Straight Talk
DAVID AKIN - Tories, Greens look strong after byelections

PC candidate and MP-elect Joan Crockatt enters campaign headquarters speak to media and supporters in Calgary, Alberta, on November 26, 2012.

Credits: MIKE DREW/QMI AGENCY

DAVID AKIN | PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA - Perhaps the surest sign that the Conservatives were the big winners in a trio of byelections Monday was that New Democrats, Liberals, and Greens spent the day arguing amongst themselves that they did better against the governing party.

But for collusion between New Democrats and Greens in Calgary Centre, the Liberal candidate groused, he would have won. The NDP squeaked by in Victoria, largely by scaring voters away from a strong Green candidate with warnings that only the NDP can stop the Tory juggernaut.

Meanwhile, that Tory juggernaut simply added to its impressive byelection record. In the 20 byelections held since the Tories took office in 2006, the Conservatives have successfully defended seats they held three times and stolen seats held by other parties five times. They've never lost a seat.

Now, mind you, it was closer than it should have been in Calgary Centre where former journalist Joan Crockatt won with 37% of the popular vote. In the previous four general elections, all won by Lee Richardson, Conservatives had never polled less than 51% and in 2011, Richardson took 57% of the vote.

But on Monday, the story in Calgary Centre was the surging Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke, who finished with 33% of the vote. The anti-Alberta comments made by Liberal MP David McGuinty days before the vote and in 2010 by Liberal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau - both reported first in these pages - must surely have played a factor.

And had just one of every four who voted for Green candidate Chris Turner voted for Locke, Locke, and not Crockatt, would be Calgary's newest MP.

Nonetheless, Liberals should be rightly encouraged by their strong showing in the Conservative heartland. But their dismal showings in Victoria and in the Ontario riding of Durham must be wake-up calls for their next leader. Ontario and BC are must-haves if the Liberals are going to supplant the NDP as official opposition, let alone win government.

And yet, in Victoria, a riding that was red as recently as 2004, the Grits finished fourth. And in Durham, which, it must be said, has been solidly blue since 2004, the Liberals finished third, well behind the NDP and the Tories.

Of course, the Liberals went into Monday's byelections without a permanent leader.

Not so the New Democrats.

Their leader Thomas Mulcair has been very visible all across the country trying to show that the NDP are a government-in-waiting.

Mulcair has not been shy about taking controversial stands to set his party apart from others, the most incendiary of which was his diagnosis that Alberta's oilsands wealth was hurting the economies of other parts of the country, particularly manufacturing in Ontario.

Well, lo and behold, that argument seems to have been a hit in that east-of-Toronto riding of Durham, home to plenty of workers at General Motors and other manufacturing plants in southern Ontario. The NDP won better than one in four votes in Durham, an all-time high for the orange side in that riding.

But the flipside of Mulcair's "Dutch Disease" diagnosis could be seen in Calgary Centre where the NDP candidate got less than four per cent.

And then out in Victoria, where Mulcair had travelled to celebrate a win Monday night, the NDP narrowly avoided an embarrassing loss to the Green Party.

In fact, had the Green Party had the money and organizational punch that the NDP or Liberals have, they may very well have taken Victoria and Calgary Centre.

And, so for the NDP and Liberals, Monday's byelections may prompt a bit of a re-think, not so much about how they each compete against the Conservatives but how they will seek to become the focal point for the anti-Harper movement in Canada.

For the Conservatives and the Green Party, whatever they're doing politically, carry on.

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