06/14/2013 02:04 EDT

Justin Trudeau's Liberals: The Highs, Lows Of A Party Rebuilding


As the House of Commons closes its doors for the summer, how have the main party leaders performed? In the first of three articles, we look at Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.

Even those who hoped Justin Trudeau would be the saviour of the Liberal Party probably did not dream that things would start off so well.

Liberals lead in the polls by a wide margin and the party’s fundraising is on overdrive. All in all, it was a good first few months for the Trudeau Liberals.

But this parliamentary season was always going to put the Liberal Party in the spotlight. The leadership race made sure of that. And the party certainly took advantage of the attention, though early reviews of the campaign painted it as a dull affair with the only point of interest being whether or not Trudeau would fall flat on his face. He surprised many by doggedly sticking to his campaign strategy and proving his critics (mostly) wrong — there was enough meat on the bones to give the party hope.

Byelections in the fall were a mixed bag for Liberals, as the party performed poorly in the ridings of Victoria and Durham. But the Liberals almost pulled off a dramatic upset in Calgary Centre, despite controversial musings about Alberta by both Trudeau and David McGuinty, an Ontario Liberal MP. It was the first sign that Trudeau was potentially high risk, high reward.

In the end, members and supporters of the Liberal Party gave Trudeau a decisive victory. Not only did he raise boatloads of money, he took 80 per cent of the more than 100,000 ballots cast. It was a strong signal Liberals would emerge united behind Trudeau after years of internal bickering. Whether or not that unity will be more than fleeting remains to be seen. The real test will come if the Liberals start to lose support in the polls.

The first days of Trudeau’s leadership were a bit of a success, as Conservatives launched a series of nasty attack ads that backfired. Liberals responded with a positive ad that was generally well-received and announced a surge in fundraising.

A byelection in Labrador capped off a good first few weeks for Trudeau, as Liberals handed the Conservatives their first byelection defeat in a riding they previously held. Though the win could largely be chalked up to both the appeal of the Grit candidate (former Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party leader Yvonne Jones) and the rejection of Peter Penashue, it nevertheless got the (second) Trudeau era off on the right foot.

However, Trudeau has nevertheless encountered a few bumps in these last weeks of the parliamentary sitting.

His remarks concerning representation in the Senate were not well-received outside of Quebec, and his performance in the House of Commons has not been particularly strong, especially compared to Thomas Mulcair’s courtroom grilling of the prime minister on the Duffy-Wright affair. But he hit the right note on the issue in pushing for full transparency on the spending of MPs and senators.

And what of the polls? They have been stellar for the Liberals. They averaged 40 per cent support in the month of May, putting Grits 12 points ahead of the Conservatives and leading in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada. Liberals have picked up 18 points since parliamentarians returned from the last summer break.

Canadians like the novelty of the Liberals under Trudeau. The task the party will have over the next year is to ensure that most of those new supporters stay in the red tent, at least until the next election.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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