So Stephen Harper has called 3 by-elections to fill vacant seats; Guelph, Westmount-Ville Marie in downtown Montreal, and Saint-Lambert in south shore suburban Montreal. In just a few hours, I'll be heading down the a bus load of Ontario Young Liberals to knock on some doors in Guelph, and later next week I'll be going up to Montreal to both visit a friend and campaign in Westmount-Ville Marie. The national implications of the by-elections are simple: if the Liberals do well, Dion will pull the plug on the Tories, and we will see a fall/winter election (Harper is probably going to prorouge Parliament until after the November Conservative Party convention, so any election will take place after that). If the Liberals do poorly, the Liberals will be forced to wait it out, and might not pull the plug on the Conservatives at all before the fixed election date of November of 2009. The 3 ridings, one in Ontario and 2 in Quebec, will offer a glipse of the parties abilities to run good local campaigns on national issues. Here's my anaylsis of all 3 ridings:
Guelph is probably the most interesting of the three ridings being contested. A bellweatherish riding, is has swung back and forth between Liberal and Conservative in the past, although lately has been trending Liberal. All 4 major parties are claiming they have a shot at the riding. While the riding is usually a Tory/Grit swing, the NDP have a strong candidate in former broadcaster and Order of Canada member Tom King, while the Greens are coming off getting 20% of the vote in the provincial election. For the NDP and the Greens, the September 8th voting date could prove critical. Guelph is a university town, and universities tend to be centre-left hotspots, and U of G students certainly helped propell the Greens to 20%, and could also be expected to support the NDP and the Liberals in healthy numbers. With the election falling on the 8th, that will mean the students of U of G will be in riding. Of course, the youth vote is always unpredictable, by-elections tend to have very low turnouts, and the voting takes place in the busy first week of school, so how many youth will actually turnout to vote will be a crapshoot, although expect the campus to be teeming with student activists looking to pull the vote out. For the two big parties, both candidates have interesting backstories. Frank Valeriote is the Liberal candidate, a former longtime Catholic School Board member. Valeriote won the nomination in a tough fight, and after the nomination, some rumours floated around the divisions were still present in the Liberal camp, although those have subsided. Conservative Gloria Kovach, a city councillour and former President of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, is a strong candidate...who lost the Tory nomination to Brent Barr, who also ran in 2006 for the Tories. Barr was later removed as Tory candidate by Tory party HQ at the same time as Toronto Centre Tory Mark Warner, with Party HQ saying Barr was not campaigning hard enough. Barr publically blasted party HQ and the accusations against him, and mulled running as an indepedent before deciding against it, as Kovach was installed as the parties candidate. Hmm...a democratic nomination process pushed aside by Tory HQ, the installation of a candidate, brushed aside candidate publically taking shots at the party and thinking about a run as an independent, a potentially large group of angry Tory supporters...ring any bells, my fellow Mississauga Southians? With potential divisions in both the Liberal and Tory ranks, this could give the NDP and the Greens chances to pull off a big surprise. While both the Liberals and the Conservatives are downplaying the race, the stakes are big for both of them. Guelph is the Tories best shot at picking up a seat in this round of by-elections, and they will be pouring resources into the riding. Guelph is the kind of mid-sized urban seat the Tories will need to win in Ontario if they want to form a majority, and they want this one bad. The Liberals meanwhile, will put up a strong fight to show that the Green Shift has given the Liberals back some momentum, and that they can hold onto the seats they need to have to form government, and show that they are clearly the top party in Ontario. With both the Greens and NDP running strong campaigns, some Liberals might fear centre-left vote splitting could give the Tories the seat, but I think Valeriote, who is seen as a centre-right Liberal, can eat into some traditional Tory support, and his background as a Catholic trustee and the only Catholic in the race could help boost turnout for the Liberals in that demographic. Overall, I predict a fairly wild ride, with both the NDP and Greens making gains at the expense of the two larger parties, and the Liberals winning this one in a little bit more than a tight finish.
