POLITICS
04/20/2018 07:57 EDT | Updated 04/20/2018 11:48 EDT

Liberals Told To Have Trudeau’s ‘Back’ As Party Looks To 2019 Election

Grits see convention weekend as "launching pad" for 2019.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil addresses the crowd at the start of the federal Liberal national convention in Halifax on April 19, 2018.
Andrew Vaughan/CP
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil addresses the crowd at the start of the federal Liberal national convention in Halifax on April 19, 2018.

HALIFAX — Liberal delegates gathered in Halifax were told Thursday they need to have the "prime minister's back" as the Grits brace for a tough fight in the 2019 election.

Nova Scotia Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil told the crowd of approximately 1,200 — though more than 2,700 have registered — that this weekend wasn't just about celebrating and engaging in policy debates.

"Let's not kid ourselves. This weekend is about the next federal election and [is] the launching pad for that federal election."

The premier called on the delegates "to dedicate" themselves to giving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau back-to-back majority governments.

"This is not about power; it is about purpose," McNeil shouted into the microphone. "The prime minister is changing the face of our country. Let's not stop halfway through this journey, let's continue to make sure that he continues to be the prime minister."

McNeil wasn't the only senior party leader to call for party unity and more volunteer might.

Outgoing federal party president Anna Gainey praised the 6,000 Liberals who had engaged in the policy process for helping make "one united, cohesive, and efficient party."

The Grits are using a new process to help determine policy. They've weeded out 39 resolutions from the grassroots which were voted on online in March. Thirty have moved on to convention to be debated and ranked. Organizers hope to emerge with a list of only 15 priority resolutions on Saturday, after two more rounds of voting.

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No room was set aside for emergency resolutions in the Liberals' convention agenda. These resolutions are typically used by the grassroots to deal with timely issues. At the party convention in Winnipeg in 2016, for example, party organizers blocked a bid by some delegates for an emergency resolution proposing amendments to the government's medically-assisted dying bill. In Halifax, however, no effort was made by the grassroots to try to change the agenda.

Resolutions remain non-binding on the leadership. In 2016, party members voted to enact a guaranteed minimum income. The Trudeau Liberals haven't moved in that direction and the resolution is again on the agenda.

In praising the Liberals' recent byelection wins — including two seats that were long ago lost causes for the Grits, Lac-Saint-Jean and South Surrey–White Rock — Gainey sought to mobilize her volunteer army for the next election.

"You will drive our success in the next election campaign," she told them.

"In just 18 months, Canadians will head to the polls," she said. "We know the stakes — Justin Trudeau's positive plan to strengthen our middle class is on the line. We know our opponents will do everything they can to undo the progress for all Canadians that we have worked so hard for.

"We can't let that happen. We need to double down and recommit to the hope and hard work that got us here. I know that Justin, our leader, he'll deliver."

Gainey said throughout her life, she had seen Trudeau's "work ethic" and "his passion for Canada."

"He always has the best interests of Canadians at heart, and in mind. He's had our backs. And now more than ever, we need to have his back, too," she told the party faithful, noting that their opponents would stop at nothing to engage in divisive rhetoric.

"I know we can win it," she concluded.

'Four more years!'

Treasury Board President Scott Brison took the stage at the Halifax Convention Centre and pulled on Liberal heartstrings. Telling a deeply personal story of what key Liberal accomplishments on gay rights, such as pension benefits and same-sex marriage, had meant to him and his family.

His colleague, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, concluded his remarks by leading the crowd into a rallying call of "Four more years!"

The Liberal convention continues Friday with policy debates. The prime minister is scheduled to address the crowd on Saturday. He was in Europe Thursday, concluding an official trip to France and Britain.