Political analysts continue to do an autopsy on Monday’s four byelections to see if there are any mysteries in the outcomes.

Nothing in the House of Commons will change, of course. The Liberals retained their two seats, as did the Conservatives.

The status quo offers few mysteries, so the analysts have had to sift through the entrails.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre can take some comfort from the fact that Maxime Bernier couldn’t manage more than 17% in Portage-Lisgar — four points below what the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader received there in 2021.

If Poilievre’s leadership has so far been aimed at bringing back Conservative voters who went to the People’s Party in 2021, Portage-Lisgar offers some evidence that he is succeeding. 

The Conservatives might not have knocked Bernier out, but they have at least knocked him for a minor loop.

Poilievre can at least stop dramatically worrying about wooing the People’s Party crowd to secure his path to electoral success.

Portage-Lisgar is about the only riding that would give Bernier some decent numbers, coming second in 2021, but significantly losing this time around.

Bernier had said the People’s Party is “the only national political party thinking about important issues” like relitigating the legal status of abortion, stopping what he calls “toxic transgender ideology,” and ending the country’s overreaction to climate change.

“Our opponent and the establishment try to say, ‘Oh no, those issues are settled.’ Well, they’re not,” he said.

Leslie and Bernier traded barbs throughout the campaign. Bernier has called his opponent a “fake” conservative. Leslie, in turn, has called Bernier “an opportunist from Quebec who will say or do anything he thinks people want to hear.”

Still, there is a spot of bother on the horizon for Tory candidate Branden Leslie over a video of him that the Liberals dug up Sunday that has him stating he would have voted against the legislation that banned conversion therapy.

Without the PPC hovering over Pierre Poilievre’s right flank, the party could campaign closer to the centre in the next general election.

After all, Conservatives don’t stand to make easy inroads into desperately needed suburban Toronto ridings without at least some moderation of what is right now a very hard-right and populist.

Monday night’s result in Winnipeg South Centre was not even close. Two years ago, the late Liberal minister Jim Carr won the riding by nearly 18 points. On Monday, Carr’s son Ben won the riding by almost 32 points — matching the spread that Jim Carr had in 2015 when the Liberals won a majority government.

In the southwestern Ontario riding of Oxford, the outcome was grimier and closer. Arpan Khanna won over a field that included Deb Tait, the daughter of retiring MP David MacKenzie.

But other party members in the riding were highly concerned, claiming they were poorly treated by party headquarters. Two Conservative Electoral District Association executive members in Oxford, in fact, quit their posts after Khanna’s candidacy got the nod.

MacKenzie, in fact, was so incensed he endorsed the Liberal candidate.

The results in these four ridings results don’t reflect anything about what could happen in a federal election that might still be two years away. But if the tide of public opinion was moving decisively against the government, one could expect to see the Liberals losing ground or the Conservatives gaining it.

Beyond Portage-Lisgar, however, the margins for the Conservative Party last night appeared to be getting worse, not better.

The byelections, in fact, might speak to some latent support for the Liberals that isn’t showing up in polls.

Abacus gave the Conservatives a seven-point lead nationally last week, but these results might also be traced back to that lack of comfort with the alternatives.


  • Mark Bonokoski

    Mark Bonokoski is a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame and has been published by a number of outlets – including the Toronto Sun, Maclean’s and Readers’ Digest.