Friday, March 27, 2015

Riding History: Winnipeg North

A few threads run through the history of Winnipeg North. One is that the riding has, for the great bulk of its history, kept itself out of the corridors of power. Another is the thread of the labour movement, and the spectre of communism. Accordingly, our story starts with the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

Winnipeg North was created in 1917. Its predecessor ridings were those of Selkirk and Winnipeg, which it shares in common with the riding of Winnipeg South Centre. You can review the history of these ridings prior to 1917 here.

Winnipeg North's first MP was a Conservative, Matthew Blake. A physician born in Ontario and educated in Toronto, Dublin, and London, Blake won the riding in 1917 with 74% of the vote, easily trouncing his Liberal opponent in the midst of the First World War. 

That war was good for business - but not so great for workers. When the strike was launched in May 1919, a few months after the end of the war, it found in Matthew Blake an opponent.

Winnipeg General Strike
Speaking of the strike in the House of Commons on June 2, 1919, Blake theorized that "the aim and object of many of the workingmen today seems to be to get the most possible money for the least possible expenditure of energy. The tramp says the world owes him a living, and he is going to get it. I hope we are not coming as a nation to the same status as the tramp."

Matthew Blake
Suffice to say, Blake was defeated when he faced his tramp-like constituents again in 1921.

It was an election dominated by memories of the strike. Opposing him were Robert Russell, the Socialist candidate and a leader of the strike, who captured 29.4% of the vote, and Edward McMurray, a barrister who had served as defense counsel for the strike leaders. McMurray won the riding for the Liberals in a close-run three-way race, with 36%. Blake saw his support collapse to just 29%, putting him in third place.

The rise of Labour

McMurray was named Solicitor General of Canada in 1923. As was the convention at the time, he forced a by-election to be held. But rather than allow McMurray to be acclaimed, as was also the convention, the Labour Party put up a candidate (the Conservatives did not). This was Abraham Heaps, another one of the strike leaders, and he captured 33% of the vote. McMurray prevailed with 65%.

He stayed in his post until 1925, when he resigned "over matters of a professional and private nature". But he took another shot at re-election - as did Blake.

But it was Heaps of the Labour Party that won, taking 39% of the vote to 32% for Blake's Conservatives and McMurray's Liberals.

Heaps had been jailed during the strike, but was later acquitted of sedition. He had political experience, being a city councilor for Winnipeg since 1917. He had labour experience as well, being a member of the Trade Union Council.

He was the strikers' man, and he was re-elected easily in 1926 and 1930, taking 49% of the vote in each election. Poor Blake even tried another comeback in 1930, only to fall short for the third time.

The CCF-NDP era

By the 1935 election, Heaps and other MPs from the labour side of the spectrum had joined together to form the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). Under this new banner, Heaps again won re-election with 42% of the vote, defeating the Liberals and the leader of the Communist Party, Tim Buck, who captured 25%.

The storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe, and in the House of Commons Heaps fought against putting quotas on Jewish immigration. But when war broke out, Heaps, a pacifist, was on the wrong side of the debate. His opposition to the war did not go over well with Jewish voters, and he was defeated in 1940.

The winner was Charles Booth of the Liberals, who had failed to win the riding in 1935. The riding could not have swung any more dramatically, as Heaps the pacifist was replaced by Booth the war hero.

A veteran of the First World War and a pilot who served with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1920s, including a stint in northern Russia during the Russian Civil War fighting the Bolsheviks, Booth renewed his service during the Second World War. He was posted to the 1st Canadian Corps HQ in London, and was named a Brigadier and Deputy Adjutant General in 1943. Due to these responsibilities, however, Booth only sat in the House of Commons once, while he was on leave from duty.

Booth decided not to run for re-election in 1945, and the riding swung back to the CCF. Alistair Stewart, a Scot who immigrated to Canada at the age of 25, was an accountant and a founding member of the party. He took 38% of the vote as the Communists finished in second place with 27%, beating out the Liberals.

Alistair Stewart
Stewart would secure re-election three more times in 1949, 1953, and 1957. By the end of his tenure, he was capturing 49% of the vote. The Liberals managed to move back into second place, as the Communists were replaced by the Labour-Progressives. Nevertheless, the LPP captured 17% of the vote in 1949, but that dropped to 8% by 1953.

By 1958, the tide was turning and the Progressive Conservatives under John Diefenbaker, elected to a minority government the year before, stormed the electorate to win a huge majority. Murray Smith, the PC candidate in Winnipeg North, was one of the beneficiaries, eking out a victory with 42.4% of the vote to Stewart's 42%. Smith was the first Tory elected in the riding in over 40 years. He would also prove to be the last.

