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Has Pierre Poilievre’s social media output made him the first influencer in Canadian politics?

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Is Pierre Poilievre Canada’s first “influencer” politician?

Influencers are online celebrities with large social media followings that promote anything from sneakers to lip gloss to hunting products, with the intent of convincing their audiences to buy them.

The products that influencers promote are often niche and appeal to a specific audience. Poilievre does not promote $975 sneakers, but he is certainly selling promises and principles.

Long popular with the Conservative base for his stern questioning and rhetorical attacks on the Liberal government, Poilievre’s brand skyrocketed during the party’s leadership race following Erin O’Toole’s ousting in February.

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YouTube is a favoured outlet for Poilievre. He has released dozens of short to medium-length videos on the platform and received millions of total views. The videos are marked by grabbing slogans like “Remove Gatekeepers” and “Justinflation”, targeting issues affecting Canadians like the rising cost of living, or more specific topics like delays at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.

Ginny Roth, who is the national practice lead for government relations at Crestview Strategy and who worked on Poilievre’s leadership campaign, says Poilievre’s audience is far too broad to be properly classified as an influencer.

“Where influencers are looking to sell something to a niche group of people through a marketing channel…Poilievre is trying to build a movement that’s really broad,” says Roth. “He’s doing it through a variety of different channels, and he knows that a lot of Canadians are on social media, and they’re casual users…they’re not niche expert users.”

Others have different opinions.

In March, Ben Woodfinden, Poilievre’s freshly-hired director of communications, and former Hub contributor, described the then-Conservative leadership frontrunner as having an “influencer kind of vibe”.

“In many ways, yes, there’s an influencer part to his discourse,” agrees Vincent Raynauld, associate professor of communications at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. “But there’s also a populism part to his discourse, and I think this is where social media is really pushing politicians to become ever more populist in their approach to political communication.”

Poilievre is frequently described as a populist, an assessment Raynauld agrees with, but notes that the Conservative leader is not alone in his approach.

“When you talk to folks, they often associate populism (with) your political ideology, but increasingly you can look at populism as a form of political communication,” says Raynauld. “An everyday, charismatic person talking about associating themselves with the people, and so making sure that they connect on a more personal level.”

In the recent U.S. midterm election in Ohio, Democratic senate candidate Tim Ryan released a video of himself throwing footballs at television screens showing the phrase “Defund the Police”, and politicians who Ryan accused of signing bad trade deals with China and selling out Ohio workers.

This contrasts with more conventional campaign ads from 10 years ago produced by other U.S. politicians, like Republican presidential nomination contender Rick Perry, who stood in front of a camera to outline his political principles in a 30-second, single-take monologue.

According to Raynauld, Poilievre is also bringing politics back to what Raynauld refers to as “kitchen table politics.”

Fittingly, Raynauld points out a Poilievre video titled “Breakfast with Justin”, where Poilievre eats breakfast at a diner while listing the rising costs of his meal due to inflation.

“He’s really trying to connect on a more personal level with members of the public and he’s trying to take a more informal way to reach out to the people,” says Raynauld.

Raynauld mentions another video where Poilievre tours his childhood neighborhood in Calgary, and how his upbringing made him well-suited to become prime minister.

“These are all things that I think are meant to be personal, they are meant to be, in some ways, private,” says Raynauld. “They are really meant to foster this sort of intimate connection between the social media user on one end and Pierre Poilievre on the other.”

Poilievre is a controversial politician due to his promises to fire Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem, defund the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and most recently, his critiques of drug-addiction policies in British Columbia.

Furthermore, Poilievre’s lack of engagement with members of the parliamentary press gallery in Ottawa, in favour of reaching out to smaller community papers read predominantly by Canada’s many immigrant communities, has led to additional criticism.

Writing in the Toronto Star, commentator Chantal Hébert asserted that Poilievre’s momentum has stalled due to his communications strategy of avoiding the press gallery and unfavourably compared him to former Conservative leaders who made more time for mainstream media outlets.

Poilievre is routinely criticized or praised in traditional newspapers, but Roth says those publications’ influence has declined since their heyday.

“People get their news and information and content from a variety of sources now, and they don’t inherently trust the mainstream media in a way that they used to,” says Roth.

Recent surveys suggest Canadians’ trust in the “mainstream media” has declined to historic lows of 42 percent in recent months.

Susan Smith is the co-founder of Bluesky Strategy Group with experience working on Liberal Party campaigns.

“People are influenced by their families and peer groups, and by others in the social media and news funnels that they live in,” says Smith. “The traditional media are just one voice in the cacophony that accompanies a campaign.”

Smith says that if the endorsements of traditional publications do have an effect, it is only towards the end of the general election, and among older demographics.

While Poilievre’s videos don’t necessarily attract millions of views on an individual basis like a celebrity or influencer, they are far more popular than the average Canadian politician’s media output.

