Thursday, December 27, 2007

2008 Federal Election

There was a new poll of federal party preferences released today by Probe Research in Manitoba. It produced numbers that are almost a replica of the 2006 Election:

C – 44% (compared to 42.8% in 2006)

Liberal – 26% (identical to 2006)

NDP – 24% (compared to 25.4% in 2006)

You get the picture. These numbers would likely produce the same 8 C, 3 L, 3 NDP result in Manitoba as in 2006.

The national polls fluctuate depending on news but I suspect there is a core of truth in the Probe poll that applies more broadly. Most likely the campaign will shape the outcome in which case the underlying reality, which appears to have changed little since January 2006 despite the ups and downs of government and opposition in 2007, will matter little.

As this CP report summarizes:

When the year began, Harper's Conservatives were sitting at 34 per cent in public opinion approval, according to Harris-Decima, just ahead of the Liberals at 31 per cent. The NDP was at 15 and the Green party at eight per cent.

As 2007 draws to a close, Harris-Decima's rolling three-week averages had the Tories hovering around 34 per cent, the Liberals at 29, the NDP at 15 and the Greens polling 11 per cent.

In Quebec, Bloc Québécois support has dropped to around 36 per cent from 43 at the start of the year.

However, the government does look to be finishing 2008 on a down. The most recent Ipsos and Angus Reid polls report weaker numbers that appear to be a result of the Brian Mulroney-Karlheinz Schreiber show. According to my forecast model, the Ipsos poll would give us a Liberal victory with 140 seats while Reid’s numbers would put the Conservatives ahead but with just 117 seats. Blending the two sets of numbers gives us a narrow Liberal win of 127 seats to 118 for the Conservatives and 16 for the NDP.

The holiday season has driven the Schreiber affair from the headlines so its influence may not persist. More ominously, for Harper and the rest of us, the government is now acknowledging that it faces serious economic pressures. However, such early warnings will not exempt it from the inevitable political fallout (which may well still be some months down the road).

On the opposition side I suspect (but can’t prove) that Dion is consulting closely with Jean Chrétien. If so he is keeping it very secret. He has appointed John Rae and David Smith, two of Chrétien’s key political operatives, to key posts. The media interpretation emphasized their 2006 leadership connections, but I think the links to the former PM are more important. This has the potential to be a real source of strength for a leader whose weak grasp of the English language remains his greatest liability.

All the polls have shown growth for the Greens compared to 2006. Even though I think this support is overstated, it is important. The Angus Reid poll numbers actually produce one Green seat (but it is not Central Nova). I feel certain that in some way, shape or form, Elizabeth May will endorse the Liberals towards the end of the next campaign and this could potentially have a significant impact (if every Green vote had gone Liberal in 2006 Paul Martin would still be Prime Minister). Most prognoses ignore her role in this regard despite the fact that she has a deal with Dion and has defended him in the media. It is completely untypical of a party leader (bizarre is one word that comes to mind) because the potential to help the Liberals is equally the potential to hurt the Greens. Its abnormality is precisely what makes it difficult to weigh its impact. Although it is generally overlooked now, it might make a great deal of difference in a campaign.

Also somewhat overlooked is that the NDP’s numbers have generally held up (despite their weakness in the last Ipsos survey). They are averaging about a point below their 2006 showing (recent Liberal and Conservative fortunes have been worse). The growth of the Greens has hurt all parties including the NDP. Although Layton continues to vastly outpoll Dion and May in the leadership stakes, TC regards leadership polling numbers as a relatively weak predictor of electoral success. The NDP enters the electoral season, however, with no obvious weaknesses: it does have good leadership, strong organization and adequate finances. It needs issue leverage to make progress (and avoid losses) but it isn’t obvious how that could be accomplished.

Bloc numbers are down somewhat but not enough yet to make a significant difference in the outcome in Quebec despite Stephen Harper’s fawning attentions.

In the U.S. the underlying poll numbers make it clear a political sea change is underway. The future in Canada is not nearly so obvious.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mulroney-Schreiber and the Polls

As we head into Christmas week we have now heard from both Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber on the Airbus/Bear Head affairs. The key political impact TC thinks is likely a neutralizing effect on the next campaign: it takes scandal off the table as a tool the Conservatives could use against the Liberals. TC did not actually believe that running on sponsorship again was viable but the Conservatives have continued to brag about the Accountability Act and may have entertained thoughts of using the issue again. Effectively sponsorship is neutralized because if the issue arises many will start thinking of Mulroney-Schreiber. The winners then would be the NDP and the Bloc so the two major parties look like they will try to stage an electoral battle on other issues.

Where are we at in the polls? On November 20 Harris Decima declared:
A new Canadian Press Harris/Decima survey shows that the Conservatives have opened up an eight point lead over the Liberals, and are so far escaping harm from the fallout of the Mulroney-Schreiber dispute.

Then on December 8 Ipsos weighed in with a released headlined “Tory Brand Splashed As Schreiber Mud Flies” that said:

it would appear that the Harper Conservative brand has taken a hit with support dropping to 35%, mainly as a result of sagging Tory fortunes in Ontario and Quebec.

When I averaged those two polls along with the Globe and Mail Strategic Counsel poll published on December 10, I find that the national numbers for the parties are all within 2 points of their performance in January 2006 with the exception of the Greens who are up around five points. TC thinks the polls (especially Strategic Counsel) overstate Green support so it seems likely the parties are closer to the last election result than even the polls suggest.

