Thursday, November 20, 2014

NDP moves ahead in back-and-forth Quebec race

Yesterday was a good day for the New Democrats in Quebec. Maria Mourani, a former Bloc MP, announced that she was joining the NDP (at least on the membership rolls, if not in caucus) and a new poll published by La Presse put the party and Thomas Mulcair in front in the province. But is this part of a positive trend for the NDP leader, or just another wobble back and forth?
CROP was last in the field on October 16-20. Since that poll, the NDP has picked up four points to move into the lead in Quebec with 34% support. The Liberals dropped five points, the only shift outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples, to 32%.

The Conservatives placed third in the poll, up one point to 16%, putting the Bloc Québécois in fourth with 14% (unchanged). The Greens had 4% support.

Of the entire sample, 10% was undecided and another 5% would not vote or did not respond to this question.

Note that support for Others (which would include Forces et Démocratie) was at 0%, as it always is in CROP's polling.

Is this slip by the Liberals a sign of trouble for the party? That is always a possibility, of course, but in CROP's polling we've seen the Liberals and NDP trade the lead back and forth for all of 2014.

There is little discernible trend in these numbers. The Liberals and NDP have been neck-and-neck throughout the year. But CROP did record the same sort of bump for the Liberals in the summer that other polls did, so it would seem that the party may be coming off that high to more usual levels of support.

A negative trend for the Bloc Québécois after Mario Beaulieu became leader in June, however, is readily apparent. The Conservatives are on the upswing, but that is from a very low point. They are still generally were they have been in the province since the last election.

The New Democrats increased their lead among election-deciding francophones, stretching it to 12 points with 39% support to 27% for the Liberals. The party has not trailed among francophones in any poll since February. The Bloc was at 17%, while the Conservatives were at 13%.

Among non-francophones, the Liberals tumbled 17 points to 49%, the lowest score they have managed among this group since before Justin Trudeau took over the party. The sample size is small, however, and would normally carry a margin of error of about eight points. Nevertheless, it may be something to keep an eye on. 

The Conservatives were up to 29% among non-francophones, which might potentially put them in the running in a riding or two on the West Island. The NDP was third with 17%, followed by the Greens at 5% support.

The New Democrats were ahead on the island of Montreal as a whole with 42%, followed by the Liberals, who were down 15 points to 25%. The Bloc was at 16% and the Conservatives at 15% (coupled with their strong non-francophone numbers, this suggests they are doing very badly among island-dwelling francophones).

Off the island of Montreal but within the metropolitan region, the Liberals were narrowly ahead with 32% to 31% for the NDP. The Bloc had 19% support here, its highest in Quebec, while the Conservatives were up seven points to 16%.

In and around Quebec City, the NDP was in front with 40% support, followed by the Conservatives at 23% (their lowest since the spring) and the Liberals at 18% (their lowest since February 2013). The Bloc had 13% support in the provincial capital.

And in the rest of Quebec, the Liberals were ahead with 38% support to 31% for the NDP, 16% for the Conservatives, and just 10% for the Bloc Québécois. Considering the 'RoQ' is where all of the Bloc's current or former MPs were elected (save Mourani) in 2011, that spells a lot of trouble for the party.

Indeed, with these numbers the Bloc would be shut out entirely. The New Democrats would ride their advantage among francophones to around 49 seats, with the Liberals capturing 21 and the Conservatives taking eight.

It makes for a good poll for the NDP. Mulcair was ahead on who Quebecers preferred for Prime Minister with 29%, a gain of seven points since last month. Trudeau was down six points to 22%, while Stephen Harper had 13% support. As these numbers do not exclude undecideds or people who say 'none of the above', we can say that Mulcair and Harper appear to be about as popular as their own parties. Trudeau, however, scored five points lower than the Liberals before undecideds were excluded.

One interesting tidbit from the CROP poll was the breakdown of federal support by who Quebecers support at the provincial level. With these numbers, we see that Philippe Couillard's Liberal supporters primarily intend to vote for the federal Liberals (48%) and the Conservatives (31%). The Parti Québécois's supporters are split between the Bloc (44%) and the NDP (31%), while supporters of the Coalition Avenir Québec would vote for either the NDP (45%) or the Liberals (30%).

That the Bloc cannot even draw a majority of PQ voters to its banner is another nail in its coffin.

But we can also reverse these numbers to see where each of the federal parties draw their support from.

Quebecers who vote for the Bloc Québécois are primarily PQ supporters (about 70% by my own calculations), with a smattering of CAQ voters (14%). That makes for a rather simple coalition of nationalists.

The Liberals and Conservatives are a little less monochromatic. About 57% of the federal Liberals' base comes from the provincial Liberals, while another 25% comes from the CAQ. But these two parties generally see eye-to-eye on things (the CAQ has even accused the PLQ of borrowing liberally from its platform). The Conservatives have a similar breakdown, 66% of their voters being supporters of the PLQ and 19% of the CAQ.

