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How letters to his daughter helped Poilievre back out of Tory leadership race

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OTTAWA — Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre had spent weeks pushing past a fear about what a run for the Conservative leadership would mean for his family.

He'd promised his wife and 18-month-old daughter, and himself, that after the October election they'd have a more "normal" life, but things had changed. He'd been swept up in the excitement of the party's leadership race and decided he'd run.

He spent weeks crossing the country to put together a team, brought on prominent strategists, began nailing down companies to provide the back-end support he'd need, and started giving media interviews laying out some ideas. But over the past three weeks, his doubts had grown.

On Thursday, he dropped out, throwing a bombshell into the ongoing leadership campaign.

Many had considered him a front-runner, and his departure has raised questions about who will fill the space in the race he'd held: deep roots in the party, a passion for fiscal policy and a rough edge already known to get under the Liberals' skin.

They'd gunned hard for his Ottawa-area riding during the October vote, even sending Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the area several times in a bid to get more exposure for his rival.

Poilievre, 40, became an MP in 2004, and has been in public life ever since. But he said Friday that running for leadership was unlike any other experience in his political career. He knew the campaign for the job, and what could come after it, could potentially take up the next decade of his life or more. 

"As someone who has put my life on hold, my personal life on hold, for Parliament and for public service for over a decade and a half, I really got to a culmination point where I had to make a decision to have more normality in my life, or sacrifice that entirely for a campaign that was going to be all consuming," he said.

Still, he kept on building his team, because being decisive is what leaders do, he said.

Then, it all got very real. A hall was booked to formally launch on Sunday. His campaign manager was about to quit his day job. Contracts were ready to be signed and $25,000 was set to be given to the party.

"This week was fish or cut bait," he said.

He went to bed Wednesday night with a pledge: if he woke up in the morning and wasn't fully convinced that it was the right thing to do, he'd drop out. Otherwise, he'd be wasting a lot of people's time and money.

"I woke up yesterday morning and I wasn't 100 per cent in," he said.

Though he'd canvassed many people to make his decision to run — including former prime minister Stephen Harper —  it was advice from one of his friends that underpinned his choice to back out.

The suggestion was this: write two letters to your daughter. In one, explain to her why you ran. In the other, explain why you didn't.

"The letter that I wrote for her that indicated my decision not to run is the better one," he said Friday.

"And I hope one day she reads it."

Poilievre, known as a hard-edged scrappy fighter on the floor of the House of Commons, grew emotional as he described what went into his decision. Still, he says he is very much at peace with it now.

On Thursday, after the news was out, he picked his daughter up at daycare. He hadn't done that in a while. They went out for a cheeseburger.

"It was more tranquil and relaxed than I have been in a very long time."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press




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