By-elections suggest resurgent federal Liberals will capture more seats in Greater Vancouver in 2015
Yesterday's by-elections in Ontario and Alberta demonstrate that the federal Liberals have the most momentum going into the 2015 election.
With a strong candidate in Toronto-Spadina in councillor Adam Vaughan, the Liberals won a decisive victory over the NDP.
This seat had been held over three elections by Olivia Chow, the widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton.
In the suburban Toronto riding of Scarborough-Agincourt, the Liberals' rookie candidate, Arnold Chan,won by a far larger margin of victory than his predecessor, Liberal Jim Karygiannis.
The Liberals even fared well in the heart of the oilpatch, more than tripling their percentage of the vote in Fort MacMurray–Athabasca.
So what does this mean in the Lower Mainland, where the federal Liberals were reduced to two seats in the 2011 election?
It suggests that several ridings held by Conservatives and New Democrats are in play for them.
Vancouver South, which is held by Conservative Wai Young, will be high on the Liberal agenda. Previously held by former Liberal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh, it's more likely to swing Liberal again as a result of redistribution, which has moved some Conservative voters on the west side of the riding into the new seat of Vancouver Granville.
Vancouver Granville was created as a fairly safe Conservative bastion in the middle of the city, encompassing Shaughnessy, almost all of Oak Street, and other high-income areas on the West Side. But it could conceivably go Liberal, given Canadians' fatigue with Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
Keep in mind that Vancouver Granville includes voters south of West 6th Avenue in the Fairview neighbourhood, many of whom have voted in the past for Liberal Hedy Fry.
It's hard to imagine apartment dwellers in this area being big Harper supporters, giving the Liberals a base upon which to build their support.
Meanwhile, some of the more Conservative-voting areas of Vancouver Quadra have been included in the new riding, thereby strengthening Liberal Joyce Murray's hold on the city's westernmost constituency.
If the federal New Democrats were riding higher in the polls, they may have a better chance in the mostly downtown riding of Vancouver Centre, which has been held by Fry since 1993.
But it's hard to see how Fry could lose when her party is so much more popular under Justin Trudeau than it was under MIchael Ignatieff or Stephane Dion. The Liberals' recent success in the federal by-elections may discourage stronger candidates from stepping forward for the NDP to run against Fry.
The federal Liberals know they will have difficulty taking Vancouver East, given the likelihood that Jodie Emery will be running against popular NDP MP Libby Davies. Anything is possible, though, as long as the Liberals maintain their huge lead over the New Democrats in recent national polls.
Liberal Anna Teranna won Vancouver East in 1993 and Art Lee took Vancouver East for the Liberals in 1975. So once in a generation, it can fall to the Liberals if they're polling way ahead of the NDP at a national level. However, it's hard to imagine an Emery upset against one of the NDP's most popular MPs.
A better bet for the Liberals is Vancouver Kingsway, which is represented by hard-working New Democrat Don Davies. This used to be one of the safest Liberal seats in the region during the Jean Chrétien era, but the moderate Davies has found just the right political pitch to appeal to voters in this diverse riding.
Meanwhile, Vancouver Kingsway has lost some its higher-income West Side residents to Vancouver Granville, which could strengthen Don Davies's hand.
However if his party is trailing the federal Liberals by more than 15 points in national polls on election day, it's quite possible that the former labour lawyer won't survive a Trudeau landslide.
Given the Liberals' success in the Toronto suburbs in the by-election and the recent provincial election, it's safe to assume that the federal party will increase its share of the vote across the Lower Mainland in the 2015 general election.
In the Lower Mainland, redistribution has changed the dynamics. Elections Canada calculated of the 30 new seats added across the country, 22 would have gone Conservative based on 2011 voting results.
The Liberals' best bets in this region may include North Vancouver, Richmond Centre, and Surrey-Newton, parts of which they held during the Chrétien–Paul Martin era.
West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country is another possibility. Former West Vancouver mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones has become the Liberal candidate.
In addition, the new riding of Burnaby North–Seymour has potential for the Liberals. Entrepreneur Terry Beech, who was once elected as a councillor at the age of 18 in Nanaimo, hopes to be the candidate.
The Conservatives will be very competitive in Burnaby North–Seymour if three-term District of North Vancouver councillor Mike Little secures his party's nod.
This riding combines the eastern part of the North Shore with the northeastern section of Burnaby. The Liberals were not competitive in Burnaby-Douglas the last time out, where New Democrat Kennedy Stewart narrowly defeated his Conservative rival, Ronald Leung.
In light of current polls, it's not out of the question to consider the possibility of a Liberal sweep of the North Shore, along with victories in four or five of the six Vancouver seats.
In Richmond, traditional NDP voters will be tempted to go Liberal if there's a widespread perception that this is the only way to turf Conservative MP Alice Wong.
One of the Liberals' biggest challenges, however, will be developing a strong enough ground game in the suburbs to compete against the New Democrats and Conservatives.
The NDP and the Conservatives have had many years of practice in identifying their supporters and getting them out to vote. It's an often overlooked aspect of politics.
Journalists like to focus on the political air wars: what's taking place in the media and with the national campaigns. While the air war is important, what's taking place outside of the view of the media on doorsteps is equally significant.
Sometimes, elections are won in ridings based on the hard work of a candidate and a party's ability to get people to polling stations on election day.
The Liberals have considerable strength in this area in Vancouver Quadra and Vancouver Centre, which helped Murray and Fry survive the party's national debacle in 2011.
Trudeau's party machinery is not quite as strong in Burnaby or New Westminster, where the NDP organization reigns supreme. This will make things tougher for the Liberals in Burnaby South and New Westminster–Burnaby. The eastern part of Fraser Valley is Conservative country.
This helps explain why Liberal backroom operator Mark Marissen is so eager to help Coun. Barinder Rasode in Surrey, where his federal party is hoping to register a breakthrough.
If Marissen quarterbacks a Rasode mayoral campaign, it will bring him in contact with hundreds of volunteers in B.C.'s second-largest city.
It will also give Marissen and his fellow Liberals deeper insights into voting patterns in Surrey, strengthening the party in time for the 2015 federal campaign.
Who knows? If Rasode runs for mayor in 2014 and loses, she could conceivably re-emerge as a federal Liberal candidate the following year in Surrey-Newton or Surrey Centre.
Even if the Liberals fail to win any seats in Surrey in 2015, their stronger presence in the city will force the Conservative and NDP national campaigns to devote more resources there to preserve what they hold.
This, in turn, could create more room for the Liberals in ridings that they're targeting in other areas of the Lower Mainland, notably in Vancouver and the inner suburbs.
The 2008 municipal elections across the region were seen by many as a dry run for provincial parties in advance of the 2009 campaign.
It's safe to assume that the 2014 municipal elections will be a testing ground for the federal parties going into their next general election.
The Liberals, in particular, have a good reason to get more involved in Surrey even though they were shut out south of the Fraser River the last time around.
The same is true on the North Shore and in Richmond and Vancouver, where there's plenty of potential for the party to make gains under Trudeau in 2015.