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Andrew Steele is a vice-president at StrategyCorp and worked in war rooms for Liberal premiers and prime ministers.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.” Yet for 30 years, Canada’s Liberals made sneering at leadership rivals an art form.

Hard-fought battles to select new party leaders are healthy sources of renewal, at least in small doses. But perpetual leadership infighting sickened the Liberal Party for decades. The leadership disease eventually suppurated into an open wound with Paul Martin’s exit from Jean Chrétien’s cabinet in 2001 – a lesion that grew septic when the Liberals became the Opposition.

The media loved it. The grassroots hated it. And then, sick of the arrogance, Canadians sent the Liberals to third place in 2011.

In 2013, Justin Trudeau put the leadership battles to rest. Mr. Trudeau now leads a party that has been rebuilt to suit his strengths. The party grassroots abhor a return to the internal divisions of the past; the boys’ club attitude that defined those years runs against the feminism and diversity of today’s caucus and cabinet.

And yet.

This year, the Prime Minister was badly bruised by foreign espionage and the rising cost of living. The new Opposition leader is more ruthless. Polls are deeply troubling for the Liberals. And perhaps on instinct, a handful of leadership warriors are calling for Mr. Trudeau to resign. Sneering, once decidedly passé, appears to be back in vogue.

But the tragedy of sneering Liberals is its futile destructiveness. Mr. Trudeau has said he is staying, and public sniping is only likely to strengthen his resolve. There is no mechanism to speed his departure before the next election. The only beneficiaries of so-called Liberal loyalists talking down other Liberals are the Conservatives.

And it’s impossible to know whether Justin Trudeau is the right person to lead the Liberals into the next election.

History offers little help. William Lyon Mackenzie King, Lester B. Pearson and Jean Chrétien are the only prime ministers to retire and see their successor win the next election. On the other hand, Mackenzie Bowell, Robert Borden, Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney all left office and saw their successors be defeated. Wilfrid Laurier, John Diefenbaker and Stephen Harper stayed, only to lose a general election before departing politics as an opposition MP.

Strikingly, three prime ministers lost office and then came back to win majorities: John A. Macdonald, Mackenzie King, and Pierre Trudeau. Successful resurrections are as common as successful retirements.

Provincial politics provides little direction. Seven Ontario premiers retired voluntarily since the Great Depression; four of their successors won the subsequent election, while three were defeated. In Quebec during the same period, five of six successor premiers seeking their own mandate lost in the next election; the sole exception was Lucien Bouchard, who took over from Jacques Parizeau after the 1995 referendum.

No one can say what the Prime Minister should do based on public opinion research, either. Abacus Data found “… a broad and deep desire for change, and fairly negative impressions of the Prime Minister…” but “there’s no clear silver bullet, including the Prime Minister stepping down as leader before the next election.” Spark Advocacy found “Most Canadians don’t dislike Justin Trudeau’s values, character, or much of his policy record …” but voters are fatigued from overexposure to Mr. Trudeau through a tumultuous period.

Based on my own network, if a leadership review were to be held today, Mr. Trudeau would win. Some grassroots Liberals may not think he should stay but most believe he’s earned the right to decide if he should step down.

And if a week is a lifetime in politics, two years – the next general election is likely to come on Oct. 20, 2025, barring an unexpected event – is an epoch. Liberal campaign guru Keith Davey said that all elections boil down to a single issue, and no one is ever sure at the start what it will be. Whether that issue favours Mr. Trudeau two years out is anyone’s guess.

Progressives around the world can fall victim to smugness, a tendency to preach, to confuse knowledge with argument. Mr. Trudeau and his team can be guilty of all these. But when he testified at the Emergencies Act inquiry last year, he was riveting: focused, sincere, serious. When Mr. Trudeau is at his best, he is leading, and not performing. Diligent focus on delivering improvements is what Canadians want.

No one really knows if he can secure the right to lead Canada’s 45th Parliament. That’s why we have elections. But if Liberals want to improve their chances, they should quit sneering and stick to another of Mr. Davey’s maxims: Work and win.

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