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Liberals, Conservatives both claim byelection victories prove their message is best

Four former political staffers are headed to Parliament Hill as new MPs following byelections in three provinces Monday that featured no surprises — but possibly delivered some relief for both Liberals and Conservatives.

Four former political staffers are headed to Parliament Hill as new MPs following byelections in three provinces Monday that featured no surprises — but possibly delivered some relief for both Liberals and Conservatives.

New Democrats will be less enthusiastic about the results. While it wasn’t expected to win any of the seats, its vote share fell in all four. That seemed mostly to benefit the Liberals, whom the NDP have been supporting in the House of Commons for more than a year.

The Liberals are exhaling after winning both Winnipeg South-Centre and the Montreal seat of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount with more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Both seats are traditionally Liberal strongholds, but following months of difficulty for the government over its handling of foreign interference, and more recently the transfer of convicted murderer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison, the two sizable victories were a much-needed boost of confidence.

“I think we were very buoyed by the results,” said government House leader Mark Holland, before the Liberal cabinet meeting in Ottawa Tuesday.

Anna Gainey, a longtime Liberal staffer and former party president, held the Montreal seat for the Liberals, which was vacated by former cabinet minister and astronaut Marc Garneau earlier this year.

In Winnipeg, Ben Carr will fill the seat previously held by his father, former cabinet minister Jim Carr, who died in December following a lengthy illness.

Ben Carr worked as a ministerial staffer on Parliament Hill between 2016 and 2018, before returning to Winnipeg to be a high school principal.

Both Gainey and Carr are considered strong new MPs and potential cabinet material. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t done a major shuffle of his team since after the 2021 election and after so many struggles in 2023 it’s widely expected he will make some adjustments later this summer.

The House of Commons will rise this week until September.

While the Liberals took home the urban vote, the Conservatives won both rural seats being contested.

In southern Ontario, former Queen’s Park staffer Arpan Khanna held off the Liberals to win in Oxford, and in Manitoba, former Parliament Hill staffer Branden Leslie defeated People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier in Portage-Lisgar.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre congratulated his two new MPs Tuesday afternoon on Twitter, though the party said it would have no other comments on the results.

Khanna and Leslie “brought it home last night,” Poilievre tweeted.

“After eight years of Trudeau, Canadians are ready to stop the inflationary spending, axe the carbon tax (and) bring home common sense.”

But the feeling among some Conservatives was not as jubilant, despite the victories.

Strategist Fred DeLorey, a former Conservative party spokesman and political operations director, said in a post published on Substack that the byelections were supposed to show Conservative strength while the Liberals falter.

“Instead, they served as a jarring wake-up call, exposing our weaknesses and shattering the illusion of unstoppable momentum,” he said.

“Rather than capitalizing on the Liberals’ missteps, we find ourselves in a race to protect our own bastions.”

In Oxford, Khanna, who was the Ontario co-chair for Poilievre’s leadership campaign, defeated the Liberals in a much tighter contest than that riding has seen in more than two decades.

Trudeau spun the results in Oxford as a sign his government’s “message is resonating” with Canadians.

But the results had more to do with Conservative infighting over Khanna’s nomination that led the former MP to endorse and campaign for the Liberals.

DeLorey said the results in Oxford might be shrugged off as one-off local riding dispute but said the party should not take any results like that lightly.

The Manitoba seat, held until this spring by former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen, is a very safe seat for the Tories, but was also the riding where Bernier’s PPC had one of its best showings in 2021.

The Conservatives were worried about Bernier and his party’s popularity in the area and saw it as a chance to try to prove the Conservatives should be the only viable option for voters on the right.

DeLorey said the fight with Bernier led the Conservatives to a battle for the far-right vote and campaign on issues like abortion, conversion therapy and what he called “an unseemly assault on Bernier for wearing a Pride shirt.”

He said that may have seen them defeat Bernier but he still got 17 per cent of the vote and the party’s broader appeal in more urban and suburban ridings might take a hit over its positions on issues in Portage-Lisgar.

In an email to supporters, Bernier said: “We’re not going away!”

He said the results were not what the party would have preferred, but “we ran a strong, clean and professional campaign,” adding that when the next federal election comes, “we will be even better prepared.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attributed his party’s margin loss to low voter turnout, which was less than 50 per cent in all four byelections.