Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses with workers as he visits the biotechnology company BioVectra Inc. in Charlottetown on Monday, March 4, 2019. Prince Edward Islanders will cast their ballots in a provincial election next week, but it seems Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s once rockstar status in the region has become a political liability for the struggling provincial Liberals in P.E.I. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Liberals find anti-Trudeau sentiment on campaign trail

His public events used to attract large crowds of supporters keen for a selfie or a handshake

When voters in Prince Edward Island go to the polls next week, they’ll be making their choice without any input from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Even though polls suggest Wade MacLauchlan’s governing Liberals will need all the help they can get to stay in power, sources close to the campaign say they haven’t reached out to their federal colleagues for support — a sign Trudeau’s one-time rock-star status on the island has become a political liability.

In the past, Trudeau was always a popular visitor on the island, both as Liberal leader and as prime minister. His public events typically attracted large crowds of supporters keen for a selfie or a handshake.

But as candidates knock on doors in advance of Tuesday’s election, the voters who answer feel the need to vent about the prime minister, say campaign workers and insiders — Liberals and Conservatives alike — who spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss the state of play on the island.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Tuesday that no one in the provincial Liberal camp has requested a campaign visit from Trudeau, and no travel to the island is scheduled.

“It would be crazy,” said one senior P.E.I. Liberal operative. “We wouldn’t want them here.”

Tuesday’s trip to the ballot box promises to cap one of the most interesting races that voters in Canada’s smallest province have seen in recent memory, thanks to a dramatic spike in support for the Green party that has altered the political landscape, mainly in the island’s central ridings.

READ MORE: Orange peeled: Jason Kenney’s UCP defeats NDP with majority in Alberta

READ MORE: Scheer repeats alleged libel, goads Trudeau to follow through on lawsuit

One poll released ahead of the snap March 26 election call suggested the Greens were leading the Progressive Conservatives, headed by leader Dennis King, who’s only had the job since early February. The Liberals, who have been in power for the last 12 years, were languishing in third.

When Trudeau was last in the province in the weeks prior to the election call, he made a jobs announcement and attended a Liberal fundraiser. But a small group of protesters also showed up — a common feature of the prime minister’s public events elsewhere in Canada, but a rarity for Trudeau in P.E.I.

PMO officials say Trudeau prefers to steer clear of provincial campaigns, although he did lend his support to a provincial byelection effort in Ontario in 2016. And he visited P.E.I. on behalf of MacLauchlan’s Liberals in 2015, before becoming prime minister.

His reversal of fortune appears to be at least partly the result of the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

For months, Trudeau has been fending off persistent questions about allegations from former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that he and others in the PMO tried to interfere for political reasons in a criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering firm related to its dealings in Libya. Trudeau and his officials have steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

But since voters don’t often draw a distinction between federal and provincial parties of the same name, canvassing voters during the campaign — especially at the outset, when the SNC fervour was most pitched — has often been uncomfortable for Island Liberals.

Some voters express anger and frustration with how Trudeau and his government have handled the affair, while others are just disappointed with his record as prime minister, say Liberals and Conservatives alike.

The last time P.E.I. voters went to the polls in a provincial election was May 2015, just five months before casting their federal ballots. Stephen Harper was still in power and deeply unpopular in P.E.I., thanks in part to his Conservative government’s cuts to employment insurance, reductions in federal jobs and lingering resentment over his talk years earlier of a ”culture of defeat” in Atlantic Canada.

Back then, it was Progressive Conservatives who squirmed on the doorsteps in the face of the prime minister’s unpopularity.

This time, it’s the other way around.

“As much as Harper hurt things last time, Trudeau is helping now,” said one Conservative insider, speaking frankly on condition of anonymity — a sentiment echoed by others, including Liberals who remember the anti-Harper sentiment filling their sails.

“We’re in the race of our lives,” said one. “And he (Trudeau) isn’t what he used to be.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Mountain Pineapple defers application for new cannabis store in Rossland

The application was originally going to be reviewed by city council on May 19

Morning start: Rossland is named after this person

Here is your Kootenays’ morning start for Friday, May 22

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

Fact: B.C. bats don’t carry or spread COVID

BC Annual Bat Count goes this summer, citizens encouraged to take part

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Snowbirds to remain at Kamloops Airport indefinitely after fatal crash

small contingent of the Snowbirds team is staying in Kamloops, acting as stewards of the jets

Most Read