The next chapter for the Liberal Party

The Liberal Party of Canada owes Justin Trudeau a debt of gratitude. After Paul Martin, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal Party’s share of the popular vote declined from the highs of Jean Chrétien’s 41.3% to Paul Martin’s highest of 36.7%, Dion’s 26.2 % and Ignatieff’s 18.9 %. We ended up in 3rd place in 2011 for the first time in Canadian history, and our share of the popular vote was the lowest ever received by the Liberal Party.

The worry in the Liberal Party of Canada was that it would suffer a similar fate as the United Kingdom’s Liberal Party, which was squeezed between the left and right and plummeted from being the governing party to fifth place in a single election, never to recover.

Justin prevented that by winning government in 2015.

He captured 39.5 % of the vote but his support has been in a downward spiral ever since with 33.1 % in 2019 and 32.6 % in 2021.

Today, notwithstanding that his support has hit record lows, many party members are also grateful that Justin’s greatest accomplishment as leader has been his success in recruiting multitalented Canadians to serve in parliament.

In his cabinet, outstanding ministers like Sean Fraser, Anita Anand, Mélanie Joly, François-Philippe Champagne, and Jonathan Wilkinson have served alongside former Ministers Jody Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott. The Liberal Caucus also includes many other accomplished members.

The reason Canadians should be interested in the inner workings of the Liberal Party is because only the Liberal Party has a realistic chance of stopping a government led by Pierre Poilievre.
Poilievre is, notwithstanding his soft-focus ad campaign, very clear on what he intends to do and where he intends to steer Canada. His agenda is one all progressives will oppose.

Unlike Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who tried to move in baby steps to shift the country in his conservative image hoping for a long-lasting permanent move to the right in voting intentions, Poilievre, who saw firsthand how that plan failed, will likely move quickly and forcefully to change Canada if he forms government.

The opportunity for a Poilievre government was created by a lack of fiscal responsibility in the Trudeau government, and the damage it caused our economy is now showing up in the opinion poll numbers. Within the Liberal Party, many members who are in favour of fiscal responsibility—so we have the money to expand much needed social programs and grow the productivity and prosperity of our country—have given up on this current iteration of the Liberal Party.

Originally, these centralist liberals assumed that Justin and his crowd needed to be educated on the economic issues of the day.

That naiveté was replaced with the realization that they were not a serious government when it came to the economy, that they simply didn’t care and would throw money at anything that crossed their mind. The resulting interest rate hikes, increasing cost of living, and huge debt didn’t seem to concern them.

The other group of Liberals who have hit pause on their support for the Party are those who expected government announcements to be followed by government action. Given the emphasis the Trudeau Liberals placed on deliverology in 2015, it is almost as if they were foreshadowing their weakness.

Inaction on delivery and lack of fiscal prudence have now returned with a vengeance to haunt this government.

There is a possibility that under our first-past-the-post electoral system, Justin and the NDP could squeeze enough seats to form a minority government. The questions for Justin Trudeau are: given the divisions in our country, is that the best result for Canada, and is it the best result for Justin personally?

The prudent course of action is for another Liberal Leader to rise from the impressive Liberal caucus and safeguard those policies he was actually able to accomplish, like the Canada Child Benefit.

If the next Liberal Leader is able to bring the party back to the center of the political spectrum, Liberals have a chance of being reelected.

Percy Downe is a lifelong Liberal Party supporter and former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien