Canada Liberals unscathed as by-elections return status quo

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerged unscathed from his first real test with voters on Monday as the incumbent party held onto power in five by-elections across the country, leaving Trudeau’s Liberals with an undiminished majority in parliament.

As expected, none of the regional votes to elect members of parliament produced an upset, with Trudeau’s Liberals retaining three seats in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa and the opposition Conservatives holding onto two seats in Calgary, according to preliminary results from Elections Canada.

With the majority of votes counted in each race, all of the incumbent parties were leading by more than 10 percentage points and all had been projected as winner by the Canada Broadcasting Corp.

Still, the votes could be the last easy victory for the Liberals, who have enjoyed a long honeymoon with voters in part because both opposition parties are in the process of replacing their leaders ahead of a 2019 general election, when both Trudeau and members of the House of Commons face the electorate.

“I don’t think it means anything at this stage because it was very predictable,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

“I think once the Conservatives select their new leader, you’re going to see a boost in Conservative support - it happens after every leadership convention, and that goes on for a while ... so the more important by-elections will be those closer to 2019,” Wiseman added.

A December poll showed Trudeau’s approval rating remained high but was dropping amid rising dissatisfaction with the economy, and voter anger over a broken promise to reform the electoral process could eat into the government’s popularity.

In addition, nearly half of Canadians want to deport people who are illegally crossing into Canada from the United States, and a similar number disapprove of how Trudeau is handling the influx, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released in March.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry