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It’s been more than a century since a Canadian prime minister won four elections in a row, but Justin Trudeau seems determined to take a run at Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s record. In order to get there, of course, he’s going to have to find a way to beat Pierre Poilievre (and, sure, Jagmeet Singh). More importantly, he’ll need to satisfy the growing desire for change in Canada without actually changing the government.

It won’t be easy. Most polls have his Liberals solidly behind Poilievre’s Conservatives, and the recent string of ministerial blunders on everything from Paul Bernardo’s status in the prison system to the chaos in Canada’s airports last summer has only added to the impression that Trudeau’s government is getting old and tired. Not surprisingly, a recent Abacus poll showed that 81 per cent of respondents believes it’s time for a change in government.

In more normal circumstances, that would be a death sentence for an incumbent government. But with the ultra-polarizing Poilievre at the helm of the official Opposition, these are not normal times. Abacus’s data bears that out, as almost four in 10 of the pro-change respondents said, “There isn’t a good alternative to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals that I’m comfortable with.” Of those respondents, 33 per cent would vote Liberal, 22 per cent would vote NDP, and 19 per cent would vote Conservative.

The path here for the Liberals seems clear: either they deliver the change Canadians want or Poilievre will do it for them. Since Trudeau has declared his intent to lead the party into the next election, that change will have to come in the form of a major cabinet shuffle, one that fundamentally transforms the face of his government.

This isn’t the time for minor nips and tucks, much less the sort of forced change (the resignations of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Bill Morneau, for example) that has tended to inform previous shuffles by Trudeau’s Liberals. If this government is going to live on for another term in power, it needs to perform some invasive political surgery.

It should begin with clearing out the ministers who have either underperformed or flat-out embarrassed the government of late, from Marco Mendocino (public safety) to Mary Ng (international trade) and Ahmed Hussen (housing).

It should also include shuffling out ministers who have been in cabinet for a long time and may have lost the sense of urgency required to win the party’s next big fight. That could include Harjit Sajjan (international development), Joyce Murray (fisheries), Carolyn Bennett (mental health and addictions), and Lawrence MacAulay (veterans affairs). It might even mean encouraging Chrystia Freeland (finance), whose popularity has waned considerably over the last two years, to take that job with NATO that’s been rumoured for a while now.

The new faces in cabinet, meanwhile, should be part of a broader effort to show Canadians what the government intends to do with its next mandate. That might mean adding people with backgrounds in business like Francesco Sorbara, Steve McKinnon or Taleeb Noormohamed (and full disclosure: he’s a close friend of mine). It could mean including one of the former provincial finance ministers in their caucus, whether that’s P.E.I.’s Heath MacDonald or Ontario’s Charles Sousa. And it almost certainly means elevating existing cabinet ministers who have distinguished themselves of late, from Anita Anand (defence) and François-Philippe Champagne (innovation) to Seamus O’Regan (labour) and Randy Boissonnault (tourism).

Perhaps most importantly, Trudeau needs to clearly spell out when and how he’ll leave as leader. For nearly a decade now, the Liberals have benefited from his personal charisma and celebrity; it’s been the wind that helped fill their sails and get them to their destination. But now, that wind has shifted against them, and they’d do well to study the “peek-a-boo” campaign Pierre Trudeau’s team ran in 1980, where Trudeau was all but invisible.

Justin Trudeau wants to be the first prime minister in more than a century to win four elections in a row. In order to do it, he's going to have to make major changes to his government before Canadians get a chance to do it themselves.

This will almost certainly put noses out of joint within the Liberal family, and maybe even Trudeau’s. But he didn’t win his first majority in 2015 by playing it safe. He did it with a gutsy end-run around Tom Mulcair’s NDP that saw him pledging to use deficits in order to build the things Canadians needed, one that propelled him and his party into power.

If he wants to win another majority, he’s going to have to channel that same energy. Yes, appointing a fresh group of ministers to cabinet and giving them as much leash as possible is risky. But if he wants to cement his place in Canadian political history, playing it safe might be the riskiest move of all.

