Pablo Rodriguez says he stands by Justin Trudeau

PM’s Quebec lieutenant pitches Liberal successes – after Toronto by-election loss

A few days after the Trudeau Liberals’ humiliating by-election defeat in the “safe” Liberal stronghold of Toronto-St. Paul, Pablo Rodriguez, the Prime Minister’s lieutenant for Quebec, was talking apologetically on the phone – long before he even got around to the actual purpose of the call.

The by-election impact

“I totally get it what happened on Monday,” the Member of Parliament for the Montreal riding of Honoré-Mercier, told Newsfirst Multimedia.

Honoré-Mercier Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, Quebec lieutenant in the Trudeau government, says he continues to support Justin Trudeau, in spite of a major drop in nationwide support for the Prime Minister. (File photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Pablo Rodriguez, Quebec lieutenant in the Trudeau cabinet. (File photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

“I mean, it’s been rough for us,” he said. “But then again, I mean, it’s not a general election, it’s a by-election where people pass messages. And I think we understood very clearly that people are, you know, not happy with our stuff, that they feel the pain of the increased cost of life and all of that.

Undoing the damage

“But at the same time, when they’re going to come into an election and, you know, make the final button when you change the government, that’s a different thing, right? Because a by-election, you send a message and an election you choose your government. So, these are two different things.”

While the ostensible purpose of the call was to remind us of the Liberals’ more noteworthy accomplishments, the timing – coming virtually right after the by-election fiasco – left little doubt the gears had been turning during recent Liberal caucus meetings in Ottawa, where the operative phrase undoubtedly was damage control.

Pre-election year pitch

Thus Rodriguez, who is currently Minister of Transport in the Trudeau cabinet, went on to list the Liberal government’s most significant achievements (this being, mind you, a pre-election year, with the next official election date not expected before late next year – if the government hangs on to the end with crucial NDP support).

Among the accomplishments: nationwide programs aimed at combating child poverty; massive investments in new and moderately-priced as well as low-income housing projects; the Canada Dental Care Plan (albeit largely at the insistence of the NDP, as a condition for their ongoing political support); and the Canadian Pharmacare Plan, initially covering medications for diabetes and contraception.

“I think we have a pretty good bilan,” said the bilingual Rodriguez, using an interchangeable Québécois term that translates roughly as balance sheet.

No election until late 2025

Regarding the ongoing viability of the Trudeau government’s arrangement with the NDP, and whether it will last until the next scheduled election, Rodriguez said he felt confident there would be no election before October 2025.

“One of the most important things these days that Canada needs is stability,” he said. “Stability, because the world – not only the country, but the world – is going through a tough situation, with the economic crisis that followed the pandemic, the cost of living that has increased, the impact of climate change.

“You can feel it through the wildfires, through the droughts. So, I think we need a stable government to lead the country during this period. And this deal with the NDP is offering that kind of stability.”

Dealing with the deficit

In the Trudeau government’s 2024 budget tabled in April by Liberal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, the federal deficit was projected to be $39.8 billion in 2024-25, and $38.9 billion in 2025-26, after which it would decline to $20 billion by 2028-29.

When asked how the Liberals’ plan to pay for the massive amount of debt they have accumulated while in office for nearly a decade, Rodriguez noted that the official opposition Conservatives are demanding immediate spending reductions – although without specifying what they would cut.

“So, what we’re saying is, of course, that we’re going to reduce and put an end to the deficit, but not putting at risk the people that mostly need it, not having people really suffering, because the role of the government is to be there for those that need us,” Rodriguez said.

Still on side with Trudeau

Several days prior to the interview with Rodriguez, former Ottawa-area Liberal MP Catherine McKenna became the first ex-Trudeau cabinet minister to go on record stating she felt it was time for the Liberals to seek a new leader – although she also expressed support for Justin Trudeau’s accomplishments.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s poll standings have dropped drastically. (File photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Mulltimedia)

Rodriguez insisted he still strongly supports Justin Trudeau, noting that the Liberal prime minister “led us to three victories in the last three elections – which is huge, right? … and he has the strength and the energy to keep fighting. So, he will decide on what he wants to do. But I will follow him.”

Finally, Rodriguez, who was first elected in 2004, confirmed that he has already made up his mind to seek a seventh term as the MP for Honoré-Mercier. (He lost once, in 2011, to the NDP, when the party surged during the so-called Orange Crush.)