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Liberal support erodes in 2 key demographics as SNC-Lavalin affair grinds on

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Justin Trudeau's support is waning in two key demographics; Pictou, N.S., has a major economic and environmental problem on its hands; there's an unusual new team practicing at Calgary's Olympic Park bobsled track.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ponders a question during an armchair discussion at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada Convention in Toronto on Tuesday. The latest polls identify some worrying trends for the prime minister. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Justin Trudeau rode to power in part thanks to the notable number of Liberal ballots cast by women and younger voters, but now it seems that enthusiastic support is waning.   
  • Pictou, N.S., has a major economic and environmental problem on its hands.
  • There's a new team practicing at Calgary's Olympic Park bobsled track, and they're quickly learning some important lessons about the sport.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Public perception problems

Justin Trudeau came to power in 2015, promising big changes to the way that Canada was governed.

The most visible manifestation of that vow came when he presented his new cabinet on the steps outside Rideau Hall.

Fifteen men and 15 women — the first gender-balanced cabinet in the country's history — with female Liberal MPs awarded such plum portfolios as international trade, health, environment and justice.

When a reporter asked why parity was important to him, the new prime minister gave a shrug and quipped: "Because it's 2015."

A loud cheer went up from the members of the public who had gathered on the lawn to watch the pomp and circumstance via large-screen TVs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the crowds outside Rideau Hall after the Cabinet's swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa on Nov. 4, 2015. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

The election turnout was relatively robust in 2015 — 68.3 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, the largest proportion since the Jean Chrétien Liberals shellacked Kim Campbell and the Progressive Conservatives in 1993.

And Trudeau reaped the benefits, triumphing with almost every demographic.

But the Liberals did best with women and younger voters, already traditional areas of strength.

Polls taken at the end of the campaign suggested that the youthful Trudeau enjoyed a 14-point lead over the NDP's Tom Mulcair among Canadians aged 18 to 29, and a 15-point advantage over Stephen Harper. Trudeau also had a 10 percentage point lead over the Conservatives when it came to female voters.

How important was that support on the way to a 184-seat Liberal majority, which included 50 female MPs?

Very. Turnout among the youngest voters, aged 18 to 24, shot up by 18.3 per cent in 2015 — the largest increase on record. And young women accounted for much of that increase, with a 60.5 per cent turnout rate, up almost 20 per cent from 2011.

(There was also a record-setting turnout in many aboriginal communities in 2015, although the increased indigenous vote didn't necessarily translate into more seats for the Liberals.)

But now, almost four years later, Trudeau can't necessarily count on that enthusiastic support.

The CBC's Poll Tracker today shows Andrew Scheer's Conservatives almost four points out in front of the Liberals, 36.9 per cent to 33.1 per cent.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, seen here during question period in the House of Commons on Feb. 20, has called on Justin Trudeau to step down over the SNC-Lavalin affair. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

And some of the individual surveys that go into that aggregator — most especially those taken in the month since the SNC-Lavalin story broke — identify some worrying trends for the prime minister.

The latest Angus Reid Institute poll, for example, which found that six in 10 Canadians say their opinion of Trudeau has worsened in recent weeks, shows the Liberals trailing the Conservatives by seven points and with softening support in their key demographics.

Trudeau's advantage among women is now just six per cent, according to the survey. He's doing only seven points better than Scheer among 18- to 34-year-olds, and running well behind with older demographics.

And a recent Léger/Canadian Press poll that also shows the Tories out in front overall found almost even support for Scheer and Trudeau among female voters, 33 per cent to 34 per cent.

That same survey asked respondents if they thought Trudeau had done something wrong in his dealings with Jody Wilson-Raybould. Forty-one per cent said "yes," including 37 per cent of female voters, while 41 per cent (and 47 per cent of women) said they weren't sure. Only 12 per cent said "no."

An Ipsos-Global News poll released today has the Tories with a nine-point lead among decided voters, 40 per cent to 31 per cent, and Andrew Scheer with a seven point advantage among women, 27 per cent to Trudeau's 20 per cent.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould gives her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

Four weeks into the SNC-Lavalin affair with no end in sight, the Liberals have clearly lost control of public perceptions and the political reality in Ottawa. Losing one senior, female cabinet minister was damaging. Having Jane Philpott quit yesterday, endorsing Wilson-Raybould's version of events and saying she has lost confidence in Trudeau's capacity to fix things, is potentially devastating.

