Hope and Hard Work has become the oft-repeated Liberal mantra under Justin Trudeau. And it can also be used to describe where the Liberals find themselves after Monday’s by-elections: with a little more hope, and a lot more hard work ahead of them.
The hope: with significant gains in vote and margin across the board in four ridings, including two where the Liberals weren’t on the map in 2011, it’s clear the Liberal momentum under Trudeau is for real. The hard work: to the extent they may have been holding their powder, the gloves are going to come off now in a big way as both the NDP and the Conservatives train their guns on the emerging Liberal threat.
While you’ll hear some say this by-election had a status–quo result, with each party holding onto what it came in with, make no mistake: the Liberals had a lot to lose Monday night, particularly in Bourassa and Toronto-Centre.
When any veteran incumbent departs, that party generally loses vote share. And Bob Rae in Toronto-Centre and Denis Coderre in Bourassa were no ordinary incumbents – they both had very high personal popularity. Bourassa borders several NDP ridings. And Toronto-Centre is sandwiched between Craig Scott in Toronto-Danforth and Olivia Chow in Trinity-Spadina. Traditional NDP ridings? No. But if the NDP is going to cement its official opposition status and challenge for government in 2015, these are the sorts of ridings they need to win.
The NDP ran very aggressively in both ridings, and had a high profile Toronto candidate in Linda McQuaig. Instead, the Liberals increased their vote in each riding and, in its first true test under Mulcair, the Orange Crush was more like Orange Crushed. For the Liberals, it was expectations exceeded.
Moving out west, we had two strong Conservative seats in rural Manitoba, where the Conservatives won handily in 2011. The NDP, who have long-dominated the provincial government, finished strong second in each, well ahead of the Liberals, who were actually 4th in Brandon-Souris. These were ridings to watch how the Conservative base feels about Harper. And again, if the NDP is to move from opposition to government, these prairie seats are ones where they need to at least show momentum.
Instead, the momentum was clearly all Liberal. In Provencher, Conservative Ted Falk won handily with 58 per cent of the vote, down from Vic Toews’ 70 per cent but still dominant. The real story though was Liberal Hayward, who took nearly 30 per cent of the vote, up from just six per cent in 2011 and well ahead of the NDPer, who fell to eight per cent from 20 per cent in 2011.
And Liberal Rolf Dinsdale nearly pulled off the upset of the decade in Brandon Souris, a ridings where the Liberals barely cracked five per cent in 2011, finishing behind the Greens. He took the Liberals to 24 per cent of the vote, less than 400 votes behind Conservative Larry Maguire. It may be difficult to replicate this feat in 2015 – a botched Conservative nomination process stirred local anger – but the Liberal momentum is undeniable.
If results like this were to be replicated across the country, the next election will be very interesting indeed. What they show is that no riding should be taken for granted, and Liberals across the country need to double-down on their efforts in their communities, whatever the results in the past have been.
The road to 2015
The work for Liberals now only gets harder on the road to 2015. The Conservatives and Liberals can no longer consider the Trudeau Liberals a media-created mirage, and the polls (other than Forum’s, perhaps) will no longer be so easy to dismiss.
Expect the Conservatives to bombard the airwaves more than ever before with negative ad nastiness. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to whether the two-front bombardment and keep focused on building a positive movement into 2015.
Voters are also going to take a more serious and contemplative look at the Liberals now, and so are the analysts, media and punditry. To the extent there ever was a free ride, expect it to come to a swift end. Trudeau and the party are going to have to step up their game, put real ideas and priorities on the table, and prove themselves to be a true government in waiting.
Ahead of the next big report card, the grading is about to get a lot harder.