Saturday, December 30, 2006

Green Vote

The Greens have been enjoying a favourable press in recent months including suggestions they might dramatically improve their showing in the anticipated 2007 elections. I think that is unlikely, and one reason for saying that is the Green Party is hurt more by the first past the post system than are either the NDP or the Liberals, their natural competitors for small 'g' green votes.

I used my forecasting model to measure this using the results of the 2006 federal election. The results can be seen in the table below (click on the graphic to enlarge):

What I did was reverse the vote shares between the Greens and the NDP in the one case, the Greens and the Liberals in the other. That is I assumed that for every province, the Greens would get what the NDP actually won while the NDP would receive the same vote share as the Greens actual 2006 share, and I did the same in a second exercise involving the Green and Liberal votes.

What I discovered is that with exactly the same vote share as the NDP actually had in 2006 the Greens would have won only 8 seats, compared to the NDP's 29 (a deficit of 21 seats). If they had the Liberal vote share they would have won 76 seats compared to the Liberals actual 103 (as deficit of 27 seats).

This tells us the Greens have a far more dispersed vote pattern than either the Liberals or the NDP and that a Green vote is more likely to be cast for a losing candidate, even if the party were to succeed in dramatically increasing its share of the popular vote.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Many elections coming in 2007

TC has had a hiatus in posting due to an old computer giving way to a new HP machine.

Happy New Year one and all.

2007 is going to be a big year for elections.

We are likely to have a federal election, and provincial contests in several provinces, including Ontario and Newfoundland for certain as they both have fixed dates in October. As well, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec & P.E.I. may go to the polls, but the governments in all those provinces are in political difficulty to one degree or another so delays are possible.

One interesting potential is that there could be minority governments in both Ontario and Quebec after the votes have been counted. Quebec has long had monolithic politics dominated by the Quebec Liberals and various nationalist competitors, but it is becoming more fragmented both federally and provincially. The big development of the past few years is the emergence of the leftist Quebec Solidaire, not as a serious contender for power or even seats, but as a drain on PQ votes. Despite recent strengthening on the part of the Quebec Liberals, this election is still leaning to the PQ.

In Ontario, there have been many polls in the past two years showing a close race between Liberals and the PCs, with the NDP making gains. More recently the polls have been suggesting a second albeit reduced Liberal majority.

TC thinks it highly likely that the Saskatchewan NDP, in power since 1991, will finally lose office. See this time series of Saskatchewan party preference polls conducted by Environics. (You have to scroll way down to find it.)

In Manitoba the election looks to be both close and interesting. The NDP have never won a third term in Manitoba but Premier Gary Doer is an astute and highly experienced politician, and gives the NDP their best chance ever of yet another victory. The most recent Probe Research Poll does give the Conservatives a narrow three point lead, but the pollsters theselves argued after the release of the poll that because the Tory gains were concentrated in rural areas, the poll could actually mean an NDP win. TC shares that assessment; however, the real message of the poll is simply that it could go either way.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Honeymoon

It seems like a return to normalcy (as Warren Harding so inelegantly put it). The Grits are back. Two polls out this weekend, one from Ekos, the other from Ipsos, would both produce Liberal majorities.

There is a strong Stéphane Dion honeymoon underway. Given that one must automatically cede 40+ constituencies to the Bloc in Quebec, it is difficult in Canada for anyone to win a majority, which makes these results all the more impressive.

An average of Ipsos and Ekos gives us the following seat distribution:

Liberal - 163
C.P.C. - 89
NDP - 8
BQ - 47
Other - 1

However, this is just first blush. Dion is not well known outside Quebec so these preferences must be considered as weak.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dion & the NDP

Dion could potentially cause harm to the part of the NDP’s appeal that comes from urban social liberals for whom issues such as the environment, gay marriage and more arts funding are major concerns, but Dion will have little impact on the party’s appeal to its poor, working class constituents. Dion’s appeal may be a challenge for the NDP in places like Ottawa Centre, Trinity-Spadina or Parkdale High Park, but of little or no consequence in Winnipeg North Centre, Vancouver East or Timmins- James Bay.

With green competition from the official Green Party and now from the Liberals plus an incumbent neo-con government that will tempt its supporters to vote strategically, the circumstances facing the NDP are highly adverse. However, they do have strong leadership on the part of Layton, who for example, was busy this summer touring small communities suffering from hard times in the softwood lumber industry. It would be a mistake to be dismissive of a party that is ably led, and currently in far stronger shape than in the mid-nineties.

A little post game analysis

The results of the third ballot on Saturday took my breath away. I always thought Dion could win, but I was astonished at the sheer scale of the switch by Kennedy delegates to Dion. Clearly it was a large number of anti-Rae (& anti-Ignatieff for that matter) Ontario delegates who made the difference.

In some ways it was a process of elimination: the long race revealed Ignatieff’s fundamental flaws, Rae despite a skilled performance simply wasn’t acceptable to the Ontario wing of the party, and Kennedy could not speak French.

It is a little unwise in the immediate wake of such an event to make sweeping comments about the consequences of such an event, but the pundits have weighed in, and their negativity is summed up nicely in this post by Paul Wells.

It is foolish to make glib comments on what will happen in Quebec, as many do, in the next election. It is a notoriously difficult province to read. Ahead of time no one predicted Chrétien’s success in 2000, or Harper’s breakthrough in 2006. Dion does start at almost an historic low point for the Liberals in Quebec. Perhaps he has nowhere to go but up?

Dion may not win the next election (governments usually defeat themselves). The Globe poll this morning makes also clear he is simply not well known in English Canada. But he is smart and savvy, and his 10 years of political experience will serve him well. The test will come with the demands of being number one in the organization, the test Martin failed so miserably.

His most important advantage is that he is the first post-Inconvenient Truth major party leader in Canada, and TC thinks the zeitgeist will see astonishingly rapid growth in concern about global warming in the next few years. No one is now better situated to take advantage of that.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Turn out the lights....

The party's over. Dion gained 65.7% of the increased votes on the third ballot, Rae 19.8% and Ignatieff 14.6%. Stéphane Dion will win the Liberal leadership on this next ballot.

Results of first two ballots

Here are the numbers from the first two ballots:

There were 1103 ballots cast for Kennedy and Dryden.

Second Ballot - Where do we go from here?

It seems quite clear now that Ignatieff won't win, but he did not suffer a major meltdown on this ballot, which presumably assures him a place on the final ballot.

So can Dion overhaul Rae who leads him by 158 votes? The Kennedy camp has a large number of Ontario delegates, many with a history of opposing Rae. The leading candidates (including Kennedy) gained 372 votes on the second ballot. This time there are about 1100 to be redistributed. Could Dion could make it to the final ballot? It is by no means certain. The winner will be either Dion or Rae.

First Ballot - Good for Dion, Bad for Ignatieff

The media is claiming the first ballot numbers demonstrate weakness for Ignatieff, principally because they believe his team had built up expectations. I think the more revealing comment was in the Jeffrey Simpson story in today's Globe:

Michael Ignatieff delivered the best speech at the Liberal convention last night — eloquent, passionate, nicely crafted — that nonetheless left a majority of the crowd almost stone cold.

In a telling reaction, his delivery and content galvanized his supporters, whereas everywhere else, even his best lines barely sparked any clapping.

When other candidates spoke about the challenge of climate change, delegates everywhere applauded, but when Mr. Ignatieff did so, more than half the hall barely responded. The same reaction attended his other themes, all of which are popular with Liberals.

The results were best for Dion who surpassed Kennedy, if just barely and receiving the endorsement of Martha Hall Findlay, a sentimental favourite in the hall, does help. However, Rae could still emerge as the anti-Ignatieff.

The second ballot will tell us if many delegates, freed now to vote as they wish, will move in significant numbers from their original end of September choice.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ignatieff's speech had more content than Rae's

As the speeches went, Ignatieff's had some policy content. Better than Rae's. TC liked his commitment to universal access to higher education, but the clichés were in plentiful supply.

However, TC awaits Mr. Ignatieff's profound apology for supporting the idiot George Bush on Iraq in 2003.

The ranking in terms of speeches TC heard:
1. Dryden
2. Dion
3. Findlay
4. Ignatieff
5. Rae
6. Kennedy

Ignatieff had the best video

Among a bad lot, but seeing one of Karlheinz Schreiber's strongest Canadian supporters, Marc Lalonde, delivering an endorsement, did not endear Mr. Ignatieff to TC.

Rae's Speech Sparkled...

