Friday, August 21, 2015

The Wynne-Harper Feud

A version of this item has been crossposted at iPolitics.

One warm spring evening in 1957 the Premier of Ontario, Leslie Frost, mounted the stage of Toronto's Massey Hall at a Progressive Conservative rally marking the official launch of the federal party's campaign - one that would end 22 years of national Liberal rule.

Premier Frost's role was to introduce the main speaker of the evening, federal Tory Leader John Diefenbaker. He did that and something else besides: his introduction to launch a blistering attack on a recent federal tax-sharing deal offered to the provinces, declaring the issue wasn't "...the Federal Government giving Ontario or the provinces anything. That is the patronizing attitude of Ottawa. All we ask is a reasonable part of our own, a part which is commensurate with the size of the job we have to do...."

Ontario Premier Leslie Frost
 and John Diefenbaker
Frost wanted more resources from the federal government to fund investment in infrastructure, education and economic development among other things. Diefenbaker agreed that Dominion-provincial fiscal relationships "were in a mess." However, he also pledged tax cuts as "one of the major items of business at the next session of Parliament."

La plus ça change.

A dozen years earlier Prime Minister Mackenzie King jousted with Ontario Premier George Drew over the timing of federal and provincial elections as World War II came to an end. Drew, having lost a vote of confidence, scheduled an election for June 11, 1945.  King's five year mandate was up and he planned a federal vote for June 25. Fearing the impact of an Ontario Conservative victory on the federal campaign, King (on the legendary C.D. Howe's advice) called the federal election to coincide with the Ontario election. It was not to be. While King attended FDR's funeral in Hyde Park, Drew outmaneuvered King by moving the date up to June 4. It was too late for King to react. Both would win their electoral contests, but clearly established that federal-provincial feuding would be the new normal - even during elections.

In 2015 the premier is Kathleen Wynne and the prime minister is Stephen Harper. He is refusing to offer federal administrative support to Wynne's proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. She, in response, is doing whatever she can to support Justin Trudeau.

It is hard to overstate just how deeply irresponsible Harper's position is. Federal-provincial cooperation is an essential part of how the federation functions. For example, all provinces except Quebec have their own personal and corporate income taxes collected by Revenue Canada.

Federal-provincial cooperation failed during the SARS crisis of 2003. A subsequent report stated that without fixing this problem Canada would "be at greater risk from infectious disease and will look like fools in the international community."

Various Harper ministers have issued press releases and tweets touting the virtues of federal-provincial cooperation. Free trade agreements require provincial cooperation to be implemented and respected. To take one (rare) example of provincial non-cooperation - when Newfoundland under Premier Danny Williams broke the usual protocols by expropriating the assets of AbitibiBowater, the cost of the action brought by the company under NAFTA had to be paid by the federal government. What Williams did was far from the norm. The same is true of Mr. Harper's refusal of cooperation with Premier Wynne. If a province wants this administrative assistance for a new pension program, Harper is obliged to extend the normal courtesy essential to the efficient management of Canadian federalism - whether he likes it or not.

Harper's position appears to be little more than ideological zeal. His opposition to public pensions has extended in the past even to the Canada Pension Plan.  Toronto Star Columnist Thomas Walkom has noted that "at various times in his career, Harper has dismissed the Canada Pension Plan as a boondoggle and tax grab that should be taken apart and privatized."

Premier Wynne herself has involved herself more deeply in the federal campaign appearing at a rally on August 17 with Justin Trudeau in downtown Toronto where she not only criticized Stephen Harper but also attacked NDP leader Thomas Mulcair's ideas as "incomplete or ... unworkable or ... impossible". If Harper's response to the Ontario pension proposal was intemperate so was Wynne's partisan broadside against Mulcair. She may need a relationship with a Prime Minister Mulcair after October 19. The rules of federal-provincial diplomacy suggest she should have adopted a more measured tone, especially given that both Mulcair and Wynne agree on the need for CPP expansion.

Harper's ongoing refusal to meet with the Premiers outside of one-on-one chats and vapid photo ops - his indifference to working with provinces - has not been good for Canadian federalism. It is time to change the tone.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The campaign so far


The 2015 election started off close and competitive as the fall campaign actually got underway in the summer. After the Alberta provincial election in early May that elected New Democrat Rachel Notley, the national NDP surged to a narrow lead in what is now three-way race. But the national picture is always misleading. Canada-wide numbers are a composite of regional and provincial electoral contests.

