OTTAWA - The recession-ravaged Conservatives showed surprising resilience in Monday's byelections, reclaiming a former stronghold in Nova Scotia and overrunning a Bloc Quebecois fortress in Quebec.
The Bloc easily held on to another Quebec riding in Montreal's east end while the NDP kept the B.C. riding of New Westminster-Coquitlam
The Tories, thought to be moribund in Quebec only a few months ago, showed surprising strength in Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Riviere du Loup in the province's lower St. Lawrence region.
With almost all polls reporting, Conservative Bernard Genereux held a four percentage point lead over the Bloc's Nancy Gagnon.
Former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Daniel Paille easily held on for the Bloc in Hochelga, a longtime fiefdom for the party. The NDP finished a surprising but distant second, ahead of both the Liberals and Conservatives.
In British Columbia, Fin Donnelly hung on to New Westminster-Coquitlam for the NDP, taking 52 per cent of the vote with half the polls reporting. The Tories finished a distance second and the Liberals an even further distant third.
In Nova Scotia, Tory Scott Armstrong easily staved off an NDP challenge to win in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
That riding had been a longtime Tory fortress until Bill Casey - punted from the Conservative caucus over criticism of the 2007 budget -captured the riding as an independent in 2008. With Casey now retired from federal politics, his supporters appear to have returned to the Tory fold.
Armstrong took 45.8 per cent of the vote, compared to 25.7 per cent for NDP challenger Mark Austin, who had hoped to ride the coattails of the recently elected NDP provincial government of Darrel Dexter. Liberal Jim Burrows was third with 21.3 per cent.
The four contests turned out pretty much as NDP strategists had hoped, allowing them to claim to be the only opposition party with momentum, particularly as compared to the Liberals who finished no better third in any of the races.
The Liberals had set a modest goal of improving their share of the vote in the four ridings over the dismal results gleaned in 2008 under the unpopular leadership of Stephane Dion. They fell short of that goal.
Only in Cumberland-Colchester were the Liberals able to increase their vote share and, even then, only compared to 2008 when Casey's run as an independent sapped the strength of all the parties.
Compared to the 2006 election - when there was no popular independent to skew the results - the Tories are down about six percentage points and the Liberals are down two points, enough to cede second place to the NDP, which increased its vote share by about six points.
“Governments rarely win byelections, so we are pleased we were able to win this seat in Nova Scotia,” said Conservative party spokesman Fred DeLorey.
He claimed the win as a sign that Canadians approve of the government's efforts to help Canada weather the global economic recession.
DeLorey said the byelection results are an indictment of Michael Ignatieff's leadership of the Liberals.
“What kind of official Opposition party hoping to win government does not do well in byelections in the midst of a global economic downturn? One that's in trouble.”
Liberals issued talking points earlier Monday to party members arguing that the byelections were actually a referendum on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's leadership.
“If the Conservatives fail to win all of the seats in tonight's byelections, it will be a signal that Canadians are still not willing to turn over the keys to such a partisan and incompetent government,” the party maintained.
The media lines went on to argue that Liberals have not held the four ridings “in 30, 40 50 years” whereas Conservatives “have held all four in recent memory.”
In fact, the Liberals won Cumberland-Colchester in 1993. And they won what is now a big chunk of B.C.'s New Westminster-Coquitlam in 1997.
Most recently, the B.C. riding has see-sawed between the NDP and Tories. Conservatives held the riding until losing narrowly to the NDP in 2006 and again in 2008.