Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau with Chrystia Freeland, the newly Liberal MP for the riding of Toronto Centre.

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

The biggest take-away from the four federal by-elections held on Monday has nothing to do with Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

Yes, they took a hit, but in the grand scheme of things, the fact that they hung on to two seats in the face of a simmering Senate scandal ranks as a small victory. Their government's majority is safe. The by-elections had absolutely no impact on the balance of power in the House of Commons.

Where they do matter is what they reveal about changing dynamics on the opposition side – a contest pitting Justin Trudeau's Liberals against Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats.

Story continues below advertisement

The Liberals showed a surprising surge, retaining their seats in Bourassa and Toronto Centre and placing second in the Manitoba ridings of Provencher and Brandon-Souris – where they had sunk to third and fourth places, respectively, in the 2011 federal election.

In Brandon-Souris, they came awfully close (about 400 votes) to scoring an upset: "Just want to point out that you're all up past midnight wondering if #LPC will beat #CPC in rural Manitoba. I'd call that progress," Gerald Butts, Mr. Trudeau's senior adviser, tweeted.

He's right. In the space of two years, the Liberals have transformed themselves from a decimated, directionless party into Ottawa's equivalent of the comeback kid.

The NDP, in contrast, failed to build on the momentum that catapulted them to Official Opposition status in 2011. Sure, the party vote held steady above 30 per cent in Bourassa, and it boasted its best showing yet in Toronto Centre. But both of those results gained them exactly zero seats. And in Brandon-Souris and Provencher, the NDP's vote share buckled. Has the Orange Wave crested?

In politics, by-elections are the equivalent of pre-season games. The stakes aren't high, but the results are a litmus test, telling us about what to expect in the upcoming season.

The next federal election is still a long way off. Neither Mr. Trudeau nor Mr. Mulcair have been tested in a general election.

But now, there is a new calculus at play. The Liberals are back from their near-death experience. The New Democrats are under pressure. And the Conservatives should consider themselves warned.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies