View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Looking over the By Election Results – November 27, 2012

CFN – Congratulations are in order for Joan Crockatt, Erin O’Toole and Murray Rankin for their bye-election victories. We should also be thanking the other contenders who while they didn’t win, did have the courage to run for public office.

With the bye-elections over, everyone will be reading the tea leaves to see what it means for the next federal election. At this point probably not all that much as we don’t know who will be leading the Liberals in 2015 or for that matter if Harper will even be around to lead the Conservatives. Just the same, the parties should see some red flags from yesterday’s results.

For the two main parties, IE the Liberals and the Conservatives it does offer a glimpse into some potential shifts down the road depending on who wins the Liberal leadership race. The good news for the Liberals is that even in Tory Alberta they can be a contender; their brand is still pretty resilient. With results that close, you really do have to wonder what might have happened if David McGuinty had kept his mouth shut. Was the Liberal surge a result of the Trudeau media blitz or a sign of something deeper?

The Liberals will also have to figure out how to prevent future vote splitting with the Greens in particular, but also with NDP supporters. If they can’t they will be facing many more Calgary style defeats.

It would also be interesting to know where the moderate Conservative or Red Tory vote went. Did they stick with Crockatt who is seen as hard right, or did they move to the Liberals? That is a key question for the Conservatives. If they did shift to the Liberals and this trend continues, then certainly Atlantic Canada comes into play again for the Liberals, although it’s not that many seats and you have to wonder about some of the Conservatives metro or suburban seats as well.

While the Conservatives won in Durham, many of the moderate voters in suburban ridings who in the past voted Liberal could shift their votes away from the Conservatives.  The Conservative brand is far from solid in many of those ridings. Will these voters tire of the attacks the governing party unleashes on its opponents? Will they see the Conservative Party as shifting to far to the right? Will they see social conservative issues such as abortion coming into play too often? We saw what happened in the recent American election where Romney paid a price for some of the extreme comments made by his candidates, that could happen here too.

The Green Party did very well when you look at the increase in their vote totals. But in the end, what counts is a win. They didn’t get one, but they had a respectable showing and they were probably the reason the Liberals lost in Calgary Centre. There is also some speculation that it was the moderate Tories that helped to boost the Green vote? That is plausible. In the early 2000’s there were a number of former Progressive Conservatives interested in the Green Party. The Green Party platform is not just about the environment and many parts of it could appeal to moderate Tory voters, again another red flag for the governing Conservatives.

The NDP can take solace in their win in Victoria, but last night should remind them that they are a long way from entrenching their brand as the rightful government in waiting. Mulcair has his work cut out for him if he wants to improve his party’s chances in 2015. As with the Liberals he has to figure out how to avoid vote splitting and how to appeal to more moderate Liberal or Conservative voters.

A surging Green Party, a resurgent Liberal Party and a scrappy NDP mean plenty of vote splitting in the days ahead. Unless there is a dramatic change this should give the Tories one more win. While Liberal MP Joyce Murray appeals for cooperation between the so called progressive parties, that is highly unlikely at this time. There isn’t a leader out there today who will advocate that strategy when each leader sees themself and their party on a roll. They have seen how damaging talk of a coalition can be to their brands, they will fight it out.  It’s all about power and the Liberals, NDP and Greens want it.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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1 Comment

  1. Very good summary of the by-election results and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the oposition parties. And congratulations on speaking the truth about the Green Party:

    The Green Party platform is not just about the environment and many parts of it could appeal to moderate Tory voters, again another red flag for the governing Conservatives.

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