A couple days ago, the Conservatives held on to two of their seats in Yellowhead and Whitby-Oshawa by fairly strong margins (42.6% in Yellowhead and 8.5% in Whitby-Oshawa). At least to me, this was not unexpected; Yellowhead did not feature the hullabaloo that Brandon-Souris or Fort McMurray did, so the Liberals were going to do well (they did, winning just under 20%, their best since 1993) but they were never going to come close to winning. In Whitby-Oshawa, the Liberals came closer that I expected, but I didn't think they would win - the combonation of this being Flaherty's old riding, his wife Christine Elliott's influence, and the fact that the Conservative candidate, in addition to being a climate change denier, is also a former two-term mayor of Whitby... yeah, that was just too much to overcome. Still, like in Yellowhead, the Liberal candidate managed to increase the party's share of the vote by quite a bit, going from 14.1% in 2011 to 40.7% Monday night.
The somewhat understated story of these by-elections (well, in priority behind Trudeau anyways) is the impact of the New Democrats in the various ridings... which is to say, there has been no impact. They have not come close to picking up any of these ridings from other parties, while losing one of their own seats and coming perilously close in another (the third was a mixed bag). As the chart below shows, the NDP have lost some level of influence in almost every single by-election in 2011.
Mulcair has been questioned on these results, and his response was pretty pat: "... by-elections are not always a great indicator of the general (election)," and that "... we've got a lot of work to do but we also know that our numbers have never been better heading into a federal (election)."
Well, I will give Mulcair the last one: their polling numbers have never been better when going into a general election, when you put those numbers up against previous election results. The problem, of course, is that the NDP wasn't the official opposition in any of those previous elections, and the current results are far below their 2011 numbers in every region of the country, including (if not especially) Quebec. So, yeah, I guess technically he's right, and there is the caveat of "the campaign matters," but as we've seen so far, any actual campaigns the NDP has been in have not exactly gone well.
His other main point is that yes, by-elections by themselves are not indicators of results in general elections. But it is also pretty hard to argue against trends, and there is an obvious trend that Mulcair is purposely ignoring. For example, here is the same chart above for the by-elections between 2008 and 2011:
So yes, by-elections are a singular event, and they're more prone to local influence than any normal general elections... but come on. A party that is the Official Opposition, that says momentum is on their side and that the third party are has-beens, should be able to put up better results than this. At best, the NDP should be able to keep the Liberals down in obvious uphill battles like rural Conservative ridings or their own downtown core (or, for that matter, the Greens in Victoria), but that has simply not been the case.
And then there is the whole matter of feeding into the various narratives. What the public sees between the two main opposition parties is a battle over who can defeat Harper, and these by-elections clearly show that the NDP are unable to do that. Do you think that isn't going to affect how people vote outside of the ridings holding by-elections? Momentum, such as it is, is on the side of the Liberals, and at best the NDP can hope to hold to their 20-25% of the vote if the trend holds. That is not what I call a "never been better" proposition.