Justin Trudeau's Liberals are still clearly ahead in Quebec, while the New Democrats, although still strong, are lagging behind – a bad omen for the Official Opposition since Quebec became the party's stronghold in the last federal election, with more than half of its caucus coming from the province.
The latest CROP poll shows the federal Liberals at 36 per cent, and the New Democrats at 30 per cent, 13 points behind their election results. The real race in Quebec will be between these two opposition parties, since both the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois are showing less than 17 per cent in popular support. (Bloc leader Daniel Paillé resigned Monday, allegedly for reasons of health, but it's doubtful that a new leader will change much.)
The Liberals will get the bulk of the anglophone vote in and around Montreal, because even left-leaning anglophones are uncomfortable with the NDP's nationalist position, which opposes part of the Clarity Act on future referendums. (Earlier this year, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair proposed that a vote of 50 per cent plus one vote would be sufficient for the federal government to negotiate secession.)
Among the French-speaking electorate, the NDP and the Liberals are neck and neck. The "Jack Layton effect" is gone. Despite his vigorous performance in Parliament, Mr. Mulcair is no more popular than the gaffe-prone Mr. Trudeau, whose family name still inspires resentment among many of Quebec's "soft nationalists," let alone its sovereigntists. Both men are judged to make the best theoretical prime minister by 27 per cent of those polled, while the actual Prime Minister, Conservative Stephen Harper, gets just 11-per-cent support, despite the relatively good state of the national economy.
If the latest by-elections were a huge disappointment for the Conservatives, who nearly lost two Manitoba bastions to the Liberals, they were dispiriting for the NDP, which should have done better in these four ridings.
In Toronto Centre and Bourassa, the riding vacated by former Liberal MP Denis Coderre, now mayor of Montreal, the New Democrats ran good candidates – well-known journalist Linda McQuaig and Stéphane Moraille, a bright, personable rock singer-turned-lawyer of Haitian origin – a plus in a riding where Haitians are a strong minority. But Ms. Moraille was defeated by a lacklustre former provincial Liberal backbencher.
Meanwhile, in Manitoba, the Liberals reaped the benefits of Mr. Trudeau's pro-West, pro-free-trade policies and his quiet refusal to call for a return of the long-gun registry. As for Mr. Mulcair, he lost ground in the West when he foolishly condemned the Keystone pipeline while on a formal visit to the United States.
Will Mr. Trudeau's star fade before 2015? It's hard to say. His political immaturity should work against him, but on the other hand, voters might like the vague promise of "change" that he symbolizes. Mr. Trudeau's problem is that many voters don't take him seriously and won't trust him to run the country. But Mr. Mulcair has another problem: Voters just don't like him. Even when he smiles, he looks angry – a big contrast to the convivial Mr. Trudeau.
In any case, who knows if the winner of the fight between the Liberals and NDP won't actually be the Conservatives? With the other parties fighting over parts of the same electorate, the Conservatives might easily find a path to power between them.