Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to speak to the media at the federal cabinet retreat in Montreal, on Jan. 23.Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau on Wednesday dodged questions on whether he should face a leadership review after one of his own MPs said it was time to assess the Prime Minister’s tenure amid slumping poll numbers and widespread discontent with the government.

Mr. Trudeau was on Parliament Hill for the start of his party’s caucus retreat but quickly walked past reporters who were asking him if he was willing to take part in a leadership review and what he thought of the request from a fellow Liberal.

“Every leader, every party has a best-before date. Our best-before date is here,” Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Ken McDonald told Radio Canada in an interview published Wednesday.

“As a party, let’s clear the air and if people are still intent on having the leader we have now, fine.”

The Atlantic Canada MP has previously criticized his own government on issues such as carbon pricing but Wednesday’s comments opened a much wider rift and marked the first time that a Liberal MP has publicly challenged Mr. Trudeau’s leadership – although he stopped short of saying the Prime Minister should step down.

Mr. McDonald’s remarks landed at the start of three days of caucus meetings for the Liberals that were aimed at getting everyone on the same page ahead of the return to the House of Commons next week.

Liberals prepare for possible Trump re-election by reviving Team Canada approach

On Sunday, The Globe reported that the Liberals’ strategy heading into the new year was to present a more disciplined government, with clearer communications and a focus on issues that affect the middle class. After a rocky 2023 in which the Liberals saw their poll numbers trail the Conservatives by double digits for the last half of the year, Mr. Trudeau’s main task in meeting with his cabinet and caucus this week was supposed to be to unite and motivate his team and show he has the energy and focus needed to reverse his party’s fortunes.

On their way into meetings on Wednesday, most Liberal MPs said they still wanted Mr. Trudeau to lead the party into the next election. But B.C. Liberal MP Patrick Weiler declined to comment on the Prime Minister’s future and Ontario Liberal MP Marcus Powlowski acknowledged the Liberals face a dour political climate.

“Polls are bad against us” Mr. Powlowski said. “I realize that.”

“Do I think that means that inevitably, if we were going to have an election, say in the summer, that I would lose? No, I I have some confidence.”

Mr. Weiler said he hadn’t seen Mr. McDonald’s comments, but when asked what he thought about Mr. Trudeau’s leadership, he said: “I’m not going to get into this.”

Most other backbenchers and cabinet ministers went to bat for the Prime Minister.

“Mr. McDonald could not be more wrong about this,” said House Leader Steve MacKinnon.

He said Mr. Trudeau has the “absolute support of our caucus” but then qualified his comments to say the Prime Minister has the firm support of the Liberals who are running again in the next election.

Mr. McDonald has not committed to running again in the next election and Mr. MacKinnon would not comment on the Newfoundland and Labrador MP’s future in the Liberal caucus, but he said he expected there would be talks with Liberal Whip Ruby Sahota.

Ms. Sahota is responsible for managing backbench MPs. She briefly told reporters to expect a further statement from Mr. McDonald but as of 5 p.m. Wednesday none was released. Her office did not provide further comment.

Ontario MPs Vance Badawey and Julie Dzerowicz both said they supported the Prime Minister and attributed some of the anger that’s directed at Mr. Trudeau simply to the wear and tear on a government after eight years in power.

Ms. Dzerowicz said she “100 per cent” supports the Prime Minister but acknowledged that there is more “bite” in the response she and the government are getting from voters. For example, she said people who used to say they don’t like the Prime Minister now say they hate him.

Some of that she attributed to the social media age, but she also acknowledged the immense challenges that people are facing amid a cost-of-living crisis.

“Inflation causes enormous pain in people’s lives. And people are feeling that pain so desperately,” she said.

Mr. Badawey said his party needs to focus on delivering for Canadians who are struggling.

“We will be moving into 2024, to in fact meet the demands that the public has and we’ve been doing that since 2015,” he said. “My nose is to the grindstone, and we work hard and whatever the election brings us – it is what it is.”

The minority Liberals have a year and a half left in their mandate.

Follow related authors and topics

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

Interact with The Globe