The New Democrats have a much trickier coalition to keep together. Their largest block of supporters are drawn from the CAQ, at 35%. The PQ and Québec Solidaire each provide about 21% of the NDP's support base, while 19% are provincial Liberals.

There are many ways to divvy these NDP voters up. On the national divide, about 42% of them are sovereigntists (PQ+QS) and 77% of them are nationalist (adding the CAQ to that total). Put another way, 54% are federalist (CAQ+PLQ). The sovereigntist/federalist split also aligns with how the party's supporters are divided between centre-right and centre-left.

This makes for a potentially divisive coalition of voters. It is obvious why QS would support the NDP (the party has always been more of a left-wing party than it is a sovereigntist one), and the PQ and NDP have similar social democratic roots. But the NDP is also federalist, so that makes them an option for centre-left provincial Liberals, while the party is somewhat populist and an 'alternative' to the traditional two party system, which might attract CAQ voters.

On the other hand, that the NDP is federalist could push QS and PQ voters away in the spotlight of an election campaign, while it is further from the CAQ and PLQ on the left-right spectrum than either the Conservatives or the federal Liberals. It makes for a difficult balancing act for Thomas Mulcair.

But he seems to be mostly pulling it off. The old sovereigntist/federalist divide in Quebec is fading away, as voters move from one party to another. And even the left/right politics of the province are being turned on its head, as labour-busting Pierre-Karl Péladeau emerges as the saviour of the centre-left PQ. It makes for a complicated political landscape in the province. Perhaps that is why Mulcair, a veteran of the provincial scene, has managed it. So far.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Will Conservatives drop, Liberals gain in Monday's by-elections?

Update on Election Night: Answer? Yes. The Conservatives took a hit in their vote share more or less in line with how they have performed in past by-elections, but nevertheless put up some decent and respectable results with (at time of writing, with still some votes to be counted) 63% in Yellowhead and 49% in Whitby-Oshawa. They also won both ridings, which in first-past-the-post is all that matters.

The Liberals had a good night in terms of vote share increase, jumping to 41% in Whitby-Oshawa (almost tripling their share) and 20% in Yellowhead (increasing it more than sixfold). But they still came up short. The Liberals will do well in 2015 if they can replicate these kinds of swings, but will not go very far if they just replicate these close losses instead.

The New Democrats had a bad night in Whitby-Oshawa, dropping to just 8%. They held their own in Yellowhead, however, with 10%. But the party's future prosperity lies not in rural Alberta, but in seat-rich Ontario. The drop of more than half of their vote share in Whitby-Oshawa is not a promising sign. But these are still just by-elections, when a two-horse race can have a stronger influence on strategic voting than might be the case in a general election. Nevertheless, little silver lining to be had for the NDP. 

In terms of the polls, Forum should have quit when it was ahead. The polls of November 11 that I wrote about below were quite close, but their election eve polling of November 16 was worse. And in the case of Yellowhead, much worse.


The Conservatives have put up poor results in byelections since winning a majority government in 2011, and will again be put to the test in two contests in Ontario and Alberta on Monday. Will they be able to hold on to their two seats?

You can read the rest of the piece on It goes over some of the regional-level polling Alberta and Ontario, the by-election record of the major parties since 2011, and how the Conservative government's record stacks up.

Let's briefly here go over the by-election polls that were out this morning. They were conducted by Forum Research, and we all know how hit or miss their by-election polling has been in the past. One thing to take into consideration, however, is that Forum's by-election record is actually not too bad in the GTA, where the Whitby-Oshawa by-election is being held. Their notable misses took place in Alberta, Manitoba, and elsewhere in Ontario. We'll see if that trend continues on Monday.

Forum now has it as a close race in Whitby-Oshawa, with Pat Perkins of the Conservatives at 44% and Celina Caesar-Chavannes at 40%. That represents a narrowing of the gap, as Perkins does pick up three points while Caesar-Chavannes picks up eight compared to Forum's poll of October 27. The NDP's Trish McAulife is down three points to 12%.

That it has become a close race is a little bit of a surprise. The Flaherty legacy is strong in the riding. So, we should take these results with a little caution. When Forum has been off in the past, often it was an over-estimation of the challenger's support. So that would suggest Perkins has more of an edge than the poll indicates.

In Yellowhead, we get our first poll of the campaign. Jim Eglinski of the Conservatives was well ahead with 62%, followed by 16% for the Liberals and 12% for the NDP. These are intuitive numbers at the very least.

