A Truck Loaded with Symbols: Why Pierre Poilievre and Other Conservatives Turn to the Power of the Van

As a country-sounding guitar riff plays in the background, the salt-and-pepper-haired man in the faded plaid shirt opens the door of his vehicle, the camera moving just enough to show that he is of a truck in which he rides.

Throughout the 45-second video, other white men wearing reflective vests, helmets and goggles shake his hand and smile. The truck – a dark blue Dodge Ram – appears more fully. A lone woman once appears, blurred in the background of a conference room scene.

The star of this clip is Scott Aitchison, MP for Parry Sound—Muskoka. He’s running for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and here’s his campaign launch video.

The co-star might just be Aitchison’s pickup truck.

The van has become a symbol of Canadian politics – a kind of emblem for a group of voters who feel rejected. Conservatives, say observers, are using it to send a message that he hopes will win them political favors.

Mitch Heimpel, director of campaigns and government relations at Enterprise Canada and former chief of staff in Prime Minister Doug Ford’s government, says Aitchison’s recent ad aims to speak to a cohort Heimpel calls “Mark’s voters.” Work Warehouse”.

They are farmers, carpenters, electricians and other blue collar workers. They are men who work with their hands. They shower at the end of the day instead of at the beginning, according to the words of some. They generally resent the liberals in power and feel disconnected.

Last week Conservative politicians latched onto a column in the Toronto Sun warning that the Liberals were going to tax pickup trucks. (The levy in question was not government policy, but a recommendation from an independent climate panel.)

After Kris Sims, British Columbia director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told the pages of The Sun that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would charge $1,000 to owners of a Ford F-150 and drivers of a Ram 3500 bigger $4000, politicians like Premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Jason Kenny and Scott Moeand Pierre Poilievre, leader of the federal Conservatives, threw his support behind pickup trucks and those who drive them.

“Prime Trudeau imposes a carbon tax. Then he raises his carbon tax – after saying he wouldn’t – to make driving more expensive. Now he wants to impose thousands of new taxes on anyone who buys a truck,” Poilievre tweeted April 13.

The fee the Conservatives are referring to is actually a Harper-era green levy on cars, SUVs and vans with above-average fuel consumption. It was enacted in 2007 and never applies to vans – although last month an advisory body Net Zero, created by Liberal Legislation in 2021, recommended it be extended to them.

The Liberals have said they have no intention of acting on this suggestion. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault slammed talk about a truck tax as “alarmist”.

But observers say these types of messages, whether true or not, are mobilizing a group of Canadians who feel their way of life is threatened by the current government.

Many of them traditionally vote Conservative. Some of them don’t. But right now, when Canadians are more concerned than ever about the soaring cost of living, Tories like Poilievre might have a chance to win them over.

“(Poilievre) is telling a large group of voters, ‘Your chances of prosperity, your way of life gets harder, gets more expensive, or gets attacked,'” Heimpel said.

It’s a message that reaches even those who aren’t particularly politically active, because it’s the one they “feel culturally”.

The van driving demonstration is a big target. More and more Canadians are opting for larger cars, and over the past decade sales of trucks and SUVs have more than doubled those of small vehicles, with monthly truck sales frequently exceeding 100,000. in spring and summer.

In fact, the Ford F-Series has been Canada’s best-selling automobile for over 50 years. Last year, second place went to the Ram pickup.

But more than just a tool for hauling wood or tackling gravel roads, the van is a symbol: for rural life, for serious and honest work, for rugged masculinity.

For some, that’s everything Trudeau isn’t. And some conservatives see it as an opportunity.

It should be noted that the pickup as a symbol of the working class is more about culture than economy. Trucks don’t come cheap: This year’s F-150 fleet ranges from around $36,000 for the most basic car to over $90,000 for the top-of-the-line F-150 “Raptor.”

Jonathan Mains has always been a “conservative guy”. But over the past two years, the Carleton Place carpenter says he found himself quitting politics because they stressed him too much. Poilievre got him interested again, he says.

Unlike Trudeau, who Mains says flatters people living in cities and using public transportation, Mains said he feels Poilievre goes out and engages with people like him.

The sector drives a black F-150: “I earn my living with my truck.”

It was on Poilievre’s Facebook page that Mains first heard about a truck tax, which for him would not just be an extra expense, but an affront to his way of life.

“There’s already a bit of a stigma about being blue-collar that you kind of have to get over,” he said.

“People make assumptions about blue collar workers…if you swing a hammer or if you’re a plumber or an electrician for a living, you struggled in high school, you didn’t go to post-secondary, you don’t you’re not an academic Maybe you’ve been through some tough stuff or have some tough habits.

Taxing lorries would be another “hurdle” for sectors already struggling to attract workers, he said. He hadn’t seen any news reports disproving the idea that the Liberals were planning to tax pickup trucks.

A recent poll found that ‘blue-collar workers’ feel more respected and in-demand than before the pandemic, with two-thirds saying they think COVID-19 has changed the way people view people who ‘kept things going’. stocked shelves, continued to make deliveries, produced essential products, and more. However, recent data from Statistics Canada shows that job vacancies in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing are on the rise.

The van motif is one of the former Tory candidates who have considered. Kenney, who drives a blue Dodge Ram, began his career in Alberta politics by traveling the province to win support for the merger of his two Conservative parties.

Criticism of the pickup trucks by city dwellers who say they’re too big, too loud, too bad for the environment has further fueled resentment among rural Canadians, who argue that city dwellers don’t understand rural life.

Jennifer Magee has seen these feelings develop in her own community. A former GTA resident who moved to Northbrook, Ont., to live with her family after her landlord evicted her to renovate six months ago, she said she feels the townspeople are under -estimate how much people in rural areas need trucks.

“It’s not a luxury here,” she said. Driving the unpaved back roads of his community, “You need something that’s going to be able to get off the road a bit, because that’s how it is.”

Magee has seen people in his community bear the brunt of rising living costs and housing prices, making it seem like someone else is profiting from their labor.

“They’re struggling to pay for gas and insurance because it’s…people are struggling here,” she said. “There’s this attitude here that the government doesn’t fully help them.”

Magee said online misinformation fuels resentment among those in power and immigrants – many in his town supported the so-called Freedom Convoy.

The vans are being used by the Conservatives as a “partisan tool,” says Melanee Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Calgary.

“It’s kind of like you’re one of us, you’ve got a truck, and Justin Trudeau isn’t one of us, that’s why he’s taxing your truck.”

Trudeau, with his tailored suit, shiny hair and high-class upbringing, might seem like the perfect foil for pickup truck drivers. Prime Ministers do not have the right to drive and are driven by a driver; Trudeau’s team didn’t say if he had ever owned a pickup truck, but in a 2010 Wheels.ca interview, he described buying his first car, for $5,000, at age 27: a Mercedes-Benz 280 SE in gold from 1972.

Portraying Trudeau as an enemy of the pickup truck is grounded in broader criticisms of the prime minister as being too feminine, Thomas said, something federal conservatives have long played on. (In 2015, they ran a series of ads criticizing Trudeau’s competence with the slogan “nice hair, though.”)

It is impossible to separate the truck from the man driving it. Thomas says Aitchison’s clip fuels traditional beliefs about gender and work. (Think back to the lack of women.)

You don’t have to own a truck to be attracted to this kind of political communication, Thomas says — and owning one doesn’t mean you will be.

“For this kind of truck advertising to work, people have to find aspects of the truck that match their identity, and it’s these ideas of masculinity and gendered attitudes and things like that.”

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