Great Moments in Spin

The Onion Conservative Party reacts to their by-election defeat moral victory:

As we know, majority governments do not usually win by-elections.

In fact, Liberals have won the riding of Labrador in every election in history except for two, so we are not surprised with these results.

What is surprising is the collapse of the Liberal support during this by-election. When this by-election was called the Liberals had a 43-point lead in the polls. Since electing Justin Trudeau as leader and having him personally campaign there, they have dropped 20 points in Labrador. That’s a significant drop in only a few weeks. Labradorians were able to see firsthand how Justin Trudeau is in over his head.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Federal Politics, Great Moments in Spin

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at and online at the National Post.

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38 Responses to Great Moments in Spin

  1. kitt

    Well then, may Justin Trudeau remain over his head with riding by riding victory!

  2. Mark H

    That’s hilarious considering the Tories had some reasonably big guns basically promising that Penashue would be welcomed back to cabinet with open arms.

    It may not be 43 points and bi-elections usually don’t mean squat when the general comes around but the point being, by backing Penashue the way the Conservatives did they effectively made it a small scale referendum on their government…and the third party not only beat an incubent minister by almost 23 points, they also went over that 50% threshold.

    I’ll take more conservative moral victories like this one in the future please.

    • Vancouverois

      I can’t see this as a referendum on the government in general. Sure, they backed their guy – but I wouldn’t say they pulled out all the stops to get him to win, promises of Cabinet posts notwithstanding. I think they pretty much expected to lose.

      Did Harper even visit the riding? I don’t think so.

      • Mark H

        I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but they did have Peter MacKay actively campaigning for the Candidate and they did provide him support. At mid mandate when you do that its tough to argue that they weren’t at least putting some of their political capital into the outcome.

        And you know full well if Penashue won that it would be framed as a failure for Trudeau and a validation of conservative policies.

        So as it stands I think it’s one of those grain of salt results that shouldn’t be looked too much into (as sitting governments lose bi-elections all the time), but at the same time, the Cons did enough to tell me that they really wanted to hold onto the riding which does lend a little bit of validity to the idea that in a small way a little value can be added to the victory.

        • Vancouverois

          “And you know full well if Penashue won that it would be framed as a failure for Trudeau and a validation of conservative policies.”

          Well, sure. But they would have had real cause to do so. If Penashue had won that really would have been a blow to the Liberal party and Leader, wouldn’t it?

          Overall I think you’re right – it’s a gain for the Liberals, a minor loss for the Conservatives, and the Liberal narrative that it’s a sign of momentum against the Conservatives fits better than the narrative the Conservatives seem to be trying to create that it’s a rebuke to JT.

      • CalgaryGrit

        Agreed. This was definitely a by-election about the local candidates, more so than the government.

  3. Sean C.

    For trivia fans, Yvonne Jones is the first by-election gain for the Liberals since Christian Jobin and Gilbert Barrette won two simultaneous Quebec by-elections in 2003.

    • Daniel

      What about Kevin Lamoureux in Winnipeg North in 2010? That seat was NDP previously.

    • matthew

      Umm…Winnipeg North in 2010? Vancouver Quadra/Willowdale/Toronto Centre in 2008? London North Centre in 2006? Labrador in 2005?

      • Sean C.

        I forgot about Lamoureux, but the rest of those were retentions, not gains.

  4. Glen

    The Tories losing government is going to be one of their greatest victories ever.

  5. Vancouverois

    Interesting how they insist on squeezing that “in over his head” tagline/talking point in (pretty awkwardly, if you ask me).

  6. Craig

    We may have reached the point now where people have gone from just shaking their heads at the Harper spin machine to now openly laughing at it…. which is electoral poison.

  7. Martin Levenson

    As Vancouverois said, “Interesting” wrt the tagline.

    Also: Pathetic.

    This is amateur hour by the Conservatives. Personally, I’m offended by the Conservative Party’s apparent disdain for the intelligence of Canadians generally.

    Sure, maybe THEY don’t value intelligence, and maybe they would PREFER that citizens remain ignorant (lack of support for education and research will do that to people), but many Canadians are capable of thinking BEYOND “talking points” and quite reasonably expect MORE from their putative “leaders”.

    They just can’t deliver.

  8. Luke


    A moral victory? Moral in the sense that the crooked candidate lost, I suppose!

