Opportunity knocks for BC Liberal leadership candidates

BC Liberals aren’t in the habit of electing leaders very often – only twice in the last 24 years.  I was fortunate to have directed the campaigns in both cases – Gordon Campbell in 1993 and Christy Clark in 2011.

Those races were very different.  Gordon Campbell was the outsider who joined the party on the eve of announcing his candidacy.  While the party was the official opposition, its organization was threadbare having gone from zero to 17 seats in a populist brushfire in the 1991 election.  Campbell’s leadership campaign, and subsequent efforts over seventeen plus years as leader, built the guts and machinery of the modern day BC Liberal Party.  The 2011 campaign featured three serious senior cabinet contenders – George Abbott, Kevin Falcon, and Michael de Jong – and Christy Clark, who ran from the outside in the aftermath of the government’s handling of the HST.  However, Christy was no stranger to the Party.  She had served as MLA for nine years until 2005, including Deputy Premier, and was one of BC’s most recognizable names.  Unlike Campbell who spent eight long years winning his way into government, Clark went straight to the premier’s chair.  She brought a fresh look and focused agenda, enabling the party to win an improbable election in 2013.

This time will be different yet again.  The party is in a stronger position organizationally than 1993 and even stronger than 2011, though not in government.   The next leader has a better opportunity than Campbell had to take power in the subsequent election and does not have as challenging an internal dynamic as Clark had in 2011.  Nevertheless, the final furlong is always the hardest and the next leader will be under huge pressure to deliver victory in a party that has grown accustomed to winning.

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The contenders are assembling at the gates for the BC Liberal leadership race

Vaughn Palmer wrote recently on potential leadership candidates with the headline shouting “BC Liberals slag own potential leaders”.  Of course, these are unnamed sources who hide behind the curtain.  It certainly doesn’t reflect my own view.

As someone who has worked in the engine room of politics, I try to follow Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim that “thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow [BC Liberal]”.  Leadership aspirants are contemplating making huge personal sacrifices to put themselves on the line.  Running in a leadership contest is a politically naked process – it’s all about you.  You can’t hide behind someone else.

What I see is a field of potential candidates that all offer something unique.  There is no question that each candidate has to overcome perceived weaknesses, but that’s why you have a leadership race.  The leadership race is a trial by fire where the most organized, most eloquent, most driven, most motivating and compelling candidates rise to the fore.

Another of my political maxims, based on years of scientific research, is that “You can’t win if you don’t run”.  Politics is full of surprises.  Joe Clark in 1976.  Bob Skelly in 1984.  Stephane Dion in 2006.  Andrew Scheer was hardly a front-runner for the CPC leadership when it started and Maxime Bernier was certainly not seen as a main contender.  Let’s not forget Jeremy Corbyn in the UK (twice) and Donald Trump.  Then there’s John Horgan – when no one wanted the job – and now he’s Premier.

When I look at the field of potential candidates that people are chatting to me about, they all have an interesting story.  Winning means taking it to a higher level than where they are today, but they all have something to build from.  My hope is that we have a race where individual candidates make great strides in reaching their potential, and in doing so, make a significant contribution to building the party going forward.

All leadership candidates will have to demonstrate they can lead and win at the highest level.    It’s not whether one is a liberal or conservative; rural, suburban, or urban; or male or female.  The best candidate will be the one who can sell his or her vision to the membership.  Rather than slag them, or rule them out on some superficial basis, I say “thank you” for considering running and encourage them all to step bravely forward to articulate their vision for British Columbia.

 

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BC Liberals renewing, NDP not so much

Updated (March 19, 5:30pm)

The renewal dynamic had a new twist on March 18th when NDP members rejected Leader John Horgan’s chosen candidate, Lower Nicola First Nations Chief Aaron Sam, and opted for Harry Lali who first won in 1991, re-elected in 1996, did not run in 2001, elected in 2005, re-elected in 2009, and defeated in 2013.  Lali’s candidacy puts a punctuation mark on my blog post.

