11/26/2013 11:54 EST

Liberal Byelection Losses In Brandon-Souris, Provencher Say More Than Big Wins

Justin Trudeau's Liberals had a very good night in Monday's four byelections.

It was just a few hundred votes shy of a great night.

On the face of it, the byelections in Bourassa, Brandon-Souris, Provencher, and Toronto Centre changed nothing. The Liberals held their two seats of Bourassa and Toronto Centre, while Conservatives retained the two Manitoba ridings in which they were the incumbent party. Ho-hum.

But there is much more to it than that.

The Liberals came within about 400 votes of capturing Brandon-Souris, a rural riding that gave the party under Michael Ignatieff just five per cent of the vote in 2011. The Conservatives, who took 64 per cent of the vote in 2011, dropped 20 points to 44 per cent under Larry Maguire and squeaked past the Liberals by a single percentage point. Despite the loss, Liberal candidate Rolf Dinsdale put up the best-ever numbers for the party in the riding's history.

In Provencher, which the Conservatives won by 53 points over the NDP in 2011, the Liberals placed second and more than quadrupled their performance in the last federal election. In the end, Ted Falk of the Tories won with 58 per cent to 30 per cent for the Liberals' Terry Hayward.

Those two losses say more than the two victories Liberals engineered in the urban ridings of Bourassa and Toronto Centre. Election after election, the party had been shedding votes in western Canada. But now, adding to the list their strong performance in Calgary Centre from 2012 when Trudeau was just getting his leadership campaign going, the party seems well-positioned to put a scare into more than a few Tory MPs west of Ontario.

The disappointing numbers for New Democrats in these Manitoba ridings might be explained in part by the sagging support for the provincial NDP government of Greg Selinger. That takes some of the blame off of Thomas Mulcair, but does not make their hopes of new breakthroughs in 2015 any more realizable.

The NDP has more to be proud of in Bourassa and Toronto Centre. In the Montreal riding, Stéphane Moraille came up just short of the party's best-ever 2011 performance in the riding. This suggests that the NDP does have the potential to retain a lot of their vote in the province. Linda McQuaig in Toronto Centre, meanwhile, improved upon the party's 2011 performance by six points.

But though New Democrats had been tempering expectations in both ridings, it is no secret that the party had hopes of pulling off an upset in at least one of them. And both Toronto Centre and Bourassa are the kinds of ridings the NDP needs to win if they are to form the government in 2015.

For the Liberals, Emmanuel Dubourg in Bourassa and Chrystia Freeland in Toronto Centre both increased their party's vote share by seven or eight points — good performances considering how many votes Conservative incumbents in Manitoba shed and the rough battle the NDP was waging.

The Liberals captured the most votes last night, some 44,000 of the 103,000 that were cast in the four ridings. By comparison, Conservatives took 29,000 votes and the NDP captured 22,000. Overall, the Liberals took 43 per cent of ballots cast, a gain of 17 points from 2011. Conservatives dropped 11 points to 28 per cent and the NDP dropped five points to 22 per cent.

It suggests that, for the time being at least, the Liberal lead in the polls has some meat to it.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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