The conventional wisdom is that by-elections are a sort of mid-term judgment on an incumbent government. The actual truth is that they’re more like tea leaves: people will read whatever they want to read from them. So you get rosy pro-Tory posts like this one.
As politically engaged Tories, we ought to see a different interpretation. Let’s take a closer look from a slightly different viewpoint, shall we?
First, have a look at turnout, courtesy of the Elections Canada website. The highest is in Brandon-Souris, with 44 percent of the eligible vote of 61,910 electors. The lowest is in Bourassa, with 26.2 percnt of 69,527 potential electors. Provencher had a 33.6 percent turnout of 66,624 electors, while Toronto-Centre had a 38 percent turnout of 91,612 electors.
The thing is, voter turnouts for by-elections have always been low. That’s because, while it’s an opportunity to deliver judgment on a government, most voters usually don’t avail themselves of it because (a) they have better things to do, (b) they’re okay with the government as is, and (c) they’re not motivated for change. Conclusion: they’re more a fair measure of core support, the partisans that political parties can be counted on to rally no matter what happens.
So, with that in mind, let’s compare these results with those of the 2011 general election.
In Bourassa, the voter population has shrunk from 70,207 in 2011 to the aforementioned 69,527. (This is due to deaths, people moving, etc.) In 2011, 38,698 people voted in this riding, which means 47.1 percent of the people who voted in 2011, bothered to vote in 2013. That’s the figure to pay attention to.
In 2011, Denis Coderre took this for the Liberals with 15,550, or 40.9 percent of the vote. In 2013, Emmanuel Dubourg held it for the Liberals with 8,767, or 48.1 percent of the overall vote. That means that Mr. Duboug was able to retain 56.4 percent of the vote that was cast in 2011, which is above the average for the overall voting pattern for the riding.
Compare this with the Conservative vote. In 2011, David Azoulay got 3354 votes, or 8.8 percent of the total. In 2013,
Rita Rida Mahmoud got 852 votes, or 4.7 percent of the total. Ms. Mr. Mahmoud, therefore, retained 25.4 percent of the votes that had been cast in 2011.
That is the corrosive effect of the Senate scandals plus general disillusionment of politics in Quebec. If there was ever an effort to grow and build on the Conservative base in this riding, whatever they were doing obviously hasn’t worked.
Shall we try this with Brandon-Souris, where the Tories were able to retain that seat? Fine.
61,289 eligible voters in 2011; 35,264 votes or 57.5 percent. 61, 910 voters in 2013; 27,681 actual voters. So: 78.5 percent of those who voted in 2011 voted in 2013.
In 2011, Merv Tweed took the riding with 22,386 votes or 33.7 percent of the overall vote. In 2013, Larry Maguire retained the riding for the Tories with 12,205 or 44.1 percent of the vote. However, this means Mr. Maguire only managed, at best, to retain 54.5 percent of the vote that had gone to Mr. Tweed two years ago, which while slightly comforting is still significantly below the voter continuity in that riding.
In contrast? In 2011, Yves Penner of the Liberals got 1882 votes or 5.4 percent of the vote. 2013? Rolf Dinsdale ran for the Liberals and scored 11,814 votes or 42.7 percent of the total. You can certainly argue over whether this was due to Mr. Dinsdale’s personal appeal, the negative effect of Michael Ignatieff, or the efforts of Justin Trudeau, but it has to be conceded: a party that managed to increase their vote by 627.7 percent must be doing something right.
So, yes: it’s pretty safe to conclude that the Senate scandals plus the general overall negative coverage of the Tory government has had a corrosive effect on the party’s efforts to grow and cultivate its voter base. And at the same time, we should concede that Justin Trudeau (in contrast to his predecessors) is, right now, a viable leader and alternative to the Harper Government — if only because he can get the votes out when it matters.