Sunday, July 27, 2008

Risk Vs Reward

Many of the pundits are already framing the looming by-elections as a mini-referendum on Dion's leadership, woven with that, some sort of empirical feedback on the Green Shift. You can debate whether that is a fair representation, whether by-elections are really indicative of anything, but in the end it probably doesn't matter, because the media class will run with what they want, objections aside. With that reality in mind, Liberals really have nothing to fear, if you take the view that the supposed risk, also has the opportunity for reward.

The Liberals should win in Westmount, it's a rock solid riding, so a loss would rightfully signal problems, particularly if Outremont is shown to be more than a one off. From a distance, it appears that the Liberal brain trust understands the stakes and an urgency exists that was absent last time around, complacency not an issue. If people want to frame this riding as a "test" of Dion's leadership, I say Liberals should welcome it, because after all, it's a particularly friendly "test". If the Liberals hold the seat, then all those raising expectations, will have to concede a Dion "pass". In other words, the Liberals really have nothing to fear, an attitude of should and will, let's flex some muscle, should win the day. It's a test on one of our strongest subjects, pardon me if people shouldn't be confident. Let them raise the stakes, maybe you get more political mileage from a safe riding than would otherwise be evident.

As it relates to Guelph, again I prefer to see the riding as an opportunity, rather than potential land mine. The party has a very strong, well established, polished organization, with a well respected, well known candidate, who has more established roots in the community than an old oak tree. Yes, it's a fight, and all the parties are making a serious play, but that just makes a potential victory all the more meaningful. The Conservatives threw the kitchen sink at us, and we still prevailed, the NDP ran their "star" and it fizzled on the horizon. A win brings the party honest momentum, a nice preamble to a looming election.

If the Liberals succeed in these two ridings, then all the punditry frame actually works to Dion's advantage. Another signal that the once weak and ineffectual leader has found his voice, a sense that the Liberals have shored up their earlier fragility, a shot in the arm for the grassroots that the Liberal brand is alive and well. Whether the media is fair or not, what's wrong with a challenge, after all, it's not like the Liberals face herculian odds. Stakes raised on relatively friendly turf, I'm okay with that. Just win baby.

Fast forward to September 9th, and you see a scenario that is nothing but good news for the Liberals. Sure, there is the spectre of more "problems", but you could also see this nice storyline- Conservatives shutout in by-elections, questions about Harper's government, what now?/ NDP make major play and come up short twice, Outremont in the rearview mirror, Guelph more evidence of potential problems in Ontario. I'm speaking of the media again here, so the partisan defences aren't necessary. Remember the Toronto by-elections?

A robust party isn't afraid of challenges, it reacts with confidence and says "bring it on". Media fairness is an elusive beast, I'd rather pivot and embrace the storyline, all the while seeing a potential positive, should the Liberals meet the "test".


Anonymous said...

Considering that the Liberals lost the last federal election and considering that byelections usually go against the government - I think that the only way the Liberals can claim victory is if they actually increase their share of the popular vote in all three ridings. Keep in mind that in Quebec in particular, Liberal support in 2006 was an all-time low of 21% across the province. If the Liberal vote in St. Lambert and Westmount shows no recovery at all from 2006 - it means that 21% for the Liberals in Quebec is not the floor and that things could get worse.

Steve V said...

" think that the only way the Liberals can claim victory is if they actually increase their share of the popular vote in all three ridings."

No, winning the seats is a victory, especially when you considered the unprecedented "play" of others. You don't get it both ways, you don't get to say the by-elections have potential "doom", without the accompanying "success", should they win. No fair minded person thinks the Libs should increase their share of popular vote, particularly in Guelph, with four parties all actively engaged. You want to bring out the "stars", then you can't fluff it off, if you lose.

Anonymous said...

"No, winning the seats is a victory"

Does anyone consider Vancouver-Quadra to be a "victory" - you know it was a Liberal win all right - but a seat they took by 12,000 votes that was supposed to be unloseable came within 100 votes of being lost. There was no positive spin for the Liberals in that one.