—–

Andrew Weaver raised the issue of term limits for BC politicians.  He assumes that voters can’t make up their own mind whether they want to keep their MLA or not.  It’s not such a bad thing to have a bit of experience in the Legislature.  I suppose Andrew Weaver would have had Winston Churchill sit out WWII!  I can hear the cries of “Shame!” emanating from Oak Bay right now.

But renewal is important.  Most voters would say that “new blood” is important for our public institutions.  I certainly believe that.  Last election, Premier Christy Clark made a strong statement by recruiting a lot of new, strong candidates.  It was seen as one of the hallmarks of her success.  Half of her caucus was newly elected in 2013, which is uncommonly high.  This time, the Premier continues to recruit strong new candidates like First Nations leaders Ellis Ross, Wanda Good, and Dallas Smith; former Coast Capital CEO Tracy Redies; and former journalists Steve Darling and Jas Johal… just to name a handful from a very solid list.

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Premier Christy Clark serving up some renewal with candidates like Dallas Smith (North Island)

How have the BC Liberals and NDP renewed themselves? The past three provincial elections have seen a level of stability in BC and provides a basis to compare:

  • 2005: 46 BC Liberals vs 33 NDP
  • 2009: 49 BC Liberals vs 35 NDP vs 1 IND
  • 2013: 49 BC Liberals vs 34 NDP vs 1 IND vs 1 Green

In terms of renewal, you would think there would be more BC Liberals remaining from the class of 2005 than NDP since there were more BC Liberals elected.  In fact, the opposite is true.

  • There are 15 NDP MLAs from 2005 running for re-election in 2017.  That equates to 45% of NDP MLAs elected in 2005 still around to seek another term in office in 2017.  Plus Jagrup Brar, who was elected from 2004-2013, is seeking to return.  Harry Lali (1991-2001, 2005-2013) also now adds to this list.
  • The BC Liberals elected 46 MLAs in 2005 but only 9 remain today to run in the 2017 election.  Thus, less than 20% of BC Liberal MLAs elected in 2005 are running today.
  • Thus, using 2005 as a point of reference, the BC Liberals have renewed at more than twice the rate than the NDP.

Another way to look at it is that out of 87 ridings today, only 18 BC Liberal MLAs seeking re-election in 2017 were elected prior to 2013.  That group makes up only 20% of the BCL candidate slate, and only 43% of the current caucus (with the remainder having been elected in 2013).  That is also a pretty good renewal rate.

The BC NDP have 20 MLAs who have been around since prior to 2009 that are seeking re-election, which is 57% of their current caucus. Their renewal rate is lower.  NDP MLAs stick around longer, especially on Vancouver Island.

On Vancouver Island, there is only Michelle Stilwell seeking re-election for the BC Liberals and she was elected in 2013.  The NDP have 8 MLAs that were elected in 2005 and going for their fourth term.  That seems like the opposite of renewal and sets up a clear contrast between the parties.  For those Canucks fans arguing for a rebuild of the team, that’s what is happening on the Island for the BC Liberals.  After disappointing results in 2013, the BC Liberals have pressed reset, retooled, and relaunched with a slate of candidates that bring new energy.  Same old NDP faces, for the most part.

Andrew Weaver’s motivation to renew the Legislature is a good thing.  The BC Liberals have excelled at renewal compared to many modern political parties.  Perhaps Dr. Weaver is surrounded on Vancouver Island by so many BC NDP MLAs seeking a fourth term that he sees term limits as his only escape.  This time, there may be a cohort of first-term BC Liberal MLAs on the Island to ease his concerns… maybe even in Oak Bay.

