Tuesday, March 18, 2008

By-Election No Spin Attempt

Sifting through the spin from last night, it seems there are a few objective truths buried beneath the partisan stench. I thought I'd do this analysis on a party by party basis.

I hardly think the Liberals getting thumped in a riding they once held, coupled with a prospects of a recount in a supposed "stronghold", represents a banner night. The victories in Toronto were great, and the margins were very impressive. But, the Toronto results are about as relevant to the big picture as the Conservatives winning in Calgary. That said, the real bonus for the Liberals, having two more high profile MP's in Parliament, giving the "team" great depth.

I would describe last night as a so-so proposition for the Liberals, bordering on disappointing. Yes, 3/4 seats won, but barely, and it still represents a net loss of 1 to the Conservatives.

Losing in Saskatchewan isn't a surprise, but the margin is noteworthy, and the reasons for don't paint Dion, or his tactics, in a particularly good light. Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River was handled poorly from the start, and in many ways, the Liberals lost this seat through their own actions.

In isolation, you can probably deal with Saskatchewan, but once you factor in the result in Vancouver Quadra, any talk of "a big night" for the Liberals should really evaporate. Yes, by-elections are tricky animals, but to go from a 20 plus % win in 2006, to basically a deadheat is a very disappointing result. Another supposed "safe" seat, proves to be anything but, which raises questions, beyond some convenient excuses.

I'm not suggesting a horrible evening for the Liberals, but to claim momentum out of these by-elections is a little too optimistic, and very selective, for my tastes. A net nothing for the Liberals, all things considered.

To my mind, the big loser from last night was the NDP. Battling for third place in three ridings should be a wakeup call to NDP strategists. The NDP likes to position itself as a different alternative to the two major parties, but clearly, voters who seek change, aren't drawn to the NDP, in fact they are looking elsewhere. People can play with the numbers, argue no erosion, but you still can't escape the optics of a dogfight for third, which used to be a given on the bottom end.

On the flip side, the big winner last night was clearly the Greens, who once again proved that they are establishing a beachhead with Canadians, shedding the "fringe" label. The biggest hurdle for the Greens, show real relevance to voters, last night was another important step in looking credible.

I would also say last night was a fairly good one for the Conservatives. On Tuesday, we now have one more Conservative MP than we did on Monday, hard to spin that as a negative. The fact that the Conservatives came within a whisker in a Liberal urban stronghold, offers some encouragement, a positive development. Obviously, getting no traction in Toronto maintains a common negative theme, but these two riding were always coronations, given the actors.

My scorecard, based on expectations:

Greens A
Cons B
Libs B-


Red Canuck said...

Steve - An interesting analysis, and one that I tend to agree with. One factor you didn't mention was the particularly low voter turnout - I heard that in Quadra it was something like 11%. Hard to know how that factored in, but if by-elections are about protest votes, then low turnout would tend to favour the sitting government.

In any case, I doubt the Liberals will lose Quadra in a general election, but the slim win last night was disappointing to be sure.

Oh and yes, the NDP have to be concerned about last nights results, although again, the Greens always tend to poll higher mid-term than in a general election.

Steve V said...


Actually, I think Quadra had the best turnout, 33%.

On the Greens, I think they proved in the last Ontario election that they won't fade come crunch time.

northwestern_lad said...

Steve... I'm not happy about last night, but lets not go completely overboard. The voter turn out was terrible. In Toronto-Centre for example, only 24% of the people bothered to vote. 3 out of 4 people didn't even bother. That really hurt the NDP because their voting block tends to have lower voter turn-out, while richer areas tend to have better voter turn out. Seeing as how so many Conservative voters went Green, and actually turned out to vote made this into a perfect storm.

When the poll by poll results come out, I'm confindent that i'll be proven right in that regard.

Steve V said...

2 out of 4 never votes anyways, just to keep it in perspective. Cam, I wouldn't take any comfort in voter turnout here, and if memory serves, nobody seemed to mention in Outremont. I guess the big question for the NDP, from my perspective, why are the Greens emerging as the alternative, which used to be something the NDP played up.

Anonymous said...

Voter turn-out numbers:


An honest "By-Election No Spin Attempt". Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Before people get too excited about the Green showing, let's keep in mind that in Willowdale and northern Saskatchewan - they were in low single digits. Toronto Centre and Quadra were kind of tailor made for them - very wealthy ridings where you have a large pool of protest voters who are too upper class to ever consider voting NDP.

The NDP vote in Quadra was about the same as it has always been in that silk-stocking riding. In Toronto Centre, I suspect that between having Rae running for the Liberals and the NDP having a weak candidate, a weak campaign and no national momentum to fall back on - some former NDP voters went Liberal. The Greens probably scooped up a few generic protest voters, plus disaffected Tories whose candidate got dumped by Harper, plus some Liberals that don't like Rae.

Steve V said...


You conveniently forget the last Ontario election in your dismissal. Nobody is getting "too excited", just acknowledging a positive development.

