If there is a better example of “the pot calling the kettle black” I’ve yet to see it. Last Tuesday, as he headed east across the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia border Pierre Poilievre stopped to chat with a gaggle of carbon tax protesters parked alongside the highway. He told the group – some of whom brandished flags defaced with “F—k Trudeau” along with their “Axe the Tax” placards – what they wanted to hear. According to the Leader of His Majesty’s Official Opposition, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lies and everything he has said about the carbon tax “was bullshit from top to bottom.”

It was subsequently reported that some of  the participants in the convoy camp were against more than the carbon tax – vaccine mandates and trans rights for example. But we won’t go there, nor will this be another essay on the carbon levy – as discussed both Poilievre and Trudeau are peddling partial truths on the impact of the tax on people’s pocketbooks. 

But on the matter of BS, Poilievre is the quintessential fire-blackened “pot” projecting  towards Trudeau, the “kettle,” a character deficiency that Poilievre has been showing to a startling and flagrant degree. 

When a while back one of Trudeau’s ministers called Poilievre “a serial bullshitter” it could have been passed off as partisanship. But the circle of critics expanded when former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell, said while she still found merit among some Conservatives, she could not vote for the party because its leader is “a liar and a hate-monger.”

Poilievre’s defenders decried Campbell’s comments for, among other things, failure to provide examples. But then the regulars on CBC’s At Issue panel got down to cases, accusing Poilievre of lying about dental care and pharmacare.

The background

Poilievre has been promising to cut taxes and “fix the budget,” and with the Conservatives far ahead in the polls, it is fair to ask what if any programs would be cut to accomplish those goals.  In particular, questions have been raised about two initiatives emerging from negotiations between the Liberals and the NDP – the new dental care plan and the even newer pharmacare proposal. Poilievre has avoided saying what he would do about those by dismissing dental care and pharmacare  as mere announcements, rather than actual programs. 

That’s true for pharmacare – the legislation for that is still in the early stages of debate in the House of Commons. It’s not the case for dental care which, while slow getting out of the gate, has been receiving applications and reimbursing families for months, something ignored by Poilievre when he declared in a Radio-Canada interview last week that no child’s teeth had been cleaned through the dental care plan.     

That was too much for At Issue panellist Althea Raj, the Toronto Star reporter, who pointed to a government website that shows almost 440,000 children 12 and under have benefitted from the program since it was introduced in December 2022. “I would hope that a politician can’t go on national TV and just lie like that,” said Raj. 

Panellist Chantal Hebert seemed willing to cut Poilievre some slack, pointing out that the interview was done in Quebec, which already had a dental program for kids before the federal one. At that point panellist Andrew Coyne jumped in to identify  “a worse lie,” this one about pharmacare. Coyne was referring to Poilievre’s interview with CityNews during which he claimed the pharmacare bill would “ban” private plans “and require you move over to a federal government plan.” 

There’s no such ban in the pharmacare legislation. The Liberals are promising to expand the program at some point, but only contraceptives and some diabetes treatments will be covered at first, and then only in provinces and territories that sign agreements with Ottawa. 

An expert committee will advise on how to eventually establish a universal plan – which under the Canadian constitution would, like medicare, be run by the provinces. Poilievre’s  “federal government plan” has as much likelihood of coming about as the conspiracy theories espoused by some of his more ardent backers.

Much more required

During election campaigns news media sometimes feature “reality checks” – items scrutinizing campaign statements by the parties and assigning them a truthfulness rating. The Canadian Press, for example, has featured a baloney meter to measure the non-factual content in campaign pronouncements. 

With the Conservatives heading toward power while playing fast and loose with the truth, reality checks are past due. No party should be given a pass, but the one that is succeeding on the false premise that “everything is broken” and the vague promise it can fix things with a 12-word set of slogans demands immediate media scrutiny.

Under Poilievre the Conservatives have been unrelenting in attacking the media and have backed up those attacks with threats, not only with explicit promises to defund the CBC but also with criticism of government subsidies to the privately-owned mainstream media. They regularly refer to the news media as “bought and paid for” by the Trudeau government, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Poilievre-friendly Postmedia chain is also a major recipient of taxpayer support.

It was encouraging to see the At Issue panellists – representing the mainstream media establishment – stand up for the facts. It was a good start, but there is more to be done. One good place to begin is Poilievre’s House of Commons speech in response to the budget, delivered on Thursday April 18. 

There’s a lot in that speech deserving application of the baloney meter, which I will be doing in future posts. In the meantime there is one assertion that stands out and may be ready to go immediately on the list with the dental care and pharmacare fibs – Poilievre claimed in his speech that there are 35 homeless encampments in Halifax.

According to the latest report from the city, there are four designated encampments of 46 tents, with 15 to 20 tents in half a dozen non-designated sites. The Premier or the Mayor or the Chamber of Commerce should go after Poilievre for a retraction. They’re never going to double our population with that kind of publicity.