Conservative Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre in Ottawa February 16, 2022. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

OTTAWA – Every week now for more than a month, cabinet ministers have been appearing in front of cameras on Parliament Hill in an effort to convince Canadians that the Liberal government has the housing crisis in hand.

Ever since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s summer cabinet shuffle, they’ve been scrambling to be seen making the cost of living a top priority, hoping to catch up to the runaway Conservatives on the issue of affordability.

Like clockwork, Housing Minister Sean Fraser appeared Tuesday alongside Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, this time to announce millions in spending to build or upgrade thousands of co-operative homes.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have been racking up millions of clicks, views and shares with a slick 15-minute explainer video, complete with graphs, news segments and narration from none other than leader Pierre Poilievre.

Welcome to the main event of Canadian politics: the battle to become the party voters can trust to confront one of the country’s most pressing issues.

Poilievre’s video, in which he lays blame for the housing shortage squarely on Trudeau’s shoulders, is only his latest effort to use his massive social media following to speak directly to potential voters — particularly younger ones.

The two strategies also illustrate opposing outlooks on the mainstream media, a group Poilievre and his Conservative party — to say nothing of their supporters — have long cultivated as a useful political punching bag.

“It shows what modern political communications is like,” said Mobilize Media Group president Jeff Ballingall. “It’s great to see that Pierre’s team is reflecting modern communications in media consumption.”

Poilievre’s latest video lays out the Conservative case “in a way that’s compelling,” said Ballingall, the social media architect behind Ontario Proud and Canada Proud, two accounts dedicated to attacking Trudeau and the Liberals.

Cole Hogan, who worked on digital ad campaigns for provincial conservatives like Ontario Premier Doug Ford and former Alberta premier Jason Kenney, said he would normally advise against making a video like Poilievre’s.

Not only is it a time-consuming endeavour in a field that moves at a lightning-fast pace, Hogan said, but existing wisdom says short, snappy content is usually more effective online.

Poilievre, however, is nothing if not unconventional, he added: “It’s hard to imagine this coming from anybody else.”

Social media’s other advantage is that it provides detailed intelligence on who is watching on which platform and from where — crucial information in politics, where “data is everything,” Ballingall said.

“From there you can distil a lot of your messaging later on.”

While Conservatives are lauding Poilievre’s latest endeavour as a success, Fraser and other Liberals accuse him of exploiting the anxieties of Canadians without offering much in the way of practical solutions.

Poilievre is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who is “pretending to understand the challenges that people are living with, but insisting that he’s not going to advance the solutions that are actually going to help them, “Fraser said.

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