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Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

By-Elections: Low Turnout Yields Predictable Results

Prime Minster Stephen Harper's gambit to hold four by-elections on the day before Canada seems to have yield the results he wanted: low turnout and predictable returns on all four ridings. However, a closer look at the numbers may given pause to the leader, at least for the moment, that Justin Trudeau's Liberals still have the momentum with the electorate as we barrel into the 2015 general election.

Heading from west to east, we start in Alberta and the barn-burner of the night, the riding of Macleod. Conservative John Barlow won quite handily with 68.8 per cent of the vote, nearly 10,000 votes ahead of Liberal Dustin Fuller who garnered 17 per cent. The Green Party's Larry Ashmore came in third with almost 6 per cent, followed by the NDP's Aileen Burke and the Christian Heritage's David Reimer who tied with just over 4 per cent apiece. 
Compared with the 2011 federal election, where Ted Menzies won with 77 per cent, it's possible that Barlow's numbers were down because Conservative voters decided to stay home and enjoy the holiday, secure in a Conservative victory. On the Liberal side, Fuller added 13 points, and took his party up two places in the Conservative stronghold, which isn't bad for what's supposed to be hostile Liberal country. Still, voter turnout ultimately didn't break even 20 per cent. 
Moving north, it was the same story in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, the heart of oil country where, yes, the Conservative candidate won, but the Liberals made a good show it. Conservative David Yurdiga won 46.8 per cent of the vote, which is a far cry from incumbent Brian Jean's 2011 win of 71.8 per cent, but voter turnout here tapped out at a dizzyingly bad 15 per cent. 
That 25 point difference in voter turnout, which in 2011 was nearly 41 per cent, might account for Yurdiga's 25 per cent loss of Jean's vote, but it might still be a stretch to say that the Conservative EDA in Fort McMurray-Athabasca should feel less than vulnerable. Liberal Kyle Harrietha came within 1,500 votes of beating Yurdiga, and his 4,491 votes in the midst of a low voter turnout by-election beat Liberal candidate Karen Young's total of 3,190 votes in the 2011 general. It was even better than the NDP second place finish in 2011 where Berend Wilting won 4,053. 
Objectively, the Conservative vote was not out in full force, however, with 50-60 per cent of voters habitually sitting out elections in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, it shows that there's a lot of potential to flip this riding under the right circumstances.
Out east in Toronto was where the real horse races lie. The contentious race for Trinity-Spadina, the former seat of mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, was the race being watched by politicos to see which opposition party might have the upper hand going into 2015, and if you're using this specific by-election riding as a ruler, it's apparently the Liberals. Former city councillor Adam Vaughan will now be moving to Ottawa to become a Liberal MP after securing 53.4 per cent of the vote over NDP Joe Cressy who finished second with 34.3 per cent.
Of course, Vaughan was a star candidate owing to his years as a political reporter on CityTV, his place as an outspoken member of city council and his relatively high ranking on Rob Ford's enemies list. Cressy had a hard time competing against all that, but this is second of three Toronto by-elections that the NDP have lost, and party strategists must be sweating if they're headed for a Toronto shutout on par with their provincial counterparts in last month's Ontario election. 
Conservative candidate Benjamin Sharma finished a distant third with 5.8 per cent, just 81 votes ahead of the Green Party's Camille Labchuk. Christian Heritage's Linda Groce-Gibbons finished fifth while perennial candidate Jon "The Engineer" Turmel racked up his 81st lost. Vote turnout, as compared to Alberta, was high with nearly 32 per cent of the electorate casting votes.
Across town in Scarborough-Agincourt, the story was the same, another Liberal victory, just this time in a safe Liberal riding. Arnold Chan kept the riding red thanks to nearly 60 per cent of the vote, doubling the number of votes secured by Conservative Trevor Ellis. Voter turnout in Scarborough as also close to 30 per cent, although typical turnout is around 55 per cent.
The make up of Parliament is now 162 Conservatives, 98 NDP seats, 37 Liberals, 4 Bloc Quebecois, four independents, two Greens and one open seat. A by-election will be called later to fill the open seat of the late Jim Flaherty in Whitby-Oshawa.

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