Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Decima poll seals it

It is now clear that there will be no federal election, much to TC's surprise. Today's Decima symbolically concludes the election speculation period. Harper has concluded he can't win his majority now. He was clearly headed for an election and backed off late. Some intelligence TC learned this evening suggests he was shaken by the Quebec election results. Regardless, the decision was a gift to Stéphane Dion and the Liberals who now have breathing space to organize and raise money.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Deficit Mania

Many liberals in the U.S. like to bash the Republicans for their deficits, but can't see how they are really buying into a conservative economic paradigm in doing so.

That is why I liked this post by someone named Jared Bernstein that I found on TPM Cafe. He is writing about a talk given by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate economist who was once chair of Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors (1995 – 1997):
If I could summarize his message in one over-arching thought, it would be: too often, our budget debates mindlessly assume that deficit reduction is the best option, both for us and for other countries with whom we do business. This simplistic, reductionist view is leading both political parties toward a philosophy of fiscal austerity which will have very negative consequences.

It seems to me this absolute devotion to balanced budgets is just as widespread in Canada, and with somewhat similar consequences. The fact that we are putting more and more resources into the military and the war in Afghanistan parallels in a reduced way the problems in the U.S.

The post and the talk are well worth reading.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Manitoba Election Called

It will be May 22. Gary Doer called it today. Going in the most recent poll by Probe Research had the NDP and Tories tied at 40% with the Liberals at 15%, with the NDP stronger in the city and the Conservatives holding a big lead in the rural areas. This would probably give the election to the NDP, which has traditionally had a more efficiently distributed vote. Using a regional version of my forecast model I find it gives the seat distribution as NDP - 29, Conservative -26 and the Liberals - 2, so this one starts out very close.

The NDP has never won a third term in Manitoba, but the 1988 experience when the Pawley government melted down is not a relevant precedent. In 1977, despite having the popular Ed Schreyer as Premier, the NDP lost to Sterling Lyon's PCs. That election was influenced by the North American recession of 1974-75, which had its roots in the 70s oil crisis. This time the economy is much stronger so if the NDP does not win it it likely to be because the usual accumulation of grievances collected by all governments has overwhelmed them. Not many provincial governments win a third term but it is TC's view that Gary Doer is a highly effective stump politician so a third NDP majority is a distinct possibility. It will be an interesting and a close race.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Federal Election or Not?

The Conservatives have spent the past two weeks subtly signalling in most ways that we should not expect an election. There is one conspicuous exception: they need to repass the Fixed Election Dates Bill because the Senate made some minor amendments. The opposition says it is willing to speed it through but there is no sign of the legislation. It means the government is keeping its options open. The last few polls report relatively modest Conservative leads, not nearly enough for a majority. So the Ottawa zeitgeist is now saying no election this spring.

In more pre-election skirmishing, the Liberals have produced an effective ad, one, however, that responds to the Conservative commercials attacking Dion as a weak leader. It does so effectively but clearly the Liberals felt a need to respond, which means the Tory ads must have had some impact.

If Harper wants an election he must get one going within two weeks. After that he risks running into a June heatwave, not the sort of thing you want if climate change is going to be a major campaign issue. So we will know one way or another quite soon.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The May Dion Deal

This is a remarkable development. Partisan politics in a first past the post system is a Darwinian struggle for survival. It does not typically permit parties to cooperate, or even say nice things about each other in public, regardless of how they might feel privately.

To extend the Darwin metaphor a bit, it means that it is the stronger of the two partners to such an arrangement that is likely to benefit and thrive, while the weaker risks severe harm to the species. In other words, this could be highly beneficial for the Liberals but very damaging for the Greens.