  9. orval

    Its funny how easy it is to suck in the Liberals, who forget that the Tories hold all the cards. Labrador is probably a local contest (popular local Liberal defeats less popular Tory incumbent). By “spinning’ it as as Liberal collapse due to JT, it baits the Liberals into nationalizing it: “no, it was a resounding victory! Hurray for Justin! Boo Stephen Harper” That’s exactly what the Tories want. Then they play their card: they cancel the promise to expand 5 Wing and CFB Goose Bay, and all those juicy jobs, in the name of DND cutbacks. Political message: This is what you get when you vote for a 3rd party.

    Remember, the Conservatives learned these political arts from Chretien and the Liberals demolition of Stockwell Day. They kn ow exactly what they are doing.

    • Luke

      “Political message: This is what you get when you vote for a 3rd party.”

      They were fairly clear that voting Liberal meant getting the cold shoulder from the government. With Penashue and MacKay’s suggestion that a member of parliament in cabinet is better for the riding than one in opposition, they are in essence saying “If you don’t elect a Conservative, you can expect nothing from the government.”

      This position is utterly contemptible, and I am well and truly pleased that Labradorians were not swayed with this implied blackmail when choosing between the disgraced former cabinet minister and someone they apparently have some measure of respect for after 17 years representing Labrador.

      Anyway, as for playing into the Conservatives’ hand, what exactly do they gain if Liberals laugh at their amusing spin? I get the advantage of setting the agenda, but I’m just not very clear on what this will do for them in this particular situation.

      • orval

        Labradorians just gave Harper permission to renege on his 2005 promise to expand CFB Goose Bay. There is nothing in it for Harper to push for this any longer. In fact he was in PEI making funding announcements with Minister Gail Shea.

        Yvonne Jones can now, as Peter MacKay said, “yell at the government in question period” but that won’t deliver a single job in Labrador. Maybe they already have too many jobs in Labrador?

        • Luke

          Perhaps, but on the other hard to not give him that permission would be to validate his blackmail. I am glad they chose principle over acquiescing to bullying.

          • orval

            You can choose jobs, or you can choose Justin. Labrador chose Justin. That’s fine, but no whining when the jobs don’t come.

          • Luke


            Labradorians didn’t choose Justin. They chose Yvonne, over a disgraced minister. Good on them. They are not idiots.

            Nice job on spewing the talking points. Remarkable.

        • Martin Levenson

          So, do you think that CFB Goose Bay should be expanded, or not? It seems to me that if expanding it is NECESSARY to forward the aims of the Canadian Forces, then it should be done no matter WHO gets elected where.

          A competant government wouldn’t cynically use needed infrastructure as a political pawn.

          • orval

            When Lloyd Axworthy retired from politics and from Chretien government in 2000, almost immediately the Liberal Government closed Kapyong Barracks in Wiinipeg and the second battalion of the Princess Patricia’s were moved to CFB Shilo.This is what the military wanted to do but couldn’t so long as Axworthy was Winnipeg’s protector.

            Same now for CFB Goose Bay. If the military wants to downgrade or close the base to save costs, there is no Axworthian protector in government to prevent it.

        • WJM

          Hadn’t he already spent eight years reneging on that promise? What’s the difference?

    • Martin Levenson

      Stockwell Day’s “demolition” by the Liberals was actually well-founded, and not based so much on his capability as his actual record. He was a lightweight who got elected for style rather than substance.

      Day cost Alberta tax-payers almost $750,000 in resolving a defamation suit that he instigated by claiming someone was into child pornography.

      He once claimed that the earth was only 6,000 years old.

      His comeupance and his “go-down-ance” was totally justified and long overdue. If the Liberals hadn’t done it, someone else would have.

      • orval

        Then you can hardly blame the Conservatives for portraying Justin Trudeau as a “lightweight who got elected for style rather than substance”.

        Stockwell Day was a finance minister of an important and prosperous province. And Justin was what again?

        Liberal (and media) attacks on Day (and Manning) were rooted in anti-evangelical prejudice. But Day to his immense credit never whined about it.

        • Martin Levenson

          I live in Alberta, so I’m well aware of what Stockwell Day “contributed” to what passes for political debate here.

          Being Finance Minister of “an important and prosperous province” is no great trick when you’re giving away your resources at fire sale prices. It’s kind of like coaching the Edmonton Oilers when they had Gretzky, Messier, Anderson, Coffey, Kurri, Fuhr et al; you would have to be brain-dead to fail.

          Day also gave us the “flat-rate” provincial income tax, a regressive tax that’s still causing problems as it affects the middle class much more than the wealthy.