The two issues to watch for in an election that seems certain for March or April (and which is even more likely if the Mulroney inquiry proceeds because it would occur prior to any public phase of the investigation) are climate change and the economy (the pending U.S. recession may start to loom larger and larger).

But is there more to the Mulroney story? His former Chief of Staff Norman Spector seems to think so. Here is what he said about the Bear Head project today on CTV’s Question Period (see it here:

..the reason that ministers and in particular the prime minister have staff around them is to keep dubious people and to keep dubious projects well away from them yet here you had the prime minister's first chief of staff championing this project, even after leaving government. Mr. Doucette formed a lobby firm and was championing Karlheinz Schreiber's project… I dealt with this project when I was in the prime minister's office and steered it into a deep ditch. I thought it had been killed, Mr. Mulroney said it was dead, but here's a project that kept coming back time after time after time, rising like the phoenix from the ashes… I think it's one of the reasons, along with the cash, that many Canadians believe that there's got to be more here than meets the eye.

There appears to be much more to this story and I suspect we haven't heard the last of it.

While the issue seems unlikely to touch Harper directly, it means he can’t be seen conferring or consulting Mulroney on Quebec. Harper has invested so much political capital (TC thinks this is a futile effort) to replicate Mulroney’s 1984 and 1988 results in Quebec that not being able to consult closely with Mulroney is a real handicap. Mulroney may not be the politician in Canada with the greatest integrity but he does know Quebec politics.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Australian Election and Climate Change

Australia has a single member electoral system like Canada but it uses a preferential ballot. That means that if the leading candidate has less than 50% of the vote, second (and third choices) are counted until one candidate reaches 50%.

The Australian Labour Party has won a majority but there are still some undecided seats. One is La Trobe in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. The Liberal Party (in Australia a small 'c' conservative party) was ahead on the first count but, according to Australian Broadcasting, is likely to lose it on the second choices of Australian Green voters going to Labour. Labour's commitments and the impact of the electoral system (Labour isn't likely forget the role of Green second choices in this election and the potential in the future) likely mean that Australia will go from being a climate change laggard to a leader - one Labour commitment is to immediately ratify Kyoto.

This comes on a weekend when Stephen Harper has demonstrated yet again just how little priority he gives to climate change (indeed one is left with the impression that he simply wouldn't do anything if politics did not matter). Read this analysis of Harper's behaviour by Accidental Deliberations. I think he nails it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Australian Election, Harper & Climate Change

The Australian election takes place this Saturday, November 24 and Stephen Harper's best international friend, John Howard, is about to lose to the Australian Labour Party (ALP).

The most important aspect of this is that Australia is going to join Kyoto post-election when Labour's leader Kevin Rudd becomes Prime Minister, further isolating Canada on the climate change issue. Take a look at these ads from the ALP:





They could apply to longtime global warming denier Stephen Harper.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Saskatchewan Election Polls

There have been three polls released in the Saskatchewan election, all completed one week or more prior to the actual vote, so there is still some room for movement. One is by Insightrix Research, another by Sigma Analytics, and a third from Winnipeg-based Probe Research.

Averaged together the poll numbers are:

Saskatchewan Party - 51.7%
NDP - 34%
Liberal - 9.1%
Green and Others - 5.1%

The yields the following seat distribution:

Saskatchewan Party - 37
NDP - 21

After 16 years in office the longest-serving administration in Canada (apart from that one party state in Alberta) is going out of office.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Saskatchewan election poll confirms SK Party to win

A poll on the Saskatchewan election out today gives the Saskatchewan Party a commanding lead in public opinion. It gives the Saskatchewan Party a lead of 50% to 35% for the NDP and 10% for the Liberal Party.

My forecast model suggests this would produce a majority SK Party government of 35 seats to 23 for the NDP and none for the Liberals.

The television debate is on now and can be seen on the net on CBC, but it is unlikely to make any difference, especially as the format seems to encourage a free for all.

Seat projections in Hill Times

This week's Hill Times has a story on seat projections made by political scientist Barry Kay.

Here is an excerpt:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority governing Conservatives would have won another minority government in early October, says a leading public opinion expert.

Barry Kay, an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., said according to the seat projections he came up with by combining Ipsos Reid and Strategic Counsel polls conducted between Oct. 9 and Oct. 14, the Conservatives would have won 138 seats, the Liberals 101, the NDP 27 and the Bloc 41 and one independent MP would have been elected.

This is consistent with TC's views. Another Conservative minority still seems to be in prospect based on the latest polling by Ipsos.

Monday, October 22, 2007

All Hope of Harper Majority Lost!!

This slightly tongue in cheek header should startle most readers at least slightly. That's because the lines the conventional media have been peddling: the Harper can do no wrong/ Dion can do no right/ pay no attention to the other parties/ an election is just around the corner/ might make it seem a tad confusing. This conventional wisdom has been reinforced by the Ipsos polls, which keeping preaching the notion that the Harper majority is at hand (See the release here titled helpfully, "Canadians Prefer Harper Majority").

The first and most important point about this is that the Ipsos record, while not terrible, is weaker than other pollsters (see this evaluation of how pollsters did in 2006). And so far none of the others are producing polls these days as favourable to the Harper Tories as Ipsos, which just happens to conduct its polls for the blatantly pro-Conservative Canwest press.

