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Editorial: Conservatives found themselves in unfamiliar territory at convention

An opinion piece on current position of federal Conservative Party.
Poilievre in Regina 1
Pierre Poilievre speaks at his event in Regina. File photo

The federal Conservative Party held its annual convention from Sept. 7-9 in Quebec City.

It's likely the most upbeat gathering the party has had in years. Pierre Poilievre has been leader for roughly a year. (His one-year anniversary was Sept. 10). The party is enjoying a large lead over the governing Liberals in the polls, and has support from across the country. And there seems to be a measure of unity within the big-tent party that hasn't been there previously.

It wasn't a celebration – the Tories, after all, are still in opposition – but it was still a very good time for the party.

Favourable receptions at conventions should be taken with a grain of salt. Speakers are preaching to the converted. Of course, if supporters aren't happy with you, it's going to make for a rather unpleasant weekend.

Poilievre's first year as the leader of the Tories has been largely positive. He's going to have his critics who view him as too conservative to govern a country that tends to elect moderates, but people said the same thing about Stephen Harper, and he was able to remain in the PM's post for nearly a decade.

Poilievre has also benefited from favourable timing. The current Liberal government has been guiding the country since 2015. They've exceeded their best-before date. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is certainly due to be replaced, whether it be by Poilievre or someone within the Liberal Party.

If Trudeau were to step down within, say, the next year, and give someone else a chance to lead the Liberals into the next election, that would change the complexion of the next vote, but it seems the current prime minister seems intent on staying on until then, no matter how much damage it does to the party's 2025 chances.

If there isn't another vote for two years, then it gives Poilievre the chance to continue to refine his image and his platforms, and convince more centre-right voters that he is the man for the job.

He's also been able to score major points on the affordability crisis, which is something that has affected everybody and has caused at least some frustration for everyone in this country. Now, Canada is not alone with affordability and cost-of-living issues; it's a problem affecting countries around the world regardless of political affiliation. But where Poilievre scores points is the idea that Trudeau is not the person able to get us out of this predicament.

Yeah, there were some head-scratching policy motions at the Conservative convention that reflect some misguided priorities among certain members, and those policies will give the other parties fodder, but there's no guarantee a policy would be enacted if the Tories become the government.

This doesn't mean the Tories are a lock to win the next election, regardless of when it happens. A lot can still happen in the next couple of years.

Poilievre needs to continue to work on the balance of being the Conservative leader. Spend too much time appeasing the centre-right voters, many of whom live in small cities and could sway the election, and he's going to alienate the strong conservative supporters who played a big role in his successful bid for the party's leadership.

Try to keep the more conservative people in the party happy, and it could be at the expense of the more moderate conservatives.

Right now there's the unifying cry of "Beat Trudeau", but it won't last forever. It might not even last two years. 

The Tories have taken a shift to the right under Poilievre's leadership, but not as far to the right as some thought.

The convention should have been upbeat. But a lot of work remains before the next election, and the progress can easily be undone.

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