The Kenney-Poilievre Doctrine

The minister of democratic reform explains his defence

In the current issue of the print edition, I look at Pierre Poilievre and the minister’s defence of the Fair Elections Act. We spoke a bit about his approach to defending the bill, an approach that owes something to Jason Kenney, and some of that conversation made it into the magazine item, but here’s more of what Mr. Poilievre had to say.

I have noticed that those ministers who have intense knowledge of the minutiae are always infinitely better at defending their bills. I think of Jason Kenney, for example, he can recite legislation in his sleep. And that’s why he’s almost never stumped in the House of Commons when he’s questioned about it.

The biggest problems that government’s have with legislation is when they can’t answer basic questions about controversial measures contained in them. The inability to answer arouses new suspicions. And whenever that happens the legislation is unsuccessful. They either have to retreat or amend. We wanted to be in a position where our legislation was very defendable…

[Jason Kenney] advised me to have very detailed knowledge of the legislation and to have prepared facts to respond to anticipated objections. His formula for responding in the House is always to deliver a multitude of simply presented, irrefutable, documented facts. And that is the approach that I’ve tried to take in defending this bill…

All of us in politics these days, make the mistake of focusing too much on getting the right lines. We say, well, we’ve got to have the right message. Actually, what people want are the right facts. And they don’t need to be complicated, archaic facts. Rather, they need to be clear, simple, documented, irrefutable.

If you look at this controversy over the veterans office closures, as the facts started to come out about the policy, the controversy just sort of melted away. Most of the offices are still going to be held in the same building, for example. It’s just a simple fact.

So much of the time in politics we try to come up with these clever turns of phrase, slogans or messages, but what the public really wants is just the simple facts. And which ever side has a better mastery of those facts, I think wins the debate in the long run.

You might quibble with various aspects of this. Mr. Poilievre, for instance, hasn’t entirely disavowed cute turns of phrase (“The Fair Elections Act would give [the elections commissioner] sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand“). But he has also invoked various statistics and statutes to explain and justify the reforms he is trying to make. And that not only seems to boost his credibility, but it also probably increases the burden on his critics and rivals.