OTTAWA - By the time the dust settles late Monday night, a great deal more heat and noise will have been generated by a trio of federal byelections than the outcomes will likely merit.
What could be an electoral earthquake — signalling new fault lines in federal politics — is looking to be tremorless, with three new MPs, representing the same team colours as those who departed, expected to be en route to Parliament.
Along the way, however, the respective campaigns in Calgary Centre, Durham (Ontario), and Victoria will have presented an early test run — and political market research — for the distant general election battle of October 2015.
And judging by this month's byelection fireworks, 2015 will be quite a show.
The Conservatives watched a torpedo slice into the federal Liberal hull last week when an inflammatory 2010 interview by Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leadership heir apparent, suddenly emerged as a perfectly-timed target.
With Joan Crockatt, the establishment Tory favourite in Calgary Centre, facing an almost unprecedented polling threat from Liberal candidate Harvey Locke, Trudeau's divisive French-language comments about Albertans in Ottawa presented a bulls-eye too big to miss.
"From a historical perspective, the likelihood that the Conservatives could lose Calgary Centre is virtually nil," threehundredandeight.com, a website that compiles polling results, observed late last week.
Yet the orchestrated breadth and volume of the Conservative clamour over Trudeau's musings illustrated the seriousness with which he's regarded by the governing party — and his potential for coalescing the anti-Crockatt vote in Calgary Centre — notwithstanding dismissive claims that Trudeau's a lightweight.
Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, swept aside suggestions he sanction Trudeau by removing him from his role as critic for amateur sports. Instead he accused the Conservatives of letting Sun News know where they could find the incendiary interview online.
"You know, was that an accident?" Rae said Sunday on the Global program The West Block. "Was it immaculate conception? Did the reporter in question just sort of say, 'Oh my goodness, I just found this thing,' or did someone from the Conservative party say, 'Look at this, why don't we go with this story on Friday ahead of the Monday vote.' "
Still, Conservative strategists Sunday were spinning Calgary Centre — a riding conservatives have held for 40 years — as a litmus test of Trudeau.
At the final all-candidates debate in Calgary on Saturday, Locke tried to cast Trudeau's musings in the context of the kind of trash-talk that Calgarians use regularly when they dial up the city's well-known rivalry with Alberta's capital to the north.
"Has anybody in this room ever disparaged Edmonton?" he asked.
Both Rae and Locke ignored Trudeau's suggestion that Canada was better off with prime ministers from Quebec rather than Alberta.
Meanwhile Crockatt cited the benefits of having the local MP in government rather than outside of power.
"If you're in Mexico and lose your passport, do you want to call an opposition member of Parliament? Or do you want to call someone who can walk across to the minister's office?"
All parties will be pouring over the post-byelection results looking for poll-by-poll intelligence to pocket for next time.
New Democrats, running fourth in polls in Calgary Centre behind the Green party candidate, will be testing for fall-out from leader Tom Mulcair's "Dutch disease" thesis on the manufacturing impact of resource development.
In Victoria, the NDP expects candidate Murray Rankin to fill the shoes of the retired New Democrat Denise Savoie, but the Liberal, Green party and Conservative candidates all mounted spirited campaigns that wound up focusing on a contentious, $783-million sewage treatment plan.
With Green Leader Elizabeth May, the party's lone standard-bearer in Parliament, right next door and riding redistributions in the offing, Victoria will continue to be a target in 2015 and Monday's results will be banked for close scrutiny.
Durham, the central Ontario riding held by former Conservative cabinet minister Bev Oda who resigned after a series of controversies, appears set to return another Tory to Ottawa.
Polls suggest Conservative candidate Erin O'Toole is safely out front, but New Democrat Larry O'Connor, a former provincial MPP and area mayor, is making the case that the NDP is the go-to option for restless voters — not the riding's more traditional Tory-Liberal split.
That's a case Mulcair's New Democrats will need to make across Canada's most populous province in 2015, a battleground where the Liberals must remain widely competitive if the party is to survive.
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