The Trudeau honeymoon is over

Prime Minister starting to take fire for growing number of issues.

The national honeymoon for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is over.

The national honeymoon for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is over.

It’s safe to say the honeymoon period for Justin Trudeau is over.

The selfie prime minister rode into the House of Commons last November on a wave of antipathy towards Conservative leader Stephen Harper, promising sunny ways and a more open, transparent government.

In some ways, he’s succeeded in that; Trudeau has been much more accessible, both publicly and to the media, than Harper. Turn on the TV and Trudeau looks comfortable wading through crowds of supporters at rallies or parades.

In late December, Trudeau Jr. stopped by the Vancouver Sun for an editorial board meeting, spending 45 minutes answering questions from senior Sun columnists and reporters.

Hell would have to freeze over before Harper was ever caught in a meeting like that.

The former prime minister had his time though; fed up after a massive sponsorship scandal that rocked the Liberal Party in the mid 2000s, voters flocked to the Conservative banner in 2006 to elect a minority, and eventually, a majority government.

For nine years, Harper reigned as Prime Minster, but that glossy sheen eventually wore off, as it usually does for all politicians.

The Liberals are beginning to experience that now

One indicator is Trudeau’s recent cancellation of a trip to Davos in Switzerland as part of the World Economic Forum, where international political leaders and influence-peddlers rub shoulders for three days in the Alps and shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Instead of attending the forum, Trudeau announced he was planning a cross-country tour of town hall meetings to meet with citizens, which began on Thursday in Ontario.

An appearance at a public Q&A on his second day of the tour in Peterborough was revealing for a few reasons.

Kathy Katula, a single mother of four and grandmother to three in a rural area of the province, was in tears as she described the struggle to pay her soaring hydro bills — an exchange that has since gone viral in Canadian news and social media.

Firstly, from a purely political perspective, policy for hydro and electricity is the responsibility of the provinces, not the federal government. There’s not much the federal government can do about that, and the Ontario provincial Liberals, led by Kathleen Wynne, are likely going to suffer dearly at the polls next election because they’ve allowed energy costs to spiral out of control.

While that exchange may look like a black eye on the Trudeau brand of politics,  there’s also another angle to it.

While there was a wide anti-Harper streak in the last election, the Liberals are also counting on his personal popularity to keep the party in power.

Despite what voters think of his policies, he’s out meeting with Canadians in unscripted public appearances which is something the previous Prime Minister rarely did.

It’s a clever strategy, but one that could backfire as criticism continues to mount, especially after Trudeau made seemingly off-the-cuff comments about phasing out the Alberta oilsands, which was not well received in the western provinces.

During Katula’s plea for help, she also raised concerns about Trudeau’s carbon pricing plan, which has the resource-rich Western provinces raising alarm bells that it could stifle investment and kill jobs during a time where oil and commodity prices are low.

The plan, starting in 2019, puts a $10 price per ton on carbon pollution and rises to $50 per ton in 2022.

Though Liberal policies are taking the heat from Canadians and opposition parties, issues of cash-for-access from wealthy donors at political fundraisers is also starting to haunt the Liberals.

A recent cabinet shuffle also serves as an indication of the government’s willingness to switch up personnel and management, especially given the public perception that issues such as democratic reform were being mishandled.

So, after a year, is Trudeau and the party feeling the heat?

Probably.

However, it’s also to important to look at the electoral map.

In Alberta, the Liberals have four seats — all in the urban centres of Edmonton and Calgary — while the Conservatives have basically swept the rest of the province. In B.C., the Liberals have all but one of their 17 ridings in Metro Vancouver.

In contrast, Ontario and Quebec have a combined 120 Liberal-held seats — right where the party power base is, while Atlantic Canada is red across the board.

However, the Liberal government isn’t necessarily under siege, as the latest favourability poll for Trudeau, conducted by The Forum Poll for the Toronto Star in December, revealed that 51 per cent of Canadians approve of the Liberal leader’s job so far.

But politics can be a fickle business; Harper had a 61 per cent approval rating one year after his election in 2006. Before last year’s election, that had dropped to 36 per cent.

While Trudeau’s numbers are still positive (51 per cent is a pass, right?), it’s clear the honeymoon phase is over as Canadians look for more substance over style moving into the new year.