But when supporters in the media start calling for your head, it is definitely worth taking a listen.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 17, 2023.
OTTAWA—Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
That aphorism is as true in politics as it is anywhere.
It is particularly relevant when it comes to elections, including when to call them and who should lead.
Back in 2000, almost everyone in the Liberal party was begging then-prime minister Jean Chrétien not to call an election.
Some in the caucus simply wanted him to leave and pave the way for heir-apparent Paul Martin.
Others were afraid the Liberals would be punished at the urn for calling an early election with just three years into the previous mandate.
Chrétien ignored the naysayers, pulled the plug, and managed to become the first prime minister since the Second World War to win three successive majority governments.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is, no doubt, being bombarded with the same kind of advice.
Some of it is in private, not to be shared with the world. He will get lots of that advice when the Liberal family gathers in Ottawa next month for the first in-person national convention since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, Trudeau is already getting lots of advice through the media.
It is fair to say that his promise of sunny days is long past, and most journalists seem to have decided that there is a dark cloud hanging over the prime minister’s head.
In some instances, that is not surprising. The National Post has had nothing but a hate-on for the Liberals ever since their founder Conrad Black was denied his British lordship by a Canadian government intervention based on the 1917 Nickle resolution.
The paper was founded in 1998 with a mandate to unite the right, and vowed to compete directly with The Globe and Mail.
That hasn’t worked so well, as only six years later Facebook was launched, with Twitter following shortly. Both platforms radically changed the way people received their news, especially millennials. They have never developed a daily newspaper-reading habit.
The National Post has been true to its mandate, but has also proved to be so far to the right that it does not hold much sway with the Canadian public.
That mistrust continues today, with columnist after columnist spewing vitriol at Trudeau and the governing Liberals.
Other newspapers are more balanced, but in recent months you can feel the pendulum swinging even there.
There is a definite anti-Trudeau shift in media coverage and that is affecting the party’s standing in public opinion polls.
Even The Globe’s Lawrence Martin, a thoughtful, liberal columnist, is suggesting the prime minister step down before the next election.
In a rather flattering article last week, Martin squibbed that Trudeau has already made a legacy worth defending, but in staying around, he runs the risk of tainting it.
Martin praised Trudeau’s political legacy, saying his progressive mission was accomplished, including national daycare, dental care, and a strengthened Canada Pension Plan. He also underscored Trudeau’s work on Indigenous issues, legalization of marijuana, women’s equality, and immigration.
Martin’s point was that Trudeau has done the heavy lifting on climate change, with a controversial carbon tax, and another term is not likely to achieve additional progressive legislation.
According to Martin, Trudeau runs the risk of “going down in flames” or leaving with a good liberal inheritance.
Martin’s advice was in the news, where the closest people to the prime minister will be offering their perspectives in private.
Trudeau also has to consider the sacrifices his family is making. As his children are getting older, it is tough to see their father’s foibles plastered all over the news.
Even the Trudeau Foundation is making front-page news, and not in a good way.
But the poll numbers still signal a difficult, but potential path to victory for the Trudeau Liberals.
The acerbic approach of Pierre Poilievre has not gone over well with Canadians, although he is still within reach of becoming prime minister.
Trudeau is a wonderful campaigner, and Poilievre constantly appears angry and disdainful, which does not increase his likeability factor.
But Trudeau also has a lengthening list of enemies, which is only natural after a decade in government.
Those enemies include multiple provincial leaders, who miss no opportunity to take a shot at the hated Liberals.
Let’s face it: politics is the only job where the more experience you get, the more people want to get rid of you.
When supporters in the media start calling for your head, it is definitely worth taking a listen.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.