Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New seats + ignore Quebec = Majority?

Yesterday, Jane Taber asked "Should Tories, Liberals and New Democrats just give up on Quebec?"

This was prompted by the comments of John Wright from Ipsos-Reid. His argument was that the federalist parties should forget about Quebec and focus on the rest of the country, where 30 new seats are going to be added in the next few years.

In short, with the 18 new seats in Ontario, seven new seats in British Columbia, and five new seats in Alberta, a majority can be cobbled together without Quebec. So why not ignore those Bloc-voting separatists?

Leaving aside the democratic and financial implications of doing such a thing for now, does John Wright have a point?

The current plan for redrawing Canada's electoral boundaries would increase the amount of seats in the House of Commons to 338, meaning 170 seats are needed for a majority. While we cannot know how the boundaries will be redrawn at this point, and so cannot predict how they will vote with a great deal of accuracy, there are a few things we can do to make some educated guesses.

First, let's start by distributing the 30 new seats according to the percentage of seats each party won in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta in the last three elections.Using this method, no party would have formed a majority in any of the last three elections. The Conservatives would have come closest in the 2008 election, but would still be nine seats short of a majority. Obviously the 2006 election would result in no majority, while the 2004 election would not deliver a Liberal majority.

With the Bloc Québécois winning between 49 and 54 seats, there is still not a lot of wiggle room for the other parties. With 49-54 seats going to the Bloc, the governing party needs to win about 60% of the rest of the seats in order to form a majority. That is a tall order. In the last 50 years, only the 1993 Liberals and 1984 Progressive-Conservatives have won 60% of the seats up for grabs.

The situation is no better if we apply the same system to ThreeHundredEight.com's current projection. Doing that, we get 145 seats for the Conservatives, 102 for the Liberals, 52 for the Bloc, and 39 for the NDP. No majority there.

But distributing these seats according to province-wide numbers is not a very accurate way to go about it. Instead, let's look at what happens if we distribute the seats according to how each party has performed in the urban areas that are likely to get the new seats.

That means Toronto for Ontario, Vancouver for British Columbia, and Edmonton and Calgary for Alberta.

We'll start with the 2004 election in Ontario, when the Liberals had the chance of forming a majority government. In that election, distributing the seats according to the percentage of seats won in and around Toronto by each party, we would award 16 of the 18 in Ontario to the Liberals and split the remaining two between the Conservatives and the NDP. If we take urban Toronto out of the equation and focus on suburban Toronto, we get 17 going to the Liberals and one for the Conservatives.

In 2008, the distribution goes 14 Liberal, three Conservative, and one NDP, or 14 Liberal and four Conservative focusing on the suburban part of Toronto only.

For British Columbia in 2004, we get four going to the Conservatives, two to the Liberals, and one to the NDP. In 2008, the distribution would be four for the Conservatives, two to the NDP, and one for the Liberals.

As for Alberta, in 2004 we would have to award one seat to the Liberals and the remaining four to the Conservatives. In 2008, all five would go Conservative.So, for 2004 that means only 154 (or 155 using the suburban Toronto numbers) Liberal MPs, far from the 170 needed for the slimmest of majorities. In 2008, this only gives 155 Conservative MPs (or 156 using the suburban Toronto numbers). If we allow that maybe one or two of the seats would be in the Ottawa area and a few others in southwestern Ontario, both areas where the Conservatives perform strongly, we still only get to about 160 MPs.

No majority there.

So, we need to start desperately searching for a majority, as we aren't going to get one using reasonable methods. So, let's assume a sweep. The 2006 election is not good for this, as it was a very close one. Giving the Conservatives a full sweep of all 30 new seats still only gives them 154 in that 2006 election. In 2004, even with a sweep of all 30 new seats (that means all 12 in British Columbia and Alberta, too) the Liberals still only win 165 seats, five short of a majority. We finally get a majority in 2008 by giving the Conservatives all 30 new seats (including all 18, most of which will be in and around Toronto). But it is a majority of only three seats, and this in a climate where the Tories had an 11-point lead over the Liberals, who had their worst electoral result in history. We're talking best-best-best case scenario, and a virtually impossible sweep of the new seats, and still we only have a majority of three. A few people catch a cold and the government falls.

So in order for those new seats to deliver majority after majority, we need more than just the status quo. We need a dominate performance and the collapse of one or two parties. In other words, we need the parties to try to win the old-fashioned way and a complete redrawing of our political landscape. This can happen with 308 seats or 338 seats.

But wait, Wright (and the unquestioning Taber) asks "Why bother with Quebec?" If the Conservatives or Liberals are able to sweep all of these new seats west of the Ottawa River, they must be "ignoring" Quebec. Undoubtedly, ignoring Quebec is not going to gain a party any new seats. So, in this "ignore Quebec" scenario, let's give the Bloc the 54 seats they won in 2004. How does that change the situation?Obviously, 2004 doesn't change. The Conservatives are even further away from a majority in 2006. And they lose their majority in 2008, reduced to 168 seats. So, ignoring Quebec, the Conservatives still manage to win five seats in the province but are reduced to a minority in this 338-seat House of Commons.

But let's say that the politicians take Wright's suggestion by the letter. They ignore Quebec completely, burn every bridge. In such a situation, I estimate the Bloc could win 65 seats, what I consider their "ceiling". Think you can form a government without Quebec?You can't. The Liberals are pushed to 16 short in 2004, the Conservatives are a whopping 26 seats short in 2006, and seven short in 2008. So, to be brief, a majority can't be formed without some respectable Quebec representation, even with the extra 30 seats in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta.

These are the results of cold calculations, which people who discard and denigrate Quebec do all the time. What good is our democracy if 1/4 of Canadians are ignored because some of them vote in a way that displeases the rest of the country? Quebecers who vote for the Bloc do so because they feel it speaks for them. If the federalist parties want Quebecers to vote for them, they need to reach out rather than expect them to tire of the party they have supported since Gilles Duceppe was first elected to the House of Commons 20 years ago.

Not good enough? What about the 1.5 million Quebecers who voted for federalist parties, hoping not to be ignored? That 62% represents almost five million people. Ignore them?

Alright, maybe some people are comfortable with that democratic deficit, but what about a party's finances? The NDP earned 440,000 votes in Quebec in 2008. Ignore them, and you also forfeit about $900,000 in funding every year. The Liberals got 860,000 votes in Quebec. That's about $1.7 million in funding.

And the Conservatives, who are being (and have been) most advised to ignore Quebec, would be throwing away the 785,000 votes they had in the province in 2008. That's $1.6 million in funding. Those votes are more than the votes the party earned in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan combined. It's about as many votes as the party earned in Alberta and British Columbia each. More Conservatives were elected in Quebec than in Manitoba, as well as all of Atlantic Canada. Ignore them?

If such a thing ever happened, the Bloc Québécois would indirectly have given Quebecers the best reason for supporting independence.

And this fixation on the mythical 50 seats lost to the Bloc is unfounded. The party won only 44 seats in 1997 and 38 seats in 2000. If a federalist party works for it, they can win a good chunk of seats in Quebec even with the Bloc in place. The Liberals could not have won majorities in 1997 and 2000 without their strong performances in Quebec. The majority of seats in Quebec aren't lost to the Bloc - the Bloc wins them.

Ignoring Quebec is lazy, not smart politics. And banking on those new seats is not a smart investment.

The boundaries will only be redrawn after the constitutionally-mandated best-by date of this Conservative government has passed, so either way the parties will have to fight the next election with the current 308-seat House of Commons.

But if the Liberals and Conservatives think they can get a majority by ignoring Quebec and waiting until the boundaries are redrawn, they are sadly mistaken.

57 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis, Eric. Possibly your best work to date on this site.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "If the federalist parties want Quebecers to vote for them, they need to reach out rather than expect them to tire of the party they have supported since Gilles Duceppe was first elected to the House of Commons 20 years ago."

    I think the problem with that analysis is that, from the perspective of the federalist parties (certainly the Tories), they've tried that approach to no avail. That's what's motivating the "ignore" Quebec arguments for the conservatives. The Harper government bent over backwards to accomodate Quebec between 2006 and 2008 (so much so, in fact, that for a while during that period the Bloc had to support them). And, for their troubles, they got kicked in the teeth in Quebec in 2008. (As an aside, I don't take the "ignore" Quebec strategy to mean, burn every bridge in Quebec. Rather, I think it's in contrast to the very much Quebec-focussed strategy of 2006-2008, and suggests that you think of Quebec in much the same way you might treat the maritimes, i.e., a region that, at most, will yield 10-15 seats, and treat it accordingly).