Smith was the first MP for the riding to have been born in Manitoba, and 1958 had another first for Winnipeg North. Nina Partrick, a 'housewife', was the Liberal candidate and the first woman on the ballot in the riding. She took just 12% of the vote, the worst the Liberals would ever do in this riding until 2008.

The riding returned to form in 1962, as David Orlikow, a pharmacist and labour educator, won the riding for the newly formed New Democrats. He captured 37% of the vote, as Smith's PCs dropped to 28%.

David Orlikow
Orlikow was an experienced politician, having been a municipal alderman and later a CCF and NDP MLA in the Manitoba legislature. He would hold numerous critic portfolios in his long tenure as an opposition MP. But he might best be remembered for a strange situation involving his wife, the CIA, and experiments with mind control

He should also be remembered as Winnipeg North's longest-serving MP, occupying the post for over 26 years and serving under Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, and Ed Broadbent. He was re-elected an incredible eight times, capturing over 40% of the vote in every election between 1965 and 1984 (and a majority of it in 1979 and 1980). 

He fended off the Liberals in the 1960s, including in 1968 when Pierre Trudeau won his first election and the Liberals came close to ousting him. He then fended off the Progressive Conservatives, who supplanted the Liberals as runner-up in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Brief Liberal interregnum

But Orlikow's winning streak came to an end in 1988, when he was defeated by Rey Pagtakhan of the Liberals. Pagtakhan was the first MP from the Philippines to be elected to the House of Commons, fittingly for a riding that is today the one with the most Filipinos in the country. A doctor and school trustee, Pagtakhan took 38% of the vote in the 1988 election, just squeezing past Orlikow's 34%. The Tories took 25% in this close race. Also on the ballot here in 1988 was a candidate for the fledgling Reform Party, capturing 2%.

Pagtakhan was re-elected in 1993, as the PC vote collapsed to just 5% here and the NDP dropped to 32%, marking its worst performance in its history (including that of the CCF). In 1996, Pagtakhan was named Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the first MP from Winnipeg North to get this close to cabinet since the days of McMurray.

The return of the NDP

The riding boundaries shifted in 1997, and Pagtakhan went on to run in Winnipeg North - St. Paul. The new boundaries helped the NDP in Winnipeg North Centre, as Judy Wasylycia-Leis won it for the NDP with 50% of the vote. And this after her dismal performance in Winnipeg North in 1993.

Results, 1988-2011
Wasylycia-Leis had a long history with the NDP at this point, being a staffer for the party and a provincial candidate for the Ontario NDP. She sat in the Manitoba legislature as an NDP MLA from 1986 to 1993, and was a cabinet minister over that time.

She captured 58% of the vote in 2000, at that moment the highest share of the vote won by any party in the riding since 1923.

The boundaries shifted again in 2004, and Winnipeg North took its present shape. Pagtakhan decided to run here for re-election after successfully winning in 1997 and 2000, but fell short. Wasylycia-Leis took 48% to Pagtakhan's 37%.

She returned to her thumping victories in 2006 (57%) and 2008 (63%) as the Liberals' vote collapse - first to 21% in 2006 and finally 9% in 2008. The Conservatives moved back into second place here, but with 22% were still far behind.

Lamoureux and the Liberals

In 2010, however, Wasylycia-Leis resigned her seat to run for mayor in the first of two unsuccessful bids for the job.

The by-election was supposed to be an easy win for the NDP, coming off their 40-point victory in 2008. But the Liberals managed to recruit Kevin Lamoureux, a long-time Liberal MLA for the riding of Inskter first elected in 1988. He ran twice for the provincial party leadership, in 1993 and 1995, losing both times.

With Lamoureux on the ballot, the Liberals pulled off a stunning victory with 46% of the vote, the party's best performance since 1993. The NDP finished second with 41% of the vote.

Nevertheless, the riding was still dominated by the NDP's long history. And in the context of a worst-ever performance nationwide in 2011, Lamoureux would not have an easy time securing re-election in 2011.

He managed it, though just barely. With 9,097 votes, Lamoureux beat out the NDP's Rebecca Blaikie, who took 9,053 votes. Two-tenths of a percentage point separated the two, as the Conservatives improved their share from 11% in the by-election to 26%.

But coming from such a low ebb, Winnipeg North looks to be a Liberal hold in the coming election. In the context of its history, however, that makes it - for the time being - a Lamoureux riding. Over the last 90 years, an MP from Labour, the CCF, or the NDP has failed to win only six times. That is a lot of historical baggage for the Liberals to keep locked away indefinitely.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Uptick in Alberta for Mulcair's NDP?

The federal projection has been updated, incorporating the latest polling data from EKOS Research, Léger, and CROP. The overall results have not shifted much, though the Conservative seat count has dipped to the benefit of the Liberals. You can see all the details here.