How might the Liberals benefit? Implicit in the deal is a general endorsement for the Liberal policy on climate change and Dion’s leadership on the issue by the Green Party. This will help insulate the Liberals from the attacks of the NDP and the Conservatives that Dion was part of a government that failed to follow up its Kyoto commitments. For example, this Angus Reid online poll found that a plurality of 34% of Canadians believed the Greens are the party “best suited to develop effective global warming legislation” compared to 18% for the Liberals. (TC has reservations about online polls but these are very large numbers). So having Green support has the potential to considerably strengthen the Liberals’ and Dion’s reputation on climate issues. Some have argued his reputation on this issue is already strong – but he is still new and public knowledge of party leaders and their policies, especially new ones, should not be overestimated. I think the greatest benefits may be downstream rather than immediate.

Effectively Elizabeth May is saying that the urgent nature of the climate crisis and the fact that in her words the Harper government represents a “grave threat”, legitimizes encouraging Green voters to support the Liberals against the Harper Conservatives. This is the clear implication of her position, although she does not explicitly so, but it is an implication that will not be missed by those who might be willing to vote strategically on the climate issue.

If there is true urgency here, why is May not simply endorsing the Liberals? There are going to be very difficult questions for her to answer as this type of cooperation is implicitly contradictory in nature. It means the Greens could take fewer votes, perhaps far fewer, than would otherwise have been the case. Whatever her idealistic intent, she can’t ultimately escape the zero-sum nature of party politics. She is new to politics and often appears quite naïve about its sometime brutal realities.

Could the Liberals literally gain extra seats from this? If we take the seat calculations I made based on the most recent SES poll, and, for illustrative purposes, take half of the Green vote and give it to the Liberals, it would boost the Liberal seat total by 9 to 130. The potentially tangible benefits to the Liberals are there indeed.

The conventional media coverage has been largely negative but don’t let that mislead you. The pundit class (as TC has previously discussed) are generally clueless. The sophistication of their analysis tends not to go beyond comparing the number of Liberal votes in Central Nova with the number of Green votes in St. Laurent-Cartierville. This deal may not be win-win but I doubt that it is lose-lose.

For the Green Party as an institution, the implications of the deal are most likely to be highly negative. The one potential benefit would be if May could actually win Central Nova. I think it highly unlikely (the Green vote is weak there and many Liberals in rural Nova Scotia would have either the Conservatives or the NDP as a second choice), although Greg Morrow of DemocraticSpace says it is at least a possibility. Having just one seat in the House of Commons would bring sufficient benefits to justify this action to the Greens who are otherwise likely to see votes bleeding away from them.

It is the potential harm to the Greens that explains the reaction of the NDP who have denounced the arrangement as a backroom deal (a pejorative phrase that has been much thrown around but left undefined). Jack Layton has a better understanding of the Darwinian character of party politics, hence his reaction.

While it was probably all Layton could say, it doesn’t seem accurate to characterize the May-Dion agreement as a “backroom deal”. It seems to me about the same as the NDP budget deal with Paul Martin. There were private conversations then a public announcement of a deal with (perceived) benefits for both parties. A better definition of a backroom deal would be one that involves making a private promise in a closed door negotiation in exchange for a public benefit, such as a leadership convention candidate making a secret promise to a rival to drop out and throw support to the remaining candidate.

It is all no doubt frustrating for the Jack Layton, whose seriousness about global warming goes back a number of years, and has indeed been endorsed by Elizabeth May. To see what Jack Layton and Olivia Chow have done personally about the issue, take a look at this YouTube video tour of their house.

In the end, the whole arrangement could turn out to be moot. If Afghanistan, for example, became the focus of the campaign, or the election was to be delayed and a recession was to suddenly get underway, even climate change could be pushed to the side. There is a gamble about the future here but it seems to TC that most of the potential risks are to the Green Party, and most of the potential benefits belong to the Liberals. It is not likely to establish a precedent that other smaller parties like the NDP will wish to emulate.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

New SES Poll - Surprising Seat Numbers

As I often do, when a new poll comes in I apply the numbers to my seat forecasting model.

