The Trudeau camp has already drawn up its road map to 2015.
Everything that Justin Trudeau does between now and then, if he wins the Liberal leadership on Sunday, will be with an eye to the next general election. The details of the plan are being closely guarded: Mr. Trudeau and his advisers feel it would be presumptuous and arrogant to publicly speculate on their strategy for the future ahead of the final results of the race.
Speaking with a wide variety of Liberal sources, however, The Globe and Mail has pieced together what they believe to be the eight major challenges facing the front-runner in the race to lead the party after three successive electoral defeats. Over all, the goal is to avoid the trappings of the Ottawa bubble and focus the party’s energy on the next ballot.
Mr. Trudeau has many things to do on Monday, from asking his first question to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons to staffing his parliamentary office. However, he can be expected to quickly lay out his priorities for the future when he makes his most crucial announcement: the Liberal Party’s campaign team for the 2015 election.
1. Start right away to fight 2015 election
The Trudeau camp needs to get its election team up and running as soon as possible. The core members of his leadership bid, having shown their mettle during a seven-month-long campaign, are expected to focus on the next election instead of running his leader’s office in Ottawa. Top advisers and organizers such as Gerald Butts, Katie Telford and Robert Asselin are set to guide the Liberal Party and Mr. Trudeau’s long-term strategy, rather than manage the day-to-day operations of parliamentary affairs. Mr. Trudeau plans to stick to the disciplined, hard-work ethic that has been successful for him so far, while allowing his team to grow to absorb new talent.
Liberals feel that Canadians will want to know that Mr. Trudeau can perform in the House, but the priority will be to continue meeting with voters across the country, showcasing his commitment to learning his job and offering a positive alternative to the Harper government. Mr. Trudeau will benefit from the fact that as the leader of the third-place party in the House, he will not have the same obligations or opportunities as the Official Opposition NDP to keep the government in check, which will free him up for politicking outside of the Ottawa bubble.
2. Concentrate on fundraising and modernizing the party
The Liberal Party of Canada is a relic of the past, carrying a complicated structure of provincial and territorial wings. Past efforts to reform the Liberal Party have met much internal resistance, leaving the organization heavier and more decentralized than the Conservative Party of Canada and the NDP.
Mr. Trudeau and his team are well aware of the need to change their party, but they don’t want to reignite past tensions for the sake of it. The goal remains to be focused on the next election, which means ensuring that the party is the most effective campaign tool possible. One key challenge will be to mesh Mr. Trudeau’s campaign organization with the party structure. Mr. Trudeau has already attracted thousands of volunteers who will be working to get him in office, and he needs to use his strong social-media presence to the benefit of the entire party. The hundreds of thousands of supporters who signed up during the leadership race will also continue to be solicited for money and policy input.
Money is a key ingredient of modern politics, and the Conservative Party has easily beat its opponents at the fundraising game for years. The funds have allowed Mr. Harper’s team to wage large-scale advertising campaigns, but Mr. Trudeau has proven an adept fundraiser during his own leadership bid. His campaign is vowing to transfer about $1-million in unspent funds to the Liberal Party, and he plans to continue amassing money at every opportunity, although the Liberals are not expected to catch up to the Conservatives in the short term.
3. Shuffle the shadow cabinet to showcase veterans and new faces
What to do with party veterans Bob Rae and Ralph Goodale, especially if they plan to run again in the next election? Where to place supporters Dominic LeBlanc and Scott Brison? What happens to leadership rivals Joyce Murray and Marc Garneau? Which new faces to promote?
Mr. Trudeau will have lots of choices as he puts his stamp on his caucus, made up of 34 other MPs and 36 senators. He is currently slotted in the position of critic for amateur sport, so his eventual victory will not create a big hole to fill. Still, he will need to strike a careful balance between putting a new face on his parliamentary team and ensuring that veteran performers are put to good use and form a united front behind their new leader.
4. Develop an approach to Quebec to increase support there
He is a son of the province, but Mr. Trudeau is also an enemy of the Quebec sovereignty movement, putting him in a tight spot among the nationalist electorate that has a large sway in francophone ridings.
Mr. Trudeau supports the Constitution that was left behind by his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, leaving him a political outsider in many parts of the province, especially with elites. In that context, Mr. Trudeau will need to portray his overall values and priorities as being in touch and in sync with those of most Quebeckers. Any victory for Mr. Trudeau in 2015 will depend on his ability to increase the Liberal haul of seats in Quebec, where it currently holds eight ridings out of 75. His adversary on that front will be NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who is trying to position himself as the prime-minister-in-waiting. Expect Mr. Trudeau to continue to reach out to Quebeckers by saying he will continue to listen to their concerns and inviting them to participate in the federal government.
5. Flesh out Liberal policy after hearing from party members
The Liberal Party of Canada will organize a convention in 2014. The next meeting of the party will offer the perfect occasion for Mr. Trudeau to flesh out the thin policy offering that formed the heart of his leadership campaign. Mr. Trudeau has outlined a number of broad strokes and values that would guide him in office, namely a focus on education, free trade, improving the lot of the middle class and saving the environment.
However, the Trudeau camp made a deliberate calculation that it was best to avoid revealing his plan too early in the game, both to avoid opening himself up to attacks and to allow Liberals to get involved in the policy-making process. When Liberals gather in about a year’s time, they will be able to shape and approve the policy platform that will guide Mr. Trudeau’s first election campaign as Liberal leader, and try to put an end to the attacks against his supposedly lightweight agenda. However, the policy development process will be broader, with a full platform having to wait until closer to the election date.
6. Make sure riding associations are ready for open nominations
All 338 Liberal candidates in the next election campaign will be selected through open nomination processes, including Mr. Trudeau in the riding of Papineau and all other sitting Liberal MPs. Mr. Trudeau has pledged not to use his powers to appoint anyone, although he could well provide his support to star candidates whom he attracts to the party in key ridings.
The situation means that Mr. Trudeau needs to ensure that all riding associations are up and running across the country as soon as possible, and ready to select their standard-bearers for 2015. The job of attracting quality candidates will be easier if the party continues its strong performance in public-opinion polls, but the Liberals still face an uphill battle in many parts of the country.
7. Win two crucial by-elections, electoral tests for the party
Mr. Trudeau’s first major test as leader will come on May 13 when a by-election is held in the riding of Labrador. He is expected to travel to the riding before voting day, and his party is the favourite to take back the seat that was in Conservative hands until the recent resignation of MP and intergovernmental affairs minister Peter Penashue. A victory would offer a sweet moment in Mr. Trudeau’s first month as leader, while a defeat would prove a bitter letdown.
The next electoral test will come if Liberal MP Denis Coderre resigns his seat in Montreal to run for the mayoralty of the city in the fall. The riding is also traditionally Liberal, but the NDP will fight hard to expand its power base in Quebec. In addition, the separatist Bloc Québécois will look to emerge on the winning side of a potential three-way race, and can be expected to launch an all-out attack against Mr. Trudeau in his home province.
8. Keep focused on the message, even during heated exchanges
Mr. Trudeau was nervous when he stood up in Question Period last month to grill Mr. Harper, relying on his notes to ask his questions. He has been practising and can be expected to be better prepared if he gets the chance to quiz the Prime Minister again on Monday.
Liberals are well aware there will be much media attention on the first few exchanges between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Harper, although they insist the election will not be won in the House. In addition, Mr. Trudeau’s team has been coaching him throughout the campaign to ensure that he remains focused on his message, while avoiding a theatrical or overdramatic delivery during heated exchanges.
The ultimate goal is for Mr. Trudeau to be prepared for the all-leaders’ debate that will be held in 2015.