Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau address his national caucus during a winter caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 25.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reassure his caucus that better times are ahead and tried to rally his Liberal team in a lengthy speech on Thursday, just as a former top Liberal cabinet minister announced he was quitting.

Liberals are gathered in Ottawa for a three-day retreat ahead of the return to the House of Commons on Monday.

Their national caucus meeting began with a public speech from the Prime Minister aimed at motivating his team as it faces angry voters, stubbornly low polling numbers and a slide in Mr. Trudeau’s personal support.

The Prime Minister’s goal this week is to show Liberals that a comeback is possible, but the headwinds he faces were amplified by members of his own team.

On Wednesday, Liberal MP Ken McDonald called for a leadership review, though he recanted his comments on Thursday. Then just minutes after the Prime Minister wrapped up his motivational speech, one of his former top lieutenants announced he was leaving.

David Lametti, who was justice minister until he was shuffled out of cabinet in July, said he is resigning as an MP effective Jan. 31 to take a job at the Fasken Martineau DuMoulin law firm. Mr. McDonald’s comments on the Prime Minister’s tenure has again put Mr. Trudeau’s future in the spotlight. But Mr. Lametti said the Prime Minister has “earned the right to say whether he wants to stay or not.”

“The Prime Minister has a record, I think, that he can be justifiably proud of,” he said.

But Mr. Lametti added that he is “definitely concerned” by the polls.

“I would be a fool if I didn’t look at the polls and say ‘This is going to present some really serious challenges.’ "

The former justice minister said Mr. Trudeau gave him his “dream job” when he appointed him to cabinet in 2019, but he said the transition to the backbenches was difficult and he never really got his “balance back.”

“It’s not that I was entitled to stay or that I expected to stay on as minister of justice,” Mr. Lametti said. “It just came as a surprise.”

He described his decision to leave his post as MP for the Quebec riding of LaSalle–Émard–Verdun as bittersweet. But after his cabinet ouster, he said he started to think about what came next. He ultimately chose to go to Fasken after a conversation with former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who is also with the firm.

His exit follows on the heels of long-time Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett, who resigned at the end of 2023. She was also removed from cabinet in July.

With Mr. Lametti’s departure, there will be three vacant seats in the House of Commons, meaning by-elections at a time when the Conservatives have the upper hand in the majority of public-opinion polling. Mr. Lametti and Ms. Bennett both held traditionally safe Liberal ridings. The third riding is Durham, which former Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole used to represent.

In his speech to caucus, the Prime Minister pointed to the Liberals’ success in last spring’s by-elections in an effort to buoy the mood in his party after a rocky year in government. Soon after those by-elections, though, the Liberals slipped dramatically in the polls and the party has not been able to claw back the support they’ve lost to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

Mr. Trudeau did not mention those polls in his speech to caucus on Thursday. Instead, he sought to boost his team by lauding the work of backbench MPs and tried to direct Liberal energies in a common direction against Mr. Poilievre and the Conservatives.

“Pierre Poilievre is focused on bringing his party further to the right while we are focused on meeting Canadians where they are, where they need us to be,” he said.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that Canadians are struggling amid an affordability crunch. “Paycheques just don’t go as far as they used to,” he said, and even though wages are up, people are worried about their mortgage renewals amid high interest rates.

Mr. Poilievre has for years seized on the affordability crisis as a key point of attack against the minority government. The Liberals belatedly made the issue a key focus of their agenda last year and on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau made the case to his caucus that the government is working on solutions while Mr. Poilievre is not.

“Our work is to strengthen the middle class and support those working hard to join it,” Mr. Trudeau said, reviving a slogan from the 2015 election.

“That’s what we’re going to continue to do. And that’s actually how we’ve made it through times of extraordinary turbulence over the past years. And we’re beginning to see and feel that turbulence decrease and the clear landing come into view.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe