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Ken Boessenkool: Poilievre doesn't want to just win. He wants to win big
What the CPC's stance on the sale of a bank tells us about the potential next prime minister of Canada
By: Ken Boessenkool
Some old-school conservatives (and Conservatives) might have been surprised when Pierre Poilievre recently asked Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to halt the proposed takeover of HSBC Bank by the Royal Bank of Canada.
Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which we know as HSBC, was established in 1865 to finance growing trade between Europe, India and China. Today it fashions itself as “a local bank serving international needs” and provides competitively priced commercial and retail banking services in Canada and elsewhere. In Canada it operates primarily in our two largest metropolitan regions: Toronto and the the so-called 905 region around Toronto as well as Greater Vancouver and the lower mainland around Vancouver. It also operates in some cities across western Canada. HSBC recently put itself up for sale and the Royal Bank was the winning bidder.
But Poilievre has concerns. What gives? Aren’t conservatives the party of big business?
First of all, no. The Conservative Party of Canada has never been the party of big business. Its founding leader — for whom, full disclosure, I did a lot of policy work — never had time for big banks, big telecoms or even big energy companies. I like to remind people that it was Paul Martin who raised the maximum $25,000 from all the Calgary energy companies for his leadership run. Most of them barely returned Stephen Harper’s calls in those days.
Second of all, still no. Big banks, big telcos and big energy companies don’t vote, and don’t donate. (Jean Chrétien started the move to end political contributions by business largely to spite Martin, but also because of the sponsorship scandal. Harper finished the job.)
So it’s not really a surprise that Poilievre doesn’t want to dance to a Royal Bank tune.
But I think there may be more going on here.
We learned during his successful leadership race that Poilievre doesn’t just like to win, he loves to win big. He could have easily won that leadership with over half the votes, on the first ballot. Instead, he single-mindedly went after every possible vote and crushed his opponents with over three quarters of the first-ballot votes.
Based on the polls today, and yes, they can change, the very same voters
that first made Trudeau prime minister appear to be standing ready
to make Poilievre prime minister at the next opportunity.
Today, Poilievre is in a strong position with Canadian voters. That could easily change before the next election, but today he has what can only be called a rather commanding lead. He looks poised to win.
His lead is, if you’ll allow a quick diversion, a bit curious. If you strip out gender (we'll, put it back in), Poilievre’s voting coalition looks a lot like the traditional Liberal coalition. And the current Liberal voting coalition looks a lot like the traditional Conservative coalition.
Justin Trudeau became prime minister with remarkable support from young voters. Trudeau was at 44 per cent among millennials in that election, compared to 21 per cent for Conservatives and 24 per cent for the NDP. And that lead translated into victory because those millennials turned out in record numbers — their turnout numbers jumped 10-15 per cent compared to previous elections.
And now? Poilievre is at 40 percent among those millennial voters (yes, they’re a bit older now), while Trudeau is at 21 per cent and the NDP is holding steady at 24 per cent.
Based on the polls today, and yes, they can change, the very same voters that first made Trudeau prime minister appear to be standing ready to anoint Poilievre at the next opportunity.
And it’s all one issue … millennials are the hardest hit by the current housing crisis. They either can’t find their first home, or can’t afford the crippling higher interest rates to renew the mortgage on the home they have now.
To the extent Trudeau has support, it is among older voters. Trudeau today is doing very well among the 55-plus crowd. His levels of support among those voters is typical of past Conservative elections. If you add gender back in, Poilievre is absolutely crushing it among millennial men while Trudeau is crushing it among older women. The gender divide is bigger than ever.
End of diversion.
When I heard Poilievre call for the acquisition of HSBC by Royal Bank to be stopped, I wondered whether he was making a move for the votes of an altogether different group, namely new, or newer, Canadians. He likes to win, he loves to win big.
So I sent a note to David Coletto, head honcho at Abacus Data, to ask if he had any indication how these new, or newer, Canadians currently intended to vote. His (very good) horserace poll asks two relevant demographic questions. The first is asks whether a respondent self-identifies as a visible minority. The second asks whether respondents were born in Canada. When you add up those that answer yes to both, you discover that Liberals are leading Conservatives among these folks, but just barely.
Among those born outside of Canada who self-identify as a visible minority, Trudeau currently leads with 38 per cent. Poilievre follows with 36 per cent, and the NDP languishes back at 13 per cent (that NDP number is worth its own column). As this is a smaller sample with a larger margin of error, the two per cent difference between the Conservatives and Liberals is a statistical tie.
Now back to HSBC. Its customers would include many of those in the group who are born outside Canada and self-identify as visible minorities. Those customers are concentrated in the two political markets that will decide the next election: The area around Toronto and the area around Vancouver. HSBC’s services are competitively priced, so their customers might worry that being subsumed into a big Canadian bank might affect the affordability of the services they currently enjoy.
If you put aside the economics/market/business arguments for this acquisition (as I note above, there is no particular reason why those arguments would hold with Poilievre), opposing the HSBC acquisition could be seen as a move to reach out to a voter group that Poilievre wants more of to win an even bigger victory than he is poised to win today.
As we get closer to the next election, watch for more of these moves from Poilievre.
After all, while he likes to win, he loves to win big.
Ken Boessenkool is a founding partner of Meredith Boessenkool Policy Advisors.
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