OTTAWA - "Politics should not be a lifelong career," a 20-year-old Pierre Poilievre once wrote, "and elected officials should not be allowed to fix themselves in the halls of power of a nation."
But fix himself in the halls of Parliament he did, and politics is the only real career Poilievre has known.
The 34-year-old minister of state for democratic reform has already served a decade in the House of Commons, and today is one of the most polarizing figures on the federal scene.
When the Commons returns from a two-week break on Monday, he'll once again be steering a newly amended Fair Elections Act through hostile debate. He's sparked outrage by questioning the motives of critics such as the chief electoral officer and former auditor general Sheila Fraser.
His detractors say they're put off by a demeanour they see as overly smug and partisan. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has called him a "lightweight" who displays "smarmy arrogance." He's also been called a clown and a pit bull.
"He's a very difficult minister to know how to interact with, because he's so oriented towards political modes, and he's so invested in a carefully crafted and rehearsed talking points," said NDP democratic reform critic Craig Scott.
Poilievre's fans, meanwhile, respect the boyish-looking politician's tenacity and loyalty to the party. Few MPs would embrace the tasks he's been given.
"Any time someone who is young, energetic, self-confident and proposing change ... you are going to attract both the positive and the negative, and he does that," said former cabinet minister Stockwell Day, one of Poilievre's first political bosses.
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Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises in the House of Commons to apologize for making an obscene gesture yesterday, in Ottawa Wednesday June 14, 2006. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)
Ottawa-area Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre smiles as he talks with reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Tuesday Feb. 27, 2007. Poilievre referred to "extremist elements" in the Liberal party that want to ease anti-terror laws and shut down the Air India inquiry last week.(CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson) Canada
Democratic Reform Minister Peter Van Loan (right), with Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre looking on, makes an announcement on the introduction of the Accountability with Respect to Loans legislation at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec across the river from Ottawa, Tuesday May 8, 2007.(CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand) CANADA ,
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises in the House of Commons to apologize for saying in a radio interview Wednesday that native people need to learn the value of hard work more than they need residential schools compensation, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday June 12, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson
With copies of the Conservative accountabilty booklets, Conservative M.P. Pierre Poilievre waits for the start of the Commons House affairs committee looking into allegations of Tory election spending misconduct during the last election, on Monday Sept. 10, 2007 in Ottawa. (CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand)
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks in the House of Commons during question period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday June 16, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, leaves a news conference after speaking with the media about the gun registry in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday September 14, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday October 15, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre poses with a bust of Sir John A. Macdonald after announcing the former Bank of Montreal building would be renamed in honour of Canada's first prime minister during a ceremony in Ottawa, Ont., Wednesday January 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday February 28, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre holds up copies of legislation as he responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Friday October 19, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Pierre Poilievre is sworn in as the minister of state for democratic reform during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, July 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
The Honourable Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State (Democratic Reform), poses for a group photo after the swearing in of the federal cabinet at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, July 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Minister of State Pierre Poilievre stands in the House of Commons during Question Period, in Ottawa Friday, February 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Pierre Poilievre responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, February 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
UP NEXT: The Fair Election Act
"The Fair Elections Act will ensure everyday citizens are in charge of democracy, by putting special interests on the sidelines and rule-breakers out of business," says Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre. Read more about the Fair Elections Act <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/harper-government-introduces-fair-elections-act" target="_blank">here.</a>
Crackdown On Illegal Robocalls
The legislation proposes a <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-protecting-voters-rogue-callers" target="_blank">mandatory public registry</a> for mass automated election calls, jail time for those convicted of impersonating an elections official, and "increased penalties for deceiving people out of their votes."
No More 'Vouching' For Your Buddy
In the interest of cracking down on voter fraud, the bill would prohibit the practice whereby one Canadian vouches for another's identity at a polling station. In fact, voter information cards will no longer be accepted as proof of identity. <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-fair-elections-act-cracking-down-voter-fraud" target="_blank">But the government says voters will still have 39 forms of authorized ID to choose from in order to prove their identity and residence.</a>
Independence For The Elections Commissioner
The Commissioner of Canada Elections office, responsible for enforcing the elections law, will be moved under the mantle of the public prosecutor's office, not Elections Canada. Conservatives believe this will give the commissioner <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-independent-commissioner-sharper-teeth-longer-reach-and-freer-hand" target="_blank">more independence</a> as the Chief Electoral Officer will no longer be able to direct him to carry out investigations. In future, the commissioner would be appointed by the director of public prosecutions to a non-renewable, seven-year term. The legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/02/04/fair-elections-act-poilievre-robocalls_n_4723565.html" target="_blank">also bars</a> former political candidates, political party employees, ministerial or MP staffers or employees of Elections Canada from being named commissioner. <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-independent-commissioner-sharper-teeth-longer-reach-and-freer-hand" target="_blank">Tories believe the legislation will give the commissioner "sharper teeth" and a "longer reach" to seek out stronger penalties for offences.</a>
More Donations Welcome
The ceiling for individual political donations would be raised to $1,500 from $1,200 and party spending limits would be increased by five per cent. Union and corporate donations are still banned, though.
