Last night's by-elections were fun, if you stayed up all night to watch them, like me. They produced a fairly unexpected result, with the Conservatives winning two seats (DSRM and Vaughan), and the Liberals winning one (Winnipeg North), with the NDP shut out of its former stronghold. While the media will harp on Ignatieff's loss of Vaughan, let me expound on my (relatively) unbiased view of last night's by-elections.
First, let's start off with a group I like to call...
The NDP and the Greens definitely lost out in these by-elections. Of the 69,387 votes cast, the NDP managed to win only 15.8% of them, and the Greens won a paltry 2%. Compared to their 2008 results in these three ridings, when the NDP won 22.5% of the vote and 1 seat, and the Greens had 6.3% of the vote, these results are disastrous.
While the media may question Ignatieff's abilities as leader based on by-elections, the real questions should revolve around the NDP and the Green leadership. After years of smarting the Liberals in by-elections, the NDP lost their stronghold of nearly two decades to former Manitoba Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux, who won by a healthy margin of about 5%. This, frankly, should not have happened, Lamoureux's "star power" or not. Unlike Vaughan, where the margin between Liberals and Conservatives was closer (49 to 34 in 2008, compared to 63 to 9 in Winnipeg North in 2008), the NDP had so much cushioning that it should have been impossible to break the stranglehold on this riding. Indeed, even I never actually expected Lamoureux to win, let alone by 5% of the vote.
So, what will Jack Layton say about this loss? What will the media say about it? Or about Elizabeth May's inability to turn her party's high poll numbers into actual votes? This is, what, the third by-election set now that the Greens have performed horribly in? Maybe the Greens are starting to run out of steam...
But, who am I to be listened to? The media wants notable heads, so they'll focus on..
Both Harper and Ignatieff have reasons to be pleased over last night's by-elections. While Vaughan was lost for the Liberals, it was lost nowhere near the margin pundits predicted, and it was tempered by grabbing a stronghold of the NDP, who should frankly be their first targets when thinking about where the votes in the next election are likely to come from.
In this by-election set, the Conservatives won 41.9% of votes cast, while the Liberals were close behind with 39%. This represents an increase for both parties, who won 39.2% and 31.3% respectively in 2008. Both parties, their leaders, and their supporters can take comfort in these numbers. The Conservatives, because they took Vaughan; the Liberals, because they took Winnipeg North, and switched many, many NDP votes.
Of the two parties, neither of them really gleans an advantage off this by-election, at least nothing noticeable. While the Conservatives did grab a seat from the Liberals, they failed spectacularly in their attempt to get votes in Winnipeg North. Their candidate, Julie Javier, whom I've seen enough Conservatives talk about as if she was the automatic winner because she was Filipino and there would be a split vote, barely managed to get 10% of the vote, despite visits from Harper himself to the riding. While the Liberals had their own 10%-er, Christopher Scott Sarna in DSRM, there was nowhere near the level of organization and resources pumped into his candidacy, as there was in Javier's. Clearly, there was some sort of hiccup in Winnipeg North for the Conservative machine.
But, what of Vaughan? Though the Liberals lost, they put up a hell of a fight, just as I said they would. But they still lost, and what they lost was precious. Morale will be hit, regardless of our win in Manitoba. And we lost even though we pumped a good amount of resources and time into the riding. It doesn't bode well for us if the Conservative strategy of name recognition + the Dianne Haskett strategy wins out over some hefty organizational prowess.
Yet, in the House, the Liberals keep 77 seats, lose one in Ontario, but gain one in the West. The Conservatives now hold 52 of Ontario's 106 seats. It means that, minus the three vacant ridings, the House numbers are 143 Cons, 77 Liberals, 47 Bloquistes, 36 Dippers, and 2 Independents. Nothing has changed; the balance of power has not shifted. It's just continued stalemate, with some new faces.
So, in the end, the Conservatives take a Liberal stronghold, the Liberals take an NDP stronghold, yet nothing on the surface has changed. But, when the next 3 by-elections are called, probably early next year, unless there's an election (a possibility), that is when there will be a real test of Ignatieff's mettle.
The next three by-elections take place in two Conservative strongholds (Prince George-Peace River and Calgary Centre-North), and one too-close-to-call riding, specifically Haute-Gaspesie--La Mitis--Matane--Matapedia, where in 2008, former PLQ MNA Nancy Charest nearly won the riding for the Liberals. This time, the old Bloc MP has stepped down, and Charest will face against Jean-Francois Fortin, the Bloc candidate, and whoever the Conservative candidate is. While the riding is a fight between the Liberals and the Bloc, the Conservatives will probably have enough base support to play a spoiler role. Ignatieff's leadership and organization will be tested by this riding, and a win or a loss here will truly be a reflection of his ability to win ridings for the Liberals. Vaughan and Winnipeg North's winners, both Fantino and Lamoureux, won out more because of their local star power, rather than their party's abilities to garner votes
But for now, let's take solace in the fact not all has been lost (unless you're a Dipper). Lamoureux will make an excellent MP and addition to the Liberal caucus, and who knows, maybe something constructive will come out of Fantino. Both Harper and Ignatieff have managed to save face, and Parliament will continue along its merry course, until the next writ is dropped, and we start this all over again.