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Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, back middle, applauds as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech to the Liberal caucus during a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 17.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Trailing badly in the polls, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has set an internal goal of narrowing the Conservative Party’s double-digit lead by five points every six months.

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the strategy, the Liberals are taking an incremental approach to climbing out of their deep hole in popularity. By July, the sources said, the Prime Minister’s Office is expecting to see the first material change in polling.

The minority Liberals’ expectation for some positive polling news is tied to this week’s federal budget, which they believe was squarely focused on the key concerns of the under-40 crowd. The sources acknowledged the high stakes facing Mr. Trudeau but described the budget as an opening salvo and not the last word on the Liberals’ hopes to improve their prospects.

To succeed in their strategy, the sources said the Liberals need to ensure Canadians hear about the budget programs; that the government follows through on the promised policies; and that the Liberals draw a contrast with Conservatives and convince voters that the programs wouldn’t be on offer under Leader Pierre Poilievre.

The Globe is not identifying the sources in this story because they were not permitted to disclose internal party plans.

Younger voters delivered Mr. Trudeau his last two election victories, but have left the Liberals for the Conservatives in part because of unaffordable rent and housing costs that are pricing younger people out of home ownership. The goal is to show those voters the government is paying attention to them and actively working on their needs. While pollsters say the new spending plan responds to what young Canadians want, they caution that the headwinds facing the Liberals – a late-stage political cycle and demand for change – could be too strong to overcome.

The housing and affordability issue squeezing younger voters is why Canadian politics “has been turned on its head,” said Abacus Data chief executive David Coletto. “Those under 40 have basically gone from being fundamental to the Liberal coalition to being now a central part of the Conservative coalition.”

Those younger voters now make up the largest voting bloc, said EKOS Research president Frank Graves, and without them the Liberals face “a sure loss.”

He said his firm’s polling, however, shows signs of hope for the Liberals and underscores why they rolled out $53-billion in new spending and $21.9-billion in new tax hikes. There is big and growing support for a more activist government, he said.

There’s appetite for the budget, he added, but the question is whether it will be enough for a government “suffering from high levels of regime fatigue and leader antipathy.”

While the budget might not be seen as bold enough, especially when compared with U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposals for wealth taxes and corporate tax hikes, Mr. Graves said it’s likely enough to move the needle in polling. But if the Liberal efforts don’t land, he said, “pressure will be on to change leaders.”

When Mr. Trudeau told a cheering Liberal convention in May, 2023, that he would be running for a fourth mandate against Mr. Poilievre’s “brokenist” politics, his party was looking at a five-point gap in the polls. They then won two by-elections and entered the summer hopeful for a reset. Instead, by the time they returned to Parliament in September, they were staring at a double-digit hole that they have yet to climb out of.

The most recent April 12 data from Nanos Research show the Conservatives at 40 points, and the Liberals at 24 points. The NDP are at 21. The rolling telephone survey captures the sentiments of 1,000 Canadians over a four-week cycle. It is accurate plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The extended slump leaves pollster Nik Nanos skeptical of any self-directed turnaround. He said even a budget that responds to Canadians’ needs can’t reverse the downward arc of the political cycle – which is what Mr. Trudeau is in after eight years in government.

“In the last part of the Harper mandate, they threw money at families in the hope it would help their re-election – voters take whatever is given by government but it does not lead to votes,” Mr. Nanos said.

“The reality is that today Poilievre controls the political destiny of Trudeau. If Poilievre continues to do well, the Conservative advantage will continue. If Poilievre makes a mistake, it will breathe new life in Trudeau’s political fortunes.”

Importantly for a leader on the ropes, the budget was also largely welcomed by the Liberal caucus who believe it responds to the issues they’re hearing on the doorsteps and was well-executed, according to five other Liberal sources, who are either in the government or closely connected to it.

Most of those Liberals said they don’t believe the government can fight the natural election cycle and desire for change after three campaigns under the same leader. However, despite that belief, low polling numbers and the poor prospects for Liberal MPs in swing ridings, the five sources said Mr. Trudeau has built up enough goodwill within the party to not risk being pushed out.

Scott Reid, who was director of communications to former prime minister Paul Martin and who was a central figure in the leadership battle with Jean Chrétien, said Mr. Trudeau is not at risk of being shown the door by his own party. He said that remains the case even with this week’s report in The Globe and Mail that the Prime Minister’s ally and senior cabinet minister, Dominic LeBlanc, is organizing a leadership bid should Mr. Trudeau resign.

“It’s a mini-miracle with the party this low in the polls that you haven’t seen more of these stories,” Mr. Reid said.

He said the lack of more discontent speaks to the culture of the modern Liberal Party, which is entirely built around Mr. Trudeau and has no competing cliques within it. It’s also why he said the government has the room to roll out its strategy of incremental progress.

“There’s kind of an unquestioned control over the apparatus by Trudeau, and an unquestioned deference.”

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