Buried in the subtext of Monday's by-election battles between Liberals and Conservatives was a secondary duel that appeared to leave much NDP blood on the floor.
While the Green Party increased its share of the popular vote in all four ridings, compared with the last general election, support for the New Democrats dropped everywhere but Saskatchewan.
The Greens attribute this to their fresh way of doing business. The New Democrats counter that they simply were not trying very hard to win any of the four seats. And even outside experts say there is nothing to suggest that the by-election results would be reflected in a general election.
But for NDP Leader Jack Layton, this week's numbers were not good.
In Toronto Centre, the New Democrats took 28 per cent of the votes in the general election of 2006 but just 13 per cent on Monday. In Vancouver Quadra, the NDP dropped to 14 per cent from 16 per cent. And in Willowdale, the party fell to 4 per cent from 11 per cent and was beaten by the Greens.
"This is road-testing what we are going to be doing in the next federal election campaign," said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. "Staying focused on issues that matter, remaining very firmly on the high road."
Ms. May said the results send a message to the television consortium that controls leadership debates during federal election campaigns that her party must be included. But the results also say something to Mr. Layton, she said.
"I think the NDP should rethink their strategy of being so hostile and of refusing to discuss anything with the Green Party," she said. "I am wondering if the NDP know who they are any more."
New Democratic politicians have spent much of their time in the most recent parliamentary session levelling fire at Stéphane Dion and his Liberals.
Henry Jacek, a political science professor at Hamilton's McMaster University, said that makes sense because the NDP can expect to siphon off Liberal voters but would have a much more difficult time with Conservatives.
The New Democrats "essentially put no effort into most ridings and they just target certain kinds of ridings," said Dr. Jacek. "So there was no effort put into the two Toronto ridings or Quadra, which are affluent urban ridings that they don't have a chance in."
That gave many NDP voters the licence to vote Green and they took it, he said. "But that won't happen in NDP-type ridings and generally probably won't even happen in a general election."
James Laxer, a political science professor at York University in Toronto who once ran for the NDP leadership, said the problem for the Greens is that they have broad voter sentiment across the country but no real strongholds.
"It's still very likely, I think, that at the end of the day you are going to have a federal election in which the Greens win, maybe a seat and very likely no seats, even with their percentage of the vote," said Prof. Laxer.
The NDP has bastions of power that they have built up over a long period of time. "And I don't see any reason, based on these results, to conclude that that's not going to be the case in the next election."
Meanwhile, the New Democrats are still polling above the Greens nationally. A Strategic Counsel survey released this week suggested Mr. Layton's party has 14 per cent of the popular vote nationally, while Ms. May's party had 12 per cent.
Michael Behiels, a political science expert at the University of Ottawa, said it would have to be a special riding with the right candidate that elected a Green candidate.
But the Greens have much appeal for people who are disenchanted with the traditional parties of the Liberals, the Conservatives - and now the NDP, said Dr. Behiels.
"I think this is a generational thing," he said. "Young people are starting to say anybody but the above."