Last week, Abacus data released a survey that suggested 81 percent of Canadians would like to see a change of government at the federal level — but a significant number of those favoring change are also uncomfortable with their options.
That survey might be a good place to start for those trying to understand the results of Monday night’s midterm elections.
At least, as they relate to the current standings in the House of Commons, the results were status quo: the Liberals held two seats and the Conservatives held two seats.
There are a number of reasons to believe that the Liberals will have a hard time holding on to power in the next general election. But Monday’s midterm elections suggest that the outcome of those elections is far from a foregone conclusion.
In any case, it was the Liberals who had the best evening.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilièvre can take some comfort in the fact that Maxime Bernier could not get more than 17 percent in Portage-Lisgar – four points lower than what the People’s Party leader received there in 2021.
If Poilièvre’s leadership so far has been focused on bringing back Conservative voters who went to the People’s Party in 2021, Portage-Lisgar offers some evidence that he is succeeding. The Conservatives may not have knocked Bernier out, but at least they knocked him down. And that could mean that Poilièvre now has to spend less time trying to appeal to Bernier’s voters.
But the Conservatives may have done themselves considerable harm in doing so. On the weekend, the liberals released video from Conservative candidate in Portage-Lisgar, Branden Leslie, who said he would have voted against legislation banning conversion therapy.
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The Conservatives also managed to keep Oxford in southwestern Ontario, but only just. In the last four federal elections, the Conservatives won that ride by an average of 25 points. On Monday, the conservative candidate won by seven points.
That could be attributed to a messy nomination battle that divided local Conservative supporters – Dave MacKenzie, the former Conservative MP for riding, ended up backing the Liberal candidate. Monday’s result could ultimately look like a fluke of volatile conditions. But the fact that the Conservatives’ lead shrank as much as it did might suggest that more than internal strife is to blame.
In any case, Oxford is a victory that Poilièvre will not be able to boast about.
The Liberals are holding their ground
The Liberals can take their own solace in the result riding Montreal’s Westmount, where their traditional vote largely held grumbling about the government’s changes to the language laws. Potentially more interesting is the result in Winnipeg South Center – less because of the fact that the Liberals won than because of the margin of victory.
A few hours before polls closed on Monday, former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said appeared on CBC’s Power & Politics and even went so far as to suggest that the Conservatives might win Winnipeg South Center as well.
O’Toole’s basis for believing that is unclear. But it’s not crazy to imagine the Conservative Party being competitive in such a ride right now – the Conservatives won the battle in 2011 when the Liberal vote collapsed nationally and Stephen Harper led the Conservatives to majority government.
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Monday night’s result in Winnipeg South Center was not close. Two years ago, the late Liberal minister Jim Carr won the driving by nearly 18 points. On Monday, Carr’s son Ben won the driving by nearly 32 points – matching the spread Jim Carr had in 2015 when the Liberals won a majority government.
In itself, that result may not say much. But it parallels what happened six months ago in an Ontario by-election Mississauga Lakeshore – another urban/suburban ride that the Conservatives won in 2011.
In 2021, the Liberals won that ride by six points. In 2022, the Liberals won Mississauga-Lakeshore by 14 points, after recruiting former provincial cabinet minister Charles Sousa.
Those results don’t necessarily tell us anything about what might happen in a federal election that may be two years away. But if public opinion turned firmly against the government, you might expect the Liberals to lose ground or the Conservatives to gain ground. Outside of Portage-Lisgar, margins for the Conservative Party appeared to be getting worse, not better, last night.
PM’s numbers are bad – Poilièvre’s aren’t much better
The midterms could speak of some latent support for the liberals not showing up in polls — Abacus gave the conservatives a seven-point lead nationally last week. But these results can also be traced to that lack of comfort with the alternatives.
Abacus found that only 30 percent of respondents had a positive impression of the prime minister, compared to 49 percent who said they had a negative impression. But Poilièvre’s personal numbers were barely better, at 32 percent and 40 percent respectively.
a poll released by the Angus Reid Institute this week followed similar sentiments. For Trudeau, 36 percent approved of the work he did, while 59 percent disapproved. For Poilièvre, 36 percent were positive about him, while 50 percent rated him unfavorably.
After seven and a half years in office, Trudeau’s personal brand is weathered and worn. But his main challenger doesn’t look much more attractive. And elections are essentially always a choice.
For the liberals, this may offer limited solace. Convincing voters that Poilièvre is an unsavory 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 conservatives, there may be little cause for optimism about these results. Bernier’s political career may be spiraling out of control (although that has been said before – and more than once). But simply winning the PPC vote and waiting for the Liberals to defeat themselves may not be enough to put Poilièvre in power.
As the Conservative leader never again calls the World Economic Forummay it be because these midterm elections have made it clear that a victory in Portage-Lisgar is not enough to win the government.