Across the country this morning pundits and political junkies are reading the tea leaves of last night’s by-elections trying to conjure trends, or at least figure out why the Elections Canada results page refreshes every 90 seconds.
So here’s a tip. The only number worth knowing is 97.
Just over two years ago, the Paul Martin Liberals salvaged 103 seats from the rebuke Canadians gave them. And today, they have only 97 remaining.
As the result of four floor crossings and stunning by-election loses in Outremont and Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, the Liberal team is even lighter now than they were in 2006.
So here’s a puzzle: To elect Dion Prime Minister, Liberals will need to keep every seat they have (not a small challenge, evidently), and pick up at least 60 more. How?
Consider this: There have been nine by-elections since 2006. Of the six held in Liberal ridings, two now belong to other parties and another was very nearly lost in Vancouver Quadra last night. In the remaining three Bloc-held seats, the Liberals were humiliated, coming 3rd in Roberval and fourth in two others, behind the NDP.
So, what does that say? It says that in Quebec, Liberals can’t win new seats, or keep the ones they have in Montreal. It says they can’t keep seats they have in rural Canada, and that they can barely hold onto urban Vancouver seats they won in 2006. And growth? Well, that will come in GTA seats they already hold, based wholely on the occasional star power of their candidates.
It doesn’t take a Carville-esque strategic mind to figure out that losing seats you hold and failing to grow makes it tough for your leader to begin a sentence with “a Liberal government will . . .” without being greeted by polite eye-rolling and muffled guffaws.