The new conservatives: 12 to watch on Canada's rapidly rising right | Best of 2023

Pierre Poilievre has shaped the Tories as his own, but there are others inside and outside the party emerging as key influencers in the conservative movement

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This story was originally published on Sept. 6, 2023. We are republishing as one of National Post’s best longreads of the year.

OTTAWA — Leader Pierre Poilievre has been shaping the Conservative Party of Canada as his own since he took the helm nearly a year ago. He’s brought in close friends and collaborators from the Stephen Harper years, as well as fresh talent destined to become rising stars in the party. He is known to keep a tight circle of advisers, among them Jenni Byrne, one of Ottawa’s top powerbrokers.

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But there are others inside and outside the party who are rising to the forefront of Canada’s rapidly evolving right. National Post consulted with Ottawa insiders, conservative strategists and former party staffers, most of whom agreed to speak on background, to find out who are the influencers to watch in the conservative movement right now.

Some, like Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, may already be known to Canadians and promise to play an increasingly important role in the days ahead. New Conservative members of Parliament, like Shuvaloy Majumdar or Arpan Khanna, will be making their official debut this fall, whereas people like Sean Speer from The Hub are making their mark from the sidelines.

Here is our hot take on 12 rising conservatives and why they matter to Canadians.

Anaida Poilievre: Pierre’s secret weapon

Anaida and Pierre Poilievre and son Cruz
Anaida Poilievre and husband Pierre Poilievre blow out a candle to celebrate their son Cruz’s first birthday at the 2022 National Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa.

Anaida Poilievre may have made her official debut when she delivered a passionate speech to introduce her husband after he won the leadership of the Conservative party last year but she is no stranger to politics. Ana, as she prefers to be called, worked on Parliament Hill for years before she and Pierre first bumped into each other in Centre Block. Anaida is a very involved political spouse, at Pierre’s side at public events and providing feedback on strategy in private. “She understands the (political) game in a way that almost nobody does, and almost no political spouse in history has ever, because she actually worked in active politics,” one insider close to the Poilievres said. “She’s an adviser in her own right on any number of things — communications, media relations, she’s done almost all of it.”

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Anaida and her family left Venezuela in 1995, when she was eight years old, for the working-class neighbourhood of Pointe-aux-Trembles in Montreal’s east end. “My father, he went from wearing business suits and managing a bank to jumping on the back of a pickup truck to collect fruits and vegetables, because that’s what he had to do to feed his family,” she recounted in last year’s speech.

As a former political staffer and trilingual immigrant woman, she has proven to be a political asset for her husband, softening his rough edges. Anaida is featured in an advertising campaign launched in August by the party, and Canadians can expect to see more of her as a federal election approaches.

The MPs

Shuvaloy ‘Shuv’ Majumdar: Foreign intelligence authority

Shuvaloy Majumdar
Shuvaloy Majumdar, the new Conservative MP for Calgary-Heritage, has an extensive background in foreign policy. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

The new Conservative MP for Calgary-Heritage after winning a by-election in July, Shuvaloy Majumdar is expected to play a role in the party caucus on foreign affairs given his extensive background on the file. Early on in his career, Majumdar was an operative of the International Republican Institute in Afghanistan and Iraq, a Washington organization focused on freedom and democracy formerly chaired by the late U.S. senator John McCain. Between 2011 and 2015, Majumdar served as senior policy director to former foreign affairs minister John Baird. After 2015, he joined the Macdonald-Laurier Institute to lead its foreign policy and national security program while also working for Harper & Associates.

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Majumdar is a longtime friend of Poilievre, having known him since their time together as young Reformers at the University of Calgary. “He’s someone who’s just universally respected. I think he’ll become a fast friend to a lot of MPs in the House across the aisle, because he was known for that in his time in the Harper government,” says a former party staffer in the Harper era. Another insider close to the party pointed to the number of volunteers who travelled from across the country to Calgary to help him win his nomination, saying that speaks to his ability to form meaningful connections.

More importantly, insiders say Majumdar embodies the type of MP the party needs more of — someone with hands-on experience who could be valuable in a future Conservative cabinet.

Arpan Khanna: Cultural connector

Arpan Khanna is sworn in as a new Conservative MP
Arpan Khanna is sworn in as a new Conservative MP for Oxford in Ottawa on August 16, 2023. Photo by Christian Diotte, House of Commons Photo Services

A former party staffer who worked at the federal and provincial levels, Arpan Khanna was tapped by Poilievre to be one of his co-chairs in Ontario in the leadership campaign and later as his national outreach chair. Elected MP in the Oxford, Ontario riding after a by-election battle in June, Khanna is expected to play an important role in connecting Poilievre with multicultural voters. “Arpan is a real political organizer, specifically with ethnic communities. He understands how to motivate voters,” said Melanie Paradis, president of Texture Communications, and Erin O’Toole’s former director of strategic communications. Khanna is also described by insiders as a hard worker and well-liked — he managed to fill a room with supporters for his swearing-in ceremony in mid-August.

