Some Liberal MPs heading into a national caucus retreat this week say they are facing voter pushback at the gates, and hope the prime minister and his inner circle will listen to their concerns before it is too late.
The Liberals will hold three days of meetings starting Tuesday in London, Ont., a key region in the battleground of southwestern Ontario, as their party faces its worst poll numbers since forming government in 2015.
Talks will focus on making housing more affordable and increasing supply, improving healthcare and fighting climate change, according to a senior government source.
Ahead of the meeting, several MPs told Breaking: they don’t feel the prime minister listens to their views or seeks their advice.
Breaking: spoke to more than a dozen MPs and granted them some confidentiality so they could speak freely. They said they plan to use the next few days to urge the prime minister, his office and his cabinet to offer a new plan to Canadians on the major issues of the day, because many do not believe the government’s current communications strategy is working.
Some said they also want a plan to respond to Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, whose party held its political convention in Quebec City over the weekend.
Some, including cabinet members, were willing to speak openly about the options facing the government.
Immigration Minister Marc Miller said Liberals are divided over how to counter what he called Poilievre’s “trash” attacks.
“There’s a tension about how to compromise … if you fight fire with fire and come down to a level of policy that you yourself have sworn to your constituents you would never compromise on,” Miller said.
“Overall, there is a struggle and a focus on how to deal with a person like that, which is something that Canadian politics, in particular, hasn’t seen much of.”
Sean Casey, Liberal MP for Charlottetown, said Liberals must respond to Poilievre in a measured and thoughtful way that shows humility, without engaging in anger-driven attacks.
“Almost anything he [Poilievre] talks in relation to the economy ignores global conditions, ignores the impact of geopolitics,” he said.
“It would make you believe that emissions are not decreasing when in fact they are, and it would make you believe that a large part of the increase in the cost of living is the price of pollution, which it is not.”
Casey and many other Liberal MPs said they don’t know why their party allowed the Conservatives to change Poilievre’s name without offering a stronger counter-narrative.
“The strategy behind how aggressively to pursue (Poilievre) is not done in the rooms I’m invited to,” Casey said.
‘Perfect storm of challenges’ facing liberals
A recent Abacus Data poll put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals by 14 points nationally, in clearly majority government territory – the largest gap yet between Trudeau’s Liberals and the Conservatives.
Many parliamentarians said they are scared by the data. A presentation to the Ontario caucus over the summer by David Coletto, president and CEO of Abacus Data, worsened his anxiety, a Liberal source said.
Caucus members invited Coletto to make data presentations at all regional caucuses except Quebec.
He spoke to the Atlantic Liberal group last week and is scheduled to meet the Pacific group in London on Wednesday morning.
Coletto said he is telling MPs that if an election were called today, the Liberals would likely lose.
“Their reaction to that is not very good,” Coletto told Breaking:.
Coletto said the main drivers of the trend in surveys are distress caused by the cost of living, record inflation and rising interest rates.
Their survey found that young Canadians who helped give the Liberals their majority in 2015 are less likely to say they would vote Liberal now.
Coletto said the liberals’ messages focus too much on what they’ve done in the past and not enough on what’s next.
He said the situation is creating what he called a “perfect storm of challenges” for Trudeau and his party.
“People have lost faith in him and at no time since he was elected prime minister [have] “His personal numbers have been as low as they are now,” Coletto said.
The summer cabinet change had no positive effect on support for the Liberals.
“I’m very concerned about the country and very concerned about the party,” Casey said.
An election is not expected soon and could take up to two years. Casey said he believes the more attention is focused on Trudeau’s adversary, the less enthusiastic the electorate will be about Poilievre.
But Casey said Liberals can’t count on that or assume that falling interest rates and inflation will change their fortunes.
Caucus members who spoke to Breaking: said they are discussing Trudeau’s leadership, but highly doubt anyone will raise the issue in the national caucus formally.
Improving communication is a key priority for Liberal MPs
Many MPs say they still believe Trudeau is their best asset, even if he is one voters have grown tired of.
“The worst thing we can do is have a divided group or one that talks about a lack of trust in the leader,” Casey said.
Several caucus members said they believe Poilievre has an advantage in the way he promotes his policies.
The Conservative “cut the tax” talk can be easily understood in seconds, while the Liberals’ carbon tax rebate can take several minutes to explain, one MP said.
Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin said many people in Atlantic Canada are still unclear about how the refund works.
“It’s a little frustrating to think it hasn’t landed the way we wanted it to,” Atwin said.
“It’s a little disconcerting … because this is a policy that we enforce.”
Toronto-area MP Julie Dzerowicz said she is particularly alarmed when she sees a survey that says the Liberal government has no economic or environmental plan.
“That literally makes my heart drop,” said Dzerowicz, who represents the Davenport riding. He has put his name forward to address the group on housing policy.
“What I would love to see come out of our national caucus is for there to be a message to Canadians that we are busy with this issue,” he said.
BC MP Ken Hardie said he wants a candid discussion about how to improve the mechanisms supporting Trudeau and his communications strategy.
“We would like to see a positive, thoughtful and considered recognition of the things we raised and a willingness to engage with us,” said Hardie, who represents the Fleetwood—Port Kells riding.
The Liberals’ poll numbers could change, Coletto said, either gradually, in response to changes in government policy, or suddenly, in response to some seismic event like Trudeau’s resignation.
“That would make Canadians change their way of thinking and look at the government and the future from a very different perspective,” he said.
Still, he added, changing leaders would not guarantee success since most of the potential Liberal candidates are not household names.
“There’s no easy answer,” Coletto said.