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Liberals could weaponize Conservative infighting to weaken Poilievre, Preston Manning warns

An elder statesman of Canada’s conservative movement is offering a vivid warning about how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals might attack Pierre Poilievre if he wins the Conservative leadership.

In an email sent to Conservative leadership campaigns and senior Conservatives earlier this month, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning engages in a thought experiment envisioning the sort of speech Trudeau could deliver in the House of Commons to welcome Poilievre — widely expected to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in September.

In an apparent effort to demonstrate the dire effects on the party of fierce infighting between rival leadership camps, Manning’s imaginary speech includes passages he describes as “the most damning and negative descriptions of Mr. Poilievre” coming from “the mouths of members of his own party who presumably know him best.”

CBC News has obtained the text of the email — one of several Manning has shared with party members during the leadership race — and has verified its authenticity.

In it, Manning takes the unusual step of writing from the point of view of an imaginary Liberal staffer — “l. B. Grit” — who is offering the prime minister political advice and pitching a speech.

Preston Manning arrives for morning sessions at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In a short preamble before slipping into his Liberal alter ego, Manning writes that his “intention is to give the reader food for thought as to strategies which might well be employed by the Liberal Party of Canada as the next federal election approaches, and how to react to such strategies.”

He notes that while the speech focuses on Poilievre, the same tactics could be used against the next leader of the party regardless of who wins on Sept 10.

The imaginary speech starts in a somewhat patronizing tone, with Trudeau congratulating Poilievre on winning the leadership and wishing him “modest success — the same degree of success as was achieved by his two predecessors.”

Manning then envisions Trudeau offering to share with the House and the public “relevant facts and opinions concerning this new leader provided by members of his own party.”

The imaginary speech begins with Trudeau quoting MP Ed Fast, who supports Jean Charest’s leadership bid and had a public falling-out with Poilievre’s supporters.

“I’m very worried about the serious damage his highly questionable ideas are doing to the economic credibility of our Party,” Fast wrote of Poilievre in a May 20 email intended to drum up support for the Charest campaign.

Fast also wrote that Poilievre’s commitment to freedom “only extends to people who agree with him 100 per cent of the time.”

‘Monetary incompetence’

The speech zeroes in on criticisms of Poilievre’s controversial embrace of cryptocurrency. It quotes an email Patrick Brown’s campaign sent in July before the Brampton, Ont. mayor was disqualified from the Conservative leadership race.

“The Crypto Crash has exposed Pierre Poilievre’s complete and total financial and monetary incompetence,” the Brown email says, pointing to a multi-billion-dollar crash in the cryptocurrency market over the span of just a few days.

After citing several crypto-themed criticisms of Poilievre, Manning’s imaginary Liberal staffer suggests that Trudeau tell the House that his government “will take these warnings under advisement, especially when [Poilievre] and the members opposite participate in the next budget debate.”

Manning’s memo to Conservatives also points to attacks on Poilievre over his public claim that mandatory vaccination policies have done “absolutely nothing” to help in Canada’s fight against COVID-19.

Manning has warned Conservatives in the past about the perils of fighting each other in public. In his email to the campaigns, he suggests that the Conservatives’ opponents — Trudeau included — have enjoyed watching leadership candidates tear into each other during this race.

“I am sure you will find this draft speech most delightful to read and eventually give,” “l. B. Grit” tells Trudeau in Manning’s memo.

Manning’s fictional Liberal staffer offers thoughts on “counter measures” that could reduce the infighting in Conservative circles — such as the party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee imposing a moratorium on negative campaigning for the remainder of the race and threatening to issue fines.

He also suggests the possibility of leadership candidates themselves dialing down the rhetoric and vowing to work together to defeat the Liberals and NDP — before concluding that Conservatives are not “remotely interested in or capable of adopting any such counter-measures.”

Liberal-NDP deal unlikely to last: Manning

CBC News reached out to Manning and the Poilievre campaign to seek further comment on his advice to Conservatives. No response had been received at time of publication.

Manning also argues in his memo that the NDP-Liberal confidence-and-supply agreement — which is supposed to give Trudeau and the Liberals a multi-year respite from the threat of a confidence vote taking down their government — will not last until 2025.

Again using the voice of an imaginary Liberal staffer, Manning claims that New Democrats themselves are unhappy with leader Jagmeet Singh over his failure to demand cabinet positions in exchange for his caucus supporting the government.

No NDP MP has ever stated any such concern publicly.

In his memo, Manning also suggests NDP MPs will see their chances of re-election dwindle the longer the confidence-and-supply agreement is in place because voters will decide they could obtain the same results by voting Liberal.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh prepare for the start of the federal election English-language Leaders debate in Gatineau, Que., on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)

He warns that such concerns could cause the agreement to unravel.

Singh has insisted the deal will yield meaningful results on long-promised NDP priorities like pharmacare and dental care for low- and middle-income Canadians.

“We’re using our power to get help to people,” Singh said after the deal with the Liberals was announced in March. “We are getting help for people that need their teeth fixed. We’re getting help for people that need to buy their medication and can’t afford to.”

Manning’s memo suggests Liberals see the deal as a way of diminishing the NDP. While the section of the memo dealing with Conservatives is entitled “Divide and Conquer,” the section devoted to the NDP is called “Unite and Conquer.”

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