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.

 

 

 

 

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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.