Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre picked up some name recognition south of the border this week after a video of him chomping down on an apple while chiding a local journalist went viral.
While the video has attracted both praise and criticism online, ultimately it’s a win politically, said Alex Marland, a professor at Acadia University and author of the book Whipped: Party Discipline in Canada.
“This is worth lots of money in marketing dollars. Because it’s earned media. So it’s reaching a lot of people,” he said.
“Pierre Poilievre is somebody who likes getting into policy, he likes debating, he’s very quick off his feet, and all those things kind of come out in this case. So they’re playing to strengths.”
In a video posted by Poilievre that has been viewed more than 1.4 million times on social media platforms, Don Urquhart, editor of the Times Chronicle, gets into a terse exchange with the Conservative leader about populism and politics in Oliver, B.C.
How do you like them apples?<br><br>PART 1 <a href=”https://t.co/RkDBAn13nl”>pic.twitter.com/RkDBAn13nl</a>
“You’re obviously taking the populist pathway,” Urquhart says in the video.
“What does that mean?” Poilievre asks.
“Certainly you tap very strong ideological language quite frequently,” Urquhart says.
“Like what?” Poilievre asks.
“Left wing, you know, this and that, right wing,” Urquhart replies.
Poilievre responds that he “never really” talks about the left or right.
“I don’t really believe in that,” he says.
“A lot of people would say that you’re simply taking a page out of the Donald Trump book,” says Urquhart.
“A lot of people? Like which people would say that?” says Poilievre while biting into an apple.
Fox News described the exchange as Poilievre “batting down [a] reporter’s questions,” while the Daily Mail described the exchange as the Conservative leader “calmly tearing apart a reporter.” A Sky News host in Australia commented that there “may be hope” for Canada.
“Can we get him in our country?” asked American TV journalist Megyn Kelly.
Elon Musk responded to the video online, writing that had “never heard of him before, but this interview is [fire emoji].”
The video has filled column space in Canadian outlets as well. Earlier this week, a National Post column suggested the “takedown is now being studied as an example of political jiu-jitsu worldwide.” The National Observer, meanwhile, said Poilievre “doesn’t have to behave like a petulant jackass.”
The Liberal Party published its own take on the clip, splicing in moments when Poilievre castigated the “radical left” in the House of Commons.
What Pierre Poilievre says: “I never really talk about left or right.”<br><br>What Pierre Poilievre does: <a href=”https://t.co/QTjjJWo4lB”>pic.twitter.com/QTjjJWo4lB</a>
“Can you say smug, arrogant, and condescending?” Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull posted on social media.
Video puts Poilievre ‘on the map’: DeLorey
Fred DeLorey, who served as the national campaign manager for the Conservative Party of Canada in 2021, said the unapologetic video put Poilievre “on the map” with conservatives.
“He is a darling of the right in many regards,” he said.
“As a conservative, a lot of times we feel we’re asked to apologize for being conservative and he just takes on these questions with a lot of strength.”
DeLorey, now a partner at NorthStar Public Affairs, said the exchange is unlikely to change the minds of those with entrenched views of Poilievre.
“Those who like him love the video. Those who don’t like him don’t like the video,” he said.
But he said he thinks it will play to those who are on the fence.
“He feels like a no-nonsense politician, which I think a lot of people are interested in right now,” he said. “It just shows that you can be a strong statesman.”
Marland said the video does carry some risk.
“It’s never a good thing for the Conservative Party of Canada to be associated with Fox News,” he said.
Marland said that what makes the video so appealing in part is how it feels authentic, even if Poilievre likely knew he was being recorded.
“We have to remember that in politics, everything is a performance. So there is nothing natural,” he said.
“Now, that being said, it was unscripted. In Canadian politics, we are so used to everybody being scripted, because everybody is so scared of getting in trouble.”
Context matters, expert says
Marland said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to win power in 2015 in part because he seemed very different from the “structured” Stephen Harper.
Now, the reverse seems to be happening, he said.
“[Poilievre] he was able to kind of handle himself off the cuff. And there’s a big appetite for that among the public,” he said.
Still, he cautioned viewers to remember the context of the video — filmed, packaged and pushed out by a political party.
“This is following a small-c conservative playbook, which is to use social media to, in many ways, avoid difficult media questions,” he said.
“They’re still the ones who are using social media to get this out there. Poilievre isn’t always available to the parliamentary press gallery.”
Both DeLorey and Marland said there’s a lesson there for journalists.
DeLorey said the whole scene could have gone down differently if the reporter had asked different questions or cited specific examples.
“Ultimately to me, what this video does is it really should put journalists on notice that the Conservatives are going to be paying attention to how they’re … treating Poilievre,” said Marland.
CBC reached out to Urquhart, who said he wasn’t able to comment.