Wheat Kings

Trudeau was so confident in the wake of the Forum poll, that he started waving "Vote PC" signs on the campaign trail.

Trudeau was so confident in the wake of the Forum poll, that he started waving “Vote PC” signs on the campaign trail.

On the surface, nothing really happened last night. The Liberals held two safe seats and the Conservatives held two safe seats. Yes, they were counting ballots until late night in Brandon, but the seating chart in the House of Commons is unchanged.

As is so often the case, most of the attention was on Eastern Canada, especially the McQuaig-Freeland battle in the centre of the Centre of the Universe. For the Liberals, the vote totals weren’t overly important, though they did increase their share of the vote in both Toronto Centre and Bourassa. For them, the key was building Team Trudeau by electing two MPs who are fresh faces, but still legitimate Cabinet material.

The news is less encouraging for the Bloc, who dropped a few points and show no signs of life following their 2011 wipeout. If the Tory spin machine is looking for talking points, well, they successfully held off a charge from the Rhinos for fourth place in Bourassa, though the Rhinos could likely have closed the 700-vote gap with a better GotV effort.

The NDP are no doubt disappointed to finish second in both ridings, but the truth is they probably dodged a bullet in Toronto Centre. A win for Linda McQuaig would have given them two weeks of positive headlines, but would have meant 2 years of headaches for Thomas Mulcair. McQuaig is very much an “old school” NDPer whose books all carry titles like “Why the rich are destroying Canada” and subtitles like “PS, I hate oil companies and Americans too“. Mulcair has taken great pains to paint the NDP as a centrist alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives, and McQuaig might prove more difficult to control than his caucus of 20-somethings from Quebec.

More disconcerting for Mulcair is what happened in Manitoba last night. Unlike the two eastern seats, there was no expectation the NDP would win, but they lost more than half their vote in both ridings, falling to third behind the Liberals. Brandon can perhaps be excused – there were clearly local dynamics in play, and Dinsdale’s last name carries some cachet. Provencher was a more boring race, but that makes the result more worrisome. Last election, voters dissatisfied with Stephen Harper went NDP over Liberal by a 2:1 ratio. This time, they went Liberal over NDP by nearly a 4:1 ratio.

I wouldn’t extrapolate out very far. Kevin Lamoureux won one of the safest NDP seats in the country for the Liberals in a November 2010 by-election, and we all know what happened 6 months later. But 30% in two small town Prairie ridings is nothing to sneeze at for the Liberals. Especially when you toss in their strong showing in Calgary Centre last year. For the first time in a long time, there’s reason to believe that Western Canada might not be an abysmal wasteland for the Liberal Party. On a largely “status quo” evening, that’s fantastic news for team Trudeau.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections

About CalgaryGrit

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

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23 Responses to Wheat Kings

  1. Nuna D. Above

    The big winner in the by-elections was Rolf Dinsdale’s father, who had such strong coat-tails that he was able to help his son as a parachute candidate so many years after holding the riding himself.
    The big loser was the polling firm that said the Liberals had a 29 point lead in Brandon-Souris. I wonder if that poll motivated the Conservative base to vote.
    Scanning National Newswatch, many scribes are trying to say it was Justin Trudeau’s night. But with Trudeau as leader and two name candidates in strong Liberal ridings, less than one out of three voters in those ridings bothered to show up.
    The NDP were hurt in Manitoba by the provincial NDP raising the PST. So how would voters react to a proposed Liberal carbon tax again?
    The BQ is going to have to decide if they want to help elect Trudeau Liberals, or if they will sit out Montreal ridings they have no chance of winning and quietly backing the NDP.

    • CalgaryGrit

      I definitely agree on the Dinsadale name and Forum’s folly.

      I hadn’t read much about backlash to the provincial NDP, but that certainly seems plausible to me – good point. Though if that government stays unpopular, the backlash could certainly carry through to 2015.

      I can’t imagine the BQ actively sitting out ridings next election, but at the rate they’re going, it’s certainly possible they’ll be even more of a non-factor.

    • Joe

      “less than one out of three voters in those ridings bothered to show up.”

      By-elections frequently have low turnout. There is nothing notable about last night’s results in that regard.

      Manitoban voters are sophisticated enough to know the difference between provincial Dippers (where most federal Liberals park their vote) and federal ones. The provincial Liberals have been a third party here for 45 years absent a brief period of NDP collapse.