For reference (Class of 2005):

2005 NDP 2005 BCL
Running in 2017 Out of office/retiring Running in 2017 Out of office/retiring
Fraser Simpson de Jong van Dongen
Chouhan Wyse Lee MacKay
D.Routley MacDonald Coleman Nuraney
Horgan Thorne Polak Bloy
Krog Gentner Bond Penner
Trevena Karagianis Reid Les
Farnworth Sather Yap Hagen
Simons Evans Sultan Roddick
Bains Puchmayer Rustad Bennett
Ralston Coons Richmond
Simpson Cubberley Krueger
Dix Austin Horning
James Hammell Hawkins
Fleming Kwan Hawes
Conroy Robertson Cantelon
 Brar (2004-2013) Chudnovsky Whittred
 Lali Jarvis
Chong
Christensen
Thorpe
Neufeld
17 16 9 Lekstrom
Barisoff
Black
Bell
Ililch
Coell
Abbott
Falcon
Hayer
Hogg
Mayencourt
Oppal
Taylor
Campbell
Hansen
McIintyre
37

Reflections on RFK, and a brush with history

We’ve seen and read a lot about the 2016 US presidential campaign, and most of it is dispiriting.  My mind has wandered back recently to 1968 where serious issues were tackled by serious candidates in both parties.  Campaigns attacked the issues of 1968 head-on with passion and eloquence.  Like today, it was a campaign no one could have predicted months before and it is a campaign I have revisited many times thanks to my family’s own fleeting connection to RFK during the Oregon primary.

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This autographed campaign poster adorns my office wall, as it did my father’s. Signed by RFK at the Portland Zoo, May 24, 1968. Also signed by Astronaut John Glenn (faded ballpoint).

Senator Robert F. Kennedy sat on the sidelines in late 1967 and early 1968, unwilling to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination.   As the Vietnam war deepened during LBJ’s presidency, so did RFK’s opposition but he did not want to be the object of polarization by taking on a sitting president with whom there was mutual enmity.  Instead, Senator Eugene McCarthy (Minnesota) took on the mantle of the anti-war movement and challenged LBJ in the New Hampshire primary, finishing second but succeeding in exposing the President’s vulnerability.  McCarthy was one of those Democrats who caught fire on college campuses and with righteous liberals, like Bernie Sanders.

With a  split in the party now wide open, RFK decided to join the race, launching a frenetic, relentless campaign that would last 82 days.

Within weeks of RFK’s campaign launch, LBJ shocked the nation by announcing he would not stand for re-election.  From March 31st on, RFK was locked in battle with two Minnesotans – the insurgent McCarthy and the establishment choice Vice-President Hubert Humphrey – for delegates to the 1968 Democratic convention to be held in Chicago.

Attacked for his opportunism by McCarthy, and resented by President Johnson and the incumbent Democratic Party establishment, RFK had a difficult path.  He was 42-years old and seen as ruthless and ambitious.  He brought the powerful Kennedy machine, the emotional punch of his brother’s unfulfilled presidency, but most importantly, he brought a fervent passion that matched the temper of the times.

His campaign was launched on the fly.  It did not have a corporate headquarters in Brooklyn or Chicago like the major campaigns of today.  Rather, it was launched out of a cannon, heading to states where primaries were being held and where he still had time to get on the ballot.

Some of the initial events were in Kansas, hardly what we would think of today as fertile Democratic soil, yet 15,000 students jammed the field house at Kansas State University to hear him speak about Vietnam, race, and poverty.  He spoke, he took questions, there were hecklers, there was give and take. He was greeted by throngs at airports and parking lots by people with handmade signs.  He went out of his way to speak on Indian reservations – it was a priority for him, even if it defied conventional political calculus.  His campaign was followed by teams of print reporters following his utterances.  The reporters would know when to board the campaign train or bus as almost every campaign speech closed with a quote from George Bernard Shaw, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Then, as the campaign turned into April, surprise struck again.  On April 4th, Reverend Martin Luther King was struck down by an assassin’s bullet.  It so happened that RFK was heading toward a rally in Indianapolis where about 1,000 were gathered, mostly from the black community.  When he mounted the platform, he realized that they had not yet heard the news – no text messages or Facebook posts announced the news in those days.  In what was one of his greatest moments he addressed the crowd, without notes, preaching against hatred, lawlessness, and violence, instead pleading for love, wisdom, and compassion.  He spoke about the loss of Rev. King and speaking of the loss of his own brother by an assassin’s bullet.  He quoted Greek philosophers.  This was a man with considerable reach, to draw upon the words in the most volatile of moments.  The video below is riveting.