Prediction: Liberal hold
Frank Valeriote, Liberal: 35%,
Gloria Kovach, Conservative: 30%
Tom King, NDP: 25%
Mike Nagy, Green: 10%
The NDP is going to try and recreate the upseat in Outremont which gave them a seat in Quebec. They have recruited a strong candidate, (and another former CBC personality) in local newswoman Anne Lagace Dowson. Thomas Mulclair, the NDP MP elected in Outremont, says that internal party polling shows a tight race between her and Liberal star candidate, Marc Garneau (the first Canadian in space and an unsuccessful Liberal candidate in 2006), but I'll believe that when I see it. The main reason for the NDP's victory in Outremont wasn't the collapse of the Liberal vote (although the Liberals did run a poor campaign) but a massive shift from the Bloc to the NDP. All that happened is that voters shifted from supporting one protest party to another, and simply put, Westmount-Ville Marie doesn't have the Bloc support needed to give the NDP such a similar boost. BQ numbers have been down for awhile in Quebec now, but in 2006 they only captured 15% of the vote in W-VM, and I doubt those numbers will change much. With the Tories and BQ running low profile candidates in a poor riding for them, lets take a look at the Greens. The Greens are running their Deputy Leader and Quebec spokesperson, Claude William Genest, in a riding where they captured 8% of the vote in 2006, one of the better performances for them in Quebec. Given that Tories and BQ seem to be taking this by-election off, the Greens in theory could have a chance to potentially overtake both parties for a third place finish, but by-election results from Quebec for the Greens have seemed a bit off. While performing relatively strongly in by-elections in English Canada like Toronto Centre (13%, beating the Tories, nearly beating the NDP for second), London North Centre (Elizabeth May finishing a strong second to the Liberals with 26%), Vancouver Quadra (13%, nearly knocking the NDP into 3rd), Willowdale (only 5%, but beating the NDP) and an expected strong result in Guelph, the Green results in Quebec by-elections are profoundly poor: not even contesting Repentigny in 2006, 2% in Outremont, 1.7% in Roberval-Lac-Saint Jean, 3.7% in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. This would in theory sugest a poor ground organization for the Greens in Quebec. Given that if the NDP wanted to win this seat, they would need the Greens to steal Liberal votes en masse, that bodes poorly for NDP hopes. Besides, the Greens are just as likely to steal Bloc or NDP votes as Liberal ones. I'm going to give the Liberals this one in a fairly easy race, with the NDP improving it's 2006 result and finishing in 2nd, but still a fairly distant 2nd. With the Bloc and the Tories running lackluster campaigns in an area that has shown Green strenght perhaps despite a weak ground game in Quebec, I'm going to give the Greens a chance at nipping the Bloc down into 5th.
Prediction: Liberal hold.
Marc Garneau, Liberal: 40%
Anne Lagace Dowson, NDP: 25%
Guy Dufort, Conservative: 15%
Claude William Genest, Green: 11%
Charles Larivee, Bloc: 9%
A southern shore Montreal riding, S-L is was won in 04 and 06 by Bloc MP Maka Kotto, a rising star of the Quebec seperatist movement who steped down for a seat in the Quebec National Assembly. Keep an eye out for Kotto, he could go places. The riding has a federalist history, having been held by both the Liberals and the Conservatives for periods before the BQ takeover. That it is a federalist majority riding with both Liberal and Tory histories is important, because one of the factors (the other being Kotto's strenght as a candidate) that led to Kotto's wins were splits in the federalist vote between the Liberals and the Conservatives. None of the candidates in the by-election have a nation profile or could be considered star candidates, so this will show the relative strenghts of the parties outside the island of Montreal. I think the Bloc is going to hold onto this one thanks to more federalist vote splitting, with the real battle being for 2nd. SL was one of the few ridings the Bloc won outside of the island of Montreal that had the Liberals finish in 2nd, with the Conservatives hot on the Grits heels. The riding is neither in downtown Montreal Liberal heartland or the rural areas of Quebec where the Tories have done well, so a 2nd place finish will be celebrated by whatever party as evidence that they have the momentum with federalist voters. The NDP and Greens are non-factors here (the Greens have yet to nominate a candidate). A BQ hold with the Liberals edging out the Tories for 2nd.
Predicton: BQ Hold.
Josee Beaudin, BQ: 40%
Roxanne Stanners, Liberal: 25%
Patrick Clune, Conservative: 20%
Richard Marois, NDP: 10%
???, Green: 5%