Friday, September 28, 2007

Ontario Election - Liberals will win

It is now all but certain that the Liberals will be re-elected with a majority. With twelve days left it would take an entirely unexpected development to change this.

A poll out today from Environics gives them a five point lead, but one just out from Ipsos shows a greater margin with the Tories trailing by ten points.

In addition, Environics reports that opposition to the religious schools promise has grown since they last polled on the issue, including significant growth among those strongly opposed. The same is true for the new Ipsos poll.

The other interesting part of the Environics poll is a survey on the referendum, which makes it clear that not only will the proposed new MMP system not receive the 60% needed for approval, it will not reach 50%.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The MoveOn Fracas

The unpopularity of the war in Iraq forces the Republicans to look where they can for distractions.

They really thought they had found one, and the whole inside the beltway crowd bought the line, in an ad placed in the New York Times by They screamed that is was a total outrage because it criticized the Iraq Congressional testimony of General Petraeus by using a pun on his name "General Petraeus or General Betray Us". The Washington establishment got so worked up about it (essentially as an alleged insult to the military and wounding of national pride) that the Senate even passed a motion condemning MoveOn this week.

I see the affair as one more piece of evidence for what is a huge reality gap between those inside the beltway and everyone else.

It all was summarized in an article in the Sept. 23 Toronto Star by their Washington correspondent, who has clearly drunk the Washington Kool-Aid.

There is a breed of young blogger pundits in Washington who are able to see through all of this nonsense. One of the best is Matthew Yglesias and here is what he said:

As best I can tell, it's all basically bullshit. The whole fracas of Petraeus, Crocker, MoveOn, etc. has had, to a good first approximation, no impact whatsoever on anything of any significance. Bush continues to be stubborn. Republicans continue to back Bush. The war continues to go poorly and continues to be unpopular. There was nothing else that ever could have happened. A bunch of editors and politicians talked themselves into believing that this September showdown was crucially significant, but they were all wrong and their theory never made any sense.

And the hard evidence wasn't long in coming. The most recent polling, which of course says Bush is unpopular, so is the war, and nothing has changed, can all be seen in this post from Atrios:

When the election comes in 2008 a continuing unpopular war (not to mention an economy increasingly in trouble) will have a devastating impact on the incumbent party in White House.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ontario Debate & Tory's Health Care Plank

TC has not blogged on the subject. My view is that if the news coverage of the debate is gone by Monday, it can be said the debate will have no impact on the campaign. The beginning of the debate, presumably where direct viewership would be greatest, was all about religious schools, an issue that works for the Liberals but not the other two parties.

Prior to the debate John Tory announced a private health care initiative, a clearly unpopular gambit, labelled in their press release of course as "John Tory Strengthens Public Health Care". On the face of it it doesn't make sense. However, it might be designed to appeal to the affluent voters in Don Valley West, where he is in a tight race with Education Minister Kathleen Wynne. I am not at all certain of this but it is a possible explanation for an otherwise foolish promise. The only poll I have seen on this is one of those methodologically suspect online newspaper polls. It asked if government funding of private clinics (as Tory proposes) would lead to two tier medicine. 68% said Yes. In addition, in the Strategic Counsel poll (page 15) the Liberals outpolled the Tories on who was best able to handle health care 39 to 24 with 18 for the NDP. Making health care an issue doesn't make sense for Tory.

UPDATE: This column by Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star spells out the implications of Tory's proposal:
He's not just talking about letting private clinics deliver medicare services. His plan would set the stage for a full-scale, private, parallel system.

Regardless of the debate outcome, the next 10 days are critical. This is the point where the campaign gels, voters become conscious of the need to make a decision and the options for the parties begin to run out. At this point the Liberals are clearly ahead. Some polls suggest that it is close enough that it could be a minority government; others clearly imply a majority

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ontario Election Second Choices

The Globe's Strategic Counsel poll is now up on the web. On page 24 they list the second choices of Ontario voters. Which party is in last place, behind the Green Party? Why it is John Tory's Progressive Conservatives. His prospects continue to look bleak.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quebec By-elections

The conventional wisdom on the byelection results emerging from yesterday appears to be:

  1. The results were a disaster for Stéphane Dion because of the loss of the Liberal stronghold of Outremont; in particular it will lead to grave doubts about his leadership and it is likely to come under early and severe pressure and he might even lose it before the next election.
  2. The results are great victory for Stephen Harper – the National Post headline read: Tories Take Bloc Fiefdom
  3. The results are major reversal for the Bloc Québecois.

