Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

While the federal Liberals continue to lag behind in the polls, a first MP dares to publicly question the leadership of his leader.

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Liberal MP questions Trudeau's leadership

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The latest Abacus poll gave the Conservatives a 12-point lead in the Atlantic ahead of Justin Trudeau's troops. (Archive photo)

  • Laurence Martin (View profile)Laurence Martin

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He does not have the typical costume of an elected official. No gray pleated pants. No suit and tie. Rather, a beige sport coat and a green and black toque, tagged with the name of his town: Conception Bay South.

Ken McDonald is a proud Newfoundlander. He was born on the island. He became mayor there, then Liberal MP in 2015, a victory that he largely attributes to Justin Trudeau. It was hewho won the election. It was he who convinced Canadians that it was time to elect a new party to government, recalls Mr. McDonald.

But today, the elected official from Avalon – a largely rural constituency – wonders if the Liberal leader is not doing more harm than anything else: on the ground, he explains, we almost see hatred against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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Liberal Ken McDonald has represented the riding of Avalon, Newfoundland, since 2015.

He says his constituents have told him his chances of re-election would be better if Mr. Trudeau were not party leader. Ken McDonald therefore believes that a leadership review is necessary, because for him, it is not clear whether Justin Trudeau is still the right person to lead the Liberal troops.

He would like to see some kind of vote of confidence organized in the party, where members could express themselves and other candidates interested in the leadership could come forward.

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Let's get this straight. And if people are still inclined to keep the leader we have now, fine. But at least people will have a say in the direction the party takes.

A quote from Ken McDonald, Federal Liberal MP for Avalon

This is not the first time the Atlantic MP is making a splash. Last fall, he voted in favor of a Conservative motion to abolish carbon pricing – one of the Trudeau government's flagship policies.

At that moment, the phone calls multiplied for him to fall into line. The Prime Minister’s office [called me]. Different ministers contacted me. I had a meeting with the whip, he says. The pressure was intense, but I was determined, because I knew the people in my riding wanted me to vote like this.

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Ken McDonald in interview with journalist Laurence Martin

Ken McDonald argues that rural voters, who are numerous in his riding, have no alternative to the car and should not be affected by pricing on carbon. And this, even though the government increased the supplement last October for those who live outside urban areas. It is the densely populated places which are the problem and which should therefore be targeted, above all, by the tax, he argues.

The Newfoundland MP pushed, like other elected officials in the region, for Justin Trudeau to announce, last October, the temporary suspension of pricing for the oil heating – an expensive and very common heating method in the Atlantic. In fact, around 30% of the population still relies on heating oil.

During the announcement, Ottawa also promised more generous subsidies for the purchase of heat pumps.

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Justin Trudeau, surrounded by several of his Atlantic MPs, last October, in parliament in Ottawa. (Archive photo)

For Ken McDonald, this exemption represents a step in the right direction, but remains insufficient to really restore the image of the former minister in his region. The Liberal government is seen as a worn-out government. People are saying that maybe it's time for a change, he believes.

Every leader, every party has an expiration date. Our expiration date has arrived.

A quote from Ken McDonald, Federal Liberal MP for Avalon

The latest Abacus* poll (New window), carried out at the beginning of January, gave the Conservatives a 12-point lead in the Atlantic. Pierre Poilievre's troops received 43% of voting intentions against 31% for Justin Trudeau's team.

Yet the region's four provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador – have often been fertile grounds for the Liberals, who hold currently 24 seats out of 32. During Justin Trudeau's first election in 2015, all of the Atlantic ridings were painted red.

In Newfoundland and Labrador alone, where the Liberals have six of the seven seats in the province, Ken McDonald believes that the Conservatives could become a majority after the next election. My biggest fear is that we lose the government and someone else takes power, says Mr. McDonald.

A visit to Ken McDonald's constituency allows us to understand where his concern comes from. On site, it is easy to find voters who express their weariness with Justin Trudeau.

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Voters met at Tiny's Bar and Grill in Paradise, Newfoundland.

At the Tiny's Bar and Grill restaurant, we meet three retired office workers, all of whom have already supported the Liberals. But one of them, Jeanette Dyke, is thinking of voting for the Conservatives this time. I can't smell Justin Trudeau anymore, she said, before enjoying a goodfish and chips.

Jeanette Dyke has difficulty defining what she dislikes about the Liberal leader – the impression, perhaps, that he is not listening people – but his resentment seems almost visceral.

OK, Justin Trudeau has to charisma, but he annoys me. He's too annoying.

A quote from Avalon Constituency Voter Jeanette Dyke

Across from her, Trudy Quinlan describes herself as a die-hard liberal – there's nothing she can do about it, she was born that way, she says with a laugh. She intends to vote for Mr. Trudeau's candidate in the next election, but she still criticizes it. The chef, according to her, has served his time. Justin has done a good job […] but it's time for him to go, because people are starting to get tired of him, she says.

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Chef Trevor Whelan-King attended a Pierre Poilievre gathering last fall in St. John from Newfoundland.

In the kitchen, the words regarding Justin Trudeau are hardly more positive. He's very arrogant, says chef Trevor Whelan-King. I don't get the impression that he has people's best interests at heart. Like so many voters, he wants politicians to find a brake on inflation, a remedy that would lower the cost of living. Everything costs more and more. We are on an island, we have to transport everything [by boat], he explains.

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Amanda Bittner believes that inflation makes things particularly difficult for governments in power at the moment.

Political science professor Amanda Bittner of Memorial University is used to hearing this kind of speech. Everyone is frustrated, she told us in an interview, and it's easy, in many situations, to put all the blame on Justin Trudeau.

As with many governments in place around the world, the federal Liberal Party is becoming a catalyst for everyone's fatigue. We want simple solutions, we think that these people [in power] caused a lot of our problems, explains Professor Bittner.

That the blame whether justified or not, Ken McDonald, in any case, senses that the Pierre Poilievre sauce is taking hold in certain corners of the Atlantic. He talks about affordability. That’s what people want to hear about, he emphasizes.

The rebel MP does not go so far as to reject Justin Trudeau completely – he even describes his leader as someone intelligent who does well in the campaign – but also explains that sometimes a leader or a party tries to hold on to power for too long. For him, the Liberals must find a way to change things so that people see the political party as a new force.

Ken McDonald has not yet decided whether he will run again in the next election. However, he leaves us with a pessimistic prediction: The next election will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult we have had in this country in a long time.

With the collaboration of Marie Chabot-Johnson

*The survey was carried out among 1,500 Canadians through the Abacus Data panel and conducted from January 4 to 9 using an online questionnaire.

To As an indication, a probability sample of this size would have had a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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