    Based on that experience, the Tories are quite right to figure that there's little upside to their trying to win more seats in Quebec and that they'll get more bang for their buck by focusing on winning more seats in English Canada. (This, after all, has been the Liberal strategy in the West for years)

    Moreover, so long as Canada is faced with the prospect of minority governments, why would Quebec voters not vote for the Bloc? Why would they give up on a party which unabashedly advances their interests, and their interests alone, by voting for a national party which, out of neccesity, has to compromise those interests in favour of the national interest (especially given that 35-40% of Quebec voters have no particular desire to be part of the broader nation)? Answer: they won't, or at least, they won't so long as they believe that the Bloc can provide an effective voice in Ottawa - i.e., that we will continue to have a minority governments.

    And while I agree that adding 30 seats in English Canada doesn't guarantee a majority (far from it), it does make it slightly easier (having to win 170 out of 288 seats (59%) being easier than having to win 155 out of 258 (60%)). Moreover, I think the tories are calculating, rightly in my mind, that they can win a healthy majority of those seats meaning that the new seats will strengthen their defacto majority government (since, no other parties can credibly form a government with the Bloc). I realize your projection suggest otherwise, but as you admit, they are neccesarily rough given that the boundaries for the new ridings have not yet been set. Finally, Canada's population growth is (and has been for decades) occuring west of the Ottawa river. Whereas, once upon a time, the center of gravity of Canadian politics was situated squarely in Quebec, it has (and will continue to) shifted west over the past few decades. Given that reality, it's not unreasonable to expect all Canadian politican parties (or at least the successful ones) to shift their focus away from Quebec (which, for decades, has been at the center of Canadian politics). One can call it an "ignore Quebec" strategy, but I'd just call it politics 101 - you go to where the votes are and where they are going to be.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Carl, I disagree in part. The Conservatives did the right things in 2006 and went from 9% to 24%. It demonstrates quite clearly how you can appeal to Quebecers.

    The result in 2008 came from screwing up their campaign in Quebec. For part of the campaign, it looked like the Conservatives could bump up their support to 30% in the province. That the Tories dropped to 21% is not because Quebecers are ingrates, but because the Conservatives made an electoral misstep. The reason they are stuck in the teens is because they haven't tried to correct their mistake and, indeed, have compounded it.

    I also disagree with the Tory thinking that a majority can be carved out of the RoC. With this current model of the Conservative Party, I don't think they can hope for a better result than the 2008 election. The party is not moderate or centrist enough to get the 40%+ needed for a majority without a large representation from Quebec.

    As an aside, I am curious to see how a PQ government will work with this Conservative government, if it is still in place in 2013. I think Marois will have a very easy time against the Conservatives, as the party has a much larger "good riddance Quebec" base than Chretien had and she will be able to make it into a "English Canada vs. French Quebec" fight. And if the Tories take an "ignore Quebec" tact it will only snowball things in the PQ's favour.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Excellent, I'd say award-worthy, analysis, Eric.

    I never believed the silliness of people who claim these new seats will make Quebec pointless, and there is quite a few of them. Basic math skills put to good use has once again shown them the truth.

    ReplyDelete
  5. OT:

    The Harper problem:

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/08/17/a-know-nothing-strain-of-conservatism/

    ReplyDelete
  6. I read that this morning, Earl. Very good piece.

    ReplyDelete
  7. More broadly, we can sense that our interests are bound up together, however much we might divide and subdivide on cultural, ethnic or other lines.

    From the Andrew Coyne article.

    It seems to me that so many are either not aware of this or bluntly choose to reject it as unimportant or not relevant when in actual fact it is what creates a country out of a chunk of land and a bunch of people.

    Working together we survive and grow. Go our separate ways and we die. Simple really ?

    ReplyDelete
  8. As others have said, excellent work here.

    One thing that neither the Tories nor Jane Taber seem to expand on, though, is that pursuing population equity through electoral district reform doesn't go anywhere in making parliament more representative of the popular vote. And your analysis bears it out - B.C. could be given 50 new seats and be given a massive overrepresentation in thye House - it will still mean that the Greens, polling at 12% there, will come in third or fourth in every riding, and will still have zero representation in the HoC. First-past-the-post won't yield a representative partisan result so long as we have a multiparty environment. More seats don't fix this.

    If the logic behind electoral district reform is to ensure a fairer representation, then they should be ready to talk about reform of the electoral system itself.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Just to follow on Poly's comment.

