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(Chris Young)
(Chris Young)

Globe Editorial

Politicians take away little from by-elections Add to ...

To Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Monday's by-election results, which saw the Conservatives win two seats and the Liberals one, are an endorsement of the Tories' efforts to "tackle crime in order to protect Canadian families" - except that the riding where the issue was most keenly felt, indeed the riding where crime was the overarching issue, Winnipeg North, voted Liberal. The Conservative candidate was trounced, finishing a distant third.

To Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, his party's defeat in Vaughan, Ont., which has been a safe Liberal seat for two decades, is actually a reason to "feel very optimistic." Because of former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Julian Fantino's high profile and name recognition, the Liberal Leader apparently thinks the Conservative margin of victory should have been much larger than Monday's 2.5 percentage points. Mr. Ignatieff neglected to point out that by-elections tend to go against the government. A gain by the Conservatives in a seat in the Greater Toronto Area that has been held by the Liberals for 22 years is hardly a source for unbridled optimism.

To Mr. Fantino, the by-election results represent a "message to Ottawa." His rhetoric seemed to suggest some sort of populist uprising against the government, although he represented the governing party, and far from being a populist outsider set to storm Parliament, he's a career public servant who has been police chief in Toronto, and the provincial Liberals' choice to head the Ontario Provincial Police.

To Kevin Lamoureux, the political veteran who won for the Liberals in Winnipeg, the victory "demonstrated very clearly that the Liberal Party can win in Western Canada." Indeed, the Liberals' Manitoba caucus in the House just doubled. To two seats.

To Mr. Ignatieff, the results, which saw the NDP lose one seat they had formerly held, Winnipeg North, means that the contest in the next general election will be between two parties. But which two? Despite their loss, the NDP were in fact the second party in two of the by-elections, and in the Manitoba riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, held on to by the Tories, the NDP vote total improved from the results of the 2008 general election.

The moral of the story is, Don't believe what politicians say about by-election results.

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