Last night's by-elections in Victoria, Calgary Centre, and Durham ridings, and all three had different stories to talk about. Two were close, one was a complete rout, but in the end, the incumbents retained all three of their seats. Even so, one of those incumbents ended up having a horrible night in not only their own riding, and ended up becoming part of....
The Liberals and New Democrats, also known as the two "best" alternatives to the Harper regime, pretty much failed to live up to many expectations last night. Out of 100,717 votes cast last night in three ridings, the NDP earned only 24.4%, compared to the 30% they earned in all three ridings during last May's federal election. The Liberals earned 19.9%, compared to the 16.4% they earned in 2011 - a slight increase, thanks solely to Calgary Centre.
The New Democrats, while retaining Victoria with their candidate Murray Rankin, should have some egg on their face from last night. As the Official Opposition, they've continued on the Liberal tradition of doing relatively terrible in by-elections (though Toronto-Danforth was fine for them, the Liberals also had a few good by-elections). It is probably down to local politics in Victoria, the oft-mentioned sewage treatment plan, but to drop from the 50%+ heights of Denise Savoie in 2011, to only 37.2%... that is a pretty big drop. It isn't like Victoria is a non-friendly riding for the NDP either, given that most of it is held provincially by their cousins. The New Democrats have always done fairly well in Victoria, there was little reason for this to not be a cakewalk. And unlike Winnipeg North in 2010, there was no star candidate on the other side (no, no one knows who Donald Galloway is) to blame. This was down to the policy positions of the local candidate, and possibly the poor quality of campaigning and presence the party has nationally. Add in absolutely dreadful results in Calgary Centre (3.8%), and OK but not great results in Durham (26.3%)... it just didn't add up to a great night, even if they saved Victoria from narrow defeat.
The Liberals' hopes were pinned on Harvey Locke in Calgary Centre, and while he definitely came close (about 4% spread, or 1,167 votes), especially for a Calgary riding, close still doesn't cut it. I don't know whether or not the Trudeau and McGuinty comments really affected the race - after all, the numbers fell almost exactly in line with pre-McGuinty comment polls. One can say that Locke lost momentum due to the comments, or they can say that they didn't really matter and Crockatt always had the advantage. The same can be said in order to explain the low voter turnout (29.4%) - either it was Liberals who stayed home thanks to the comments, or Conservatives who hated Crockatt. At this point, the data will allow for either interpretation. All I know is that we lost, but at least we made it close. Durham and Victoria are nothing to talk about, given that they had generally the same level of support they got in 2011 - not good, but not bad, considering that federal resources were focused in Alberta.
It may be hard to accept, but the Conservatives and Greens had the best nights by far in terms of expectations. While the Conservatives dropped heavily in terms of support among these three ridings - 32.9% in these by-elections, compared to 44.3% in 2011 - the Greens exploded onto the scene, taking up 21.7% of support last night, compared to 9% in the last election. Wow.
The Conservatives didn't have a great night, but they did have one better than either the NDP or the Liberals. They easily retained Durham, showing that there are no cracks over in Fortress Rurban Ontario, and kept Calgary Centre from becoming a PR nightmare. Crockatt losing roughly 20% of their support is, again, not good, but she did win, and that can settle for that. They'll definitely need to ensure that they dissect exactly what did go wrong, and I was this close to putting them in the "losers" category... but keeping Durham so easily, and pulling off a win in Calgary Centre... they technically kept themselves above water, especially given that 1,167 different voters could've handed them a very different result, and next-day news headlines. That's good enough for me, and definitely good enough for the Harper PMO. Victoria was terrible for them, but I don't think they card - they sent out Tony Clement for support, that was about it.
The Greens didn't win any riding last night, but they definitely beat expectations all around. They earned 25% in Calgary Centre, a full 12% behind the winner, but the highest they've ever been in any Alberta riding. Chris Turner definitely found himself with some traction, though its always fun to wonder where Green support came from. Was it NDP voters who fled their party? Or was it "Red Tories" that didn't want to vote for either Crockatt or Locke? My guess is on the latter, though its clear that not enough Red Tories decided to switch, or even vote, to really make it a competitive race for Turner. Still, 25% is nothing to scoff at.
Victoria is the big surprise last night though, with their candidate Donald Galloway coming within 3% of knocking off the NDP. I've been told this is due mainly to the whole sewage treatment plant issue, as well as the presence of Elizabeth May next door, and I can't find anything to argue with that. It'll be fun to see the poll-by-poll results as to how exactly this was managed. It does point to probable strength for the Greens in Victoria, and maybe throughout the Capital District. It should worry future NDP campaigns, both federally and provincially. But even though they didn't win, its definitely an impressive result that not too many expected to happen - including myself.
I'll be looking for the poll-by-poll numbers once they come out, and I'll throw them up here. Last night was fun, and as always, they're only by-elections so the question of their long-time impact is questionable. At the same time, they could speak towards some shifts in these particular ridings that may be worth paying attention to. Victoria could be a prim Green target, Calgary Centre may be worth going after in the future for the Opposition parties, while the Conservatives must be pleased that Durham stayed safely within their column, pointing to the possibility that similar ridings throughout Ontario may be just as safe. It'll all be told in time, I suppose.