However, what I find interesting is that the last two Ipsos polls (I wrote about the earlier one here), as favourable to the Conservatives as they are, still don't produce a majority in my seat estimation model although the most recent one gets close. Another poll out last weekend, done for La Presse by Unimarketing, also showed Liberal decline (to 24.6%) but found much weaker support for the Conservatives (36.3%) with the NDP at 18.9%. This produces a much weaker Conservative minority - 139 C, 81 L, 35 NDP & 53 Bloc. What continues to amaze TC is that even with a 13 point lead, the Ipsos poll doesn't actually produce a Tory majority, hence the header. The Conservatives do have a real uphill struggle to win that elusive majority and it is abundantly clear, poll after poll, that they are not going to find it in Quebec.

There is no doubt the Liberals have had a bad period but as the default choice of so many, especially in Ontario, it would be unwise to simply write them off. I would also like to see the Ottawa media begin to recognize the complexities of a system with extremely strong regional differences, four parties represented in the House, and another on the outside (the Greens) starting to win significant numbers of votes. It is time to move beyond the Harper/Dion soap opera and begin to recognize that Canada is a diverse country with diverse political trends and experiences.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Saskatchewan Election

The Saskatchewan election is underway and as noted on September 6 by TC it looks like the Saskatchewan Party (essentially the provincial equivalent of the federal Conservatives without the nominal connection to the scandal ridden regime of Grant Devine) will win. This time series of polls by Environics conducted over the past four years makes it clear they went into the election ahead. However, it is my impression now that it will be fairly close. The result last time was NDP 30 & the Saskatchewan Party 28 with the NDP winning the cities and the north, and the Saskatchwan Party the rural areas - all nicely visually displayed in this map on the CBC election web site.

The key to the election is Saskatoon (Regina is the real NDP stronghold). The Saskatchewan Party picked up three seats there in 2003 (two on the semi-rural edges). It needs two more to put them over the top. An early local poll puts them ahead (with lots of undecided). However, the campaign has yet to acquire a clear dynamic. There is also one Regina seat and a couple of rural ridings they could gain as well.

The Saskatchewan Party is finally behaving like Ross Thatcher did in 1964 when he ousted the CCF regime of Douglas/Lloyd. It is tilting to the centre, for example, by offering a campaign promise of drug benefits following one from the NDP. TC suspects, however, it will also resemble the conservatism of the Thatcher regime once in office.

I hope to see some polls on this race but Saskatchewan seems to have fewer party preference polls than other places. In the end what seems to matter most is that the province, which gave Tommy Douglas five election victories, appears to think simply that it is time for change.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Throne Speech - No election in sight

Watching Michael Ignatieff respond carefully to the Throne Speech makes it very clear that there will be no early election. The punditi talk endlessly about traps, etc but there are none that I can see at the moment. The Liberals can vote for all the prospective bills on second reading. Most of the delays can then be created in the committee if they so desire. And they really only have to get through eight weeks of debate before Christmas.

Parliament comes back the first week in February. That means no election before we see an end of February/ early March budget.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Al Gore's "Errors"

You have all seen the news stories about the ruling by a British judge about the "errors" in An Incovenient Truth.

Well, the stories are wrong. Consider this one in the Toronto Star:

A British judge has ruled that Al Gore's Oscar-winning environmental documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, contains nine scientific errors or omissions.

High Court Judge Michael Burton was asked to rule on a challenge from a school official who did not want the film shown to students.

In his ruling Wednesday, Burton said Gore's film "is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact ... albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political program."

However, it just ain't so. The judge, named Burton, was quoted by this blog:

Let's look at what Burton really wrote (my emphasis):

Mr Downes produced a long schedule of such alleged errors or exaggerations and waxed lyrical in that regard. It was obviously helpful for me to look at the film with his critique in hand.

In the event I was persuaded that only some of them were sufficiently persuasive to be relevant for the purposes of his argument, and it was those matters - 9 in all - upon which I invited Mr Chamberlain to concentrate. It was essential to appreciate that the hearing before me did not relate to an analysis of the scientific questions, but to an assessment of whether the 'errors' in question, set out in the context of a political film, informed the argument on ss406 and 407. All these 9 'errors' that I now address are not put in the context of the evidence of Professor Carter and the Claimant's case, but by reference to the IPCC report and the evidence of Dr Stott.

If you noticed the quotation marks around 'error' then you are more observant than all of the journalists I listed above. Burton is not saying that there are errors, he is just referring to the things that Downes alleged were errors. Burton puts quote marks around 'error' 17 more times in his judgement. Notice also the emphasised part -- Burton is not even trying to decide whether they are errors or not. This too seems to have escaped the journalists' attention.

Al Gore deserves the Nobel, not the nonsense he has to put up with from the media.

UPDATE: There is a posting about this controversy now available on RealClimate. An excerpt:

A number of discussions of the 9 points have already been posted (particularly at New Scientist and Michael Tobis's wiki), and it is clear that the purported 'errors' are nothing of the sort. The (unofficial) transcript of the movie should be referred to if you have any doubts about this. It is however unsurprising that the usual climate change contrarians and critics would want to exploit this confusion for perhaps non-scientific reasons.

Ontario election, throne speech and possible federal campaign

I don't have much to add to what has been said about the Ontario election. I underestimated the extent of the Liberal victory a little, but my forecasting model worked fine, predicting 69 Liberal seats when you input the actual vote shares.

The only small surprise was the 8% Green share where I had guessed it at 6%, and it was a huge gain from 2003. I strongly suspect the schools issue was at the root of it. It will be interesting to compare to the next federal election. In 2004 and 2oo6 the Green shares were 4.4 and 4.7% respectively. The environment is now permanently a key issue politically - climate change is going to ensure its importance.

The new Ipsos poll gives the Conservatives a 12 point lead over the Liberals 40 to 28. That big a lead should normally be expected to produce a majority. However, my estimate only gives the Conservatives 145 seats based this poll, well short of the 155 they would need for a bare overall majority.

The Conservative vote is exceptionally inefficiently distributed. Just one illustration: the poll has the Conservatives at 63% in Alberta. This would give them about 600,000 more votes than the Liberals in just this one province, far more than they would need to win every seat.

The poll numbers are bad for the Liberals, but are likely to reinforce their determination to avoid an early election. This story in the Star today tells us what to look for:

Apart from a few pro-election hawks, most Liberals are saying they need more time to get the party's act together.

This is why you will be hearing virtually the same words from Liberals in the days leading up to Tuesday's throne speech. They have come up with the "script" and it sounds like this:

"We will take into account all the aspects of the throne speech with only one thing in mind – the interests of Canadians," Dion told reporters in Toronto on Friday.

Doesn't sound like someone who is preparing to hit the hustings.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tory/Tories trouble deeper than thought?.

There are indications the rout of the Conservatives may be greater than the final polls anticipate.

Democraticspace is hedging his final prediction here saying:

All of this is to say that even when there appears to be a consensus in the polls — in this case, showing a strong Liberal majority — there is the potential that it could break differently.

That’s why we provide ranges. Here are the best and worst case scenarios for each party as we see it:


PARTY SEATS SUPPORT
LIBERAL 56-72 41.0-44.0%
PC 25-38 31.1-33.3%
NDP 9-15 16.7-17.9%
GREEN 0 5.9-6.7%

OTHERS 0 1.6-1.8%

So, when you sit back and watch the results come in tonight, keep in mind that nothing in ever certain. We’ve done our best to anticipate the range of possible outcomes, but in the end, as always, it all depends on you, the voters.

And the electionprediction.org site has increased the Liberal total to 67. TC also has heard that internal Tory polling is showing them to be in worse shape than the public polls. They may be headed to the mid-twenties with dire consequences even for their already limited number of incumbents.

We will soon see.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ontario Election - How Large the Liberal Win?

I have been reviewing the polls, averaging them and making some intuitive guesses. Here is my final view of the outcome.

In the last week, the PCs have continued their steady decline. However, the PC vote is older and therefore turns out at a higher rate. In past elections polls have tended to underestimate the Tories. Nevertheless, the news for the Tories is quite bad - leader John Tory is headed towards a significant defeat in Don Valley West - TC estimates by around 8% give or take a few points.

Although the Liberals will win, the very latest polls do indicate a slight dip for them while the NDP is climbing a bit. Both parties are the opposite of the Tories with a disproportionate number of younger voters, and polls have in the past overstated their support.

However, it is the Greens who tend to be the most overestimated of all for a similar reason - a youthful alienated core of support. This tendency for polls to find too many Greens has been acknowledged for the first time to my knowledge by SES principal Nik Nanos who said in their firm's final pre-election release today, "support for the Green Party is usually over-reported in polls compared to actual ballot box". They actually offered a Green adjusted version of their final poll. It will be interesting to compare this to the actual vote shares.

The Conservative campaign was an unmitigated disaster - not only did they latch onto an issue they could have determined ahead of time would be unpopular in their promise on religious schools, but they put too much faith (no pun intended) in their "broken promises" theme forgetting that they offered no basis themselves for persuading the electorate that they, unlike the Liberals, could be trusted to keep promises. John Tory then shifted ground on religious schools in the middle of the campaign to show he too can bend a promise. Incredible! I also thought there was nothing at all in their platform to appeal to voters in a positive sense and I think this latter point should not be underestimated. Their biggest promise seemed to be to cut the health care premium financed by a vague promise of finding efficiencies, something I think many including myself reacted to with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Parties must give voters a reason to support them on election day and this the Tories failed to do. By contrast the NDP offered a clear bundle of commitments - eliminating the health care premium by raising income taxes, rolling back tuition fees and a higher minimum wage.

I have adjusted the final poll averages to reflect my views above and made a few adjustments to the calculations of my model. Here are the numbers:


Liberal PC N.D.P. GP Other Total
Seats 65 30 12 0 0 107
Votes 41.3 32.5 19.2 5.9 1.1 100

One final word: Danny Williams won a big majority tonight but he had a vote share (69.56%) that could have given him every seat. The difference in TC's view: strategic voting.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tory's Meltdown

There are now two polls out giving the Liberals a ten point lead - an SES came out today in addition to the Ipsos poll I wrote about in my last post.

Tory's reversal does not fix his problem - see this Star story about the first day following his turnabout. However, the flip flop will be helpful to a few incumbents in already safe ridings who were no doubt being tormented about the issue by their strongest traditional supporters. The whole affair simply makes him look ridiculous.

Right now we are looking at a repeat of 2003 although I sense at least some limited opportunity here for the NDP to get into the 12 to 15 seat range.

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 MoveOn.org. 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.

Outremont

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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When the poll numbers don't fit the narrative...

I suspect news editors sometimes think that they have a fix on public opinion, commission a poll to prove it but allow their enthusiasm for the storyline they have concocted in their heads to cause them to write the story before the hard news has arrived.

The Globe published its latest Strategic Counsel poll this week but the numbers didn't fit the narrative that the Globe appeared to be expecting of a Harper government doing well and perhaps headed for a majority. But it pushed that narrative in its coverage anyway. They covered the contradiction by calling it the "Harper Paradox".

