As they head toward the midpoint of Justin Trudeau's mandate, Liberal MPs seem to think the public credits them with getting the big things right but a bunch of smaller things wrong.
In Mr. Trudeau's circle, that's supposed to be a win. The Prime Minister's advisers say one of his political mantras is "Get the big things right."
Of course, there's still a lot of unpredictability around those big things, including a warming economy and relations with President Donald Trump's United States. And at summer barbecues and in coffee chats with constituents, MPs are hearing about smaller things that spell trouble: concerns about asylum seekers illegally crossing the border; Omar Khadr's $10-million settlement; small-business tax changes that have doctors and some other professionals hopping mad.
On Wednesday, Liberal MPs will meet in Kelowna, B.C., for what amounts to a midterm caucus retreat. It's worth noting the government's script has changed considerably since they were elected two years ago.
That list of things they are hearing about now is not the stuff of their election campaign or inaugural Throne Speech, when they talked about infrastructure, climate change, peacekeeping and electoral reform.
Some just aren't top of mind: The government did pump money into infrastructure, but one Toronto-area MP said federal money for transit doesn't seem tangible to his constituents. Some things, such as peacekeeping and electoral reform, were ditched.
But Liberal MPs are rubbing their hands at a warming economy that they think is doing them a lot of good.
On Thursday, Statistics Canada reported that the economy grew at an unusually strong pace in the second quarter – an annualized rate of 4.5 per cent – and 387,000 jobs were created over the past year.
The public doesn't exactly credit Liberal politicians for a better economy, but they're not blaming them for a bad one. "That alone is a lot," one Quebec MP said. An Ontario MP said that when there's less anxiety about things such as jobs, there's less public anxiety in general – and that's good for the party in power.
And Liberal MPs say they do get praise for the way Mr. Trudeau's government has stickhandled Canada-U.S. relations. That's an economic issue because of the potential effects on trade, as Mr. Trump has threatened to tear up the North American free-trade agreement, and MPs say it has helped make Mr. Trudeau's reputation more substantive: He was supposed to be the novice facing the deal maker and is perceived as having handled the relationship deftly.
Of course, Liberal MPs are partisans. They discount critics. But they tend to be sensitive to where political danger lies. It's not broken promises such as electoral reform, in their telling. It's not fears about dealing with Mr. Trump. It's a string of smaller things.
This is a government that swerved sharply from Liberal agenda to post-Trump reality, then focused its attention there. Mr. Trudeau's government has slipped on the politics of several smaller issues.
In July, it was the $10-million settlement with Mr. Khadr, when angry constituents gave Liberal MPs an earful. MPs say that blew over in a week or two – but they expect the Conservatives to try to reignite it when Parliament resumes sitting this month.
Then it was the stream of asylum seekers crossing the border illegally into Quebec. People don't like it and don't worry less because the problem is hard to solve – the Tories have made mileage criticizing the Liberals for the problem, but have been unable to offer feasible solutions of their own. Some Liberal MPs think their government should be doing a better job of countering the perception that the border crossing is spiralling out of control.
And now there's a small-business uprising. Finance Minister Bill Morneau's plan to change small-business taxation was supposed to make ordinary Canadians feel the system is being made more fair, but so far the only real reaction is from doctors, lawyers and accountants buttonholing Liberal MPs and telling them it's an outrageous tax grab. Even MPs who think Mr. Morneau is right and that the backlash is partly based on misinformation want to see something done to ease the anger.
So far, Mr. Trudeau's maxim about the big things seems to have the politics right. The Liberals are far ahead in opinion polls. The MPs are confident. But as they approach the halfway mark, it's a string of little things that's causing them grief.