NP might finally be waking up.
Byelections undeniably show a shift in Justin Trudeau’s favour
No sooner had the federal Liberals begun putting up better-than-decent numbers Monday evening, a momentum shift not dissimilar to the one they managed in the four-byelection round last November, but the counter-spin kicked in. Turnout abysmal. Byelections meaningless. An election, Canada Day Eve? Pshaw. And on, and on.
That reaction of course, was to be expected. But the numbers don’t lie. No byelection is more than it is; one by itself doesn’t predict the outcome of a general election, nor do four, nor do eight. But they do tell us something about sentiment now. Low turnout notwithstanding, they mean something. The result Monday, as last November, was good for the Justin Trudeau Liberals, bad for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, and quite dreadful for Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats.
Let’s examine first the Toronto-area riding of Scarborough-Agincourt. In 2011, Liberal Jim Karygiannis, a constituency politician if ever there was one, took 18,498 votes, or 45.4% of the popular vote. His nearest challenger, Conservative Harry Tsai, garnered 34.2%. Monday Liberal Arnold Chan drew 12,829 votes – or 59.3% of ballots cast. The second-place Tory challenger, meantime, garnered 6,344 votes, or 29.3%.
The departure of “Jimmy K,” punctuated as it was by the now former MP’s public objections to Trudeau’s abortion policy, could have proven a thorn in his side. Instead, the opposite occurred. The NDP, in 2011, won 18 per cent of the vote. On Monday the party’s challenger, Elizabeth Ying Long, won 1,844 votes, or 8.5%.
Trinity-Spadina, a swing riding that is considered a bellwether of sorts because Liberal success there has historically presaged broader gains, proved to be an easy win for well-known municipal politician Adam Vaughan. The contest between him and New Democrat Joe Cressy, in an echo of the neighbouring one last fall between Liberal Chrystia Freeland and New Democrat Linda McQuaig, saw Vaughan win 53.4% of the popular vote, and Cressy just 34.3%. That’s 18,434 votes, to 11,823; a decisive Grit win, despite the very low turnout.
Cressy made his party’s opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline a key issue, as McQuaig had last year. It doesn’t seem to be taking. The swing was substantial; in 2011, Olivia Chow won 54.5% of the vote in the riding, while Liberal Christine Innes came second with 23.4%.
In Macleod, near Calgary, the result was a very solid Conservative win Monday, as expected. Conservative John Barlow garnered 12,394 votes, or 68.8% of ballots cast. Second-place Grit candidate Dustin Fuller ended well back at 3,062 votes, or a mere 17%. But here too, compared with previous results, the shift favoured the Red Team. On May 2, 2011, Tory Ted Menzies, now retired, garnered 40,007 votes, or 77.5%. The Grits, meantime, won just 3.7 per cent. As occurred broadly last November, the NDP vote in this riding has slipped sharply, from 10.3% in 2011, to less than five per cent Monday.
But perhaps the most telling shift was the upswing in Liberal fortunes in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, even though the party’s candidate, Kyle Harrietha, still lost out by more than 10 percentage points. In 2011, the Liberals came third, at 10.4 per cent, behind the NDP who managed 13.3 per cent. Tory Brian Jean, meantime, walked away with 71.8%.
Monday, the Conservative vote was trimmed to 46.8%, while Harrietha managed 35.3%. The NDP, meantime, saw their vote share slip slightly to 11.4%. Liberal gains were virtually all at the expense of the Conservatives – a sign, like the results in Provencher and Brandon-Souris in Manitoba last fall, that there is unrest in the Conservative heartland.
Is it a disaster for Harper and Mulcair, and a harbinger of certain victory for Trudeau next year? Not by a long shot. But it is, undeniably, another set of numbers that confirm the recent trend, which is also reflected in opinion polling. It indicates, yet again, that Trudeau and his team are doing something right, while Harper and Mulcair and their teams need to adjust their strategies, if they hope to slow the Liberals’ momentum.
The curious thing is that, as these little Liberal victories pile up, there is no apparent change in approach either in the Prime Minister’s Office, or on Mulcair’s part. Harper is as he has long been, his government as it has long been. The opposition leader’s strategy has not budged since he became leader of his party. Do they see the trend, and dismiss it? Or are they locked into positions they can’t now change, because of internal party dynamics?
Either way, the time for altering the playing field is limited. It looks increasingly as if the game plan for both Conservatives and Dippers is to wait for a cataclysmic mistake, or a series of stumbles, or a botched debate performance, by Trudeau. None of which explains how they intend to manage if he doesn’t do those things.
Michael Den Tandt: Byelections undeniably show a shift in Justin Trudeau’s favour