I’m of the mindset, that no matter the outcome in tonight’s by-elections, the Liberals have already lost, now just a question of degree. If speculation isn’t your cup of tea, then this isn't the post for you.
Best case scenario, the Liberals pull off a convincing win, which appears unlikely. A solid victory in Outremont allows for some positive spin, although the result is almost a net neutral, given all the bad press and talk of division in the last few days. Having said that, a strong result at least allows a sigh of relief and the bastion is intact, despite formidable opposition and relative uncertainty.
If the Liberals win by a narrow margin, then there is a sense of hollow victory, because after all this was supposed to be a slam dunk riding. All the questions about the Liberals in Quebec and Dion’s leadership remain, there is nothing in that result that will quell speculation about leadership or future prospects. In fact, a narrow win is a testament to vulnerability, where none previously existed. In the aftermath, the Liberals can hardly carry on, business as usual. There will be tough questions about organization, strategy and the lingering doubts about Dion in Quebec remain. The vote total suggests victory, but the underlying themes suggest a fair amount of taint that isn’t easily discounted.
An NDP win represents nothing short of crisis for the Liberals all around. Internal strife aside, there is also the prospect of Harper smelling blood and delivering a hard-line throne speech, meant to force an election, or at the very least expose an impotent official opposition. I see many “unnamed Liberals”, plenty of fodder for the media and academics who want to paint a party in disarray. A guaranteed cycle of bad press and low morale, evaporating any sense of momentum that may have existed. Liberals can debate the finer points, but the broad strokes are entirely negative, you can’t effectively counter-spin the idea of a francophone leader in Quebec, not only getting shutout, but losing ground in his home province. The whispers become more pronounced and people can’t dismiss hard realities. A bad night in Quebec feeds all the negative story lines the Liberals are trying to overcome.
Should be a fascinating night, with a buffet of possibilities for political junkies.