Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 9 by-election in Montmagny

There is a certain amount of nonsense being spouted about Monday's by-elections. For example, Mulroney biographer L. Ian Macdonald, discussing the outcome in Montmagny-l'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, describes "the Conservatives taking a seat from the Bloc... (as) a game-changer". This was the only by-election result of any significance on Monday, but Macdonald vastly overstates its importance.

He seems to have forgotten the Conservative victory on September 17, 2007 in the Roberval-Lac St. Jean by-election where the Conservatives came from 8 points back in 2006 to win by 40 points. By the time of the 2008 election, however, that lead had shrunk back to 4 points and the Conservatives wound up with fewer seats in Quebec not more. Was that 2007 result a game-changer? Obviously, it was not. What we saw instead was a replay in Montmagny-l'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup on Monday night where a previously second place Conservative party won a seat from the Bloc, albeit with much smaller gains than in Roberval in 2007.

Jeffery Simpson was closer to the mark in the Globe today:

Slowly, the polls – for what they're worth – showed a drift away from the Liberals toward the Conservatives, a drift occurring in other parts of Canada, too.

On Monday, therefore, the Conservatives took a seat (Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup) previously held by the Bloc in the Lower St. Lawrence, a part of Quebec that historically prefers any party but les rouges . It's part of a band of seats in Quebec on both sides of the St. Lawrence that is nationalist, rather anti-elitist, rural and small town, and that has voted for the Union Nationale, the Créditistes, the Parti Québécois, the Bloc and now the Conservatives.

The Conservatives chose a popular local mayor, Bernard Généreux, who captured nearly 43 per cent of the vote and allowed the Conservatives to win their 11th Quebec seat. No one should read much into by-elections. Still, it's an encouraging Conservative result.

Simpson overstates the les rouges reference - Pearson and Trudeau were successful here. He could also have noted the significance of being on the government side during a period when pork has a blue tinge.

TC calculates that the Conservative gains in Montmagny by itself are consistent with the Conservatives winning about 17 seats overall in Quebec. Notably the Conservative gains in Montmagny were not echoed in the Hochelaga numbers so even that number is doubtful. One aspect of this we should not overlook: the Bloc vote is generally younger and therefore less likely to turn out for a by-election. This would likely account for some of the difference in Roberval between 2007 and 2008.

Overall the Conservatives remain in a strong position, similar to the 2008 election outcome (as noted in my previous post) courtesy of the incompetence of the Ignatieff Liberals to date and the inability of the NDP, which had a good night on Monday, to break out decisively in a way that might allow them to be seen as the main alternative to the government.

TC continues to find the Conservatives' strength surprising given the recession, although strong commodity prices have partially shielded Canada from its worst consequences. And the political fallout from the downturn is not finished given its impact on budgets, so we may yet see some negatives for the government. However, one of the opposition parties must be seen as a plausible alternative to Harper, and we don't have that yet.

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