In politics, as in business, even the most well-established brands become tarnished. Over time, they lose their luster, require a refresh, and in some cases, need an overhaul. Political leaders spend years carefully building their public personas. They seek to create their personal narratives, with a clear picture of what they stand for, what they’re against, and what they represent.
In Justin Trudeau’s case, the brand was instantly recognizable—a young, centre-left progressive, globally-conscious, gender-inclusive, pro-environment leader, with a last name every household in Canada already knew. Prime Minister Trudeau represented a generational shift, someone who would “do politics differently.”
This brand, by any objective measure, has been damaged since the Liberals took power in 2015. The self-described “sunny ways” of Trudeau’s early mandate are long gone. Numerous self-inflicted political mistakes have taken their toll and the party eventually has had difficulty connecting with the voters and voting groups, like young Canadians, who helped to fuel its victory.
Now every major national poll consistently shows Prime Minister Trudeau in second place. The PM, by any objective metric, is entering the 2019 campaign on his political back foot.
Yet, he still has time to reposition himself and the Liberals before October 2019. Voter intentions are still “soft” with four months away from the campaign. Meanwhile, traditional centre-left voters are not gravitating to the NDP, providing another electoral advantage for the PM.
More importantly, Prime Minister Trudeau still has some distinct political advantages: the country’s job numbers are strong; his competition on left and right simply don’t have his name recognition; his incumbency allows countless chances to connect directly with voters through the summer via spending announcements; and he is a formidable campaigner.
But winning again will require some tangible strategic shifts during the summer, along with a deliberate change in tone. In short, success in October will be premised on the following:
Re-establishing centre-left dominance
The Liberals’ success in 2015 was premised on enthusiastic “progressive voters”. Trudeau pulled support from the NDP, the Green Party, and others who viewed him as a champion of their issues. Such belief—and trust—among voters has waned since his election. The PM will need to lock down the progressive vote and convince voters that his opponents will have no chance to be a vehicle to move their issues. Or worse, that they pose a threat to the progress he has attempted to drive.
Selling an economic vision
The Liberals have yet to articulate a clear vision of their economic plan. Yet the economy is stable and growing. And national job numbers are strong. The PM will need to ensure his economic vision is easily understood. His commitments on infrastructure and innovation spending, while interesting, don’t seem to connect with voters. Something more crisp and compelling is required.
Capitalizing on the report card
As businesses need to report to shareholders, politicians need to communicate results to voters. The Liberals published ministerial mandate letters, a first for any federal government. They also spoke of a new way to achieve results—“deliverology”—for Canadians. The PM must now convince voters that his majority mandate was worth the investment, and he should be given a chance to finish his homework and complete his to-do list.