    Does anybody have any in for or experience with the Australian "preferential" vote system??

    Might be a decent alternative to Prop ?

    ReplyDelete
  10. "The result in 2008 came from screwing up their campaign in Quebec. For part of the campaign, it looked like the Conservatives could bump up their support to 30% in the province."

    Well, I'd agree with you that the 2008 campaign by the Tories was not a particularly impressive performance, but in terms of "screwing" up the campaign in Quebec the trigger was a purported $45 million in arts cuts. I don't think that that caused the Tories to lose support in Quebec (I don't think it was ever really there in the first place - if you look at Tory polling in Quebec through 2007-2008, they never got much above the mid 20's), but if it did, what does that say about the ephemeral nature of Tory support in Quebec (despite having focussed much of their first term on trying to win a majority through Quebec, they lose that support an otherwise trivial arts funding issue).

    More to the point, let's assume that you're right. Let's assume that the Tories could, had they run a perfect campaing in Quebec in 2008, have ended up with 30% of the vote rather than 21%, how does that translate into seats?

    By my count, there were 8 seats in which the Tories finished second and were within 18% of the front runner (typically, the Bloc and typically a very distant second, i.e., 15-18% behind). So, that suggests that, at best, if we're willing to make some pretty unreasonable assumptions (i.e., that Tory gains would have come from the Bloc - in fact, the apparent Tory gains came from Liberal weakness, and the Grits gained the voters the Tories lost in the 2008 campaing), a perfect Quebec campaign would have translated into 8 more seats in Quebec (i.e. just short of a minority). And realistically, 4 or 5 more seats would probably be the better prediction.

    So, so ask yourself, if you're the leader of a federal political party, do you continue to bend over backwards to try to pick up 5 more seats in Quebec (at, it should be recalled, some cost to your support elsewhere)? Or do you decide, to heck with it, we'll try to do it elsewhere (suburban Ontario, the Atlantic provinces, etc.).

    And, while I'm coming at it from a Tory perspective, the same analysis holds true for the Liberals. If you're Iggy, you can pull out all the stops to try to beat back the Bloc in Quebec, and maybe, if you pull off a perfect campaign, you can get your support in Quebec up to the level Martin had in 2004 (although they're nowhere close now) and pick up 21 seats there. Well, gee, that's a gain of 7 seats in Quebec. Do you think there are easier ways for the Liberals to pick up 7 seats?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Very interesting reading, and nice to see past results mixed in to try to estimate odds of success for the big 2.

    In truth, I think it is time for the big 2 to just accept that a majority isn't coming and to figure out how to deal with that fact. Yes, I know, working together isn't what the LPC or CPC does best (to put it mildly) but unless we want an election every other year they will have to.

    Ideally, once accepted, they'll move to something closer to proportional representation. Imagine the block having the power of 30 seats maxing out at 40 if everything went right for them instead of 40-50 while shifting those 10-20 seats to other parties such as the Green Party, ones that the big 2 could work with openly without fear of a major backlash.

    Sadly, not going to happen anytime soon.

    ReplyDelete
  12. On a related note, I think you're wrong to suggest, on the basis of the 1997 and 2000 elections, that "If a federalist party works for it, they can win a good chunk of seats in Quebec even with the Bloc in place". In 1997 the Bloc won 38% of the vote, in 2000, they won just under 40% of the vote in Quebec. In 2008, the Bloc won 38% of the vote. The difference between the first two elections and the last one, is not that the Liberals "worked at it" to win seats in Quebec, while the Tories didn't. It's that in 1997 and 2000 the Liberals were the only federalist party in Quebec, while in 2008, federalist support was split 3 ways.

    The Liberals "succeeded" (if we accept that winning a 1/3rd and a half of the seats in a province they used to control is "success") in Quebec for the same reason they succeeded everywhere else, they were the only credible game in town. But in 2010, we deal with a reality that there are three credible federalist parties in Quebec. And that means, as a practical matter, it'll be hard for any one federalist party to gain many more seats than they hold now. And that mitigates in favour of a "hold what you have" strategy in Quebec, while focussing your efforts on winning votes elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Another preening Coyne column ? Another i'd rather lose than compromise column ?? Really ?

    Let's review its key claims:

    The CPC is a minority party. They're anti-intellectual. Therefore, they are killing this country by turning Canadians against knowledge with their vast electoral influence.

