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Federal byelections a test run for 2015

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OTTAWA -- By the time the dust settles late tonight, 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 bull's-eye too big to miss.

"From a historical perspective, the likelihood that the Conservatives could lose Calgary Centre is virtually nil,", 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 Trudeau's a lightweight.

Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, swept aside suggestions he sanction Trudeau by removing him from his role as critic for amateur sports.

Instead, he accused the Conservatives of letting Sun News know where they could find the incendiary interview online.

"You know, was that an accident?" Rae said Sunday on the Global program The West Block. "Was it immaculate conception? Did the reporter in question just sort of say, 'Oh my goodness, I just found this thing,' or did someone from the Conservative party say, 'Look at this, why don't we go with this story on Friday ahead of the Monday vote?' "

Still, Conservative strategists Sunday were spinning Calgary Centre -- a riding conservatives have held for 40 years -- as a litmus test of Trudeau.

All parties will be pouring over the post-byelection results looking for poll-by-poll intelligence to pocket for next time.

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.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2012 A7

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