John Ivison: An enfeebled Trudeau has the NDP seriously reconsidering its support

Such is Trudeau’s unpopularity across the country that it may be in Jagmeet Singh’s interests to force an election while Trudeau still prime minister

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The NDP voted for a Conservative motion to exempt all forms of home heating from the federal carbon tax on Monday.

In some ways, it was not so surprising, given the NDP’s preoccupation with affordability.

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But the New Democrats voted against a similar Conservative motion last year and the change of strategy is likely not unrelated to the Liberals being a government in crisis.

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The NDP is currently in negotiations with the Liberals on legislation that would provide a framework for a national pharmacare program. At their fall policy convention in Hamilton, New Democrats voted to withdraw support for the confidence and supply agreement that is keeping the Liberals in power if the government does not commit to a universal, comprehensive and entirely public pharmacare program.

Senior New Democrats say the prospect of them ripping up the confidence agreement and going back to support on a vote-by-vote basis is a “live scenario.”

“They are weak and hopefully we can use that to get more out of them,” admitted one person with knowledge of the negotiations.

That would not make another general election before October 2025 inevitable, but it would make it far more likely.

The Liberals cannot afford that. They have trailed the Conservatives by double digits for the past three months in almost every opinion poll.

One survey by Abacus Data from the weekend suggested that there is a way back, because one-quarter of those polled say they could still see themselves voting Liberal, despite not supporting the party at the moment.

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One in three of those voters say they would be more likely to vote Liberal if interest rates started to fall. That is entirely possible. The Bank of Canada’s Monetary Policy Report predicts inflation will return to its target rate by 2025, while RBC Economics forecasts interest rates will be cut in the third quarter of next year.

Another one in three voters in the Abacus poll say they are more likely to vote Liberal if it becomes clear Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is going to become prime minister. The poll suggested Poilievre is now the most popular leader in Canada, something the Liberals are trying to address in a series of attack ads they are testing before general release. One ad compares Poilievre’s language and attitudes to those of Donald Trump; another highlights his questionable judgment in plugging bitcoin before it tumbled in value. A third ad points out Poilievre supported Stephen Harper’s decision to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67, something the Liberals reversed.

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It seems entirely possible that many of those people still open to voting Liberal may well end up doing so. But the major stumbling block to any restoration in Liberal fortunes is the continued presence of Justin Trudeau as leader.

One in three voters in the Abacus poll say they would be more likely to vote Liberal if he was no longer prime minister.

Abacus CEO David Coletto said there is no “silver bullet” to a Liberal recovery but the poll makes clear that many voters are tired of seeing Trudeau around. That is hardly surprising: the birth of social media allowed politicians to communicate directly with voters and no one pushed their personal brand harder than the prime minister, who took political image-making to another level. But eight years of Instagram photo-ops of Justin Trudeau jogging or weeping openly is a lot of Justin Trudeau.

Respondents to the Abacus poll who had a negative view of the prime minister said that he doesn’t have a clear vision of where he wants to take the country; he makes promises he can’t keep; and, many find him inauthentic and phony.

That dissatisfaction is spreading into the Liberal caucus, with some MPs now starting to say privately he must go.

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“The fatigue among voters is massive and real,” said one. “Within the caucus, there is definitely a sense of ‘where the heck is the plan?’ The same old virtue-signalling and wokeness frustrates the crap out of some of us. A larger segment of the population has tuned the messenger out.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks in the foyer of the House of Commons.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

There is a significant faction in caucus — it’s not clear how large yet — who would like Trudeau to announce his departure and allow time for a leadership contest, so that the new leader has enough time in office before an election to make his or her mark. Names being thrown around as candidates include ministers Anita Anand, Francois-Philippe Champagne and Mélanie Joly, as well as former bank governor, Mark Carney. The name of finance minister Chrystia Freeland is conspicuous by its absence in most discussions I’ve had. “Spring may be too late,” said one person, in reference to the timing of Trudeau’s departure.

The only people who appear to be serene amid all this chaos are the people in the centre of the storm — Trudeau and his closest advisers. The prime minister is said to be confident he can ride things out and beat Poilievre. Less charitable observers suggest he is hanging on because he knows he has few options outside politics.

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It is perhaps the fear of Trudeau being forced out that is persuading the NDP to start to distance itself from the Liberals. The NDP’s polling numbers remain flat, but such is Trudeau’s unpopularity across the country that it may be in Jagmeet Singh’s interests to force an election while Trudeau still prime minister. We are not there yet, but it was a very incongruous sight watching New Democrats rise in support of a Poilievre motion Tuesday.

When I wrote a book on Trudeau in 2019, one of three central contentions made was that his greatest strengths are also his greatest weaknesses — his doggedness, determination and stubbornness — and that the day would come when voters would tire of the idiosyncrasies that once amused them. “Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust, like diamonds we are cut with our own dust,” wrote 17th century playwright John Webster.

On the present evidence, it is possible that the Liberal party can still win the next election. With Trudeau at the helm, that possibility seems less and less likely.

National Post

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