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.