Indiana was pivotal for RFK.  It was not a natural constituency for his campaign.  The Governor ran as a ‘favourite son’ candidate and had been the proxy for LBJ.  He was backed by the major newspapers which ran negative Kennedy stories incessantly.  McCarthy was also on the ballot and had his constituency of anti-war Democrats and college students.  RFK stitched together a coalition of working-class whites and the black community, while tailoring his message to resonate with Indiana’s inherent conservative values.  By the end of the Indiana campaign, the Kennedy motorcade would slowly drive through towns waving to crowds on the side of the road.  His body-man would spend the entire day kneeling on the convertible’s back seat holding Kennedy while he leaned forth to shake hands.  The campaign threaded the needle and the primary was won.  Where JFK had settled on West Virginia as the narrative bedrock for his successful campaign, Indiana took on that role for RFK.

The campaign ultimately led to Oregon, a key primary state voting May 28th, one week before the massive California primary.  Back in 1968, with fewer primary states, the California primary was extremely important, unlike today when the presidential primaries are essentially wrapped up by June.

The Kennedy campaign struggled in Oregon.  It did not generate the passion and enthusiasm seen in other places.  Crowds were polite and calm.  Things were a little too good in Oregon to be ruffled by the anxiety and anger seething in other places in America.  Senator McCarthy had traction and RFK was having difficulty keeping pace.

This is where the McDonald family from Haney, BC enters the picture.  My father, Peter, organized (or rather, schemed) a family vacation down to Portland to coincide with the Oregon primary.  The McDonald family (my parents, three sisters, and brother) crossed paths with the Kennedy family at the Portland Zoo on May 25, 1968.

I have heard the stories many times over the years from my parents and my older siblings. Their recollections provide an innocent glimpse into presidential campaigning in stark contrast to the events that unfolded a week later.

My siblings have remarked that the zoo wasn’t very busy that day and access to RFK was fairly easy – security was present, but not intrusive.  There were handshakes and photos while the Kennedy family walked about the zoo.  My sister Julia recalls that RFK said to her, “Is this your autograph book little girl?”  She responded, “Yes.  We live in Canada, but if we lived in the United States, my Dad would vote for you.” Family lore also suggests that my brother, Ian, was kissed on the forehead by RFK.  Here are some McDonald family photos:

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Ethel Kennedy in foreground, RFK chatting with voters (Julia McDonald scrapbook collection)

Not only was the Kennedy family campaigning, so was famous astronaut John Glenn.  Glenn, who died this week at age 95, signed autographs and urged support for Kennedy.  My sisters remember him as a class act.

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My father collected my sisters together to meet Glenn.  He asked where they were from and when hearing they were from Canada, my sister Julia recalls that he said he enjoyed hunting in Canada.  Julia says that my mother’s recollection is that he told them to
study Science but attributes that to motherly-spin.

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A great UPI photo of the Kennedy’s framed by a cooperative elephant. Michigan scholar Paul Lee notes that RFK has a rose pinned to his lapel, in honour of Portland – the “City of roses”

At some point, Kennedy was on the move toward the train that runs through the zoo.  My father managed to get alongside him while they were on a staircase heading in that direction.  Here is my dad, 35 years old, and having spent the 1960s as a very active volunteer for the Liberal Party.  He was switched-on to politics, big time.  He avidly followed the campaigns of Stevenson-Eisenhower, Nixon-JFK, Pearson-Diefenbaker, and was a delegate to the Convention that elected Pierre Trudeau.  He managed campaigns, served as municipal councillor, and would soon be a provincial candidate.  Add to that the atmosphere of upheaval in the US with the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King a month earlier, and the rising voice of Baby Boomer student protest… What a moment!