Compared to Kennedy's. Helped illustrate just how weak Kennedy was. But like his whole campaign, it was free of content and essentially vacuous, and he did not speak much French. He had a coherent narrative, but policy-wise his speech, like his whole campaign, was a great big ZERO.

CBC Goof

The CBC just had a caption saying Gerard Kennedy defeated David Miller as an NDP candidate in the 1999 election, which is so far for TC, the highlight in a cliché-ridden speech. No so. He defeated Irene Atkinson. See this CBC election web site to confirm this fact, but scroll down below the 2003 numbers. Kennedy did defeat Miller in a 1996 by-election.

The clichés keep coming. This is the weakest speech so far.

Dion Speech

Dion goofed by not finishing on time, but immediately thereafter, John Manley on CBC, who is among the dumbest of the dumb, claimed there is no light between the candidates on the environment. NOT true!!!

As TC wrote about there are really only three of the candidates, Dion, Findlay and Kennedy, who deserve any praise on this issue, and Dion is head and shoulders above the rest.

Liberal Convention... live blogging

Going to live blog a bit tonight. Thought Martha Hall Findlay gave a good speech but missed Brison and Volpe. Dryden gave a terrific speech (who was the speech writer?. Illustrated some of his unrealized potential. But his French is still weak.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

On the eve...

Update on the Strategic Counsel Poll.

The poll details are available here on the Strategic Counsel web site. However, it is unclear from the results whether Ignatieff's support might decline on the second ballot. The question on Afghanistan (page 20) suggests a ceiling on Ignatieff's potential support given that he is clearly identified with the minority position (57% want an immediate return of Canadian troops or have them home by February 2007 while 36% support either the extension to 2009 or as long as it takes).

He could grow after the second ballot but even a modest decline initially would likely accelerate on the third ballot. If Ignatieff's followers are freed to go elsewhere who benefits? Dion could win over Quebec delegates, while Kennedy is known to be looking at Ignatieff's Ontario delegates. They are not available to those two if Ignatieff makes it to the final ballot. It is all too muddy to ascertain right now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Home Stretch in the Grit Stakes

I think the Strategic Counsel poll in today's Globe makes it clear that Ignatieff can't win the Liberal leadership. The large number of delegates (44%) who can't name their second choice means that the outcome is still quite unclear. Dion clearly has the potential, but with so many saying they don't know who they might support on later ballots the uncertainty about the outcome remains considerable.

It seems likely that Ignatieff will be hurt by the blowback that has emerged on the 'recognizing Québécois as a nation' issue among Liberals. See this post by Calgary Grit, for example, which notes "Ignatieff started the debate over Quebec's identity by coming out early in the campaign in favour of recognizing the province as a nation and eventually enshrining that status in the Constitution."

Kennedy clearly saw advantage in siding with the opponents of the resolution. Blame for what increasingly is seen as a fiasco in Liberal circles means more tarnish for Mr. Ignatieff's image.

It will be one of Dion, Rae or Kennedy but TC can't say which at this point.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Howard Dean at Liberal Convention

TC keeps seeing references to Howard Dean, who has been invited to speak to the Liberal convention in Montreal this week, as being embroiled in controversy in the U.S. This refers to criticism leveled by James Carville. Here is a quote from the Maclean's story linked to above:

"I would describe his leadership as Rumsfeldian in its incompetence," said James Carville, the famed party strategist. "They left money on the table... He should be held accountable... Do we want to go into ’08 with a C minus general at the D.N.C.?"

Since Carville first uttered these comments, Dean has been overwhelmingly endorsed for re-election as DNC Chair by Democratic State Party Chairs, and more pertinently, the Hotline on Call Blog of the National Journal has posted this detailed evaluation of Carville's claim the Democrats might have won another dozen seats if Dean had only handed over more DNC cash to competitive House races. Their conclusion:

There’s realistically only four – certainly no more than six seats – that perhaps could have been won with extra cash. Extra money could have made a small difference, but certainly not to the degree that Carville has been suggesting. Dean may have made strategic blunders in the past, but his fiscal responsibility here seems like the wiser course.

There is a good summary of the whole Dean vs Carville business here. Whatever one thinks of inviting an American to speak to a Canadian party convention, the Liberals have invited someone who is riding high at the moment.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Kennedy's Prospects

Gerard Kennedy has been discounted in this race for awhile, including by yours truly. But he has one clear way to win, and it is based on the assumption that Ignatieff's support collapses. Many of Ignatieff's Ontario delegates, for example former Ontario Premier David Peterson, are known to be strongly anti-Rae. Kennedy represents an alternative for them who would be attractive if the focus is simply on beating Rae.

It does seem difficult to believe that the Liberal Party of Canada would elect someone with suspect French skills, but the emotions of the convention floor can override anything.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Liberal leadership scenarios

There are various estimates of how candidates are doing in the race, for example, here, here and here. However, the consensus seems to be that the top four on the first ballot will be:

1. Ignatieff
2. Rae
3. Kennedy
4. Dion

While Ignatieff will have some distance between himself and the pack the other three will be bunched.

The crucial ballot will be the second. I have heard enough anecdotally to say to me that it is possible that Ignatieff's support could then experience a sharp meltdown. It may not happen, but if it does, he would be forced out early, setting off a mad scramble for his delegates. This is what makes it difficult to forecast. If he does hang in and make it to the final ballot, it seems likely, although by no means certain, that he will squaring off against Rae.

The other scenario opens up possibilities for both Dion and Kennedy (who has been largely discounted because of his weak French). I think Dion has the "everyone's second choice" advantage here, but a scenario where the leader collapses is unprecedented, and therefore intrinsically difficult to predict. The only similarity at all that comes to mind is the 1983 PC Convention, and there, while Clark's support dipped, most of his delegates remained doggedly loyal to the end.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Liberal leadership Candidates and the Environment

I have been looking at the environment/climate change sections of the candidates' web sites. The only candidate who has put out anything like a comprehensive policy position is Stéphane Dion and his position papers and statements can be found here.

The remaining candidates settled for statements or copies of speeches. The one that impressed me the most of the remainder was Martha Hall Findlay. Why? Because she was on to this issue in 1996 at a time when oil prices were falling:

The first time I took action was installing solar power at our summer place 10 years ago. The benefits have been clear, and it has certainly paid for itself since then---but it really hit home during the big black out we had in eastern Canada a few years ago. With a business to run, I couldn’t just stop and wait for the lights to come back on---so I drove from a dark office to my cottage, powered up my computer and phone and got down to business. All sorts of people went out and bought generators, and there were big queues at the gas stations---talk about economic inefficiency!

I also liked Gerard Kennedy's discussion paper, which can be found with a number of other papers here.

As for the rest, the substance indicates that they understand that there is a problem but the content on solutions is thin. You can find Rae's statement here and a speech here, while Ignatieff's speeches and statements are here.

As for the also-rans, Ken Dryden's very short statement is here, while Brison does have a Greenwatch page along with a policy statement.

Don't bother with Joe Volpe. It is not worth it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Harper Collapse in Quebec

During the very week that Mr. Harper has his minions traveling around Quebec looking for support come two polls, one from SES and the other from Decima, that document a Conservative collapse in Quebec (both surveys have them at 12% about half their January 2006 vote total).

The shift in support appears to have gone largely to the BQ. This explains in part the weakening of national Conservative support even while the Liberals remain close the 30% mark. It would reduce the Conservatives to one seat in Quebec.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Who will lead the Libs?

Someone I know quite well, who is a life-long loyal Liberal and well-known to friends and associates as such, told me that he is often quizzed about who he supports for the Liberal leadership. We will call our loyal Liberal Harry. In response to the question about which candidate has his support, Harry answers: Martha Hall Findlay. Given her quite limited delegate support, the questioners then want to know: who do you really support or who is your second choice. But Harry doesn't have a second choice, and so he just repeats: Martha Hall Findlay. While this reply is highly unsatisfying to his interrogators, I find it both thoughtful and honest (Harry is not a delegate so he has only his opinion to offer), and a metaphor for the race as a whole.

The reality is that there is a widespread lack of confidence in the leading candidates: Ignatieff, Rae, Dion and Kennedy. They all have enthusiastic backers but all are perceived to be deeply flawed in some way:

1. Ignatieff has made many mistakes and is gaffe prone precisely because he has spent most of his adult life outside Canada and outside politics. I continue to find it amazing that he marshaled as much support as he did early on. However, he has in fact stumbled so badly that, although he will lead on the first ballot, crumbling support thereafter may mean he is not on the final ballot.

