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Rare win for voter turnout, big fail for political spin

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The spin doctors are working hard today to disect the byelection results in Labrador yesterday.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue (pronounced Pen-A-shoo-way) went down to defeat at the hands of Liberal Yvonne Jones. Penashue stepped down in April, hours before Elections Canada released documents which showed his campaign in 2011 had accepted 28 illegal donations totalling $46,560, including from corporations and $18,710 of free flights from Provincial Airlines.

Trying to understand the results of this byelection in terms of what it may mean for the greater political situation in Canada today is kind of like trying to figure out whether the Titanic went down by looking how a life raft fares with an iceberg.

Labrador is a sparsely populated, community-oriented riding. So the Liberals trying to suggest this is a sign Canadians like Justin Trudeau and his message is at best premature. This is probably one of the most local ridings you can get in Canada. This was a byelection in which a well-known and popular politician prevailed for a party that has only ever lost this riding twice before. A byelection where the incumbent was in over his head when it came to figuring out how to finance an election (which makes the comment about Trudeau's inexperience seem rather ironic -- but that's a whole other story.)

The Conservatives who are trying to spin that this is no big deal because well, majority governments don't often win byelections and well, the Liberals didn't win it by as much as one poll said they would a few weeks ago so really Trudeau messed things up and this is a sign he is in over his head, is just nonsense and kind of smacks of sore losership.

Nobody should look at Labrador's results as a harbinger of what might happen in the next federal election in 2015.

But one thing that happened that is worth a smile, whether it's a trend or not, is that voter turnout actually went up over the 2011 general election. Byelections almost always have extremely dismal turnout.

In 2011, 53 per cent of Labrador voters went to the polls. Yesterday (and in advanced polls) 59.6 per cent of them did.

In 14 other byelections since 2006, turnout didn't just go down, it plummeted -- between 18 and 35 percentage points.

It's important to note turnout in the 2005 byelection in Labrador was also much higher than in almost any other byelection, at 53 per cent. It went up slightly in the 2006 general election to 58 per cent, dropped to 53 per cent in the 2011 general election and then up to 59.6 per cent yesterday.

So obviously Labrador again tends to be a horse of a different colour than other ridings, but still: any time voter turnout goes up, it's a good day for democracy.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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