Unless Whitby-Oshawa flips, the thing I will be looking for on Monday is whether the Conservatives continue to take a significant hit in these by-elections to the benefit of the Liberals, continuing to corroborate what the polls are showing to be the case at a wider level.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Riding History: Beauce

Tucked away in a corner of Quebec along the American border, the riding of Beauce has not changed much since it was created in 1867. And for six decades between 1887 and 1949, it never voted anything but Liberal. But since then, Beauce has been a bit of a rainbow riding, having been represented by Liberals, Conservatives, Progressive Conservatives, Social Credit, and Independents. Today, it is one of the few safe ridings the Conservatives still have in Quebec.

This is the fourth riding the history of which I am profiling as part of the 2013 Kickstarter campaign. This riding was requested by backer Thomas Barré, who generously contributed to the project that led to Tapping into the Pulse: Political public opinion polling in Canada, 2013. The ebook can be ordered here, or directly from Gumroad hereAmazon for your Kindle here, or from Kobo here.

Beauce's first Member of Parliament was a Liberal, Christian Henry Pozer, who defeated a man named Taschereau by 1,180 votes to 629. Pozer was from the region and a lawyer, and he simultaneously represented the provincial riding of Beauce for the Liberals until 1874.

Pozer was not a very active member of the House of Commons. The first recorded statement he made (apart from reporting on the findings of a committee investigating a case of alleged electoral fraud in the riding of St. Hyacinthe, and having another MP ask a question for him in his absence) came only in April 1869, almost two years after he was first elected. But he was no wilting flower, apparently, as the statement came when he contradicted something the Premier of Quebec, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, had said.

Christian Pozer
Chauveau, like Pozer, was also a member of Quebec's National Assembly. In a debate, another MP was saying that some "members might find it a good thing in a pecuniary point of view to attend both Legislatures, and draw indemnities from the Local as well as the General Governments." The member then charged that Chauveau had said in Quebec City that it was within the federal government's jurisdiction to rule on this question. Chauveau disputed this.

But then Pozer spoke up - seemingly for the first time as an MP: "Mr. Pozer was a member of the Legislature of Quebec, and said that if his memory failed not, the hon. gentleman had stated that the Local Legislature could not decide the point, as the Federal Parliament was the proper tribunal."

Chauveau's response? A single word: "Jamais."

Pozer was re-elected in 1872 with a larger majority, and in 1874 no one bothered to oppose him. He was then named to the Senate, where he would sit until his death in 1884.

With Pozer gone, the Conservatives took the riding. Joseph Bolduc won it in a close race, defeating De Lery, a man whose affiliation history records as unknown. Bolduc was just 29 years old at the time, a volunteer in the militia and mayor of St-Victor-de-Tring.

Bolduc, as Senate Speaker
Bolduc's hold on the riding solidified in 1878, when he won it with 79% of the vote. He was re-elected again in 1882. He did not run again in 1884, as he was also named to the Senate, where he would be the Speaker from 1916 to 1922. In all, Bolduc would serve for 48 years in the House of Commons and Senate.

His replacement was Thomas Linière Taschereau, a lawyer and, at 34 years of age, another young man. But Taschereau would not run for re-election in 1887 (though he would get the itch again, and fail, in 1896 and 1900 in the riding of Kamouraska).

Instead the riding swung back to the Liberals in 1887, or at least 'Independent Liberal' Joseph Godbout (he would later run as a Liberal). Godbout was a physician, and would be re-elected three more times.

Joseph Godbout
Beauce got itself another senator when Godbout was named to the upper chamber, where he would sit until 1923. He was replaced by Henri-Sévérin Beland, another physician, who was acclaimed in 1902.

Beland had been the provincial Liberal MNA for Beauce, and was the mayor of St-Joseph-de-Beauce from 1887 to 1899.

Beland would dominate the riding for the next 20 years. He won it in 1904 with 73% of the vote and again in 1908 with an astounding 96% of ballots cast. After winning again in 1911, he was named Postmaster General.

When war broke out, he went overseas and 'served with the Belgian surgical hospital staff'. His work was cut short when he was captured by the Germans, and he would be a prisoner-of-war for three years. He wrote a book about it.

Henri-Sévérin Beland
He was acclaimed in 1917 (one assumes he was re-elected while a POW) and, after winning 90% of the vote in 1921, was named the Minister of Soldiers' Civil Re-Establishment and Minister presiding over the Department of Health. In 1925, Beland would follow in the footsteps of past Beaucerons, and was named to the Senate. He sat there for 10 years.

Édouard Lacroix, a lumber merchant, won the 1925 vote for the Liberals with 78%, hardly missing a beat after Beland's massive majorities. He would take 81% of the vote in 1926, 65% in 1930, and 89% in 1935 against a Reconstruction candidate. He won again in 1940, but crossed the floor in 1943 to sit with the Bloc populaire canadien, a French Canadian nationalist party. He resigned his seat in 1944 to enter provincial politics, representing the party at the provincial level until 1945. Lacroix was the grandfather of Robert Dutil, who is a current Liberal MNA.