Anonymous said...

A loss of 1 out of every 4 seats held previously by us equates to a Harper majority.

Jay said...

The NDP damaged themselves with what appeared to be a rehash of conservative propaganda with Laytons face instead of Harpers, yet filled with the same vitriol. Combine that with a cocky, snooty, holier than thou candidate and you get what you saw last night. Need I even mention Dippers screaming at Bob Rae during a debate? Very mature, just the people we need in the HoC with the current atmosphere.

Koby said...

As I have been saving for months, the Liberals are in real trouble in BC. It is going to be a blood bath out here in unless Dion and company abandon their current approach. A committment to social liberalism is badly needed.

Greg said...

It is difficult to read anything from the results given the low turnout. I will say, that if you look at Warren K's page you will see that the NDP vote went up in the two western ridings. As IP says on her page though, there is some definite cause for concern in Toronto.

Anonymous said...

"a cocky, snooty, holier than thou candidate"

That's not a nice way to talk about Bob Rae. Show some respect for an ex-Premier!

bigcitylib said...

About the same as my own reading, Steve.

We'll see if this gets us any closer to a general election. With the NDP showing, I wonder if they don't start looking for a way to be more accomodating.

Steve V said...


I'm not dismissing up or down, just the fact the NDP is battling for third. Let's put it this way, if anyone thinks it's high five time at NDP headquarters, well...

Steve V said...


I've never understood their gung ho posture, given the polls, which show official party status terrority. I read that link to Wells, maybe they are hiding behind the Liberals in wanting an election, but I tend to think they have made that calculation, for whatever reason. Layton usually outpolls Dion on leadership, maybe that is the math, in an election he could shine.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis.

The real reason we didn't win Saskatchewan is the same reason we couldn't win that riding before 2004.

Paul Martin, say what you will about him, had more respect in Western Canada and in rural Canada than either his predecessor or his successor.

Maybe, in time Dion can build the same level of familiarity and acceptance in the West. But it will not happen overnight.

Western Canada will remain a foreign entity to the liberals until Harper really screws up, or the Liberal brain trust removes its head from its "Quebec - Windsor Corridor" ass.

With the right mix of vote splitting and an absolute NDP collapse, we could conceivably win seats in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, but those kinds of numbers weren't there last night.

As for Quadra - who knows? But I wouldn't read too much into a set of byelections with 25% turnout.

Anonymous said...

As for Sask:
Dion is 0 for 2 in appointing candidates ... next time let democracy rule

Having seen the Orchard machine in action (for the Dion leadership cause) I think he would have won - or at least done better. This loss (after Outremont) directly indites the judgment of Dion and his advisers.

And a virtual tie in Vancouver.

Ontario is scared s***less of the old Harris group running things for Harper - hence the ongoing support here - and the only part of Canada that looks remotely safe for Liberals in the next election.

Sorry - most "contested" by-elections go against the gov't.

Thanks to
1) the right-wing media (incl. CBC-TV (or at least Mansbridge)who has joined that group)
2) brain-dead voters and
3)a very poor opposition
(all three lousy parties in Parliament)
I fear things will get much worse before they get better.

Anonymous said...

Specifics aside, it is a general trend that has me wondering. In Quebec, the Liberal Party has slowly but surely become a Montreal Party with little to no support off the Island. Could this be happening Canada wide. It looks like, slowly but surely, the Liberal Party is becoming the Toronto Party. I realize that it is the be all and end all center of the universe (just ask anyone who lives there) but unless the Liberals find some polices and ideas that attract those pesky voters from outside Toronto, the results in Saskatechwan and the massive decrease in percentage vote in Quadra may be more of a warning bell and wake up call than a reason to celebrate.

northwestern_lad said...

Steve... you mentioned the Green's showing in the Ontario provincial as a sign the NDP is in trouble.. Look at where the Greens did their best in that election. It was in ridings where the Conservatives are historically strong and the NDP historically very weak. In that election, the Green ate into the Conservatives numbers big time, not the NDP numbers. The fact is that in those ridings, there are many more Conservative votes to take than from the NDP, so it wouldn't take much to get over them in those ridings.

The same thing happened again last night, as the Greens did well where the Conservative normally do.

Steve V said...


Just to be clear, the Greens cause headaches for the Liberals too, so it isn't exclusive. That said, the NDP was down in 3 of 4 by-elections. What I am saying, when people become disenchanted with the Liberals, and in some areas the Cons, they tend to move to the NDP. The question you should ask, why did voters in Van turn from the Libs to the Greens, bypassing the NDP. There was an opportunity there, sorely missed, and I believe some hard lessons too.

Anonymous said...

"The question you should ask, why did voters in Van turn from the Libs to the Greens, bypassing the NDP."

