Another good night for Justin Trudeau

So the Liberals won Trinity-Spadina. So what?


Adam Vaughan; Joe Cressy; Justin Trudeau

Each in a dress shirt and tie with rolled up sleeves and no jacket, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and newly minted MP Adam Vaughan, two sons of public men, stood on a stage in a converted locomotive roundhouse in downtown Toronto at the end of a sweltering day, a set of young Liberals arranged behind them, a crowd of happy Liberals before them, the candidate giddy, the leader exultant. What few voters could be found in the middle of an unofficial long weekend had broken decisively and decidedly to Vaughan. Trudeau, top button of his shirt undone, appropriately red tie around his neck, cheekbones glistening in the stage lights, was serious, but wound up, a victorious baby face fulfilled by the moment.

This Liberal victory in Trinity-Spadina might come to nothing. But for at least a night, it is something better than nothing.

Coupled with a win in Scarborough-Agincourt, the Liberal caucus now numbers 37 members, precisely three more than its number on May 3, 2011, the day after the worst electoral showing in the party’s history. And, for the second time in the 41st Parliament, after last year’s win in Labrador, the Liberals have won a seat they hadn’t claimed in 2011 (the other additional member of the caucus is Lise St. Denis, a New Democrat who wandered over to the Liberal corner eight months after her election in the NDP’s dramatic sweep of Quebec).

Scarborough-Agincourt has been with the Liberals since Brian Mulroney was prime minister, but Trinity-Spadina has been a minor bellwether—Liberal during years of Liberal government, New Democrat during years of Conservative government. And, in the most recent case, it had been the domain of Olivia Chow, the former first lady of the NDP and the current favourite to be the next mayor of Toronto. In 2011, she took it by 31 points. On Monday night, Vaughan took it by 19 points. Even with a dismal turnout, Vaughan still managed 3,000 more votes than the previous Liberal candidate.

The prelude to that involved an odd debate about oil, and a strong Liberal candidate and a strong New Democrat shadow-boxing the fight that Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair are having and will have to be the primary alternative to Stephen Harper. When the riding is carved up for 2015, Vaughan will slide to the southern portion—where he apparently did particularly well this time—while NDP candidate Joe Cressy will apparently go to the northern portion, where he’ll have to beat Chrystia Freeland, another Liberal star, who won a by-election last year.

For the purposes of qualifying the Trinity-Spadina result, it is probably worth considering the counter-factual. After Trudeau’s team rejected the application of Christine Innes, that previous candidate, he stood to be second-guessed if the Liberals failed to win here. Whatever would have been the reasons for that loss, it would have been too easy to wonder whether the fiasco of that rejection had hurt Liberal chances. (Even after Trudeau had pulled Vaughan out of his hat, there were new complaints about the probity of the nomination contest.) There is still a lawsuit to settle, but winning has a way of soothing almost all other partisan concerns.

In Vaughan, Trudeau found perhaps the best-positioned individual to win this riding—the son of a well-regarded politician and journalist, a celebrity two-term city councillor in his own right, whose former ward covers a good chunk of the federal riding and who won 75 per cent of the vote there in 2010. If Trudeau can find another 300 or so like Vaughan, Trudeau’s party should sweep the 2015 election.

Otherwise, what might be said about the meaning of Monday night? Other than launching Vaughan’s federal political career, the precise significance is debatable.

It is an imperfect measure, but you might imagine this as another mini-election. Across the four ridings contested—Trinity-Spadina, Macleod, Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Scarborough-Agincourt—the Liberals finished a distant third in 2011, taking just 20.9 per cent of the vote. Three years later, with a few stray polls still to report, the numbers suggest a resounding swing in favour of the red team.

Liberals 44.7 (+24.1)
Conservatives 30.7 (-15.4)
NDP 18.7 (-9.5)
Greens 4.3 (+0.3)

That’s not everything, but it’s not nothing. It is, in fact, the third straight round of by-elections to see a Liberal bounce of some kind. In November 2012, a month after Trudeau announced his candidacy for the Liberal leadership, it was a bump of 3.5 points across three ridings. Last November, seven months after Trudeau was elected Liberal leader, it was a bump of 17.5 points across four ridings. (In between those nights was a win for the Liberals in Labrador.) On each of these nights, the Conservatives and New Democrats have suffered, while the Liberals have gained seats and managed strong second-place finishes in typically Conservative locales such as Calgary, Brandon and Fort McMurray.

So that’s something. But so what? A strong second place is, ultimately, worth exactly as much as a distant third, at least, unless it is a prelude to victory in 2015. And to improve the Liberal share of the vote is to surpass the low bar of that historically miserable showing in 2011. If the priest was on call to deliver last rites a few years ago, the patient is now up and walking around. But it still feels precarious. There are still 15 months between now and the real test of 2015. There is still a national campaign to be waged, a platform to be formulated, televised debates to survive and so many more television ads to be aired. There are still many ways this could go wrong for Trudeau; still so much to prove.

Still, a win in Trinity-Spadina beats the alternative. I heard a boxing coach say recently that he judged rounds on the basis of which fighter he would have rather been for those two or three minutes in the ring. You would have rather been Trudeau on Monday night—a victory over Mulcair in hand, another new star candidate by his side.

As the projection screen near the ceiling in the right corner of the room showed silent footage of Mulcair and Cressy conceding at a dance club on Toronto’s College Street—this was no doubt a less-than-splendid night for the NDP, but Liberals eager to make this the NDP’s Outremont are perhaps overextending themselves—the Liberals danced to thumping pop music and waved their arms above their heads. As Trudeau spoke, a knot of Liberal lieutenants beamed at the back of the room. Trudeau enthused about hope and hard work. And Vaughan, quieter, but still comfortable with this stuff, talked about how his father had believed that ideas could change the world. When the speeches were done, Trudeau bounced up and down to the music and clapped and called the audience to join in.

Even if he can still seem a bit less serious, he is still winning and he is another riding closer to forming government. Now he just needs to find another 150 or so more victories like this and he’ll really have something.


Another good night for Justin Trudeau

  1. The media are just like the cons and dippers, they just cant wait to see Trudeau fall on his face, well I think the media should never forget the boxing match that Trudeau fought in. Just when you think he is down, he comes back with an upper cut. This guy(Trudeau) deserves respect, not the lampooning that’s been written about him all the time, and the more the media try to make him look the same way the cons use their smear campaigns against him, the more they will also drive his popularity up, and also Tom Mulcair will find that being in the house all the time dosnt get money in the bank account of the dippers for the next election. You cant make money for the party by asking questions to a government who rarely has its own PM in the house.

    • Trudeau’s a trust fund baby who won a celebrity boxing match for charity, against a guy who I’ll only say is less than reputable. I’m not sure that makes one Prime Minster material.

      It’s also nice to see that you believe that fund-raising for the party is more important than actual governance. The PM and Mulcair actually spend time in the House, yes. That’s kind of what they were elected to do. It’s just a small part of their jobs, but it’s an important part about how our representatives are held accountable to the public at large.

      • Fund raising, in case you didn’t notice, has to be done, their are no more subsidies. I think TM is less talented when it comes to street to street politicking than JT, he(Tom) dosnt have a natural ability(not authentic) to connect with real Canadians so people like you and the media love to go after JT for his absence from the HOCs. Will it really make a difference for JT to be in the house, I think not because it seems after every QP the media seems to always talk about TM performance and Harper is very rarely in the house, and when he is, he never answers questions. One final matter, JT has loyalty to one country, Canada and no other. What would Tom do if he was PM and France decides it wants to go into a conflict, will Tom show his loyalty to France, or will he show it to Canada. You cant have complete loyalty to one country if your a PM as long as you hold 2 passports.

  2. Scarborough-Agincourt also made a statement to the cons last night as well, not only do we not want to elect you down here, but we also don’t want that smut( JT negative adds) your peddling down here either.

  3. Yes, there’s a kind of patronizing tone running through Wherry’s column. It’s balanced on the whole, but it keeps implying that all these wins by Trudeau don’t really mean that much and that all sorts of things could still go wrong. That’s certainly true & that’s part of politics is that things can suddenly go bad for any party at any time. But the same applies to Mulcair. He is not Layton. And so far he has not performed well in any of these by-elections. How come the media is always demanding that Trudeau pass all these tests but is so much easier on Mulcair? The next election will be Mulcair’s first one as a leader too, and he will have to carry the party by himself & not rely on Layton as he has in the past.