An interesting development does seem to be underway in Alberta, however, where the New Democrats are polling at their highest level in a year. Is the NDP on the upswing in the province for real?

First, let's briefly go over the new polls added to the model.

In EKOS's poll for iPolitics, the Liberals moved ahead with a gain of 1.6 points since the previous week to 32.1%. The Conservatives dropped 2.7 points to 30.2%, while the NDP was up 1.5 points to 21.2%.

Only the Conservative decrease was outside the margin of error, though the Liberal bump does end a losing streak for the party. Overall, however, the poll is well within EKOS's usual range.

The Léger poll reported by CTV Montreal showed a similarly close race, with the Liberals at 35%, the Conservatives at 34%, and the NDP at 20%. Compared to Léger's previous poll of Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, the Liberals held firm, the Tories were up two, and the NDP was unchanged. Suffice to say, those shifts would not be outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples.

Finally, the poll by CROP for La Presse gave the New Democrats the lead in Quebec with 30%, unchanged from CROP's previous two surveys in the province. The Liberals dropped four points to 29%, while the Conservatives were up two points to 18% and the Bloc Québécois was up one point to 18%.

None of these shifts would be statistically significant. Noteworthy, however, is that the Liberals have dropped in two consecutive surveys (from 37%) while the Conservatives have increased their support over that time (from 13%). Also note that the results from CROP are broadly in agreement with those from Léger for the province.

Alberta turning a little orange

The longest and largest streak (both in real terms and proportionately) in the country currently belongs to the New Democrats in Alberta. Their numbers have been increasing over five consecutive weeks in the province, from 11.9% at the beginning of February to 16.3% in today's update. That is a gain worth 4.4 points, or an increase of more than one-third since that low ebb.

This upswing for the NDP in Alberta has coincided with a period of Conservative decline, as the party has slipped 4.2 points over the last five weeks from 54.7% to 50.5%.

(The third-longest streak at the moment is in Quebec, where the Liberals have fallen over four consecutive weeks from 30.3% to 27.7%.)

This jump for the NDP has pushed the party to two seats in the projection (Edmonton Strathcona and Edmonton Griesbach, though the latter is by a very slim margin). It has also put the New Democrats in play in Lethbridge.

The shift has been registered in most polls. In the two newest surveys, Léger has the NDP up five points in the province and EKOS has them up almost 10 points since the poll it conducted at the same time as Léger's last outing. Over the last eight polls, the NDP has managed between 13% and 19%. In the previous eight, that range was from 10% to 17%.

Whether or not the increase has come directly from the Conservatives is harder to determine. In those same most recent eight polls, the Conservatives have ranged between 49% and 54%. In the previous eight, that range was 47% to 61%. That suggests the Tories' numbers have just become more volatile, rather than necessarily dropping in the face of NDP gains.

The reality is rarely ever linear, and in this instance we may be seeing voters heading in every direction, the net result being an NDP uptick.

But why would this be taking place? We cannot definitively chalk it up to an improved performance by Thomas Mulcair, whose personal numbers in Alberta show no such clear trend line as those of his party.

We instead might be seeing a bit of cross-pollination between the provincial and federal scenes. Talk in Alberta is about the possibility of the New Democrats, under new leader Rachel Notley, taking over from Wildrose as the Official Opposition after the next election. The better press for the provincial NDP may be having a positive impact on the federal party.

The real question, as is always the case, is whether or not these numbers will prove to be sustainable or a mere flash in the pan. In the grand scheme of things, it does not have much impact on the national portrait. But with the race looking as close as it is, even losing an extra seat or two to the NDP in Alberta can have an important effect on the Conservatives' electoral calculations.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Quarterly check-in with the premiers (updated)

Yesterday, Angus Reid released the results from their quarterly polling on the approval ratings of Canada's premiers. As usual, Brad Wall of Saskatchewan topped the list while Manitoba's Greg Selinger, after almost losing his job in a leadership vote, was at the bottom. But the poll did have some interesting findings - namely that two of the premiers heading to the polls this year have decent numbers and that, for the most part, premiers are unpopular.

Update: It was indeed a typo, but Gallant's DK was 10 points too high, rather than his disapproval rating. It has been fixed below. Angus Reid caught it earlier, but the wrong version of the PDF was still in my cache. Apologies. Before we get into the poll, a note on the numbers for Brian Gallant of New Brunswick. In Angus Reid's poll, the numbers for Gallant added up to 110%. I corrected this in the chart below by reducing Gallant's disapproval rating by 10 points, which aligns more closely with Angus Reid's previous poll. This would mean his 43% disapproval was a simple typo, and should have been 33%. I have checked with Angus Reid and will update once I have the correct numbers.