The Globe editors appear to be astonished and chagrined that the Conservatives aren't on the verge of a majority. Thus, although the poll showed the Liberals and Conservatives tied overall with 33%, for the Globe, Canadians display "mixed feelings" about Harper as a person as they "grow more comfortable with the direction he is taking the country and as support for his party solidifies."

To prove this point we discover that 57% think the country is on the "right track" (I will come back to this phrase in a moment). Um, except, we then find out that this is four points DOWN from a year ago. Where can we take comfort? Well it is "up more than 10 points since the final days of the Liberals in early 2006."

Now there is an apt comparison. Let's take the tracking number for a government in its final days as it heads to defeat (having been labelled over and over again as corrupt) as the yardstick, rather than public opinion on Harper from a year ago, once the country has had eight months to react to his administration.

Returning to the "right track" statistic, while I have followed it in various polls for years I am not sure what it means to the public. One could think the country is on the right track because the economy is humming, even while one is appalled by the government's inaction on global warming and overseas military adventures. It makes more sense to me to ask a simple approve/disapprove type question to determine how the electorate actually feels about a government. Note that even when the Liberals were headed for a wintry defeat in 2006, getting just 30% of the vote in election 2006, according to the Globe the Grits had a right track number somewhere in the mid-forties.

The poll's details are all available at the Strategic Counsel web site here. However, the narrative problem continues in talking points on the SC web site and in the analysis by the firm's principals, Peter Donolo and Tim Woolstencroft, in the Globe. Thus the story begins:

After a year and a half in office, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has built up some impressive political capital.

Nearly six out of 10 Canadians think the country is on the right track. Even if he's not setting Canadians' hearts aflame, most have a neutral-to-positive impression of Mr. Harper. He's seen as a decisive leader. A majority believe he's kept his promises. And most Canadians trust him to do the right thing for the country.

Before we address this paragraph, I will make two points:

1. On the SC web site (page 5) there is this observation: "While there has been some volatility in party support over the past 18 months, party vote has stabilized in the most recent sampling around the levels of the 2006 election."

Oh really. In the last election the Conservatives nationally had 36% and the Liberals 30% whereas in the poll they are tied at 33%. My estimate of the seat numbers using the SC data is that this distribution of support would actually reverse the net outcome of the election and produce a Liberal minority. Is it really accurate to say "around the levels of the 2006 election"?

2. From the Globe story: "In Quebec, meanwhile, Mr. Harper's Conservatives are in solid second place to the Bloc Québécois outside of Montreal. The percentage of Quebeckers who believe the country is on the right track has nearly doubled in two years."

Um, except the poll data tell us that the Conservatives overall have declined in Quebec including outside Montreal while the Liberals have gained. To be sure the BQ is also down a bit but the gains outside Montreal at the expense of the BQ have seemingly gone to the Liberals, the Greens and the NDP while the Conservatives have dipped. See the table on page 28 of this pdf.

You get the picture.

Much of the poll is composed of mush - meaningless statistics about how many Liberals, NDP etc. are "open" to voting Conservative, feelings about Harper being "partisan" or "controlling". But leadership sentiment in any case is often a trailing indicator of party support not a leading indicator. When the last election campaign began, Harper's leadership numbers were a net -17 and still -10 three weeks into it but up to +12 with a week to go. See here on page 17.

The one agree/disagree statement in the mix that seems fairly straightforward to me is: “The Conservative government under Stephen Harper has accomplished little during its time in office.” (On page 3 here) 53% of Canadians agreed with that while only 41% disagreed.

Re: the paragraphs above regarding Mr. Harper's political capital. Note how the authors don't mention this Q & A, a simple question asking respondents for their overall assessment of the government's performance. Why is this not noted?

In a world dominated by celebrity and gossip journalism, is this the best analysis our national newspaper can produce?

Bush's Descent

It is widely known by now just how unpopular George W. Bush has become. But many see it as linked only to Iraq. As important as the war is, the turning point for this administration was Hurricane Katrina. An incisive analysis in today's Washington Post by Dan Balz makes the case well:

Bush's presidency took a fateful turn during Katrina and reminders of the damage inflicted from that storm were resurrected again this week with the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. What linked the two events -- and what has left the president permanently weakened -- were perceptions of incompetence within the Bush administration. ...

An analysis of public polls by the Democracy Corps, a Democratic organization, found that Bush's approval rating in July 2005 averaged 46.1 percent and his disapproval averaged 50.2 percent. By the following July, his approval averaged 38.1 percent and his disapproval averaged 56.2 percent. Last month, his approval averaged 29.3 percent while his disapproval averaged 65 percent.

In short, in the past two years, the margin between the president's approval and disapproval ratings fell from minus 4.1 percentage points to minus 35.8 percentage points.

Much more than Katrina explains the continuing drop in Bush's support in the past 12 months, but there is little doubt that the hurricane crystallized negative perceptions about Bush's performance that he never has been able to shake.

TC has argued before that the Republicans appear to be heading for an unprecedented disaster in 2008. According to Balz, they now seem to agree with this assessment:

What worries Republicans most is that the damage inflicted by the administration now costs them as much as it does the president ... while the White House may be worried about Bush's legacy, congressional Republicans fear the consequences of administration incompetence will affect them and their party in the coming election. ...

Two years after the hurricane hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the breakdown in government at all levels is well documented. But the president then and now has paid the biggest price for the inadequate response. Iraq will be the central event in the shaping of Bush's legacy, but in terms of political devastation, Katrina will be remain far more than a footnote in that history.