    • I don’t understand why Trudeau has to go through all these ‘tests’. Every byelection, every casual remark, every possible policy, every hairstyle, even that he wore shorts….in his own house!….is examined, and parsed and discussed.

      Meantime we know next to nothing about Harp or Mulcair.

      • Trudeau is more interesting to write about, because Trudeau is more interesting. Now you understand.

        • Heh….I’ll agree Trudeau’s more interesting….the other two are ‘Stodgy’ personified…..but that doesn’t mean he should get the third degree on everything!

      • Yes, we know nothing about “Harp”, the guy who’ll have been Prime Minister for almost a decade by the next election. Somehow, he remains a complete mystery. He probably has a hidden agenda.

        • People thought they new Harp(Dr. Jekyll), but he(harp) decided to take on the roll of Mr. Hyde, the personality that operates in the shadows. Theirs nothing worse than having a multiple personality PM running the country(he should get help for that, its called paranoia), you know something like Dick Nixon.

        • Well there is so little we’re allowed to ask Harp about, it’s entirely possible.

          His marriage, his hair, his family, his leisure time, his views…..just petting a cat, wearing a blue sweater and playing old music doesn’t make him an open book you know.

          But Trudeau….there is no question you can’t ask….no comment forbidden….no conduct you can’t imply something about…..

          I just saw the ‘Reefer Madness’ ad that Cons put out about Trudeau…..you should be ashamed.

  4. I don’t think Alexia McDonough or Andrea McLaughlin would appreciate knowing the author thinks Olivia Chow is the first lady of the NDP, that’s a bit of a stretch their Mr. Wherry. Olivia Chow was just getting her feet wet in the NDP while the other two ‘ lady leaders ‘ were in the trenches fighting to keep the dippers from going extinct. Olivia Chow just happened to be married to Jack Layton, who was the leader of the party at one time, it dosnt give her first lady status, we don’t have first ladies or first men here in Canada, just spouses, and finally, Ms. Chow will never be Mayor of TO, she is not a leader, she is not capable of making tough decisions, and its not because she is a female, its because she has been a follower all of her political career. Her only success was being married to Jack Layton.

    • When chastising writers, it’s often best to get the names right. I’m assuming you meant Alexa McDonough and Audrey McLaughlin.

      • Gee, I new I was close. Maybe i’ll remember to use the word Ms. or Mr. the next time, cant miss with that, but it still dosnt change my mind about the author. He tends to over embellish a little like a lot of authors. If that’s going to be the only way for Tom and Steve hope to win the next election, waiting for Trudeau to fall on his derriere, well that’s a poor reason to become PM.

        • If you think Aaron is somehow trying woo voters to vote for Harper…..you haven’t been reading his work for the last 5 years.

          • I actually agree with you! Except that I believe he is balanced, and no doubt you will come back with the wingnuttery nonsense about the media party.

          • No wingnuttery….

            Just a comment that Aaron is no doubt pleased to see that SOMEONE has been reading his stuff for a while.

    • never underestimate the stupidity of Toronto voters.

      I actually think CHOW has a good shot at becoming mayor. And the fact that someone like Adam vaughn (really nasty piece of work) has been elected for various offices, is testament to that fact.

      • Obviously, if they did not support the guy you think they should support they must be “stupid”.

        That is just, well, stupid.

        • Actually, gayle,

          I think Toronto is hooped either way. I don’t like any of their choices.

          I’m just glad I don’t have to live there.

          I think FORD is a disgrace….and should have been gone a long time ago. Olivia Chow…well, she is Olivia Chow. She’s not competent in any field, but she was the wife of Jack layton…which apparently, is her ONLY accomplishment.

          Karen Stintz….not going anywhere.

          John Tory…..he’s like Rob Ford, only without the booze, drugs, gansta’s….or personality.

          TO….is doomed to remain a bastian of spend-thrift lefties who do not realize a country exists outside of its city limits.

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