    (Ok that's self-contradictory and can be tossed aside. Plus we need more tradespeople and less "experts" in terms of optimal job skills for the health of the country.)

    The Tories have no principles.

    (Sure but power is nice. I can list 100 accomplishments that would NEVER have happened under a Liberal government.)

    The Tories have no strategy/Harper isn't a strategic genius.

    (Funny coming after a Paul Well's column pointing out that Harper has everybody where he wants them.

    Every piece of legislation has been passed by divide and rule. Constantly keeping the opposition off balance is necessary to prevent coalition cooperation.)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Eric here's a Hill Times article from this april that predicts exactly where some of the new ridings will be placed:

    http://www.thehilltimes.ca/page/view/legislation-04-12-2010

    The effects could be quite substantial because not only are the 30 new ridings up for grabs but many, many old ridings may have their boundaries altered.

    For instance, Linda Duncan has the least populated riding in Alberta.

    If its boundaries are enlarged to even things out then she could face a more Conservative electorate.


    I'm afraid anyone doing election projections 2 cycles from now is going to have a hell of a time!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Shadow every statement you make is a stand alone point. There is no back up, nothing. Your words are exactly that words. They have no substance and therefore no standing. They are simply your opinion.

    Thanks for that.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "In truth, I think it is time for the big 2 to just accept that a majority isn't coming and to figure out how to deal with that fact. Yes, I know, working together isn't what the LPC or CPC does best (to put it mildly) but unless we want an election every other year they will have to"

    I don't know about that, I think the Tories and Liberals have done a pretty good job of working together, albeit informally, over the past 4 and a half years. The first minority government survived for almost three years and, if I were a betting man, I'd bet the current one will last at least as long (at the earliest I don't see the Tories forcing an election until next spring and, barring the unforeseen, I don't see the opposition parties pulling the trigger until next fall).

    ReplyDelete
  17. What good is our democracy if 1/4 of Canadians are ignored because some of them vote in a way that displeases the rest of the country?

    Funny how Liberals didn't seem to mind at all when the Chrétien government would ignore (and even vilifiy) 1/10 of the population because it voted in a way that displeased them.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This is great analysis -- beautifully written and argued, too.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Eric,

    Indeed, having thought about it some more, I think there's little reason for the Tories to think they can do better in Quebec than they did in 2006 and 2008. First, it's worth recalling that, with the exception of the Mulroney years, the Tory performance in 2006and 2009 was the best conservative performance in terms of seats since 1962 (and, one of the best in the past century if we also exclude the Union Nationale uprising of the late 50's and early 60's which propelled Diefenbaker to power). The same holds true for votes (at least since '62). So, it isn't clear on what basis we might expect the Tories to perform much better now than they have historically performed (especially given that they're not led be a native son and that the soft-separatist vote has gone to the Bloc).

    ReplyDelete
  20. What surprises me the most is that you had to do such an analysis.

    Political reporters, and even some pollsters seem to be, at best, only moderately more numerate than our politicians. It's an embarassment.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Carl, if the Conservatives are going to win a majority it will be a very slim one. They're short 11 right now. Forfeiting a few in Quebec means they'll just need to win more elsewhere.

    Obviously, they can't do any better in Alberta, and their popular vote results in the 2008 election in British Columbia, the Prairies and Ontario were their best since the merger. There isn't all the much more room for improvement - except in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

    They can try to win the needed 11 seats (inflated to, say, 15 or 20 depending on how much they ignore Quebec) elsewhere in the country, but they are going to need an even perfecter storm than the perfect storm of 2008. It just isn't going to happen. And the kind of moderate voice that wins in Quebec will help the party win in Ontario.

    As an aside, while you are right that the Liberals were the only major federalist party in 2000, that was not the case in 1997 (when the PCs had 20%+). But I'm not so sure why we have to chalk up the Liberal strength to sheer default. Is it not possible that the Liberals did better than their federalist competitors because they campaigned better?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Earl if you object to a specific point I have made please identify it and lay out your reasons for doing so.

    If you want a point elaborated upon, to provide more "substance" please ask.

    And yes you're quite right that everything I post is my opinion. Just as everything you post is your opinion.


    However, I don't believe it is up to you to judge who's ideas have "standing" or not.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Eric of the closest 15 seats for the CPC in the last election NONE were in Quebec.

    Doesn't it make more sense to focus on winning those seats than focusing on long shot Quebec seats ?


    I think Carl is to be congratulated on his defence of the "hold your ground" strategy.