2. Bob Rae has performed well on the stump and it could take him all the way to the top but he would be a divisive choice as many, especially Ontario Liberals, have not forgiven or forgotten his NDP past. My own view is that Rae has consistently demonstrated poor political judgment over the years, most recently simply by waiting until the eleventh hour to join a party he aspires to lead. More problematically, his record can be easily demonized by opponents, especially the Conservatives. They can say quite factually that the last Rae government broke its major promises, permitted the deficit to rise dramatically and presided over one of the worst recessions in the province's history. Letting the deficit rise was appropriate given the recession but not popular, and the budgetary pressures themselves arose from the bad economy, which was beyond Rae's ability to correct on this own, but the explanations always sound weaker than the accusations.

3. At first I could not take Stéphane Dion seriously as a leader. He seemed too much the academic and not a man of politics. He has been demonized by nationalists in his home province and has limited skills speaking English. But unlike Ignatieff he has been in the game for 10 years and his campaign focused on the environment, especially climate change, the issue on the verge of capturing the global zeitgeist. (Editorial note: everyone who has not done so should see An Inconvenient Truth). Dion has performed far better than expected. He is everyone's second choice. If it is true that a significant chunk of Ignatieff's support will desert him after the first ballot, then Dion's prospects would improve dramatically. If TC had a vote at the convention it would go to Dion on the climate change issue.

4. Kennedy doesn't speak French and for that reason is being discounted. Another good reason to discount him is that he is a micro-manager and they do not make good leaders.

The leadership race from history that is brought to mind by the current contest is the NDP leadership race in 1989 (Audrey McLauglin won), when there was real despair in the party about the alternatives and the party's brightest lights, including Bob Rae, sat it out. The NDP then went on to a humiliating defeat in the next election, although much of that was due to the unpopularity of the Rae and Harcourt governments in 1993 rather McLaughlin's own limitations.

There have been numerous efforts to poll the race. The latest is a poll from SES that tries to gauge which candidate would most assist Liberal prospects in the next election by asking whether the candidate would make the respondent more or less likely to support the Liberals or whether it would make no difference. Now I regard this formulation as so conceptually fuzzy as to render it meaningless. What does it mean to be "less likely" to vote exactly? It seems to measure feelings but not actual prospective behaviour. Beyond this problem, take the case of being more or less likely to vote NDP - a highly germane issue for Liberals. In this poll only 108 respondents said they voted NDP in the last election; that gives us a margin of error of ±9.4%. This erases most of the distinctions found in the poll. It is both statistically and conceptually meaningless. Delegates will be far better off simply exercising their judgment in casting a vote and paying no attention to polls like this.

Who will win? Ignatieff could have won but the outcome now looks completely opaque.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Harper's Clean Air Act

TC will soon address the Liberal leadership race, which looks like it will produce a dramatic multi-ballot convention. This may not be good for the party, however, as there is a clear lack of confidence in the leading candidates.

Turning to the Clean Air Act, I think it demonstrates something important about Harper. He demonstrated considerable political acuity in backing off the original bill and letting himself be bailed out by Jack Layton's offer of sending it to committee where the rewriting will probably create legislation bearing little resemblance to the original. But that was at the level of short term tactics. Harper clearly had a critical oversight role in the creation of the original bill, which was a strategic catastrophe. This it seems to me typifies Harper - good on tactical manouevres but prone to colossal political blunders.

This is by way of introduction to the sharpest, funniest comment on the bill I have seen to date. You can find it here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Its morning in America...

Last night's Democratic win was a huge victory.

Chris Bowers of MYDD summarized it best:
Here is where we stand right now:

* National Sweep. Democrats take the national majority in the House, Senate, Governors, and State Legislatures. The only thing Republicans have left--Bush--still sports a sub-40% approval rating.

* We won bigger than they ever did. Democrats look set to take the House, and with a larger majority than Republicans ever had during their 1994-2006 "revolution." We also won more Senate campaigns in a single cycle, 23-24, than either party has won since at least 1980.

* Republicans shut out: No House, Senate, or Governor pickups for Republicans. That breaks every record for futility. No one can ever do worse than they did this year.

* Geographic shift. This is the first time in 54 years that the party without a southern majority now has the House majority. Power flows to coasts. Tom Schaller utterly vindicated.

Closing polls tightened the House of Representatives race a bit, no doubt reflecting some efficacy on the part of all the dirty tricks of Rove and company, but significantly, only the campaign in Tennessee with its racist tv ad worked in the Senate races.

Update: If you want to see the original "Morning in America" commercial, you can find it here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Significance of the Democratic Win

I really think this post by Kevin Drum is an important read. It gives context to the significance of the impending Democratic victory on Tuesday. A large shift of seats in the modern era of gerrymandering and the influence of big money on politics is an earthquake that is not really comparable to midterm elections of the fifties, sixties and seventies.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Democrats will gain 40

Based on the average of polls on the generic Congressional vote (Democrat vs Republican) calculated by Real Clear Politics (a conservative site) and (a liberal site) and using my forecast model it is appears that the Democrats will take firm control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, picking up from 40 to 45 congressional districts. They need win only 15 to assume control.

I should note that this is a higher number than most forecasts. Two of the most widely read and respected are the Rothenberg Political Report, which predicts Democrats will gain 35 to 40 with the possibility of a few more, and the Cook Political Report, which predicts gains of 20 to 35 with the possibility of more.

The movement towards the Democrats started in September around the time of the release of Bob Woodward's book. Although most voters would not have read the book, the simple, clear message that the Bush administration was unbelievably incompetent was repeated by Mr. Woodward on endless talk shows such as Larry King. It clearly registered.

Control of the Senate is unclear and depends on several close races, but it is clearly possible for the Democrats to win the Senate as well. If all of the Senate were facing re-election instead of a third, Democratic control would be certain.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

TC is back

From travels abroad.

Two quick observations:

1. The U.S. midterm election continues to be headed for a Democratic blowout. The meltdown in Iraq is the source. From today's New York Times story on its latest poll:

The poll showed that 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and 80 percent said Mr. Bush’s latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.

2. The Liberal leadership race has become considerably murkier. Ignatieff no longer looks like a sure thing. The party thinks all the leading candidates are seriously flawed in some way. This makes scenario building a confounding exercise. More on this to come.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Blogging will be light

TC is travelling over the next few weeks so blogging will be light.

I do note that the Liberals are ahead in the final Yukon election poll - voting is tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Will Iggy Win?

It is the day after the day after and already we are into second guessing time. I continue to think that it is Ignatieff's to lose. I recommend this post by Paul Wells and this by Cerberus, an Ignatieff backer.

It ain't over til its over and other such Yogi Berra clichés but it is hard although not impossible to see a different outcome.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Liberal leadership the day after ... bloggers win

I find myself generally in agreement with most pundits who see Michael Ignatieff as likely the next leader of the Liberals. He emerged from the weekend with 30% of the elected delegates, but he already has a greater share of support among the party's ex-officio delegates such as MPs. His opposition is divided three ways and his most formidable potential opponent, Stéphane Dion, may finish fourth. Kennedy's weakness in Quebec and Rae's in Ontario doom their candidacies. There is anti-Ignatieff sentiment to be sure, and the campaigning between now and December will matter, but Michael Ignatieff is now in a very strong position.

And it was the blogger estimates that were the most accurate. The results are not all in, but the total error for Democratic Space so far is 14.6%, for Calgary Grit 17.1%. As for the pollsters, Strategic Counsel's error is 23.1%, and Ekos 23.9%.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

What the Governor General Can Do

I think this column in the Saturday Star by Jim Travers is a don't miss read. Here is an excerpt:

Ottawa—It's just emerging now that the most revealing moments of Hamid Karzai's three-day visit didn't unfold on the floor of a House of Commons packed with politicians and below its galleries glittering with military brass. They came, instead, at a provocatively stage-managed dinner for 20 hosted by Canada's Governor General and Commander-in-Chief Michaëlle Jean....

On the table for nearly three hours last Friday night was exactly what the Governor General wanted: a full and frank discussion of the pros and cons of a worrying, complex campaign. What she delivered to her guests was significantly different from what Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Karzai spent the day selling to an increasingly skeptical nation.

Instead of bromides about a winning international effort wrestling terrorism to the ground, she artfully and apparently intentionally created the preconditions for a fundamentally disturbing conversation about the obstacles blocking the road between war and peace, destruction and reconstruction.

