Fed byelections expected to stir pot

By the time the dust settles late Monday night, a great deal more heat and noise will have been generated by a trio of federal byelections than the outcomes will likely merit.

What could be an electoral earthquake, signalling new fault lines in federal politics, is looking to be tremorless, with three new MPs, representing the same team colours as those who departed, expected to be en route to Parliament.

Along the way, however, the respective campaigns in Calgary Centre, Durham (Ontario), and Victoria will have presented an early test run, and political market research, for the distant general election battle of October 2015.

And judging by this month's byelection fireworks, 2015 will be quite a show.

The Conservatives watched a torpedo slice into the federal Liberal hull last week when an inflammatory 2010 interview by Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leadership heir apparent, suddenly emerged as a perfectly-timed target.

With Joan Crockatt, the establishment Tory favourite in Calgary Centre, facing an almost unprecedented polling threat from Liberal candidate Harvey Locke, Trudeau's divisive French-language comments about Albertans in Ottawa presented a bulls-eye too big to miss.

"From a historical perspective, the likelihood that the Conservatives could lose Calgary Centre is virtually nil," threehundredandeight.com, a website that compiles polling results, observed late last week.

Yet the orchestrated breadth and volume of the Conservative clamour over Trudeau's musings illustrated the seriousness with which he's regarded by the governing party, and his potential for coalescing the anti-Crockatt vote in Calgary Centre, notwithstanding dismissive claims that Trudeau's a lightweight.

New Democrats, running fourth in polls in Calgary Centre behind the Green party candidate, will be testing for fall-out from leader Tom Mulcair's "Dutch disease" thesis on the manufacturing impact of resource development.

In Victoria, the NDP expects candidate Murray Rankin to fill the shoes of the retired New Democrat Denise Savoie, but the Liberal, Green party and Conservative candidates all mounted spirited campaigns that wound up focusing on a contentious, $783-million sewage treatment plan.

With Green Leader Elizabeth May, the party's lone standard-bearer in Parliament, right next door and riding redistributions in the offing, Victoria will continue to be a target in 2015 and Monday's results will be banked for close scrutiny.

Durham, the central Ontario riding held by former Conservative cabinet minister Bev Oda who resigned after a series of controversies, appears set to return another Tory to Ottawa.

Polls suggest Conservative candidate Erin O'Toole is safely out front, but New Democrat Larry O'Connor, a former provincial MPP and area mayor, is making the case that the NDP is the go-to option for restless voters, not the riding's more traditional Tory-Liberal split.

That's a case Mulcair's New Democrats will need to make across Canada's most populous province in 2015, a battleground where the Liberals must remain widely competitive if the party is to survive.

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