The West Won't Have To Wait
A long-standing ban on the <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-fair-elections-act-respecting-democratic-elections-defending-freedom-speech" target="_blank">premature transmission of election results</a> will be lifted, meaning voters in Western Canada will get to know how things are shaping up out East before heading to the polls. Broadcasters can share results from Eastern Canada on election night, even if the polls aren't closed in the West. The government believes this change will uphold free speech.
New Rules On Political Loans
The legislation would raise the amount candidates can <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/02/04/conservatives-unveil-fair-elections-act-which-they-say-will-crack-down-on-illegal-robocalls/" target="_blank">contribute to their own campaigns to $5,000.</a> Leadership contestants will be allowed to give their own campaign up to $25,000.
UP NEXT: Funniest Robocall Movie Titles
John Patrick Stanley
While Poilievre didn't live up to the commitment he expressed in a national essay writing contest to resign after two terms in office, he's remained steadfastly conservative.
As a business student at the University of Calgary, Poilievre's winning submission to the 1999 "As Prime Minister..." contest extolled the virtues of small government. (Joan Crockatt and Mike Duffy, two journalists who would go on to become federal Conservative parliamentarians themselves, were among the judges for the $10,000 competition.)
"As prime minister, I would relinquish to citizens as much of my social, political, and economic control as possible, leaving people to cultivate their own personal prosperity and to govern their own affairs as directly as possible," Poilievre wrote.
Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis met Poilievre through that contest, and the two have been close friends ever since. They own real estate together in Alberta, and once ran a political consulting firm together in their early 20s.
Denis says he'll often get late-night calls from Poilievre, who wants to talk about policy and politics. On a personal level, he says Poilievre is the most reliable kind of friend.
"A lot of people will just tell you what you want to hear to your face, and that's not him, that's not him at all. He'll tell you what he believes to be the honest truth," Denis said.
"He's someone who looks out after his friends, he's someone who's honest, trustworthy. He always tries to do the right thing."
Poilievre went on to support Day's move to the federal scene as leader of the Canadian Alliance. Poilievre followed him to Ottawa in 2002, and worked as his legislative assistant, living for a time in a tough housing project southwest of the city.
In 2004, then only 24, Poilievre decided to run against Liberal cabinet minister David Pratt in an Ottawa-area riding. The party had a "blue list" of ridings they felt could be picked off from the Liberals, and possible candidates. Poilievre was on it.
"To be honest, I didn't share all my doubts with him about being able to do that," admits Day, whom Poilievre consulted on the plan to run.
"But I thought if anyone could pull it off, it would be him. He's engaging, people like him."
The Albertan with relatively shallow roots in the area managed to take the riding.
When the Conservatives finally formed government in 2006, Poilievre was given the relatively high-profile role of parliamentary secretary to then-Treasury Board president John Baird. Baird and Poilievre helped shepherd the Federal Accountability Act through the Commons.
Poilievre stayed close to the centres of power, for a time dating top campaign operative Jenni Byrne. He became parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, and has been handed some of the most politically volatile files to defend in committees and the Commons. Like the bouncy, well-trained kangaroo of the Australian kids' show, the earnest young MP earned the nickname "Skippy" from his colleagues.
There have been some missteps. In 2006, he apologized for making an obscene gesture in the Commons. In 2008, he said he was sorry for calling into question the value of compensation for the aboriginal victims of the residential schools system. He invited ridicule last year after the Boston bombing when he said that the "root cause of terrorism is terrorists."
But Poilievre has seemed to maintain the trust of the Prime Minister's Office. The only sensitive file he temporarily declined to defend was that of Stephen Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright, who cut a secret $90,000 cheque to Sen. Mike Duffy last year.
Liberal democratic reform critic Scott Simms attended an MP orientation with Poilievre when they both first arrived in 2004, a collegial connection that has lasted the decade.
He says he finds Poilievre to be very partisan, but that every party requires those types of soldiers in the Commons.
"I think he's got his marching orders and he's doing it to the best of his ability. I think that's maybe why they gave it to him," Simms says of the electoral reform debate.
"I've never said that Pierre Poilievre is not intellectually capable of understanding what we're saying. I think he gets it; it's just a question of, 'He has to sell this thing.'"