There has been much written already about Monday's three federal by-elections in Dauphin, Winnipeg North and Vaughan. Headlines on Tuesday could yield anything from the impending apocalypse for Michael Ignatieff, to absolute predictions of a winter election because Tories take two of three, to a surprise in Winnipeg North that means Iggy averts a trip to the executioner. I am sure Tuesday invariably will illicit the normal variety of nonsense that comes when trying to interpret greater meaning from by-elections.
What I think really will be tested are the lasting impacts of Ignatieff's much lauded summer tour. One of the key purposes of that tour was to inspire Liberals at the local level and utilize that motivation to build back the on-the-ground networks necessary to win competitive ridings or hold ones already in their stable.
Media coverage has already noted that Ignatieff has had to dispatch one of his top officials, Pat Sorbara, to Vaughan to lead the charge there. If that is accurate it is potentially an early sign that the Liberal ground game is lacking. You'd have thought that Vaughan - a Liberal stronghold for over 20 years - would have had a strong local organization in place.
While the Tories have also had people go to assist in Vaughan, the metric is different for them as they have not been competitive there since the early days of Brian Mulroney's reign. If the Tories were rushing top staff to Dauphin, seen as a solid Conservative must-hold district, then they'd be due similar criticism.
So far the Liberals have done a decent job of downplaying their chances in Vaughan and not saying much about whether they can sneak in a win in Winnipeg North. That approach is probably wise in the event they go zero for three. Yet if that is the verdict rendered, it might be time to re-evaluate how successful Ignatieff was in connecting with Liberals this past summer. Though his caucus might have something more profound in mind.
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