Canada's Trudeau to stay in office after special election 'disaster'

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits ETI Converting Equipment in Longueuil

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear on Tuesday he would stay in office amid fresh questions about his future after the ruling Liberal Party lost a safe seat in a special election.

The official opposition Conservatives won the race in the Toronto-St Paul's constituency for first time since 1988. The election was called after the previous legislator quit.

The victory marked the first time since 2015 that the Conservatives had broken the Liberals' control of vote-rich Toronto, which is home to dozens of seats and key to Trudeau's hold on power.

"I hear people's concerns and frustrations. These are not easy times and it is clear I and my entire Liberal team have much more hard work to do," Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver.

"My focus is on your success and that's where it's going to stay," he added.

The next federal election must be held by end-October 2025 and a range of polls show the Liberals, who have been in power since November 2015, would lose badly to the Conservatives.

The loss indicates Liberals in less safe Toronto area seats might be vulnerable, underlining the party's challenge.

"What a disaster for the Liberals," said Philippe Fournier, editor in chief of the 338Canada website, which models electoral projections across the country.

The Conservatives have announced four main goals: axing a carbon tax introduced by the Liberals, addressing the government's budget deficit, tackling a housing crisis and combating crime.

In a social media post, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said: "Trudeau can't go on like this. He must call a carbon tax election now."

Some political analysts have mused that the Liberals might do better if they changed leader.

Scott Reid, a media commentator who served as chief spokesman to former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, said the party had to respond to the clear desire for change.

"The prime minister is surely going to have to reconsider his own future," he said by email.

Names of potential candidates include former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

But in Canada, party leaders are chosen by special conventions which are held on fixed dates. It is therefore almost impossible to ditch a prime minister who wants to stay.

The Liberals took 40.5% of the vote in Toronto-St Paul's compared to 42.1% for the Conservatives. In the 2021 election, the Liberals won by 49% to 22%.

David Coletto of the Abacus Data polling firm said if the swing to the Conservatives were replicated across Ontario, the most populous province, the Liberals could be reduced to just a handful of seats.

But one Liberal Toronto legislator who helped campaign said the constituency contained many Jewish voters, some of whom felt Trudeau was not supportive enough of Israel.

"I don't think you can discount the dissatisfaction with the prime minister. But in this particular instance, there was a referendum on (our) position on Israel," said the legislator, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

(Reporting by David LjunggrenEditing by Alistair Bell and Marguerita Choy)