Yes, the government is still the government.
Yes, the Official Opposition is still the Official Opposition.
Yes, the turnout was low.
Yes, nothing really changed.
Yes, the punditocracy reads too much into by-elections.
But, but, but: four by-elections happening on one day is nothing to shrug about. And, if you poke through the entrails, there is a warning to be seen.
For the Conservatives.
We know, we know: the Tories crushed the People’s Party leader, Maxime “Max” Bernier in Portage-Lisgar. Pierre Poilievre’s candidate got three times as many votes as Bernier.
Big deal. Bernier and the PPC have never won a seat in the House of Commons, not once, in hundreds of individual attempts since the PPC was formed half a decade ago.
Besides: Poilievre’s problem was never Bernier, now fading into nothingness in his rear view mirror. His problem is the guy on the road up ahead of him – Justin Trudeau.
It’s dumb to read too much into by-election results. Sure. But, stretching back to December’s Mississauga-Lakeshore result – where the Liberal vote went up, the Tory vote went down, and the dastardly Grits won – a worrying trend is developing for Conservatives.
The trend, which continued in this week’s by-elections, is this: the Liberal vote share went up, and the Conservative vote dropped. On by-election voting day, when it really counts, Trudeau’s Grits have outpaced Poilievre”s Tories.
Yes, yes: media polls continue to show Poilievre’s team ahead. But media polls are generally worth what you pay for them – nothing. Dogs, as former Conservative leader John Diefenbaker famously noted, “are the one animal that knows the proper treatment to give” to poles and polls.
The Tory base, who typically swoon at the mention of Pierre Poilievre’s name, don’t want to hear any of this. They’ll swarm the comments section of this column, wherever it appears, bleating that by-elections don’t matter, their guy held their two seats, blah blah blah. The usual.
But the reality is this: against the worst Liberal leader in generations – against a Liberal Party that has been adrift in a sea of scandal and controversies for months – the Poilievre party (because that is what it is) is not winning on the ground.
Don’t take our word for it. Former Conservative Erin O’Toole quit politics this month, too, and passed along some truths that every Tory should heed, but few will. Tories, said O’Toole last week, “have to win more votes in suburban and urban Canada.”
This week, following the four by-elections, O’Toole’s former chief was more direct. Longtime Tory stalwart Fred DeLorey was succinct: “What the heck is going on?”
As in, why has the Liberal vote increased, and the Conservative vote decreased, in multiple by-election results? There are a lot of “red flags” in the by-election numbers, said DeLorey to Postmedia, adding: “by-elections are strong indicators of where things are going…How are we going to win this election?”
O’Toole and DeLorey are good soldiers, and hasten to add that they support Pierre Poilievre and want him to beat Justin Trudeau and become Prime Minister. So do millions of Conservative voters.
But right now, based upon the available real-world evidence, Poilievre isn’t doing that. He isn’t winning when it matters.
His problem remains now what it has been since he became leader: Poilievre is beloved by the Tory base.
But the Tory base, increasingly, is out of touch with the country, with the cities and the ‘burbs.
And that’s why the real-world Liberal vote has been going up, and the Conservative vote has gone down.