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

Upper Clearwater naturalist helps name national lichen

The votes are in for Canada’s proposed national lichen and the Star-tipped… Continue reading

Celebrations continue for Tsilhqot’in Nation after court victory against Taskeo Mines Ltd.

Supreme Court of Canada upholds 2014 decision rejecting New Prosperity mine on May 14, 2020

38 ladies had plenty of room to social distance

A couple of years ago hubby and I purchased 600 (yes, 600)… Continue reading

Invasive Mussel Defence program launches in B.C.

Boat inspection stations are now open at various locations throughout the province… Continue reading

B.C. First Nation adopts Dr. Bonnie Henry, names her ‘one who is calm among us’

Gitxsan officially adopts the provincial health officer in a May 22 ceremony

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Andrew Weaver says he was ready to defeat John Horgan government

Independent MLA blasts B.C. Greens over LNG opposition

Most Read