Pierre Poilievre kicked off the weekend Friday night being hailed as a future prime minister by the Conservative faithful at the party’s convention in Quebec City and Justin Trudeau ended it stranded in New Delhi by a broken-down plane.
It was a September capper to a woeful summer for the Prime Minister. At this moment, it feels like Mr. Trudeau’s luck has run out. Except for the bad luck.
The old 1980s jets that still shuttle the Prime Minister of Canada overseas are about to be replaced this fall by new planes just delivered to the Canadian Forces two weeks ago. Mr. Trudeau’s Airbus only had to hold together for one or two more trips, but it stranded him in India, running late for a caucus meeting with antsy Liberal MPs in London, Ont.
Aircraft maintenance isn’t the Prime Minister’s personal responsibility, of course, and if you had to blame a politician for the fact that Canadian leaders toot to global summits on crappy old planes, it should be Jean Chrétien, who, as opposition leader in 1992, launched an era of parsimonious plane politics when he dubbed the not-so-luxurious Airbus ordered by the government of then-prime minister Brian Mulroney the “flying Taj Mahal.”
Still, it follows a summer in which the prevailing narrative about Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal government is that the bottom has fallen out. And that everything goes off the rails these days.
The Liberals had hoped for a summer getaway from a bad spring. It was hard enough dealing with the angst caused by inflation and high interest rates, but the Liberals compounded it. They mishandled allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian elections and then-public safety minister Marco Mendicino couldn’t explain why he was about the only person in his circle who didn’t know notorious serial killer Paul Bernardo was being transferred to a medium-security prison.
Mr. Trudeau’s cull of cabinet ministers in a July shuffle didn’t turn the tide. Neither did an August cabinet retreat where the main take-away was that the Liberals haven’t done enough to deal with the housing crisis that people have been screaming about for more than a year. Several opinion polls, fickle as they are, made it seem like a number of Canadians simultaneously walked away from the Liberals.
Of course, perceptions feed on perceptions. The Liberals’ self-inflicted failures make the next misfortune look like part of a pattern. Mr. Trudeau’s plane has had mishaps before, but this time Mr. Poilievre was lapping up the limelight and the glow of good polls from a Quebec City stage. Bad polls seem to make for bad luck in politics. What’s going to break next?
But those perceptions are still a thing Mr. Trudeau will have to deal with now. When he arrives in London for the Liberal caucus retreat, he will meet a group of MPs who are anxious to know what Mr. Trudeau is going to do to turn things around. There is less confidence the PM can change the Liberals’ luck.
That’s new for Justin Trudeau. He entered politics as a celebrity and in his first years as PM, he led a charmed political life. Even when the SNC-Lavalin affair and the wear of events saw him reduced to 32-per-cent support, he appeared to skate over the treacherously thin ice of minority government without danger for four more years.
For the first time in Mr. Trudeau’s eight-year tenure, it’s his opponent who seems to have the gift of good fortune.
That doesn’t make what comes next inevitable. It is rare for a prime minister to reverse their political fortunes late into their third term in power, but it is also common for opposition leaders to fly high for months then fade into hapless also-rans. Mr. Poilievre’s critique of Mr. Trudeau might wear over a period of months if he doesn’t say more about what he would do.
Mr. Trudeau built a lot of his own bad luck with errors, including errors of omission, like failing to catch up to angst over housing with muscular, effective planning despite years of Liberal plans and promises. Perhaps a renewed governing agenda could undo some of the malaise the Liberals felt this summer.
But that’s hard to pull off now, after eight years, when Mr. Trudeau will be under constant pressure from the public, and his own party, to make his own luck.