The Quebec seats and Guelph have to have different yardsticks. As I mentioned, in Quebec the Liberals suffered a shattering defeat in 2006 and if they show no recovery at all in Westmount or St. Lambert - it means that they are still in deep doo-doo in that province.

Guelph is different. It is a classic bellwether riding and it went Liberal last time as the Liberals still won a plurality of seats in Ontario. If the Liberals retain Guelph by a modest margin that is similar to the results of the 2006 election, then i think the conclusion is that we are still "in irons" and that voting preferences really haven't budged much since the last election. If the Conservatives or NDP win Guelph then it has to be seen as a very bad sign for the Liberals. If on the other hand, the Liberals win big in Guelph with an increased majority - then yes, it would be a sign that the Liberals stand to regain some ground in Ontario and the Tory strategy would have to be judged a failure.

Mark said...

You are both right.

Winning the seat is a 'battle' victory, no matter how small the margin, but the degree of victory certainly sheds light on relevant political dynamics of the greater 'war' of the looming federal election. I would be very surprised if the Liberals do not take Guelph, what will be of great interest to me is the margin of the victory and the totals of the other parties. I personally think NDP have a strong chance at 2nd place: King is already proving to be the most visible media candidate.

ottlib said...

Vancouver-Quadra was a victory.

The Conservatives did there what they are doing in Guelph. They threw the kitchen sink at the riding and yet a brand new candidate still beat them.

Anonymous, you are yet one more person who does not think past the media spin.

I have said many times before, by-elections are meaningless in predicting how the electorate will vote in a general election because the whole dynamic of the campaigns are different.

History has demonstrated that more often than I can count.

The funny thing is the media used to believe the same thing but the need to feed the internet beast and the 24 hour news cycle has forced them to make a big deal out of everything.

Here is my prediction for the by-elections. The media will play up the results no matter what they are. Judging by the current media narrative they will somehow manage to say the Liberals lost and The Green Shift is a non-starter no matter what are the final results.

So Steve, the media will have it both ways. They will jump all over a Liberal loss in ANY of the ridings while downplaying any victory.

Anonymous said...

"Vancouver-Quadra was a victory"

OK....get out a dictionary and look up the word "pyrrhic victory"

cls said...

Anon: The Liberals got to put one more bum in seat after the by election in Quadra. No other party did. It's a bit too soon to say if something is pyrrhic or not.

Steve V said...


What does that link have to do with local exposure? From the Lib perspective, the NDP in second would be a good result, then, clearly the Cons would be big losers.

As for Quadra, this was a victory, in the sense that they won obviously, but more importantly, had those few votes went the other way, the Liberals would have been in full blown crisis mode. Scrapped by, but still enough compared to the alternative.


I don't agree at all. The Liberals do not need to increase their percentage in Guelph, just win. You seem to omit the reality here, all parties making a major push. When you have four credible options, it is a false yardstick to claim the Libs need to show more to claim victory. Partisanship aside, that isn't fair, given the circumstance.

Anonymous said...

How about voter turnout in the Guelph by-election, especially being the first day of class in the universities? Would a turnout in the 40s show that there is a marked disapproval against the Harper government and that the voters want change?

Steve V said...

I predict good turnout, for a by-election. Just a hunch.

Mark said...


You don't think the national exposure that King may potentially enjoy as a well known CBC personality in what the mainstream media views as an important race won't influence certain voters?

"I'm too old to give a shit about keeping my mouth shut or saying something that's not true, but is politically correct," he says. "That's one reason why I'm a danger as a politician to a party, I suppose.

That is exactly the kind of attitude that will attract many non-decided voters to King IMO and could threaten the cons for 2nd place.

Steve V said...

