindo, in October 2018: “beautiful angel & new daughter of a brave mother and overjoyed father,” he said on Twitter.
When will the budget balance itself?
He hounded the Liberals continually for failing to balance the books. “Eventually, Justin Trudeau will run out of other people’s money,” he said at one point.
A way with words
In 2019, Poilievre filibustered for four days straight in the House of Commons in protest of what he called the Liberals’ “cover-up” of a scandal involving attempted political interference in a criminal case against Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin.
Under Scheer, the Conservatives lost the 2019 election, though they reduced Trudeau’s Liberals to a minority. Poilievre campaigned hard, often sprinting from one home to the next while out door-knocking. He won a sixth term despite Trudeau visiting his riding multiple times. “There’s no one in Canada that Justin Trudeau would rather see out of the House of Commons than me,” he told the Canadian Press.