POLITICS

Federal Byelection Results Show Trudeau's Liberals Making Gains

11/26/2013 06:21 EST | Updated 11/26/2013 10:27 EST

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau may have fallen short of capturing a Conservative stronghold in Manitoba on Monday, but the Liberal leader still emerged from four byelections with a strong victory.

Trudeau kept the two seats the Liberals had previously held, in Toronto Centre and the Montreal riding of Bourassa, despite a concerted effort by the NDP to cause an upset. The Liberals also substantially increased their share of the vote in each riding, compared to the the party's' dismal showing during the 2011 general election.

“It’s a big win still for the Liberals,” Brandon University political science professor Kelly Saunders told The Huffington Post Canada after the final votes were counted. “It shows that the Trudeau brand is saleable out here. It’s saleable in Western Canada and it’s saleable in long hard-won Tory ridings.”

In Manitoba’s Brandon-Souris riding, the Liberals and the Tories were neck-and-neck until the last polls reported. The Grits’ Rolf Dinsdale lost to Conservative candidate Larry Maguire by 391 votes, and Dinsdale managed to capture 42.7 per cent of ballots cast compared to 44.1 per cent for Maguire. It’s a drastic change from 2011 when the Conservatives won with 63.7 per cent of the vote in the riding and the Liberals placed fourth with just 5.4 per cent, behind the NDP and the Green Party.

Maguire won just half of the number of votes that former Conservative MP Merv Tweed won in 2011 in the same riding. Brandon-Souris has been Tory blue since 1953, with only one exception for Liberal Glen McKinnon in 1993.

The nail-biter of a race — which had Conservative MPs and ministers glued to their Twitter feed watching incoming results — has to be “humbling for them,” Saunders told HuffPost.

“They squeaked a win here but it’s 391 votes, certainly not the position that they should have been in.” she said. “They have to pay close attention to that and realize that maybe taking some of their supporters for granted a little bit out here — they simply can’t do that anymore.”

The Conservatives’ Ted Falk kept the seat in Provencher, Manitoba by a healthy margin of 58.1 per cent compared to 29.9 per cent for the Liberals. But the Grits increased their vote share by 23.2 percentage points and firmly supplanted the NDP as the Tory alternative.

The New Democrats were the “big losers” of the evening, Saunders said.

“They placed a really distant third and they’ve lost their alternative status to the Liberals. Out here, if you don’t vote Conservative, you vote NDP and now that’s no longer the case,” she said.

“If this byelection is an indication of the way people are starting to feel, the NDP really have to start mobilizing their base a lot better and think about how they are going to do something different in 2015.”

Carleton University political scientist Bruce Hicks agreed the “bragging rights” belong to Trudeau. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and Thomas Mulcair’s NDP have cause to worry, he said.

Despite the NDP’s best efforts in Bourassa, Liberal candidate Emmanuel Dubourg increased the Liberals’ share of the vote by 7.2 percentage points. In Toronto Centre, Grit candidate Chrystia Freeland won by 8.1 more percentage points than former MP Bob Rae in the last general election. The NDP candidate Linda McQuaig, however, also increased her share of the vote by 6.2 percentage points. Conservative voters in both ridings seem to have stayed home.

But the sky isn’t falling, suggested NDP national director Nathan Rotman in a tweet to supporters after the results were in.

Hicks said the NDP may need some time to recover from the political spin and punditry of the next 48 hours, which he says will declare Trudeau as “the once-again viable alternative government”.

Although the NDP did not hold any of the seats up for grabs in the byelections — and mounted an effort only in traditional Liberal ridings — Hicks said Monday’s results mean Mulcair will continue to face questions about his party’s electoral chances and whether the 2011 win was really just a fluke.

The problem for the NDP is that the Liberals now look like they have momentum, he said. Hicks believes Trudeau proved his organization is capable of getting their vote out and able to build in areas where there was no party structure.

Freeland, the new Liberal MP, told her supporters she had a message for Harper Monday. “Watch out, we’re on the rise,” she said. “Canadians want an alternative to the Conservatives and they have found that alternative in the Liberal party.”

Monday’s four elections may have been a chance for voters to send the government a message, but it won’t necessarily dictate what happens in 2015, said McGill University professor Antonia Maioni.

“A byelection is a thermometer, not a barometer,” she wrote in an email to HuffPost. “It can gauge the political temperature but not necessarily predict the political weather outcome.”

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