Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tim Hudak and Scott Walker

Tim Hudak is leader of the Ontario PC party while Scott Walker is Governor of Wisconsin and a beacon to those on the North American right who see his small government, anti-union, tax-cutting regime as offering a hopeful model for economic development. I could not find an explicit endorsement of the Walker approach by Hudak but clearly their policies have much in common.  Hudak's pledge of a million jobs for Ontario over four years does seem to echo Walker's promise to create 250,000 jobs over four years.

So how is the Walker economic program working out?  According to this post on Scott Walker's recent State of the State speech, which comes from the blog Econbrowser (based partly in Wisconsin), things are not going so well, especially compared to states run by Democrats including neighbouring (and very similar) Minnesota.  Take a look at this graphic:

Figure 1: Log coincident indicators for California (blue), Minnesota (red), Wisconsin (green), and US (black); observations for 2014M05 are forecasted values using Philadelphia Fed’s leading indices, all normalized to 2011M01=0. Source: Philadelphia Fed and author’s calculations.
We can see that Wisconsin's performance coming out of recession lags that of Minnesota and California, states both controlled by Democratic governors and legislatures.

California is still suffering from the impact of previous cuts but has reversed course in the last couple of years as Democrats have gained ground in the state legislature.

Is the Walker-Wisconsin approach one Ontario should emulate?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ontario Feb. 13 2014 By-elections: A preview of a spring election?

The February 13, 2014 Ontario by-elections in Thornhill and Niagara Falls may give us a bit of a preview of a potential spring election in Ontario. However, there are only two seats at stake in a broad and diverse province. Last summer's by-elections were interpreted as bad for the Hudak PCs by the media and others, while I expressed a contrarian view.

The most recent Forum polls give the PCs a six or seven point lead while the last Ipsos Ontario poll (in November) had the Liberals ahead. If the Conservatives do have the lead suggested by Forum then they should easily win the two by-elections. Here are the results for 2011


Forum has not had good experience with by-election polls, as commented upon in this blog here, but they have forged ahead with a new poll giving the PCs leads in both ridings. The results are broadly consistent with Forum's earlier province-wide soundings.

Tim Hudak has made a significant tactical shift in these campaigns by including attacks on the NDP in both his speeches and this radio ad, which among other things refers back to the Rae days of the early nineties, something most voters would not remember (in the ad it sounds incomprehensible to me). Hudak`s speech sounded like the PC leader was frustrated by an inability to get as many defecting Liberals as he feels he deserves. The ad focuses on how much legislative support the NDP has extended to the Liberals (largely to help pass two budgets since 2011).

The real problem Hudak may face down the line is that even if we accept the recent PC lead at face value, the polls clearly indicate he would be unable to win enough support for a majority. Even with a seven point margin over the Liberals, a lead that one might expect would be sufficient, the PCs by my estimate fall a few seats short of a majority (Forum says the Liberals would have the most seats but this is clearly wrong).

Although the NDP has been tilting a bit to the right recently, talking about "tax relief" and even supporting Rob Ford's effort to meet with Wynne, they would still make quite uncomfortable bedmates for the PCs, so if Hudak wins the minority now indicated expect him to try to orchestrate an early second election in order to win a majority.

Can Kathleen Wynne capture the most seats in the expected spring election? She has slightly improved the Liberal performance in the polls overall since becoming Liberal leader (compared to how McGuinty performed after the 2011 election).


Recently she received a 35% approval rating in an online Angus Reid poll on the popularity of Canadian provincial premiers. If one takes that as a proxy for what level of popularity is potentially available to the Ontario Liberals, it might be just enough for a minority win.

One can say a Wynne Liberal victory is within the realm of the possible, if not a probability at the moment. There is no doubt that these by-elections are an important testing ground for a Liberal campaign and that is why we are seeing a variety of messaging being rolled out, for example, a restatement of Wynne's commitment to pension reform by appointing Paul Martin as an adviser.

Hudak's continuing problem is his anti-labour and strongly conservative ideology, positioning that actually cost him a candidate for the next election recently. He likes to cite Michigan's so-called "right-to-work" law, but would be well advised to note that the law itself is not popular there and may be contributing to polls that suggest a Democratic takeover of the Michigan state legislature might occur later this year.  Even a small move towards the centre would be in Mr. Hudak`s interest.

