Liberal MPs say Trudeau needs to meet with caucus after surprise byelection loss

27 June 2024
Liberal MPs say Trudeau needs to meet with caucus after surprise byelection loss

A growing number of Liberal MPs say the national caucus needs to meet as soon as possible to discuss the fallout of this week’s tough byelection loss in Toronto and that the gathering can’t wait until the retreat scheduled for the end of the summer.

One Liberal MP told CBC News that if the caucus waits until that early September meeting to regroup and reset, “we will be writing our obituary.”

The stunning loss in the Toronto-St. Paul’s byelection on Monday has fuelled conversations inside the Liberal caucus about the future prospects of the party, the tenability of Justin Trudeau’s leadership and the effectiveness of the political team that surrounds the prime minister.

Though some ministers have publicly backed the prime minister this week, behind the scenes, caucus members are venting frustrations. In a growing number of group texts and phone calls, MPs are discussing their options after losing their first Toronto riding since forming government in 2015.

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“We put everything we had into it and still lost,” a second Liberal MP told CBC News. “This is an unmitigated disaster.”

The MPs spoke to CBC News on the condition that they not be named.

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At least one MP has spoken publicly about a desire to hold a caucus meeting before the House of Commons returns in September.

“It’s almost a shame that we’re not gathering as a caucus until after the summer, but I think the focus right now is on our community members,” Liberal MP Jenica Atwin told CBC News during a media availability Wednesday.

Liberal MP Jenica Atwin, spoke to reporters Wednesday about the desire to hold a caucus meeting before the House of Commons returns in September. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

‘We need a course correction’

A third Liberal caucus member suggested the loss may have been a good thing because it could force the Prime Minister’s Office to recognize that the current mix of strategy and policy isn’t working.

“PMO needed that message,” the third MP said.

Sources told Radio-Canada that officials from Trudeau’s team called caucus members Tuesday to get feedback on the party’s direction after Liberal candidate Leslie Church’s surprise loss to Conservative candidate Don Stewart.

But multiple MPs expressed surprise and disappointment that party leadership had yet to even organize a virtual national caucus meeting.

“What’s the plan?” a fourth Liberal MP told CBC News. “We need a course correction.”

Another caucus member told CBC News that MPs are hearing from Liberal supporters that it’s time for a leadership change. The same MP said it is ultimately up to Trudeau to decide whether he stays or goes, but added that a new leader could breathe life into the party.

“Does [Trudeau] want his legacy to be not just the decline, but the destruction of the Liberal party?” they asked.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he and his Liberal team have ‘much more work to do,’ following the loss of a Liberal seat in the Toronto-St.Paul’s riding.

After byelection loss, MPs fear few seats are safe

Since the final results from Toronto-St. Paul’s, Liberal MPs and party organizers have offered a blunt diagnosis of the challenges the government faces and the mistakes it has been making.

The cumulative effect of interest rates, inflation, housing prices, soaring rents and the Israel-Hamas war have created a tough set of issues for a government in its ninth year.

But some Liberals who spoke to CBC News blamed the prime minister and his staff for manufacturing the Toronto-St. Paul’s byelection in their cabinet overhaul in July 2023.

Two days after Carolyn Bennett announced she wouldn’t run in the next federal election, she was one of seven ministers dropped from a significantly reshuffled cabinet. Bennett — who Trudeau appointed as Canada’s new ambassador to Denmark — retired in January after winning her downtown Toronto riding in nine straight elections.

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Before Monday’s byelection, the Conservatives hadn’t won a seat in urban Toronto since the 2011 federal election. The fear now that the Liberals’ Toronto fortress has been breached is that few seats can be described as safe. Multiple Liberals pointed with dread at the soon-to-be-called byelection in LaSalle—Émard—Verdun.

The race in that Montreal riding is another consequence of that July 2023 cabinet shuffle. David Lametti — who lost his position as justice minister — also resigned his seat in January and returned to practising law.

But those criticisms come with the benefit of hindsight. The shuffle that sent Lametti and Bennett to the backbenches happened just before the stark divergence in public opinion polls that exists today.

The Liberals still trailed the Conservatives in most polls at that time, but they had won two straight elections despite losing the popular vote. And the polls had them worried about shoring up suburban swing ridings — not losing core urban seats.

Former justice minister David Lametti announced in January that he would be stepping down as an MP. As a result, another byelection will soon be called in his Montreal riding of LaSalle—Émard—Verdun. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC)

Caucus unlikely to force Trudeau out

A year after the shuffle, the polls are worse and the runway until the next election is shorter.

Despite the government’s unpopularity, none of the MPs or party organizers who spoke to CBC News suggested the caucus would try to force Trudeau to leave.

They either expressed personal loyalty to the prime minister or suggested he had earned the right after winning three national elections to decide his own political future.

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A breakdown of the stunning Tory win in Toronto–St. Paul’s

But there was a consensus that if the prime minister was intent on staying, something significant would have to change.

The most common ideas were a new cabinet — built with the singular purpose of taking the fight to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre — or a major shakeup in the senior political staff.

Even the most worried MPs who spoke to CBC News underlined the point that the Liberal caucus is “fairly passive” and unlikely to agitate for change too aggressively or too loudly.

Source: cbc

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