The Hamilton Spectator

Trudeau lost trust of young voters


Last summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a master class in the art of tone deafness when he said the following: “I’ll be blunt as well — housing isn’t a primary federal responsibi­lity. It’s not something that we have direct carriage of, but it is something that we can and must help with.”

Today, however, Canadians could be forgiven if they assumed that housing was the federal government’s only responsibi­lity, because at present it seems the prime minister can’t roll out new housing announceme­nts fast enough. Last week, in what felt like a desperate attempt to woo young voters, Trudeau declared plans to introduce a “renters bill of rights” that would include a national standard lease agreement. He also called on banks and credit bureaus to factor rent payments in determinin­g a person’s credit score.

This week, in advance of the upcoming federal budget, his government announced a topup to constructi­on accelerato­r funds and $6 billion toward a housing infrastruc­ture fund.

The latter announceme­nt served as an almost too perfect metaphor for the prime minister’s long-standing troubles. As he spoke from behind a podium in Dartmouth, N.S., protesters beat drums and shouted slogans, drowning out the PM’s good news. No one could hear a thing. And unfortunat­ely, no one will hear a thing so long as Trudeau is the man behind the message.

It isn’t news at this point, but rather a fact that the prime minister is tanking in the polls. According to David Coletto at Abacus Data, writing last month, “If an election were held today, 42 per cent of committed voters would vote Conservati­ve, with the Liberals at 24 per cent.” At the time of Coletto’s writing, the federal Conservati­ves had led the Liberals in Abacus polling for 658 straight days.

Many critics of Trudeau’s recent housing announceme­nts argue a “renters bill of rights” is nothing more than empty posturing to young voters; that absent enthusiast­ic co-operation from other levels of government, it could be meaningles­s. In many ways they are correct — although it’s worth noting that the government’s pledge of grant funding to legal aid groups that defend tenants against wrongful eviction is legitimate­ly meaningful.

But even if the entirety of Trudeau’s plan had potential to profoundly improve the fortunes of renters in this nation — heck, if his plan promised every millennial in the land a detached home — I suspect it would fall on deaf ears. Because simply put, they wouldn’t believe he’d be able to deliver.

It is telling that while according to one poll, two-thirds of Canadians were pleased with the federal government’s recent announceme­nt of a national pharmacare program, less than half said they trusted the Liberals to successful­ly roll it out. The reason government mistrust appears particular­ly acute among millennial­s and gen-Z voters is because for many, Trudeau is the reigning leader of their short adult lives. Many voters who are leaning Conservati­ve today have never voted for anyone besides Trudeau and they are desperate to do so, even if there is no tangible evidence that Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre will alter their fortunes.

The prime minister is often characteri­zed as lazy by his opponents. In reality, he is working fiendishly hard to please every Canadian and yet he has pleased almost no one. Whether the topic is his government’s incoherent position on the Middle East conflict, its failed rebranding of the carbon tax rebate or, these days, its frantic prebudget courting of young voters, few are listening and fewer are convinced.

If the Liberals want to change their standing with Canadians in advance of the next election they need to stop throwing new policies at the wall in the hopes that something sticks — and instead, crown a new leader.

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