While there is little doubt surrounding the outcome of two of the three by-elections on Nov. 29, all eyes will be on Vaughan, the Toronto-area riding where former OPP commissioner and Conservative candidate Julian Fantino will try to steal the seat from the incumbent Liberals.
Getting a party's supporters to vote is one of the main challenges of a by-election. While 59 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2008 general election, only 31 per cent did the same in the four by-elections that took place on Nov. 9, 2009. The parties that best survive a by-election's drop in turnout tend to win.
The Conservatives and New Democrats were the most effective in getting out their vote in the last set of by-elections, and were rewarded with victories in three of the four. Compared to the 2008 election, about 57 per cent of Conservative voters took the trouble to support their party's candidate in the 2009 by-elections. Fifty-nine per cent of New Democratic voters did the same.
The Liberals, Bloc Québécois and Greens, however, struggled to get their supporters out on voting day, with the Greens receiving only 49 per cent as many votes as they had in the general election. The Liberals fared slightly worse, with 44 per cent of the support they had received in 2008.
The Liberals did better in the three sets of by-elections that took place between 2006 and 2008, and the NDP did worse, but strong Conservative levels of support in by-elections has been a constant since Stephen Harper first became Prime Minister.
Based on a combination of this get-out-the-vote factor and regional shifts in public support since the 2008 election, Liberal by-election woes and Conservative successes appear likely to continue in 2010.
In the western Manitoba riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, which has been represented by Inky Mark since he was elected under the Reform Party banner in 1997, the Conservatives are set to coast to an easy victory. With only brief interludes of Liberal and NDP representation, the riding has been Conservative since 1958. Mr. Mark has maintained a consistent level of support over the last three elections, pulling in between 18,000 and 20,000 votes each time. The NDP, which has been the runner-up in those three elections, has been losing votes in each new campaign, while the Liberals also lost ground in 2008.
Conservative candidate Robert Sopuck is projected to be elected with about 66 per cent of the vote on Nov. 29, with NDP candidate Denise Harder finishing second with 17 per cent.
Winnipeg North, on the other hand, has been touted as a potentially more interesting race to watch. All three major parties are campaigning hard for the seat, with provincial Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux hoping to be successful in his switch to the federal scene. However, the riding has been NDP since 1997, and also sent an NDP MP to Ottawa in every election from 1962 to 1988. Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who failed in her bid to become Winnipeg's mayor but did perform well in this part of the city, improved her share of the vote from 2004 to 2008, garnering 63 per cent support in the last federal election (despite a decrease of 1,500 votes from 2006). The Conservatives have improved their vote totals in each of the past three elections, but still only had 22 per cent support in 2008. Mr. Lamoureux, in order to get elected, will need to overcome the collapse in Liberal support that occurred in the last election, as voters stayed home in droves. Getting them back out to vote in a by-election will be a big challenge, particularly in the face of a well-funded NDP campaign.
With a projected 65 per cent of the vote, Kevin Chief is likely to retain the seat for the New Democrats. Julie Javier, the Conservative candidate, should be the runner-up with about 24 per cent.
It will be a much closer race in Vaughan, a suburban riding north of Toronto. The seat has been held by the Liberals since it was created in 1996. Maurizio Bevilacqua, long-time MP and now Mayor of Vaughan, appears to have resigned at the right time, as his share of the vote had fallen from 63 per cent in 2004 to 49 per cent in 2008. He lost about 9,000 votes in the last election, about one-third of which went over to the Conservatives. The Tories have improved their vote tally here in each election since 2004, when they earned 11,800 votes and 24 per cent support. In the last campaign, the party was at 19,000 votes and 34 per cent support.
It is quite possible the outcome of this by-election will be too close to call until late into the night. Both Tony Genco, the Liberal candidate, and Mr. Fantino are projected to take 42 per cent of the vote. While, according to the calculations, Mr. Genco would win by a handful of votes, the margin of error is too large to be able to say with any level of confidence who will come out ahead on election night.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com