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Political strategist says Ken McDonald's about-face on Trudeau doesn't undo damage done

Liberal MP Ken McDonald got in hot water this week for comments made in an interview with Radio-Canada, where he said Justin Trudeau should be subject to a leadership review. (Benoît Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Liberal MP Ken McDonald got in hot water this week for comments made in an interview with Radio-Canada, where he said Justin Trudeau should be subject to a leadership review. (Benoît Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Political strategist Tim Powers says Ken McDonald may have helped his future prospects in politics by speaking against his own leader in an interview with Radio-Canada — but those future prospects may not be with the federal Liberals.

McDonald, the MP for the Avalon riding, said in a recent interview he believes there should be a leadership review within the Liberal Party. A day after his comments were published, he issued a retraction.

"Might that be what we call peer pressure?" said Powers, the managing director of Abacus Data, with a chuckle. "A lot of his colleagues had toured out and said, 'No, we don't support what he said,' and then all of a sudden the retraction came.

"So I think in the bosom of his Liberal brethren, the statement was issued, though the damage was done because the caucus and the prime minister had to respond to Ken's initial statements — which are pretty hard to take back when they're on tape."

While McDonald hasn't stated his plans for the next election, Powers said the situation will make it difficult for him to run federally for the Liberals.

Summa Strategies Chair Time Powers.
Summa Strategies Chair Time Powers.

Tim Powers, the managing director of Abacus Data and chair of Summa Strategies, says McDonald may have helped improve his future political prospects — but not federally. (Cynthia Munster)

According to the latest Abacus data, the Liberals trail the Conservatives by 12 points in Atlantic Canada. Powers said McDonald's comments will play well in his home province and could help him if he chooses to run provincially.

"Ken really hasn't damaged his political prospects any," Powers said. "I'm a bit surprised by the retraction, but I suspect he's gained enough capital casting himself as a maverick should he choose to run provincially."

Powers said he wasn't surprised to see the Liberals keep McDonald in the caucus, since giving him the boot would have caused an uproar.

"If [Trudeau] had a majority government, if you were in a better standing in the polls, perhaps Ken would have found he was being given the door but that was not the case."

Party members wish conversations were private

Liberal cabinet members were in Montreal for a retreat when the comments were published. They then went to Ottawa for a broader caucus retreat, where the media caught up with Liberal Party whip Ruby Sahota and House leader Steve MacKinnon.

They said McDonald would "absolutely" remain in the caucus.

"We've always entertained a diversity of views in our caucus," MacKinnon said. "It's important that those views get expressed in the caucus room with our colleagues. That's how it's supposed to work."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau address his national caucus during a winter caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau address his national caucus during a winter caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses his national caucus during a winter caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Other members, including McDonald's fellow Newfoundland and Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, said they wished it had stayed behind closed doors.

Sahota confirmed she had spoken to McDonald since the article was published but wouldn't go into details.

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