Trudeau, Gone By June?
It's embarrassing for Canada. The last year has been the worst on the world stage. However, the bright side is starting to shine through. After a ridiculous trip to India that faced widespread mockery in Asia and Europe, a groping scandal that caught feminists off guard and a brand new corruption scandal that's making international headlines, watching journalists and the media eat crow over the downfall of their clown prince is one of the most beautiful sights to witness. The same fawning idiots who talked up Trudeau in 2015 are being forced to eat a giant shit sandwich of their own making. The bad news is that their young, feminist prince is being exposed as a corrupt and arrogant hypocrite. The good news is, journalists and media get to act impartial and unbiased again while being forced to cover the Trudeau government's slow and painful demise. All of it may also point to an impending change in Liberal leadership.
The same journalists who sold us the Trudeau dream are now pretending they haven't been acting as surrogates and salesmen for the Liberal Party this whole time. Famous Liberal fart catcher, Paul Wells, recently published a scathing review of Justin Trudeau in Maclean's. Journalists at the Huffington Post have gone silent after spending the past three years celebrating Trudeau's feminism and the CBC is left with no choice but to cover the unfolding SNC-Lavalin scandal. The good news for all of them is that they get to act like real journalists again and take this opportunity to prove themselves as truly non-partisan players. Or, at least, that's what they're telling themselves. Either way, all of this has produced a massive, gourmet shit sandwich that we get to watch them eat.
Jane Philpott, a high profile cabinet minister, dropped another explosive resignation during what would have been a quiet news day at the CBC. Just as the CBC was trying to let the SNC-Lavalin scandal sizzle out, Philpott published a letter to the Prime Minister describing her disintegrating confidence in his government. To their dismay, journalists at the public broadcaster had to spend another 24 hours covering Trudeau's incremental downfall, knowing full well that their coverage would only help speed up Trudeau's inevitable tumble into the ash heap of Canadian history. It was fun to watch.
After three years of keeping his fools in check, Justin Trudeau has finally lost control. His cabinet, his journalists, his feminist groupies, his unions, his First Nation chiefs, his allies and his reputation are all disappearing. It won't be long before he starts to lose his own Liberal caucus, too.
The events of the past few weeks look like a rebellion. All the fools who fell for the Trudeau dream are waking up. Everything was a lie. He promised them transparency, ethics, positive politics, stability and prosperity. He delivered none of that.
Justin Trudeau's cabinet came in swinging in 2015. They wanted to reform the electoral system, clean up the “corruption” left behind by the Harper government, show Canadians a positive vision and do things differently.
All of those promises collapsed under ethics violations involving the Aga Khan, chateaus in France and various other conflicts of interest that Trudeau would have criticized the Harper government for. Other cabinet minister looked on in shame as their government's reputation went into flames under Justin Trudeau's leadership. As ministers, their own personal reputations were on the line.
The SNC-Lavalin scandal seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Jody Wilson-Raybould led the rebellion, being followed by her friend and colleague, Jane Philpott. Rumours have swirled in Ottawa since 2017 about dissatisfaction with Justin Trudeau inside the cabinet and Liberal caucus. His own ministers and MPs have expressed their frustrations in private, spending time dreading the next scandal that would tarnish their party's reputation. Some have called Justin Trudeau a “pompous kid” in private conversations.
Justin Trudeau promised them a good government with good, strong, ethical leadership. His failure to deliver on that promise has put their own political careers at risk and damaged the Liberal brand that they will be forced to defend in the next election.
If more cabinet ministers resign, it will be an indication that Trudeau's leadership is in jeopardy. As they resign from cabinet but not from the Liberal caucus, it indicates a possible revolt against Trudeau and a possible call for change within the party's leadership. By staying in the Liberal caucus and choosing to fly the Liberal banner in 2019, their decisions point to a possible coup. They have faith in the party, but not in its leader.
The Liberal Caucus
No one has yet resigned from the Liberal caucus. If you read what I just said above, it could point to a possible coup d'etat taking place inside the top ranks of the Liberal Party. So far, very few Liberal MPs have chosen to throw in the towel by choosing not to run in the next election. Recently, no one has crossed the floor either.
Faith in Trudeau's leadership is fading, but most of the caucus must still believe the party has enough steam to win again in 2019, or hold on to a slim minority.
The Liberal Party is still viable. Fundraising records and membership records prove it, but Justin Trudeau is no longer the party's most effective salesman. In fact, Justin Trudeau might now be viewed as a liability. As the weeks go on, calls inside the Liberal caucus might get louder for a leadership review. If Liberal MPs feel that Trudeau might be a bigger liability than an asset, it could happen sooner than later. If poll numbers, internal or otherwise, start pointing to a disaster, Justin Trudeau will be forced to resign or hold on to his leadership against challengers.
All of this will hinge on how the Liberal caucus chooses to go forward.
An Internal Coup
Australia has “leadership spills” more often than any other Westminster parliamentary system in the Commonwealth. Justin Trudeau can be credited with saving the Liberal Party with his name, but his leadership as Prime Minister and Liberal leader has turned the clock back on the party's progress since 2011—when they fell to third-party status, behind the NDP.