"You don't think the national exposure that King may potentially enjoy as a well known CBC personality in what the mainstream media views as an important race won't influence certain voters? "

Mark, if it was maelstorm of national coverage then yes, it would make a difference. King is a star candidate, but he isn't a household name either, so I don't think we should overstate his background or his national appeal.

Mark said...

Fair enough, it will ultimately come down to how strong Tom's organization is in Guelph (this is an unknown to me) and his ability to attract local media coverage to his maverick style. One thing I don't think we can dispute, he'll certainly make the race much more interesting.



Ivan said...

I listen to CBC Radio all the time... have for many years. At least an hour a day.

Watched a heluva lot of CBC television as well.

My one question is: Who is Tom King other than a media created 'star candidate'?

Dame said...

As a test .... I don't know King ..while I am familiar with most of the goings on.
Elections are Not just the "highly wired " politicos it is For people for all kinds .
So Don't oberestimate a cocky personal brawl as a winning strategy.
i am also too old to give ashit for Big TV personalities ....Lolol


knb said...

I listen to CBC radio all day and have for years.

I'd never heard of him until now.

His show ended in 2000.

Does he really have a lot of name recognition or is the media plugging one of their own?

I'm not being sarcastic, I'm just wondering.

Steve V said...

I think it's actually the NDP elevating King, raising the bar on their chances. Like what was said today on QP, it's a double edged sword.

Mark said...

I will agree with the above comments. King lives in my neighbourhood and so I hear a lot about him (and have met him several times). Before 2 years ago, however, I had not heard of him either. The only point that I will maintain is that the NDP are certainly trying to elevate him, and from all the media attention describing him as a star candidate, I would say it is working.

Really interesting comments coming out today in the Guelph Mercury Election blog, especially the thread on Dion, Kovach, and the FCM.

Anonymous said...

"I don't agree at all. The Liberals do not need to increase their percentage in Guelph, just win. You seem to omit the reality here, all parties making a major push."

Big deal, Guelph was a very hotly contested swing riding in the 2006 federal election as well. On top of that in 2006 the Liberals had to deal with a catastrophically poor national campaign, Paul Martin being a fiasco and daily headlines about Liberal corruption. If I were a Liberal I would hope to show that my party has regained some lost ground since the disastrous 2006 election.

Anonymous said...

Does this look like the actions of a party that is preparing to win an election in the fall? From the July 28th edition of the Hill-Times. (h/t National Newswatch):

"The [Liberal] MP ... said it appears that Liberals have accepted that St├ęphane Dion's presence at the top of the party is just a formality and that activities for positioning in anticipation of the leadership convention are becoming more and more evident.

One of the most important rumours last week was that Alf Apps is interested in running for the presidency of the party. It's unclear if this will actually happen, but the rumour sent a shockwave through the Liberal Party and its operative camps. Apps is a very effective and respected Liberal strategist and the major force behind Michael Ignatieff.

Some strategists close to Bob Rae interpreted Apps' possible interest as a clear sign from the Ignatieff camp to make a move for control of the Liberal Party organization."

burlivespipe said...

Byelections are completely different animals from general elections. You can maximize your volunteer base, you are aiming at a smaller voter pool, while you can tailor the message a little sharper, more directly, without the clutter of the 'national picture'.
Voters, on the otherhand, have the ability to 'send a signal' without catastrophic consequences.
Based on that, it is too easy to over-read a result. While a win isn't always 'a win', a win is also not 'validation for greater things'- see Phil Edmundston.
Van-Quadra was a sharp signal, but it was also a win. The CONs are very good at playing the game of 'low expectations', afterall, that's what they want us to do for the whole of Canada.
As Steve said, it's a test and these 3 should be good practice. Watch Harper trot out all the prized ferns in Guelph - hopefully he has the same charm that 'captivated' the Londoners.

Steve V said...


I wonder if Harper and surrogates largely stay away now that the writ has been dropped. If Cons keep showing up like they did prior, then it would serve to counter the lower expectations game. Their internal polling should be a good indicator.