All three parties currently have leads in different parts of the country. A tight race means that dramatic change could happen in the blink of an eye. Third could become first; first could become third. The final outcome is far from determined.
Current headlines emphasize the weak performance of the Trudeau Liberals compared to their chart-topping rise in the wake of Justin Trudeau's assumption of the party leadership in April 2013. Nonetheless the Liberals remain substantially stronger than in 2011.

There have been three polls released since the campaign commenced.  One was the Nanos poll, which was taken over a four week period from July 10 to August 7 so it captured more of the pre-election period than the election itself. The others were a Forum poll and an Ipsos poll taken this week.  What was notable about the Ipsos survey is not only was it the first poll after there had been some campaigning, but it used a different methodology than we are accustomed to seeing from Ipsos. Their monthly polls in the past few years have been online. As their news release states "a sample of 2,022 Canadians eligible to vote was interviewed: 1,022 were interviewed online via the Ipsos I-Say Panel, and 1,000 interviews were conducted by live-interviewer telephone (including 40% of interviews conducted on cellphone)". 

It would appear that Ipsos has greater confidence in their polling if it is not done exclusively online.

The individual poll results with my seat estimates can be found below. Early campaign polls and all seat estimates need to be taken with a grain of salt.



The Debate
The Ipsos and Forum polls were conducted following the first major event of the campaign: the television debate. However, the audience size was a fraction of previous debates, so it almost certain that most of the audience consisted of the politically engaged and knowledgeable.

Most debate commentary placed emphasis on the relatively even nature of the performances and the absence of a defining moment, but suggested Justin Trudeau may have done better than expected. My guess is that due to its small audience and uncertain outcome, it had zero impact on the distribution of political preferences in the polls. A couple of polls tried to gauge the debate's impact but they should be distrusted. Pollsters face high refusal rates generally, and must make numerous calls before even one survey is completed. The numbers of calls needed to find those who actually watched would have been astronomical.

I asked people I bumped into the week before about the debate. Only one person even knew it was coming. The debate itself had amateurish production values and a host, journalist Paul Wells, whose lack of television hosting skill was painfully obvious.

The debate situation in Canada this year is a fiasco for which Stephen Harper is squarely to blame. There ought to be a strictly limited number of debates, widely available on broadcast media including television and radio. They should be managed by an independent commission and participation should be based on objective criteria, not the whims of the debate sponsors. The reality is that most citizens have little political knowledge and broadcast debates are an excellent medium for citizen participation in the electoral process. The English debates ought to include the Green Party and the French debates should include the Bloc Québecois. Both parties have demonstrated sufficient levels of support and participation among the electorate to deserve inclusion.

The absence of a widely accessible debate means the electorate is more dependent on news clips and ads, information received passively and often inadvertently. The Conservatives no doubt hope that remains the case. Their behaviour suggests they are fearful that a big widely viewed debate will harm their prospects.

All of this said, debates frequently have no impact on outcomes despite media assumptions that they will. In the Ontario 2014 election Kathleen Wynne was clobbered in the TV debate and then went on to win a majority. Nonetheless, voters should at least have the opportunity to glimpse the offerings of the the parties and leaders without the filter of the news media.

As well, scandals often have less impact than anticipated. Headlines this week are focused on Nigel Wright's testimony at the Duffy trial, and it is true that support for the Harper government was at its lowest in the fall of 2013 at the height of the scandal. If nothing else the news coverage will serve as a reminder of those days. However, I suspect that the impact of the scandal has already been felt, and is priced into the over 20 per cent drop in Conservative support since the last election. It will be difficult and likely impossible for the Conservatives to win back the confidence and trust of the electorate lost in part because of the Senate scandal.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Are the Harper Conservatives really the best bet to win?

Recently a west coast political commentator with ties to the BC Socreds and B.C. Conservative Party named Will McMartin published a commentary in the Tyee arguing that Harper was still the best bet to win this year.

He acknowledges there are polls putting the NDP in first place but states: "In fact, Harper is near-certain to be our next prime minister unless the NDP makes significant further breakthroughs in key parts of Canada."

He goes on to say that those "predicting" Harper's defeat are wrong, further asserting that he is "just the number crunching messenger here".

The numbers he crunches, however, appear to be entirely based on the 2011 election results. He may be basing some of his observations on polls but does not say so. While polls can be subject to error on the whole they get things right.  The polls, for example, correctly anticipated the result in Alberta this year.