Let's start with the two premiers who will be asking for a mandate of their own this year (Wade MacLauchlan of Prince Edward Island is the third, but Angus Reid does not include the province in its poll - with good reason, as even with a sample of 6,278, PEI's share of that would represent just 27 respondents).

Jim Prentice of Alberta registered an approval rating of 43%, representing a drop of seven points for the PC leader since the last quarter. His disapproval rating was up six points, to 39%.

That is not a positive trend for Prentice, but with the divided opposition he faces he can easily win with 43% support. In fact, Alison Redford took 44% of the vote when she won the 2012 election, so Prentice appears in a good enough position.

And with a new rating of +4, Prentice is one of only two premiers with a net positive score.

Paul Davis of Newfoundland and Labrador had similar numbers to Prentice, with 41% approval and 43% disapproval. That is a sharp improvement for Davis, who had an approval rating of just 34% last quarter. His disapproval rating, however, was also up, by six points.

The issue with Davis is that in a three-party system where the third party may take just 10% of the vote, 41% would not be enough to win. And the polls by the Corporate Research Associates show that satisfaction with the PC government in the province is relatively high - and yet, the governing party is trailing in the polls at a great distance. It is almost as if Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have gotten over the anger they felt with the Dunderdale administration, but still want a change. That will be tough for Davis to overcome.

Two premiers have a year to go before the next election in 2016, and they could not be any more different.

Wall topped the list yet again with an approval rating of 64% and a disapproval rating of 30%, the highest and lowest scores, respectively, in Canada. His net rating is a remarkable +34, the best by a wide margin. And that 64% approval, in fact, matches the share of the vote his party took in the 2011 provincial election. He would seem to be in fine form to secure re-election, which no one doubts at this stage.

His numbers have slipped a little, as they have dropped for three consecutive quarters. But the shifts have been marginal, and he has a lot of room to fall before he has to worry.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Selinger, who found himself at the bottom of the list again. His approval rating stands at just 22%, with disapproval at 63%.

That is an improvement for Selinger, who was at just 17% last quarter, but it still makes for the two worst quarters for the NDP premier in Angus Reid's polling. It spells doom for his party's re-election chances, and that is part of the reason he almost lost a leadership vote a few weeks ago. His net rating of -41 is the worst in Canada, again by a wide margin.

The other premiers on the list are at least two years away from having to face the voters, so this poll is more of a mid-term check-up.

The two Atlantic Liberal premiers, Gallant and Stephen McNeil of Nova Scotia, have decent scores. McNeil put up an approval rating of 43% and a disapproval rating of 44%, rather standard fare for a sitting premier. But he has dropped in three consecutive quarters, after posting an approval rating of 66% in June 2014.

Gallant has rather mixed numbers for a newly-elected premier, at 40% approval to 43% disapproval. His disapproval rating is up rather sharply.

The two central Canadian Liberal premiers, Kathleen Wynne of Ontario and Philippe Couillard of Quebec, are seeing their numbers turn a little sour.

Wynne's approval rating has dropped over two quarters now to 36%, with her disapproval rating at 53%. Her net rating is a poor -17. But this negative trend is lessened somewhat by the fact that Wynne's numbers are now more or less back to normal, after experiencing a post-election bump.

Couillard might be a little more worried, with an approval rating of 35% and a disapproval of 58%. That represents a drop in his approval worth six points, and his net score of -23 is the lowest in Canada with the exception of Selinger and Christy Clark of British Columbia. Coupled with a new poll out today from CROP showing his party dropping to just 29% support, Couillard seems to be experiencing the same post-election slump that Jean Charest went through when he first became premier in 2003.

Finally, Clark's numbers are holding steady with 33% approval and 60% disapproval, though that is a far cry from the post-election honeymoon of a 45% approval rating that Clark had in 2013. Only Selinger's net rating is worse than Clark's -27. But she doesn't have to face the electorate until 2017. Of course, poor approval ratings are certainly something she is familiar with and, undoubtedly, it probably doesn't scare her after the 2013 experience.

An unpopular bunch

As mentioned above, the poll does suggest that Canadians are not very happy with their premiers. In only Saskatchewan do a majority of respondents approve of their premier, and in four of the nine provinces polled (including the three largest) a majority disapprove of their premiers. Seven of the nine boast negative net ratings, and five of them have been in office for about two years or less. Their numbers are bound to get only worse.

What does this mean? Are we just poorly served by our leaders, or are Canadians so polarized that many find it hard to support a leader for whose party they did not vote? In no province does the current approval rating of the premier stand at a higher level than the share of the vote that premier's party took in the previous election. In Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador it is significantly lower than the bar set by the last election.

Perhaps it isn't a sign of a serious problem with our leaders or our politics, but rather a case of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence. One hopes our collective psyche is not as simple as that.