(LifeSiteNews) — If you’ve taken even the briefest glance at Pierre Poilievre’s campaign, you will know it’s been running on the theme of freedom.
The website of Poilievre’s campaign to lead the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) urges viewers, in bold headlines, to “take back control of your life” and to “join [him] in making Canada the freest nation on earth.”
Poilievre has trumpeted the notion of freedom so loudly that one professor claimed he developed a policy on academic freedom simply because it had the word freedom in it.
The word may seem so familiar in his campaign – and sound so appealing — that we might forget to ask some obvious questions like, what is Poilievre’s concept of freedom? Where exactly does it take us?
Whatever freedom is as defined by Poilievre, it seems very grand.
In his main video, Poilievre claims that it will give us control, make us “bigger citizens,” and even make us “captain[s] of our soul.”
Yet what are the Bombardier jet engines (the aircraft that he would like to see on Toronto Island) that drive Poilievre’s brave new Canada?
A harder question than one would think
The question is harder to answer than one might expect. In the hunt for answers, the place to start would seem to be the video on his campaign homepage.
In this video, Poilievre sits at a desk in what seems to be his home library. Behind him is a bookcase filled with books and family pictures.
The message is clear: I am well learned and loving, so you can trust me.
Poilievre’s tone confirms these visual cues: he is confident, articulate, and seems to speak from his heart.
So these questions about freedom — what it is, what drives it, and where it leads—should be easy to answer.
In truth, the answers get more tangled as we go.
What is, at first, nearly dismissed – God, faith, family, caring for those in need — comes back, boomerang-style, as essential to keep society together, even to make us human.
Comes back, that is, as image: while the video may be short on policy on moral and family issues, it sure makes up for it in rhetorical flourish and visual effects — on these very topics.
So let’s hop onto Poilievre’s freedom train, a.k.a. his main video message, and see where we end up.
It’s a great ride, although a little rocky.
The destination remains unclear
While boarding the train, you might glance at the name on the train — the two headlines — and wonder where we’re headed.
The two headlines are bold, but are they clear? The first headline urges us to “take control” of our lives. The second calls us to make Canada “the freest nation on earth.”
What are we pursuing? Control of our lives, or a free nation? Are these goals the same?
Perhaps, as Canadians, we’re being too nice — nice as in, fastidious, overly precise.
Certainly, we say to ourselves, the video will make these questions clear.
So we embark: we hit play.
The first thing we notice, after enjoying the scenery (Poilievre in his library, with his books and family pictures) is that Poilievre begins his message not with either freedom or control — the keywords in the headlines — but with economics: government is too big, so we don’t have control over what we earn.
Control, it seems — perhaps even freedom? — is cash in one’s pockets.
Using the housing crisis to raise emotions
Poilievre decries inflation and the high cost of food and housing. Then, raising both his voice and hands for emphasis, he adds that there are now “people who may never be able to afford a home.”
Media have pointed out that Poilievre, who has blamed absentee landlords for the high cost of housing, co-owns a real estate investment company whose investments, some economists say, are contributing to rising real estate prices.
For the sake of our ride, let us pass over this fact and look instead at how this issue of housing functions in the video.
Housing is the way in which the woes of the nation come home to roost, as it were, for voters.
The family home becomes, for Poilievre, the lens through which to understand Canadian society, including all economic policies — all in the absence of any actual family policies.
In the video, the family home is a bridge between economic values—which are placed first and which seem to drive the nation — and the family — the unit that provides emotive value.
Feel free to let the high cost of housing – and Poilievre’s emotion on the issue—pull your heartstrings.
But take note, as well, of the way in which Poilievre uses housing as an emotional key to deflect our attention from other issues.
Housing becomes a segue into the issue of free speech.
Poilievre tells us, “When people speak up, the powerful clamp down.”
People speak up only about what is most important to them. The order of topics shows that Poilievre assumes that when people speak up, they will speak up about economic issues — especially where that issue seems to hit home in the most literal way, namely, with the desire to own a home.
‘You’re the boss’
Poilievre then confides to us “the problem: Trudeau thinks he’s your boss…In fact, you’re the boss.” He then promises, “Together, we will make Canadians the freest people on earth.”