The problem with basing his analysis only on 2011 is that the Conservatives are currently averaging a lot less support in 2015 than in 2011. Their average support in July polls is 30.1 per cent compared to Harper's 39.4 per cent of the votes in 2011, about 24% less, all of which has gone to other parties. So it is minus nine percentage points for the Conservatives and plus a like amount for the opposition, an eighteen point swing.

He argues that the new expanded House of Commons "has made the Tories' task much, much easier. This is because when votes from the last election are transposed onto the newly drawn electoral districts, Harper's Tories pick up an extra 22 seats, compared to the NDP and the Liberals adding just six and two respectively."

He makes a logical error previously made by others (it is also a feature of the 2013 book The Big Shift, pollster Darrell Bricker and Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson). The Harper "gains" from redistribution only occur if he receives the same number of votes.  With far fewer votes there would be far fewer Conservative seats not the same.

Ontario is getting 15 of the new seats many in the suburban belt of constituencies surrounding Toronto. In the 2011 federal election the Conservative Party did indeed sweep almost all of those suburban ridings. In Ontario – except for the north – federal and provincial constituency boundaries are identical. Provincially most of the ridings swept by Harper have now voted twice for the provincial Liberals. In fact, 40 constituencies that elected a member of Stephen Harper’s 2011 caucus sent a Liberal to Queen’s Park on June 12, 2014. Another seven 2011 federal Conservative ridings went NDP provincially. Voter preferences here are not frozen with the colour blue. They vary over time.

Current polls and my seat estimation model make it clear that most of these same suburbs would now elect Liberal or NDP members not Conservatives. McMartin seems to assume the 2011 results somehow apply automatically to 2015. They do not.

His regional commentary analyzes what to expect in the various regions across the country but it suffers from the same inability to acknowledge that to date the Conservatives have suffered losses of support. The Conservatives have lost ground everywhere except Quebec where they had their weakest showing in 2011 and now average about the same level of support. His seat estimates are all therefore faulty for the same reason. He sees only five or six seats lost in Atlantic while I make it ten. He thinks the Conservatives will hold 18 of 22 seats in Manitoba and Saskatchewan while I think they will only keep 14. In Alberta he sees no losses while I estimate they will lose six.  The federal Tories are really getting hit hard in B.C. where I see them currently dropping to 7 seats while McMartin thinks they will get 20.

His estimate in Ontario is less precise but he thinks they will get well over 60 while I have them currently at 52 (this would represent a loss of 31 seats from the 2011 transposed results in this province alone).

It is perhaps better to look at the analysis as representing an optimistic view of what might be possible for the Conservatives in 2015 if somehow all goes well (headlines about economic and fiscal troubles will clearly not help).

The Conservatives do have a realistic chance of having the most seats, but if they do they will almost certainly be far, far short of a majority, and very much on life support post-election.

I found one part of the commentary I do agree with: "A riding to watch is the newly created Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas. (my emphasis) Transposed results from four years ago show the Conservatives with 42.4 per cent of the vote, closely followed by the New Democrats and Liberals with 28.2 per cent and 24.9 per cent respectively."

Right now I have the NDP ahead in this constituency just ahead of the Conservatives and the Liberals, all parties with around 30/31%. Not clear who will win but it does illustrate that having a big lead coming out 2011 is no guarantee of success in 2015.




Monday, July 13, 2015

Why spending cuts by the Harper government are causing them political harm

There is a feel good article in the Globe's Report on Business today titled, "Aboriginal women lead the way in Canada’s labour markets". The story focuses on recent labour market success on the part of non-reserve Aboriginal women citing the case of Krystal Abotossaway as an example. The first in her family to go to university graduating in 2013 she now works in human resources for RBC.

Another part of the story quotes another aboriginal woman, Patricia Baxer, an Ottawa-based consultant on aboriginal issues as saying, “I think aboriginal women have more opportunities now than ever before....” She went on to say "she’s seen entrepreneurship, in particular, spike."

Later, deep in the story, there is this paragraph:
Ms. Baxter, the aboriginal entrepreneur, still sees challenges: Less federal funding for aboriginal organizations has hurt progress, she says, while young people still need better access to training opportunities, particularly in more isolated communities. “I can’t really stress enough that I feel that this government has really reduced opportunities and development with aboriginal communities. I don’t think they’ve responded to aboriginal issues in a clear way. In fact, if anything, they’ve reduced them, so aboriginal communities, and organizations are really, really struggling to even keep their doors open,” she says.
Multiply this experience many times over along with the corresponding reactions that have taken place across the country in many diverse places and circumstances, and you get some idea of why Stephen Harper's popularity has plummeted. When it comes government spending cuts there is no free lunch.

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