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Trudeau says Liberals won't be sidetracked following MP's leadership review comments

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses MPs during a winter caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses MPs during a winter caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday his government won't get sidetracked by "distractions" after one of his MPs walked back comments calling for a leadership review.

Trudeau, who was addressing the Liberal caucus in Ottawa, said the party is focused on the House of Commons returning from its winter break next week.

"There's a lot of distractions, there's a lot of things going on around this place that Canadians more or less pay attention to," he said. "But what we have to pay attention to, and what we do pay attention to, is bringing our communities' voices to here in Ottawa."

Trudeau addressed the caucus after Liberal MP Ken McDonald walked back recent comments suggesting he should face a leadership review.

After telling Radio-Canada that he thinks the party should "clear the air" on whether Trudeau is the right person to lead the Liberals into the next election, McDonald issued a follow-up statement on Thursday morning.

"The intent of my recent public comments was not to personally call for a leadership review, and I am not calling for one now," the Newfoundland MP said.

Trudeau didn't specifically mention McDonald or his comments in his Thursday speech, but a number of Liberal MPs have come to the prime minister's defence recently. The caucus gave him a warm round of applause as he approached the podium and some began chanting "six more years."

MPs say concerns should be brought up internally

Liberal House Leader Steve MacKinnon told reporters Thursday he was "happy to see Mr. McDonald clarify his remarks."

Reporters asked him if McDonald would remain in caucus. "Absolutely," he replied.

"We've always entertained a diversity of views in our caucus. It's important that those views get expressed in the caucus room with our colleagues. That's how it's supposed to work," he said, adding that he hasn't spoken with McDonald recently.

Liberal Party whip Ruby Sahota said she has spoken with McDonald since his initial comments went public but the nature of the conversation was "private."

Other Liberal MPs agreed with MacKinnon that if McDonald wanted to express concerns about Trudeau's leadership, he should have done it internally.

Liberal MP Ken McDonald speaks with Radio-Canada at an arena in his riding.
Liberal MP Ken McDonald speaks with Radio-Canada at an arena in his riding.

Liberal MP Ken McDonald speaks with Radio-Canada at an arena in his riding. (Benoît Roussel/Radio-Canada)

"If colleagues want to have that conversation, it's a conversation to have in caucus," said Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has a reputation for being willing to speak out against his own party.

Erskine-Smith, who recently announced he won't seek re-election, said he supports Trudeau leading the party into the next election campaign.

"He's won three elections in a row. Government decisions wear on governments over time. It happens to all governments. But if he's ready for another go, he's ready for another go," he said.

Ontario MP Charles Sousa also said any leadership concerns should be brought up in caucus.

"We're a diverse group. We represent a lot of different areas of the country and it's important for people to express themselves and we certainly do that in caucus," he told reporters Thursday.

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 address his national caucus during a winter caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau also addressed caucus disagreements — specifically tensions over Canada's stance on the war in the Middle East — in his address to caucus.

"Being able to have conversations in this room that are the reflection of conversations that need to be had across this country is a strength, not a weakness," he said.

"This team is so effective because of its differences, because of the perspectives we bring."

Trudeau spent most of his speech trying to contrast the Liberals with the opposition Conservative Party.

He specifically questioned the Conservatives' support for Ukraine after Conservative MPs voted against military funding and a free trade deal with that country in the previous House sitting.