OTTAWA—Liberals are dismissing a report that party insiders are plotting a successor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should the party falter in October’s election, calling the move “totally ridiculous,” “dopey” and “boneheaded.”
Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers emerged from Wednesday’s caucus meeting voicing support for Trudeau and decrying those who would scheme against his leadership, just months before the party tries for a second term.
“It’s someone who is trying to hurt the party. It’s ridiculous, totally ridiculous … It’s really dopey,” said Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, dismissing talk that Trudeau faces a credible leadership challenge.
The Star’s Chantal Hébert reported Tuesday that unnamed Liberals were strategizing to have Mark Carney, a Canadian who is currently the governor of the Bank of England, take over the helm of the party if it comes up short in the fall election.
According to the report, it was the topic of a recent conference call among participants who harbour doubts that the party — down in the polls after the bruising SNC-Lavalin controversy — can hold on to its majority.
A source told the Star that Carney himself was unaware of the backroom discussions.
However it’s not the first time efforts have been made to recruit Carney into politics. Carney dashed similar hopes in 2012 when he agreed to take on the governor’s role in England, moving from the same post he had held at the Bank of Canada.
The idea he should be wooed again had little traction among Liberal MPs Wednesday.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who was a contender in the 2013 party leadership contest that Trudeau won, dismissed the report as “silly season.”
“I think we collectively can be proud of what we’ve done … and I think Canadians will want to hear what we have for the next mandate. I fully intend to be there right behind him,” Garneau said.
Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne described Carney as a “friend,” but said “there’s no one talking about issues with respect to leadership,” and said he “for sure” was not on any such call.
“I don’t think it has its place. I mean we are in a good position, the leader is in a very good shape, we are going to win the next election,” Champagne told reporters.
Before running in the last election, Champagne lived in London, where Carney still resides. “I like Mark. Mark is the governor of the Bank of England so he’s doing a fabulous job, but that being said there’s no question whatsoever about leadership.”
Outgoing Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner shrugged off the report that Liberal insiders were nervous. “They wouldn’t be any insiders I know,” he said. “A lot of people set themselves up as insiders. Any insiders I know support the prime minister 100 per cent.” He added that if his own personal decision not to run again was based on leadership of the party, “my name would be on the ballot again.”
Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of families, children and social development, said there was no dissension in the party ranks despite the challenges of recent months — a theme several others took up.
“What I’m hearing is a lot of confidence in our government, in our leader. We have an extremely strong leader of whom I am very proud. He inspires me every day,” Duclos said.
Pablo Rodriguez, minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, declared that the discussions were news to him. “I never heard any talk about that. Never,” he said.
Marie-Claude Bibeau, the agriculture minister, reacted with eyebrows raised. “I’m extremely surprised to learn this from you, because frankly the background noise and the sense of solidarity at the heart of our team is very strong. So I have no idea where that comes from, perhaps there are others who want to destabilize us. But frankly we’re very solid.”
Still, the report of backroom discussions is evidence of the problems suffered by the Liberals this year that have called Trudeau’s leadership into question and seen the party lagging Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives in the polls and appearing vulnerable in the coming election.
Peter Donolo, who served as director of communications to prime minister Jean Chrétien, said there’s no doubt that the events of recent months have “spooked” many Liberals, especially since some of the government’s problems around SNC-Lavalin — which cost it two cabinet ministers protesting alleged political interference in an ongoing court case — were “self-inflicted.”
Yet he had harsh words for the insiders who were questioning Trudeau’s leadership, warning that it risked stirring the very sort of bitter infighting that has damaged the party in the past.
“This is the most boneheaded move I’ve seen in a long-time. I don’t know who these people are but they are idiots,” Donolo said in an interview.
“Justin Trudeau doesn’t deserve this. He took the Liberal party from the edge of oblivion to the centre of power,” Donolo said, referring to Liberal success in the 2015 election.
Indeed, when Trudeau took the reins of the party in 2013, the Liberals had been knocked down to 34 seats under a string of leaders over the previous decade. In the 2015 election under Trudeau, the Liberals won 184 seats.
Yet Donolo said the Liberals have a “saviour complex,” always seeking to go after the “next bright shiny object,” certain that the next leader “is always the best one.
“It’s created no end of problems for the Liberal party,” said Donolo, currently the vice-chair of H+K Strategies Canada.
Still barring any political missteps by the Liberals ahead of the Oct. 21 election, he doubted that the discussions would grow into a serious threat to Trudeau’s leadership.
“I would think that the blow back from this would be so severe that no one is going to stick their hand up and say, ‘I think this is a good idea’,” Donolo said.
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc