Three lessons for Ontario from B.C. and the world of outrageous politics

Published in Globe & Mail, March 2 / 2018

As Ontario PC members and interested observers brace for the finale of an unanticipated and compressed leadership race, they may wish to take note of how BC Liberals recently selected Christy Clark’s successor using basically the same voting system. Instead of outrageous politics, the boring math will decide the next PC leader, and maybe the next Ontario Premier.

Three key points:

1) Some votes count more than others: In British Columbia, Andrew Wilkinson prevailed in the six-candidate race despite having the fifth-highest number of votes on the first count. How did he win?

It’s a weighted ballot. Every riding is created equally. A riding is worth 100 points, and points are allocated according to the percentage of votes received by each candidate. In Mr. Wilkinson’s case, while he had the fifth-highest number of raw votes on the first count, he had the third-highest number of points because he did well in ridings that had low membership levels (mainly in B.C.’s Interior) where his supporters had higher impact.

 Another candidate, Michael Lee, had more votes than anyone in the race but finished third because his support was concentrated in ridings with big membership lists.

 

2) First choices are important, but second and third choices will decide: It’s a preferential ballot, meaning that you only vote once and you have the opportunity to rank your choices. In the Ontario PC race, there are four candidates.

Mr. Wilkinson started third on the first ballot with only 18 per cent of the weighted votes, but he won. He made huge progress on the third count, and by the fourth count he was second, ultimately winning on the fifth and final count. He climbed throughout the counting process because he accumulated more second and third choices than any other candidate. He especially gained from former finance minister Michael de Jong, with whom he had a formal alliance to support each other as second choice, and from Mr. Lee, whose supporters decisively preferred Mr. Wilkinson over his final-ballot rival, Dianne Watts.

3) Not every voting member stays in the “convention hall” to the end: In the old days, delegates voted on the first ballot, heard the result, then lined up and voted again, and kept doing so until one candidate had a majority. In the Ontario PC system (as was the case in B.C.), members do all of their voting in advance, which means ranking their candidates from 1 to 4. However, they do not have to rank all of the candidates. They can just vote for their first choice if they want, but they might find that their ballot won’t count when it comes down to the final two candidates.

In the BC Liberal race, about one-quarter of the voters who cast a vote on the first count did not have their ballots considered on the final count. They had essentially “walked out of the convention hall” as they did not express a preference for either Mr. Wilkinson or the runner-up, Ms. Watts. Since they had only voted for candidates already eliminated, their ballots were removed from the counting process. Smart candidates will plead for second and third choices from voters who might otherwise “leave the hall.”

 The outcome in B.C. was certainly unpredictable. When it comes down to who wins, the next Leader of the Ontario PCs may be the one who is the best at math.
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The Trudeau Liberals unwrap a new seat

Monday’s by-elections can be viewed as a win for the governing Liberals.  They held two seats and won a third from the Conservatives.  In answer to my November 20th post, the voters in South Surrey-White Rock gave like Santa to the Liberals and passed out votes like Scrooge to the Conservatives.

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That present is from South Surrey-White Rock

By-elections are a great opportunity to send a message.  If the government is screwing up, why not vote against them and shake it up?  Evidently, there’s not a lot of voter anger in South Surrey-White Rock.

In Monday’s by-elections, the only riding where the Liberal popular vote actually went up was South Surrey-White Rock, which was the only place the Conservative vote went down.

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Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives can take some consolation that they reduced the margin-of-victory in Scarborough-Agincourt from 13.9% to 8.9%, and they scraped themselves off the basement floor in Newfoundland, though they haven’t found the stairs yet.  In Saskatchewan, like Alberta, they ran up the score, which is nice, but not very meaningful.  As for the Liberals, I doubt they are too concerned about the ridings where they slipped.  In all three cases, the result looked inevitable, and tough to motivate voters in that case.

South Surrey-White Rock should sting a bit for the Conservatives.  This was a safe seat in 2011 and for decades before that.  In 2011, a backbench Conservative MP edged the Liberal 53% to 19%.  That’s a remarkable turnaround in six years.

The notion of a Liberal win was unthinkable in the summer of 2015.  Liberal strategists had a hard time believing the numbers they were seeing from that riding, against Dianne Watts no less.  They almost beat her despite sacking their candidate halfway through the campaign.  The Liberals had no history of winning there.  They couldn’t even win in Surrey during Trudeaumania I when they took two-thirds of the seats in BC – and the Liberal candidate was “nursery man” Bill Vander Zalm.  Trudeaumania plus the Zalm?  How could they lose?