This to me is the most creative use of the potential of the position of Governor-General in the modern era that has ever come to my attention. And it was on a topic that urgently needs more debate, certainly something more than the "bromides" of Stephen Harper.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Liberal leadership - bloggers vs pollsters

It is late Saturday night but at this point it looks like the blogger estimates of delegate strength (for example here and here) will prove to be more accurate than the newspaper polls. This is worth a careful evaluation. I will try to do one after the count is finished.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ekos Poll on Liberal Leadership

The Ekos poll echoes the earlier Globe poll although it surveyed Liberals only in Ontario and Quebec. It is causing journalists to label Rae as the front runner. As all the delegates are being elected this weekend, it might make sense to wait until next Monday to make that judgment.

A couple of points.

First what is locked in this weekend are first choices. That means all those elected this weekend who currently call Rae a second choice are free to change their minds between now and December about that. I suspect Rae will start to receive a fair bit of negative targeting between now and then. He and Ignatieff look like they may finish first and second after the weekend not necessarily in that order. The other thing they both have in common is that they are divisive candidates in the sense that many who don't support them feel considerable animousity.

The other thing that struck me about the poll is that it has Dion leading in Quebec and also being the leading candidate among second choices of those paying the closest attention to the race (see page 12). This is especially significant as turnout among all paid up members is unlikely to surpass 50% (and could be much less). Clearly it is those paying the closest attention who are likely to turn out. One of the problems that all election polls have is that it is difficult to estimate turnout and that may have considerable impact on the outcome.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Globe Poll on Liberal Race Good News for Rae

Setting aside the blowback Rae may get from the bad news (for him as a Liberal leadership candidate) that he donated to the NDP in the 2006 election, a new Strategic Counsel poll that appeared in today's Globe is quite good news for him.

IF, and this is a very big IF (because I think it is very difficult to poll accurately population sub-sets like Liberal members), the poll is really capturing the state of opinion among Liberal delegates, it suggests Rae will win. The crucial quote is this:

Mr. Gregg noted that the second-ballot choices of Liberals supporting Mr. Brison — who with 3-per-cent support would likely drop out after the first or second ballot — break significantly toward Mr. Rae.

The same holds true for supporters of Mr. Dryden and Mr. Kennedy. For example, 32 per cent of Mr. Kennedy's supporters pick Mr. Rae as their second choice, while 18 per cent pick Mr. Ignatieff and 16 per cent Mr. Dion. Mr. Dryden's supporters also break disproportionately to Mr. Rae, but not in as great numbers. Should Mr. Dion fall off the ballot, his supporters would go three to one in favour of Mr. Rae, Mr. Gregg said.

It is the second and third choices that will matter. Rae still has to find a way early on to get decisively ahead of Kennedy and Dion. But the poll makes it clear that he has performed well in the race. See pages 7, 10, 12, 14 & 15 all of which I think are important factors.

Let me end by emphasizing my doubts about the possibility of doing polls like this accurately. However, before now I had discounted Rae's chances completely.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Liberal leadership machinations

A Liberal blogger is wondering why Jim Coutts gave $4400 to the Rae campaign and then later $1000 to Kennedy.

In the 1983 Conservative leadership convention (I was there), one tactic of the Mulroney campaign was to plant operatives in other campaigns as erstwhile supporters but whose real role was to persuade targeted candidate to switch to Mulroney on subsequent ballots. As some candidates clearly waver in making this crucial decision, the rationale for doing so is clear. But it is not a tactic one wants to broadcast. Most people believe political choices should be more straightforward.

1. This analysis about the Coutts donation by blogging Tory Steve Janke is worth reading.
2. Apparently Rae was both donating to NDP candidates in the last election, and cheering their success. This could prove troublesome for him over the next crucial 10 days.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Liberals win New Brunswick

The results are not all in and the popular vote is very close, but the two networks (CBC and CTV) have declared the Liberals led by Shawn Graham as the winners in the New Brunswick election.

This is a defeat not just for putative Conservative leadership aspirant Bernard Lord but also for Stephen Harper. Lord was perhaps the federal Conservatives strongest provincial ally.

However, it could perhaps become an asset if he were to resign and run federally.

It is certainly a good night for this New Brunswick blogger whose prediction of L - 30, PC - 24 and NDP -1 looks quite close.

There is an historical echo here. Lord is losing office after two terms and while still a young man, elected at 33 and defeated at 40, eerily similar to former Manitoba NDP Premier Ed Schreyer. However, the Governor-General's post won't be vacant for four years.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

More on Jack & Afghanistan

The Bloc’s reaction to the NDP’s move was to criticize it. According to this story:
"Duceppe says NDP Leader Jack Layton's proposal to withdraw Canadian soldiers by next spring is a bad idea."

Clearly the Bloc does not feel at all threatened in Quebec by the NDP’s move. They continue instead to look over their shoulder at the Conservatives. But will they pay a price for this?

Michel Vastel made the following comment about the NDP’s move on his blog :
(My loose translation is below, the original French is here)

Jack Layton has triumphed. NDP activists have ratified a clear position, debatable perhaps, but one that makes the social democrats the true opposition to Harper’s government. The principal result of taking these clear positions will be to embarrass Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois. I hear more and more often grumbling by Quebeckers directed at the attitude of the Bloc leader who seems to handle the government with great care so that they don’t get dragged into an election call. Whether its about the softwood lumber trade or Canadian troops in Afghanistan, the merit of the New Democrats’ position is that it is clear. Not that of the Bloc Quebecois

Thursday, September 14, 2006

NDP and Afghanistan

Jack Layton has now put the NDP on record as unequivocally opposed to further Canadian participation in military action in Afghanistan. This could potentially represent a clear demarcation between the Liberals and the NDP in the next election, one in which in foreign policy could be highly salient. This will be especially true if Michael Ignatieff wins the Liberal leadership race. Other Liberal candidates with the exception of Scott Brison voted against (or in the case of Bob Rae, said they would have) but none have gone as far as the NDP. Gerard Kennedy issued a statement strongly criticizing the current strategy in Afghanistan. It brought him close to the NDP’s position but still short of a decisive break.

This move by Layton is being derided by the usual Ottawa suspects, but certainly won’t hurt the NDP. Look at this Strategic Counsel poll on page 12. The question offers three options: keep the troops there as long as needed; for a limited period - 2 or more years, or bring them home now. Support for the "bring them home" choice ranges from a low of 31% in the west to 54% in Quebec. All these numbers are well above NDP support in the last election. Whether it will be an important issue in the next election is what we don’t know right now. But another question, on page 10 reveals that 25% are strongly opposed to sending troops to Afghanistan, 35% in Quebec and 22% elsewhere. The actual state of the conflict and the cumulative casualty toll will be the key factors in determining its salience when the campaign arrives.

Opposing the Afghanistan mission is most popular in Quebec. However, the principal beneficiary there will be the Bloc. But it won’t hurt the NDP elsewhere and might help.

I might myself be supportive of the Canadian effort if I thought it had any chance of success in the sense of being able to contribute to a positive revitalization of Afghanistan, but I find it hard to disagree with this article called "Death Trap" that appeared a couple of months ago in the London Sunday Times (TC linked to it at the time). The war is likely to fail and increasingly be seen as another western neo-colonial intervention in the third world. Layton’s course appears to be the wisest alternative.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Brunswick - An Upset in the Making?

A new poll out in New Brunswick today from Corporate Research Associates (although not posted to their web site yet) suggests the Liberals may win the November 18, 2006 election.

The poll has them ahead by two points 44% to 42%, well within the margin of error so the poll result makes the outcome too close to call. This Liberal blogger, however, has been predicting a Liberal win for some time. And I note that he now thinks the NDP may win a seat.

It is clear the election will almost certainly be close although the fact that the NDP is so weak means the winner is likely to have some sort of majority. This election seems set to do considerable harm to Premier Bernard Lord even if he wins. He called the election early after promising to move to a system of fixed election dates and I think he has continued to eye the federal Conservative leadership as a long term prospect. There aren't many bilingual Conservatives so he would remain a possibility but an election loss would deal his hopes a severe blow.

Parkdale High Park By-election

Keep your eye on the by-election this Thursday September 14 in the Ontario riding of Parkdale-High Park. The news in the Globe and the Star this morning strongly suggests an impending NDP win. The Liberals have launched a late campaign attack on NDP candidate Cheri DiNovo. They would have refrained from doing so if they were confident of victory. So either the NDP will win or come close in a riding the Liberals’ Gerard Kennedy won overwhelmingly with 58% of the vote in the 2003 provincial election to the NDP’s 16%.