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I'm not sure that changing a few faces would do much for the Liberals. People who should be extremely effective such as Steven Guilbeault are forced to tinker around the edges by corporate capture.

Changing course on electoral reform, introducing a climate jobs guarantee and youth climate corps, and implementing a strong wealth tax might inspire Canadians and make a difference - but what's the chance?

Probably about zero without a stronger movement pushing them.

Well said, and the potential changes you outlined are right on point!

After 8 years of lies, corruption and scandals. If someone shows you yup they are, believe them!

Agreed! The reason why so many wrong decisions are being made such as carbon capture and storage, small nuclear reactors, the lack of a pharmacare program, why we can't get anywhere with Lyme and tick-borne-diseases [TBDs] etc. is corporate capture of our democratic institutions and because it is what the lobbyists want. Lobbyists have woven themselves into the fabric of government. The free market system only works when there are rules in place.

We can't get anywhere with the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease in Canada because Dr. Howard Njoo is a lobbyists for the International Diseases Society of America [IDSA] whose restrictive guidelines are used to narrowly define the disease so that few qualify to be treated and the treatment of those that do qualify is restricted to 10 days with a single bacteriostatic agent. This is because the long-term disability insurance industry doesn't want to underwrite the costs of complex disseminated Lyme and TBDs.

absolutely agree with this list of things that would wake up youth and shake them into actively voting. Yes to election reform, to youth climate mitigation brigade/ skilled jobs / housebuilding brigade,
yes to disability and unemployment serious increases or better yet, basic income! whole hearted pharmacare, as in FULFILL SOME OF YOUR BOLD ELECTION PROMISES FROM 2015!!

From a policy landscape, those are all good. But as someone who did not vote for the LPC the last two times, I am more likely to vote for JT now. Human Rights around the Queer Community and especially speaking and acting against transphobia, is the key issue for me. The more JT speaks strongly AGAINST tolerating intolerance, the more people are liking him. That is the wind in the Liberal's sails. To allow this fascism to permeate further through our society, the other issues become tainted. I want to see enforcement of laws online: death threats, harassment, hate speech, etc. Accountability in social media spaces is another top priority for me.

While climate is the issue of our times, and Trudeau has been at most tepid, or at worst two-faced on that file, and is either a liar or insincere about electoral reform and not supportive enough about Pharmacare, you can't accuse him for being weak on many social issues like LGBTQ2 rights and immigration. His government performed the best of most nations on the response to COVID-19 and is continuing support for Ukraine against a highly corrupt tyrant who would gobble up eastern Europe if he could. And his leadership accommodated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and much improved support for Indigenous peoples; though it's still luke warm compared to Harper's cold shoulder, there has been some progress on addressing our oldest and worst collective injustice.

In other words, a confusing mixed bag.

In a perfect world we would have the single transferable vote system in place with a Liberal Democratic Plus (LDP with a smattering of Greens, perhaps even a Red Tory or two) coalition government with a mandate to immediately remove all private money from politics and establish universal MP term limits (two election cycles? or three?). Bye bye corporate lobbyists and kindergarten antics on the House, and hello serving the common good of the people mainly through negotiation and building consensus with other MPs.

That world doesn't exist. The long standing political sphere is well-armoured against change, and too many narcissistic politicians are in it as a life career. As long as these democratically negligent conditions persist, Trudeau or someone else in his party -- their multitude of documented sins and all -- remain the most capable of keeping the Conservatives out of power.

Poilievre has assembled a collection of widely criticized talking points and non-policies that are irrational and dangerous. Anger sells because it appears like "strong" leadership. Winning for the sake of winning means thoughtful policy making and laws will not materialize. Climate, social justice, responsible economics etc. etc. have no viable current Conservative response, and therein the evidence points to a Conservative win that will start with a drunken demolition derby followed by years of backward walking and consultations with conspiracy theorists.

Until genuine change occurs to our way of conducting politics, it's ABC all the way, favouring the local candidate best able to beat the Conservative brand, which today has little resemblance to the true meaning of wise, careful conservativeness.