The political implications of this administration's failure are just now sinking in within official Washington. A major regime change is coming.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Canadian political news

In the news today we had two stories that are both commanding the attention of those who follow Canadian politics. First and foremost there is the Harper cabinet shuffle, which appears substantially driven by the war in Afghanistan. Gordon O'Connor was simply too big a liability to continue in the Defence portfolio. Peter MacKay represents a riding in Nova Scotia, which has significant military establishments. More important by putting Maxime Bernier in Foreign Affairs, Harper acquires a Quebec francophone defender of Canada's Afghanistan policy.

The other is the SES poll, which reports an uptick in support for Dion and the Liberals. Although Harper remains ahead in the popular vote, the seat distribution from my model says the result would produce a Liberal minority government if reflected in an election.

However, the most important story to me today was from the Report on Business; headlined "End of the U.S. consumer boom?", the report from Barrie Mckenna quotes Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg:

"There are plenty of signs now suggesting that we may be in the early stages of a consumer-led recession for the first time in 17 years," Mr. Rosenberg warned in a report to clients.

"The future is very likely in the hands of the consumer on Main Street, USA, and the latest sign posts are not encouraging."

Economic stories like this zero in on the economics of recession, but if Rosenberg is right it will have absolutely enormous consequences for politics. We have come through an era where the doctrine of balanced budgets has held sway (at least in Canada) - in a boom this is the equivalent of being born on third base and thinking you hit a triple.

The financial implications of recession for public finance would mean the end for balanced budgets would probably come quite quickly everywhere except in Alberta. Politically recessions are generally devastating for incumbent governments. No matter what choices they make in response to the situation - raise taxes, cut spending, run a deficit - they are likely to be hurt by their actions as well as the overall sense of malaise that affects a population faced by economic calamity and rising unemployment. However, it will take some time for these effects to be felt, perhaps a six to nine month lag from the onset of the problem (which appears imminent according to Mr. Rosenberg) until the polls for incumbent administrations head south.

TC's guess is that among the worst hit would be Bush and the Republicans, but if Canada does not go to the polls until 2008, Harper will feel it too.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ignatieff's Mea Culpa

What makes Michael Ignatieff completely unacceptable as a leadership aspirant or potential Prime Minister is the mistake he made in supporting George Bush's war in Iraq. It demonstrated extremely bad judgment.

This weekend he published a mea culpa in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. However, even though he acknowledges his poor judgment, it struck me that, despite his regrets, he was still being disingenuous. The phrase that irked me the most was the following:

But many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology. They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.

He does not specify in any way who the many were or what they expressed. It is clear that the president was after the oil at least in part. This of course could all be cleared up by releasing all the details of the Cheney energy task force, where, if Ignatieff is to be taken seriously, the subject of Iraq's oil could not have come up. However, the subject does appear to have been discussed:

Documents turned over in the summer of 2003 by the Commerce Department as a result of the Sierra Club’s and Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, concerning the activities of the Cheney Energy Task Force, contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The documents, dated March 2001, also feature maps of Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates oilfields, pipelines, refineries and tanker terminals. There are supporting charts with details of the major oil and gas development projects in each country that provide information on the project’s costs, capacity, oil company and status or completion date.

If Iraq had no oil, would there have been an invasion? A rhetorical counterfactual question to be sure but the query answers itself.

I am not the only one not to have been impressed with the new Ignatieff. Reed Hundt says at TPM Café:

He doesn't even begin to know all the reasons why he was so completely nutso about Iraq. It makes me wonder if anyone who was wrong about Iraq has yet gotten right about why they were wrong. Does it matter? If you think that those who misread their own history shouldn't be trusted with the power to make the same mistakes twice, then yes.

The reaction was shared by others. See Kevin Drum here.

UPDATE: A correspondent drew my attention to this comment by Katha Pollitt in the Nation, best critique I have read so far.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ontario Election - Tories Narrowly ahead

The next Ontario election is just over two months away. Heading into the campaign, John Tory's Progressive Conservatives are narrowly ahead, at least in projected seats.

An average of the three most recent polls gives us Liberal - 37, PC - 36, NDP - 18.3, and Green 8.3. (The most recent poll is here.) This yields an estimated seat total of:

PC - 53
L - 44
NDP - 10

A party needs 54 seats for a majority so this would leave the Progressive Conservatives just short of that. A slightly different estimate is available at democraticSPACE but the order of finish is the same.

This estimate does not take into account any impact from the multicultural grants scandal that triggered the resignation of Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Mike Colle.

Campaign dynamics could dramatically alter this picture but my impression is that the government is weaker than is generally presumed to be the case. The polls have suggested for a long time that there could be a close competitive race and now that seems to be a certainty.

The Liberals can still reasonably hope that as the likely second choice of the Greens and the NDP, they might still pull out a majority or minority win. And John Tory's support of aid to religious schools is likely to become a prime target of the Liberals. Public opinion in Ontario appears to favour overwhelmingly a single public school system. If this became THE issue of the campaign it could clearly draw votes away from the NDP if the Liberals can persuade NDP supporters to swallow their doubts about the Liberals to vote strategically in order to block this from taking place. Up to this point the moderate image of John Tory has been defusing the strategic voting that so hurt the NDP in 1999 and 2003.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Conservatism and the bridge collapse

The Minneapolis bridge collapse is clearly related to the anti-tax ideology that has been so dominant in U.S. political discourse. Among anti-tax adherents is Tim Pawlenty, the Republican Governor of Minnesota. As this NPR snapshot says:

The hallmark of his administration has been his decision to sign -- and stick by -- the Minnesota Taxpayers League no-new-taxes pledge.

