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Opinion: Has support for Pierre Poilievre already peaked?

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre asks a question during Question Time in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 14.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau has earned the right to a victory lap after the Liberals rolled to an easy by-election victory in Mississauga-Lakeshore on Monday. But the prime minister’s triumphant tone after a low-turnout vote in a grit-friendly riding was a bit overdone.

Regret was certainly nowhere on Mr Trudeau’s mind when Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre confronted him this week about yet another report from the Ethics Commissioner finding that Liberal Trade Secretary Mary Ng had breached the Conflicts of Interest Act. Instead of swearing to hold her accountable for breaking the law by “participating” in awarding a friend two unsolicited consulting contracts – preferably by demanding her resignation – Mr Trudeau responded to Mr Poilievre with an ode to his own greatness.

“The residents of Mississauga-Lakeshore had a choice. They could choose between the Conservative Party’s divisive policies and reckless proposals that included, among other things, recommending staying out of inflation by investing in crypto, or our government’s approach of being there for Canadians every step of the way and making more money in their pockets,” Mr Trudeau said during Question Time on Tuesday. “The people of Mississauga-Lakeshore have spoken and elected a Liberal MP.”

Within hours of Liberal Charles Sousa’s 14-point win over Tory challenger Ron Chhinzer, the Liberals had already sent out a donation email on Mr Sousa’s behalf. Many Liberals expected a much closer race. Namely the parade of the Liberal Cabinet ministers who fought with Mr Sousa. Mr. Trudeau himself attended the riding.

Mr Poilievre, who was not fighting with Mr Chhinzer, tried to dampen expectations ahead of the vote by insisting Mississauga-Lakeshore was “a difficult race” for the Tories. But it’s not unwinnable. And the fall in Tory votes to 37.3 percent from 38.7 percent in the 2021 election, amid a six-point surge in Liberal support to 51.2 percent, has many Conservatives wondering if Mr Poilievre has already peaked .

Indeed, there is little evidence that he is resonating with voters outside his base. And it’s not clear that even his base isn’t as infatuated with him as they were a few months ago.

For example, where were all the high-energy new Tories Mr Poilievre signed during the race for the Conservative leadership? Mr. Poilievre won 63 percent of the vote on the first (and only) ballot in Mississauga-Lakeshore, compared to just 19 percent for his rival Jean Charest, although the driver tends to be in the middle overall.

Perhaps some of the 300,000 or so instant Tories who signed Mr. Poilievre are too busy these days counting their bitcoin losses or following the latest updates on Sam Bankman-Fried, the cryptocurrency prodigy accused on Tuesday of to have devised “a plan and a ruse” to defraud clients of the crypto exchange he runs. By the next general election, how many will have been pursuing much cooler hobbies than smoking shisha with Mr. Poilievre?

There was an air of I-had-it-been-frustrated in some Tories’ reaction to the results of the by-election. Former Charest campaign deputy leader Tasha Kheiriddin noted that the Tories did not improve their score despite collapsing support for the People’s Party of Canada. “Because the party’s message deterred more centrist ‘progressive conservative’ voters,” she wrote. “These voters didn’t switch teams — they just stayed home.”

In addition, the Liberals managed to win over many progressive voters who may have backed the New Democratic Party in previous elections, partly due to Mr Sousa’s deliberate wooing of left-of-centre voters. As Treasury Secretary in Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government in Ontario, Mr Sousa presented several budgets with large spending that contributed to the party’s collapse in 2018. But Mr Trudeau’s Liberals knew what they were doing when they recruited Mr Sousa to run for their equestrian streak he held in the provinces but lost in 2018. He showed the coalition of center and progression Liberals in the suburbs is still winning can.

No wonder NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is suddenly threatening to tear up the supply and confidence deal between his party and the Liberals ahead of its 2025 expiry date. The Mississauga-Lakeshore results showed that progressive voters do not credit the NDP with the “gains” made since Mr Singh agreed to support Mr Trudeau’s Liberal minority government in the House of Commons.

The NDP’s collapse in the race was even worse news for the Tories, whose hopes of winning the suburbs rest largely on the split in the NDP and Liberal votes.

Admittedly, voters’ thirst for change could trump everything else in the next federal election, especially if the economy continues to decline. Still, Mississauga-Lakeshore voters had a chance to buy the shiny object in the window at Mr. Poilievre’s first by-election for chairman. And most of them said no.

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