Thursday, July 02, 2015

Anatomy of the NDP Surge

The political scene in Canada has changed dramatically since April. Around the time of the Alberta election it became clear that the NDP was surging in the polls nationally. The upward movement was discernible earlier, particularly in BC and Quebec. Nationally, it was the Alberta election that had a catalytic, transformative impact to the benefit of the NDP.  The Alberta surprise suggests that there was potential NDP support across Canada held back by pessimism about the party's prospects.

I present detailed charts (below the analysis) on changes in average poll support both nationally and regionally, starting with a summary chart that outlines the shift in average support that has taken place since April.

Several observations about what has happened:

1. The NDP has made slightly greater gains from the Conservatives than the Liberals (see details in chart) and even appear to have taken some support from the Green Party.

2. For the NDP Quebec is the key to their potential electoral success. If the recent gains are to matter they must be able to push back the recent boost for the Bloc, which emerged after the leadership change that brought back Gilles Duceppe. Many analysts have suggested that the Conservatives might have potential in Quebec. Indeed there was some growth in support for Harper following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris (not the attacks in Canada) raised the profile of terrorism in the province. However, the Conservatives have now fallen back and are close to their 2011 support. The Liberals have gained but as has been the case since 1984 are largely confined to the English speaking parts of Quebec.

3. A second key to the election will be Ontario where something like a three way split has emerged. The NDP has made significant gains, more from the Conservatives than the Liberals. A stagnating economy with limited wage growth, all over the province but especially in the southwest, is likely hurting the Harper Conservatives who regard their economic competence as a key aspect of their reputation. The Liberals remain relatively strong here despite losses. a shift in focus to national issues could still help them. For the moment Harper's growing unpopularity is helping the NDP in Ontario.

However, I suspect the Liberals have been hurt by the Wynne government's plans to privatize Hydro One (the retail and transmission part of the old Ontario Hydro). One cannot overstate how unpopular a move this is. When the previous initiative to privatize hydro was cancelled midstream by the Ernie Eves PC government, one Conservative advisor commented privately at the time that it was the most unpopular thing done by an Ontario government since Bob Rae's first budget. The hydro privatization inevitably helps the NDP.

4. The Liberals have slipped in Atlantic Canada but have encountered greater losses out west.

5. B.C. has become a particular source of strength for the NDP. I currently project the NDP to take more than half the seats there.

6. While Manitoba and Saskatchewan are of little significance to the national picture, the Liberals are poised to win four seats in Manitoba, while the NDP are likely to gain one seat in Manitoba and two or more seats in Saskatchewan.

7. Overall the June polls would put the NDP in first place with 126 seats to 116 for the Conservatives and 92 for the Liberals, but shifting in the polls continued during the month so this estimate likely understates the true picture at the moment.

Conclusions:

Apart from the polls the signs of a Conservative defeat are accumulating. One must add to the sources of decay I noted at the end of May that record numbers of incumbent Conservative MPs are not running again. The October 19 election is less than four months away. The opposition may still be split between the Liberals and the NDP, but it is becoming remarkably clear that much of the Canadian electorate wants Harper out. A new EKOS poll is due out today or tomorrow.  A preview came from Frank Graves in a tweet where he said the poll would report the "second worst direction of government in a decade".

Although Harper looks like he is headed to defeat the opposition remains significantly split between Liberals and the NDP.  Regardless of who has led in the past two years, one constant I have found in estimating seat totals for the parties has been that the NDP plus the Liberals equals a majority. That remains today the most likely reality following October 19.


Poll Change in Canada and Provinces/Regions April to June
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
Bloc
Canada
-4.6
9.7
-3.5
-2.1
1.0
Atlantic
-1.6
7.4
-2.5
-3.1
Quebec
-5.7
6.5
-3.4
-1.2
4.0
Ontario
-5.7
11.6
-3.4
-1.7
Man. & Sask
-4.9
9.6
-5.2
0.3
Alberta
1.7
6.4
-5.1
-1.6
British Columbia
-3.8
13.4
-5.2
-3.6

Averages and change / Canada and Province/Regions April to June

Canada
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
Bloc
April
33.1
23.1
30.5
7.1
4.3
May
30.5
28.6
28.5
6.6
4.0
June
28.5
32.8
27.0
5.0
5.3
Change
April to June
-4.6
9.7
-3.5
-2.1
1.0
Atlantic
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
April
25.1
20.3
45.2
7.8
May
23.8
23.6
43.6
7.1
June
23.6
27.7
42.7
4.7
Change
April to June
-1.6
7.4
-2.5
-3.1
Quebec
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
Bloc
April
21.4
28.4
26.2
4.7
17.8
May
16.0
35.7
25.5
4.9
16.1
June
15.7
34.8
22.8
3.5
21.8
Change
April to June
-5.7
6.5
-3.4
-1.2
4.0
Ontario
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
April
37.5
19.9
33.6
6.6
May
34.5
24.4
33.4
6.2
June
31.8
31.5
30.2
4.8
Change
April to June
-5.7
11.6
-3.4
-1.7
MB & SK
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
April
42.0
20.1
30.7
5.7
May
40.9
24.7
26.0
5.4
June
37.1
29.6
25.5
6.0
Change
April to June
-4.9
9.6
-5.2
0.3
Alberta
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
April
44.8
23.3
22.9
5.4
May
48.9
26.5
15.9
5.3
June
46.5
29.7
17.8
3.8
Change
April to June
1.7
6.4
-5.1
-1.6
British Columbia
C.P.C
NDP
Liberal
Green
April
31.6
24.2
29.0
12.9
May
28.4
32.0
26.5
11.4
June
27.8
37.6
23.8
9.3
Change
April to June
-3.8
13.4
-5.2
-3.6


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Thomas Mulcair and the Canadian Senate

The Senate Chamber
Tom Mulcair has been campaigning against the Canadian Senate, taking advantage of antipathy to the institution in the wake of Senate scandals. The NDP has long promised to abolish the Canadian Senate so it should come as no surprise that Mulcair is seeking to make abolishing the Senate an election issue. It came as no surprise that this would immediately produce commentary arguing that this promise had "little if any chance of being delivered".

