A very good day for Liberals, summed up Stéphane Dion Tuesday, despite all the evidence to the contrary. This was probably a better bet than telling the faithful to cheer up because the worst is yet to come. But it is a fundamentally misleading interpretation of the four St. Patrick's Day byelections.
Make no mistake, this was a major reverse for the Liberal party. On Sunday, Bob Rae, the party's candidate in Toronto Centre, raised expectations by saying he was confident the Liberals would retain all four seats -- a sweep that would give them momentum going into the spring session of Parliament, with the prospect of an election looming. "You get a chance to see how people really feel in four actual, real, live elections," he said.
What they seem to feel is: Stéphane Who? Simply put, Mr. Dion has not persuaded Canadians it is time to change government. As a result, 60,000 Liberals who voted for the party in 2006 stayed home this time.
Voter turnout was extremely low in all four ridings, so all parties suffered reduced numbers. But the Conservatives managed to increase their share of the vote in three of the four contests, losing ground only in Toronto Centre. Mr. Rae derided the Prime Minister for choosing to hold byelections on St. Patrick's Day during March break, but this is not sufficient explanation for the Liberals' failure to make a serious dent in support for a government the party keeps insisting it plans to defeat.