Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No Spin By-election Rundown

Yesterday, I saw the by-elections as pretty much a big nothing, in terms of Liberal party fortunes. This view assumed one thing, that the Bloc would hold on to their two seats in Quebec. That assumption was obviously wrong, and because of that I'd like to revise my earlier opinion. The Conservatives victory has, by extension, hinted toward Liberal failure. Had that riding stayed with the Bloc, the punditry would be left to chasing crumbs, around mostly empty storylines. The minor erosion in Liberal support, mostly meaningless "gains" by the NDP, pretty thin stuff that lacks "legs". The Conservatives winning a traditional Bloc seat, only a couple months after being declared dead in Quebec, well that does matter in the grand scheme (and perhaps rightfully so).

Last night was never going to be a good one for the Liberals, the terrain didn't lend itself to much. However, this poor performance does appear more noteworthy, when one considers a 2 seat pickup for the government. Generally, government's don't pickup support during tough economic times, so there is a useful narrative here. The fact the Conservatives went into Bloc heartland and siphoned off a seat- that completely changes the conversation in Quebec. Unfortunately, the "quirk" factor of by-elections, the low turnout, doesn't get proper credit- the headline speaks to a Conservative win, in a part of the country considered lost. That's big, no matter how you slice it, that allows for "resurgence", "game changing", "new battlegrounds", even a realistic reference to "majority".

With the damage done by Denis the Dufus, coupled with a rising Conservative presence, Quebec is a changed dynamic. Liberals on the decline, Conservatives rebounding, I'm afraid we're back to square one in Quebec. To say that is shocking for me, because I firmly believed the Conservatives were completely and utterly dead in Quebec. Now, holding onto their seats seems realistic, a new focus for expansion surely being considered within the PMO. Not overstating, because it's just a by-election, but the power of the symbolism shouldn't be lost on anyone, nor should one discount how this emboldens the Conservatives. We won't be hearing anymore stories from Quebec Conservatives about "giving up", "all is lost", we will hear spin which actually has a certain practical application.

The Liberals lost, because the Conservatives won, where it actually hurts the most. There's no denying that one.


ottlib said...

We've heard this song before from the pundits and they were wrong.

Of course, the pundits think Canadians are a bunch of rubes who do not know when they are being played by them and the government.

I believe the Liberals won every by-election in Ontario a couple of years ago and they did not sweep Ontario in 2008.

The Conservatives did very well in Quebec by-elections a couple of years ago and the did not improve their seat count one iota. In fact their share of the popular vote in that province fell in 2008.

The NDP took Outrement and that did not lead to an NDP breakthrough in Quebec in 2008.

There was a time when by-elections were given the attention they deserved, which was not much. For reasons of their own the pundits have decided to elevate them to something much more significant but the average Canadian does not care, as indicated by the stellar voter turnouts we saw in last nights' by-elections.

This too shall pass.

Steve V said...


Forget about the pundits. Is it not noteworthy that the "dead" party took a Bloc stronghold? Are you actually saying that's meaningless? It's just a by-election, I get that, but it's not insignificant either. This gives the Cons oxygen.

As for two years ago, if not for Harper's gaffes during the election, they would have picked up seats, so it was precursor of sorts.

This win keeps them in the conversation in Quebec. There's no sense pretending it isn't so.

Gayle said...

Well, hate to keep flogging thius, but you cannot discount the fact the CPC were running a candidate who is already an established politician and was popular.

LPC have to pick up their game, and this is a bit of a coup for Harper - but not an unexpected one. Many pundits were predicting the CPC had a good chance there, and don't forget the recent massive spending announcement in that riding.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Steve. Not surprisingly, I see it that way as well.

Symbolism does mean something sometime. This certainly puts to rest the idea that the conservatives are dead in Quebec, though it was looking like they were recovering before the by-election. People have talked about the fact that they had a good candidate with a history and political base there, but that says something in itself.