For example, among Justin Trudeau’s twelve most recent videos published on the prime minister’s official YouTube channel, the most viewed video garnered less than 8,000 views. By comparison to Trudeau’s channel, Poilievre’s most viewed video among his last twelve released, titled “The Message”, has been viewed just shy of 100,000 times. Others, though, like his leadership campaign launch video, have reached numbers well into the hundreds of thousands.

“Poilievre is unencumbered from the responsibilities, realities, and the experience of governing so has more time to film rants on his topic-du-jour,” says Smith. “Less scripted is better for Trudeau. I expect you’ll see more of that in the weeks and months to come.”

The Liberal Party’s official YouTube account’s videos typically garner a similarly low view count to Trudeau’s.

“I think people are now their own curators of what’s true, and what’s interesting, and that’s compelling to them,” says Roth. “The benefit of that is that people with a strong message don’t need to be filtered through those outlets necessarily, they can speak to people directly on social media.”

Raynauld says the use of social media in political communication has radically changed over the last two decades, listing the campaigns of viral U.S. political figures like Howard Dean in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008, and Donald Trump in 2020 as exemplifying instances of this shift.

Of those three candidates, only Dean never became president. Raynauld also singles out 2006 as a Canadian election year where personal blogs became prominent in Canadian politics, contributing to the change in communications.

YouTube itself launched in 2005, providing a popular platform for video blogs, better known as vlogs.

“Campaigning has really evolved over the past years, and I really think that Pierre Poilievre probably is one of the few first ones in Canada that has adopted more of an informal tone when it comes to the approach to political campaigning online,” says Raynauld.

Poilievre is not the only federal party leader attempting to harness the power of social media to grow their presence.

New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh frequently uses Tik-Tok as a platform to try and connect with younger voters by taking part in dance trends, and also shared a Twitch stream with prominent American progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

However, Singh’s strategy appears to have had little effect on his party’s fortunes, with the NDP making only marginal gains in the last election.

“I think Mr. Singh is really mimicking trends and other people are innovating, and that gives him some reach, but not the same kind of reach as Mr. Poilievre,” says Roth.

Noting that Singh’s Tik-Toks backfired, Smith says Poilievre’s strategy is effective at targeting politically conservative and youthful demographics, with some surveys suggesting the latter prefer the Poilievre-led Conservatives.

Yet Smith says that by taking a non-traditional route, Poilievre, like Singh, is missing out on communicating with large swathes of the public who want to see him tested outside his bubble.

“Poilievre is giving lots of voters an opportunity to explore on their own time whether they like or dislike him,” says Smith.

Raynauld says that people have different expectations for traditional print media and more modern mediums like YouTube.

“When you open up a newspaper…you have different expectations than for example, when you are on the metro…and you open up your Facebook account, or you open up your YouTube account, and you start looking at videos that have been posted by politicians,” says Raynauld.

Roth states Poilievre is not the first politician to utilize social media, saying the federal Liberals have successfully used targeted paid advertising on Facebook during general elections.

Prior to his ouster, Erin O’Toole also published videos on his YouTube channel to try and connect with voters but reached vastly smaller audiences.

“What makes the Conservative leader (Poilievre) different is he, I think, has understood from day one that the kind of content that people engage with in a YouTube environment is just good content,” says Roth. “That sounds simplistic, but good communication [is using] compelling communications that actually deliver a message that people can connect with, and speaks to real concrete issues with real concrete solutions, and words and phrases that connect with people, that they can understand, that they could see themselves using.”

Influencer or not, the biggest test of Poilievre’s communications strategy will be the next general election. Jagmeet Singh found little electoral success with Tik-Tok the last time Canadians went to the polls. Can Poilievre do better?

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Petr Pavel: Polyglot, war hero, and the new Czech president – Euronews

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Ex-general Petr Pavel has won another gritty campaign — this time at the ballot box.

The bearded 61-year-old, a decorated veteran who took part in a high-stakes peacekeeping mission in the Balkans and represented his country as a top-tier NATO general, was voted Czech president on Saturday, beating billionaire ex-prime minister Andrej Babiš.

With the ballots from 97% of almost 15,000 polling stations counted by the Czech Statistics Office, Pavel had 57.8% of the vote compared with 42.2% for Babiš.

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Though Czech presidents wield little day-to-day power, Pavel will have influence over foreign policy and government opinion, as well as the power to appoint prime ministers, constitutional judges and central bankers.

True to his military past, he has vowed to bring “order” to the Czech Republic, a 10 million-strong EU and NATO member, hammered by record inflation and economic turmoil due to the Ukraine war.

“I can’t ignore the fact that people here increasingly feel chaos, disorder and uncertainty. That the state has somehow ceased to function,” Pavel said on his campaign website.

