Liberals ready to ‘focus on the work and be humble’

Liberals ready to ‘focus on the work and be humble’

OTTAWA—Liberals emerged successful but not unscathed in Monday’s election, prompting calls from within the party to focus on hard work, humility and co-operation in the coming minority Parliament.

As they begin the planning for a cabinet and legislative agenda for the new session of Parliament, Liberals have also been weighing the fallout of an election that saw them lose seats and take a lower share of the popular vote.

They take the result, which returned Justin Trudeau for a second term as prime minister, as an endorsement of a platform that featured the fight against climate change and affordability as priorities.

At the same time, they are also acknowledging that they fell short with many discontented voters.

“I think there was a clear ask from voters to stay focused on these issues but be more ambitious,” said Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who won in Beaches-East York.

The message, he said, is to “focus on the work and be humble and to work across the aisle.

“I think there’s a strong desire for that and probably we didn’t see enough of that over four years,” Erskine-Smith told the Star in a telephone interview. “In this Parliament, I hope we see a commitment to be more ambitious, to be more co-operative and to maybe be a bit more humble.”

The election saw 157 Liberals elected, more than any other party but short of the 170 seats needed for a majority in the 338-seat Parliament.

Monday’s results meant a loss of 20 seats compared to what the party had going into the election and 27 fewer than the Liberals won in 2015. The Conservatives saw their vote count grow by more than 500,000 to 6.2 million, while the Liberals lost just over a million votes to 5.9 million, compared to 2015.

After a triumphant speech on election night, Trudeau was more subdued at a post-election news conference two days later, promising to reflect on the message from voters and “how we can do better.”

He expressed some regret at the campaign’s divisive tone, and said too many big issues were not discussed or debated on the campaign trail.

“This happens to all parties as they become focused on winning the election and less about ideas,” Erskine-Smith said. “We need to get back to a politics of ideas and work across the aisle to accomplish those big ideas for our country.”

Some Liberals are also grumbling that their campaign was too negative, focusing on the Conservatives and leader Andrew Scheer rather than on the Liberals’ economic record.

Trudeau was seen as a liability in some ridings. One Liberal MP, who asked not to be identified, the party and the prime minister need to understand that Monday’s election was a “chastisement.”

Adam Vaughan, who was re-elected in Spadina—Fort York, said a better sense of the voters’ message will emerge once Liberals have held a caucus meeting and can share stories of what they heard in doorstep conversations across the country.

Erskine-Smith said that some voter unhappiness stemmed from the scale of the Liberal promises in 2015 and the fact that some commitments, notably electoral reform, never became a reality.

But he believes the party benefited from its accomplishments on climate change and affordability issues.

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“I think there was recognition from those in Toronto and Ontario that we’ve made serious progress from poverty reduction to climate change and that our voters are telling us to go back to work and keep building on that progress,” he said.

Vaughan said the coming minority Parliament will take him back to his days as a city councillor, where each vote needed to be negotiated. “To me it’s not that different than being at city hall. You’ve got to compose the vote and composing the vote will be with different parties each time,” he said.

Still, he said there is “ample common ground” with the opposition parties, whose support will be needed to pass legislation.

“There are multiple dance partners. So you may find consensus on housing with the NDP and on cultural policy with the (Bloc Québécois) and the Conservatives are prepared to support you on a trade deal,” Vaughan said.

“If collegiality and collaboration prevail, you’re going to get more done.”

Trudeau has spent the past few days meeting with advisers, and will unveil his next cabinet on Nov. 20.

He has spoken with all the premiers, as well as people like Toronto Mayor John Tory and Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He’s also taken congratulatory calls from leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Some in Liberal ranks are now calling for staffing changes in the Prime Minister’s Office and a new approach by Trudeau in his dealings with MPs.

When the SNC-Lavalin controversy blew up earlier this year, Trudeau blamed an erosion of trust between his office and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and said he had been in the dark about the problem.

He subsequently held a few lunches and dinners with Liberal MPs — and posted pictures on social media — in a bid to improve caucus ties. But the dinner talks were short-lived, said one MP, adding that such link-ups are not Trudeau’s strong suit.

“Whatever combination of people and systems is used to manage caucus, it’s going to need to be upgraded,” the MP said.

Bruce Campion-Smith

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