Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thoughts on yesterday's events in Ottawa

The National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa is a bit of a focal point of the city, marking the intersection between Wellington, Rideau, and Elgin streets. Around the plaza you can find the trappings of Official Ottawa like the Langevin Block and the British High Commission, but also the things that make Ottawa a great city in which to live or to visit, such as the historic Château Laurier, the National Arts Centre, or D'Arcy McGee's, one of Ottawa's many (many) pubs.

On most days, the open space around the War Memorial is full of pedestrians going about their days. For the last seven years, the War Memorial has also been stoically and silently guarded by members of Canada's armed forces, who have been popular photo subjects for the many tourists from throughout Canada and the world who visit the capital.

Yesterday, that peaceful heart of the city, where the unidentified remains of a Canadian soldier who fought and died in the First World War are buried, was the scene of a horrific crime committed by a coward who deserves to be forgotten.

My thoughts this morning are with the family of Corporal Nathan Cirillo's family and friends. This young man tragically lost his life performing a duty symbolizing the respect Canadians have for the sacrifices of those who fought to defend this country. He was ceremoniously carrying a rifle that could not fire. He was defenseless.

My thoughts are also with the security forces on Parliament Hill who bravely ran towards the sound of gunfire and prevented what could have been a tragedy of even larger proportions.

I've lived in Ottawa for several years now, and have lived the vast majority of my life within a short distance of the capital. The War Memorial is less than a 10 minute drive or 40 minute walk from my home where I am writing this morning. I pass by it regularly and in the last month I've twice walked the halls of Parliament where the final shots were fired yesterday. Throughout the day, I could hear sounds of sirens.

Contrary to some opinion, as a resident of Ottawa I don't wake up this morning terrified, scared, or even angry. This city remains one of the safest in the world - nothing can be done to prevent the actions of a lone monster. We are fortunate to live in a country like ours, where someone like me can make a living writing about something, in the grand scheme of things, as inconsequential as polls. Unlike in other parts of the world, I can write about a poll that casts the government in a negative light without fear of being arrested or abused because we live in a free, democratic society.

I am saddened, however, and reminded of the enormous gratitude I have for the men and women of our armed forces.

My grandfather served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War and made a career for himself in the Royal Canadian Air Force after the conflict ended. He passed away last year and was buried in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery beside other former members of Canada's armed forces. 

During the funeral, I was moved by the respect my grandfather was shown by an honour guard formed of members of the army and air force. By the time of his death, he had not served for decades but he was treated as solemnly and respectfully as a soldier who had lost his life on the battlefield. 

While the ceremony itself was something I'll never forget, what sticks in my mind when I think of that day is what I saw after the service was over. As we were leaving the cemetery, I noticed a woman in uniform waiting at a bus stop. She had been one of the members of the honour guard. She had donned her pristine uniform and rode the bus to the cemetery to pay respect to a man she had never met and who had likely retired from the air force before she had even been born. She probably spent more time in transit than she had at the service itself.

It was a small sacrifice on her part, of course, but emblematic of the respect our men and women in uniform show for those who came before them and the sacrifices they were willing - or had - to make. Men like Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who died guarding the tomb of a soldier who lost his own life almost a century before in the service of his country. That, and not any feeling of being terrorized, is what I am thinking about today. And I am not alone.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Could Quebec keep the Liberals from a majority?

A new poll from EKOS Research for iPolitics and Radio-Canada suggests that, despite the fallout from the Liberals' decision not to support the government's mission in Iraq, there has been little change in voting intentions nationwide. But the poll also suggests that Quebec could be the obstacle blocking the path to a Liberal majority government.

EKOS was last in the field September 21-25, and since then has recorded no significant shift in support. The Liberals were up 0.2 points to 38.5%, followed by the Conservatives at 26.4% (+1.5) and the New Democrats at 25% (+0.6). The Greens were down two points to 5.7%, while the Bloc Québécois was down 0.9 points to 3.1%.

Suffice to say, none of the shifts experienced by the major parties were outside of the margin of error. However, the New Democrats have made gains in three consecutive EKOS polls, worth 3.6 points since the spring.

Regionally, the Liberals led in Ontario with 48.8%, followed by the Conservatives at 31.5% and the NDP at 16.4%.

In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals had 43% to 24.9% for the NDP and 23% for the Conservatives.

And in British Columbia, the Liberals were up 13 points to 36.1%, with the NDP down to 30% and the Conservatives at 19.5%.

The Conservatives led in Alberta with 42.7%. The Liberals were down to 27.9% in the province, while the NDP was at 12.3%.

The New Democrats led in two regions. They were ahead in the Prairies with about 39% (my estimate from EKOS's tiny samples in Saskatchewan and Manitoba), with the Liberals at 31% and the Conservatives at 28%.

The NDP was also in front in Quebec, with 38.8% support to 29% for the Liberals, 14.3% for the Conservatives, and just 12.6% for the Bloc. That was a drop of almost five points for Mario Beaulieu's party. Beaulieu's approval rating in Quebec was just 11.7%, with his disapproval standing at 47.6%.

Now, these numbers in Quebec are not unusual for EKOS. At the end of September, the NDP had 36% to the Liberals' 32%, while in July the New Democrats had 37% to the Liberals' 29%. Over that time period, other polls have averaged 38% for the Liberals and 27% for the NDP, so in this regard EKOS seems to be out of step with consensus opinion (with the exception of one CROP poll where the gap was two points, the NDP has not led in any of the last 15 polls done by other firms since mid-June).

But polling by CROP and Léger have suggested that the NDP holds the edge among francophones, a finding corroborated by EKOS's latest survey as well. This poses a problem for the Liberals. Though the party is doing respectably well among this demographic, they are at a distinct disadvantage. Francophones decide the results of the vast majority of Quebec's ridings and polls suggest that francophone support for both the NDP and Liberals is generally uniform. That means the Liberals could find themselves losing a large number of seats outside of Montreal by slim margins - but losing nevertheless.

