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COLUMN: Poilievre supporters want to move past neo-liberal economic agenda

A lot of people are dismayed at how much support Pierre Poilievre is attracting in the federal Conservative leadership race, just as they were by the support Donald Trump had and still has among many Republicans.

Many observers say the support they get comes from racism, citing the alt-right organizations that declared support for them, and opposition to the pandemic restrictions meant to protect public health.

There’s some truth to it, given how Trump and Poilievre both received support from organizations such as the Proud Boys, and how Confederate and Nazi flags showed up at protests and rallies they supported, such as last winter’s convoy protests in Ottawa. But that doesn’t explain the other kinds of support they received.

The convoy protests also featured the Métis and Iroquois national flags, as well as the Mohawk Warrior Flag, which symbolizes general Indigenous pride and resistance to assimilation. In Trump’s 2020 election race, he gained more support from Black and Latino Americans than he did in 2016. Poilievre has received endorsements from commentators such as Cree writer Melissa Mbarki and Indian writer Rupa Subramanya.

What’s going on here? If the support Poilievre and Trump attract was solely about racism, how do we explain the support they and the movements they’ve been linked to get from members of minority communities?

The fact is that Poilievre and Trump are both tapping into something that has been boiling for a long time. It’s the fallout from the neo-liberal economic agenda we’ve embraced for more than 35 years now. That agenda said governments needed to get out of the way by cutting regulations and taxes; signing free trade agreements; privatizing a lot of different services and functions; and letting private markets handle things instead.

What were the results?

Income inequality has skyrocketed in both Canada and the U.S., to the point that even globalist organizations such as the World Bank are sounding the alarm. Many more people have trouble making ends meet. Jobs have been offshored overseas. More young people have trouble affording homes. The restrictions that came with the pandemic made these problems even worse for many, hindering their ability to make a living.

One of the ways Trump promised to “make America great again” was to renegotiate NAFTA, which he blamed for the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Former Stephen Harper speechwriter Andrew MacDougall notes that Poilievre is essentially calling for a major overhaul of how capitalism works. For example, his leadership pledge to end overseas oil imports is the sort of thing that would give most neo-liberal supporters dry heaves, but it would be a sure winner in Alberta if it led to more oil and gas jobs.

One of the biggest challenges of our current time is to figure out how we can get past the neo-liberal model and ensure more people have a more secure future. The solutions Poilievre proposes may or may not work, but he’s trying to change things.

Other politicians should be thinking about this, too.

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.