(CBC) In his first speech to caucus since winning the party’s top job, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Monday his focus at the helm will be on holding the government to account for its perceived failings on the economy and inflation.
Poilievre — who spoke for roughly 10 minutes, sometimes to thunderous applause from the assembled MPs and senators — said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the governing Liberals are out of touch with the struggles of working people.
He said that, as the son of a single mother and the adoptive son of two school teachers, he comes from “humble origins” and can sympathize with the plight of Canadians struggling to get by.
The consumer price index rose 7.6 per cent in July over a year earlier, Statistics Canada reported last month.
While there may be an early sign in dropping fuel prices that year-over-year inflation has peaked, the costs of housing and other goods remain elevated. For the last several months, consumer price increases have continued to exceed the year-over-year increase in hourly wages.
Poilievre said during his campaign for the leadership that he met young people living in their parents’ basements because of eye-popping home prices, blue collar workers who can’t afford new boots for their jobs and single mothers who have cut back on the food they feed their families because of surging grocery prices.
“Canadians are hurting and it is our job to transform that hurt into hope. That is my mission,” Poilievre said.
Poilievre called on Trudeau to stop increases to payroll taxes like Employment Insurance (EI) premiums and contributions to the Canada Pension Plan.
He also said it was reckless for the government to push through sizable hikes to the federal carbon tax — the levy on fuels will increase from $50 a tonne of emissions this year to $170 a tonne by 2030 — when people are “already suffering.”
“I’m issuing a challenge to Justin Trudeau today. If you really care, commit today that there will be no new tax increases on workers, on seniors. None,” Poilievre said.
“My commitment back is, to the prime minister and his radical woke coalition with the NDP: we will fight tooth and nail to stop the coalition from introducing any new taxes.”
Poilievre won the party’s leadership race on Saturday with 68 per cent of the vote. He says he will fight against inflation and the current government’s rising deficit.
Poilievre also offered another solution.
During his campaign for the leadership, Poilievre tried to tie the government’s pandemic-era spending to inflation. With more money in circulation, the MP argued, the cost of goods has increased to meet surging demand.
The government has rejected these claims, saying the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine are largely to blame for recent price spikes.
Poilievre said that, if he’s elected prime minister, he’ll introduce legislation to force the federal government to offset every dollar of new spending with a cut to something else — a program he’s calling a “pay-as-you-go” approach to budgeting.
Poilievre’s plan is to essentially cap federal spending so it doesn’t go much higher than it is now.
The legislation, if passed, would require the government to find money for new measures within existing budgets, rather than increasing debt and taxes to cover new costs.
“We know the problem — the cost of government is driving up the cost of living,” he said, pointing to the nearly half-trillion added to the federal debt in recent years during a global health crisis. “The government should find a way to save one dollar for any new dollar spent. That’s the proposal we’re going to make.”
Poilievre, a populist figure, said he wants to lead a country with “small government and big citizens … [where] the state is the servant and the people are the masters.”
Poilievre, who has a reputation as an attack dog in party politics, brought his wife and one of his children to the platform ahead of his Monday morning speech.
He warmly embraced his wife, Ana, who gave a well-received introduction to her husband at Saturday’s leadership event. He also held his baby son, Cruz, who turned one year old today, and blew out the candles on a small birthday cake as a smiling caucus looked on.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, wife Anaida and son Cruz arrive at the Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022 — Cruz’s first birthday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)