OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has enjoyed remarkably strong opinion poll numbers since winning power in last October’s election but now faces tough decisions that could dent his popularity.
Trudeau’s Liberals, who quickly ran up a big budget deficit as they boosted spending to help kick-start the economy, have launched extended public consultations on several major issues.
When Parliament reconvenes on Monday, the government will have to deliver verdicts on challenging environmental and military questions.
“There are some policy issues ... that are going to be difficult to politically manage,” said pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research. “The key question is: How much political capital will Justin Trudeau expend?”
A Nanos Research poll earlier this month asking who Canadians preferred as prime minister put Trudeau at 54.1 percent, compared with 16.5 percent for Rona Ambrose, interim leader of the Conservative Party.
Both main opposition parties lack permanent leaders and will not choose replacements until next year. That, say Liberals, means the time for politically risky calls is now, so voter anger can dissipate before the next election in October 2019.
Last week, Trudeau received a boost when his high-level pressuring of Chinese officials helped secure the release of Canadian Kevin Garratt, who spent two years in jail and was convicted of spying. [L2N1BS1JP]
Ottawa is concerned about the potential blowback from decisions on projects in British Columbia, where the Liberals did better than expected in the last election, said two well-placed political sources.
Ministers must rule by the end of September on a liquefied natural gas export project proposed by Petronas [PETRA.UL]. The deadline for Kinder Morgan Inc’s plan to expand its Trans Mountain oil pipeline is Dec. 31.
Both projects are opposed by green activists, courted by Trudeau in 2015. British Columbia could prove crucial to Trudeau’s hopes of winning another majority government in the 2019 election.
Ottawa also faces a difficult October summit with the 10 provinces on setting a national price for carbon. Some provinces worry about the potential economic impact, and preparatory talks have bogged down, said one of the political sources.
The Liberals will also announce whether they intend to break a pledge to launch a competition for fighter jets. Talk inside military circles is that Ottawa could announce a sole-source contract.
“Will there be difficult days and difficult issues? Sure there will be,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
“It won’t always be easy, but if you engage Canadians in the process, you’re going to make for better results,” he told reporters.
Tony Clement of the official opposition Conservatives said Trudeau could not put off hard calls forever.
“When you make a decision, maybe somebody’s ox is being gored, and that’s when the trouble starts,” he said.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney