Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Let The Games Begin...

The rumors are true, and the summer just became much more interesting. No matter the spin, these three by-elections will bring intrigue and consequences for all the parties:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to call the by elections this week in the Montreal-area ridings of Westmount-Ville Marie and St. Lambert and the southwestern Ontario riding of Guelph.

Opposition parties expect the vote in the three ridings will be held Sept. 8 but Conservative insiders suggest Harper may opt for Sept. 2, the earliest possible date.

The Westmount byelection must be called by Saturday under Elections Canada rules, but sources say the three vacancies will be bundled together.

No matter what Ryan Sparrow says, the Conservatives do have much at stake in these by-elections. The Conservatives have already brought all the heavyweights to the Guelph riding, they've shipped in volunteers from other ridings for canvassing, they've even slammed the Liberal candidate in Parliament. You don't play that hard without expectations, so Guelph serves as a litmus test for all involved, Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Greens. The Conservatives are also playing in St. Lambert, so the frame of no expectations won't fly politically.

The NDP has a great deal at stake in Guelph, their star candidate Tom King making noise, the party clearly focusing in on the riding. Ditto for the Liberal fortress of Westmount, where another NDP star candidate, Anne Legace Dowson, looks to prove Outremont wasn't a fluke. A very credible showing in Westmount, the NDP presence in Quebec starts to really take hold, the polls proved correct.

The Greens have done well in Ontario recently, in Guelph their numbers for the last provincial election where very impressive, so there is some pressure to keep up the appearance of momentum.

The Liberals clearly have much on the line, the Green Shift moves from proposal to practical, as voters weigh in and serious debate begins. Agree or disagree, in a sense this is a litmus test for Dion, the Liberals need a good night or the dead narrative may get a reprieve. From all accounts, the casual attitude of Outremont doesn't seem apparent with Westmount, and that's a good thing, because a loss would be the ultimate disaster. In Guelph, the Conservative smear campaign will test the Liberals, although the real danger comes from splitting the environmental vote, which is sizable, allowing a less than impressive Conservative showing to translate into a victory.

With an election looming, these by-elections have all the attributes to congeal into a crucial night for everyone. Let the games begin.


ottlib said...

Oh, here we go again. Liberals buying the spin being put out by a media that has proven over and over again in the last four years that they are not on the Liberals' side.

By-elections are not a meaningful way to gauge how a voter will vote in a general election. As well, they are generally ignored by everybody, including many of the people in the ridings being contested.

However, the media have to fill column inches and justify the big salaries they pay to the likes of Mansbridge and Duffy so they hype up the significance of the by-elections.

They will make all sorts of silly assertions about them but you will note that they will be hopelessly one sided.

These by-elections are not going to be any different. They will not be a reflection of voter intention in a general election because like all by-elections the voters realize there is nothing at stake. Nothing significant will change in Parliament as a result of these by-elections so the dynamic will be completely different from that of a general election. As we have seen that can lead to some rather surprising results.

I have said it before. The one thing the Conservatives do well is ignore what the media and its opponents say about them. They refuse to buy the spin.

The Liberals could learn from that.

Steve V said...


I don't think you can say this about Guelph, in fact I view it as a mini-general. All four parties are heavily engaged, all four parties are bringing in the "stars", all four are hitting the pavement already. There is a green presence in the riding, there is plenty of intrigue and nothing is certain. This riding will give a good sense of where things stand, it really will preclude the national debate. This one is not being ignored, and I can tell you first hand, there is a buzz in the air.

ottlib said...

It's one riding Steve.

I am certain the good folks of Guelph would be flattered to hear that they are being held up as a microcosm of the Canadian electorate but it would be untrue.

What you describe illustrates my point. The parties can focus on this riding because it is just one of three being contested. So they can pour all of those resources into it. Of course, in a general election everything would be different. Including the mindset of the average voter as they went behind that little cardboard box at the polling station.

At any rate Steve, my fear is Liberals will again buy the media spin hook, line and sinker. And as CTV indicated yesterday the media spin will not be favourable to the Liberals regardless of the final outcome of these by-elections.

Steve V said...

If the Liberals win both seats, then it's a victory. If the Liberals do lose another seat, then it does say something beyond the media interpretation. A general campaign is different, but these by-elections aren't irrelevant either. I think the Liberals will win both, so I would expect a sense of momentum, just as a loss would bring more questions. I'm just not afraid of attaching meaning, because we can win both, and Guelph will have particular meaning because all the other parties are contesting it, in a very focused way. It's a real test, with strong candidates, whether different from the general, everybody is planning by the same rules.

ottlib said...

Judging by the spin from CTV last night the media will try to depict this as a Liberal bad news story no matter what is the final outcome.

Hell, the Liberals won three of four the last time and the media still said they lost.

So, the key for the Liberals is not to buy that spin. Whatever the results, good or bad, Liberals will have to keep them in perspective.

Steve V said...

"Hell, the Liberals won three of four the last time and the media still said they lost."

Well, in fairness, we came within a whisper of losing two seats, so the spectre of disaster was right there. I think we really came out of that fine media wise, it was the NDP that was on the defensive, we were sort of neutral in the whole discussion.

You can't say losing Guelph, and any portrayal would be unfair, because it's voters voting, it's real. We have held that riding, but everyone recognizes it as highly competitive, so a victory isn't empty either.

Let's not forget, after Outremont, it wasn't the media, but Liberals that went offside, for months, so it matters internally too.

Anonymous said...

Ordinarily byelections are opportunities for people to register a protest vote and the question is not typically whether the opposition will gain ground - but how MUCH ground they will gain. The fact that the Liberals have lost two seats they previously held in bylections and came within 100 votes of losing a third seat that had been regarded as impregnable cannot be ignored.