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Trudeau boasts about byelection results, Tories and NDP defensive

Last Updated Dec 13, 2017 at 9:00 am EST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday Dec. 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau says the results of four federal byelections Monday night show the Liberals are on the right track with their focus on middle-class Canadians.

Not surprisingly, the prime minister was the only party leader to express unalloyed pleasure Tuesday in the results, which saw the Liberals score their second byelection upset in as many months.

The Liberals snatched the British Columbia riding of South Surrey-White Rock from the Conservatives in a close-fought contest. They also easily retained a safe Liberal seat in Newfoundland and Labrador and another in Toronto, although their vote share declined somewhat in those ridings.

The Conservatives, who retained a safe seat of their own in Saskatchewan, took consolation in the fact that they increased their share of the vote in three of the four byelections.

But it’s the second time since Andrew Scheer took the helm of the Conservative party last May that the Tories have lost a seat; in October the Liberals snagged a long-time Conservative seat in Quebec’s nationalist heartland in a byelection.

There was no consolation for New Democrats, who saw their share of the vote drop in all four ridings Monday — and in all six since Jagmeet Singh was elected leader in early October.

“I think the message we’re putting forward and the connection we’re building with Canadians of focusing on the middle class and delivering for them has resonated,” Trudeau asserted Tuesday.

In the House of Commons, he subtly needled Scheer about the byelection outcomes, choosing to answer a question about trade with China with praise for all those who ran in the byelections and congratulations for the winners.

“This was a good day for Canada and a good day for our democracy,” Trudeau said.

“Of course we all congratulate all of those who presented their names for byelection,” snapped Scheer before returning to the trade issue.

Outside the Commons, Scheer pointed to the Conservatives’ increased vote share in three of the four ridings to claim there is every reason for optimism.

“I also think it’s important to note that the Liberals have clearly moved very far to the left to co-opt the NDP support and I think that presents the Conservatives with an opportunity to reach out to Canadians who don’t feel that the Liberal party represents them anymore,” he added.

“So, there’s a lot of time left to play in the game (before the 2019 election) and my job now is to reach out to those.”

Trouble is, the Conservatives need the NDP to up its game, siphoning off enough Liberal support to enable the Tories to claim victory in ridings like South Surrey-White Rock and Scarborough-Agincourt — in each of which the Liberal candidate won Monday with about 1,600 more votes than the Conservative. But the NDP was almost non-existent in both ridings — taking just five per cent of the vote.

The dismal results were particularly worrying for the NDP in Scarborough-Agincourt, a riding with a predominantly immigrant population and a sizable South Asian population and which Singh, who was born in Scarborough, has claimed as home — the very kind of riding where New Democrats have been hoping the new leader could make inroads.

Still, New Democrat MP Matthew Dube noted that none of the byelections were in ridings that have ever been particularly favourable to the NDP. That, combined with low voter turnout in all four ridings in byelections held close to the Christmas holidays, renders them “not a proper barometer” of the electorate in general, he said.

Moreover, he argued that the party is still making the transition to the new leader, which takes time.

“The transition is not just about hiring staff … It’s also about knowing what kind of efforts we can make on the ground, how we can fix perhaps mistakes, if I can put it that way, that we made in the last election in order to better reach out to Canadians in communities like (Scarborough-Agincourt) in particular,” Dube said.

“Certainly, no one was under any illusion that yesterday, even in a riding like Scarborough, that it was going to happen overnight. There’s still a lot of work to do and no one had unrealistic expectations. Our expectation is to be ready for the 2019 election.”