      Dan was being charitable with his assessment of the probability of the BQ standing down.

  2. Bluegreenblogger

    I dunno about all the brickbats being flung at Forum. Fact is that there is such a thing as sampling error, and it can only be controlled by polling large numbers. You cannot expect a poll to predict turnouts accurately, let alone turnouts for each Party’s supporters. The simplest answer is not to rely on publicly published polls to predict elections. Read them all, not just the headline or banner, and they will tell you exactly what they tell you. Voting intentions amongst the sampled population.

  3. Eddie Frank

    Your comment on Kevin Lamoureux is puzzling. He was re-elected “6 months later”

    • CalgaryGrit

      Yes, but it didn’t predict a Liberal surge in the west (or anywhere else), and it certainly didn’t predict a dip in Dipper fortunes.

      I agree that what happens in a by-election can impact what happens in that same riding come election time (largely due to incumbency factors), but I don’t buy that it tells us much about what will happen outside of that given riding.

      • The Analyst

        Kevin Lamoureux is a unique politician whose success is more indicative of his own campaigning & organizational skills than the Liberal brand. He has a solid bloc of loyal supporters in North Winnipeg and his former provincial riding turned NDP when he went to successful run federally for the Liberals.

  4. Aman Hayer

    It is hard not see this result as anything but good news for the Liberals.

    The results in Montreal and Toronto were probably what anyone expected but the result in Brandon is really good news.

    The Brandon results combined with the by-election results in Calgary Centre show as you state “there’s reason to believe that Western Canada might not be an abysmal wasteland for the Liberal Party”

    But that being said the Liberal Party still has a long way to go before it is ready to govern. I still think the party needs to spend at least another election on the opposition benches and rebuild their caucus.

    But here is my question: what do the results mean for the Prime Minister future?

    While I don’t honestly see the Tories losing the next election, I can’t help but think that the Conservative might be asking themselves if it is time to turf the Prime Minister in favour of a new leader and in favour of renewal.

    The Prime Minister has been the leader of the party for a long time. 10 year just as the Conservative Party Leader and another two as leader of the Canadian Alliance. The Nigel Wright story seems to be sticking quite to the Prime Minister and it does not seem to be going away. Finally there are some cracks form in the cabinet, the comments by both Peter McKay and Jason Kenny defending wright does suggest to me something bigger is afoot behind the scenes.

    • CalgaryGrit

      I think Harper is here until the next election, for sure. But it’s looking increasingly likely that 2015 will be his final election.

      Despite all the hits he’s taken, he’s still their best asset – think McGuinty is 2011 Ontario…or maybe Trudeau in ’80.

      • Aman Hayer

        I think you might be right there, but I honestly don’t see him sticking around much longer after the election. I wonder if it will be by mid-2015 he would be gone.

        • CalgaryGrit

          Well, if he loses the election, I imagine he’ll quickly resign.

          If he wins another majority, then he could stick around to 2019 and really cement his place in the history books. Or he could leave mid-term.

          If he wins a minority, it gets tricky. Sure, some will want him gone, but they might not want to force him out given the precarious nature of things. He could do the type of prorogation transition McGuinty did, but if he wants to stay and fight another day, he probably could.

    • Sean C.

      If the Tories get rid of Harper (which I don’t see happening), I think they will lose the next election. For better or worse, he is the Conservative Party right now — without him, all the divisions he’s cemented over with his ruthless message discipline will emerge (particularly on social issues, which he’s mostly succeeded at shoving into the closet for ten years).

      They may well lose with Harper, too, but I don’t think replacing Harper would do any good at this point. Particularly as, whatever else he’s done, Harper has not cultivated a strong, visible crop of potential successors.

      • Bluegreenblogger

        lol, all that effort spent branding the ‘Harper Government’ might be about to pay off. I often wondered why the rest of the CPC would buy into that branding effort. The only thing I could think of was that if something went horribly wrong with Harper, and the government (inevitably) fell into disrepute, they could jettison him, blame everything on the ‘Harper Government’ and revert to the Conservative Government

  5. Nuna D. Above

    “I agree that what happens in a by-election can impact what happens in that same riding come election time (largely due to incumbency factors), but I don’t buy that it tells us much about what will happen outside of that given riding.”

