Time crunch, rules mess could plague a Liberal leadership race

Calls have intensified for Justin Trudeau to resign as head of the party he almost single-handedly pulled back from the brink after a decimating electoral defeat in 2011.Still, Trudeau has been steadfast in his intention to lead the party into the next election.

But even as several former elected Liberals, party faithful and strategists declare it’s time for the prime minister to step aside for fear of dragging the party down along with his personal polling numbers, many also admit a Liberal leadership race would be a risky and messy affair.

The party hasn’t selected a new leader since 2013, when the Liberals changed the rules to give ordinary citizens a bigger say in who would take the reins of the party.

It was part of the board’s “road map to renewal” plan to rebuild the party.The changes allowed a political movement to form behind Trudeau, who won the race easily and reinvigorated the party after a time of crisis.“It doesn’t matter to me if you were a Chrétien Liberal, or a Turner Liberal, or a Martin Liberal or any other kind of Liberal,” Trudeau told the cheering crowd after being voted in.“The era of hyphenated Liberals ends right here, right now, tonight.”

His leadership did usher in a new era of Liberal unity, but Conservative strategist Ginny Roth said the party was also remade in his image.“The Liberal party was kind of rebuilt around Trudeau as a bit of a cult of personality, and that worked when he was popular,” said Roth, who served as Pierre Poilievre’s director of communications during his leadership race.

Now that it’s no longer true, the very identity of the party is at stake.“I think a lot of Liberals are concerned about what a leadership race could mean, because there’s no real establishment.”

If Trudeau were to step aside before the next election, the party would not only need to find a new leader before the next election but also redefine what it means to be a Liberal.“The Liberal party brand today has become synonymous with Justin Trudeau,” said Andrew Perez, a longtime Liberal and strategist with Perez Strategies.

He recently called for Trudeau to resign, but admits it’s a tall order when the next election is scheduled for less than a year and a half from now. It’s a risk, he said, especially under the rules that brought Trudeau to the head of the party.

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