When I did this with the numbers out today in the new SES poll I was in for a surprise: despite a three point lead in the popular vote, the Conservatives actually come second to the Liberals when the polling data is converted to seats. There are a number of instances in Canadian political history of parties winning elections by taking the most seats even while finishing second in the popular vote. That is what happens here.

Poll Numbers

Liberal - 33
Conservative - 36
NDP - 16
BQ - 10
Green - 6

Seat Numbers

Liberal - 121
Conservative - 119
NDP - 18
BQ - 50

Now, this result is actually vert close, much too close to be considered conclusive. But it was true in 2006 that the Liberals had the most efficiently distributed vote. These numbers are certainly indicative of that. Crucial to the outcome is that in the poll the Conservatives are only ahead of the Liberals by six points in the SES's west region, compared to being 26 points ahead of the Liberals in the 2006 election in the west. Most of the blogosphere is focused on Quebec but its the western numbers that seem the most surprising, and one should add, implausible. It is most likely in TC's view that an election today would produce a Conservative minority government.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Map of Quebec Election Results

I found a link to this map of the Quebec election results on It can be used to illustrate one aspect of the results that has not been precisely described in post-election analysis.

The ADQ seems to be fundamentally a rural party that made some suburban inroads in this election. Its strength is concentrated in central Quebec (it is represented on the map by the green colour). As these are Google maps you can zoom in and you will see that the ADQ actually won just two of Montreal's inner suburbs on the south shore (but did better in the Quebec City area). It won some of the outer suburban ridings, for example north of Laval, but these were partly rural.

It is one of the reasons I tend to view it as more like the Créditistes, or the Union Nationale. It is a rural, populist protest, without a coherent program (as a glance at their platform will tell you) in an increasingly urbanizing society. The PQ and Liberals did launch attacks on the holes in Dumonts platform, but this election was about voicing protest so they fell on deaf ears. Dumont will get closer scrutiny next time, but not winning gives him the chance to rewrite his policies into something that might resemble a program a government could live with.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dumont and Harper

I have seen too much analysis speculating that Dumont's success in Quebec is nothing but good news for Harper. The first error here is that Dumont is paving the way for Harper. Actually, it is more likely that Harper's gains in 2005 helped create an opportunity for Dumont, who improved his vote from 18% in 2003 to 31% this time, while Harper already picked up 25% in the 2006 election.

In any case, many of today's first time ADQ voters won't support Harper. There are some quotes to this effect in the March 31st edition of CBC radio's The House, which featured a documentary on the including from an interview with a new ADQ MNA who called Harper "too ideological".

Today Norman Spector provided a further antidote to any notion that Dumont is potentially helpful to Harper, especially in the longer run. I don't agree with all of this but it is worth reading:

In the 1995 referendum, Mr. Dumont campaigned for the Yes side; now, with Quebeckers balking at another referendum, he will try a different approach. But let's have no premature celebration of the Parti Québécois's demise: There's virtually no difference between Mr. Dumont's “Canada-Quebec structure” and René Lévesque's “sovereignty-association.” Let's also recall that Mr. Lévesque, too, quit the Liberal Party, and that Mr. Bourassa refused to go along only because he thought it imprudent to break up Canada to achieve their goal. Even Mr. Charest, speaking in French, compares his vision of Quebec in Canada to that of France in the European Union.

With the polls fluctuating and inconclusive, Mr. Harper may yet decide against a spring election. If so, he'd better make sure he's thought through his strategy before Mr. Dumont comes calling — possibly with the support of the Liberals and the PQ. Aside from potentially fracturing Mr. Harper's political base on both sides of the Ottawa River, the coming engagement with Mr. Dumont could put at risk the future of Canada.

There is too great a tendency in English Canada to see the imminent demise of the sovereignty movement in Quebec. The issue may be now somewhat in abeyance but we should not be surprised to see a revival of Quebec nationalism at some point in the future. It is the most difficult issue in Canada for a Prime Minister to handle. How soon we forget that Harper's plan for this spring's election was to start off with a comfortable re-election for his friend Jean Charest.