          And as for “anti-evangelical”, well, in my mind it’s okay for religion to “inform” people’s decision making, but it should never, ever be used to justify it. Unless, of course, churches were willing to give up their tax-free status…

          • The Invisible Hand

            Please explain how it’s “regressive” to charge someone making $20,000 a 1.4% tax rate, someone making $50,000 a 6.5% tax rate, and someone making $100,000 an 8.3% tax rate.

            Sounds like a “progressive” tax to me.

          • Luke

            Invisible Hand, that is not how Alberta does it. They have one income tax rate for all incomes. It’s called a flax tax.

          • The Invisible Hand

            Sorry, but that is how Alberta does it. There’s a “flat tax” of 10%, but that only kicks in after you get above the very generous basic personal exemption ($17,282 – the highest in the country).

            And so, the overall provincial tax rate paid by someone earning $100K is almost six times greater than someone earning $20K. Very “progressive.”

            (But even if Alberta had a 10% rate on all income starting from $0, that still wouldn’t be “regressive” — just neutral. “Regressive” means the poor pay a higher tax rate than the rich, not the same rate.

          • Luke

            Yes, yes, I forgot about the tax exempt status for low income earners.

            But it’s still the same 10% rate above that threshold. Of course, that is 10% of total income less the $17 282 tax-free cutoff. I know if you do it as a percentage of total income, it will not strictly be flat, but rather a linear (? not sure, not doing the math right now) function of income. It is still different from having more than two tax brackets, as all other provinces do.

            Surely you’re right about the use of regressive here, but I think you’re misconstruing Martin’s intended meaning. I am assuming he means regressive in the sense of not being modern, or ‘progressive’ in the sense that centre/left politicians like to cast themselves. Whether you agree or not, I think that is what he means, as opposed to the percentage of tax decreasing with increasing income.

          • Martin Levenson

            You got it, Luke!

            Fundamentally, I believe those with wealth (strictly speaking, ownership of means of production, including land, some kinds of real estate, capital assets generally) should pay a higher proportion of any income they gain from that wealth because they benefit MORE, in absolute terms, from the services and protections provided by governments.

            For example, the police and firefighters protect private property, both residential and commercial. The courts protect and enforce contracts. Why should those who own no property, or who don’t routinely enter into contracts, have to subsidize those who do?

            Well, for the same reason that those who will likely “never”(and that’s indeterminate) use various social programmes should subsidize those who need those services.

            But I think the net benefit is GREATER for those with wealth than those without.

          • Martin Levenson

            Oh, and one other thing: those with high incomes/wealth often can avail themselves of various government programmes that reduce their taxable income, so as far as I’m concerned, the system is biased towards those with wealth.

          • The Invisible Hand

            Luke: If that was his “meaning”, then his use of the word is completely meaningless. The fact is that claiming that Alberta’s tax system is “regressive” is just plain wrong.

            Martin: If anything, wealthier people benefit less from public services than the poor. A $500,000 house doesn’t require any more police or fire service than a $50,000 one. However, a rich person’s additional properties are usually protected by private security, and they’re more likely to switch to private education, private health care, etc. Thus they end up “paying twice” while simultaneously freeing up space in the public line, resulting in faster and/or better service for those who can’t afford to go private.

            There are obviously exceptions (eg. a rich guy who buys a yacht will presumably benefit more from the Coast Guard), but they are relatively few and far between.

            What makes you think the poor don’t benefit from enforcement of contracts? Of course they do, it’s just more indirect. Saying otherwise is like claiming that property taxes are no burden to renters.

            those with high incomes/wealth often can avail themselves of various government programmes that reduce their taxable income

            And that’s yet another argument for a flatter tax system that eliminates those kinds of loopholes.

    • Sean C.

      Even if that somehow was what they were doing, how is that the Liberals being “sucked in”? All that would do is make Labradorians hate the Tories even more, and give more ammunition to paint the Harper government as petty little douchebags on the national stage.

      Where exactly is the cost to the Liberals there?

  10. Nuna D. Above

    One loser in this by-election is the Green Party. It looks like Conservatives can be defeated without electoral co-operation between the opposition parties. And what does this mean for the NDP held seats in Atlantic Canada? Will they be lost in a Liberal revival?

    • Vancouverois

      Good question – what does this mean for the NDP?

      It looks like their share of the vote was a percentage point below what it was in 2011, which was itself 2% higher than what they got in 2008, when they doubled their vote (18% compared to the 9%-10% they got in 2004 and 2006). So I can’t read anything in particular into it – especially as it was a by-election.

      • Sean C.

        This was a by-election with turnout in excess of the last general election, though.

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