Right now the conservatives are sustained by a lack of credible options. And, by that, I am not talking about Ignatieff, as many are. It is this sense that no one quite knows what policies or even philosophies a Liberal government would promote or pursue. I'm not even sure, and I pay attention (excessively). To that end, I don't know what the conservatives have planned either, but that works to their advantage strangely because no plans means less worry that they'll sabotage anything (they are quite adept at doing that behind closed doors).

This whole year really should have been a referendum on Harper and the ongoing fumbling and bumbling on important files. Yet all that is getting brushed aside.

I do think the last month has shown a bit more focus on pointing out conservative missteps, but the policy has to come at some point or there is nothing of real substance to change the dynamic.


One last thought. I've been dissecting the late summer events in my head for a while. The conclusion I've reached is that the Liberals - and Ignatieff - were respected for their stance on trying to make government work. Then the Liberals let the "Where's Iggy?" meme fester - even if not true, as you've pointed out. But then suddenly there he was gangbusters. It was - and came across - as pure politics. Suddenly Ignatieff wasn't "wise" or "statemanlike," he was just an actor playing a political script.

Even if the sentiments were real, and I still think they were, the execution of those events was just forced. It would have been better - in hindsight notably - for the Liberals to have just said we aren't getting any cooperation on EI, and we may not be able to support the government. Not, "We've got torpedos lined up" type spiel. It broke the cardinal rule of asking for a vote. You don't stand up and announce you're taking over in a Democracy, which is how it came across.

Recovering from that type of gamble is tough. But you can only do it a bit at a time. Leaders have done it before, including Harper. But a big part of that is focusing on issues and making principaled, clear stands.

What do the Liberals stand for today? I shouldn't have to ask that question, but it does come to mind. Imagine what others who don't pay attention are thinking, if I'm asking that.

They can get over it IF the Liberals start laying out their vision. But until then, this is the dynamic we're going to see.

Steve V said...


I don't dispute the reasons. That said, what really matters is that they won the riding, and what that means moving forward. The optics are good for the Cons, it's what they desperately needed. It hurts the Libs, because our numbers are down, and now we're faced with real competition from the Cons. They were already trickling back up in the polls, so you take this victory in a Bloc bastion, and they have momentum, or at least perceived relevance.

Steve V said...


Agree on the Liberals. I'll say it again, our CHIEF liability is a lack of identity. Attacking the government is fine, that's part of the equation, but until people see a fresh outline, the Liberals are going nowhere in the end. Some seem to think you can do this in a campaign, but that fails to recognize that we have a massive weakness, that needs time and energy to resonate.

What's the Liberal primary problem? Why exactly aren't we focused on that with singular zeal. I was a bit worried about Donolo, because of what he brings in behind him. But, his early "vision" of what is required seems bang on, he gets the identity crisis.

As for this by-election, it does confirm the recent polling, it validates that Cons "are back" narrative. The Liberals need an aggessive plan to take back the Quebec initiative.

Lizt. said...

What it was about...nearly 250 million the Cons put in that riding, on Friday, for votes, they phoned people , said they were the Bloc party, to get people turned off them, , the Bloc called the police... the Cons committed fraud, and the Cons phoned seniors and told them they could not vote because the polls were closed..Some party!!!

Northern PoV said...

First off, it is nice to see this blog talking about the polls that count ... rather than the meaningless mood shapers the that polling companies run.

And this one (Montmagny--L'Islet--Kamouraska--Rivière-du-Loup) counts big. Alas, it may be the signal for a long and disastrous period of Tory ascendancy in Canada.

Dropping $424M in the riding the week before the vote didn't hurt.
Heck, in the upside down universe CDN politics has become, I would venture a guess that the proof of uneven stimulus spending chased these voters into the CPC column.

If that holds for the next general election and we get more dirty tricks (robo calls, illegal election spending) this country is sunk.

And we have only ourselves to blame. Yuk.

Steve V said...

"First off, it is nice to see this blog talking about the polls that count ... rather than the meaningless mood shapers the that polling companies run."

Harper only called these by-elections when he did, because of those "meaningless" polls you mentioned. Get a clue.