Canada: Is it time for Justin Trudeau to go?

A Canadian prime minister who has overstayed his welcome, persistent inflation, a government mired in scandals, and an eager opposition leader ready for a public showdown.

Four decades ago, Pierre Trudeau took his legendary “walk in the snow” and decided not to contest the next federal election against a similar backdrop. Following a shocking upset in a “safe” electoral district and the looming threat of a blowout in the next federal election, Justin Trudeau’s predicament mirrors that of his father.

However, the incumbent prime minister has no intention of stepping down, despite mounting evidence that the public is growing increasingly weary of both his tenure and his Liberal party. In late June, Trudeau’s party lost a by-election for a seat they had held for nearly three decades, a loss pundits say could signal the collapse of the party’s stronghold in Canada’s most populous city.

The defeat has led to soul-searching within the Liberal party and renewed calls for a leadership change. Reports indicate Trudeau will not attend the Calgary Stampede, which starts on Friday – the first time he will miss the politically charged 10-day celebration in the Conservative heartland since becoming leader in 2013. (The Stampede was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

In a CBC News interview on Monday, his first since his party’s stinging loss, Trudeau addressed his political future, stating he has no interest in stepping down. “There’s always going to be lots of reflection after a tough loss. But there’s also so much to do and I am committed to doing the work of building a better Canada every single day,” he said. Later, he told reporters he didn’t want to “sugarcoat” the “challenging” loss.

Like Democrats in the US, who are concerned about Joe Biden’s debate performance and his age, Liberals are worried that the once-popular Trudeau could be a liability heading into the next federal election. Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University’s school of public administration, notes that all parties and leaders eventually lose their shine. Poor poll numbers, something Trudeau has faced following a string of scandals over the years, are common. “It’s not as if prime ministers are expected to resign if they’re not doing well in the polls. There’s no need to treat polling as though it’s gospel,” she said. “But it feels as though the challenges Trudeau is facing run deeper than poor numbers.”

Under a confidence and supply agreement with the left-wing New Democratic party, Trudeau is nearly guaranteed to stay in power until 2025. The prime minister, who has led his Liberal party for over a decade, has repeatedly stated he wants to contest his fourth federal election, which is expected to be filled with mudslinging and personal attacks.

In recent months, support for his government has collapsed. The Liberals trail the rival Conservatives, who are widely favored to form a majority government if an election is called soon. Two former cabinet ministers, Catherine McKenna and Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Liberal MP Wayne Long from New Brunswick have publicly called for Trudeau to resign and pave the way for a new leader. “For the future of our party and for the good of our country, we need new leadership and a new direction,” Long wrote in an email to colleagues. “The voters have spoken loud and clear they want change. I agree.”

However, as with the Democratic party in the United States, there is no clear heir-apparent in the Liberal party, complicating any transition. Some of Trudeau’s ministers are considered possible candidates, as is former Bank of England governor Mark Carney. “A new leader might be worse than keeping Trudeau. Imagine they go through the work of finding someone fresh, and then the election result is still terrible. You’ve kind of wasted someone’s political career. Whoever loses the next election for the Liberals is probably not coming back from it,” said Turnbull. “And so the party might be in a situation where they know people don’t want Trudeau, but he’s actually the best bet. He’s a very polarizing person – but polarizing means that some people like you and will show up for you.”

While the party is set to meet in August, a group of Liberals has asked Trudeau for a national, in-person caucus meeting sooner to discuss the party’s future. The prime minister hasn’t responded to calls from frustrated lawmakers to meet and discuss the party’s future. While he told reporters Wednesday he was personally calling MPs, tensions are clearly mounting within the Liberals, and a growing number fear the unpopular leader could cost them their own seats in parliament. “At a certain point, a situation where caucus is panicking and getting frustrated is not tenable. You need to get your legitimacy from somewhere, and you can’t ignore the calls from caucus,” said Turnbull. “If caucus is really serious about making a statement here, and they want this to change, I think Trudeau either has to meet them and take what comes – or call an election.”

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