OTTAWA – In the popular TV show Mad Men, short-clipped advertising account man Pete Campbell is the character everyone loves to hate — young, conservative, ambitious and fabulously snotty.
On Parliament Hill, Ottawa MP Pierre Poilievre is something of a Pete Campbell. The clean-cut, often unctuous politician gets under the opposition’s skin as he deflects and boomerangs back their questions in the Commons.
After he was appointed to cabinet on Monday, the NDP issued a news release about “the sordid saga of Pierre Poilievre,” one of the “hyper-partisan pit bulls who specialize in mean-spirited, unfounded attacks.”
Poilievre said it doesn’t bother him that the opposition loves to hate him.
“I’m very comfortable with my record and I’m just going to keep on working hard,” he said Friday following a ceremony in his Ottawa riding to honour a Korean War vet.
He said he sees no need to change his approach to politics now that he’s a minister.
“Others will have opinions on how I do and that’s just fine … I’ve been elected four times, delivered results for my constituents and delivered legislative policy changes that have helped veterans, for example.
“So, I’m going to keep doing the hard work that I’ve done that has worked so far for my community and for our team.”
Poilievre is hardly the only parliamentarian who has managed to rub rivals the wrong way — often a useful, destabilizing skill in question period or in a committee meeting.
Some folks, it seems, just get on each other’s nerves.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus is another MP who knows how to get a rise out of rivals — he and Quebec colleague Alexandre Boulerice are dubbed the party’s “boom-boom” line in question period for their aggressive lines of attack.
“This prime minister personally appointed Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, the three most ridiculous Senate appointments since Caligula appointed his horse,” Angus said last month at the height of the spending scandal.
Then, the following day: “I want to apologize for comments I made yesterday comparing certain Liberal and Conservative senators to Caligula’s horse,” he told the House.
“To be fair, the horse was a resident of Rome.”
Angus’s jabs during question period — which include heckling — or his cutting remarks in front of reporters have made him unpopular with some Conservatives.
The former punk rock musician makes no apologies.
“I’m not there to be nice to them. I’m not there to hang out afterwards and go for a beer. I’m there to do a job, and I do it professionally,” said Angus.
“I don’t go for cheap shots, but if there’s wrongdoing and they’re not doing their job, I’ll hold them to account. They can like me or not; it’s not really something I spend much time thinking about.”
Before the 2011 election, Liberal MP Mark Holland fell into the same category as Angus and Poilievre. Holland’s fiery attacks against the government during question period made him a lightning rod for Conservative ire.
“Yeah, they hate me, I know,” Holland told the Globe and Mail in 2011. “The fact that they attack me every day in the House of Commons and describe me as their number one public enemy, I wear it as a badge of honour.”
Come the campaign, ministers poured into his riding in Ajax, Ont., to help get Holland’s rival Chris Alexander get elected. They succeeded.
During the Brian Mulroney years, the so-called “Rat Pack” of young Liberal critics was specifically designed to raise the hackles of Progressive Conservatives. Sheila Copps managed to succeed better than most, proving particularly irksome to the prime minister and party whip Harvie Andre.
Copps said she thinks the hostility had to do with the demographics in the Commons at the time.
“By rights, there’s no reason I should stand out more than (my colleagues),” she said.
“But because I was a woman, the fact that I was attacking on issues seemed to be more egregious because I was deemed to be more aggressive, which is a quality that is probably better celebrated in a man than in a woman.”
Being an irritant was a specific strategy, she added.
“Previous prime ministers would be advised and usually did stay away from the nitty gritty of the politics and they’d try to stick to the big picture,” said Copps.
“It was the job of the opposition to get them riled up enough to get up, so if you did get under somebody’s skin as a opposition member, you could often times get them to stand at their seat when better judgment would have dictated otherwise.”