However, the NDP’s Peggy Nash won this riding in the January 2006 federal election after just missing in 2004. That suggests a large NDP vote that now appears to be showing up provincially. As a footnote, watch the Green vote, the first test of the party since it chose its new national leader Elizabeth May. The Greens received 7% of the vote in 2003. My bet is that the Greens will tend to vote strategically for the NDP (as happened in the last B.C. election) or won’t show up at the polls and their percentage will drop significantly.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Political ads of Eliot Spitzer

Every once in awhile I see political ads that I find very moving and effective, but not that often. The ads done for Eliot Spitzer's campaign for Governor of New York State fall into that category. There are many but the one I happened to catch on tv, which appealed to me sentimentally, was the one labelled Vote. It won't be there long as its content relates to New York's primary to be held on September 12. That is because the background music is a tune called Ashokan Farewell, which I first heard as part of the soundtrack to the Ken Burn's Civil War series on PBS.

Several of the ads are not to be missed, especially the ones called Let it Shine, Tribute and Newmaker & Newsmaker Two. The ads can be downloaded as Windows media files. Save them and compare them to those you see in the next election campaign in your neighbourhood. I suspect they will hold up well.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Revisiting the Wilson Plame Affair

With the disclosure by Robert Novak that the primary source for his column that ignited this scandal was State Department official Richard Armitage we are now seeing an effort on the part of the Washington establishment to squelch the scandal.

For example, this editorial written Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, really tells us more about the conservative bent of the so-called liberal media that supported the Iraq war, than about the scandal.

That is in part because Armitage is considered very much the Washington insider, as this column by NY Times columnist David Brooks (requires subscription) makes clear:

"Finally, you must always remember that it’s better to be One of Us than One of Them. Washington attracts a community of smart public-service-oriented people. This permanent community has its own set of mores. It’s important to be politically temperate. ...

Members of the Washington community, like members of all decent communities, protect one another. Richard Armitage is a member of this community. ...."

I have edited out much of the Brooks spin, but the bottom line is that he is making every effort to minimize the notion that there was any wrongdoing. A more dispassionate (although still slanted to the Washington insider perspective) description of what is happening can be found here.

But the facts of this episode will not be so easily swept under the carpet. Take a look at this fiery posting on the blog Firedoglake with a link to this analysis by former CIA and State Department employee Larry Johnson.

He concludes thus:

"We must also remember that the Government sanctioned attack on the Wilsons is not an isolated event. Just ask former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill or National Security Advisor Richard Clarke. Add to this list the names of the two CIA Baghdad Chiefs of Station who were savaged for their prescient early warnings that Iraq was moving into a civil war. The Plame/Wilson affair stands as a stark reminder that President Bush and his minions prefer destroying those who call them to account for failed policies rather than admit error and take corrective measures that will serve the longterm interests of the United States. As we move towards a new war with Iran, we should not be surprised that people who know the truth are reluctant to come forward. If you choose to blow the whistle you are choosing career suicide and a full frontal assault on your character. In smearing the Wilsons, Bush and Cheney also are sliming America."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

New Green Party Leader - Prospects

The Green Party has elected a new leader. She is Elizabeth May, a long-time environmental advocate and activist. May is also their first leader with real political skills. She is an effective communicator and should have a stronger media presence then predecessor Jim Harris, who, how shall we put this delicately, was a little weak in this department.

The Greens appear to draw mainly from the NDP and the Liberals (and the Bloc in Quebec). However, they also draw support from a younger, none-of-the-above voter who I suspect is somewhat alienated and less interested in politics, and probably doesn’t know any details of the Green platform but likes the Green brand.

However, one should not expect any early electoral success for the Greens. I have done some simulations using my forecasting model. I calculate that the Greens would have to almost triple their vote to 13.4% (and nudge slightly ahead of the NDP) to win their first seat, a highly unlikely proposition. For simplification, I had the Greens draw equally from the Liberals and the NDP (adding in the BQ in Quebec).

They seem to be hurt more by the first past the post system than even the NDP. They achieved initial success in piling up votes in 2004 when they won 4.3% of the vote, but they only edged upward to 4.5% in 2006. Long-established Green parties in Europe have not done all that much better in vote share terms. The German Greens, who have sat in the German Parliament since 1993 courtesy of proportional representation received 8.1% of the party list votes in the 2005 German election.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Liberal leadership numbers

Calgary Grit has written a detailed and numerical assessment of where the Liberal leadership race stands. It is a commendable effort to make sense out of a murky situation, one that could still change significantly in the run-up to the constituency meetings to select delegates on the weekend of Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.

His conclusion is a blend of numbers based on new members and existing. The methodology for counting existing members is intrinsically arbitrary - very big assumptions have to be made. It is worth reading the comments (at the bottom of the post) for alternative opinions.

The one critique I would make of his estimate is that TC doesn’t think that new members will turn out as strongly as existing members.

In any case here is Calgary Grit’s final estimated count for the first ballot:
Michael Ignatieff 22.9%
Gerard Kennedy 18.4%
Bob Rae 15.8%
Stephane Dion 14.4%
Joe Volpe 8.8%
Ken Dryden 8.6%
Scott Brison 7.4%
Carolyn Bennett 1.7%
Martha Hall Findlay 1.6%
Hedy Fry 0.4%

Given the error inherent in such an estimate, I think it makes more sense to describe four groupings, in each it is probably impossible for sure to say who is ahead although Ignatieff likely leads Kennedy:

Leaders: Ignatieff and Kennedy
Right behind: Dion and Rae
Some measure of support: Volpe, Dryden & Brison
Out of it: Bennett, Findlay and Fry.

I note in his separate estimates for new and existing members that Dion is ahead of Rae among existing but trails him among new members. I would therefore project Dion ahead of Rae but from this estimate it is too close call between them.

A shrewd Liberal TC knows suggested a few months ago that it would be Ignatieff vs Candidate X on the final ballot. It appears clearly from this assessment that it would have to be Kennedy, Rae or Dion. I doubt it will be Rae as Kennedy and Dion seem more likely to garner second choices from below. Of the three, I suspect Ignatieff would defeat Kennedy or Rae but lose to Dion.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New Brunswick Election

An election has been called in New Brunswick for September 18. Although the government faced a precarious situation in the legislature and the possible loss of a seat in a by-election, the more likely explanation for why now, a year ahead of the government’s four year mark, can be found in increasingly favourable polls.

Premier Bernard Lord’s PC party likely received the same message from private polls conducted over the summer as they did from this one released by Corporate Research Associates in June. It puts the PCs ahead of the Liberals 45-39 with just 9 per cent for the NDP. These numbers would produce a legislature split 35-20 for the PCs over the Liberals with the NDP, which lost its only seat in a by-election following the resignation of former leader Elizabeth Weir, getting nothing.

Although the government’s lead looks narrow, other details in the poll including the trends on government satisfaction and preferred leader make it clear that the NB Tories are in a strong position.

The most interesting aspect of the election is that it appears set to restore the political reputation of Premier Lord, damaged badly by his near defeat in 2003. That is important because he remains a potential national Conservative leader. This might seem remote with the Harperites enjoying power in Ottawa, but they do have a minority and their accident-prone summer suggests they may not be there forever, the weak Liberal leadership field notwithstanding. There are some hazards for Lord in the coming campaign from issues such as gasoline prices, but he has probably learned his lesson about underestimating the potential of such concerns from the 2003 campaign when ignoring rapidly rising auto insurance rates almost led to this defeat.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

David Broder on the 2006 Elections

I generally consider David Broder, the elderly political columnist for the Washington Post, a dispenser of bromides. All the more remarkable then that he writes a blunt column postulating that the Republicans are in deep trouble in the American heartland. Here is an excerpt:

"I had dinner one night with a group of Ohio Republicans, all with many years of experience in state politics and none directly engaged in this year's gubernatorial race. One of them said, "I'm afraid this could be another 1982," a year when recession pushed unemployment to 15 percent and cost the Republicans the governorship. Another said, "I'd settle right now for another 1982. I'm afraid it will be another 1974," the year of the Watergate election, when Democrats swept everything in sight."

The whole thing is worth reading. Thanks to AB for the tip.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Liberal leadership race in the dog days of August

Finally, a real development this week in the Liberal leadership. Maurizio Bevilacqua dropped out and supported Rae. I found this puzzling, except for a reference in a Toronto Star profile of Stéphane Dion to Rae being one of the front runners, my impression has been that he is well back. The logical explanation for Bevilacqua’s support of Rae is that Greg Sorbara, the Ontario Finance Minister who has supported Rae from the outset and who represents the same constituency as Bevilacqua provincially, played a key role in winning his support. There is only speculation to this effect but it makes sense.

