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Those byelection results suggest the next federal election is up for grabs

If the tide of public opinion was moving decisively against the government, you might expect to see the Liberals losing ground or the Conservatives gaining it. But beyond Portage-Lisgar, the margins for the Conservative party are getting worse, not better.

On the surface the outcome was status quo — but the Liberals may be breathing easier today

A man in a blue suit stands at a podium.

Last week, Abacus Data released a survey that suggested 81 per cent of Canadians would like to see a change in government at the federal level — but a substantial number of those who would prefer change are also uncomfortable with their options.

That survey might be a good place to start for those trying to understand Monday night's byelection results.

At least as they pertain to current standings in the House of Commons, the results were status quo — the Liberals retained two seats and the Conservatives kept two seats.

There are a number of reasons to believe the Liberals will have a difficult time holding on to power in the next general election. But Monday's byelections suggest that the outcome of that election is very far from a foregone conclusion.

If anything, it was the Liberals who had the best night.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre can take some comfort from the fact that Maxime Bernier couldn't manage more than 17 per cent in Portage-Lisgar — four points below what the People's Party leader received there in 2021.

If Poilievre's leadership has so far been aimed at bringing back Conservative voters who went to the People's Party in 2021, Portage-Lisgar offers some evidence that he is succeeding. The Conservatives might not have knocked Bernier out but they have at least knocked him down. And that might mean Poilievre now has to spend less time trying to appeal to Bernier's voters.

But the Conservatives may have done significant damage to themselves in the process. Over the weekend, the Liberals released video of the Conservative candidate in Portage-Lisgar, Branden Leslie, saying that he would have voted against legislation that banned conversion therapy.

WATCH: Federal leaders descend on Manitoba to campaign in byelection

3 federal party leaders visit Manitoba on same day to campaign in byelections

18 days ago

Duration 1:49

The leaders of three federal political parties were in Manitoba today. They were working to gain support in two federal byelection campaigns now underway.

The Conservatives also managed to hold on to the southwestern Ontario riding of Oxford, but only just. In the last four federal elections, the Conservatives have won that riding by an average of 25 points. On Monday, the Conservative candidate won it by seven points.

That might be chalked up to a messy nomination fight that split local Conservative supporters — Dave MacKenzie, the former Conservative MP for the riding, ended up endorsing the Liberal candidate. Monday's result could end up looking like a fluke of fleeting circumstances. But the fact the Conservative lead shrank by as much as it did might suggest there's more than internecine conflict to blame.

Either way, Oxford is a victory that Poilievre won't be able to brag about.

The Liberals hold their ground

The Liberals can take their own comfort from the result in Montreal's Westmount riding, where their traditional vote largely held up despite grumbling about the government's changes to language laws. Potentially more interesting is the result in Winnipeg South Centre — less for the fact the Liberals won than for the margin of victory.

A few hours before the polls closed on Monday, former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole appeared on CBC's Power & Politics and went so far as to suggest that the Conservatives could also win Winnipeg South Centre.

O'Toole's basis for believing that is unclear. But it's not crazy to imagine the Conservative Party being competitive in such a riding right now — the Conservatives won the riding in 2011 when the Liberal vote collapsed nationally and Stephen Harper led the Conservatives to a majority government.

WATCH: Trudeau welcomes new MPs following byelections

Trudeau congratulates Liberal byelection winners

5 hours ago

Duration 0:33

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed two new Liberal MPs to Ottawa after wins in byelections in Winnipeg and Montreal on Monday night.

Monday night's result in Winnipeg South Centre was not close. Two years ago, the late Liberal minister Jim Carr won the riding by nearly 18 points. On Monday, Carr's son Ben won the riding by almost 32 points — matching the spread that Jim Carr had in 2015 when the Liberals won a majority government.

On its own, that result might not mean much. But it matches what happened six months ago in a byelection in the Ontario riding of Mississauga-Lakeshore — another urban/suburban riding that the Conservatives won in 2011.

In 2021, the Liberals won that riding by six points. In 2022, after recruiting former provincial cabinet minister Charles Sousa to run, the Liberals won Mississauga-Lakeshore by 14 points.

Those results don't necessarily tell us anything about what could happen in a federal election that might still be two years away. But if the tide of public opinion was moving decisively against the government, you might expect to see the Liberals losing ground or the Conservatives gaining it. Beyond Portage-Lisgar, the margins for the Conservative Party last night appeared to be getting worse, not better.

PM's numbers are bad — Poilievre's aren't much better

The byelections might speak to some latent support for the Liberals that isn't showing up in polls — Abacus gave the Conservatives a seven-point lead nationally last week. But these results might also be traced back to that lack of comfort with the alternatives.

Abacus found that just 30 per cent of respondents had a positive impression of the prime minister, compared to 49 per cent who said they had a negative impression. But Poilievre's personal numbers were barely any better, at 32 per cent and 40 per cent.

A poll released by the Angus Reid Institute this week tracked similar sentiments. For Trudeau, 36 per cent approved of the job he was doing, while 59 disapproved. For Poilievre, 36 per cent viewed him favourably, while 50 per cent viewed him unfavourably.

After seven and a half years in office, Trudeau's personal brand is weathered and worn. But his primary challenger isn't looking much more attractive. And elections are always fundamentally a choice.

For the Liberals, that may offer limited solace. Convincing voters that Poilievre is an unappetizing option is probably a necessary part of any Liberal re-election campaign — but they probably can't expect to win on that argument alone.

For the Conservatives, there may be little cause for optimism in these results. Bernier's political career may actually be fizzling out (though that's been said before — and more than once). But simply winning over the PPC vote and waiting for the Liberals to defeat themselves may not be enough to get Poilievre into power.

If the Conservative leader never again mentions the World Economic Forum, it might be because these byelections have made it clear that a win in Portage-Lisgar isn't enough to win government.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Wherry

Senior writer

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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