Poilievre quietly uniting Conservative Party, making peace with rivals

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For a man who’s supposedly divisive and ripping apart the Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre seems to be building a lot of bridges. It’s less than two weeks since he won the Conservative Party leadership, taking 68% of the points, but he’s made time to reach out to rivals and past leaders in that time.

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His efforts so far have surprised and impressed one-time critics.

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Poilievre reached out to Jean Charest’s camp shortly after the leadership race ended, culminating in a phone call with Charest himself. A close advisor of Charest described it as a cordial chat, and Poilievre made clear that anyone working on Charest’s team is still welcome within the party — including those looking for a staff job in Poilievre’s office.

That hasn’t always happened after leadership races. It was famously divisive between Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier after the 2017 leadership, and Erin O’Toole’s team froze out people who had worked for Peter MacKay after winning in 2020.

Last week, Poilievre met with O’Toole and even asked for advice. The report I received of the discussion was one where the two men listened to each other and compared notes with respect.

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On Monday night, not long after the official ceremony in Ottawa to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, an important if unofficial dinner happened. Pierre Poilievre and his wife Ana hosted Brian and Mila Mulroney for dinner.

There’s been an ongoing narrative that Poilievre wouldn’t be able to attract old-school Mulroney-era Tories, and yet here was the former PM dropping in at Stornoway. The dinner lasted much longer than expected, according to sources, with both couples enjoying getting to know each other.

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For Poilievre to not only bridge that divide, but to do it so early, speaks well for his chances of bringing together sometimes warring facts of the Conservative movement and will make it hard to claim that there’s a divide between Poilievre and old PC members.

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Mulroney, the most successful prime minister in Canadian history when measured by seats won, remains a master orator, a great campaigner and well-connected. He can open up Quebec Inc. as it is often called to Poilievre and his team.

The Conservatives shouldn’t be hiding old leaders come election time; they should be bringing them out like the Liberals have with Chretien. Having Mulroney onside in Quebec, or Atlantic Canada – even in Toronto business circles – can do wonders for Poilievre.

Speaking of Atlantic Canada, Poilievre also reached out to Peter MacKay, the co-founder of the modern Conservative Party, and a former PC leader and Harper cabinet minister.

MacKay still maintains a strong network not just in Nova Scotia but across the Maritimes. It would be wise for Poilievre to nurture these relationships, to draw on those networks as he builds a team to try and beat Trudeau.

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Among the many people I’ve been speaking with over the past several days, gathering details on these meetings and calls, some still have concerns. They are impressed with what has happened so far but given the tone of the leadership campaign and its elbows-up, aggressive style, are taking a bit of a wait-and-see approach.

That’s understandable if you’ve been on the receiving end of one of those swipes, but what I’ve learned over the past few days is that the olive branch that Poilievre began extending in his victory speech on Sept. 10 was not an empty gesture. He’s been following through and making peace with people he has done battle with, and people who expressed reservations about his leadership or his tone.

That kind of news is good for anyone who wants the Conservatives to be united in defeating Trudeau and the Liberals. It’s the type of news that should make Trudeau worried.

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