OTTAWA — Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says he doesn't like the expletive-laden flags some Canadians are using to denounce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but that he understands the anger fuelling such displays.
"I don't like the flags, and I don't like rage," Poilievre said during an end-of-year news conference in Ottawa on Friday. "But I think we have to ask ourselves: 'Why are people so angry?' And the answer is that they're hurting."
The comments follow a blog post by former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, who said one of his hopes for 2023 "is to see fewer profanity-laden Trudeau flags across Canada."
Describing Trudeau as his political opponent in the last federal election, not his enemy, O'Toole wrote: "These flags and the hyper-aggressive rhetoric that often accompanies them are slowly normalizing rage and damaging our democracy."
O'Toole's criticism was not limited to only those who have flown the flags targeting Trudeau, as he accused actors on both the extreme right and left of contributing to a growing polarization in Canadian politics by playing off each other.
"The proliferation of these types of political displays in recent years are a sign that we are slowly becoming desensitized to political stunts and aggressive rhetoric whether it comes from the left or right," he added.
The anti-Trudeau flags have become particularly linked to the "Freedom Convoy" protests, whose members Poilievre courted during his successful run for the Conservative leadership earlier this year. The Conservative caucus had ousted O'Toole as leader just days into the weeks-long protest in Ottawa.
Asked about O'Toole's blog post and the flags, Poilievre said it's easy for politicians to tell people to stop complaining. However, he added that many Canadians are angry because they are hurting financially and in other ways.
"I have never seen so much hurt and so much pain and suffering in our population during my nearly two decades in politics," he said.
"So sure, let's tell people to be more civil. But as political leaders, let's actually try to solve the problems that have upset and angered and hurt people so badly. It is our job to turn that hurt into hope."
Poilievre went on to suggest many Canadians are struggling because the Liberal government is out of touch, before promising to be a prime minister "that actually bring people together and gives them hope that tomorrow can be better.
"Let's make this a place where people feel their hard work pays off, where they're respected, where their leaders don't talk down to them and point fingers at them."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2022.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press