The message is clear: when I’m the boss, I am free. I seek freedom so that I can be the boss.
That talk is more than analogy: “boss” indicates control. In the video, “boss” also refers, literally, to owning a business.
Poilievre has finally come to freedoms.
And that list of freedoms begins with the freedom “to build a business without red tape or heavy taxes”— in other words, to be a boss.
Freedom of speech has quickly circled back to economics.
Poilievre continues with other economic freedoms: “freedom to keep the fruits of your labor and to share them with loved ones and neighbors,” and “freedom from the invisible threat of inflation.
Again, for the sake of our ride, let us pass over the merit of these freedoms. Let us note instead the how of Poilievre’s message.
At this point, perhaps to break the monotony of looking at Poilievre and his bookcase, he offers us a photograph.
What photo will he choose?
A moment earlier, the tragic situation of people who cannot afford a home had Poilievre make the greatest display of emotion in the video. Now, when discussing the fruits of labor, would be a good time to display a family home—the goal of all that hard work as boss.
But to show a house as reward might seem too crass and materialistic.
So Poilievre opts, instead, to show a picture of himself with his young daughter.
We are, presumably, to get the idea that we labor for our children—not, of course, for the house itself.
But what if we made more direct connections — namely, that children are themselves the fruit of the work of parenting, a work that ought to be recognized by government as worthy of economic incentives?
Poilievre keeps us from thinking too closely about such questions by quickly moving on to another economic freedom — the freedom from inflation.
After three economic freedoms, Poilievre finally does get to families — with “the freedom to raise your kids with your own values.” Here he begins a list of non-monetary freedoms, like “the freedom to make your own health and vaccine choices,” and “the freedom to speak without fear.”
When it comes to families, the money bags are conveniently out of sight. The emotive impact of a family picture substitutes for a policy.
Poilievre keeps us from asking inconvenient questions about family policies by placing family freedoms in the sphere of personal freedoms that are non-monetary, like freedom of speech.
Worship is at the end of the list
Poilievre even gets around to “freedom to worship God in your own way” – at the end of the list.
Coming as this freedom does, at the end of the list, one might be tempted to think that it could be lowest on his list of priorities. Worship seems to belong in the personal realm — like a pleasant family activity — rather than a framework for political action.
But while the motivational power of faith might seem to be minimal, its rhetorical value in the video is great.
Poilievre goes on to say, “Smaller government makes room for bigger citizens.” He thus suggests that a “small government” (a free market term) will motivate people to help those in need.
At least, that is what he says.
What he suggests (by placing this sentence just after the promise of freedom to worship) is that the spiritual greatness identified with worship somehow carries over into the economic realm.
One assumes that “bigger” means “greater” — as in, moral stature. (At least, one hopes that he is speaking of something more than owning a bigger home).
Yet the analogy is so spatial that it is hard to forget the house when talking about moral greatness.
Poilievre states that when government is small, people “have room to take responsibility for themselves and each other.” This sentence suggests that all we needed to be grand was, well, more space.
Poilievre gets it both ways: by referring first to families — with the added emphasis of a family picture — then to worship, and then to the goal of being a “bigger citizen,” he makes it sound like faith and family produce moral greatness.
All the while, the stated motivator remains economic: a “small government.” The video suggests that faith and family are catalysts for moral action — yet the video keeps those items in an isolated section, far behind economic factors.
To put it in other way, Poilievre needs references to worship and family to make humans more than homeowners.
The analogy of room — like all metaphorical language — lifts Poilievre’s style above the basics of language, and so makes him seem learned.
The analogy also precludes close questioning of what exactly makes us “big”— that is, of what prompts us to act rightly, and what those actions look like.
Control as a positive value
Good thing, too: the action is as vague as the unidentified motivators for it. With a “small government” presumably giving us more headspace — more room — we “take responsibility for ourselves and each other.”
There’s that control again, as a positive value.
The word “responsibility” works better for the object “ourselves” than for “each other.” For us, it makes us “get a job.”
But how exactly do we “take responsibility” for others?
“Responsibility” as code for diligence has a lot of work to do: in addition to our hard work, it now covers — amazingly — compassionate care for others.
It’s a stretch, though: taking responsibility for others now becomes the basis of a social policy for those in need.
