By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
Pierre Poilievre, one of the first members elected under the banner of the Conservative Party, is now the leader after a landslide victory in the first ballot announced Saturday evening in Ottawa.
Many in the room full of Conservative stalwarts at a downtown Ottawa convention center erupted in cheers and applause at the news that the party veteran and former cabinet minister had so quickly and firmly secured the job on higher with 68% support.
As he took the stage, some chanted “freedom,” which was the central rallying cry of his campaign.
Even before the results were officially announced, a crowd of supporters swarmed Poilievre, demanding photos as he and his wife, Anaida, waited with their family to hear the announcement.
“Tonight begins the journey,” Poilievre told the crowd, “to replace an old government that costs you more and gives you less with a new government that puts you first — your paycheck, your retirement, your home. your country.”
Saturday also marks the start of Poilievre’s new start as party leader. He is now leader of the country’s Official Opposition, also known as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Despite his big win, Poilievre and his team must get to work preparing for the party when the House of Commons resumes on September 20. It’s a day later than originally planned, to accommodate the Queen’s state funeral. September 19. There will also be a special sitting on Thursday to commemorate the late monarch.
Poilievre is also expected to meet with his caucus on Monday.
At 43, Poilievre has spent most of his adult life on Parliament Hill working as an MP, first getting elected in his Ottawa-area riding at just 25 years old.
From his early days after arriving in 2004 until the end of Tory rule in government in 2015, Poilievre earned a reputation as an attack dog in the House of Commons, serving first as secretary parliamentarian of former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and later in his cabinet.
He maintained this combative style throughout Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tenure, often criticizing his government’s spending and the current rate of inflation as “fair inflation.”
Poilievre kept that line out of his victory speech on Saturday, which he opened by expressing his sadness for the death of Queen Elizabeth II – which almost every speaker did – and then revisited many of his themes from campaign around cost of living concerns.
“People today feel like they’ve lost control of their wallets and their lives,” he said. “The cost of government drives up the cost of living.”
Some people are hanging by a thread, Poilievre said, promising to bring hope.
A pledge to end remaining COVID-19 vaccine mandates to allow people to “work and travel freely” received one of the biggest cheers from the crowd on Saturday night.
Poilievre, who throughout the race has been accused of making personal attacks on other candidates, thanked each of his four contestants by name during his speech.
He thanked former Quebec premier Jean Charest for his service to the country. Charest, who probably had the best chance of preventing Poilievre from winning the leadership, got just 16% of the vote on the first ballot, putting him a distant second.
Rookie Tory MP Leslyn Lewis, who has stunned many with her strong performance in the 2020 leadership race, won just 9% this time around, despite support from the party’s well-mobilized social conservative wing .
Former Ontario lawmaker Roman Baber got about 5% and rural Ontario MP Scott Aitchison finished with about 1%.
“To the supporters of all these fine candidates, I open my arms to you. Now, today, we are a party serving a country,” Poilievre said.
He also thanked his family. Poilievre thanks his mother Marlene, who was in the audience, as well as his father Don and his partner Ross. Poilievre was adopted at birth and said Saturday his birth mother was also in the room.
“We’re a complicated, mixed bunch, like most families, like our country,” Poilievre said.
A breakdown of the results by constituency shows that Poilievre garnered broad support across the country, being the top choice of Conservative Party voters in nearly every one of his 338 constituencies.
Former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who campaigned for Poilievre, said the margin of victory exceeded expectations.
“When we had a big, big turnout at rallies, Pierre’s first question was, ‘OK, but how many memberships did we actually sell?'” he said in an interview during the event on Saturday.
“It was all about not taking it for granted.”
Earlier in the evening, former leader Erin O’Toole appeared via video to thank and stressed to the crowd the importance of unity in the party. He said he was honored to lead, but for “too little” time.
Candice Bergen, the longtime Manitoba MP who led the party on an interim basis after the caucus voted to oust O’Toole in February, also addressed the audience. In her last speech as acting leader, Bergen said she wanted to be remembered for helping to promote unity.
She also gave some advice to the new leader: “Respect, listen and trust our caucus.
Poilievre turned heads in the campaign when he began appearing in front of crowds that sometimes swelled into the thousands, which he maintained throughout the race.
This prompted his campaign to say his populist message sparked a movement, which he galvanized to sell over 300,000 memberships.
The Conservative Party said nearly 418,000 ballots would be counted in the race, out of some 678,700 eligible voters.
Before Poilievre was elected MP, he grew up in Conservative circles, coming to Ottawa in 2002 as a political staffer for former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day and growing up campaigning for leaders like Jason Kenney.
Poilievre grew up in Calgary and was adopted by his parents. He said the reason he became interested in politics was because of an injury that kept him from continuing to play competitive sports as a teenager.
In the years after the Conservatives lost power, Poilievre served as the party’s finance critic, honing his economic messages against government spending and deficits, which he spoke louder once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and inflation rose.
Leadership ambitions had been on Poilievre’s mind for at least two years.
He considered running the last time the party chose a leader in 2020, but ultimately decided against it just days before his campaign was due to kick off.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 10, 2022.