This post examines the fallout from the recent by-election in Saskatoon Northwest.
This was the second contest (out of four by-elections) the provincial Liberals have entered since the last general election. Eric Steiner, the Liberal candidate, had a result consistent with the last by-election, garnering 3% of the vote. In the previous byelection, Eileen Gelowitz ran under the Liberal banner in Saskatoon Riversdale and earned 2.6% of the vote.
The current state of Liberal support in this riding is perhaps more significant than in other ridings, such as Saskatoon Riversdale. Saskatoon Northwest was briefly represented by Liberal MLA and party leader Jim Melenchuk only ten years ago. Since then, support for the Liberal brand in that riding has declined from more than 36% of the popular vote to just over 3%. The decline has been precipitous. Luckily for the Liberals, there isn’t much further down to go.
Granted, the Liberals were not going to win in Saskatoon Northwest, but there are several significant signs of problems for the Liberals in these two by-elections.
First, they have been unable to convince candidates of any note to come forward to run. In Riversdale they ran a candidate who was a refugee from the SaskParty. In Northwest, they ran a member of the Liberal party executive (Steiner is the party’s Communications chair). Where the Liberals ran decent campaigns in the last general election they ran high-quality candidates, such as Zeba Ahmed in Saskatoon Greystone, who achieved nearly 17%. An inability to entice quality candidates to run under the Liberal banner will seriously hurt their performance in the next general election.
Secondly, the next general election is only a year away – if the Northwest by-election was a dry run for the Liberals campaign machinery, it doesn’t bode well for them. In particular, based on these by-election numbers, it will be difficult for Ryan Bater to argue that he deserves a spot in any televised leaders debate. Meanwhile, the Green Party maintained their small share of the vote (2.3%). And the PC party also continued along their zombie-like return, placing fourth (2.5%). But in these cases, I believe that the Green Party has a greater potential to grow – while the appeal of the PC party is limited. If the Green Party can run candidates in every provincial riding next time around, they have a shot at unseating the Liberals as the third party – though this is unlikely. For all its limitations, the Liberal can recruit more professional-level politicos from their Federal counterparts.
On a related note, Murray Mandryk had an interesting analysis of problems the Liberal-vote collapse has for the NDP.
Based on this by-election support, I see no reason to adjust my prediction of a <5% provincial-wide popular support in the 2011 general election for the Liberals.
The more interesting question is: who benefits from the decline of the Liberal party – they SaskParty or the NDP. I think conventional wisdom would say there are several ridings where SaskParty can potentially make gains at the expense of the NDP. In particular, in David Karwacki’s riding: Saskatoon Meewasin, possibly The Battlefords, and even Saskatoon Eastview.