Liberal MPs to blitz ridings with reminders of their greatest hits


OTTAWA — As Liberal MPs spend this week in their ridings, they are tasked with reminding Canadians what they have done since the last election as they start boosting their efforts to convince voters they deserve to stay.

The co-ordinated blitz will involve visits to local businesses and schools, pitches at the doorstep, MPs serving customers at the local cafe and, of course, a centrally approved social media hashtag.

So far, 130 of the 181 Liberal MPs have agreed to take part in what they are calling a national week of action, being described as the largest mobilization of caucus since the 2015 federal election.

“It’s focused on making sure we go home with one message,” said Liberal MP Ruby Sahota, the Ontario caucus chair.

The planned parade of the Liberal greatest hits, where you can expect to hear a lot about the Canada Child Benefit, is meant to mark the midway point of the four-year mandate.

“I think a midway point is always a good time to step back and reflect,” said Sahota, who represents the Greater Toronto Area riding of Brampton North. “What promises have we been able to keep? Which ones do we still have to work at?”

The campaign will have a high participation rate, but several MPs noted that spending time with constituents is just part of what they would be doing on any other week back in the riding.

“People don’t need to tell me I need to breathe in and breathe out,” said Montreal MP Nicola Di Iorio (Saint-Leonard — Saint-Michel).

Toronto MP Rob Oliphant said he has the feeling the party leadership is paying a little more attention to what is happening this week than usual.

“They are certainly, for some reason, seeming this week to feel anxious,” said Oliphant (Don Valley West), adding that some staffers think MPs need to be encouraged to do their jobs.

“I just say I am doing my constituency work the way I always do it.”

Rather than selling the Liberal track record, Oliphant said he would prefer to find out what people in his riding think of it in the first place.

“I talk in Ottawa and I listen at home,” he said.

As standard as knocking on doors and hearing from voters at town hall-style events might be, the Liberal party keeps close tabs on what its MPs are up to back in their ridings — including on social media.

And that could end up playing a role in deciding whether they get to keep doing it.

During the Liberal leadership race, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to hold open nominations for local candidates in federal ridings, meaning even incumbents would have to fight for the right to keep their name on the ballot in 2019.

But there have been questions about just how committed Trudeau was to that pledge, as some would-be contenders have accused the Liberal leadership of playing favourites or have been barred from running.

As the 2015 victory began fading into memory, incumbent Liberal MPs started grumbling about the possibility of facing an internal fight in their own ridings, so the party launched a consultation process with caucus and former candidates to find a compromise.

One MP who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that based on the consultations so far, the party will likely measure whether an incumbent deserves to be protected from having their nomination challenged through a combination of social media presence, the number of doors they knocked on and fundraising.

The recommendations are expected ahead of the Liberal party convention next April.

Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz, who represents the Toronto riding of Davenport, said she would prefer having to reach a target than start all over again.

“I will be upset if there has to be another full-blown nomination,” said Dzerowicz, who was chosen to carry the Liberal banner in the 2015 election after running against five others.

“It was an extraordinarily intensive process,” she said. “We would have to ask the question: how would I represent the downtown riding well if I had to do a full-blown nomination race? But if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do.”

Toronto MP Adam Vaughan, who was elected in a 2014 by-election that was already plagued with controversy before he threw his hat into the ring, said incumbents should have to battle.

“You’re not entitled to anything,” said Vaughan (Spadina — Fort York).

“It’s healthy to earn your position in the party,” he said. “It’s healthy to earn your position in Parliament and none of this is given to you because of privilege.”

— With files from Joan Bryden

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press