Liberal leadership speculation a distraction, Trudeau should shut it down firmly, say Liberal MPs, political insiders, and pollsters – The Hill Times

Posted: January 24, 2022 at 10:09 am

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is definitely planning to lead his party in the next election, he should put an end to the speculation about the leadership election, or it could become a serious distraction for the government at a time when the country is dealing with the serious health and economic challenges of COVID, say MPs, Liberal political insiders, staffers and pollsters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured Jan. 19, 2022, at a Hill presser in the Sir John A. Macdonald Building. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

If youve got rumours and second guessing and people mobilizing in the background, weve seen this before, and that rarely turns out well, either for the guy in the position [prime minister] or for the competitors to take over, said Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research, in an interview with The Hill Times.

If you dont pay attention, and all the other stuff is going on in the background, it puts you in a very weak position. If he [Trudeau] wants to stay, he should definitely make that point, extremely clear and well-known so that any successors [should be] aware that they can alter their plans or continue with them, but with the assumption that hes going to be there, said Graves.

Graves and others interviewed for this article referred to the infamous Liberal infighting back in 2000-2002 between the Jean Chrtien and Paul Martin camps, which along with the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal and them holding power since 1993 eventually contributed to the Liberals losing power to the Conservatives in 2006. It took the Liberals about 10 years to return back to power. In his first speech after winning the 2013 Liberal leadership election, Trudeau made a point of telling all Liberals that there should not be any divisions in the party and that there were no Chrtienites or Martinites anymore.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is seen as the front-runner in the Liberal leadership potential candidates field whenever the contest opens up. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

If you want to deal with these seeds of a problem, you sort of get rid of them before they start to blossom, said one former senior Liberal. Right now, you could argue some seeds have been planted in a pot. The question: are they going to get some water, sunlight, or not? And Trudeau can make sure that theres no sunlight or water and he has the power to nip it in the bud.

Since the last federal election, political circles have been awash with speculation that Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) will not lead the party in the next election. Some have been arguing that he has won three federal elections in a rowone majority two minoritiesand will not run in a fourth as that could end in a defeat. They point out that in the last two elections, he ran against two different opposition party leaders and ended up with a minority, each time. In each of the three federal elections, the Liberal Partys share of support has gone down consistently which is seen as an indication that Trudeaus best before date is fast approaching.

Since the 2015 election when the Liberals won a landslide majority with 184 seats, the Liberal Partys popular vote support has gone down. Also, it failed to win a majority government in 2019 and 2021 and the number of seats in 2019 and 2021 are almost the same.

Last years election is the first time in Canadian history when a federal party formed government by winning only 32.6 per cent of the popular vote nationally. Prior to this, the lowest popular vote by which a party formed government was in the 2019 election when the Liberals formed government with only 33.1 per cent. And before that, the Joe Clark Progressive Conservatives formed minority government with 35.9 per cent of the votes in 1979.

So, Liberal insiders say that barring a major fundamental change in Canadian federal politics, Trudeau will not seek a fourth term as the party leader.

Hes done, he cannot go into another election, he will lose the next election, said one well-connected Liberal in an interview. People are going to want change. Even in a pandemic election, he could not win a majority. This is after the biggest spending boom, this is where you, your dog, and your cat, and your cousin, and everyone else got money. And if you cant get people to vote for you by giving them money, Im not sure how you can ever get them to vote for you.

Industry Minister Franois-Philippe Champagne will run in the next Liberal leadership election. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Since the election, Trudeau has said a number of times that he will lead the party in the next election. But political insiders say he has no option to say otherwise because he would be a lame duck prime minister. They expect him to stick around for about 18 months and leave after that.

Because of this speculation, a number of potential candidates from within and outside of the caucus have been quietly putting together their teams and reaching out to potential supporters across the country. Some of the potential candidates expected to throw their hat in the ring include Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.); Industry Minister Franois-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice Champlain, Que.); Defence Minister Anita Anand (Oakville, Ont.); Foreign Minister Mlanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.); and Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.). Other MPs might also throw their hat in the ring when the contest opens up.

Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and former Montreal Liberal MP Frank Baylis are also said to be testing the waters.

Liberal staffers interviewed for this article said that their colleagues have already been talking about the post-Trudeau Liberal Party, and are in the process of deciding which leadership candidate they will work for. Prior to the Christmas break, one of the most talked about subjects among staffers and MPs at social gatherings was the Liberal leadership election. The Globe and Mails Bob Fife and Steven Chase also reported on the Liberal leadership speculation on Nov. 24, 2021. But because of the recent lockdown as a result of Omicron variant, almost everyone has been working from home and this subject has been on the back-burner for about a month. But they expect things to change when the House returns for the winter sitting.

Omicron has really killed a lot of that because now nobody is in the same room, said a Liberal insider. Im hearing a lot less right now. Quite frankly, [because of] the holidays people were busy, or busy keeping themselves safe and doing their own thing.

Some Liberal Hill staffers and backbench MPs told The Hill Times that since the election, most of the cabinet ministers and their staffers, especially potential leadership candidates, have been very prompt in returning their calls and unusually accommodating. Also, they find them unusually pleasant, respectful and deferential, making backbench MPs feel very special.

Everyones now suspicious about why these ministers are so nice all of a sudden, said one MP.

Meanwhile, Graves said that in the coming weeks and months, Trudeau and his cabinet will have to make some major decisions on issues like economy and health. But, if theres jockeying going on behind the scenes when the prime minister has no plans to leave, the government would not be able to do its job.

Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, said that if Trudeau is staying on and the party does not put a stop to the leadership speculation, it could end up in the same divisive situation Erin OTooles (Durham, Ont.) Conservatives are in now.

Just as it is for Erin OToole, where theres a lot of talk about inside baseball, and people are focused on things happening inside the caucus room, instead of being focused on trying to take on their opponents, or present a vision for the country looking like theyre not worried about that situation, said Bricker. To the extent that theyre distracted by it, theyll have the same problems as the Conservatives.

Nik Nanos, founder and chief data scientist for Nanos Research, said that with Trudeau as party leader, the Liberals can theoretically win another election. He said it would likely be a minority. If Trudeau decided to leave and theres a leadership election, things would become complicated as leadership elections are, by definition, divisive. Right now, its anybodys guess how divided the Liberals would be after the next leadership election, but a divided Conservative Party and a divided Liberal Party would be a good news for the NDP, said Nanos.

After each federal election, it becomes hard mathematically for the incumbent party to win the next election because every government has its best before date. So, in order for the Liberals to win the next election, not only do they have to do well, but also the opposition parties will have to make mistakes giving an opening to the Liberals. Also, they will have to give a convincing reason to Canadians why they should choose the Liberals over the other parties.

Stephen Harper was a successful prime minister and won a number of elections, but in the election that Stephen Harper lost, it was because he had been in power for a number of years and hadnt articulated why he still needed to be in power, said Nanos.

For the Liberals to win the next election, they have to hope that the Conservatives are disorganized, and Jagmeet Singh doesnt have a great campaign. And then they need to articulate especially if Justin Trudeau was the prime minister, whats left to be done to explain why Canadians should give Justin Trudeau and the Liberals another mandate, said Nanos.

The Hill Times

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Liberal leadership speculation a distraction, Trudeau should shut it down firmly, say Liberal MPs, political insiders, and pollsters - The Hill Times

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