'Pretty painful': Defeated and elected Liberal MPs gathering in Ottawa for post-election meeting

Defeated and successful Liberals will gather in Ottawa today to regroup after a tough election that left them with a weaker grip on power.

Chief government whip says meeting is a chance to show gratitude to outgoing MPs

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, right, is greeted by Liberal Mark Holland as he makes a campaign stop in Ajax, Ont., on August 17, 2015. Holland, now the Liberal whip, is hosting a meeting of successful and defeated Liberal candidates in Ottawa today. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Defeated and successful Liberals are gathering in Ottawa today to regroup after a tough election that left them with a weaker grip on power.

Described as an "informal" meeting, the get-together is the first time many Liberal MPs and candidates have seen each other in months — and an opportunity to hear from those who lost their seats in last month's vote.

The gathering was organized by chief government whip Mark Holland, who said it's an opportunity to show gratitude to departing MPs for their hard work and sacrifice while serving in public office. It's also a chance to speak about how they might participate in the party going forward.

Holland said he expects some raw emotion in the room — gratitude and reflection, but also some sadness.

"Politics at its best is fighting for what you care about, with who you care about," he told CBC News. "And when some of those members are not with you, that's pretty painful. So it's definitely going to be emotional."

The Liberals lost several long-serving and high-profile MPs, including cabinet ministers Ralph Goodale and Amarjeet Sohi.

Holland, who lost his own fourth election in 2011 before winning his seat back again in 2015, said it was "cathartic" to have a similar post-election meeting after his defeat. He said he could not confirm who is attending today but he's expecting a "very large gathering."

Holland said more detailed discussions about minority government strategy going forward, and how the party can better represent all parts of the country, will be left for another day.

'Intense' minority government

This will be the fourth minority Parliament Holland has served in. He said the government will need to compromise with its critics to draft policies that reflect the needs of the greatest number of Canadians.

"That challenge is always present. It's just more intense in a minority government," he said.

The Liberals went from third-party status to a landslide majority win in 2015. This year's election — dogged by numerous controversies and regional frustration over the carbon tax and the oilpatch's lack of a pipeline to tidewater — reduced the Liberals to 157 seats, 13 shy of a majority.

The Liberal campaign also suffered a profound blow when old photos emerged of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in blackface.

Despite the campaign missteps, Holland said the caucus remains firmly united behind Trudeau and he has heard no talk about possible leadership challenges.

Representing Alberta, Saskatchewan

Discussions are underway among Liberals about how the party can adequately represent Western Canada in the House of Commons and in cabinet, as the party was completely shut out in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"I think that will be talked about in the very short term. I think there's lots of great conversations happening now. It's an incredibly important priority and I think that's something one doesn't have to wait too long to find out about," he said.

As for how long the minority government might last, Holland said there are plenty of issues where the government shares priorities with opposition parties; he cited fighting climate change, creating affordable housing, helping the middle class and eliminating poverty and supporting First Nations.

"I know the preoccupation of the team is getting that work done, and our mind isn't at this point contemplating really how long it might be. We've got a lot of work to do and people expect that work to be done before another election," he said.

Newly elected Nova Scotia Liberal MP Mike Kelloway has spent the last two days in orientation sessions, learning about everything from parliamentary procedure and ethics to hiring staff and constituency work.

"There's a whole host of feelings. You're excited, you're nervous, you're somewhat apprehensive. But at the same point you need to work through that like every other job we have," he said.

Steep learning curve

Kelloway said he expects the learning curve will be steeper in a minority government, but plans to do a lot of "listening, learning and doing." As for the Liberals who lost their seats, he said he wants to extend his best wishes for the journey ahead at today's meeting.

"What I'm going to be thinking about is the guts it takes to put your name on a ballot, the transitions — not just those individuals themselves, but the people who work for them, their families, their communities," he said. "Certainly there will be feelings of understanding and empathy and I also think the sidebar conversations might be poignant ones from colleagues who have worked directly with those who lost."

John Aldag spoke with the CBC's Julie Van Dusen on Thursday 2:52

Outgoing B.C. Liberal John Aldag is one of those MPs. He blames his loss on voter apathy, vote-splitting and some backlash over the SNC-Lavalin controversy that persisted through the entire campaign.

"SNC was just this sense of things having been done that perhaps jeopardized the independence of the judiciary, and to have a full and free democracy you have to have that," he said. "So there was just a notion planted that something had gone wrong, and people didn't understand it but it just raised some questions."

Aldag said he's holding on to his lawn signs and plans to seek the Liberal nomination next time.

Re-elected Ontario MP Francis Drouin said today's meeting will be a chance to meet with old and new colleagues.

"I think we've had a good success. Obviously, there's some people that didn't win. There's a pause for reflection," he said.

Trudeau is expected to decide whether Parliament will sit before the end of this year after he holds a series of meetings with the opposition leaders in Ottawa next week.

No date has yet been set for a throne speech, but the prime minister has confirmed he will swear in his new cabinet on Nov. 20.


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