Gerry Butts, Trudeau's friend and former principal secretary, is set to testify before the House of Commons Justice Committee tomorrow morning. He and the prime minister have both repeatedly said that they did nothing wrong or improper in talking to the former Justice minister about SNC-Lavalin's future.

But making that case convincingly without attacking Wilson-Raybould's integrity, or besmirching her character — potentially causing an even bigger rift in the party and with voters — will require far more deftness than the Liberal government has shown thus far.

Trudeau desperately needs to find a way out of the muck.

Because it's 2019, and the election is just eight-and-a-half months away.

Trouble in Pictou

Pictou has a major economic and environmental problem on its hands, reporter Tom Murphy writes.

I'm walking down Water Street in the Town of Pictou, N.S., when I hear it.

"Psst. Hey!"

A guy in his fifties, arm out the window of a pickup truck, beckons me over. He wants to talk.

"You here for the mill story?" he asks.

There is truly only one story consuming people in Pictou County these days and they love to talk about it.

In private.

The community's Northern Pulp mill has been around for more than half a century. The jobs pay well and have helped keep the economy afloat.

Jobs at the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou, N.S., have kept the economy afloat for decades, but environmental concerns over how to handle its effluent mean the plant's days may be numbered. (Jill English/CBC)

But effluent from the mill has also been polluting and killing a body of water known as Boat Harbour, once owned by the Mi'kmaq First Nations.

People here know that can't continue. And the clock is ticking, with the effluent treatment facility used by the mill slated to close on Jan. 31 next year.

But as the stakeholders try to find an acceptable alternative, it is creating a rift in the community that's pitting industry versus industry and family versus family.

Fishermen fear piping the mill's waste directly into the Northumberland Strait will harm their fishery.

Forestry workers warn that without the mill, their industry will falter.

Besides the jobs at the Northern Pulp mill, the outcome of the debate over the plant's future will affect two key local industries - forestry and commercial fishing. (Jill English/CBC)

There's just so much riding on the future of the mill that people choose their words carefully around here. Local municipal politicians shy away from comment. Community organizations and businesses turn down access for our cameras.

Pickup-truck-guy doesn't want to do an on-camera interview. But he wants me to know all the good the mill does in this community.

I receive a lot of that kind of advice from all sides of the issue while in Pictou. But getting people to talk publicly about their feelings was no easy feat.

Residents are on edge here these days, knowing dramatic change for their community is on the near horizon. And they are beginning to realize there is no solution that will appease all sides.

And so they are tightly wound and, yes, tight-lipped.

- Tom Murphy

  • WATCH: The story about Pictou's problems with its mill, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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Learning the hard way

There's a new team practicing at Calgary's Olympic Park bobsled track, and they're quickly learning some important lessons about the sport, reporter Erin Collins writes.

You learn some interesting facts working as a reporter.

For example, did you know that there are just two ways to go down a bobsled track? "The right way, and the wrong way."

I picked this little tidbit up chatting with Jerby Deriada, a brakeman with a bobsled team from the Philippines who has just learned this lesson the hard way — a few times.

Yup, you read that correctly, a bobsled team from the Philippines.

The bobsleigh team from the Philippines, which draws its members from the nation's coast guard, is training in Calgary in hopes of qualifying for the winter Olympics. (PNBLSA )

Turns out the right way means keeping your head in more or less of an upright position, while the wrong way involves sliding down an icy track on your head.

Good to know.

Deriada and his driver Rolando Isidro are in Calgary with another two-man team from the Philippines, training at the Canada Olympic Park bobsleigh track.

All four have day jobs with the Philippines Coast Guard, and were world champion dragon boat racers before they decided to take a crack at bobsled. They've been at the track in Calgary for several weeks and head home on March 15.

Bobsledders from the Philippines national team train at the Canada Olympic Park track in Calgary. (Buddy Cunanan/PNBLSA )

"Our inspiration for getting into the sport of  bobsled is really the movie Cool Runnings," says Buddy Cunanan, president of the Philippine National Bobsled, Luge, and Skeleton Association, referring to the Cinderella story of the Jamaican bobsled team coming to Calgary for the 1988 Olympics.

"And we thought if the Jamaicans could do it, why not the Philippines?"

Tune in to The National tonight to find out what inspired Deriada and his teammates from the tropics to shoot for a spot in the winter Olympics — and why a funding shortfall at the home of Canada's national team could quash their dreams.

- Erin Collins

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    Jonathon Gatehouse

    CBC Investigative Journalist

    Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.