Brian Mulroney had some words of fatherly advice for Pierre Poilievre last month: “You have got to go fish where the fish are.” The idea being that, having built a far-right populist base and used it to win the Conservative Party leadership, Poilievre should shift his rhetoric to a more electable centre-right variety.
We might be quick to dismiss this as doomed counsel, since the opposition leader seems to have securely welded himself to a host of fringy ideas like using bitcoin to avoid inflation and pretty much anything to do with the “Freedom Convoy.” But we would do so at our peril.
After all, Donald Trump’s “MAGA” movement may be financed by capital, but its foot soldiers are working-class people who have been won over by his direct appeal to the difficulties they have endured for years. Working people in Ontario have seen firsthand what can happen when right populists set their sights on labour, with Doug Ford winning union endorsements and photo ops with labour leaders at the same time that he attacks labour gains and rights.
Mulroney and his distressingly large fan base among the mainstream media may croon that Poilievre will jettison the most right-wing elements of his platform and support base as he respectably moves to the political centre, but the real outcome is likely to be the exact opposite. Rather than tempering far-right discourse and movements, his leadership is a conduit for them to further penetrate the mainstream. It won’t be Poilievre who shifts – it will be the political goalposts which are drawn further right.
So, how do we confront this?
The problems that right populists speak to are, more often than not, real difficulties that working people struggle with every day – high living costs, low spending power, job insecurity, affordable housing. They arise from capitalism, so capitalist politicians can hardly claim to have the solution. But if workers aren’t getting a clear anti-capitalist analysis from the labour movement, then they are left wide open to the distortions of the right.
The sharpening contradictions of capitalism and the deepening crisis have placed labour in a very difficult position. But it is critical that the response to these conditions be rooted in a critique of capitalism and an orientation toward escalating class struggle. To do otherwise – to not tackle Poilievre and what he represents head-on – is to politically abandon the working class.
Mulroney may think of workers as a bunch of fish, but we don’t need to take that bait.
Get People’s Voice delivered to your door or inbox!
If you found this article useful, please consider subscribing to People’s Voice.
We are 100% reader-supported, with no corporate or government funding.