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This article was published 6/10/2013 (2467 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MONTREAL -- During the course of my travels, I have run into the so-called Trudeau effect at every turn this past year. In British Columbia as in Ontario or, for that matter, Alberta, I have not encountered an audience that was not curious about the prospects of the new Liberal leader.
It did not matter if the room was full of accountants, lawyers or doctors or if the audience was mostly male or mostly female or if it was middle-aged or younger, the first questions always included one and often more about Justin Trudeau.
No other leader in my experience has been on the receiving end of so much early interest.
By and large, the curiosity I encountered was almost equally devoid of hostility and passion. It was often laced with a healthy dose of skepticism. That skepticism seemed to decrease during the long months Trudeau has spent under the media microscope, but some of it still lingers.
Trudeau also elicits a fair amount of interest in his home province, but it does not feel quite as intense as in other areas of the country. But then that is also true of federal politics in general.
For better or for worse, though, in tandem with the decline of the fortunes of the Bloc Québécois and the sovereignty debate, his polarizing effect in Quebec seems to have abated.
Whether voters are becoming increasingly comfortable with Trudeau during the course of his transition from political rock star to third party leader or increasingly indifferent as the novelty wears off is a question that four byelections expected this fall will begin to answer.
Voters in the Bourassa riding of former Liberal MP Denis Coderre will be the first group of Quebecers to pronounce on the federal parties since the 2011 orange wave. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair may not absolutely need a win, but he cannot afford to see his candidate crushed by a Liberal steamroller. Trudeau, on the other hand, cannot lose a riding whose makeup not only mirrors that of his own Papineau seat but also bucked the NDP trend two years ago, without severe repercussions on his leadership.
That is equally true in Toronto Centre, but with an important twist. Yes, the battle for former Liberal interim leader Bob Rae's riding is essentially pitting the Liberals against the NDP, but in the big picture, Conservative strategists have reasons to keep an eye on it.
Outside Quebec, any Liberal comeback would normally begin in the ridings the party most recently lost to Stephen Harper. Unless Trudeau draws the small-c conservative voters who were comfortable with his party under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin back to the fold, he will continue to be in a fight for second place with the NDP in 2015.
From that perspective, the battle for Toronto Centre should be construed not just as a Liberal/NDP scuffle for opposition supremacy, but as the first step in a Liberal counteroffensive to take back the ground lost to the Conservatives in the city and in the GTA in the past three elections.
And then there are the Manitoba ridings of Provencher and Brandon-Souris. Both were won by the ruling Conservatives with more than 65 per cent of the vote in the last election. Those high scores say as much about Michael Ignatieff's failure as about Stephen Harper's success.
Jean Chrétien won the two seats in 1993 and managed to hold Provencher in the following election, in no small part because of the vote split between the Reform/Alliance and the Tories.
But after the Conservatives reunited, the Liberals accelerated their own demise during the course of a succession of mediocre campaigns.
By 2011, the party had fallen to third place in Provencher and to fourth place in Brandon-Souris, with less than 10 per cent of the vote.
In Manitoba, as in Toronto Centre, Trudeau's success or lack thereof in wooing back the moderately conservative voters that abandoned the Liberals in the past decade will say as much -- if not more -- about his prime ministerial prospects as scoring points off the NDP.
Chantal Hébert is national affairs columnist for the Toronto Star.
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