So, here he was, Pete from Haney, on the stairwell with RFK.   Family folklore advises me that the following happened.

Peter: “Senator Kennedy, I’m a big fan of yours… I’m from Canada”.

RFK: “Who the F8#k caahhhhhs”.

That may not be verbatim, but it’s close.  RFK could be a little impatient.

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RFK in front row with John Glenn and Ethel Kennedy

Despite this terse brush off (well, it can be argued my Dad was in the way of actual Oregon voters),  RFK and his family continued to the train with the McDonald family, undeterred, in hot pursuit.  My family boarded the same zoo train as the Kennedy’s.  As the train went around a bend, Ethel leaned out and looked backwards and waved to may family’s car near the back of the train.  My sister Sara, then 11 years old, said “It felt like she was waving at us and we waved back.  It was a big deal!”  As the train slowly made its way around the zoo, it was about to collide with another force – the McCarthy campaign.

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Senator Eugene McCarthy

Senator McCarthy came to the zoo looking to challenge RFK to a debate.  McCarthy was leading in the primary and had RFK on the defensive.  As the train came to a stop, nervous Kennedy aides briefed their candidate that McCarthy was on the prowl and seeking a confrontation.  An alert family member heard RFK say, “Let’s get the F*#k out of here”.  My mother, Helen, recollects that the Kennedys literally disappeared in a cloud of dust, bodies everywhere sprinting to their motorcade.  Sister Sara remembers Kennedy supporter Rafer Johnson, a US Olympian, scooping up Ethel and running with her in his arms to the motorcade and “threw her (as in really threw her)” into the car.

McCarthy missed Kennedy but jumped on the media bus, which was still parked at the curb, and took full advantage of the hasty departure by holding court with the national press.  McCarthy went on to defeat Kennedy in the Oregon primary on May 28, 1968.

The McDonald family, no doubt exhilarated by this brush with fame and power, finished up its brief Oregon vacation and headed north up the I-5 back to sleepy Haney.  A week later, they awoke to the news that Robert Kennedy had been slain in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after triumphing in the June 4th California primary.  My mother recalls my then 7-year old sister, Sylvia, saying, “But how can he be dead when he was so alive?”

Six months after the assassination, Ethel Kennedy gave birth to her daughter Rory, on December 12th, 1968.  My mother gave birth to me the next day on December 13th.  Born hours apart, worlds apart, but connected for a few brief moments on the campaign trail at the Portland Zoo.

Unlike me, Rory did not have the privilege of knowing a father.  And America will never know what could have become of the unfulfilled promise of Robert F. Kennedy, president or otherwise.

** UPDATE ** 

Since writing my blog post, I had the honour of receiving correspondence from Paul Lee, a scholar based in Highland Park, Michigan.  Paul writes that he is working on a book on Bobby Kennedy’s “remarkable relationship” with non-“white” peoples.  In his words, he is making the “critical interpretation of archival/historical photos, videos and sound recordings” a major part of his research.

He kindly forwarded additional information from that day at the Portland Zoo, including a 41-second black and white video and the UPI photo shown above.  The video includes the visit from Senator McCarthy.

Paul brought to my attention that it was US Olympian Rafer Johnson who scooped up Ethel and carried her to the motorcade to evade Senator McCarthy.  Our family recollection was that it was Rosey Grier, but I have corrected the record above thanks to Paul’s research.

I have been asked about the curt exchange between RFK and my father.  This was considered out of character.  However, having known my mother for 48 years, I am pretty certain that she has the straight goods on this one.  It seems Bobby was just having a bad day… it happens!

Thanks to Paul for his contributions.  He has various RFK videos posted on his YouTube channel.

News Coverage (thanks to Paul Lee):

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The Aftermath:

Old newspapers from June 1968: the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Province, and Life Magazine:

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Kennedy campaign brochure:

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More Background:

Video: Kennedy and Glenn on the hustings in Oregon with a voiceover of one of Kennedy’s famous speeches during the campaign:

There are many excellent books about the 1968 campaign.

Two books focus solely on the Kennedy campaign.  Witcover details the behind-the-scenes action leading up to, and taking place throughout the Kennedy campaign.  Clarke captures the passion and excitement of the campaign trail.

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Theodore H. White defined presidential campaign reporting and his 1968 edition covers both parties in detail.

This 1960 edition is viewed as one of the most important political books of the 20th century.

 

 

 

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Joe McGinnis wrote this seminal work on how Nixon adapted modern advertising techniques to shape his candidacy.  Nixon’s comeback after losing in 1960 and losing again in the 1962 California gubernatorial race was well-planned.

The key person behind Nixon’s strategy? Roger Ailes, late of Fox News.  Thanks to Dick Drew, former owner of CKAY Radio in Duncan, BC, for recommending this book to me.

 

Julia’s scrapbook:

And finally, the full Julia McDonald scrapbook view.  The giraffe gets a lot of attention:

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Trumping Clinton: 7 days of momentum

USC is running a rolling track poll where they interview 300-400 people a day (online) right through to Election Day.  This is a serious poll with serious methodology.  The numbers shown daily represent seven days of tracking. Each day, the daily results from 7 days ago drop off and the current day is added, making it a rolling track.  This smooths results and shows more of a trendline rather than sudden shifts.  So, if there is a big move, it might not become fully apparent for several days.

For the past 7 days, Donald Trump’s support has increased to, now, a 7 point lead.  This includes several days now of the Democratic National Convention.  Trump certainly had an RNC  Convention bounce but yet to see a Dem bounce.

Chart 1: Election forecast (n=2150)

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Some Democratic pundits have cautioned against “bedwetting”.  Yes, it’s July.  There’s a long way to go.

The issue the Democrats have to confront, however, is that Trump can win.  There has been a lot of commentary about how it’s impossible for Trump to win because of lack of support among Hispanics, Blacks, women, etc.  However, he is crushing it with whites and males.

 

Here is a breakdown of the numbers to show how Trump is rising:

Chart 2: Predicted Winner

While Hillary Clinton is still seen as the likely winner by 49% to 45%, that gap has narrowed from 13 points to 4 points in the past 17 days.  More Americans are believing in the possibility of a Trump presidency – will that help or hurt Trump?

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Chart 3: Intention to Vote

Trump and Clinton supporters are virtually tied when it comes to whether they intend to vote.  They have leapfrogged on this.  Trump’s turnout numbers are likely helped because he has strong support among older voters; Clinton’s turnout numbers are likely helped because Trump is highly polarizing and antagonizing.

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Chart 4: Seniors 

Trump has a big lead (55% to 38%), and seniors typically vote at a higher rate.  Trump leads 18-34s too, right now.

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Chart 5: Whites

Trump leads white Americans 57% to 31%.  African-American voters are 81% to 4% for Clinton.  Hispanics, though, are reported at 50% to 37% for Clinton.  This is where one might wonder if the poll has a large enough, or representative, sample of Hispanic voters.  Or maybe that’s reality – are gender and age are ‘trumping’ race among Hispanics?

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Chart 6: Men

Trump leads Clinton by 17 points among men (53% – 36%) while Clinton has a two-point lead among women.

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What does it all mean?

Trump can win.  If you can rack up a 7 point lead, you can obviously win.  Even if this poll is inaccurate, other polls are showing Trump is leading.  Even though Hillary has a small lead in Ohio, Trump has a small lead in Florida.

The challenge for Democrats is to approach the race for what it is – a very unconventional campaign.  Trump is attracting voters who are very anti-establishment including alienated Democrats.  How many more examples do we need to see – Rob Ford, Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, and Trump himself – to understand that there is a very large constituency for those who tap into the vein of frustration, resentment, and anxiety?

