Politics

What the Conservatives' critics list says about Poilievre's approach to Parliament

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has named the 71 critics and associate critics he's tasked with holding the Liberal government to account, and his choices say a lot about the Conservatives' strategy for the House of Commons, experts say.

Political experts weigh in on the size and nature of Poilievre's parliamentary critic list

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has named 51 critics and 20 associate critics. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has named the 71 critics and associate critics he's tasked with holding the Liberal government to account, and his choices say a lot about the Conservatives' strategy for the House of Commons, experts say.

It's a long list. Poilievre has 51 critics, plus another 20 associate critics, squaring off against just 38 cabinet ministers.

Governments sometimes get accused of appointing bloated cabinets — and Poilievre could be inviting the same sort of criticism, said Conservative strategist Tim Powers.

"On the surface, you are opening yourself up for a fairly significant critique," Powers told CBC News Network's Power & Politics last week. "However, when it comes to caucus management, it might be hard for people to be entirely agitated because they all have something to do.

"Poilievre is probably taking a trade-off there for the critique about this. If he had a 52-person cabinet, well, he wouldn't have a leg to stand on."

Daniel Béland, a professor of political science at McGill University, told CBC News that it makes sense for Poilievre to both reward those who supported him in the leadership race and extend an olive branch to some of his rivals.

"In contrast to the appointment of a large cabinet, having so many critics and associate critics does not cost extra money to taxpayers and it allows Conservatives to cover a host of policy topics in a systematic way," he said. 

Jean-Christophe Boucher, an associate professor of politics at the University of Calgary, said that a large critics bench helps Poilievre avoid the challenges faced by his predecessor.

"I think it's smart because the problem of the [Conservative Party of Canada] is the caucus. It's really the caucus who got rid of Erin O'Toole, it's not CPC voters," he said.

"By giving so many people so many things to do, you manage your caucus just a little bit better because everyone is busy doing something. So less doodling around and being unhappy about stuff."

'There is a noise strategy here'

Boucher said the size of the critics' bench also says something about Poilievre's approach to Parliament.

"It's a lot of voices and a lot of noise and I think there is a noise strategy here," he said. "It's going to keep the government and the Liberals very busy now because they'll have all of these people asking questions.

"It means the opposition wants, really, to increase the temperature and to increase the activity."

Boucher said having a large critics' bench also allows the Conservatives to prepare for forming a government.

"It's a good way to sort out who has the chops and the seriousness to learn the file, and to manage those files, from those who don't," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will face off in the House of Commons against Alberta Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan, his party's new finance critic. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Appointing Alberta MP Jasraj Singh Hallan as the party's finance critic, Boucher said, helps to avoid turning the finance file into a battle between regions because Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland originally hails from Alberta.

Experts say some of the minister/critic match-ups suggest a two-pronged strategy for the Conservatives — one of showcasing credible critics who could step into cabinet while having other critics on hand to serve as party attack dogs.

Quebec MP Gérard Deltell is an example of the former, said Béland. The Conservatives' new environment critic is a particularly credible person to face off against Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, he said, because of who he backed in the leadership race.

"[The choice of Deltell], who supported Jean Charest during the leadership race, is particularly interesting in terms of fostering party unity in Quebec, where only one MP has supported Poilievre during the leadership race," Béland said. 

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault (left) and Quebec Conservative MP Gérard Deltell. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Boucher said Poilievre was also wise to avoid picking an environment critic from Alberta.

"If they they had decided to put an Albertan against Guilbeault ...  I think Guilbeault would have run circles around the Albertan because it's very hard as an Albertan to have a very activist and credible criticism of climate change. But having a Quebecer means that voice will be credible, and that is important," he said.

The appointment of some solid policy people as critics — such as Michael Chong in foreign affairs and James Bezan in defence — may be meant to build public confidence in the Conservatives' ability to govern, observers say.

"James Bezan has been on the defence policy file forever," said Boucher. "He's always been that voice on national defence, so keeping him there really puts that emphasis that they will keep it on the same page."

Observers say critics like Marilyn Gladu (civil liberties) and Scot Davidson (red tape reduction) are meant to serve as party attack dogs tasked with "bloodying the nose" of the Liberal government.

"Gladu's appointment and the name of her title are a very meaningful development, which suggests once again that Pierre Poilievre and his team do not plan to steer away from the post-pandemic pro-freedom rhetoric he used during the leadership race," said Béland.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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