One key point about Ontario is that the combination of a falling Canadian dollar combined with increasingly better prospects for growth in the U.S. economy suggests that province`s growth might improve significantly relative to the stagnation that has confronted Ontario since the downturn began in 2008.  That will help whoever wins this spring regardless of what policy path they adopt.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mr Ford's Alleged Popularity and Toronto's Mayoralty Race 2014

There was a time when, in the absence of polling data, one had to look for indicators and bits of information in the news that might suggest the direction of a race. However, one has to be careful to assess this information in drawing conclusions.

The enthusiastic clips from Ford's more animated supporters that TV news likes to air give a misleading impression of a mayor that might win re-election, and one does see assessments that claim this, for example this article by Ivor Tossell in the Daily Beast, but it strikes TC that this item like others is not so much an analysis as it is an expression of the author's fears.

There was an article in the Globe and Mail that tipped us to some inside information that appeared to go generally unrecognized when it was originally published. It quoted John Laschinger, who over the past thirty years has built a reputation as a highly talented political organizer and consultant. The book he co-authored with fellow Red Tory Geoffrey Stevens, Leaders and Lesser Mortals: backroom politics in Canada, should be required reading for anyone interested in Canadian politics.

He first came to TC's attention when he managed with great skill the 1983 campaign of John Crosbie against the likes of Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark to become the leader of the then Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The English-speaking only Mr. Crosbie had no business doing well in the that race but actually managed to come close, finishing a highly respectable third. Laschinger had the reputation of someone who was relatively open and candid with the media (within the normal limits of the political game) and therefore someone whose public comments deserve to be taken seriously.

More recently, Mr. Laschinger has turned his hand to Toronto municipal politics. This year he will be running Olivia Chow's campaign. When Laschinger was interviewed by the Globe about Ford's support, the newspaper reported the following:
"Mr. Laschinger, who engineered David Miller’s mayoral campaigns, estimates Mr. Ford’s core support at around 30 per cent of the electorate, but only two-thirds are diehards who will back him to the end. The remaining third – 10 percentage points – of the mayor’s support could shift to another candidate." 
I think the term core support is the wrong choice of words (by the Globe presumably). "Nominal support" would have been better. As a campaign manager Laschinger has already seen the results of the Chow campaign's own polls and focus groups.  The key point is that he sees Ford as winding up with about 20 per cent of the vote, clearly not enough for even second place. And it is based on more than mere guesswork.

The media coverage of Toronto politics has been dominated by Rob Ford and his sins and by his allegedly high approval numbers.  I say allegedly because few journalists have put the numbers into anything that resembles a context. David Hains of the Torontoist recently corrected this with an article called the Teflon Mayor.  The title should really be in quotes, as we should be under no illusion about Ford's so-called popularity. Hains has reviewed and analyzed all the polling over the past few years and his item is, despite its brevity, a gem that deserves to be read in full, but here is one highlight:
"...Over the past two years of polling, one thing has been made clear: there are very few scenarios in which Rob Ford beats a serious candidate.
A big part of this problem is captured in a December 13 Ipsos poll question. Asked whether voters “would consider voting for Mayor Rob Ford in the next municipal election,” 61 per cent said no, and 39 per cent said yes. This might seem like another example of Ford’s famously enduring support—39 per cent is a good starting point for a campaign—but that’s looking at the glass half full. The question does not ask “will you,” but “would you consider.” In other words, only 39 per cent can see some scenario where they would vote for Rob Ford in 2014, while 61 per cent cannot. That 61 per cent is particularly firm: 48 per cent of the total number surveyed didn’t just disagree but strongly disagreed when asked whether they’d consider Ford. These numbers are absolutely awful for an incumbent."
Olivia Chow

TC's view is that the race starts off as Olivia Chow's to lose. Campaign dynamics and performance are inevitably going to be critical to the outcome but Chow is going to get a flying start.  Chow, who has decades of political experience and deep roots in Toronto politics, will enter the contest as the only candidate on the centre-left while the launch of her autobiography coming next week will remind voters of her relationship with the now-mythical Jack Layton.

And she will have the legendary Mr. Laschinger in her camp.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Canadian Senate reform comes to the attention of a German dictator

I had no idea he knew so much about Senate reform: