OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre did not attend the press gallery dinner on Saturday evening, but he was nonetheless much of the focus of a long-standing political tradition of lobbing light-hearted shots at political rivals during speeches at the event.
The traditionally annual event sees politicians and journalists who work on Parliament Hill come together for an evening of laughs at each other's expense, but it was put on hiatus for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began getting his digs in at Poilievre with the suggestion that the Conservative leader would have come if the press gallery had told him they were "occupying" the venue — a reference to his support for the "Freedom Convoy" protest.
Poilievre declined an invitation to the dinner in similar fashion to his former boss and predecessor as head of the party, Stephen Harper.
Harper would also skip the black-tie event when he was in power but did attend when he was Opposition leader and showed off his funny bone.
While many of the jabs were indeed light-hearted, some walked the line between humour and insult.
Trudeau mentioned, for example, Poilievre’s comments on a podcast hosted by Jordan Peterson, a controversial commentator, about using plain language.
“He said he's a believer in using simple Anglo-Saxon words,” Trudeau recalled. “I didn't get it either, but I’m told it sounds much better in the original German.”
At the time, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis had come to the defence of Poilievre, who was a leadership contender, saying he was making a point about using words that are “shorter and sharper” in an effort at clarity.
Trudeau also charged the Opposition leader with giving bad advice when he suggested Canadians could opt out of inflation using digital currency.
“Surely one of the two of us should be thinking about monetary policy,” he said in one of several jokes about bitcoins that evening.
All the party leaders who gave speeches took their turn at the Conservatives, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who said many politicians used the pandemic as an opportunity to take on new projects.
He had a baby, Trudeau grew a beard, and Poilievre took over the People’s Party of Canada, Singh quipped. He was referring to the right-wing party led by Maxime Bernier, a former Conservative cabinet minister.
They also made fun of themselves: Singh promised to divulge “secret details” of his deal with the governing Liberals and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told journalists he would miss them after Quebec declared independence.
Trudeau also took shots at himself. He said he’s learned over the years to avoid having to apologize for his missteps.
You all remember the scandal at the Finnish Embassy, he said. Oh no, wait, no one remembers “because I got my hair cut that weekend,” he said.
The joke got one of the biggest laughs of the night.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2022.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press