By Stephanie LevitzOttawa Bureau
Sat., Feb. 5, 2022timer3 min. read
updateArticle was updated 9 hrs ago
OTTAWA — Pierre Poilievre launched his campaign Saturday for leadership of the federal Conservatives, promising to give Canadians control back over their lives if he becomes prime minister.
Poilievre, 42, is a star among the party’s grassroots for his energy and enthusiasm for conservative ideas and ideology.
His entry makes him the immediate front-runner in a contest whose rules have yet to even be set, as the post only became vacant last Wednesday when MPs ousted Erin O’Toole.
In a video announcing his run posted to social media Saturday night, Poilievre led off with the theme that has upped his celebrity status among conservatives in recent months: the rising cost of living under a Liberal government.
COVID-19 has been used as a political opportunity by the Liberals to attack small businesses, truckers and other Canadians, said Poilievre, wearing a dark suit and seated in front of a bookshelf.
“Trudeau thinks he’s your boss. He’s got it backward,” he says in the video.
“You’re the boss. That’s why I’m running for prime minister.”
Poilievre was first elected in 2004 in his Ottawa-area riding, though has been involved in politics since he was a teenager.
With roots in both Ontario and Alberta, the fact he’s fluently bilingual, and his rock-star status in the party, he drew immediate endorsements from across the conservative world late Saturday.
“My friend Pierre Poilievre has the brains and the backbone and will make a great prime minister,” wrote former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird.
“I am beyond thrilled to endorse him!”
The party has yet to determine any of the rules for the leadership contest, as well as when the vote will take place.
Poilievre had considered a run for leadership in the last race, but bowed out at the eleventh hour, citing the need to focus on his family.
At the time, he and his wife Ana had a young daughter, and last fall welcomed a second child.
Observers have long believed, however, that he’s been preparing to run ever since.
“Pierre Poilievre started his leadership campaign when the rest of his party was fighting a general election campaign last year,” longtime Liberal party spokesman Braeden Caley wrote on Twitter Saturday night.
“Tonight he just made his latest video for it, that’s all.”
While he’s known for taking the fight to the Liberals, the first step is to win over the party itself.
There are many factions Poilievre will have to knit together, with a new split emerging over the ongoing protests paralyzing Parliament Hill.
Many Conservative MPs were initially on side with what led to the protests — a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.
Though they condemned the Nazi flags and other racist imagery popping up during the original event last weekend, MPs — including Poilievre — took time to meet and talk to the protesters. He called them “bright, joyful & peaceful Canadians championing freedom over fear on Parliament Hill.”
But as the protesters have dug in and begun forcing businesses to close and local residents to fear for their safety, the mood among some MPs is shifting.
“What I am seeing with my own eyes on the streets of Ottawa from an increasing amount of bad faith actors is not a legitimate protest: it is two-bit hooliganism hiding behind a facade of veiled legitimacy,” said one MP, Shelby Kramp-Neuman late Saturday.
In his campaign video, however, Poilievre also picked up on the protesters’ call for freedom from government interference.
If elected, Canadians will be the freest people on earth, he said.
“Freedom from the invisible thief of inflation, freedom to raise your kids with your values, freedom to make your own health and vaccine choices, freedom to speak without fear and freedom to worship God in your own way,” he said.
“In a free country, smaller country makes room for bigger citizens.”
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