TC’s take is somewhat different.


First, with respect to Outremont, it is a significant loss for Dion but it also reflects enduring Liberal Party weakness in Quebec, perhaps in part some lingering impact of sponsorship, but more significantly a longer term loss of confidence in the Liberals among francophone Quebeckers that followed the 1982 constitutional amendments that were implemented over the opposition of the René Levesque PQ Quebec government. There are many reasons for the Liberal decline but it is an established fact, notwithstanding the party’s first place showing in the 2000 election (a result mostly of the unpopularity of Bouchard’s PQ government of the day).

The prattle about Dion’s leadership will be embarrassing to him in the short term, but largely irrelevant as he will be leading the Liberals in the next election, perhaps as soon as later this fall. That will be his real test. He was arrogant in his selection of candidate, and tone deaf to the on the ground politics that were moving all summer to the NDP. He does need to do something about that.

More importantly, however, the Outremont victory of Thomas Mulcair represents a real achievement on the part of Jack Layton, who has had his leadership largely ignored (or disparaged) by the national pundit class. Quietly but persistently he has been pursuing support in Quebec for the NDP, for example, placing the NDP’s national convention in Quebec City and articulating support for asymmetrical federalism as a means of reconciling the centralist approach of the NDP with the devolutionary aspirations of Quebec. Along with improving his knowledge of French first acquired working summer jobs in the province the effort paid off this week.

Outremont has been called a Liberal chateau fort and that is true if we go back far enough, but it was not true in the last two elections when the Liberals won taking only about 35% of the vote. Outremont, however, is where the NDP had its best Quebec showing in 2004 (14%) and 2006 (17%) so there was a base for a strong candidate to build on.

Mulcair’s victory, which could end up being a one-off win, does have some broader potential; the NDP now has seats in all of Canada’s regions, and is in a position to strengthen its claim to national legitimacy. It could only succeed in becoming a national opposition or government party with Liberal failure, something quite out of its hands. TC thinks the best chance of that happening would be if somehow Michael Ignatieff were to become Liberal leader (presumably following a Liberal loss in the next election).

The Conservatives

The Conservative victory in Roberval isn’t as significant as it might look. Apart from a history of voting for the political right (this used to be Créditiste country), this was the only constituency in the top ten performances of the Conservatives in the last in election in Quebec where the Conservatives did not win. It was a gain for Harper but Conservative support in Quebec in the last election was not all that widespread. What they needed to do was win a seat in a part of Quebec that say, supported the ADQ in the March 2006 provincial election. That would be Ste Hyacinthe-Bagot. However, they did not win, and while much is being made of their popular vote there, the split between the Bloc and the Tory vote is uncannily similar to the result in the same riding in the 1997 election (when the Tories were the Progressive Conservatives). One of the things that struck TC in looking at the numbers overall was the sheer volatility and variability of voting preferences in Quebec. One therefore needs to discount the specific numerical data to a significant extent.

The Bloc

In a way the most interesting result of the night was the collapse of the Bloc vote in Outremont (the Conservative vote also dropped significantly). This alone ensured the defeat of the Liberals even if they had hung on to their 35% vote share. Does it mean that with the waning of nationalist passions, the social democratic appeal of the Bloc is transferable to the NDP? Possibly. It does clearly illustrate that defecting Bloc votes are not going to go just to the Conservatives - a core operating assumption of Ottawa pundits who think the key to a Conservative majority is a collapsing Bloc vote (TC thinks a Conservative majority is only possible through big gains in Ontario along with some in Quebec, an unlikely but not impossible scenario.)

It appears as well that Conservative success in Roberval (where they won handily) was partly an effort on the part of an economically depressed region to get access to the federal pork barrel (there are no doubt fond memories of a certain Mr. Mulroney here). In Ste Hyacinthe the result seems more like the loss of support that would be normal given the departure of a long time popular incumbent. Given the long and enduring history of Quebec nationalism it would be best to be more cautious than the pundit class in writing off the Bloc.


