With Trudeau's leadership under fire, Liberals try to regroup before October

Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 in part because he changed the way many Canadians felt about politics. But if Trudeau is going to be reelected in 2019, party insiders admit he needs to change the way many Canadians feel about him now.Federal and provincial Liberals who spoke to CBC News concede what was unthinkable just months ago — that in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin controversy, Trudeau's leadership has gone from one of the party's greatest strengths to one of its biggest liabilities.It's even an issue in Atlantic Canada, the region the party swept in 2015. Provincial candidates in Newfoundland and Labrador — where the Liberals were reduced to a minority government on Thursday — were surprised at the amount of anti-Trudeau sentiment they encountered while going door-to-door.Many voters in the energy-reliant and financially-challenged province were worried about the impact Trudeau's environmental agenda would have on the local offshore oil sector. Others were angry about the Liberals' approach to immigration. Those issues, combined with the SNC-Lavalin controversy, have transformed voter attitudes about Trudeau.What a difference three months made"Three months ago he would have been an asset for us," said one senior Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal. "Now, not so much."That dynamic is showing up in private focus groups that are reinforcing the public polls: Trudeau's reputation as a strong leader has been badly damaged by the SNC-Lavalin affair — a public conflict between Trudeau and his then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that saw both the minister and her colleague, Jane Philpott, resign from cabinet to protest what they alleged was high-level pressure to secure a deal to allow the Quebec-based engineering company to avoid a trial on corruption and fraud charges.Independent Members of Parliament Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould speak with the media before question period in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa, Wednesday April 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)The collapse of the Crown's case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, with its accusations of political interference on the part of the government, merely compounded the party's image crisis."I don't think something happened in the broader environment that forced the change. I think it was what happened here in Ottawa with SNC-Lavalin," said David Coletto, CEO of polling firm Abacus Data, in a recent interview."That was a moment that seems to have completely reset people's impressions of the prime minister and now he's living with the consequences of that."Pharmacare, finances over climate changeOne of the consequences of that "reset" is an effort by Liberals to recalibrate how they're positioning themselves to seek re-election. The Liberal climate plan is an important part of that. But there is a deep recognition in party circles that talking about climate change alone won't be nearly enough to save the government.Many Liberals acknowledge that the Conservatives have smartly tapped into the issue of affordability and economic anxiety. This was reflected in the Ontario Liberal caucus's ranking of platform priorities, leaked to CBC News, that put personal financial security ahead of climate and reconciliation. At the top of the Ontario MPs' list was a national pharmacare plan, which is certain to be a centrepiece of the Liberal platform.But a platform can only work if the leader can sell it. There is a hope among senior Liberals who spoke to CBC News — both elected officials and political staff — that a busy slate of international travel over the next few months can help rehabilitate Trudeau's reputation as a leader.'A desire for change still requires an acceptable alternative'The prime minister is ...Read more

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