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The headlines in advance of today's four by-elections couldn't be plainer: they are a test of Michael Ignatieff. His political skills, his leadership, heck, I want to raise the stakes even higher and make them a test of his manhood.

And what a test they are. In the last quarter-century, by my count, we have had eight general elections. That means in these four ridings, carry the six, there have been 32 writ periods. The number of times the Liberals have won any of these ridings in the last 32 chances?

Once. The Nova Scotia seat in 1993. One out of 32.

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Sure that qualifies you to be the Blue Jays starting shortstop next season but as a political test of any meaning?

Jean Chrétien won three majority governments (12 shots at these four ridings) and won one out of 12, so when the party has been at its most dominant, these four ridings were tough. Now that the Liberals are at something less, they are even bigger long-shots.

Just a bit of perspective.

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