Greens Win Nanaimo-Ladysmith By-Election and Justin Trudeau is in Trouble

... and Jagmeet Singh too, but we already knew that.

Let's cut right to the chase: at some point we will have to realize that the Green Party of Canada may be a threat to its rivals in the general election coming next fall.

Last night's by-election win in Nanaimo-Ladysmith for the Greens did not necessarily come as a surprise, as the latest 338Canada projection had the Greens projected in first place, but Nanaimo-Ladysmith was forecasted as a toss-up - and last night's results for the Greens shows they were significantly underestimated in the model.

Consider the following graph. The coloured bars show the latest projection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith for the main parties and the black dots, the actual by-election results as of this morning.

First, let's start with the NDP and Conservatives: the results for both parties lie within the model's confidence intervals, but the NDP was projected higher than the CPC. The Conservatives were thus modestly underestimated and the NDP, overestimated.

This is awful news for the NDP, which not only loses the district it had won easily in 2016, but loses ground once again in a by-election. Four years ago, NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson had won Nanaimo-Ladysmith by a significant margin of seven thousand votes. Last night, the NDP was almost 6000 votes behind the Greens (and in third place behind the Conservatives).

How difficult has it been for the NDP since the 2015 general election? There have been in total 18 by-elections in the current 42nd legislature. The NDP has managed to lose ground, compared to its 2015 result, in 16 of them. [The exceptions were Ottawa-Vanier (which was easily won by the Liberals) and Burnaby-South, where NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was elected last February.]

We have seen in recent polling the Green Party of Canada and the NDP in a statistical tie in parts of the country. Last night's result was plausibly not just an isolated bump-on-the-road incident for the NDP.

One wonders how much patience NDPers will have with Mr. Singh after October 21st should bad results continue to pile up.

Secondly, let's take a look at the Greens and Liberals. Green candidate Paul Manly won last night's contest with a little over 37% of the popular vote, a result which lies just above the 338 projection's superior confidence interval of 35.6% (see graph above). In terms of actual votes, Mr. Manly received a little over fifteen thousand votes, about a thousand more than in the 2015 general election - which means the Green Party has actually increased its pool of voters in the region.

And for the Liberals? To be fair, the LPC was not expected to win Nanaimo-Ladysmith - the 338 projection had the Liberals in fourth place and winning the district in less than 1% of simulations. Nevertheless, this dismal result (only 4,700 votes and 11% compared to 16,700 votes and 23.5% in 2015) cannot be good news for Justin Trudeau.

What should we remember from last night's by-election?

Many observers (not excluding myself) tend to give way too much importance to by-elections, when in fact they generally are poor barometers of the mood of the national electorate. Hyperlocal effects, the most recent news cycle, and local candidates all tend to add more noise to the system, which impedes us to see it for what it truly is: a local election.

However, we already knew, from months of polling and repetitive poor by-election results, that the NDP had been losing ground among voters - even in what we perceived as highly favorable NDP districts. However, it is no doubt the Liberals who come out of last night's as the biggest losers, for it was not just a regular loss: the Liberals could not take advantage of a weak NDP, and let a small party - whose platform treads on the very ground the Liberals have tried to re-brand themselves with -  win and take what will be perceived as "momentum".

Indeed, it appears Liberals strategists have tried to use new and fresh environmental policies to contrast themselves from Conservatives - seeking, perhaps rightly so, that the environment was the CPC's Achilles' heel.

They surely had not expected the Green Party to, potentially at least, spoil their plan. The Liberals will probably have to find a new ballot box issue before next fall.

Philippe J. Fournier is the creator of Qc125 and 338Canada. He teaches physics and astronomy at Cégep de Saint-Laurent in Montreal. For information or media request, please write to

Philippe J. Fournier est le créateur de Qc125 et 338Canada. Il est professeur de physique et d'astronomie au Cégep de Saint-Laurent à Montréal. Pour toute information ou pour une demande d'entrevue médiatique, écrivez à