“We need to change this,” he added. “We need to play by the rules, which will be valid for everyone alike. We need a general sweep.”

From Communist to war hero

Following in his father’s footsteps, Pavel underwent a military education in former Czechoslovakia, which was then ruled by Moscow-backed communists.

He joined the Communist Party, like his billionaire rival Babiš, and soon rose through the army ranks, studying to become an intelligence agent for the oppressive regime.

Critics fault him for his communist past, though Pavel has defended himself by saying party membership was “normal” in his family and called it a “mistake”.

When the Iron Curtain crumbled in 1989, Pavel chucked out his party ID but went ahead with the intelligence course.

Amid the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, Pavel — trained as an elite paratrooper and holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the time — helped evacuate French troops stuck in the midst of combat between Croats and ethnic Serb paramilitaries in Croatia, earning him the French Military Cross for bravery.

“We got into several tense situations and he always managed them with deliberation and calm,” said retired Czech general Aleš Opata, who served with Pavel.

He later studied at military training schools in Britain, gaining a master’s from King’s College London.

After his country joined NATO in 1999, Pavel soon climbed through the alliance’s ranks, becoming its top military official in 2015. 

With a chest full of decorations, he retired in 2018.

What are his political views?

Pavel ran as an independent and was the strongest of the three candidates backed by the liberal-conservative coalition SPOLU of now-former President Miloš Zeman.

He has argued for better redistribution of wealth and greater taxation of the rich while also supporting progressive policies on issues such as same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Positioning himself as a counterweight to populism, Pavel anchors the Czech Republic in NATO and wants to align his country with the European Union.

“The main issue at stake is whether chaos and populism will continue to rein or we return to observing rules… and we will be a reliable country for our allies,” he said after narrowly winning the first election round.

A staunch supporter of Ukraine, Pavel’s political rivals have alleged he would drag the country into a war with Russia.

“I know what war is about and I certainly don’t wish it on anyone,” said Pavel. “The first thing I would do is try to keep the country as far away from war as possible.”

Often sporting jeans and a leather jacket, Pavel is a polyglot, speaking Czech, English, French and Russian, and loves motorcycling.

He holds a concealed weapon licence, allowing him to carry a firearm, and he is married to a fellow soldier, Eva Pavlová.

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Canadian and American Politics

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THIS SURVEY EXPLORES CANADIANS’ AND AMERICANS’ PERSPECTIVES ON CANADIAN AND AMERICAN POLITICS.

Our latest North American Tracker explores Canadians’ and Americans’ perspectives on Canadian and American politics.

It examines Canadians’ federal voting intentions and Americans’ approval of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Download the report for the full results.

This survey was conducted in collaboration with the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) and published in the Canadian Press. This series of surveys is available on Leger’s website.

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CANADIAN POLITICS

  • The Conservatives and Liberals are tied: if a federal election were held today, 34% of Canadian decided voters would vote for Pierre Poilievre’s CPC and the same proportion would vote for Justin Trudeau’s LPC.

AMERICAN POLITICS

  • 42% of Americans approve of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president.
  • 40% of Americans approve of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice-president.

METHODOLOGY

This web survey was conducted from January 20 to 22, 2023, with 1,554 Canadians and 1,005 Americans, 18 years of age or older, randomly recruited from LEO’s online panel.

A margin of error cannot be associated with a non-probability sample in a panel survey. For comparison, a probability sample of 1,554 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.49%, 19 times out of 20, while a probability sample of 1,005 respondents would have a margin of error of ±3.09%, 19 times out of 20.

THIS REPORT CONTAINS THE RESULTS FOR THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AND MORE!

  • If federal elections were held today, for which political party would you be most likely to vote?  Would it be for…?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice president?​
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Legault won’t celebrate 25 years in politics

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Premier François Legault does not intend to celebrate his 25-year political career this year.

He became Minister of Industry in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government on Sept. 23, 1998, but was elected on Nov. 30 of the same year as the representative for L’Assomption, the riding in which he is still a member.

In a news conference on Friday at the end of a caucus meeting of his party’s elected officials in a Laval hotel, the CAQ leader said that neither he nor his party had any intention of celebrating this anniversary.

“I don’t like these things,” he said.

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He pointed out that he is still younger than the former dean of the National Assembly, François Gendron. And smiling, he alluded to the U.S. President.

“I’m quite a bit younger than Mr. Biden, apart from that!” he said.

Legault is 65 years old, while the President is 80.

However, Legault is now the dean of the House. According to recent data, he has served as an elected official for 20 years, 6 months, and 27 days so far.

The premier was quick to add, however, that he has taken a break from politics.

He resigned on June 24, 2009 as a member of the Parti Québécois (PQ), then in opposition. But he was elected as an MNA and leader of the then-new Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) on Sept. 4, 2012.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 27, 2023.

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