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Trudeau contemplated stepping down while 'undefeated,' but is now all in

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contemplated stepping down while "undefeated" last year, but ultimately decided that he "can't" walk away at a time when he thinks the stakes are higher than ever.

In an interview on the "ReThinking" podcast published earlier this week, host and psychologist Adam Grant asked the prime minister about how often he thinks about quitting.

"These days, not at all," Trudeau said.

"There was a moment last year, as I was facing some difficult moments in my marriage, where I really wondered, 'OK, is there a path?' And I just realized, that's not me," he said.

"There is so much to do still, and the stakes are higher in some ways for our democracies than ever before," the prime minister continued.

"The need to try and hold things together in a rational discourse … doing things that are meaningful and are going to nudge the arc of the moral universe forward, matters so much that I couldn't be the person I am, the fighter I am and say, 'yeah, no, this particular fight I'm walking away from,' I can't do that yet."

In August 2023, Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau announced they were separating, but would continue to co-parent, after 18 years of marriage.

In the teaser soundbite off the top of the episode, Trudeau was clipped talking about thinking of stepping aside and giving "someone else a chance at it, and say 'OK, I've done enough, let me go out undefeated,'" but that section was not in the main interview that was released.

Trudeau said while he isn't planning on going anywhere – questions about the prime minister's future have been swirling for months – he does do regular check-ins to affirm that he's "all-in," even though "it's harder now" and despite his opponent "getting traction for all the wrong reasons."

"If you're going to be honest about doing a job like this, that has the responsibilities and the impact that it has, you have to … check that you're up for it," he said. "Because people out there … deserve a leader that is focused on them with everything they have every single day."

For some time now Trudeau and his party have been running a consistent second in the polls to the Conservatives led by Pierre Poilievre, with both the prime minister's personal approval numbers and overall party standing sliding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departs Ottawa on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, on route to Italy to attend the G7 Summit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Asked how he deals with knowing that no matter what he does, millions of people disapprove of his decisions or dislike him, Trudeau said he tries to not take it personally, and reminds himself that if no one had a strong opinion of him it would mean he wouldn't be doing anything consequential.

"The line is you, no matter what you're doing, you know 30 per cent like you, 30 per cent hate you, 40 per cent are completely indifferent to the fact that you even exist," Trudeau said. "You don't get into this job because you want to be popular, or you want to be liked, or if you do you're in for a rude awakening because that's not what this job is all about."

A recent Nanos Research survey found that 56 per cent of respondents said they'd prefer the Liberals campaign with someone other than Trudeau as leader, while just 17 per cent said they think he should stay on.

Trudeau said what continues to drive him amidst the polarization is feeling like he's making a meaningful difference in people's lives.

"Being able to sort of detach yourself from people's perceptions of you is really, really important in a job that requires a certain amount of popularity, for people to vote for you, but you cannot allow that to drive you or even define you."

When it comes to the more extreme instances, Trudeau said he tries to go to "a place of empathy" and remind himself that no matter how those individuals feel, he still has to think about how to govern in a way that helps them.

"It gets harder when it goes to my family or some of my team members… Because that's coming after my people. Come after me all you like."

He also conceded that he's still rethinking how Canadians ended up coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic "so divided," and what he can to do "bring Canadians back together."

Trudeau has been making the rounds on popular U.S. and Canadian podcasts in recent months, sitting down for longer-form conversations, as part of a refreshed digital media strategy targeting millennials and Gen Z voters that his office started rolling out around the budget.

In the interview, the prime minister spoke directly to the motivations behind this "politics in full sentences" messaging pivot.

Trudeau said that while his teacher instincts are to explain his policies to get people to see why they're the right move – he used the carbon price as an example – the feedback he's received from his staff and MPs is "stop it with the explaining."

He said he's been told that he needs to just "get out there and talk about the world we're building and reassure people that you've got the plan and you're confident in it."

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