We don’t stray far from the house.
Poilievre states that “neighbors care for neighbors.” In other words, we care for those who live just over the fence or just down the street.
Poilievre’s language makes it seem like the whole nation is one friendly suburb — thus ignoring difficult questions of how we are to care for those distant from us in a variety of ways.
Family as a safety net
When the questions get sticky, it’s time for another picture. The video moves to a picture of Poilievre’s wife, holding her infant son and playing with her young daughter outdoors.
As we watch them, Poilievre declares, “Family and community are the best safety net.”
A safety net catches people when they fall. Who is being caught here? The young children, who need care? The parent, who is off work while caring for the children?
Raising young children is not exactly like jumping out of a burning building and needing a net.
It’s not hard to see that the picture is not really about raising children at all. Nor is it about caring for people in need.
To present a family as a recipient of care at this moment in the video keeps us from thinking about people who may be distant from us and in genuine need — such as those with illness, disabilities, or other reasons for poverty.
In the video, the family as giver — the safety net — is also the family as recipient of aid.
The giving does not go far from home.
The cuteness of Poilievre’s young children makes us ignore some key facts in the video: government isn’t giving to families, and families — as parents giving to children — are, in essence, giving to themselves.
We may be outside with the children, but we’re still on the home property.
The battle cry
Lest all that talk of caring go too far, Poilievre moves quickly into battle mode.
He confides, “Now, the people with power… will fight tooth and nail to stay on top, so it won’t be easy. But Easy Street leads to a dead end, and hard roads lead to the best destinations.”
A battle cry always rallies troops. Suddenly, we are all in the trenches fighting a common foe: the oppressors on top. It is hard to be divided when we’re in a war against a common enemy.
But what is our goal? What is our destination, in Poilievre’s words?
Poilievre tells us, “Our destination is a Canada where the government is servant, not master.”
Who, then, is master?
One senses Poilievre might like to say, “You, he, she, they—all who will ignore every hard question that might divide us to join this courageous fight with me.”
Or, even more to the point, “You who are surely so inspired by this video that you will sign up and donate to my campaign on the two links just below.”
But to say such things would be too crass. It would not go well with the image of Poilievre in his library.
‘Master of our fate’
So Poilievre resorts to poetry. When no spiritual values unite us, perhaps the arts can.
Poilievre says, “As Henley might say, “You are the master of your fate; You are the captain of your soul.’”
Ah, that does it: a line about the individual that makes us seem, well, grand. Bigger, if you will.
In Poilievre’s world, I am in control, and you can be, too.
Of course, the only way Poilievre can maintain such perfect autonomy for every citizen is by presenting humans as living in an abstract realm of eternal isolation.
This destination might not be the cozy neighborhood that Poilievre would like us to envision, but it is the inevitable
result of a political philosophy that stresses freedom above all else.
Poilievre makes it seem like without a big government on top, there is nothing above the individual. Suddenly, there is lots of room — room, most of all, to climb the socioeconomic ladder.
Keeping spirituality at bay
But when we try to push out the spiritual, it comes back. The spiritual aspect of life is needed to make the completely autonomous individual of Poilievre’s world have more purpose than to be a homeowner.
So Poilievre, by means of poetry, invokes a notion of a human soul with an eternal destiny. But he’s careful to keep that destiny extremely vague.
He merely gestures toward an infinity in which I am always in control. One almost assumes that life in the family home, on the family property, will go on forever.
How did we get here?
Now that we’re at our destination — with Poilievre giving his goal for Canada at the end of the video— it’s worth asking, how did we get here?
How did we come to a place in this nation where a rhetoric of freedom as control and ownership seems so appealing that we’re willing to shut our eyes and believe someone when they tell us that we are captains of our soul?
The video proves that society needs God and faith to give people value and to motivate them. Yet this God is a very passive God — one whose worship can be put at the end of the list.
God as agent is nowhere to be found.
Poilievre’s video, however clever, undoes itself. The video exposes the fault lines of a society that exalts individual autonomy to a near-sacred value.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition that largely founded Western culture, what makes humans great is relationship with God — a Creator who is Almighty, who reigns, directs, saves, and issues eternal reward and punishment.
Only as we view God as agent do we have true motivation to do good.