Last week’s by-elections reveal changing fortunes in federal politics

dinsdale signs

Monday’s by-election results in four ridings (or mini-election) were not particularly memorable. But, as a federal political wonk, I have no choice but to scrutinize them to see if they have any augurs, good or bad, for the three major political players (please note that I am deliberately excluding the Green Party and Bloc from this analysis) in 2015’s Federal election.

As the old joke goes, the results of elections are never as important as what the political spin-doctors working for the winners make them out to be. Nor are they as insignificant as those working for the losers would have you believe.

First, let’s look at the winners. There can be no doubt that Justin Trudeau has plenty to crow about after his party not only maintained their strongholds in Bourassa and Toronto Centre, despite hard-fought NDP campaigns in both, but also came within 400 votes of stealing what had been previously regarded as one of the bluest riding in the country, Brandon-Souris, Manitoba.

The fact that they had a strong candidate with Tory roots (Rolf Dinsdale) certainly helped. But it’s clear that the Liberals benefited from a massive protest vote in the election most likely from both NDP (the Dipper candidate had finished second in 2011) and Conservative voters, many of whom appear to be pissed over Harper’s ongoing senate scandal. This coupled with the surprising results in Provencher (where they also finished second) seems to indicate that whatever political baggage Trudeau the Younger’s name once carried with it in Western Canada, and his tendency to alienate Western Canadians voters with various verbal blunders, is becoming less of a burden for the Liberals.

freeland mcquaig buttons

NDP strategists, on the other hand, have little to brag about after their party failed to increase its seat total in the House of Commons. While many dippers may be genuinely upset over Trudeau’s seriously tacky appropriation of Jack Layton’s now legendary deathbed address to his fellow Canadians, more cynical politicos will probably tell you that the party’s outrage over the victory speech quote probably had something to do with their desire to shift the focus of the media away from some fairly dismal election night results.

Bourassa may never have truly been within reach for the NDP (after all, it did belong to our new Mayor Denis ‘trade Deharnais’ Coderre for the better part of the last 16 years), but they definitely expected a closer contest in the Montreal North riding where they witnessed a huge growth in their vote share last time around with an unknown candidate and hardly any electioneering. Better news came out of Toronto Centre where star candidate Linda McQuaig did a bang-up job of challenging her Liberal rival, Christy Freeland, and came a close second in the final tally. Should she choose to return in 2011 after the riding is split into three, with the Rosedale (one of the wealthiest in neighbourhoods in Canada) portion forming a new separate riding, she would most likely win it.

The biggest losers though, arguably, were the Harper Tories. Not only did their fortress in Manitoba come under formidable siege from the Grits, but they suffered a historic defeat in Toronto Centre, with their worst finish in history, and a terrible showing in Bourassa.

The conventional political wisdom about by-elections is that they are won or lost based your ability to motivate the base. This is surely bad news for Conservatives in the next Federal election. In Brandon (a quintessentially western rural riding if ever there was one) , where the party used to be able to count on overwhelming support, their voters seem to have either stayed away from the polls in droves, or worse, voted Liberal.

Prime Minister Harper must now face the music: his political shenanigans involving the Senate are starting to take their toll on his party.

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