This blog posting by Rick Perlstein links this to the bridge tragedy:

The bridge-collapse tragedy is a teachable moment: This is your government on conservatism.

This year two Democratic Minnesotan legislatures passed a $4.18 billion transportation package. Minnesota's Republican governor vetoed it because he had taken a no-new-taxes pledge, Grover Norquist-style. That's just what conservative politicians do.

The original bill would have put over $8 billion toward highways, city, and county roads, and transit over the next decade. The bill he let passed spent much less.

Now four people are dead, and counting.

Taxes and high quality public services matter to us all. These occasions need to be recognized and marked.

Update: As tragic as this accident and the injuries and loss of life has been, consider this: monsoon rains in South Asia have caused 60 bridges to collapse and 12 million people have been left homeless.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Election Hint

Harper advisor Tom Flanagan in today's Globe:

Surviving for 18 months has been an impressive achievement for the Conservatives, but mere survival will become increasingly less rewarding unless it is matched by legislative achievement. No government can survive politically if it acquires a reputation for weakness, and that is the risk the Conservatives face if they remain tied up in Parliament.

By using confidence measures more aggressively, the Conservatives can benefit politically. If the opposition parties retreat, the government gets its legislation. If the opposition unites on a matter of confidence, the Conservatives get an election for which they are the best prepared.

Flanagan claims the fixed election date legislation, which the Conservatives pledged and is now the law, has weakened their influence within the minority parliament and hence he suggests the government declare their bills to be matters of confidence.

It is impossible to believe that Mr. Flanagan says anything without consulting the PM. This suggests to me a none too subtle threat: let some our bills get through or be prepared to go to the polls.

The catch is that the Tories are not doing well enough in the polls to win their coveted majority. In the most recent poll, released by Angus Reid on July 20, the Conservatives had only 33%, three points below their showing in the 2006 election. The Liberals were at 28%, the NDP 19%, the Bloc at 9% (36% in Quebec) and the Greens 8%.

This poll would give us a very weak Conservative minority:

Conservative - 115
Liberal - 99
NDP - 42
BQ - 51
Other - 1

The numbers suggest that getting legislation through is the principal purpose of Mr. Flanagan's threat of an early election.

Update: I found an error in my spreadsheet today (four more seats for the Conservatives, five less for the Liberals and one more for the NDP) and a correspondent pointed out that I had omitted the BQ, both errors now corrected.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Outremont By-election

Harper has called the first two of seven pending by-elections for September 17. The one that matters is in Outremont. It is the first electoral test of Stéphane Dion, who has selected Jocelyn Coulon, an academic and media commentator similar in profile to Dion himself, as the Liberal candidate. However, he faces a serious challenge from the NDP.

The NDP? In Quebec? Surely you jest TC.

In fact the NDP is running its strongest by-election candidate in Quebec since Phil Edmonston won the 1990 Chambly by-election. Thomas Mulcair was Jean Charest's environment minister but split with Charest over the privatization of provincial park land. Mulcair did not represent Outremont provincially, but he is well known and highly regarded in Quebec, and is already being taken seriously as a candidate by the Quebec media.

Going in to the campaign I have estimated an Outremont result based on the three recent national opinion surveys' Quebec sub-samples.

Here are the numbers: Liberal 30%, NDP 24%, BQ 23% and the PCs 12%.

This estimate is based on adjusting the results of the last election based on the shifts measured by the polls. At the time of the last election the Liberal candidate was Jean Lapierre and the NDP candidate was Léo-Paul Lauzon. Simply in terms of prior public knowledge and reputation, this gives an early advantage to the NDP.

The NDP's other advantage is that as the party voicing the strongest opposition to Canada's participation in the war in Afghanistan, they would benefit if it becomes the key by-election issue. Quebec has not been fertile ground for the NDP in the past but if Mulcair can make the byelection a referendum on the war more or less to the exclusion of other considerations, he really does have the potential to win. In the latest Strategic Counsel poll 75% of Quebec respondents were opposed to sending troops there.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Toronto's Fiscal Crisis

TC has been busy the past month with work, vacation and home renovations. Perhaps the blogging pace will soon pick up.

Meanwhile there were two commentaries in the Toronto papers today that have made pinpoint pertinent comments. One was by Rick Salution (behind the subscription wall at the Globe)

There was a classic failure of leadership here this week: a vote by Toronto's city council not to impose taxes on land transfers and car registrations. It's a textbook case, for study by future eras and civilizations.

Take as background an example of actual leadership. Here are the words of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in 2000, shortly before his re-election after years of attacks on himself and his city, by both Thatcher Tories and Blair Labourites. “The great shining lie of British politics is that you can have good public services without putting up taxes.” He uses the hard word, lie; he states the worthy goal, good public services, instead of shabby ones; and he portrays the route to it – more taxes – as a challenge instead of something to apologize for. Here's the response, described by a reporter: “The crack of palm on palm was thunderous.”

No guts, no glory.

It is this kind of truth-telling, along with the prize when it works, that Toronto Mayor David Miller avoided. His main argument for adding taxes, reportedly, was that other big cities do it too. That's apologetic and imitative.

I think Salutin is right but the origins of this crisis do matter, and in that respect Salutin gives Mike Harris a free pass he doesn't deserve.

Not so Carol Goar in the Star:

Miller could have done a better job of explaining the city's fiscal predicament. Council could have done a better job of finding savings at city hall.

But the root cause of the municipal budget crunch is the tax relief Harris doled out a decade ago. "We are giving back to Ontarians more of their hard-earned money," he reminded voters regularly.