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Khanna has more than a decade’s experience in ethnic community outreach, having started off as an outreach adviser for the Ontario PC campaign before working as a community and stakeholder relations adviser under leader Tim Hudak. Khanna then went to work for Jason Kenney when Kenney was the Conservative minister for multiculturalism. It remains to be seen who will take over Kenney’s legacy with new Canadians and ethnic communities in a future Conservative government. For now, Poilievre seems more than happy to fill that role as he attends multiple events with diverse communities across the country.

Melissa Lantsman: Coalition architect

Melissa Lantsman in House of Commons
Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader for the Conservatives, is focused on broadening the party’s appeal. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Melissa Lantsman has been active on all fronts since she became deputy leader of the party nearly a year ago. Whether she is leading the charge at the House of Commons, flying across the country to partake in conversations about the future of the Conservatives or courting cultural communities in the Toronto area, Lantsman — an openly gay and Jewish woman — has been instrumental in broadening the party’s appeal. “Outside of Ottawa, her hustle and drive are leading the formation of a new voter coalition for the Conservative party that is responsive to the economic hardship Canadians are facing today,” said Jamie Ellerton, founding partner at Conaptus PR and longtime Conservative strategist.

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Lantsman is a talented communicator having worked for several cabinet ministers in the Harper government before becoming chief spokesperson for the Ontario PC Party and contributing to Doug Ford’s election in 2018. She went on to serve as national vice president of public affairs at Enterprise Canada, but jumped back into politics when veteran MP Peter Kent announced his retirement in 2020. Lantsman was elected in the Thornhill, Ontario riding in 2021, but her rapid ascension to deputy leader means she is trusted by Poilievre and Byrne.

She has an active role on the party’s leadership team. “She is a constant voice at the table to keep the party focused on solutions that will help the greatest number of Canadians so the party is both culturally relevant and speaks with voters in a way that has not been done effectively since 2011,” said Ellerton.

Adam Chambers: Fiscal firepower

MP Adam Chambers
A former Jim Flaherty protege, Adam Chambers has relentlessly challenged Liberal fiscal policies. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

He has been flying under the radar for some time but sources say Adam Chambers has been busy in the background working on the Conservative campaign platform for the next election. First elected in 2021 as MP for Simcoe North, Ontario, Chambers brings previous experience in government as well as the private sector. He worked as an executive assistant for then finance minister Jim Flaherty during the 2008 global recession, continued his studies, then returned to Ottawa as Flaherty’s director of policy for his last budget in 2014. Chambers then went on to join Canada Life, one of the country’s largest life insurance companies, as director of strategy, then assistant vice president, before returning to politics. Now a member of the House of Commons finance committee, Chambers has proven to be a relentless opponent against Liberal fiscal policies and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

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Chambers had “this great curiosity about policy and how things work” as soon as he stepped into Flaherty’s office as a young student, said Chisholm Pothier, former director of communications for Flaherty. The boss also thought highly of his young protégé: Flaherty once gave him a handwritten note about the importance of public service and how he thought Chambers could make a real contribution. “Clearly, that had a powerful effect on Adam,” said Pothier, noting his successful run for MP. “It reinforces that Adam is there for the right reasons … to find what he can do to make the lives of Canadians better through public policy.”

The Thinkers

Jamil Jivani: The provocateur

Jamil Jivani
Jamil Jivani has won the Conservative nomination for MP in Erin O’Toole’s riding of Durham, Ontario. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rick Madonik

Already known among National Post readers, Jamil Jivani is taking on a new challenge in attempting to succeed Erin O’Toole as the next MP for Durham, Ontario. He won the nomination in late August and is awaiting the by-election, which hasn’t been called. Jivani is seen as someone who could shake up the party and spark debate on issues it has steered away from, such as immigration and identity. “There’s a new faction brewing in the conservative movement that he is representative of, that is a little bit more nationalist and less focused on lower taxes, free market and lower regulation,” said one insider close to the party.

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Jivani has a compelling life story that he’s widely shared. Raised by a single mom in the suburbs of Toronto, he was labelled illiterate by the public school system at age 16. With the help of mentors, he went on to graduate from Yale Law School. Last year, he launched a lawsuit against Bell Media, claiming he was unjustly fired as a radio host for not fitting the stereotype of a Black man (Bell Media denies this claim). More recently, he was president of the Canada Strong and Free Network, a think tank formerly known as the Manning Centre that was founded in 2005 by Preston Manning to promote conservative principles.

