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Tom Mulcair: Trudeau's handling of Poilievre's 'wacko' House turfing a clear sign of Liberal desperation

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When all hell broke loose in the House last week, those of us who have experience as parliamentarians simply couldn’t believe our eyes. Speaker Greg Fergus had tossed out the Leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Pierre Poilievre, on the flimsiest of pretenses.

Fergus is highly partisan. We all knew that when Trudeau backed him in the election to replace Anthony Rota, who’d been forced to step down after introducing a former Nazi soldier in Parliament.

When Fergus got caught making a partisan video for an Ontario Liberal colleague, there were many calls for him to resign. He had indeed egregiously breached the most basic rules requiring neutrality in the chair. He’d even made the video in his Parliamentary quarters, wearing his robes of office.

I pleaded that while his error was serious, it was a rookie mistake and he deserved a second chance. Watching his dreadful performance with Poilievre last week, I regretted defending him.

After the ejection of Poilievre, it was gloves off for Trudeau and company. They put on a full court press worthy of a war room in the middle of a campaign. Other pundits that I spoke with were dutifully spun by whatever Liberal had contact with them. They clearly thought they had finally caught a break in their Holy War against the evil Poilievre.

The usual Liberal supporters were out there spinning that Poilievre had done it on purpose to get thrown out. That was clearly nonsense as it was unpredictable that someone who’d "simply withdrawn" the word "wacko" -- as requested by the Speaker -- would nonetheless be turfed.

It was absolutely unprecedented to throw out the Leader of the Opposition without a clear final warning and unambiguous instructions, especially after Trudeau had called Poilievre "spineless" with impunity.

Speaker of the House of Commons Greg Fergus gives a call on time as a member asks a question while during his first question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on Oct. 3, 2023 (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

If anything, getting Poilievre turfed seemed to have been concerted and planned, not by Poilievre, but by the Liberals in cahoots with their speaker.

My vantage point into that desperate, full-bore Liberal effort to spin this against Poilievre came in the form of an early morning call from a senior Liberal minister. In my line of work, as an observer and analyst of the political scene, knowing and being able to speak with ministers is part and parcel of doing your job well. Being able to call us, in return, is no doubt also part of theirs.

My interlocutor quickly understood that with my years of experience, no one was going to convince me that Fergus was right. I was elected for three mandates to the rough and tumble National Assembly in Quebec City where I served as Deputy House Leader, both in opposition and in power. I also served as Official Opposition House Leader in Ottawa prior to assuming the same role that Poilievre has today: Leader of the Official Opposition.

I mention all that only to reinforce the fact that I know the ropes and the important institutional roles involved. My senior Liberal changed tack when it was clear I thought Fergus had to go. They went all-in, doing a negative and personal attack against Poilievre. It was brutal and came off as orchestrated, if not contrived.

It was not just an attack on Poilievre, personally, it was a plea for me to acknowledge just how awful he was. That he represents a clear and present danger for our institutions. It had an air of fin de régime, the end of the political era of Trudeau, and it wasn’t going out on a high note.

It may indeed mark the beginning of the end but Trudeau isn’t about to leave simply because Canadian voters have decided to give him his pink slip. He has options and he knows it. Sure, hardly a day goes by without an article detailing the plans of one cabinet minister to replace Trudeau or an outside potential successor giving an eloquent speech to the Liberal faithful.

Polls are being published showing which possible new Leaders have the most public favour. All of this against a backdrop of Trudeau still lagging 20 points behind with nothing to show for his mammoth pre-budget tour or from the budget itself.

But Trudeau still holds many good cards in his hand. He brought the Liberal Party back to life after the Ignatieff debacle. They owe him everything. He’s not about to be given the boot. He’ll be the only one to decide when and, especially, if he’ll leave. He’s won three elections in a row but he should have taken more heed of the fact that Canadians cast more votes for the Conservatives in both the 2019 and 2021 campaigns. The writing was already on the wall he just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, decode it.

I personally know several senior Liberals, both high level volunteers and MPs with access to Trudeau who have been encouraging him to consider this is his 'legacy mandate,' to be graceful and leave his place to someone else so that the party still has the time to give a new leader a chance in the next election. All say that Trudeau refuses to even admit that he may be the problem, much less listen to their heartfelt advice.

Of course, it’s not in Trudeau’s nature to admit he and his hapless administration of Canada could be to blame. The question is, now that the proof is in front of him daily in the polls, how long can he keep denying the obvious?

The writing may be on the wall, but it’s important to remember that Trudeau could still decide tomorrow to walk across the lawn from Rideau Cottage, where he lives, to Rideau Hall and ask Gov.-Gen. Mary Simon to call an election and she’d have no choice but to do so.

Those senior Liberal organizers know it as well. The longer Trudeau dithers, the less likely there will be a push by frustrated potential successors to drink from a poisoned chalice. With no time to fully present themselves to Canadians, much less organize properly for an election, they’d be cannon fodder for Poilievre’s Conservatives.

Liberals I speak with still clutch at the hope that a lot of Singh’s NDP vote will drift over to them when progressives sense the impending doom of a Poilievre Conservative victory. The fact that a considerable cohort of NDP MPs have either quit or announced their intention not to run, tends to indicate that there may be far fewer votes to purloin than there may have been before the NDP-Liberal deal and prior to the ascendancy of Poilievre.

In the meantime, if last week’s shenanigans are any indication, Canadians can expect a brutal, personal knock-down, drag-out fight between the leaders of the two parties that have governed Canada since Confederation. It’s going to get ugly.

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017

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