Justin Trudeau was never highly regarded inside the Liberal Party. He was a drama teacher and a snowboard instructor by trade, with nothing more than his father's name to give him an advantage. It's fair to say that the struggling Liberal Party, after its 2011 defeat, planned to use Justin Trudeau to redeem its success as Canada's “natural governing party”. They needed someone young, popular and famous. They needed someone who wasn't Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff. Justin Trudeau presented himself as the perfect figurehead.
Liberal Party elites and handlers took Justin Trudeau aside, made him cut his hair and take courses in public speaking, so they could use him to rebuild the party's brand and take back the government. Unfortunately, they didn't see what a problem his lack of leadership would become. Now, here we are. The Liberal government is a mess and people's personal reputations and political careers are at stake because of Justin Trudeau's leadership.
Many long-time Liberals aren't happy. There is now a list of decent, high profile ministers who could easily challenge Trudeau in a “leadership spill” after building their resumes over the past three years. Ironically, they have to credit Trudeau's name and electoral victory for their own success, but they'll need to replace him if they want to save their own legacies from being stained by his corruption.
An internal leadership challenge is one way for dissatisfied Liberal MPs to salvage their careers and the party's future if polling numbers slide into the danger zone. The likelihood of that happening seems to be high. The Ontario PCs pulled off a successful leadership election in time for the provincial election, meaning that federal Liberals may see a new leader as the party's only hope for success in October.
A true coup d'etat would involve Liberal Party elites forcing Trudeau to resign and then replacing him with an interim leader until after the October election.
A Minority Government
If Liberals collapse into a minority government in October, Justin Trudeau will be finished, regardless. Some inside the Liberal caucus may see this as the proper path forward. However, if polls in their own ridings show trouble, they might not want to wait for their leader to fall this way. A minority government also means the Liberal Party will have to deal with some casualties—and that's risky.
If internal Liberal polls start to show widespread losses, but still chances of a minority, the Liberal caucus will start to get more uncomfortable. If their own chances sink, they will either resign and choose not to run, or they will call for change at the leadership level. This kind of thing is not uncommon in Westminster politics. It's happening right now in the UK.
When parties face trouble, the leadership is almost always the first target. Ask Theresa May and Malcolm Turnbull. As soon as polls start to consistently reflect definitive losses for Liberals, Justin Trudeau will face calls from within his own caucus to resign. However, all of this hinges on timing.
If it's too close to an election, Trudeau will have to wait to resign after his government falls. If polls between now and June show a consistent and sustained drop in Liberal support, Trudeau might not survive until October. Anything that looks like a Liberal minority or a Conservative win will increase the chances of an internal Liberal coup before July.
What internal and external poll numbers do will decide Justin Trudeau's fate. People and leaders have rebounded from much worse. There is a chance that public faith in Justin Trudeau could bounce back or stay within a safe enough range that Liberal backbenchers and ministers don't panic. There's also a chance that Canada's faith in Justin Trudeau has been permanently diminished.
Even those inside the Liberal caucus who are unsatisfied with Trudeau's leadership might not see value in a leadership review if public opinion stays within a certain threshold. Others may use public opinion as a way to encourage Liberal insiders and other MPs to call for a leadership review.
It's possible that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are so dissatisfied with Justin Trudeau that they could be trying to force public opinion downward to help stir up an internal rebellion. A low enough public opinion of Justin Trudeau could push the others in cabinet and caucus—who are unsatisfied—to take action. Unlike previous Liberal governments, the Trudeau government is facing damaging poll numbers after its first term. In some ways, this is unprecedented for a first-term, Liberal government.
The Next Few Months
If the SNC-Lavalin scandal fades away and Canadians start to forget—and if no new scandals emerge—Justin Trudeau might survive. It's unlikely that the Liberals will pull in the same support they did in 2015, no matter how much Trudeau's reputation improves between now and October. Canada is an inherently liberal country, but that could be exactly why Canadians never regain their trust in Trudeau.
Through several ethics scandals and this latest attempt to help a corrupt, multi-national corporation escape criminal penalties, true liberals might be seeing Justin Trudeau for what he really is. It's highly probable that liberals and Liberal Party supporters won't forgive him. If this is the case, Trudeau's poll numbers won't gain any upward momentum between now and June.
Had there not been such an obvious level of dissent in his cabinet, this probably wouldn't be a discussion. Kathleen Wynne, despite her party's impossible chances, managed to maintain the confidence of her cabinet and most of her caucus. If Trudeau's Liberals hover between 30-33% (or lower) in most opinion polls, without gaining much traction by June, we could see something we never thought we would see: Justin Trudeau's resignation as Liberal leader.
June is the deadline. It would be approximately six months before the October election. Anything later than that would do more damage than good for Liberals. If Trudeau does face pressure to resign, it will happen before June. If he heeds the calls from inside his own party to quit, the Liberal caucus will select an interim leader and a new prime minister to replace him. After that, depending on who the interim leader is, they may or may not choose to hold a leadership election before the federal election.
A leadership vote before October would hinge on the influence and popularity of the interim leader. As of now, there are some candidates that could pull it off for the Liberal Party. Whether or not they try has yet to be seen.
The next few months are key.