Sunday, December 02, 2012

The federal by-elections

Quite unusually the November 26 federal by-elections produced a set of outcomes that managed to deliver bad news in one form or another for all the parties including the Green Party, which actually won large shares of the popular vote in Victoria and Calgary Centre representing large gains over 2011. However, these two constituencies previously featured the sixth and ninth best performances by the Green party in the 2011 election.  Having just three by-elections to contest therefore was as about as good an opportunity as one could ask for to break through and win another riding. But the first-past-the-post electoral system in Canada is remorseless. Big increases in popular vote in two of your strongest ridings that don't produce victories represents a setback. It is not surprising that the Greens are enthusiastic supporters of cooperation among the non-Conservative parties: they would have the most to gain.

The Conservatives won two constituencies but relatively speaking lost ground in all three provinces, although their loss in Ontario was small enough that it might be seen as satisfactory. TC takes the individual results and calculates what a provincial outcome comparable to the 2011 result would look like.  For the Conservatives that would be about 40.5% in Ontario compared to their 44.2% in 2011.  Their relative losses in BC and Alberta were much greater, and in Victoria their poor performance (14.5% compared to 23.5% in 2011) could justifiably be regarded by them with alarm about what it might say about the province as a whole.

The Liberals have been doing well in national polls recently but there was no evidence in the November 26th results of their recent gains at the national level. Perhaps there is no Trudeaumania II outside the confines of the Liberal Party. On the other hand the David McGuinty/Justin Trudeau comments about Alberta did not seem to hurt the Liberals in Calgary Centre where the outcome was not far off the pre-election polls, and a marked improvement for the Liberals over 2011. The Liberals finished in third place in 2011 and have a long way to come back.  These results cannot be seen as encouraging.

The NDP picked up some ground in Durham and finished a poor fourth in Calgary Centre and they were no doubt disappointed by their weak result in Victoria despite winning. It was the one contest that featured a debate about a local policy issue - whether or not there should be a new treatment plant for Victoria's sewage.  Only NDP candidate Murray Rankin strongly supported the plant while the others were opposed (including, remarkably, via some fairly tortured logic Green candidate Donald Galloway), and even, in the case of the Conservative candidate Dale Gann, if it meant reversing previous support.  The case for proceeding with the proposed new plant is well-argued here on the blog of Victoria City Councillor Ben Isitt (who unsuccessfully sought the Victoria NDP nomination).  It appears that most Victorians wish to avoid future local tax increases at the expense of pollution continuing to flow unabated into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There were two good columns on this topic by Victoria Times-Colonist columnist Les Leyne here and here.

One other factor may have been the anti-Mulcair radio campaign that has been running frequently on Vancouver radio stations and likely also in Victoria, something the national NDP may need to regard with alarm.