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So, there has been a change in South Surrey-White Rock and it remains to be seen if it will be a sea change.   Liberals may have a bit of deja vu when it comes to winning federal by-elections in BC.  In 1998, a Reform MP resigned in Port Moody-Coquitlam and, very similar to South Surrey-White Rock, the Liberals ran a popular mayor, Lou Sekora, while the Reform Party ran a parachute candidate from Langley.  Sekora won in a riding the Liberals had not held in a long, long time.  In 2000, a young whippersnapper by the name of James Moore defeated Sekora and went on to hold the seat for 15 years.

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Lou Sekora: lost to a young whippersnapper

Let’s not forget about the NDP.  In Monday’s by-elections, their share of vote dropped in all four races.  While none of these seats were NDP targets, they certainly did not demonstrate any grassroots enthusiasm for the new NDP leader.

Congratulations to Gordie Hogg and the Liberals.  We’ll see if success in South Surrey-White Rock is fleeting or not.  Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives did not collapse, on the contrary, they made some incremental progress.  But where it mattered, they could not rally their base to withstand a vigorous effort by the Liberals.  Now that the government is in the back nine of its mandate and showing its resilience, Scheer will not be able to count on the government losing the election – he will have to try to find a way to win it.  A tall order for any Opposition.

Tonight’s by-elections will be indicator of Trudeau government’s resilience

There have been seven by-elections in Canada in 2017 so far, with four more to come today (December 11th), including a hotly contested race in South Surrey-White Rock.

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Will Justin Trudeau and Gordie Hogg be cheering tonight?

Are there any trends?  Any signs that may predict outcomes tonight?

First, you have to look at Alberta separately.  Three Conservative titans resigned their seats – Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Hon. Jason Kenney, and Hon. Rona Ambrose.  One might think the loss of those candidates would depress results in a subsequent election.  Wrong. The Conservatives scored over 70% in each seat, surpassing already strong 2015 numbers.

Conservative vote in Alberta byelections
2015 2017 DIFF
Calgary-Midnapore 66.7% 77.2% 1.16
Calgary-Heritage 63.8% 71.5% 1.12
Sturgeon River-Parkland 70.2% 77.4% 1.10

Moving on to Quebec where there have been two by-elections, it’s a very different story.  The Liberal Party held most of its vote in St. Laurent (Stephane Dion’s seat), and in October, doubled its vote in Lac St. Jean to take a Conservative seat held by Denis Lebel.  Unlike Alberta where support for the Blues was amped up, les bleus went the other way in Lac St. Jean, dropping from 33.3% to 25.0%.  Les oranges dropped in Lac St. Jean from 28.5% and second place to 11.7% and fourth.

Liberal vote in Quebec byelections
2015 2017 DIFF
St. Laurent 61.6% 59.1% 0.96
Lac St. Jean 18.4% 38.6% 2.10

Finally, there were two by-elections in Ontario in 2017.  In both cases, the Liberals only retained about 90% of their 2015 vote, but nevertheless held a majority.

Liberal vote in Ontario byelections
 2015  2017  DIFF
Ottawa Vanier 57.6% 51.3% 0.89
Markham-Thornhill 55.7% 51.4% 0.92

Overall, it’s a pretty good result for the governing Liberals thus far.  Holding on to their own seats while taking one in Quebec from the Conservatives.  Running up the scoreboard in Alberta does little for the Conservatives.  Their numbers in the 2015 election were already through the roof – the Harper Conservatives had 375,000 more votes than the provincial PCs and Wildrose combined.  The Conservatives are in danger of becoming ‘Alberta Island’ if its numbers drop in the rest of Canada but increase in Alberta.

Here are the 2015 election results for the four by-elections:

2015 results LIB CPC NDP
Bonavista-Burin-Trinity 81.8% 10.1% 7.3%
Scarborough-Agincourt 51.9% 38.0% 7.9%
Battlefords-Lloydminster 16.5% 61.0% 17.6%
South Surrey-White Rock 41.5% 44.0% 10.4%

Bonavista and Battlefords both appear very comfortable for the Liberals and Conservatives respectively.  It will be interesting to see if Battlefords-Lloydminster follows a similar pattern as the Alberta by-elections.

Scarborough-Agincourt is tighter and will be the first real test of Jagmeet Singh and whether he has any game in the Toronto outskirts.  You would think the NDP could do better than 7.9%.  That could help Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, and a win there would be huge, but they are certainly downplaying expectations.

I looked at South Surrey-White Rock in detail a few weeks ago.  A strong candidate for the Liberals and lesser-known candidate for the Conservatives is the reverse scenario compared to the 2015 election.  With a thin margin, the Liberals could prevail this time on the candidate match-up alone – everything being equal.  Two years into a mandate, you would think this would be a vulnerable time for any government.  Given the prolonged controversy over small business taxation in the summer and early fall, one might also think that that issue would hurt the Liberals in the upper-income, professional enclave of South Surrey-White Rock.  We won’t know until the polls close if it did – and if Hogg does win, one can ask, “What was that all about?” – a big national issue that had no teeth.

I was surprised that the Conservatives reached back to 1993 to attack Hogg on an issue that had been dealt with conclusively in his provincial by-election win in 1997, when his main opponent was a BC Reform candidate.  That appeared to be the move of a campaign running out of steam.

A Liberal win tonight in BC – and in Scarborough – will be an impressive show of strength by a mid-term government.  Not a guarantee of future success, but a sign of resilience, and an indicator of the magnitude of the challenge facing Andrew Scheer.  His pathway to winning the next election will be made more difficult not by the actual reality of a by-election loss, but by the perception of that loss among his own supporters (I’ve been there).  He’s going to have to demonstrate how he can build his party’s market share beyond Alberta and its diminishing strongholds across the country.  But hey, low expectations can be very beneficial (I’ve been there too).

Jagmeet Singh will also take away some lessons tonight.  He hasn’t been on the job long, but he did enjoy considerable positive publicity in the lead up to his election.  Can he translate that into votes?  You would think the NDP should get a little bump with Singh in place.

Tonight’s results will be another marker on the road to 2019 and, so far, the electoral road has looked fairly smooth for the Trudeau Liberals.

Will voters be in a giving mood in South Surrey-White Rock by-election?

A federal by-election has been called for December 11th in South Surrey-White Rock, which will provide an interesting read of the political thermometer two years out from a general election.

Traditionally, this area has been inhospitable to Liberals.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time the South Surrey-White Rock area had a federal Liberal MP – not in my lifetime.  They took a pass on Trudeaumania (and candidate Bill Vander Zalm!) in 1968, electing an NDPer. At that time, Surrey and White Rock were encompassed in one riding – how times have changed.  Since 1974, the Conservatives have owned the riding.  Voters were Scrooge-like toward my old friend Reni Masi (later elected as MLA) who ran twice as a Grit in the area, but gave like Santa when it came to voting for Progressive Conservative Benno Friesen.

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On December 11th, will South Surrey-White Rock voters continue to be Scrooge-like toward the Liberals?  Or give like Santa?

Gordie Hogg tried in 1993, unsuccessfully, as a Chretien Liberal, losing to upstart Reformer Val Meredith.  MLA Wilf Hurd resigned his seat to try it on as a Fed Lib in 1997 and lost; Hogg then took Hurd’s seat in the Legislature and served for 20 years.

Will this time be different?  After a brief two-year stint in Ottawa, Conservative Dianne Watts resigned her seat to contest the BC Liberal leadership.  If successful in her quest, she will be on a very short list of people who have served as Mayor, MP, and MLA.  In the meantime, Gordie Hogg may do the same if elected on December 11th, becoming the first to do so since (I think) Gerry McGeer, the former mayor of Vancouver, who accomplished that feat, plus senator.

The Liberals are bullish and must be encouraged by not only Hogg’s candidacy, but a strong turnout for PM Justin Trudeau last week in White Rock.

Let’s take a look at 2011 and 2015 numbers for BC and  South Surrey-White Rock:

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The Conservatives hung on in 2015 – barely.  Despite Dianne Watts’ profile as longtime mayor of Surrey, the Conservative vote dropped from 52.9% to 44%.  Taking a closer look, however, it appears that Watts ran ahead of the curve, salvaging the seat.  In 2011, the Conservatives ran 1.16X the BC popular vote, whereas in 2015, they were 1.47X ahead.

The Liberals were shot out of a cannon in 2015 compared to 2011.  The Liberal vote in BC increased 2.63X, but in South Surrey-White Rock, the gain was only 2.18X.  Had the trend been replicated there, Judy Higginbotham would be the MP.  There are extenuating circumstances – Judy wasn’t supposed to be on the ballot.  The longtime Liberal warrior jumped in when the initial candidate was ejected mid-campaign for a since-forgotten gaffe.  Arguably, the Conservatives benefited from that bit of luck.  At the outset of the campaign, it must have looked like they would cruise to victory with Watts and, by the end, they were in an unexpected fight of their life.  It’s one of the few toe-holds they have left in Metro Vancouver.

With the Liberals leading the Conservatives by about five points in the BC popular vote in 2015 but losing this seat, it stands to reason that the Liberals need to be as popular relative to the Conservatives in BC now in order to win the by-election, and trust that Gordie Hogg’s profile in the area lifts them a few additional points over former MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, who has parachuted in.

The NDP is not a factor here.  I’m sure that strategists at Big Orange are devising ways to drive up Justin’s negatives in the by-election to aid the election of a Conservative.

The latest public polls (caveat emptor) are contradictory regarding federal party standings in BC.   Angus Reid has a four-point CPC lead; Nanos has a six-point Liberal lead; and Abacus has an 11-point Liberal lead.

Then there is turnout.  The 2015 general election had a 75% turnout.  It was a high turnout election to begin with, but in South Surrey-White Rock, they have voting circled in their calendars – it’s an event.   I would expect a drop in turnout like any by-election but not as steep a drop as other places.  Older people will disproportionately vote in a by-election compared to a general election (I have no data at my fingertips to back up this claim, but I think it’s true).  That should give the Conservatives a bit of help.

The Upshot:

The Conservatives had a stronger candidate in 2015 relative to 2011, and the Liberals had candidate trouble.  The Conservatives over-performed; Liberals under-performed.

The Liberals have recruited a strong candidate in 2017; the Conservatives have a good candidate but she is not personally well-known in the riding.  Advantage: Liberals.

The atmosphere in BC is the wildcard.  The Conservatives have a new leader in Andrew Scheer – are they better or worse off than 2015?  Likely worse off as Scheer is not very well-known or defined.  CPC has to make the by-election ballot question about the Liberals and Trudeau, not about local representation.

To that end, just how damaging are the Morneau-small business tax changes?  This riding should feel this issue more than most – it’s full of upper income, white collar professionals with a small ‘c’ conservative tilt.  Many of the people who voted Liberal last time in South Surrey-White Rock are the type of voters that Scheer needs to attract.  If anything, this by-election is a litmus test as to whether that issue – which dominated federal political headlines in August-September, has any teeth at the ballot box.

In three weeks, we’ll know if the voters are feeling like Santa or Scrooge when it comes to the mid-term government.  For the Liberals, this is a seat they never win so they have little to lose so long as they manage expectations.   For the Conservatives, it will be tough loss for a new leader, on the heels of losing a Quebec seat to the Liberals recently, though also an opportunity for momentum for a new leader trying to get established.  Right now, the Conservatives look like they have their work cut out for them.

 

 

 

 

Manitoba Election cheat sheet

“Glorious and Free” is the Manitoba motto.  Free of the NDP by midnight Tuesday, I’ll bet, though not very gloriously.

Despite some late controversy over the Manitoba PC leader’s sojourns to Costa Rica, available evidence seems to indicate it’s the NDP that will be heading to sunnier climes come Tuesday night.  The recent TV debate did nothing to motivate NDP and Liberal voters and, if anything, opened up the Greens as a protest vehicle for centre-left voters.  For British Columbians, some parallels to 2001.  Voters seem focused on getting the job done despite reservations with the leading party.   See my earlier analysis here.

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They have unicorns in Manitoba – maybe the NDP have a chance?

 

In 2011, Greg Selinger’s Manitoba NDP won 45.9% of the popular vote and elected 37 MLAs.

Hugh McFadyen’s PCs won 43.5% of the popular vote and elected 19 MLAs.

The Liberals held the seat of their then-Leader Jon Gerrard and received 7.5% of the popular vote.

While the PCs won rural (non-Northern) Manitoba by 22 points, they couldn’t crack Winnipeg. The NDP harvested 51% of the votes in Winnipeg, powering their majority and added to their seat count with their base of support in Northern Manitoba where they took 61.4% of the vote across five seats.

Table 1: Popular vote by region, 2011 MB election

LIB NDP PC
North 5 seats 4.71% 61.38% 32.44%
Rest of MB 21 seats 4.43% 35.69% 57.84%
Winnipeg 31 seats 9.60% 50.88% 35.67%

The following table ranks the ridings in order of percentage of NDP vote from the 2011 election.  The NDP scored 73.2% in The Pas.  They won 8 seats by over 60% and a further 25 seats by over 50%.  The remaining four seats were in the 45-49% range.   In many jurisdictions like BC, Alberta, and federally, you will see instances of elected members with 30% or less.  Manitoba has been very polarized.

The PCs look poised to win a bushel of seats from the NDP in that group from 45% to 60% (NDP vote in last election). The NDP seats in the plus 60% range may hold.

High profile NDP candidate Wab Kinew, embattled by campaign controversy, is running in Fort Rouge against the Liberal leader Rana Bokhari.  This would be a seat that the NDP ought to lose given the trend in the numbers.  The Liberal leader is out of the picture, it seems. So the PCs could emerge as the winner here.

The Green Leader James Beddome is seeking a seat in Fort Garry-Riverview. A bit of a stretch to see a Green win, but not a surprise to see a decent second.

In the table below, NDP supporters will not want to see any PC wins until much further down the list.  A PC win in a riding that was plus 60% for the NDP last election would be a very bad sign.

Table 2: Seats in order of NDP % of the vote in the 2011 election

Electoral Division Member Elected Party NDP%
The Pas WHITEHEAD, Frank NDP 73.21%
Point Douglas CHIEF, Kevin NDP 72.88%
St. Boniface SELINGER, Greg NDP 68.57%
Thompson ASHTON, Steve NDP 68.20%
Minto SWAN, Andrew NDP 66.00%
St. Johns MACKINTOSH, Gord NDP 65.55%
Concordia WIEBE, Matt NDP 62.72%
Wolseley ALTEMEYER, Rob NDP 60.25%
St. Vital ALLAN, Nancy NDP 59.80%
Kildonan CHOMIAK, Dave NDP 59.20%
Burrows WIGHT, Melanie NDP 59.01%
Logan MARCELINO, Flor NDP 58.09%
Assiniboia RONDEAU, Jim NDP 58.00%
Transcona REID, Daryl NDP 57.92%
Flin Flon PETTERSEN, Clarence NDP 56.84%
Kewatinook ROBINSON, Eric NDP 56.80%
Rossmere BRAUN, Erna NDP 56.38%
Swan River KOSTYSHYN, Ron NDP 55.82%
Selkirk DEWAR, Greg NDP 55.59%
Fort Garry-Riverview ALLUM, James NDP 55.29%
Radisson JHA, Bidhu NDP 54.95%
Dauphin STRUTHERS, Stan NDP 54.78%
Riel MELNICK, Christine NDP 54.69%
Brandon East CALDWELL, Drew NDP 54.68%
Elmwood MALOWAY, Jim NDP 54.15%
Fort Richmond IRVIN-ROSS, Kerri NDP 53.16%
Seine River OSWALD, Theresa NDP 52.88%
Dawson Trail LEMIEUX, Ron NDP 52.24%
Southdale SELBY, Erin NDP 51.84%
The Maples SARAN, Mohinder NDP 51.49%
Gimli BJORNSON, Peter NDP 51.43%
Fort Rouge HOWARD, Jennifer NDP 50.95%
Interlake NEVAKSHONOFF, Tom NDP 50.24%
St. James CROTHERS, Deanne NDP 49.61%
Brandon West HELWER, Reg PC 46.72%
Kirkfield Park BLADY, Sharon NDP 46.61%
Tyndall Park MARCELINO, Ted NDP 45.00%
St. Norbert GAUDREAU, Dave NDP 44.94%
River East MITCHELSON, Bonnie PC 43.92%
Portage la Prairie WISHART, Ian PC 39.14%
Lac du Bonnet EWASKO, Wayne PC 38.42%
St. Paul SCHULER, Ron PC 37.26%
Riding Mountain ROWAT, Leanne PC 34.41%
Arthur-Virden MAGUIRE, Larry PC 30.09%
Charleswood DRIEDGER, Myrna PC 29.88%
Fort Whyte McFADYEN, Hugh PC 29.49%
Spruce Woods CULLEN, Cliff PC 28.47%
La Verendrye SMOOK, Dennis PC 26.02%
Lakeside EICHLER, Ralph PC 25.84%
Tuxedo STEFANSON, Heather PC 25.30%
Midland PEDERSEN, Blaine PC 23.56%
Emerson GRAYDON, Cliff PC 19.60%
Morris TAILLIEU, Mavis PC 19.26%
River Heights GERRARD, Jon Liberal 17.74%
Agassiz BRIESE, Stu PC 17.12%
Morden-Winkler FRIESEN, Cameron PC 11.38%
Steinbach GOERTZEN, Kelvin PC 7.60%
 NDP in MB 45.94%