    Deborah Grey winning a by-election for Reform in a safe PC seat and Gilles Duceppe winning a safe Liberal seat for the BQ told us quite a bit about what by-elections can indicate. Despite the best spin efforts to make this look bad for the Conservatives, the Conservatives did not lose ridings and held most of their base in the Manitoba ridings. Even Rob Ford has held his base, which gives him a higher job approval rating than Barack Obama.
    It’s when your base starts collapsing that you’re in trouble. The PCs and NDP lost party status in ’93. The Conservatives are a long way from Kim Campbell’s 16 percent.
    Renters vote more left than owners. I’ve read the NDP made big gains in Toronto Centre south of Bloor. Maybe the new riding will go NDP in 2015.

    • Sean C.

      When your base starts collapsing is when you’re in existential trouble. You can be in serious trouble without losing your base. By definition, your base consists of the people you have through thick and thin.

      The Tories would have lost Brandon if it had been even slightly less Tory than it is (which is very Tory). Brandon is not, fundamentally, the sort of riding that will decide the next election. Hence, the fact that they came within a hair of losing it is signifcant.

      • Vancouverois

        Perhaps not as significant as all that, though. I’ve heard that Tory campaigners on the ground were often hearing “I’m with you in the next election, but in this byelection I want to send a message”.

        Obviously it’s still bad for the Conservatives that they came so close to losing this safe riding, but it was under unusual circumstances – in particular, I hear there was a lot of resentment over how their candidate was selected. So take it with a grain of salt.

        • CalgaryGrit

          Absolutely. That’s why I think the Provencher results are actually more encouraging for the Liberals than what happened in Brandon. (though I’m sure there was a “send a message” vibe there as well.

    • CalgaryGrit

      Yeah, if Freeland takes the northern Rosedale part of the old riding in 2015 (as most expect), McQuaig would have an opening in the southern more NDP-friendly part.

  6. Robert V

    If Liberals start to gain strength in the West, will that influence their policies?

    At times they have used the West, or at least issues that are dear to the West, as whipping boys in order to get more votes elsewhere.

    If they abandon that occasional tactic, will it gain them enough votes/seats in the West of offset potential losses in urban Ontario and Quebec?

    • CalgaryGrit

      Trudeau seems commited to rebuilding the party in the west, and with the new ridings, the math is such that he has to.

      I wouldn’t expect ridings like Brandon to go Liberal, but there’s no reason the LPC can’t pick off 20 seats in places like Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Regina…even Calgary.

      Paul Martin won 14 seats in the west in 2004 against a merged Conservative Party, so there’s no reason Justin can’t at least match that.

  7. Paul O

    First, voter turnout in regular elections will always be aided by virtue of having full media saturation, and everyone around you is also voting the same day.

    Without those factors, a candidate’s personal brand has a greater influence on the vote in a by-election, and we saw that play out in last night’s results: the Liberals ran more “star” candidates, and the results need to be understood against that lens.

    With that in mind, you really can’t fairly compare percentage breakdowns against previous results: you aren’t dealing with comparable voter dynamics. (E.g. by having a “token” candidate in 2011 and a “star” candiddate in 2013, increasing the vote percentage is meaningless, whether the absolute vote count is up or down).

    As an aside, when I view this page I see the following: “You are not authorized to see this part
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    • Luke

      “…a candidate’s personal brand has a greater influence on the vote in a by-election.”

      This is how I think about these things. I rather dislike how the media collectively treat by-elections as tests of leaders, when really they are probably not really that at all. Consider the Labrador by-election. Penashue was running against his own dubious practices last time around, and this was well covered in the media. This kind of issue is about the candidate, not so much the leader. Surely much of the same surrounded Dinsdale’s near win.

      Still, as a non-conservative I was pretty tickled to see a Liberal nearly win in a rural prairie riding. And I do accept the reasoning behind the general statement “there’s reason to believe that Western Canada might not be an abysmal wasteland for the Liberal Party,” because it does not get into analysis and instead makes only the broadest of conclusions.

    • CalgaryGrit

      Absolutely. I wouldn’t extrapolate these results out or try to infer too much meaning into them. But when a party has only 4 seats west of Guelph, almost winning another 2 (Cal Centre and Brandon) isn’t insignificant, even in the by-election context.

      It would be like if the Tories finishing a strong second in Bourassa. No, it doesn’t mean Harper is set to sweep Quebec, but it would be a sign that maybe he shouldn’t write off the province completely.

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