I blame Layton for this. Jack is a Stephen Harper of the left. One of the blowbacks of the New Politics Initiative (which sounded good in political strategics) was the NDP would seek ground on the left of the Liberal Party. This meant that the centre left voters which Romanow and Doer became alienated. Why is the NDP no longer doing well in rural Sask under Layton (Nettie Wiebe's future notwithstanding)? How will the Greens affect Layton's strategy of winning additional seats in the BC Interior and Vancouver Island? I am not suggesting that the NDP will struggle, unlike many fellow Libloggers. But a three candidate race creates different scenarios than a two candidate race, so a replay of the 1988 Federal Election in BC for the NDP is highly unlikely.

Koby said...

>>> I am not suggesting that the NDP will struggle, unlike many fellow Libloggers.

I will. The Greens are going to hurt the NDP in urban ridings across the country. Rural ridings are a different matter.

Under Jack Layton and with the attack the Liberals first approach the NDP is going nowhere fast. They are not sufficiently separated themselves from the other opposition parties and their messaging is ill focused, confused, wordy and jumbled

Anonymous said...

"The question you should ask, why did voters in Van turn from the Libs to the Greens, bypassing the NDP."

Every byelection has its own narrative. The question you should ask, why did voters in Outremont turn from the BQ and Libs to the NDP, bypassing the Greens, Tories and Grits??

Dame said...

Just to make note on one thing..
Vancouver Quadra rapidly taken over /owned / by the very rich recently .. they usually side with Conservatives so it showes.

voters turnout??? people just hate voting.. until they are really upset..

Steve V said...

"The question you should ask, why did voters in Outremont turn from the BQ and Libs to the NDP, bypassing the Greens, Tories and Grits??"

So six months ago, but anyways, two words- Thomas Mulclair.

Steve V said...

If anyone wants to see a testy exchange, you should check out Newman interviewing Layton today:


Tuesday brrroodcast, around 7 minute mark.

Karen said...

Well done Steve.

To those who really believe the NDP is doing just fine, I'd suggest the same reflection that the Lib's will have to take.

I doubt the Con's will avail themselves of that exercise. They've written off where they need support in the name of Jim Flaherty. Bizarre, but a gift is a gift. Small packages and all that...

Anonymous said...

Steve & KNB,

My assessment is a little different (who would have thought!)

The Toronto results means the stronghold is still in tact for the LPC. In fact, more than intact since the NDP got pummeled so badly. However, it must be considered that both Findlay and Rae were big name candidates.

Saskatchewan was an unmitigated disaster. An RCMP officer beat a former Provincial cabinet minister hand selected by the Party leader. And he beat her decisively. This tells me that the Liberal message is not working on the prairies and surprisingly not with aboriginal Canadians. Of course, there was some serious weirdness due to the wonderful David Orchard (Orchard and Turner, the LPC must feel truly blessed).

Quadra was a surprise disaster. The CPC gained almost no %age, yet the LPC almost lost! If they have to win a squeeker with a former provincvial environment minister in an upscale urban Vancouver riding, they are seriously in trouble in every other city they have seats (excepting Toronto, apparently).

How many urban seats do they lose with 15% of their vote disappearing?


LPC: C+ (because of stars)

Sorry but the LPC cannot like the results of crunching these numbers. Byelections are suppose to be where opposition parties get a springboard.


Steve V said...


You're funny. I offer a pretty frank assessment on the Liberals, and yet you take this tone that I'm too soft.

Let's turn that around. You basically said the Cons didn't move in Van, and the Liberals blew Sask. Quite a night for big blue.

Anonymous said...


I have been told that I am quite humerous on occasion. It must be my nerdish wit.

My assessment is that the situation for the LPC is more grave than you give it. I really wasn't expecting the weakenss in Quadra, or the 15% percent win in Saskatchewan. Maybe they are strictly local anomalies.

You are correct that I see the CPC support in Quadra and Churchill River as more telling then their weakness in TO. Likely my bias.


Anonymous said...

Joyce Muarry was the new Comical Ali today on Duff... CPC tanks were rolling through the shot behind her as she exclaimed her decisive win.

I hope the Lib caucus actually believes this bs spin and brings us down.

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I think it is a good analysis. The Liberals are no doubt in bad shape in Western Canada and the Tories are doing well there. However, there are far more seats in Ontario, so at the end of the day any Tory gains in Western Canada could be offset by losses in Ontario. The only bad thing is this creates a more regionally divided parliament and makes parties even more regional which is hardly good for national unity. The real wild card which seems to be the debate between both sides is how the rest of Ontario will go outside the GTA. The polls suggest that they are trending the same way as the GTA although the Conservatives will obviously do better there but the overall trends are pretty much the same. The Conservatives however argue everywhere but Toronto is warming up to the Conservatives. I don't really buy this although I do agree that if the Conservatives were a little more friendly to Ontario this would be the case. But if they cannot figure this out, thats their problem.

Steve V said...

" The Conservatives however argue everywhere but Toronto is warming up to the Conservatives."

If that were the case, then they would be polling better, compared to last election. That is just wishful thinking, ala Kenney's ethnic inroads arguement. Sounds good, but it looks theoretical at this point.