The race is opaque, and in a sense still wide open. It will largely be determined by the views of existing Liberal members but it is by no means clear what those views are. I say existing members because they are a larger group than the new members and significantly more likely to turn out at the constituency meetings to elect delegates that will be held at the end of September. Events could strongly influence choices between now and then. I spoke to one new Liberal on Sunday at a wedding who was just beginning to make up her mind.

So what do we know? Not much. There was a straw vote at an Ontario Young Liberal Convention in July. I found the outcome a bit surprising in that the front runners were more dominant than I had expected. The results were:

Ignatieff 30.8%
Kennedy 30.7%
Dion 11.5%
See the discussion here.

This outcome does correspond roughly to my impression of the current order of the race. I suspect that Rae is in fourth place but a long way back, and I continue to see numerous references to the view that his unpopular tenure as Ontario Premier counts heavily against him. I think his lateness in joining the Liberals also matters a great deal. At a minimum he should have at least bought a party card a year ago, not just before entering the race, if he was so enthusiastic about being Liberal leader.

The only other objective measure I can find so far is the number of blog endorsements. Although Dion is barely ahead of Kennedy and Ignatieff in this regard, I don’t think the numbers are meaningful except as confirmation as to who the three leading candidates are. I note that most Liberal bloggers on the page have yet to indicate a preference.

My gut hunch is that Dion will win. I can’t really justify it except to say that he doesn’t seem to have enemies. Based on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s 1996 experience, this factor would appear to be quite important.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lamont over Lieberman

Jon Stewart set up the significance of Ned Lamont’s win in the August 8 Democratic primary when he cited the example of Gary Condit, the former Democratic Congressman who was the subject of endless hours of cable news coverage in the summer of 2001 after his intern, Chandra Levy, went missing.

He said: "Incumbency is a powerful weapon in electoral politics. You will remember Gary Condit, admitted an affair, was under suspicion for maybe even killing his intern. Still considered running for re-election". You can see the whole video here.

That is the American reality. Incumbents just don’t lose their own party’s renomination, especially those who six years earlier had run for vice-president. There can be only one explanation: Americans are simply fed up with the Iraq war. Even those who remained loyal to Joe Lieberman in the primary were anti-war. An exit poll by CBS News found that for 43% of Lamont’s primary voters cited the Iraq war as the main reason for supporting him and an additional 24% said it was because he would oppose Bush, while most Lieberman voters supported him for his experience, personal qualities or issues other than Iraq. Among all primary voters, 78% disapproved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. As noted, even a majority of Lieberman’s supporters agreed with Lamont on the issue.

The best writing on this successful insurgency was by Josh Marshall in Time Magazine. Here is an excerpt:

"Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-list D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics — as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the Constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular three-term Senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington, D.C., is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either."

An earthquake is beginning in American politics the full dimensions of which are not clear.
I think that not only the Iraq War and its unpopularity, but also the Bush administration's mishandling of the war in Lebanon, will likely have a disastrous impact on Republican fortunes. The middle east conflicts strongly contribute to an overall sense that things just are not going well.

It is going to be a Democratic year, the only question is how big their gains will be. The experience of the last upheaval in 1994 tells us that there is a tendency to underestimate just how far things will go.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

There are numerous micro indicators of the trouble looming for the Republicans in American politics.

Let's begin with an excerpt from Paul Krugman's column (subscription only) in the July 14 New York Times:

"Here’s what happened in 2004. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent, a very good number. Yet last August the Census Bureau reported that real median family income — the purchasing power of the typical family — actually fell. Meanwhile, poverty increased, as did the number of Americans without health insurance. So where did the growth go?"

"The answer comes from the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose long-term estimates of income equality have become the gold standard for research on this topic, and who have recently updated their estimates to include 2004. They show that even if you exclude capital gains from a rising stock market, in 2004 the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans surged by almost 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the average real income of the bottom 99 percent of the population rose only 1.5 percent. In other words, a relative handful of people received most of the benefits of growth."

"There are a couple of additional revelations in the 2004 data. One is that growth didn’t just bypass the poor and the lower middle class, it bypassed the upper middle class too. Even people at the 95th percentile of the income distribution — that is, people richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — gained only modestly. The big increases went only to people who were already in the economic stratosphere."

"The other revelation is that being highly educated was no guarantee of sharing in the benefits of economic growth. There’s a persistent myth, perpetuated by economists who should know better — like Edward Lazear, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — that rising inequality in the United States is mainly a matter of a rising gap between those with a lot of education and those without. But census data show that the real earnings of the typical college graduate actually fell in 2004. "

What is interesting about this is that when the well-educated upper middle class begins to be screwed by the super rich, then the wealthy are really left with no natural allies. They have only one unnatural ally - the fundamentalist Christian poor. But that is not enough.

Other more directly political signs include:

1. A serious challenge by the Democrats in hyper-Republican and conservative Wyoming, Dick Cheney's home state, even if it is not ultimately successful.

2. A Democratic revival in Nebraska, another conservative Republican state.

When the strongest parts of your base begin to decay, you are in deep, deep trouble. When your policies begin to skew income distribution to such an extreme degree, who remains that has a stake in your success?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Global Warming/ Al Gore Links

Here are three global warming links all wholly or partly about the Gore movie.

All worth reading/watching. I suspect this may become the BIG issue of the next five years, even if there is an economic downturn.

1. Book & Movie review on the New York Review of Books site by scientist Jim Hansen.

2. Al Gore interview with John Stewart. More entertainment value than anything else but worth watching.

3. The Al Gore interview in Rolling Stone.

Update: And here is a link to the oped from the June 19 Globe and Mail by Jeffrey Sachs endorsing a carbon tax. And take a look at the NDP's action plan on the NDP web site. It has been ignored by the Canadian media. This does say something about the Canadian media's concerns about global warming but the NDP might have received more attention if they had advocated a carbon tax.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Manitoba Poll

A new poll in Manitoba puts the PCs in first place for the first time in many years, 43% to 38% for the NDP. However, the NDP have a structural advantage in Manitoba, and my seat forecaster suggests that, even trailing by 5%, the NDP would wind up one seat ahead. When I parse the results closely, I see two ridings that I would guess would actually flip to the Conservatives were an election really being held today.

It appears to be the standard accumulation of small grievances that afflicts the government. The NDP has never won a third term in Manitoba, but Gary Doer is one of Canada's most talented politicians, and new Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen is still an unknown commodity. We don't know yet what the heat of battle will produce.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Liberals and Afghanistan

Reports on the Liberal leadership race since the close of membership sales confirm that Michael Ignatieff remains the front runner, while Joe Volpe may have sold the most memberships. About 70,000 new members will join 80,000 existing members in determining the new Liberal leader. Earlier examples suggest that at best only about half of the new recruits will show up to vote in September. For example in the NDP leadership race that selected Jack Layton in 2003, just 44,000 of 82,000 members voted by phone and internet, much easier than going to a meeting.

While the attention this week has been on the new members, I would guess it is the existing membership that will have the higher turnout and their votes will matter more.

My hunch right now is that this helps Dion who existing party members like and respect, and if Lysiane Gagnon in the Globe is to be believed, is now not so unpopular in Quebec, having somewhat redeemed his reputation by being a passionate advocate for the environment. And others are beginning to see Dion as a potential winner, again partly because he is deemed more acceptable than previously thought in Quebec.

The Liberals would be making a catastrophic error in choosing Ignatieff. Why - because of his views on Afghanistan. He is just as foolish on the subject as Harper, who made a big mistake by visiting Afghanistan soon after becoming PM and taking ownership of the issue from the Liberals.

Just how foolish are both these would be Prime Ministers?

Today I read this account of the war from the London Sunday Times by a correspondent with years of experience in the war-torn country (courtesy of TPM and Wolcott). Its title is Death Trap. Says it all, but read these excerpts:

“If any further reminder were needed that one gets involved in Afghanistan at one’s peril, the Kabul headquarters of the Nato-led peacekeeping force is on the site of the old British cantonment. Its entire strength fled from here in January 1842 after a tribal revolt against the British-imposed ruler.”

“Of the 16,000 soldiers, wives, children and camp followers who left, only one got away; the rest were massacred or taken prisoner by Ghilzai tribesmen. Only Dr William Brydon was deliberately left alive to tell the tale and warn people back home of the consequences of getting involved in Afghanistan.”

“In a country that has ended up as a graveyard for so many thousands of British soldiers, why don’t we learn from history?”

“This time the politicians tell us that we have gone to make peace, not war — to “secure the area so that development can take place and extend the reach of the Karzai government”. But we are woefully underequipped for either: already six British soldiers have lost their lives within 24 days, victims once more of the Ghilzai Pashtuns.”

”Last month saw 53 “TICs” — troops in contact, in other words under Taliban attack — and last week there were two nights during which all but one of the British bases and outposts in Helmand came under attack.”

“How did it all go so wrong? Why does a senior British military officer talk despairingly of “military and developmental anarchy”?.”

Read the rest.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Conservatives and government

This article by Alan Wolfe on “Why Conservatives Can’t Govern” on the Washington Monthly site should not be missed by any person to the left of George Bush’s brand of conservatism.

Here are a few choice morsels:

"Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes what George W. Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his administration. But from just about everyone else, on the right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four.

"Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions….. Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.”

"Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”

"If yesterday's conservative was a liberal mugged by reality, today's is a free-marketer fattened by pork.”

Monday, July 03, 2006

Quebec Liberal Popularity

A Léger poll conducted June 22-25 has the Quebec Liberals ahead of the PQ for the first time since the summer of 2003. The results are:

PLQ - 37
PQ - 33
ADQ - 17
Quebec Solidaire - 6

This result led to some hope that Jean Charest was starting to turn things around. The CBC said the "Charest government has been riding a small wave of popularity over the past couple of weeks."

However, a subsequent CROP poll taken June 12-25 had the PQ in front albeit narrowly:

PQ - 35
PLQ - 32
ADQ - 16
Quebec Solidaire - 7

My take on this is that it is more about PQ weakness than Liberal strength. I think the Léger poll is suspect because it was conducted over the weekend of Fête Nationale, Quebec’s biggest holiday for nationalists. It could have slightly skewed the results.

More fundamentally, the Léger poll had the PQ ahead among francophones (meaning an election based on the poll would have given the PQ the most seats) and confirmed that there remains high dissatisfaction levels with the PLQ government and Charest’s leadership.

I think it will be very difficult for Charest to win again. However, there are clear strains and tensions among nationalists and signs that the 40 year old PQ coalition may be fragmenting.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Harper's Six Month Honeymoon

This Environics poll released on Friday, June 30 delivers generally good news for Stephen Harper with one exception. Compared to the January 23rd election, the Conservatives are up, the Liberals down. The overall standings: C - 39, L - 25, NDP - 21, BQ - 9 & Green - 4.

Translated into seats using my forecaster, it produces a Conservative minority government: C - 147, L- 67, NDP - 39, BQ -53, Ind. - 1. Much of the Liberal seat loss is in Ontario and Atlantic Canada to the Conservatives and the NDP. This might appear to be great news for the Conservatives; six months into their mandate they have a solid lead, Harper’s popularity remains intact and the Liberals, the one party that could realistically displace them, is in a leadership race where question marks hang over the leading contenders.

However, the forecaster predicts a small seat gain for the Bloc - at the expense of the Liberals in Montreal - with the Conservatives picking up just two seats in Quebec. There has been a great deal of media and other attention paid to the idea that a Conservative majority is there for the taking in Quebec (see here and here to get a sense of this notion). So far, the Conservatives have trailed the Bloc in every post-election poll in Quebec and my sense is that the Bloc are finding issues, the climate crisis for example, they can use effectively against the Conservatives in Quebec. This poll continues the frustration for Conservative ambitions in Quebec.

My impression is that the Liberals are going through a negative sort of honeymoon. Having survived in 2004 strictly by being the anti-Conservatives, they are now suffering a hangover from the 12 years in office. Like a real hangover, it will inevitably take time for the party to recover. Meanwhile, the best they seem able to do is try to blame the NDP for their defeat - an inside the Queensway effort that will be of no consequence in the long run. This post by an NDP blogger deconstructs the logic of the attacks quite brilliantly (see also the first comment in the comments section). However, the whole NDP/Liberal feud is of little interest to most Canadians I suspect.

In the end my guess is the fate of this government will rest heavily on the state of the economy, given the Conservatives ambitious spending and tax-cutting programs. It is still fairly strong right now, and was strong when they entered office but one is far better off to enter office when the economy is emerging from recession as the Liberals did at the end of 1993, than just before it heads downhill. I don’t know where the economy is headed; there are mixed signals about the future. The economy may well remain vibrant enough that the Conservatives would not be hampered by slowing growth when faced with re-election, probably some time next year, but they are perilously dependent on it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Nova Scotia Election - Postmortem

The Nova Scotia election produced vote gains but seat losses for the Conservatives, both seat and vote gains for the NDP, and losses in both for the Liberals.

It has been coming on gradually, but thirty years ago the NDP was not a factor in Atlantic politics. However, when the NS Conservatives head into the next election seeking a fourth term in office, the logical alternative, if there is a "throw the rascals out mood", will be the NDP.

Also not noticed much, but the NDP's strongest provincial showing (excluding the territories) was in Nova Scotia in the 2004 and 2006 federal elections. And the NDP now dominates the fastest growing part of Atlantic Canada's largest province - Metro Halifax.

It has taken the federal Liberals 20 years to notice that they were no longer a factor in francophone Quebec. They should take note now of this new threat to Liberal strength in a region long essential to federal Liberal victories - think of the near miss of Chrétien in the 1997 election caused by the unpopularity of his EI "reforms" down east.

Politics is perpetually fluid and trends can reverse, but the NDP seems to be setting down deep roots in Atlantic Canada.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Nova Scotia Election - Last Words

I have not been able to get a sense of the dynamics of this campaign but it has unfolded almost perfectly from the perspective of the NDP. If the last CRA poll is to be believed they are in a neck and neck race with the Conservatives, but because the poll had the Conservatives up by a negligible two points there is no media expectation of an NDP victory. This helps the NDP because it prevents an anti-NDP rallying effect from playing out.

The Conservatives don't have their tv ads on their site but I would say that the NDP efforts are quite good, exemplifying what seem to be very effective campaign communications overall. The NDP's media is much better than the weak efforts of the Liberals, which seem to reflect their weak campaignl.

The sheer Liberal weakness increases the chances of a Conservative majority. Just a narrow lead over the NDP would be all that is necessary. The concentration of NDP support in Halifax and their weakness on the rural mainland also makes possible an outcome where the NDP would have the most votes but finish second in seats. We will know tomorrow.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


The Republicans narrowly won a special election (what we call in Canada a by-election) in California’s 50th Congressional District on Tuesday. The margin was 49-45 in a district that went 58-37 for the Republicans in 2004.

My forecast model suggests that the CA-50 special election result translates into a 56-40 Democratic advantage nationwide. This is larger than the average of recent generic Congressional ballot polls. While more than the usual caveats apply to this number crunching, it should also be noted that this would give the Democrats a 245 to 190 margin in the House of Representatives.

The blogosphere is offering differing interpretations of the result (update: some interesting comments here in Swing State Project), some critical of the Democratic candidate’s campaign. However, there is no good news in any of this for the Republicans. This wasn’t a hypothetical generic Congressional ballot (for the limitations of which, see here), these were real votes in a solid Republican southern California San Diego suburban/ex-urban district where the Democrats should not be expected to be competitive.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New Nova Scotia Election Poll

There is a new poll out in Nova Scotia from Corporate Research Associates and it reports a close race between the NDP and the Conservatives, with the Liberals a distant third.

The overall numbers are:

PC - 38
NDP - 36
L - 20

That translates into the following using my seat calculator:

PC - 30
NDP - 18
L - 4

However, the poll sample size is only 572 yielding a margin of error of ± 4.1%. The small gap plus margin of error mean that a wide range of outcomes are possible. For example, lets just reverse the PCs and the NDP (well within the margin of error). That would then give us:

PC - 25
NDP - 23
L - 4

You can see that the Conservatives do have the advantage: their vote is more efficiently distributed than the NDP and they are ahead in the poll, but the actual outcome remains very much in doubt. The Halifax Chronicle Herald said the poll showed the Conservatives are "flirting with a majority", when what they ought to have emphasized was the sheer closeness of the race.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Al Gore Movie

We went off to see the Al Gore movie tonight. Here are the words of Roger Ebert on the film's web site:
“The director, Davis Guggenheim, uses words, images and Gore’s concise litany of facts to build a film that is fascinating and relentless. In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.”

If the worst case scenario of global warming unfolds, of course, then all other issues slide into insignificance, so I echo Mr Eberts comments.

