The Liberals’ nosedive in the polls continued this past week. Nanos’ most recent polling shows that the Liberals are infamously tied with the NDP at 22.0%. Meanwhile, Ipsos reports that a growing proportion of Canadians want Trudeau to step down. An overwhelming majority of Canadians (more than 7 in 10), now believe that it is time for new Liberal leadership.
This polling has elicited a fresh wave of punditry questioning whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should remain the face of the Liberal Party of Canada heading into the next election. Many have suggested that the kindest thing that Prime Minister Trudeau can do for his fellow Liberals is to allow a new, fresh leader to take the reins.
In a press conference last Wednesday, Chrystia Freeland — who has long been considered one of Trudeau’s potential successors — was asked about the Prime Minister’s declining popularity. As expected, she replied that, “as a team, we are all 100 per cent committed to supporting the prime minister and working hard to continue to deliver for Canadians.”
If Prime Minister Trudeau is increasingly unpopular, why do the Liberals remain united behind him?
Looking More Closely at the Polls
The Ipsos news release outlines a clean narrative. It cites the growing public disaffection with the Prime Minister since the last poll conducted in September. It also notes that dissatisfaction even amongst Liberal supporters is growing; the proportion of Liberals who would like to see a new leader has climbed slightly from 28% to 33% of respondents.
However, the inverse of these numbers is equally insightful: When Liberal voters are forced to choose between Trudeau staying on to lead the party in the next election, or stepping down and having party members elect a new leader, 67% of Liberal voters would prefer to have Trudeau stay on. This represents a healthy majority of Liberal respondents.
The regional breakdown proxies the election roadmap. While only 16% of Albertans would like to see Trudeau lead in the next election, the Prime Minister is notably faring much better in Quebec, with thirty-eight percent of Quebecers affirming they’d like Trudeau to retain his position as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Pierre Poilievre is also relatively less popular in Quebec compared to other provinces; only a slim majority of Quebecers would prefer to see Poilievre lead his party into the next election, rather than new leadership (51% of respondents). Again, in contrast, when given the same binary choice, 67% of Albertans would prefer to see Poilievre at the helm. When you consider the fact there are only two Albertan Liberal MPs, and thirty-five Liberal MPs from Quebec, these polling numbers don’t stray too far from the current reality in the House of Commons.
In other words, a decrease in Trudeau’s popularity among non-swing Conservatives, non-swing New Democrats, and Albertan voters that do not elect Liberals, is not necessarily Trudeau’s problem. Trudeau should, and will, reserve his attention for those who wear red — and those who could be cajoled into putting on a red t-shirt — from within swing and LPC ridings. The headlines will yell that 72% of Canadians think that the Liberals will need a new leader in the next election. But the fact is our electors do not have an equal voice.
Surprise Departure Time
There are many political observers who argue that armchair analyses of Trudeau’s electability are a waste of screen space. In many ways, they are right. In order to fulfill Canadians’ desire for a change election, Trudeau would have to depart suddenly and unexpectedly, thereby creating a clean break for the new leadership. Any outward grooming of a successor will likely be met with criticism and skeptivism and, right now, his leadership rivals appear disinterested in fomenting a coup. Will he stay, or will he go? In all likelihood, we won’t find out until he is wheeling his suitcase to the front door.