Forget St. Lambert

August 18th, 2008
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With little more than outtakes from the parliamentary Ethics Committee (or, if I were content editor at CBC, the so-called Ethics Committee) and a bit of inter-leader sparring to sustain them, political pundits have had a few stabs at pre-reading the electoral tea leaves for the upcoming federal by-elections. The overall theme has been to uncover where the Conservatives are likely to surprise, as three of the four votes are in Liberal ridings.

Jane Taber and Brian Laghi at the Globe fired the opening salvo by fingering Guelph as the most likely place for an upset. They term it a bell weather seat that is key to Conservatives winning a majority next time around. Sources close to this page and to the riding are much more sceptical. They point out the boundaries of the riding were re-drawn some years ago by the Liberals, and to their advantage. Strong Conservative polls were carved out, strong Liberal ones lumped in. This, to my knowledge, unreported fact should strike a strong note of caution for any hope of a breakthrough there.
This week L. Ian MacDonald put his money on St. Lambert (a free subscription to Policy Options magazine for anyone who knows what the “L.” stands for – without looking it up). He offers quite a detailed analysis of the communities comprising the riding, as well as some of the municipal dynamics that might play out in the by-election.
Unfortunately he pulls out the old saw that the Tories “have no ground organization” in the riding and that Premier Charest’s “Big Red Machine” may be lining up behind the federal Conservatives. Provincial Liberals supporting the federal Tories can’t hurt, but it diminishes the undoubted work done locally by the party and its well-seasoned candidate.
Interestingly, after dissecting the municipalities, MacDonald zeroes in on the suburb of Greenfield Park as the possible key to Conservative victory. He suggests that “blue collar Anglos” may switch from the Liberals to put the Tories over the top.
Not so fast. I went to high school in Greenfield Park and, despite the Prime Minister’s recent visit there, I would again suggest caution. Conservatives did win the riding in 1988 – the Liberals winning only 12 seats in Quebec that time ‘round – but the Bloc has held it since then. I know the “blue collar” types there very well and am not sure they are ready to make the switch MacDonald mentions.
Montreal Anglos have for decades bought into the Liberal narrative that only that party protects Canada from the separatists and stands up for Anglo Quebeckers. Prime Minister Harper has made great strides demolishing the Liberal construct of “us or oblivion”. Ironically, he also supported English language rights in Quebec when he was at the National Citizen’s Coalition – which puts him ahead of anything Mr. Mulroney ever did.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure any of that has sunk into the remaining Anglo neighbourhoods of South Shore Montreal. It should have by now but, maybe not.
Every party has its strongholds and Anglo/Allo Montreal, as MacDonald also point out, is a Liberal one. The fact that we’re even talking about Conservative inroads there shows what trouble the Liberals are in. It’s as if we were discussing the Liberals moving in on Calgary West.
But nothing has come easily for this government. Almost every scrap of electoral ground was hard fought – how long did it take to get rid of Ann McLellan? Stories meant to sell papers aside, Conservatives can look forward to increasing their vote share in these by-elections. For a sitting government that’s very positive, and augers well for the next general election. Anything more is gravy.
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