Manitoba: NDP toast; Libs failure to launch

With the April 19th provincial election looming, the Manitoba NDP is in a dire situation.  It’s not much better for the Liberals.

The PCs have a substantial lead according to most polls.  They have maintained a comfortable margin over the NDP.  Earlier in the campaign, the NDP may have been more preoccupied with the Liberals cannibalizing their vote.  Instead, the Liberal leader has tanked and it hasn’t helped the NDP much.

Figure 1: Depiction of NDP support in Manitoba (second slice for Liberals)11820555

It coulda been ’88 all over again

I campaigned for Sharon Carstairs in 1988 when she zoomed from one seat to twenty and Official Opposition status.  It was a Prairie brush fire.  She darn near won the election, and did in fact force a minority government.  The election had major national implications.

Like the 2016 election, there was a deeply unpopular NDP government.  There was a Liberal Party that was rising in the polls.  And a PC leader that had mixed reviews.  The NDP lost a vote in the Legislature (defeated by their own Speaker) precipitating an election.  Premier Howard Pawley resigned and called a leadership convention, which elected Gary Doer.  Doer, against common practice, was not sworn in as Premier.  He led the Party into the election to a third-place finish.  At least renewal in the NDP was underway.

This election has been far different for the NDP.  The incumbent Premier Greg Selinger faced an internal revolt and beat back the dissidents in a leadership review and limped into the election.  Renewal postponed.

The PCs in 1988 were led by Gary Filmon.  Nice guy.  Bland.  Didn’t set the world on fire.  He narrowly lost to the NDP in 1986 (30 seats to 26).  In 1988, the NDP vote was collapsing but voters weren’t sprinting to the PCs.  Would Filmon get them over the finish line?  If not, political career over.

Enter Sharon Carstairs.  She held her own seat in the Legislature, a minor miracle for a Liberal on the Prairies to be elected in the 1980s.  She built the Party up and stood out as a strong opponent of the Meech Lake Accord, aligning with prominent national opponents  like Jean Chretien.

As a Young Liberal in the day, I drove across the Prairies with my buddy Iain in his Ford Escort to support an improbable breakthrough.  We door-knocked for Liberal candidates like current MPs Kevin Lamoreux and Jim Carr, and former BC Liberal MLA Gulzar Cheema – all who ran in that campaign.  And many others too – let’s just say, there were a lot of “characters” running in that campaign.  Current MP Terry Duguid was the Liberal executive director then.

Carstairs seized the agenda during the TV debate and never looked back.  Momentum that was building, exploded (Gordon Wilson followed this playbook in the 1991 BC election).  She raced to the top of the polls.  When the dust settled, Carstairs won much of Winnipeg, but was held off by the PCs who used their rural muscle to win a plurality of seats, albeit a minority.

Figure 2: Coveted political artefactIMG_4154

 

Carstairs strong opposition to Meech Lake pushed the Filmon government into taking a much tougher position.  The three leaders – Filmon, Carstairs, Doer – were all in Ottawa for the constitutional showdown in June 1990.  They brought the final deal home to Manitoba where Elijah Harper defeated it, and in doing so, killed the Accord.  Do elections matter?  In this case, the Liberal surge in 1988 changed the course of Canada’s constitution.  Meech may have happened with a Filmon majority.

What’s up with 2016?

So, why isn’t it happening this time?  The conditions are there.  Deeply unpopular NDP with a lot of of centre-left voters shopping for an alternative.  The PC leader Brian Palliser is perceived as less moderate than Gary Filmon.  His leadership numbers aren’t bad but they are not great either.  And the federal Liberal brand is far, far stronger in 2016 than it was in 1988.

