Sunday, June 20, 2004


The debates are over and the verdict is in: the big loser is – the dreadful format. Cross-talk and noise is incomprehensible to most viewers, and simply discredits the political process. It also means the debates are less influential as a consequence, and end up politically as a wash. For what it is worth, I thought Harper performed best. I can’t decide about worst, although Layton was too lengthy and persistent in interrupting. I did find the point made by Allan Gregg on CBC afterwards persuasive: the debate may have given greater profile to issues that may cost the Conservatives. Compas in the National Post on June 18 argued that the debates reinvigorated the sponsorship scandal and this hurt the Liberals. Either way, the debates are fading.

The Liberals were helped by the Klein intervention. It helped put the focus on health care, the issue they have been pushing. Harper for his part has been exploiting a child murder in Toronto linked to child pornography – this from a leader who the day before was condemning Paul Martin as dishonourable.

All this led to a phone message yesterday from a relative who said “We have just voted in the advance poll for a man who not only kills homeless people, but also pushes child pornography.”

The NDP, whose earlier ads I have panned in this space, has a new Ontario and a Quebec ad out that I think are much better than earlier efforts.

Numbers – Fun with Figures
A minority is now a certainty, or as a friend corrected me at lunch this week, a plurality. It looks like a Conservative minority. I have averaged all the polls completed in June and applied the results to the forecast model. It produces the following: Conservatives - 122, Liberals – 99, NDP – 32 & Bloc – 55. For comparison I averaged the Reid and Ekos polls out yesterday and then calculated the outcome: Conservatives – 128, Liberals – 91, NDP – 34, Bloc – 55. This should not be interpreted to mean the Conservatives are moving up. The differences are too small to conclude that. The margin of error for the regional numbers in the new polls is high, while it is quite low for all the June polls (when samples are combined). I am more impressed by the stability of the numbers than the change.

The Liberals
The Liberals are close enough and the accuracy of the polls sufficiently uncertain, that a Liberal minority is not completely out of reach. To win a minority, however, the Liberals must be at least 3 to 6 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives in Ontario (how much depends on how they do elsewhere) with the NDP at or below 18%. In yesterday’s polls they were 3 points behind in Ontario; in all the June polls they are 1.5 points back.

They must also win at least as many seats in the west as in 2000. This latter should happen as, so far, they are ahead of their 2000 vote share in each western province in almost all the polls, and they have not dropped significantly during the campaign.

In Quebec they need to recover sufficiently to win at least 22 ridings, and they need a big win in Atlantic Canada. All this is not out of question given the poll numbers we have seen so far. Note, however, for this scenario to unfold the importance of being clearly ahead in Ontario, which is not the case now. I think the attack ads (old and new) are having some impact mainly in staunching the bleeding but they are not likely to be enough to establish the required lead in the polls. The Liberals need some other campaign developments to come their way in the closing days.

The Liberals have been consistently running ahead of their 2000 pace in B.C. and the Conservatives way behind. This puts them in striking distance of winning extra seats. The best prospects on the numbers seem to be Saanich-Gulf Islands, Newton-North Delta and North Vancouver but all are uncertain. I think they are likely to lose convert Keith Martin in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca

The NDP is running way ahead of its 2000 pace in Atlantic Canada. How many constituencies they might add would depend on Liberal performance. At the moment, I have them winning only the four they now hold but they are not far behind in Sydney-Victoria, and, surprisingly, Charlottetown. To win more it appears that the Liberals would need to finish below 40%.

In Ontario, because they are way up and the Liberals and Conservatives are in a (relative) dead heat, they are poised to make significant gains – winning as many as 15 or more constituencies. These could include constituencies not being noticed in the media now such as Welland and Kenora.

I don’t see much change in Manitoba and Saskatchewan but the NDP is certain to make gains in B.C. It appears that recent polls suggest a modest Conservative recovery in B.C. although they are still running way behind the 2000 performance of the Alliance, never mind the former PC party. At the moment I have the NDP moving up from 2 to 5 constituencies.

The Conservatives
My impression from recent polls is that the Conservatives are strengthening a little in B.C. This isn’t saying much – they are headed for the mid to high thirties. By comparison the Alliance alone received almost 50% of the vote in 2000. Some loss of seats here seems inevitable. The closeness of the race makes the B.C. results, which report a half hour behind the rest of the country, critical to the final outcome.

In Ontario, the most favourable numbers for the Tories come from the Lick’s Hamburger poll, which, as of June 17, reported its burger sales as: Conservative Burgers 40%, Liberal Burgers 26% and NDP Burgers 23%. Don’t laugh. It was more accurate than the final Compas poll prior to the Ontario election. The chain’s locations, however, are largely in the extended 905 belt outside Toronto so it is likely to have a Tory tilt. It has generally accurately picked the winner in Ontario in the past without predicting as well as the regular polls the precise party percentages.

In Atlantic Canada the numbers do suggest that the Conservatives could hang on to all or almost all their existing seats.

At this stage in 2000 it was all over but the counting and the margin of the Liberal majority. Not so this time. The last week will matter. We should have many new polls to contemplate.

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