Liberal failure in Toronto: MPs highlight lack of field work

Liberal failure in Toronto: MPs highlight lack of field work
Liberal failure in Toronto: MPs highlight lack of field work

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals needed a stronger ground campaign in their fortified riding of Toronto—St. Paul, including more time to campaign before the vote, several party members suggested to explain the June 24 defeat.

The Liberals lost their grip on the riding, which had been held for 30 years, when the seat was lost to the Conservatives in a by-election.

Carolyn Bennett, who represented the riding for the Liberals from 1997 until her resignation in January, had deep roots in the region.

Leslie Church, a longtime Liberal political aide, lost by about 600 votes to Conservative Don Stewart, a financial executive.

Bennett signalled last July that she would not seek re-election in the riding and announced her intention to step down early, on December 12, when she delivered her final speech in the House of Commons. She formally tendered her resignation in mid-January.

The Conservatives quickly nominated Mr. Stewart in February. While Ms. Church had announced her intention to run even before Ms. Bennett announced her resignation in December, the party did not formally finalize her nomination until May 1.

Eighteen days later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a by-election.

“I think the lesson here is that she was appointed a week or two before the byelection was called,” said Liberal MP Karina Gould, who represents a riding west of Toronto.

“So she needed more time to be able to go out and make herself known in the constituency.”

Mr. Stewart, who declined an interview with The Canadian Press, has been seen on social media throughout the year, going door-to-door, attending community events and speaking to area residents.

Ms Church was not able to officially launch her campaign until a few months after Stewart.

A party that has become “lazy”

One local resident said she voted Liberal but was so disappointed with the result she decided to write to the party “to tell them how they messed it up”.

The party has become “lazy” because of the length of time he has held the seat, said Andrea, who declined to provide his last name.

“We are a left-liberal area and somehow a conservative came in, so obviously something went wrong,” she said.

Links with the community

Karina Gould said it was becoming increasingly difficult for Liberal candidates to campaign because people were looking for change from a government that had been in power for nine years and were also struggling to pay their rent and put food on the table.

This means candidates need to have tougher, longer conversations with Canadians and make sure they can demonstrate that they are listening.

“I think (Church) did a great job, she gave it her all, but what we really learned is there’s a lot of frustration,” Gould said.

B.C. Liberal MP Ken Hardie, who is not seeking re-election, said Church needs to develop deeper roots in the community.

While the candidate has close ties to Ottawa as the former chief of staff to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Stewart has focused on promoting his ties to the community, where he has lived since 2016 with his two daughters.

For Liberal MP Shafqat Ali, who represents Brampton Centre, the loss showed him his party needed to do a better job of getting out the vote.

Demobilized troops

As is typical for a by-election, overall turnout was just 44%, compared to 65% in the 2021 general election, with 17,000 fewer votes cast.

Despite this, the Conservatives still increased their vote total by almost 2,000 votes, while the Liberals lost more than 11,000 votes.

Mr Ali believes the Liberal vote was abstained.

“I see that we have not succeeded in motivating them. We have not been able to make them understand how important it is to get out and vote,” he supposed during a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

“They stayed home and we need to do more to gain their trust, motivate them to vote Liberal and make them understand how important it is that their vote counts.”

Summer reflection

Church’s defeat sent shockwaves through the Liberals, with several former cabinet ministers openly calling for leader Justin Trudeau to resign. There is unrest within the caucus, but so far only New Brunswick MP Wayne Long, who is not running again, has publicly called for Trudeau to resign.

The Liberal Party will spend the summer reflecting and analyzing what happened in Toronto—St. Paul, Karina Gould reiterated, before coming together at the end of the summer for a national caucus meeting.

“I’m not going to pretend that this is a good result for us, but it is also an opportunity for us to say what happened, what went wrong, what can we learn and how can we make sure we apply those lessons over the next few years as we head towards the next general election,” she said.

While some MPs have called for an earlier national caucus meeting, Gould said the focus must be on discussions with Canadians.

“I think what’s important is that caucus members really engage in their communities, really listen to what people are concerned about,” she said. “So that when we come together, we can have a really constructive dialogue about what next year looks like, and what our plans are.”

— with information from Sheila Reid in Toronto.

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