The odds of a Justin Trudeau comeback seem to just keep getting longer. With a bunch of new polls leaving his Liberal party’s late-2023 bump looking more and more like a dead-cat bounce, it’s increasingly difficult to see a path that can lead Justin Trudeau to re-election in 2025. If anything, he might be resigned to trying to save the proverbial political furniture.

That won’t be easy. As Abacus Data’s David Coletto concluded in a recent Substack post, “The public mindset has moved from one of optimism in 2018, to fear in 2020, to shortage in 2021 and to scarcity today. And I don’t believe Justin Trudeau is suited to serve that mindset.” Tuesday’s Federal Court decision on his government’s use of the Emergencies Act that found it infringed on certain charter rights won’t help there.

Even so, I think a path to salvaging some of his party’s support, and maybe even winning another minority, still exists. Yes, it’s fraught with peril on all sides, and one misstep — well, one more — will plunge Trudeau and his team off the side of the electoral mountain and into the valley where Kim Campbell’s political career ended. But if they want to survive this last leg of their political journey, here’s how they ought to approach it.

First and foremost, they need their leader to fade into the background a bit. As Coletto noted, “The public mindset — one deeply concerned about scarcity and reinforced by a desire for change — is not going to accept more Trudeau.” Instead, the Liberals need to elevate the other players on their team. That means more face time for effective cabinet ministers like Sean Fraser, Seamus O’Regan, Marc Miller, Anita Anand and Karina Gould. Canadians need to become more familiar with their work, their ideas and their leadership. They are, after all, the future of the party, if it’s to have one after Trudeau eventually leaves.

The Liberals also need to shake up their roster in a big way. That means no more half measures like the ones we saw last fall when Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle turned out to be a rearranging of the deck chairs. Chrystia Freeland, fairly or not, has become a lightning rod for many Canadians and their frustration with the Liberal government’s failure to connect with their economic concerns. As much as it pains me to say it, she needs to go.

So does Steven Guilbeault, the environment minister who has brought a sense of messianic purpose and moral clarity to a file that many Canadians see much more pragmatically. This might give the government the cover it needs to retrench to safer ground on the carbon tax, an issue where its failure to effectively communicate its position and policies have effectively poisoned the political well it keeps trying to drink from.

There are plenty of other underperformers in cabinet who should either get shuffled into less prominent positions or replaced by some of the party’s younger and more ambitious MPs. If the prime minister can convince Mark Carney to run in a byelection and become his new finance minister, well, all the better. Either way, it desperately needs some new and fresh blood. As the public gets to know these ministers a little better, and more of the spotlight is allowed to shine on their shoulders, a few of them could even establish themselves as potential successors.

The Liberals also need to adopt a new mindset, one that helps them reframe the next election away from which party is best at identifying problems to which one is best suited to solving them. They should acknowledge some of their recent errors, whether that’s letting the housing market get so far out of hand or allowing provinces and their post-secondary institutions to abuse the immigration system. In doing so, they should press the Conservatives to start offering constructive solutions instead of constantly casting blame. As Carney said to Pierre Poilievre during a parliamentary committee appearance in 2021, “We need more focus on solutions, Mr. Poilievre.”

The Liberals also need the broader political and economic climate to turn in their favour, something that hasn’t been the case of late. But with inflation clearly topping and on the decline, and interest rates about to follow, we could see a major shift in sentiment by the beginning of next year. That’s especially true if Donald Trump doesn’t win the next U.S. election. By then, Canadians might be feeling more hopeful, more optimistic, and more willing to cut the Liberals a bit of slack on their recent mistakes.

After nearly a decade in office, Canadians have clearly soured on Justin Trudeau and his style of leadership. Here's how he can save his party's political furniture -- and maybe, just maybe, win the next election.

Finally, Trudeau should clearly signal to the public when and how he intends to step aside. It’s clear he wants to lead the party into the next election and defend it against the challenge posed by Poilievre. He’s earned that right. But he needs to let Canadians know that there’s a plan for political life beyond his leadership, and that his party and potential government will be in safe hands.

None of this guarantees their success in the next election. Canadians may simply be too tired of this Liberal government to elect another one, and the weight of a decade in office — never mind one with a global pandemic and a Trump presidency — can drag even the best politician down. But there are still moves that can be made and fights that should be fought. As the Liberal caucus meets with the prime minister this week, that’s a message they should send him loud and clear.

Fawcett: "So does Steven Guilbeault, the environment minister who has brought a sense of messianic purpose and moral clarity to a file that many Canadians see much more pragmatically. This might give the government the cover it needs to retrench to safer ground on the carbon tax, an issue where its failure to effectively communicate its position and policies have effectively poisoned the political well it keeps trying to drink from."

Extremely vague assertions need to be substantiated.
Many Canadians see the climate file "much more pragmatically". How so? Which Canadians? Conservatives? Canadians who do not accept the science? Canadians who understand the need for climate action but do not want to pay for it?

What could be more pragmatic than basing climate policy on the best available science? What could be less pragmatic than formulating climate policy based on status quo politics and fossil-fuelled denialism?
Our house is on fire. Pragmatic is putting the fire out.

What is "safer ground on the carbon tax"? Should the Liberals now abandon their signature climate policy? Only a few months ago, Fawcett criticized the Liberals for granting an exemption on heating-oil.

Why is the lead columnist of Canada's self-styled leader in climate journalism advising further retreat on climate? The Liberals are already failing badly on climate. Do you suppose Canadians will give them credit for crumbling further on the one policy that makes them stand out from the Conservatives?

Consider the source. Max Fawcett, the former editor of Alberta Oil Magazine, supports new taxpayer-owned oilsands export pipelines and taxpayer-funded carbon capture, both of which perpetuate fossil fuels.
Truly contradictory climate policy.

"In the early days, as a supporter of the Trans Mountain pipeline, Fawcett disagreed with some of the ways CNO covered fossil fuels, one of the main drivers of climate change."
"How Canada's National Observer helped bring climate change into the mainstream" (National Observer, 18-Jan-23)

Fawcett: "Should the government kill the Trans Mountain pipeline project?" (National Observer, 2022)

Steven Guilbeault actually stands for something. The one bright spot in an otherwise spineless government that cannot decide on its principles and stick to them. What do the Liberals stand for other than being in power?

Instead of replacing the one competent minister in cabinet who actually cares about his portfolio with another yes-man who kowtows to the fossil-fuel industry (Seamus O’Regan, Jonathan Wilkinson), maybe the National Observer should replace its fossil-fuel cheerleading columnist with someone who actually understands the urgency of the climate crisis. Fawcett's ongoing commentary does not jibe with The Observer's stated mission on climate.
Time for some real pragmatism.

I'd suggest that perhaps the current government stands for tone deafness, scandal, deceit, and international faux pas ... with the S articulated. Apparently that's the plural of faux pas with a silent S. Sprinkled with a kind of self-referential exceptionalism when it comes to rule of law. And it pains me to think that I might be reduced to voting for him come the next election in the name of "anyone but the Conservatives." Like in the old days.

Right on!