Abolishing the Senate requires the agreement of the House of Commons plus all ten provincial legislatures (the Senate itself cannot block abolition). A comprehensive inquiry posed by Maclean's to provincial premiers revealed just two affirmative responses - from Saskatchewan and Manitoba - on the issue of abolishing the Senate. P.E.I. and Quebec expressed clear opposition to abolition; others were either non-committal or unclear.

P.E.I.'s opposition is rooted in the fact that the province is small and has four MPs and a like number of Senators, in absolute terms very few. That appears to be how islanders think about the institution even though their tiny population would actually warrant less representation.

Quebec's case is different. The original movement for Triple 'E' derived from hostility to central Canada (including both Ontario and Quebec) as a result of the National Energy Program from the early eighties. Quebec public opinion has generally been hostile to the senate ever since, and more open to proposals to abolish.

However, it is likely Quebec governments have been cognizant of Quebec's declining share of national population. As high as 29% as recently as 1966, Quebec's share of population is currently 23.1%, barely greater than its 22.9% share of the Senate. I suspect this accounts for the Quebec government's current position.

In the past Quebec has voiced support for having the province be granted the authority to select senators, but never before has it so clearly expressed its opposition to abolition, as witnessed by Premier Couillard's recent statement:"Quebec is and always will be against the abolition of the Senate. It is in Quebec’s interest." If Quebec's share of population once again approached its 1966 share the new circumstances would no doubt reveal Couillard's assertion that Quebec "always will be against abolition" to be untrue.

An EKOS poll released on June 19 reported greater support for "serious reform" of the Senate than abolition even among NDP voters.  However, the word "reform" is like the words, freedom, equality and democratic: it is a positive buzzword that skews the outcome towards reform and away from abolition. Many surveys do report substantial support for "senate reform", and I suspect there are large numbers of Canadians who would be reluctant to embrace abolition. However, the most recent survey in Quebec by CROP reported 66% favoured abolition when the only alternative presented was the status quo (EKOS found the strongest support for abolition in Quebec). Other surveys posing a similar question in other parts of Canada would be helpful in giving us a complete picture of public opinion. A national referendum could easily pose the question in those terms.

The work the Senate has done that has value, particularly various policy studies done by Senate committees, would not begin to justify creating the institution if it did not already exist. As an institution it has more often than not been a useful form of patronage for the governing party for party fund-raising and organizing.

I produced a documentary on the Senate in 1985 for CBC's The Journal. [Full disclosure: I should also add that I worked on Senate issues while employed by the Ontario Government.] In preparing the program, I talked on the phone to one former senator, John Nichol, who had resigned from the Senate after seven years. I asked him why he became a senator in the first place. The answer was that it was because he had been elected as president of the Liberal Party of Canada, and the Senate was a good place from which to carry out his political responsibilities. He left shortly after exiting the Liberal Party post, despite being implored by fellow Senators to stay, because his role as a national party organizer was finished and he wanted to spend his time in his home province of British Columbia.

Campaigning to abolish the Senate will help Mulcair, not hurt him. If elected to a majority this year, one option he should consider is initiating the process of abolition by passing a constitutional resolution including the requisite amendments. There is no time limit on amendments requiring unanimous provincial consent. Actually taking the initiative could change the dynamic of public opinion in Canada - six of the ten statements from premiers were qualified to one degree or another. Taking the initiative could potentially provoke a viral movement towards abolition. There is a political convention that one amends the constitution by first seeking agreement among the provinces and federal government through negotiations. Most commentary takes this as a premise, as if it were a hard and fast rule about how to approach amendment. Acting unilaterally would permit the NDP to keep its promise and would be an innovation in how to approach constitutional amendment in Canada. Mulcair has nothing to lose by doing so. He should consider it.

Even if the effort fails, Mulcair could then claim he kept faith with the NDP's promise on abolition. Given that circumstances could evolve where he woud have no choice but to appoint senators, this could give him the necessary political cover to do what may become inevitable. One real problem he may confront is that the existing Senate could turn out to be hostile to initiatives from a new NDP government in the Commons.

Assuming the Senate does not change what can we expect to see? At the moment there are just 49 Conservative Senators,  29 Senate Liberals, 7 Independents, including Mike Duffy, Pam Wallin, and three others formerly in the Tory Senate caucus, and 20 vacancies. Control of the Senate could be guaranteed for the Conservatives for years to come if Harper filled the vacancies before the election, but it is unlikely he would be willing to accept the political cost.

The Canadian Prime Minister with the shortest tenure in Canadian history, Charles Tupper, once tried to appoint several senators immediately following defeat in the 1896 election. The Governor-General of the day, Lord Aberdeen, in a rare example of the representative of the crown refusing the advice of a prime minister, turned him down. There is a reasonable constitutional argument to be made that, following an election, the prime minister should first seek the confidence of the House of Commons before such appointments are made. It would not surprise me in the least if a similar scenario presented itself this year. If Stephen Harper appoints new senators after the election before attempting to win a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, the appointments should be challenged, if they are not first refused by the Governor-General.