When Brian Mulroney announced his retirement from office in February 1993, his personal approval ratings were in the teens and his majority Progressive Conservative government had the support of less than 20 per cent of voters.
Mulroney would insist those numbers had nothing to do with this decision to leave but when he did, in the early summer of that year, the party’s fortunes under his successor Kim Campbell immediately began to improve and as the 1993 federal election got underway late that summer, the PCs started in a statistical tie with Jean’s Chrétien’s Liberals.
The popularity would not last long for the PCs.
During the ensuing campaign, the coalition Muloney had built collapsed. Lucien Bouchard and the Bloc Québécois were on the rise in Quebec and Preston Manning and Reform were stealing PC votes elsewhere. The PCs would win just two seats on election day.
That history lesson is important today for a few reasons.
An unpopular prime minister passed the baton to a younger, fresh new and — in a historic first — female leader and while that seemed a good idea at the time, it would not much matter in the ensuing election.
Now, in the wake of fresh polling by Ipsos, provided exclusively to Global News, some are suggesting an unpopular prime minister — Justin Trudeau — could best help his party by passing the torch, a torch that Ipsos polling says might most likely be received by a younger, fresher, newer — and potentially — female leader: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly or Treasury Board President Anita Anand.
There might be others who would seek the leader’s job should it come open — Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne or, from outside politics, former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney.
None of those individuals, for the record, have publicly voiced any appetite for the job at this point.
3 in 4 Canadians think Trudeau should step down now: poll
“As a team, we are all 100 per cent committed to supporting the prime minister and working hard to continue to deliver for Canadians,” Freeland said Wednesday when asked about it during a press conference in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
And in any event, Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker said there simply is no polling data to suggest a switch in Liberal leaders would make much difference at this point.
“There’s nothing there,” Bricker said. “There’s no silver lining that anybody can really grab on that suggests that there’s any pathway through to improving these situations.”
In an online survey of 1,000 Canadians, done from Nov. 14 to 17, Ipsos found that 73 per cent want a new party to take power in Ottawa; that just 27 per cent think the Liberals are doing a good job and that 60 per cent say the opposition should combine to defeat the minority government as an election, in their minds, cannot happen soon enough. Three in four want Trudeau to step down now.
“I’ve never seen a number that high for a prime minister, probably since Brian Mulroney back in ’91, ’92. And that’s what this really reminds me of,” said Bricker, who, incidentally, had a front-row seat for the end of the Mulroney era as a young staffer in the Prime Minister’s Office of that day.
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Ipsos did put the names of the five potential Liberal leadership aspirants mentioned above before the group that was surveyed and while Freeland polled best, there was little to suggest a leadership switch is the answer to Liberal fortunes.
Just 25 per cent of those surveyed said they’d consider voting Liberal if Freeland were leading the party. For Joly, that number dropped to 18 per cent; Carney to 16 per cent; for Anand, 14 per cent ,and Champagne, 12 per cent.
And, in any event, Trudeau will tell anyone who asks that he’s staying, and that a chance to cross swords with Pierre Poilievre is all the motivation he needs.
“He’s a fighter,” said Soraya Martinez Ferrada, who has been tapped to serve as the Liberal campaign co-chair when she’s not doing her day job as a minister in Trudeau’s cabinet and MP for the Montreal riding of Hochelaga. “He’s always been a fighter. He’s one of the great campaigners that I’ve met in my life. And I would not underestimate him on the next campaign.”
But Ferrada concedes that while the party will count on Trudeau’s ability to campaign, it is time for the party to feature other leading lights.
“I think we have a great team now, too. And people can see that,” Ferrada said. “We have to not only focus on our leader, but be there for him as a team. And that’s, I think, what we want to do next time around.”
David Akin is the chief political correspondent for Global News.
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