In the end, however, these were by-elections, soon to be yesterday’s news. TC is hard put to see great general trends at work. The Conservatives picked up one more constituency that they might well have won last time. The NDP did make a breakthrough but its broader significance is unclear, and the status quo, more or less, prevailed in Sainte Hyacinthe. And Dion will be the Liberal leader in the next election, notwithstanding the gossip machine on the Rideau.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Liberals in trouble in Quebec by-elections

Poll results were published in La Presse today on the races in the three ridings having byelections on September 17 (report in English here). The NDP's Thomas Mulcair leads by six points in Outremont and the Conservatives are ahead in Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean, while the Bloc is well ahead in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot.

The poll has quite a large sample size in each riding (1037 in Outremont) and therefore deserves to be taken seriously.

TC will write about the significance of the results next week, but won't comment further until the ballots come out of the box.

But to brag a bit, TC saw the potential here and wrote of Mulcair in July just after the byelections were called, " he really does have the potential to win".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More Ontario election...

The news only gets worse for John Tory. An Ipsos poll released Monday says this about the aid to religious schools promise:
The poll also finds that three in five Ontarians (62%) oppose the Ontario Government extending full funding to all faith-based schools, not only the Catholic schools, a stance championed by Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory. Opposition to the plan cuts across party lines, and is opposed by majorities of Liberal supporters as well as Tory’s own PC supporters. In fact, if given a choice, a majority in the province support a public school only system (53%) compared with the status quo (23%) and extended funding (21%).
It reported the party numbers as: L - 41, PC - 36, NDP - 17, Green - 6, in line with other recent polls.

The next day a Decima Harris poll reported a 41-33 Liberal lead. However, this poll has the Greens too high (11) and the NDP too low (13), at odds with all other recent polling including Ipsos.

I don't ordinarily waste my time reading Margaret Wente's column in the Globe. However, she probably does reflect her right wing affluent anglo neighbourhood (the kind Tory needs to secure for victory in Don Valley West). Here is what she had to say:
For John Tory, the man who wants to be premier of Ontario, the news on the doorsteps isn't good. Nobody wants to talk about the health tax, leadership or the economy. Instead, it's all about religious schools. Most people are flatly opposed to Mr. Tory's promise to fund more of them. Tempers run highest in Toronto, where the Conservative candidate is hoping for a breakthrough. Raise the issue at any dinner party, and watch everyone start yelling. ''I can't understand why he made it an issue,'' say more Tory supporters than I can count.
Tory really would be better off admitting he goofed now and get the issue behind him, as extremely damaging as that would be. It doesn't seem likely.

Looking past this issue, if that is possible, the one hornet's nest for McGuinty remains the fiscal struggles at the municipal level across Ontario. In Toronto transit fares were hiked today mid-campaign.

And in today's print edition of the Globe the following passage appeared about community centre closings:
The closings also have financial impact for parents such as Lorena Amarista, who faces making alternative after school arrangements for her son Jacob. For Ms. Amarista, who is self-employed, this means working a few hours less instead of getting a sitter. "I blame the McGuinty government," Ms. Amarista said. "They're in charge. They're supposed to be taking care of our kids".
The NDP is the only party that could potentially benefit from such sentiment. Will they? Not while the subject of conversation is faith based schools.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Ontario election - over before it begins?

I have been thinking for months that this was going to be a close and interesting election, but it is beginning to look like the John Tory campaign promise of aid to religious schools will become the defining issue.

It is a fatally flawed policy. Canadians hold equality as one of their deepest values and that gets defined to mean that no group should be privileged by public policy. A poll I linked to in an earlier post suggests that even the existing Catholic system is unpopular.

Tory's promise seems about to join earlier examples such as the sharia law proposal and the Bob Rae NDP government's employment equity program as examples of public opinion disasters of this kind.

The inevitable result of this becoming the defining issue would be a Liberal majority. It would hurt the NDP because its position is indistinguishable from the Liberals, and the issue could motivate strategic voting. It could marginally help the Greens as they are the only party to suggest ending support to the Catholic system, so they might benefit by receiving the votes of defecting Tories who otherwise find it unacceptable to support the Liberals or NDP.

