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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to skip Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner

OTTAWA — Liberals, New Democrats, Conservatives and a steady stream of journalists walk into a bar. Pierre Poilievre doesn't.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, Tuesday, October 18, 2022 in Ottawa. Poilievre is not planning to attend the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner Saturday night, which returns after a two-year hiatus because of COVID-19 gathering restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Liberals, New Democrats, Conservatives and a steady stream of journalists walk into a bar.

Pierre Poilievre doesn't. 

The Conservative leader has declined an invitation to attend theParliamentary Press Gallery dinner on Saturday night, an event that was on a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19.

It's tradition for political party leaders of all stripes to attend the event and deliver a speech, often filling it with jokes at their own expense and getting a few digs in at their critics, too.

A spokesman for Poilievre simply said he's "not coming" to the gala that will take place at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., and did not give a reason why.

His former boss and Canada's last Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, would also skip the event when he was in power but did attend when he was Opposition leader and showed off his funny bone. 

Harper got in on the self-deprecating humour at his first event as leader in 2004.

"Look, no, I'll admit I have my flaws," he said. "Even my friends tell me that I can be dismissive and insulting, but what the hell do those idiots know, anyway?"

Rona Ambrose, who served as the party's interim leader after Harper, revived the tradition of Tory leaders attending. 

In 2016, she took aim at the former prime minister in a bit about the party adopting a new tagline. "The Conservative Party of Canada: The bad man's gone away."

And Andrew Scheer, who led the party from 2017 to 2020, also took part in the tradition, using his first appearance after winning the leadership to rib opponents from the crowded race.

"When Kellie Leitch found out I was coming to wine and dine with a bunch of media elites, I had to spend a lot of time on the phone," he said. Likewise when "Brad Trost and some of the social conservatives in the caucus learned that there may be dancing later."

After decrying suggestions that "I'm beholden to a certain group within the Conservative family," he pulled out a 500 ml carton of two per cent milk and took a swig — a nod to his support for supply management in the dairy sector. 

Scheer later cracked jokes about his baby-faced appearance, telling Trudeau at the 2019 gala that painting him as "scary" was likely to fail. "It's like trying to waterboard the Pillsbury Doughboy."

Scheer, who now serves as Poilievre's House leader, is not expected to be at the event this year, with a staffer saying last month that he has another commitment in his riding. 

Ontario MP Erin O'Toole did not get a chance test out any comedic bits when he was elected leader in 2020, because the event wasn't staged due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Poilievre's decision to skip it likely won't come as much of a surprise, given his vocal opposition to mainstream media and his choice to avoid reporters on Parliament Hill since being elected leader.

Since his victory on Sept. 10, Poilievre has held only one news conference, where he got into a heated exchange with a reporter after his staff said he would make only a statement and take no questions. He ultimately took two.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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