4 federal byelections are coming, but these ones are poised for the spotlight
With four federal byelections set in three provinces next month, one of those provinces, in particular, will likely draw the attention of political analysts.
“All eyes will turn to Manitoba on election night,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.
On June 19, voters in the Manitoba ridings of Portage—Lisgar and Winnipeg South Centre will choose their next members of Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Sunday. Voters in the Ontario riding of Oxford and Quebec’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount will also head to the ballot box that night.
Vacancies forced Trudeau to call the byelections. Liberal MP and former cabinet minister Marc Garneau, the retired astronaut who held Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, resigned in March after 15 years in politics. Dave MacKenzie, Conservative MP for Oxford, stepped down in January.
Longtime Liberal MP and former cabinet minister Jim Carr held Winnipeg South Centre until his death in December. And Portage-Lisgar was left vacant when Conservative MP and former interim party leader Candice Bergen resigned in February.
All four ridings have been relative strongholds for the incumbent candidates in recent elections, but the Manitoba ridings in particular will generate interest nationally, political analysts say.
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“The government always has the most to lose in byelections to the extent that it’s going to be seen as a bad day for the government, a possible referendum on the government, even though that’s not necessarily how the people in the riding are thinking,” said Lori Turnbull, director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie University.
“But the Conservatives have a whole lot (to lose). If this goes the other way in Manitoba, then they will be the ones with the most to lose, but I doubt that will happen.”
Turnbull was referring to the riding of Portage-Lisgar where People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier says he intends to run.
Bernier’s Portage bid could be an uphill battle
Bernier, a former Conservative cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, has failed to win a seat in the House of Commons since establishing the PPC in 2018.
After growing discontent with the Tories — and losing the 2017 Conservative leadership race to Andrew Scheer — Bernier broke ties to form his own right-wing party. During the 2021 election campaign, he attracted some support from a range of voters including frustrated Conservatives as well as “anti-system, anti-institutional” voters — including those believed to come from the Greens.
And while the party garnered just five per cent of the national vote, in Portage-Lisgar specifically the PPC pulled in 21.6 per cent. That was the highest of any of the parties running candidates there, except for Bergen who won the riding with 52.5 per cent of votes.
But will that support hold?
The Tories, who were led at the time by Erin O’Toole — who also announced earlier this year his intention to leave politics — are now led by Pierre Poilievre. The Ottawa-area MP saw his popularity rise during the pandemic for his support of the right-wing populism that coursed through 2022’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa.
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“Even if Bernier doesn’t win, if he does well and if he can be seen to be eating into what the Conservatives see as their vote, it would create an interesting dynamic for Pierre Poilievre as the leader of the Conservatives. That would force him to reckon with the fact that the Conservative Party under his leadership could be bleeding support on the right,” Turnbull said.
“He’s been getting so extremist, in my view, in his rhetoric that it seems like he’s trying to cover that off, and so if people make the decision to go with Bernier anyway, it shows that Poilievre can have a problem.”
Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto, told Global News that Portage—Lisgar could be key to the future of Bernier and the PPC.
“Will he lose on the third time, and what will that mean?” he asked of Bernier’s attempt to seek a seat.
Winnipeg South Centre, where the late Jim Carr’s son Ben is running for the Liberals, tends to be a “bellwether” of what’s happening in politics generally, Bricker said. The riding last belonged to the Conservatives under a Harper majority from 2011 to 2015.
“If Winnipeg South Centre appears vulnerable, you’ll see the prime minister and the Liberal Party put in a really serious effort (to keep it). You’re already going to see the Conservative Party put in a really serious effort, but if it looks like the Liberal Party is going to lose there, I would expect that the prime minister is going to try and downplay whatever happens … but it is a harbinger for worse things if they do lose that riding,” he said.
“Could the Conservatives win in Winnipeg South Centre? They’re not the incumbents (and) if they lose there it’s probably not as big of a deal, but if they lose in Portage-Lisgar and Bernier comes into the House of Commons, it’s a very bad day for the Conservative Party.”
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Another riding Wiseman sees of interest is Oxford. Outgoing MP MacKenzie is backing a rival Liberal, citing concerns over the Conservatives’ controversial nomination process.
Arpan Khanna, who defeated two other candidates, including MacKenzie’s daughter, served as Ontario co-chair for Poilievre’s successful leadership campaign. Immediately after he won, two Conservative riding association leaders in the riding resigned. Khanna ran unsuccessfully for the Tories in Brampton in 2019.
“You have a division there within the Conservative Party, but I can’t see any way that the Conservatives will lose that riding,” Wiseman said.
“Even if they did, it wouldn’t reflect that there’s a Liberal swing or anything. It would be a big slap in the face to Poilievre, but that’s not going to happen.”
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When it comes to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, political analysts expect that to remain Liberal — as it has been since its inception in 2015.
“We’re a considerable period away potentially from a federal election and you can’t read too much into what happens in byelections. … It’s something that can be driven by local issues,” Bricker said.
“One of the bigger things to look at in byelections is turnout. They tend to be low-turnout affairs. If we see turnout is way up in any of these ridings, we know that the parties that have contributed to it are well organized on the ground, or people are really interested in sending a message from that riding to the federal government.”
—with files from The Canadian Press
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