It boils down to the Liberals.  Sharon Carstairs was a crackerjack leader.  She ultimately could not sustain the growth in Liberal support, but she was the right leader at the right time in 1988.  From my perch going from riding to riding, I detected real enthusiasm from the grassroots and strong leadership in the campaign.  It was loose, it was fun, and everyone was going with it.

This time, the Liberal leader Rana Bokhari has struggled.  Mainstreet polled following the TV leader’s debate on April 12th.  She was a minus 40 on impressions; NDP Premier Greg Selinger was minus 32.  Brian Palliser was a net zero.  That’s a lot of collective disappointment for the voters.  The Green leader James Beddome scored the best.  Her high polling numbers pre-writ masked underlying weaknesses that have been exposed during the writ period.  In 1988, had social media existed, I’m pretty sure some of the guys who got elected as Liberals would not have made it to the ballot box (I could tell you about the guy with mirrors on his ceiling).  In 2016, the Liberals lost six candidates, which blows you off message pretty quickly.  And was there a message?  Not apparently.  Compared to Carstairs, she wasn’t ready.

Palliser also has the good fortune of not having a federal Conservative government in power.  Filmon was plagued by Brian Mulroney who had moved a huge CF-18 contract from Manitoba to Quebec.  If there is a Harper hangover, it hasn’t hurt him too much.

After 1988, Filmon moved to occupy Carstairs’ territory on the Constitution.  He called an election in 1990 and secured a majority, and repeated the feat in 1995.  Gary Doer hung in there, losing three elections before he won three of his own.   The Liberals faded into the background.  With the federal Liberals gaining 45% of the vote in Manitoba six months ago, this was to be their time again after a 27 year frost.

Now, with both the NDP and Liberals performing poorly, and the Greens highly unlikely to convert growth into seats, this has the makings of a very strong PC majority. The NDP should retain a nucleus of members.  It doesn’t look like an apocalypse along the lines of New Brunswick 1987, Canada 1993, or BC 2001.  It may look more like Saskatchewan.  Core NDP seats in Winnipeg and Northern Manitoba should be held even if their popular vote dips as low as 25%.  As for the Liberals, they will look back on missed opportunity.

Update: Mainstreet released a poll April 16th that showed the race at 55% PC; 26% NDP; and with the Greens ahead of the Liberals in Winnipeg, indicating that protest voters may have found a new home.  Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals had 57% in 2001 and took 77 of 79 seats.  I think the NDP in Manitoba will do better than the BC NDP did in 2001 which will save core seats.  They do better with older voters (who vote).

Green Leader James Beddome is running in Fort Garry / Riverview, a seat that went 55% NDP in 2011 but they will likely lose next week.  Voters went federal Liberal in 2015.  So, given his strong debate performance and momentum, it is not out of the question that the Greens win a seat.  The Alberta election saw an Alberta Party member elected along with a lone Liberal.  BC has a Green and an independent provincially, along with a federal Green MP.  Beddome’s riding is adjacent to River Heights which used to send Sharon Carstairs to the Legislature.  It will be a steep hill for the Greens to climb but Beddome will likely do respectably.

 

NDP between a ROC and a hard place

Until 2011, the NDP was scarcely a factor in Quebec.  Jack Layton redrew the federal political map in that election.

The NDP had been on a slow but steady climb in Quebec under Layton, starting with barely 1% of the popular vote and reaching double digits (barely) in the 2008 election.  The meteoric rise in 2011 masked the fact that NDP gains in the Rest of Canada (ROC) were not as spectacular.  The NDP had nested in the 15% to 20% range from 1965 to 1988 before crashing in the 1990s.  Their historic vote was almost entirely in ROC.

The general elections of 2011 and 2015 are the only two in the NDP’s history where the popular vote was higher in Quebec than ROC.  In 2015, ROC fell back to 18% – in its traditional zone as third party.

Chart 1: NDP popular vote (%) in Quebec and Rest of Canada (ROC)Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.43.22 AM.png

Now, with Thomas Mulcair on his way out, does the NDP have a future in Quebec?  It was Mulcair’s by-election victory during the Layton era that helped spark NDP growth.  What will be left of the NDP post-Mulcair?  It risks turning its back on what has become, in the past two elections, a key base of support.

Layton’s high water mark in ROC was 26% (2011).  In order to govern, a new leader will need to eclipse Layton in ROC while renewing support in Quebec post-Mulcair.

A tall order indeed.  Though governing does not appear to be on the NDP’s mind.