This rise in Trump support may be short-term.  It may be illusory.  It may be overstated.  But it proves that Clinton is no shoo-in.   The presidential campaign has been very unkind to her personal popularity and favourables.  Bernie Sanders did a lot to soften her support and drive votes away.  She has gone from a plus 10% to minus 17% in two years.  At her peak back in 2008, she had 69% favourable rating.

Chart 7: Hillary Clinton’s favourables over past two years.

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So, the first thing Democrats have to face is that they have a problem.  Now, deal with it.  If the DNC Convention does not move the dial, then it’s time for Plan B, whatever that is.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Flashback: A week in Ottawa in 1986

Thirty years ago this month, I was given the opportunity to participate in the Forum for Young Canadians.  The name speaks for itself – for one week in Ottawa, young Canadians from all over Canada came together to learn about Canada’s institutions and learn from each other.

Forum is one example of the power of bringing young Canadians together. In my case, it led to many lifelong friendships and it opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of our federation.  It also opened my eyes to the potential of contributing to the life of Canadian institutions.

How many young people were inspired to be a part of public service that week?  Well, it certainly fuelled my engine in terms of politics and government.  I was already hopelessly hooked as a teenager (an oddity), but I certainly came home with an even bigger appetite.

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There were a lot of kids from all over Canada.  In the photo above , you will also see Cyrus Reporter, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  All the way from Merritt, BC.

And Stuart Hickox, the Executive Director of ONE.org in Canada, Bono’s initiative to combat extreme poverty in the world.  My volunteer work with ONE stems from meeting Stuart at Forum 30 years ago, where he traveled from Winsloe, PEI.

I met lifelong friend Kimball Kastelen, who I cajoled into joining the BC Liberal Party and he made it to the ballot in 1991, placing a strong second in Kamloops.

 

At the end of that week in Ottawa, there was a FFYC Freer Trade document
mock First Ministers’ Conference held with students forming provincial delegations and selecting a premier from amongst their ranks.

Kimball and I didn’t have a lot to do so we decided to promote a free trade agreement.  For the balance of the day, we lobbied provincial delegations and managed to secure the agreement as one of the conference’s top priorities, with 8 of 10 provinces agreeing. Typically, Ontario refused to part with its protectionist ways but Manitoba was being hopelessly ideological.  In any event, we got it done.  (Brian Mulroney was a little late to the game with his free trade agreement).

Yes, I know.  Hopelessly geeky. No, not the fact that we were earnest students.  The fact that I would keep this piece of paper for 30 years!

With my Liberal heart beating inside me, the other mission that week was to pay homage to my Leader, Rt. Hon. John Turner in his 4th floor Centre Block office.

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His ever attentive constituency assistant, Diane (Wells) Ledingham, arranged for me to crash a meeting between Mr. Turner and one of the Forum participants from Vancouver Quadra, Tom Kaweski, who despite my interloping, remains a lifelong friend.

Think about that.  A former prime minister, then serving as Leader of the Opposition, making 15 minutes to shoot the breeze with two teenagers from BC.  I’m not sure that happens as much anymore – maybe it does.  But it sure made an impression on me.  Mr. Turner, resplendent in his red cardigan, showed us around his office, including the secret panel where apparently MacKenzie King would hide from people demanding to see him.

It was a different time.  There was virtually no security on Parliament Hill.  We wandered the tunnels and hallways freely.  There was no email or social media.  There were no cel phones.  Fax machines were new!  When our week concluded, those of us who stayed in touch sent each other handwritten letters.  Believe it or not Millennials, that’s how it used to be done.

Of those fresh-faced youngsters in the group photo, I’m not sure where most of them ended up, but I assume many are leaders in their community, academia, government, business or NGOs.  In any case, I expect that that week in Ottawa 30 years ago was as  formative experience in their lives as it was for me.

I don’t think Canada can have too much of these programs.  The more interaction among young people from different regions and walks of life – the better; the more exposure to federal institutions – the better.

It’s good to see Forum continuing their good work.  It remains a great program for young people today and in the future.