So what do Monday’s federal by-election results tell us about the state of Canadian politics, eight months before a general election? That each of the major parties has something to dream on, and much to worry about.
Start with the party with the most at stake on Monday: the New Democrats. Their leader, Jagmeet Singh, finally has a seat in the House of Commons.
Better yet for the NDP, his race in Burnaby South was not close. The party narrowly won this riding in 2015; this time, Mr. Singh triumphed by a wide margin, nearly 3,000 votes ahead of his Liberal opponent.
But Mr. Singh’s honeymoon lasted only a few minutes. As soon as he finished his victory speech, reporters moved on to peppering him with questions about his fractured party, its fundraising challenges and its declining popularity.
Not coincidentally, three time zones away, the NDP was being soundly defeated in the other by-election where it was incumbent. That the loss was expected doesn’t make it less painful. In the Montreal riding of Outremont, held since 2007 by former party leader Tom Mulcair, the NDP’s Julia Sanchez captured just 26 per cent of the vote, well behind Liberal Rachel Bendayan.
It marks the latest retreat for the Orange Wave, which in 2011 carried the NDP to Official Opposition status, largely on the back of 59 seats in Quebec. The high tide continues to roll out; the party now has just 15 seats in the province.
The silver lining for the NDP? They may have lost Outremont, which prior to Mr. Mulcair had been a Liberal fortress, but the New Democrats still finished far ahead of the Conservative Party, the Greens and the party from which the Orange Wave drew most of its supporters – the fast-evaporating Bloc Québécois.
The Outremont results are the latest sign that, on the island of Montreal at least, this fall is shaping up as a two-way fight between the Liberals and NDP.
Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives also got a mixed report card on Monday night. First piece of good news: As expected, the party retained the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe, with Scot Davidson taking nearly 54 per cent of the vote, an increase from the 50 per cent the party captured in 2015.
Second piece of good news for the Conservatives: Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party wasn’t a factor in York-Simcoe. The conservative splinter group captured just 314 votes – in a low-turnout by-election, less than 2 per cent of ballots.
In theory, the People’s Party threatens to split the vote on the right in October; a big enough split could cost the Conservatives close races. On the left, this is precisely what the NDP and the Liberals can sometimes do to one another. On Monday night, however, Mr. Bernier’s party barely registered a pulse in York-Simcoe and Outremont.
It was a different story in Burnaby South. Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a former host of 700 Club Canada, a Christian television program, pulled in nearly 11 per cent of vote for the People’s Party. She didn’t come close to winning, but she did win the support of a good number of people who in the past would likely have voted Conservative.
That has to set off alarm bells for Mr. Scheer and his party.
The combined vote of the People’s Party and the Conservatives in Burnaby South was more than 33 per cent on Monday – which would have been good enough for second place, and within striking distance of Mr. Singh, who took 39 per cent of the vote.
And the Justin Trudeau Liberals? They were the incumbent in none of the three ridings on Monday, yet they captured one of them. Their Quebec base has been firmed up, and they’re well positioned for fall in that province.
Also good news for the Liberals is that polls show national support for the NDP at remarkably low levels. The prospect of losing an election thanks to vote-splitting may be a new problem for Mr. Scheer, but it’s always been a central dilemma for the Liberals. Polls suggest it is less of a problem than ever – at least for the moment.
The problem for the Liberal government is that there’s always another cloud on the horizon. Being the government means you never know what tomorrow will bring. For the Liberals, that saying is very real, with Jody Wilson-Raybould scheduled to appear before the Commons justice committee on Wednesday to testify about the SNC-Lavalin affair.
By the time she’s done, Monday may be a very long time ago indeed.