Published: April 6th, 2022
Pierre Poilievre, front-runner in the race to lead Canada's opposition Tory (Conservative) political party, bought a ham & cheese sandwich while out on the hustings last week, and then made a point of paying for it with Bitcoin. The PR stunt was part of a broader policy shift by Poilievre to brand himself as a pro-crypto populist, and position himself to (eventually) replace Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party in Canada’s next national election, due in 2025.
‘We need to let ordinary people take back control of their money. To do that in a time of expanding government oversight we need to make crypto fully legal and create conditions that will allow it to thrive,’ Poilievre said in a recent tweet. He also pledged to help ordinary Canadians ‘wrest back control over the money you’ve earned through your hard work from politicians and bankers.’
He has also said that a vote for him will help make Canada ‘the blockchain capital of North America’.
So far Poiliviere’s crypto plans come with few specifics. Just how he would make Canada a "blockchain capital" remains to be seen. For the time being, his objective is likely to tap the surge of interest in crypto amongst grassroots Conservative Party members. After the ‘Freedom Convoy’ occupation of Ottawa, Canada's capital, by long-haul truckers earlier this year, crypto was seen as a way to get around state surveillance and offer financial support to convoy participants by right wing supporters of the protest.
As Canada’s National Post newspaper noted, Poiliviere has a long history of criticising Canada's central bank, blaming it for aggravating inflation and debasing the country's fiat currency (CAD), messages that resonate with libertarians and Bitcoin proponents across the conservative base.
Poiliviere's take on crypto is firmly on the opposite end of the spectrum from Liberal government policy. The Trudeau government has taken aggressive measures to reign-in the crypto industry in the wake of the Freedom Convoy protest, adding new reporting requirements for crypto transactions worth more than CAD 1,000.
Exactly how Poiliviere's Bitcoin rhetoric will play amongst the genral public remains to be seen. Many will have only learned about crypto because of news around the protest, so may see it as a partisan issue. That would make Poiliviere's crypto message less impactful, especially given that most Canadians rejected his predecessor’s attempts at Trump-style populism.
Alternatively, as the National Post notes, Canada’s tech sector is growing in leaps and bounds, and an expanding base of tech workers, often assumed to be sympathetic to the libertarian ethos of Silicon Valley, might weight in Poiliviere's favour. The country’s crypto sector is booming in major centres like Toronto, which is also the hometown of Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin. Crypto enthusiast Elon Musk is also part-Canadian, adding to perceptions that blockchain is a natural sector for Canadian innovation and leadership.
For Poiliviere, winning the Conservative party leadership on the back of crypto policies could translate into wider political support. For the moment however, a skeptical press and criticism by pundits like Alexander Beck, a senior analyst in Toronto's financial district, are blunting the message.
'I don't see any evidence that Canadians will be lining up to emulate El Salvador any time soon,’ tweeted Beck, referring to the Central American country’s move to make BTC legal tender.
While Poiliviere has been light on specifics for his crypto policies, he did say during his stop at the sandwich shop that any new rules should be ‘light touch’.
‘We shouldn’t compel anyone to use any particular coin. As prime minister, people will have the freedom to choose and markets will be left to respond. If a small business owner wants to focus on Bitcoin as the best way to conduct transactions, they’ll be free to do that. The important thing is that everyone abides by the same laws and pays the same taxes.’ Ottawa’s crypto crackdown
Following the trucker ‘occupation’ of downtown Ottawa in January and February, the Trudeau government joined Japan and Singapore in requiring customers who send cryptocurrency to another financial institution or exchange to provide the know-your-customer (KYC) details of the recipient.
It was widely reported that Canada’s Freedom Convoy received millions in crypto donations from anonymous donors, leading to accusations that the protests were foreign-financed. Since then Coinbase, Canada’s most widely-used crypto exchange, has been sending notices to its Canadian customers that the changes will take effect in early April.
‘We always follow the laws and regulations in every country where we have customers,’ Coinbase said in a press statement and FAQ.
‘While we remain advocates for fair and equitable regulation, we have to respect the laws that dictate how we offer Coinbase services in that jurisdiction. The reporting changes detailed in our FAQ only apply to Canada, Japan, and
Singapore, where local laws dictate that we collect additional information.’
The move does not seem to be going over well with Coinbase customers in Canada, who have taken to social media to decry the loss of pseudonymity that makes their cryptocurrency transactions private.
According to the Coinbase FAQ about the new rules for Canadian customers, Canada's FINTRAC rules now dictate that transactions that exceed CAD 1,000 to another counterparty, recipient, or crypto exchange will have to include the name and address of the recipient.
For customers in Singapore, any crypto transfer from a Coinbase user wallet to an external address must include the recipient's country of residence and full name. This change took effect on 1st April in line with local regulations, Coinbase said.
In Japan, all crypto asset transfers to recipients outside the country must also include the recipient's name, address, plus the technical address of the recipient’s wallet. This is in accordance with new rules from Japan’s Cryptocurrency Trading Association (JVCEA).