In response to the Liberals’ loss, real and symbolic, of the allegedly safe seat of Toronto-St. Paul’s, the cries for their leader to step down grow louder. However, a recent Angus Reid poll suggests that may not be as helpful to the party as one might think, and may even be harmful.

Most of the poll results were no surprise. For example, it showed that twice as many Canadians intend to vote Conservative as intend to vote either Liberal or NDP. We’ve known that for months.

The poll did, however, produce at least one surprise, surprising at least to me. It indicated that replacing the current leader wouldn’t necessarily help the Liberals and might even hurt them. This is surprising not only because Trudeau is so unpopular but also because there are such excellent candidates for his replacement. In a recent post I set out the impressive qualifications of the two most frequently spoken of: Chrystia Freeland (my choice) and Mark Carney.

Angus Reid asked respondents about a dozen potential candidates, including cabinet ministers and outsiders, if they would be more or less likely to vote Liberal if one of these candidates was prime minister. The only two who got a positive response were Freeland and Carney, with Freeland faring the best. So if one of these two should assume the leadership, the party’s chances would improve, but with anyone else, not so much.

The poll also asked about a scenario where Trudeau led the party through the campaign, but promised to step down for a replacement after the election. This tended to garner even less support.

What, respondents were asked, was the problem with the government. The major criticism was lack of progress on issues they found important, well ahead of concern about the prime minister, deficit spending and other issues. This was true for both Liberal supporters and uncommitted voters.

And what were those issues? The four top issues were the cost of living/inflation (a comfortable number one) followed by health care, housing affordability and environment/climate change.

The government included some major policies addressing the housing crisis in its spring budget but those won’t be felt for years. They also included significant measures for health care including dental care and a small start on pharmacare, but Canadians remain worried about items such as the shortage of family doctors. The Liberals have made major progress on climate change but the Conservatives seem to have succeeded in distracting the electorate on that issue by hammering the carbon tax.

It’s worth noting that while Trudeau’s lack of popularity wasn’t the number one handicap for the party, it was number two, so no doubt he is a drag on the party. It’s just that replacing him isn’t necessarily the answer unless it’s the right replacement.

The Liberals not only face a huge lag in the polls, they have a commitment problem. Two-thirds of Conservative supporters say they are very committed, but only 38 per cent of Liberal supporters say the same. The NDP, the Bloc and the Greens also lack commitment.

Sixty percent of voters are uncommitted providing a large enough pool for the Liberals to get back in the game. All is by no means lost, but the lack of a boost from the spring budget followed by the disastrous Toronto bye-election are not good signs.

If the current situation holds, the Conservatives will go into the next election with a formidable lead. The Liberals and the NDP can only delay, delay, delay. And work their asses off.

And yes, a new Leader could help the Liberals, but only if it’s the right one. Otherwise ….

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