Liberal MPs suggests party needed stronger ground game in Toronto—St. Paul's vote | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Liberal MPs suggests party needed stronger ground game in Toronto—St. Paul's vote

The co-chair of the Liberal Ontario campaign is suggesting it was a mistake to nominate their party's candidate in Toronto—St.Paul so close to the federal byelection being called. Karina Gould, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons rises during Question Period, Friday, December 15, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Original Publication Date July 02, 2024 - 9:16 AM

OTTAWA - The federal Liberals needed a stronger ground campaign in their fortress riding of Toronto—St. Paul's, including more time to campaign before the vote, several members of the party have suggested.

The Liberals lost their 30-year grip on the riding when the seat flipped to the Conservatives in a byelection on June 24.

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

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 be seeking re-election, and announced a plan to step away early on Dec. 12 when she delivered her final speech in the House of Commons. She officially submitted her resignation in mid-January.

The Conservatives moved quickly to nominate Stewart and had him in place in February. While Church had announced her intention to run even before Bennett announced her resignation in December, the party didn't officially complete the nomination until May 1.

Eighteen days later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the byelection.

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

"And so she needed more time to be able to get out there and get known in the riding."

Stewart, who has declined an interview with The Canadian Press, was seen on social media throughout the year door-knocking, attending community events and speaking to residents in the area. He even noted that constituents proclaimed to him that no other candidates had knocked on their door before.

Church couldn't officially start her campaign until months after Stewart.

One resident in the area said she voted for the Liberals, but was so disappointed in the outcome that she decided to write the party "to tell them how they screwed this up."

The party got "lazy" because of how long it had held the seat, said Andrea, who declined to provide her last name.

"We are a left-leaning Liberal area and somehow a Conservative got in, so obviously something got messed up," she said.

Gould said it's becoming tougher for Liberal candidates to campaign because people are seeking change from a government that's been in power for nine years as they also struggle to pay rent and put food on the table.

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

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

"People are feeling like we need to do a better job of listening to them and demonstrating that we hear what their frustrations are."

British Columbia Liberal MP Ken Hardie, who is not seeking re-election, has said Church needed to develop deeper roots in the community.

While Church had strong connections to Ottawa as former chief of staff to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Stewart focused on promoting his connections to the community, where he had lived since 2016 with his two daughters.

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

As is typical during a byelection, overall turnout was low at just 44 per cent, compared with 65 per cent in the 2021 general election. In all, 17,000 fewer votes were cast in the byelection.

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

Ali said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press that the Liberal supporters stayed home, "they didn't go and vote against the Liberals."

"I can see we were not able to motivate them. We were not able to communicate with them how important it is to come out and vote," he said.

"They stayed home and we need to do more to get their trust, and motivate them to vote Liberal, and communicate how important it is to make their vote count."

Ante Pavic, who voted in the byelection, said the cost of living was top of mind for him and he hopes Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre will win the next election.

Poilievre, who has led the Liberals in opinion polls since last summer, has heavily campaigned on affordability measures, and axing the Liberal's price on pollution, which he says is making everything more costly for people.

Marty, a lifelong Liberal voter who declined to provide his last name, said he switched his vote to Conservative during the byelection as "an opportunity to send a message" to Trudeau.

The loss was a shock for the Liberals, with several former cabinet ministers openly clamouring for Trudeau to step down. Within the caucus there is unrest, but thus far only New Brunswick MP Wayne Long, who isn't running again, has publicly called for Trudeau's resignation.

The Liberal party will be spending the summer reflecting and analyzing what happened in Toronto—St. Paul's, Gould said, before the national caucus is scheduled to meet in late summer.

"A loss is a loss," Gould said.

"I'm not going to pretend that was a good result for us, but it's 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 year as we head into the next general election."

While some MPs have called for a national caucus meeting sooner, Gould said the focus needs to be on talking to Canadians.

"I think what's important is that caucus members are really engaging their community, really hearing what's on people's minds," she said, "so that when we do get together we can have a really constructive dialogue about what the next year looks like and what our plans are."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2024.

— With files from Sheila Reid in Toronto

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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