I remain uncertain about this, but it is the issue that has been getting big media play in the last week. Tory does not have much time to shift the focus, and so far the NDP has not made any impact.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Tory's Troubles

I think this Toronto Star cartoon comparing Tory's troubles with his support for religious schools to Stockwell Day's problems with creationism back in the 2000 federal election campaign pretty much sums up Ontario politics on the eve of the provincial election kickoff on Monday.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Provincial Elections in Newfoundland and Saskatchewan

Ontario is grabbing most of the attention, but there will also be provincial elections this autumn in Newfoundland (on October 11) and Saskatchewan (likely late October/early November), and a federal campaign might not be far behind.

A new poll gives the ruling PCs of Danny Williams (known on the rock as Danny Millions) 77 per cent of voter intentions, a level that, if achieved, would give the PCs every seat. The campaign is over before it begins.

The result will be closer in Saskatchewan where it appears certain that the opposition Saskatchewan Party will end 16 years of NDP rule. A time series of polls conducted by Environics Research shows the Saskatchewan Party has lead the NDP continuously since the last election (scroll down to the see the graph). Each poll has very small sample size but the accumulation of data is significant. Even if there is a change of government the election is likely to be hard fought and competitive.

An indirect beneficiary of an NDP loss could be the federal New Democrats. TC suspects part of NDP weakness in Saskatchewan at the federal level in recent years is due to the provincial regime showing its age.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Outremont - NDP & Liberals in Tight Race

That is the view of Chantal Hébert in the Sept. 4 Toronto Star as she suggests Liberal strategists must "fret about the closing gap between their candidate and Jack Layton's". (The CROP poll she discusses is described here in French.) It reports the Liberals at 21% province-wide and the NDP at 13%. It has been little noticed but the NDP's numbers have been getting better in Quebec.

TC's projection based on the CROP poll would put the NDP five points back but that is simply calculated from the performance of the NDP and the Liberals in the 2006 election (when the Liberal candidate was Jean Lapierre.) It takes no account of NDP candidate Thomas Mulcair's considerable strengths.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Ontario Election Campaign - McGuinty's Summer

Dalton McGuinty's summer brought him the worst of times - in the form of the report from the Provincial Auditor on the multicultural grants scandal. The story of the cricket group that applied for $150,000 only to receive a million was the subject of a John Tory radio attack ad I heard this morning. That particular ad is not on the the Ontario PC website but this ad attacking the grants as a "slush fund" is there. McGuinty will be hearing about that grant and the scandal associated with it from now until election day.

But it also brought the best of times - in the form the John Tory promise to provide public money to private religious schools (the promise is on the bottom of page 10 of his platform here but isn't prominently displayed on the web site). This CBC sponsored poll, while not directly about Tory's promise, illustrates that it is a political liability. It reported that by a margin of 58-29 poll respondents favoured merging the existing public and Catholic systems.

One deeply embedded Canadian political value is equality. Any policy measure that appears to grant a privileged place in the public realm to a specific group is anathema to public opinion. This was the case with the strong public antipathy to the proposals to grant some authority to religious institutions to utilize sharia law. It is the same with the response to Tory's plan and he may rue the day he ever gave it consideration.

With the campaign imminent - some buses begin to roll this week - the pollsters have been getting into the field. There have been four polls in recent weeks. In all the Liberals have 40% or more while PC support ranges from 34% to 37% and the NDP averages 17.5%, the Greens 7%.

The average produces a weak Liberal majority according to my forecast model (54 seats are needed):

L - 58
PC - 39
NDP - 10

Just a slight shift in opinion would put the Liberals into a minority. Interestingly, the Liberals' losses have largely been to the NDP and the Greens. On average, the PCs are running just one point ahead of their 2003 showing.

The key to the election at this point is Tory's private schools promise - if he can't shift the focus of public discussion and debate, the PCs would lose and the McGuinty would have a second majority. The Liberals appear to be intent on keeping it in the public eye. The issue is also a threat to the NDP - it is a classic wedge issue and if it really arouses public opinion to the exclusion of other considerations, the NDP (which has the same position as the Liberals on the issue) could lose ground. It might help the Greens a little - it could be an alternative for traditional Tories who still don't like support for Catholic schools, because the Greens favour funding only public education.

This analysis is conditional - it still is not clear what this campaign will be about, and that means the eventual outcome remains opaque.