His columns in the Post were critical of Liberal “woke” politics. “He’s unafraid to weigh in on the more controversial issues, and if you’re going to do that you need to be able to do it in an eloquent fashion and, frankly, from a position of compassion and understanding,” said Michael Solberg, partner at New West Public Affairs, and a former political strategist at the federal and provincial levels in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

Sean Speer: The trendspotter

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Sean Speer
Sean Speer is editor at large of The Hub, where his columns and interviews speak to emerging conservative trends.

As The Hub’s editor at large (and a former National Post columnist), Sean Speer has played a significant role in creating a place for smart discussions on the conservative movement outside the party. Speer is usually one of the first to identify emerging trends and strategies. He zeroed in on the generational gap between Pierre Poilievre (millennials) and Jean Charest (Boomers) in last year’s leadership race. A year and a half later, younger voters, especially young males, are flocking to Poilievre’s Conservative party, according to opinion polls.

Insiders said that Speer, a former senior adviser to Stephen Harper, is more likely to continue to influence the conservative movement from the sidelines through his analysis, podcasts and interviews for The Hub. “I think Sean is one of the better analysts from the outside who is sympathetic and gets it, but is not so biased that it’s easily written off,” said Ginny Roth, partner at Crestview Strategy, former organizer for the PC Party of Ontario, and long-time conservative strategist. “He has his own venture and he’s committed to that, so he’s unlikely to suddenly drop it and go onto a campaign or into government.”

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Speer is also well-connected to U.S. conservative commentators such as David Frum, whom he speaks to for his bi-weekly video series on The Hub. And he recently spoke with Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of Quebec’s most influential and controversial columnists, about the province’s nationalism. For staying on top of emerging conservative trends and debates, Canadians can keep an eye on Speer.

Ben Woodfinden: Policy brewmaster

Ben Woodfinden
Ben Woodfinden has taken a leave from his doctoral studies to take on the job of Pierre Poilievre’s director of communications.

A doctoral student and political theorist at Montreal’s McGill University, Ben Woodfinden has taken a leave from his studies to take on the job of director of communications for Poilievre. He is seen as someone with a big brain who thinks about big ideas, but can then translate them into key messages and slogans. “I think he perfectly aligns with Pierre in terms of the way that Pierre thinks about things, and the very deep thought that they both put into what seems like very simple communications, and the way Pierre relates to the everyday person,” said one insider close to the party.

Poilievre had just launched his leadership campaign and Woodfinden was already predicting that his messaging on elite “gatekeepers” would be a winning strategy. Later, Woodfinden was mulling the state of Canadian conservatism in a post-Harper era and rejected the overused labels of “Red Tories” and “Blue Tories.” He is on board with the “Canada is broken” message and the Liberals being “out of touch.”

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Behind closed doors, Woodfinden is also said to be aggressively pushing the affordable housing platform, having publicly stated that millennials like him have given up on ever owning a home. “I just think the guy’s sharp as hell,” added the insider.

The Strategists

Steve Outhouse: Campaign closer

Danielle Smith, Steve Outhouse and UCP team
Steve Outhouse with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and the UCP campaign team.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith can thank a pastor from the Ottawa area for helping her win a majority government in May. Steve Outhouse, a former Baptist preacher and seasoned political operative, is not a front man but is known across the Canadian conservative spectrum for uniting people behind the cause. He ran both of Leslyn Lewis’ campaigns for Conservative party leadership before he was tapped by the United Conservative Party (UCP) to become their campaign manager in the provincial election last May.

“As an outsider, he came into Alberta in a party that required repair, required stabilization, where there were a lot of big personalities involved, and a situation where the stakes were very high,” said Solberg at New West Public Affairs. Outhouse, he said, managed to get people to focus on the ground game, knocking on doors, identifying their support and, most importantly, getting out the vote. “I think he had an uncanny ability to rise above the noise and avoid the distraction, and just make sure that he was doing what matters at the end of the day, which is getting people out to the polls,” said Solberg. That ultimately made the difference in a very close race in Alberta.

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Outhouse has just launched a new venture, Right Recruiter, which aims to help conservative-minded political staffers land jobs across the country. The new initiative could become extremely useful if a future Conservative government needs to quickly fill hundreds of positions.

Anthony Koch: The outside voice

Anthony Koch
Anthony Koch, former spokesman for Pierre Poilievre, shapes the media narrative from his political analyst role in Montreal.

