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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Maybe Thomas Mulcair should shave off his beard. Because apparently no matter what else he tries, or how much better he performs in the House of Commons than Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the NDP keep losing votes to the Trudeau Liberals in by-election after by-election.

Monday's by-elections were a rerun of what's happened in the 11 by-elections since 2013, when Mr. Trudeau became leader. In Whitby-Oshawa, the Tories held the seat but their vote count dropped by 9.2 per cent; the NDP vote shrank 14.2 per cent; and the Liberals soared 26.6 per cent. In Yellowhead, the Tories also held the seat but their vote count dropped 14.5 per cent. The Liberals jumped 17.1 per cent. The NDP vote fell.

Conservatives are worried. But the NDP, having seized Official Opposition status from the Liberals in the 2011 election, are both concerned and perplexed. Mr. Mulcair is in many ways an excellent leader. His performance in Question Period during the various Senate scandals left the government wounded. His response to the decision to join the war on the Islamic State had gravitas. In the Commons, he often makes Mr. Trudeau seem like an afterthought.

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And yet Mr. Trudeau keeps gleefully sponging up NDP votes. There are reasons for this. One of them, sadly, is that Canadians don't care much about Question Period. A solid performance rarely translates into voter support, and a poor one rarely hurts – a conclusion Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to a long time ago, when he chose such luminaries as Paul Calandra and Dean Del Mastro as his parliamentary secretaries.

But there's also no easy way to recapture the lightning that struck in 2011, when a limping Jack Layton carried the NDP past a limp Michael Ignatieff and a prostrate Bloc Québécois. The conditions for the NDP's ascension were perfect, and Mr. Layton's courage and character caught voters' imaginations, especially in Quebec.

Those conditions can't be recreated, so it's up to Mr. Mulcair to find new ways to connect. He's been trying; his promise of national daycare contrasts clearly with the Tory plan. But he's still losing out to the resurgent Liberals. Three years ago, the erstwhile Natural Governing Party was on the verge of being swallowed up by the NDP. Not any more.

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