With the release of the movie comes word that Gregg Easterbrook who I have always seen as an oddball, but who is nonetheless a widely read American writer, has flipped his position as a longtime skeptic of global warming. He wrote a column about his conversion in the New York Times on May 24 to coincide with the opening of the movie in New York. The column is now behind their subscription wall but here is an excerpt:

Yes: the science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous. As an environmental commentator, I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.... Once global-warming science was too uncertain to form the basis of policy decisions ...

Clearly, the question called for more research.

That research is now in, and it shows a strong scientific consensus that an artificially warming world is a real phenomenon posing real danger:

The American Geophysical Union and American Meteorological Society in 2003 both declared that signs of global warming had become compelling.

In 2004 the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that there was no longer any ''substantive disagreement in the scientific community'' that artificial global warming is happening.

In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences joined the science academies of Britain, China, Germany, Japan and other nations in a joint statement saying, ''There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring.''

This year Mr. Karl of the climatic data center said research now supports ''a substantial human impact on global temperature increases.''

And this month the Climate Change Science Program, the Bush administration's coordinating agency for global-warming research, declared it had found ''clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.''

Case closed. Earth's surface, atmosphere and seas are warming; ocean currents are slowing; ice shelves are melting faster than projected; spring is coming ever sooner; rainfall patterns are changing; North American migratory birds are ranging father north; the ability of the earth to self-regulate to resist warming appears to be waning. While natural variation may play roles in climatic trends, overwhelming evidence points to the accumulation of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, as the key.

And those are the words of a person who first heard Gore on the topic 20 years ago and who has resisted reaching this conclusion.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Blogs, Politics and Media

Blogging has become one of the most important political and media developments of the 21st century. It is beginning to have a profound importance on American politics (although not in Canada as yet in my view). An acknowledgement of this latter fact can be found in the article in the May 28 New York Times Magazine by Matt Bai about Yearly Kos, a convention of the liberal blogosphere sponsored by the blog Daily Kos, about which the Bai article notes:

Barely four years after Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, a former American soldier who grew up in El Salvador and Chicago, started Daily Kos from his home in Berkeley, Calif., the site is now less a blog than a civic phenomenon. With some 600,000 visitors a day, Daily Kos reaches more Americans — albeit like-minded Americans — than all but a handful of the largest daily newspapers.

Bai goes on in the article to be airily dismissive of its importance, but as a journalist in the traditional world of the mainstream media he misses the obvious point about the internet: it reduces the costs of information (networking, organizing, staying in touch, communicating laterally) to almost zero. And that has profound implications. The Howard Dean campaign demonstrated its fund raising potential but blogs are also a important political and media phenomenon, influencing opinion and delivering new forms of accountability.

I think Bai is also threatened by the democratization of media that blogging represents. There is an excellent discussion of blogging and media here in the blog of the American Prospect, which argues the following:

It’s often observed that the blogosphere constitutes a threat to big news orgs. But it’s not a threat only for the usual reasons mentioned -- competition for traffic, the speeding up of the news cycle, etc. Bloggers are also a threat because they're in the process of making the opinion-generating profession a purely meritocratic one.

Blogging is in its infancy. Daily Kos started up only in 2002. Despite the impacts of the past few years, it is likely that blogging's greatest impact has yet to be seen.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Nova Scotia Election Poll

A Corporate Research Associates poll was released in Nova Scotia this week, the first of the election campaign. It reported the following:

PC - 34
L - 30
NDP - 27

The poll if it were precisely accurate would give the PCs exactly 26 seats in the 52 seat legislature.

The poll elicited the usual media response of Tories down, Liberals up etc. compared to the previous poll released in March which had the following results:

PC - 36
L - 27
NDP - 29

In fact the results are all within the margin of error and indicated no change. Nova Scotia has a close, competitive three party system. I suspect the default option is a Conservative minority at the moment but the campaign, when the system is this competitive, is all important.

My impression to date is that not much has happened. There comes a point usually midway when a campaign develops a clear dynamic. It is not there yet.

The only part of the poll I found truly intriguing were the leader evaluations:

Macdonald (PC) - 33
Dexter (NDP) - 29
Mackenzie (Lib) -16

This does confirm my earlier impression from afar that the Liberals have weak leader. However, not everyone agrees, especially some Liberals. See the second last paragraph here for a contrary view.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Harper and the Mulroney Coalition

In two items in the May 23rd editions of the Globe and National Post, the narrative about a coming Harper majority based on breakthroughs in Quebec is once again articulated.

In the Globe Harper advisor Tom Flanagan suggests the coalition was outlined in a Stephen Harper speech 10 years ago:

“Mr. Harper marshalled historical evidence to show that all winning Conservative coalitions in 20th-century Canadian history had been built around three main elements: populist reformers, strongest in the West but also present in rural Ontario; traditional Tories, strong in Ontario and Atlantic Canada; and francophone nationalists in Quebec. “

The problem with this generalization is that there are only three cases and this fact alone makes generalizing problematic. One case, Borden’s victory in 1911, came prior to the World War I conscription crisis, which so defined Quebec politics in the 20th century, and should therefore be excluded. Flanagan’s argument does not accurately describe Diefenbaker’s 1958 sweep. Dief won Quebec votes based on the Quebec electorate wanting a share of power in an election where the outcome was generally known in advance. However, he was not at all successful in Quebec in 1957, 1963 and 1965. The unilingual Diefenbaker simply did not build a coalition with Quebec nationalists (although he received some support from the Union Nationale). Only Mulroney built the coalition Harper/Flanagan describe, sustaining it through two elections, and it always had the potential to disintegrate in the way it did in 1993 because the values of his western supporters and those in Quebec, while similar on free trade, were polar opposites on language and national unity issues. It does not have the potential to be a formula to make the Conservatives a “natural governing party” as suggested by Mr. Flanagan. Quebec might buy into Conservative decentralization but it rejects the rest of the package.

The big difference between today and 1984 is that there was no nationalist party in Quebec that stood between Mulroney and those nationalist votes. Now we have the Bloc Quebecois. Pro-independence nationalist parties have commanded thirty-nine percent or more of the Quebec vote, federally and provincially, since 1993 and 1976 respectively with the single exception of the Quebec provincial election in 2003 when the PQ received 33%, losing some soft nationalist votes to the ADQ.

The other obstacle facing Conservatives in Quebec are that province’s values. Whether it is Kyoto, Afghanistan or gay marriage, there are a host of issues where the Harper Conservatives are at odds with the views of a large majority of Quebeckers.

An Ipsos-Reid poll out May 23 is headlined as saying the Conservatives would win a majority if an election were held today. And indeed T.C. Norris’ forecast model agrees it would give the Harper Conservatives a majority of about 175 seats. But it is not based on gains in Quebec.

But in today’s National Post story on the poll we find the Quebec-as-source-of-majority narrative continuing:

“Basically what's happening is that Stephen Harper is recreating the Brian Mulroney majority," Ipsos Reid president Darrell Bricker said in an interview.
"And the way he is doing that is by breaking through in the province of Quebec. It's very much that kind of coalition -- Quebec and the West."

I think Mr. Bricker should study carefully the results of his own poll because it gives the Conservatives their greatest gains in B.C., Ontario and Atlantic Canada. That is where the majority is created. Indeed the Conservatives are in first place everywhere except Quebec. The Conservatives are up in Quebec, but they still trail the BQ and would pick up only six seats according to my model.

I think Harper could win a majority if an election were held today, but if he is going to do so, then this poll tells us it is likely to be outside Quebec. Harper needs significant gains especially in Ontario and Atlantic Canada plus smaller gains in B.C., combined with a more modest advance in Quebec, to win his majority.

This poll has a sample size of only 1,000 and therefore the regional numbers are suspect due to very high margins of error. To take just one example, the Ipsos poll says the NDP are at 11% in Ontario while two weeks ago, the SES poll had the NDP at 24% in the province. The SES poll would produce a strengthened Conservative minority of 139 seats, but nowhere near a majority.

The Ipsos poll also was taken prior to the Kyoto flare-up, and the Afghanistan vote and Gwyn Morgan fiascos, so it probably reflects the positive media around the budget, but not the more recent bad news days for the Conservatives.

The overall total for the Conservatives of 43% has a margin of error of ± 3.1% meaning it could be less than 40% and still be within the margin of error. The range of 40-43% is really in the area somewhere between majority and minority, so one cannot say for sure that this is the result the poll actually forecasts. I would say that a poll giving the Conservatives 45% is highly likely but not certain to predict a majority (given the margin of error).

Will our pundits notice the weakness and ambiguity of this week’s majority assertions? Since they seem incapable of noticing that Quebec is the one place where the Conservatives don’t have a lead, I don’t hold out much hope.