Unexpected Politics in Air: Conservative Leader’s In-flight Speech Sparks Mixed Reactions


Travellers aboard a WestJet flight heading to Calgary from Quebec City following the Conservative Party national conference were given an unexpected surprise when party leader Pierre Poilievre took to the plane’s Public Address system. Serving as an impromptu platform for a micro-speech, Poilievre introduced himself over the PA, expressing his pleasure at travelling alongside his fellow citizens back to his home city. This unexpected in-flight entertainment, lasting a brief 45 seconds, led to reactions spanning both ends of the spectrum.

The moment found its way onto social media the very next day, generating a blend of support for Poilievre as well as raising eyebrows about the appropriateness of utilizing a public flight as a political soapbox. After all, this was no charter flight filled exclusively with Conservative Party devotees.

In response to this incident, WestJet clarified the nature of the flight. To accommodate delegates heading to the Conservative Party Convention in Quebec City, the flight had indeed been included in their schedule and had been promoted accordingly. Yet, as it was a commercial flight, passengers were not obligated to announce their convention attendance during the booking process. Hence, it remained uncertain whether all passengers onboard were party allies.

WestJet added that Poilievre’s use of the PA system had been sanctioned beforehand by both their operational leadership and the operating crew on the flight. Nonetheless, not all were content with the decision, including Juno Award winner, TV star, and author, Jann Arden. She frowned upon the use of the airplane’s PA system as a vehicle for political speechmaking.

In a string of social media posts, Arden expressed her discontent succinctly, underlining her belief that PA systems on planes should be left to the use of flight crews. Her disdain for the incident rippled onto WestJet, casting shadows on her future association with the airline.

Yet, the criticism was not unilateral. Some passengers failed to grasp the outrage, asserting that the flight was added specifically for convention attendees, hence negligible harm was done.

However, others contended that those unfamiliar with the context behind the flight’s addition might receive a misconstrued impression that it was an ordinary flight filled with average travellers, all seemingly entranced by the unexpected political address.

Reflecting on the incident, Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams indicated that such an act would probably have negligible net political gain. Williams reasoned that while most delegates on the flight were already well into the Conservative supporter camp, those who were not, may have found the unexpected political discourse distasteful and intrusive. Concerns were also raised about the potential reputational risks to WestJet for endorsing a partisan address onboard their flight.

Following the incident, Poilievre shared a recording of his speech on LinkedIn. Despite the divisive social media reactions, no onboard passengers reported discomfort or dissatisfaction over the unexpected political interlude.


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