Isn't a "confusing, mixed bag" pretty much who we are and ever were though? Admittedly it's developing a new, some might say "virulent" toxicity.....
You're at least giving some credit where credit's due but still seem to actually expect what is more in keeping with that "perfect world" we all like to imagine. On the electoral reform thing that Trudeau's so widely condemned for for example, do you really think he just outright lied to get NDP votes or once in power? Or upon closer examination perceived the potential divisiveness as not worth it? There HAD been a couple of provincial referendums that didn't win the day. Obama started out his impressive, full mandate with health care reform, even more desperately needed, and was only partially successful. The art of the possible is the undeniable reality, and there are currently SEVEN conservative premiers. Imagine trying to wrangle that. And Joe Biden knows not to focus on gun control even though he'd probably very much like to. It's never been a more challenging job to "lead" a democracy, but Trudeau is absolutely up to it AND for it. We're lucky to have him; look around.
The insanity and intransigence of people, not to mention plain old stupidity is the ubiquitous wild card, and never before has all that coalesced so appallingly. But what I can't get over is how there isn't WAY MORE clarity BECAUSE of that! As I keep saying, the unprecedented unexpectedly has us all in thrall with the result being a massive loss of perspective. So sorry, NO "red Torys whatsoever;" that brand is officially sh#t. This "inclusive" idea has officially gone too far now.
If politics worked as well as it used to, the conservatives should have been taken down to those two seats by now.

Not a word about climate action.
I guess Max Fawcett does not think climate is a winning issue for the Liberals.

Maybe he's right. The "climate-sincere" Liberals have shredded any credibility they had on climate. Re-arranging chairs on Trudeau's Titanic will not be enough to convince Canadians that the Liberals take climate action seriously or that meaningful change is possible.
Doubling down on fossil fuels, buying and building pipelines, gifting billions of dollars to the oilpatch, and relying on white-elephants like carbon capture that don't work. Investing in EVs instead of public transit is another failure.

Despite the growing climate emergency, the federal government is not in climate emergency mode. No government in Canada is.
Canada is not on track to meet its inadequate targets.

Trudeau's Liberals will take us over the climate cliff as surely as Poilievre's Conservatives.
Whether we go over the cliff at 100 kmh or 50 kmh, the result is the same.
As 350.org's Bill McKibben puts it, winning slowly is the same as losing.

Max writes, "Perhaps most importantly Trudeau needs to clearly spell out when and how he will leave as leader?" But who in his position would do that? That's unfair, which strikes me as just another example of the perversely personal attitude many seem to have toward Trudeau. He's expected to be almost "superhuman" while simultaneously being disparaged as a "lightweight," i.e. a perennial kid. The mature among us HAVE known of him since he was born on Christmas Day to a beautiful, young flower child of the sixties and the aging rogue, worldly intellectual who also spawned "Trudeaumania," a massive departure for staid, stolid Canada, making him the quintessential tough act to follow. Pierre Trudeau was confident on the world stage, so confident that he absolutely elevated Canada there among the erudite Europeans, and got away with pirouetting in the queen's footsteps. He also famously gave western farmers the finger which consigned Liberals to the endless, pointless atonement still going on. The amazingly tone deaf conservatives imagine they've got a winning version of Trudeau senior as leader but they do NOT, and never will have. Therein lies the wellspring of their obsessive hatred of his also cool and more beautiful son. Speaking of hate, you can never discount all the people on both sides who hate him BECAUSE he's beautiful (tall poppy syndrome totally exists), a surprising number of which are men who aren't supposed to notice such things. Then there's his perceived effeminacy which among progressives should (and HAS) made him the perfect leader for the times, but everyone seems to forget all that in the restless political throes of "wanting a change" after all this time. But the bottom line remains: these are NOT normal times, as Max points out.
The fact that there are SO many impressive people to choose from to shuffle his cabinet says it all. And imagine Boilievre at a NATO meeting. And recall how the conservatives came across when Joe Biden addressed our parliament.
I think there's some bold moves coming from Trudeau; he's just setting the stage.