The former spokesman for Poilievre during the leadership race, Anthony Koch sometimes gets into trouble for speaking his mind on X (formerly Twitter). Political insiders wouldn’t have it any other way: “Anthony is Anthony, right? I think he brings a lot of hot takes that we need a little more of.” One of those infamous “hot takes” is when Koch tweeted that “the average MP is a moron with the political instincts of a goat,” in commenting on greater MP independence around the time  three Conservative MPs met with populist German politician Christine Anderson, known for her anti-Islam views. Koch’s tweet was subsequently deleted, and Poilievre condemned Anderson’s views as “vile,” while insisting his MPs were unaware of her politics.

After the leadership run Koch decided to stay with the conservative movement, but not the party, as a public affairs consultant and political analyst in Montreal. But expect him to play a key role in an upcoming federal campaign. Koch remains a trusted voice in Poilievre’s inner circle, and continues to shape the media narrative. He is a reliable source for journalists and commentators to find out what Poilievre is really thinking and is considered one of the few conservatives who really understands the complicated political dynamics between Quebec and the rest of Canada — and can explain that coherently in English and in French. Canadians can now catch his hot takes on CBC’s Power and Politics.

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Carl Vallée: Quebec whisperer

Carl Vallee
Strategist Carl Vallee is trusted by both the federal Conservatives and Quebec’s nationalists.

There was a certain buzz in Quebec a few months back when Poilievre met with Quebec Premier Francois Legault for the first time. Carl Vallée, managing director at strategy advisers Teneo, was the link in arranging that meeting, according to sources. “Whenever a leader of the opposition wants to meet the premier there are official channels, but in terms of the massaging and telling Mr. Legault this might be a good idea, Carl was instrumental,” said a political insider with knowledge of the situation.

There are few people who Poilievre turns to for advice on Quebec issues and one of the most influential is Vallée. Both men know each other from their days in Stephen Harper’s government. When Vallée was Harper’s spokesperson, Poilievre was serving as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister. After leaving politics, Vallée went on to a career in public relations in Montreal and briefly joined Legault’s transition team as a senior adviser after his victory in 2018. A proud Quebec nationalist, he’s seen as both a CAQ supporter and Conservative party loyalist with Harperite credentials.

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“Carl is very unique in that both camps claim him completely,” said the insider. With the polls saying the Conservative party is gaining ground in Quebec, expect Poilievre to have Vallée’s number on speed dial as he courts the nationalist vote.

Paul Taillon: Digital mastermind

Paul Taillon
Paul Taillon, with Mash Strategy, is the digital guru behind Pierre Poilievre’s ads and social media content.

Part the curtains behind Poilievre’s attention-grabbing ads and social media content and you will find Paul Taillon, chief strategy officer at Mash Strategy. Used to keeping a low profile, Taillon is “the glue behind 90 per cent of the (party’s) digital content,” according to one insider. “He’s thoughtful. He’s very calm under pressure. And one of the things that I think is his strongest suit is that he’s very intuitively aware of where the public is and what the public is thinking,” said a former close collaborator.

Taillon has over a decade of experience in digital communications, having worked for Saskatchewan premiers Brad Wall and Scott Moe, and more recently as former Alberta premier Jason Kenney’s director of digital strategy. Insiders say Taillon, and to a lesser extent his boss Derek Robinson, CEO of Mash Strategy, are a great match for Poilievre, who is known for coming up with his own ideas, but needs talented people to execute them. “Just the fact that Paul did it for the leadership and learned it, it’s like, ‘OK, now you can’t leave,’” said the source close to Taillon.

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A few more conservatives worth watching

Michael Wilson: Ontario organizer

A partner at Bay Street law firm Goodmans, veteran political organizer and close ally of Jenni Byrne, Michael Wilson is already influential as the lawyer for the Conservative Party of Canada. But expect party stewards to tap his vast political talents and connections to get Ontario to vote Conservative in the next federal campaign.

Raquel Dancho: Security watchdog

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho
Conservative MP Raquel Dancho has taken the Liberals to task in the House over public safety.

Canadians may already know Raquel Dancho, the Conservative MP for Kildonan–St. Paul, Manitoba, as someone who regularly butted heads with former public safety minister Marco Mendicino and other Liberals in the House of Commons. An effective performer in caucus, Dancho successfully zeroed in on public safety as one of the Liberals’ weaknesses. Now people can watch her stake her ground against Dominic LeBlanc, the new minister of public safety.

Brooke Pigott: Data detective

A former director of public opinion research for Stephen Harper, Brooke Pigott is now the lead researcher for pollster Yorkville Strategies in Vancouver. Pigott will no doubt be working overtime in the backrooms come the next election, as she is often tapped by good friend Byrne to unpack the trends behind the numbers.

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