The seat projection using EKOS's numbers shows what kind of role Quebec could end up playing in the next election.

Outside of Quebec, the projection model would give the Liberals 131 of 260 seats - a majority. But in Quebec, with the New Democrats a handful of points below their 2011 result, the Liberals win just 17 seats, with 57 being retained by the NDP. The end result is that the Liberals find themselves 21 seats short of a majority - and it is hard to imagine the Liberals doing much better in the rest of the country than what EKOS awarded them.

Even if we put the gap in Quebec at what the other pollsters think it is, we still get the Liberals falling short of a majority. This suggests that unless the Liberals can make the same kind of breakthrough that the NDP did in the province in 2011, their hopes for a majority government are likely to be dashed.

Overall, EKOS pegs Justin Trudeau's approval rating to be 46.1%, with a disapproval rating of 37.1%. That compares quite well to Stephen Harper's 29.9% to 63.3% spread, but is worse than Thomas Mulcair's 58% approval to 21.7% disapproval rating. And in Quebec, Mulcair's approval rating increases to 70.1% against 43.2% for Trudeau.

That will make it difficult for Trudeau to gain ground among francophones, though this weekend's appearance on Tout le monde en parle could help in that regard. But the prospect of forming government may not help him. The NDP led in Quebec in voting intentions, despite just 8% of Quebecers thinking the NDP would form government in 2015. Almost half of Quebecers think the Liberals will win.

For the Conservatives, this poll is a disaster. With under 20% support in B.C., the party takes just three seats there, and ties the Liberals for second in the seat count in the Prairies. With 79 seats (three-quarters of them in Alberta and Ontario), the party would find itself reduced to third-party status, with the NDP remaining as the Official Opposition. How this setup would work in practice is a little difficult to determine.

Of course, the Conservatives have not been as low as 26.4% in other polls, so these results are likely on the lower end of what is plausible. But we can still compare trend lines, and it seems that, so far, the Liberals are holding steady despite what has been widely considered to be a bad couple of weeks for Trudeau. But let's see what others have to say.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tight race in Alberta in new polls as by-elections loom

With four provincial by-elections just around the corner in Alberta, two new polls suggest the race could be tight both province-wide and within the two cities at play.

We'll start with the poll from Lethbridge College, which reports on an annual basis. We last heard from the school in October 2013.

The poll pegs Progressive Conservative support to stand at 32.6%, down 3.5 points from where the party was a year ago. That marks the lowest that Lethbridge has registered PC support to be since 2009, when it started polling.

Wildrose was up 1.4 points to 30.8%, their highest score in Lethbridge polling. 

The New Democrats trailed with 16.8%, while the Liberals were at 12.8%. Support for other parties (which presumably includes the Alberta Party) was at 7%, up 1.4 points.

It is a close race, which is in step with the last two polls we have seen out of the province from Léger (31% to 26% in favour of Wildrose in June, 33% to 29% in August-September). While that is, relatively speaking, good news for Wildrose, this does still represent a level of support somewhat below where the party was in 2012. They have come into contention almost by default, as the PCs shed more than 10 points' worth of support.

At the regional level, the PCs enjoyed sizable leads in both Edmonton and Calgary, were tied with Wildrose in the northern part of the province, and well behind in the south.

But the results in Edmonton and Calgary are out of step with the recent Léger polls out of Alberta. The Tories have averaged just 27% support in those polls in Calgary, versus 42% according to Lethbridge. While both the NDP and Wildrose polled lower in the Lethbridge polls than in the Léger surveys, it is among Liberals that the difference is most important: an average of 23% instead of the 16% here.

In Edmonton, the PCs have averaged 22% against 28.5% for the NDP and 21% for the Liberals, instead of 33% here for the PCs, 24% for the NDP, and just 10% for the Liberals (Wildrose's support seems consistent).

Now, we could consider that perhaps the arrival of Jim Prentice has transformed things in both Calgary and Edmonton, as Liberals flock back to the PCs now that it is under a Red Tory. While that might be an intuitive conclusion, Lethbridge College showed higher results for the PCs than other polls did in October 2013, so we may be looking instead at a methodological quirk.

The other poll was conducted by ThinkHQ in its 'Eye on Alberta' regular report. Only the results of the poll in Calgary and Edmonton proper (not the metropolitan regions or CMAs, as Lethbridge College has it) were released to the public.

In Calgary, ThinkHQ puts Wildrose narrowly ahead at 38% to 36% for the Tories, with the Liberals well behind at 13% and the NDP at 8%. Since July, that represents a gain of eight points for the Tories, who have been picking up steam in the city for some time. The PCs were at just 20% in Calgary proper in March, while Wildrose has fallen 10 points since then.

The contest was a close three-way race in Edmonton, with Wildrose at 27%, the PCs at 26%, and the NDP at 25%. That marks a drop of five points since July for Wildrose, and a gain of four points for the Tories. Here again, the PCs have been rising, as they were at just 15% in Edmonton proper in March.

It seems that Prentice has had a positive effect on the Tories' numbers (though he only recently won, he has been the heir apparent for months). But he has still not put the party in a position to win a province-wide election - ThinkHQ mentioned in its report that Wildrose still held a provincial lead, and even with the numbers from Lethbridge's poll the PCs would only barely eke out a majority, if at all.

So the three by-elections in Calgary and the one in Edmonton should still prove a difficult test for the Progressive Conservatives. These were all relatively safe ridings, so they should still be favoured to win them all. But if Wildrose is as strong in Calgary as ThinkHQ suggests, the PCs will be hard-pressed to hold all four seats.