With Édouard off the ballot in 1945, his brother Charles tried to hold the riding as an independent, but was defeated by Liberal Ludger Dionne, mayor of St-Georges from 1934 to 1942. The 1945 election would be notable in Beauce for the first candidacy of Social Credit, which took 25% of the vote.

Beauce in 1895
Dionne was defeated in 1949 in a close election, as Raoul Poulin took it with 46% to Dionne's 45% (a Union of Electors candidate took 8%). Poulin was another physician and an independent, but had previously represented the riding for Union Nationale at the provincial level and had also sought election as a provincial Conservative.

Poulin was re-elected twice, first against another Poulin in 1953 (Louis, a Liberal) and again in 1957 against Dionne. One assumes that with Poulin's provincial conservative background, the PCs at the time did not bother to put up a candidate of their own.

This is seemingly confirmed by Poulin's defeat in 1958, when a PC candidate took 17% of the vote and Jean-Paul Racine of the Liberals won with 42% to Poulin's 41%. Racine, mayor of St-Honoré from 1955 to 1957, did not last long, losing in 1962.

He lost to Gérard Perron, a hotelier and candidate for Social Credit. He took 59% of the vote, winning a majority again (and again against Racine) in 1963.

Racine returned to office in 1965, when Perron was defeated in part, it would seem, by the candidacy of Robert Cliche. Associate President of the federal NDP who was named leader of the Quebec NDP in 1965, Cliche took 29% of the vote in a three-way race with Perron (28%) and Racine (41%). Cliche would later improve his share to 44% when he ran in 1968 in Duvernay, but again he fell short.

In Beauce, Ralliement créditiste (as Social Credit was then known in Quebec after a split) returned in 1968 under Romuald Rodrigue, an accountant. Rodrigue took 48% of the vote, but was defeated in 1972 when Yves Caron of the Liberals narrowly edged him out.

Caron defeated Rodrigue again in 1974, and was named Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture in 1977.

In 1979, however, Caron lost as Pierre Trudeau's Liberals were booted from office nationwide. Instead, Fabien Roy won the riding for Social Credit with 57% of the vote. Roy was the party's leader, and had previously represented the provincial wing in the National Assembly from 1970 to 1975 (he then was part of an off-shoot party called the Parti national populaire until 1979). Though Roy would hold Social Credit's leadership for just a year, he made a mark on Canadian political history by abstaining from the vote of confidence that led to the defeat of Joe Clark's government in 1980.

But Roy was also defeated that year, as Normand Lapointe of the Liberals took the riding back. Lapointe was an insurance agent, and was named Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour in 1983.

Results since 1984
Lapointe was swept away by the PC tide in 1984, and Gilles Bernier, a popular radio personality, won the riding for the Tories with 53% of the vote. He won it again in 1988 with 69%.

But in 1993, Bernier was facing fraud charges (he was acquitted) and so could not run under the PC banner. He instead ran as an independent, winning 41% of the vote against just 8% for the PC candidate. The Bloc Québécois, with 36%, came the closest it has ever come to winning the riding that year.

Bernier was named ambassador to Haiti in 1997 (he would serve until 2001), and so the riding was up for grabs in 1997. It was won by Claude Drouin, formerly of the air force and a political advisor, with 49% of the vote. Drouin was re-elected in 2000 and 2004, and would serve as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, Secretary of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Rural Communities) over that time.

Drouin did not run again in 2006, and this opened the door for Maxime Bernier, son of Gilles Bernier. A lawyer and businessman and locally popular due to his family ties, Bernier took 67% of the vote in a landslide win (his was the best performance of any Conservative outside of Alberta). The Bloc finished second with 20%.

Bernier was named to cabinet as Minister of Industry in 2006, and was promoted to Minister of Foreign Affairs (and responsible for La Francophonie) in 2007. His career at cabinet was short-lived, however, as he resigned in 2008 after a scandal related to his relationship with Julie Couillard, who had past romantic links to the Hell's Angels. Bernier also left some classified documents at her house.

Nevertheless, Bernier was re-elected in 2008 with 62% of the vote. The Bloc took just 14%. Bernier would be re-elected again in 2011, this time with 51%, as the New Democrats surged to second place with 30% support. The Bloc fell to fourth.

Bernier returned to some favour within the government, and was named Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism) in 2011, with Agriculture being added to his portfolio in 2013.

Beauce is an interesting riding in Quebec, being one of the few in the province that has had a strong conservative/populist bent over the last few decades (since 1962, the Tories have won six times, if we include Gilles Bernier's 1993 win, the Liberals seven, and Social Credit four times). Bernier and the Conservatives remain favoured there. But Beauce is no stranger to significant swings in support. Whether or not the Conservative edge will last beyond Bernier remains to be seen.