For most Ontarians, the benefits of those tax cuts are a receding memory.

The costs will go on and on.

My only complaint about this is that Goar (probably quite unconsciously) uses the neoconservative phrase "tax relief", which is a biased construction deliberately devised to tilt public debate on this issue. The term itself is part of Livingstone's "great shining lie".

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Harper's Nascar Gambit

The news that the Conservative party is sponsoring a car on the Canadian Nascar circuit is quite interesting. It is consistent with a strategy premised on appealing to the working class Tory. An additional benefit is that the sponsored car belongs to Pierre Bourque, owner of a pro-Conservative news aggregating web site.

However, the comparisons to the U.S. miss a key point. Car racing's popularity has traditionally been rooted among white male southern blue collar workers - who until Reagan came along were all Democrats. It made sense for the Republicans to work hard at wooing these voters who would feel a continuing tug to return to the Democrats. The Republicans in the south even to this day still have a bit of a country club image.

However, the kind of voters that are likely to be influenced by Harper's effort are probably already predominantly Conservative voters. And Harper is paying a price in the form of damage to the strenuous efforts the Conservatives have made over the last six months to appear more environmentally friendly.

As Jack Layton put it:
I know one thing's for sure is they'll now have their name on some of the emissions here in Canada and I'm not sure that was necessarily the wisest decision.

Often Harper does not appear to think things through, or else the party does not engage in enough internal debate about ideas like this. If enough people had been involved surely one would have pointed out the environmental downside. Whatever the benefits might be to the Conservatives they are more than offset by the additional blow to their already dwindling environmental credibility.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Climate change journalism

Credit where credit is due.

In his column today on why Canada lags on reducing greenhouse gases Jeffrey Simpson says something that all reporting on the Chrétien-Martin climate change record should note:
Successive Liberal governments failed miserably on the climate-change file, but the record shows that even the Liberals' modest measures were opposed tooth and nail by the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative Party.
The Conservatives' credibility on this issue isn't great anyway, but their active role in slowing down Canada's response is something about which we need to remind ourselves. Compare Simpson's clarity and insight with his colleague John Ibbitson's pathetic column a couple of weeks ago commented on previously by TC. All references to the weaknesses in the Liberal record ought to highlight the Conservative role in making it what it was.

In the week that the G8 leaders did at least accept the science of climate change even if their response to it remains weak, the possibility of global warming's connection to the increasing intensity of hurricanes was highlighted by the Indian Ocean cyclone Gonu, which struck Oman and Iran. Simon Donner comments here and links to this interesting post here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Summer Doldrums

The most recent Ipsos poll is headlined "Parties mired in political doldrums: poll". You might think there isn't any good news there for anyone. Indeed the poll's national numbers show the Conservatives at 34% and the Liberals a few points behind at 31% - no majority there for anyone - but a closer look at the regional numbers suggests that it would produce quite good seat numbers for the Liberals.

Here are two tables: the poll's regional numbers followed by the seat distribution it produces using my forecast model:



There is no election in sight and all such polls deserve to be taken with a grain of salt, in particular the Green numbers, but the Conservatives' renewed efforts to attack Stéphane Dion start to make sense.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Close Ontario Election Coming

It has appeared for some time that the next election in Ontario would be close. A poll out this weekend from SES gives us a tie between the Liberals and Conservatives:

Liberal - 35
PC - 35
NDP - 19
Green - 11

This would give us a minority PC government of 53 seats with the Liberals at 38 and the NDP holding the balance of power with 15 seats. The Greens would win 1 but would have to get all of that 11 percent to do so.

Those are high numbers for the Greens. I suspect they measure more the importance of the environment issue than actual voting intention - the Green vote was quite low in recent provincial elections in Quebec, PEI and Manitoba - but we are living through an unprecedented period of growth in concern about the environment, so I do expect significant Green improvement on their 2.8 percent share in 2003.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hot air on climate change

At some point you will likely read a variant of this column last week by John Ibbitson:

Greenhouse-gas emissions declined in the United States last year.

This is something that sanctimonious Canadians should bear in mind when accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government of resembling the evildoing Americans on global-warming issues.

Conventional Canadian wisdom is that the United States is a carbon-dioxide-spewing environmental failed state. The reality is entirely different. When it comes to taking action on global warming, the United States leaves Canada in the dust.

A better view of this can be found in this blog posting by Canadian climate change scientist Simon Donner:
The Washington Post reports that US carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 1.3% in 2006.

A good sign? Perhaps. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is attributing the change to "effectively confronting the important challenge of global climate change through regulations, public-private partnerships, incentives, and strong economic investment."

Oy. Just as we can't look at one warm year and declare global warming has happened, we can't look at a one year drop and claim an emissions policy is working. CO2 emissions vary year-to-year because of the weather (reduced heating required during the warm winter), changes in the economy (higher gas prices, less fuel use), etc. There's no evidence any Bush administration initiatives, it's not even clear what policies or investments that statement could possibly be referring to, are having any measurable effect on emissions.
Of course journalistic hot air long preceded climate change.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ads for Bill Richardson

These biographic ads for Bill Richardson are both brilliant and funny (don't miss the second one). His rise in the polls is clearly linked to the communications.

The Democrats have an abundance of strong candidates; the Republicans by contrast are struggling and many are now putting their hopes on Law and Order actor Fred Thompson.

Update: I like these low budget Young Liberal ads as well, made in response to Conservative ads that attack Dion on, of all issues, senate reform.