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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, center, arrives ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the Citadelle de Quebec, on July 27.John Locher/The Associated Press

Will Justin Trudeau know when it’s time to go?

Surely, this is something occupying at least some of his energy during his much-discussed vacation to Costa Rica. Will he return reinvigorated, primed for a fall battle against the presumptive new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Pierre Poilievre? Or will he begin laying the groundwork for his departure?

There has been conjecture that he might even trigger a fall election. I don’t believe that for a second. The man has never been as unpopular as he is now, so why would he do that? Particularly given that he is still in a position to govern for almost three more years under the confidence-and-supply agreement reached with the NDP.

My guess is he won’t return from vacation with any grand revelation resulting from a walk on the beach – the summer version of his father, Pierre’s, famous walk in a snowstorm that inspired his retirement in 1984. Instead, Justin will likely gird for a fight with Mr. Poilievre while trying to refurbish an agenda that has been hijacked and uprooted by a series of unfortunate events: a pandemic, inflation, war in Ukraine, and a new political adversary who is skilled in landing devastatingly effective political punches.

But the Prime Minister must also face another reality: he is not well-liked by broad swaths of the public.

Mr. Trudeau incites a visceral response in many Canadians, and not just those living in Western Canada. After a certain length of time in office, most politicians accumulate unsightly barnacles that are difficult to shake. Mr. Trudeau is no exception.

Justin Trudeau is spending two weeks in Costa Rica. So what?

There has always been a “to-the-manor-born” aura about the Prime Minister, something that comes with being the scion of a famous family. Many people have never felt comfortable with the way he speaks – it can seem affected, unnatural. It’s a subjective matter, but one that can influence the way a person thinks about you.

Mr. Trudeau has also been hurt by self-inflicted wounds. He has cemented the impression that there is one set of rules for him, and another for the rest of us. The whiff of privilege enveloping him appeared early on, when he spent the Christmas of 2016 on the Aga Khan’s private island, in violation of federal conflict-of-interest laws. That feeling extended to his latest holiday in Costa Rica, where he and his family emerged from a private jet, maskless. Again, one rule for him, another for the lumpenproletariat forced to fly commercial.

The Prime Minister is seen by many as a woke virtue signaller, more concerned with image than substance. There was his showy trip to Kyiv in May to reopen the Canadian embassy, which hasn’t been occupied since. He travelled to Tofino, B.C., for a surfing holiday on the first-ever National Day of Truth and Reconciliation last year, despite his oft-repeated declaration that nothing is more important to him than treating Indigenous peoples with respect and dignity.

Fair or not, Mr. Trudeau is taking the blame for just about every travel woe these days: security delays and chaos at airports, days-long lineups for passports, flight cancellations. It’s all because of the federal government’s COVID-19 mandates and the ArriveCAN app, his critics protest. It’s not, of course, but the PM is wearing it anyway.

In a response to a previous column, one letter writer suggested to me that when people feel their interests and values are systemically being disregarded by governments, they begin to look for alternatives – as unappealing as some of those other options might be to them. That may explain a recent Abacus poll that showed the Conservatives up five points over the Liberals if an election were to have been held last month.

A dangerous rage is sweeping the land

The same poll asked respondents if they had a positive or negative impression of Mr. Trudeau. Fifty-one per cent responded in the negative – his worst number on this question, ever. The survey also indicated that a dwindling number of people believe the country is heading in the right direction.

Mr. Trudeau has always been unpopular in the Prairies. But that enmity is now spreading. There is an impression that the Prime Minister is a master of wedge politics, which has divided the country more than anything the Conservatives have done in recent memory. Many Canadians haven’t been able to trust the PM since the SNC-Lavalin scandal and his showdown with Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Can Mr. Trudeau rise from the stupor in which he currently finds himself? It’s possible. He has a fairly long runway ahead of him thanks to the NDP. But a lot of the damage that has been done to the Trudeau brand is likely irreversible.

The Prime Minister is many things, but stupid he is not. He can see what’s going on. The question is – what will he do about it?

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