    For some reason the media jumps wildly from Harper making an all out push for Quebec to Harper having completely written off the province.

    What's wrong with Harper just trying to keep what he has and focusing on finding his majority in more friendly territory ?

    It honestly seems like the most obvious strategy.

    ReplyDelete
  24. ---
    Doesn't it make more sense to focus on winning those seats than focusing on long shot Quebec seats ?


    I believe the Conservatives can walk and chew gum at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Éric: as other people said, kudos on another excellent post.

    I've been reading the various half-baked schemes imagined by pundits over the last 2 years in order to get rid of the Bloc Québécois. All of these schemes, including the one you've debunked here this morning, miss the fundamental point, "The-Issue-That-Must-Not-Be-Named".

    Canada's problem is much deeper than the current or anticipated standings in the House of Commons. Like it or not, the death of Meech Lake still reverberates in Canadian politics 20 years later.

    But who's brave (foolish) enough to date touch the constitutional issue?

    ReplyDelete
  26. I believe the Conservatives can walk and chew gum at the same time.

    Now why do I think that's making a pretty wild assumption ??

    ReplyDelete
  27. "I believe the Conservatives can walk and chew gum at the same time."

    Harper can't be in two places at once.

    And believe it or not there are some limits to Conservative $$$ that require it to be targeted wisely.

    Saying Harper should try and win seats in Quebec if he wants a majority is something of a truism.

    Harper should try to win seats EVERYWHERE if he wants a majority.


    But from a strategic point of view, in terms of what he should target, Quebec should be largely ignored.

    Hold what you have and focus on those 15 close ridings, plus some longshots with a strong candidate, for a slim majority seems to me the best strategy.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Eric,

    I'm not disagreeing with you that "ignoring Quebec" isn't going to win you a majority (at least not now - 10-15 years from now, that's a different story). But since, as a practical point, it's almsot impossible to win a majority anyhow, that's really not a default of the "ignoring Quebec" strategy since it applies equally to the "embracing Quebec" strategy (since, for both the Tories and the Liberals, Quebec can, at most, yield 5/10 more seats).


    "As an aside, while you are right that the Liberals were the only major federalist party in 2000, that was not the case in 1997 (when the PCs had 20%+)."

    You'll recall that what I said was that, in 1997, the Liberals were the only credible game in town - and they were. The Tories may have taken 22% of the vote in Quebec, but they were lead by, arguably, the most popular Quebec federalist leader (Charest) and, even with that, only managed to win 5 seats (owing, no doubt, to the fact that the party itself was a disaster - you'll recall it came out of the 1997 election as the fifth party in the house). If the Liberals "campaigned harder" in 1997 than their opponents in 1997 it was because their opponents were a couple of wrecks in that year (neither had official party status, both were still realing from the 1993 rout, and neither had a chance of doing much in Ottawa) and not even Jean Charest at his most charming could solve that.

    In any event, my original point was that the Liberals didn't win in 1997 or 2000 by knocking down the Bloc ("by trying harder"), since the Bloc did no worse in those years than they did in 2008. They won in 1997 and 2000 because the Tories were crippled and the NDP was non-existent and they were the only credible federalist party (I don't think you can argue that point). Conversely, they've lost heavily in Quebec since 2006 as the Tories and the NDP have regained/established themselves inside (and outside) Quebec. 1997 or 2000 doesn't offer many useful lessons to the current crop of grits.

    ReplyDelete
  29. "I believe the Conservatives can walk and chew gum at the same time."

    Well, these days, you'd be the only one.

    Seriously though, yes, the Tories can walk and chew gum. Still, resources in politics, as in life in general, are limited. Even the Tories, with their huge warchest and their massive organization, can't do everything everywhere. And the Liberals don't have those advantages. And Shadow's right (this time). If you look where the winnable seats are for the Tories, they aren't in Quebec.

    ReplyDelete
  30. If the Conservatives want to use a "hold what you got" strategy, that's fine. That is, however, a different strategy than what someone like Wright has suggested for them.

    And if that is their strategy, it might be a good idea to start implementing it. At their current level of support, the Conservatives are in danger of losing four or more seats in Quebec.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Shadow,

    That's an interesting Hill Time's piece. If you proceed on the basis that the new ridings will be located where the existing ridings are "over-populated" (which makes sense), you end up with the Tories taking 19 of the new seats, the Liberals 10 and the NDP 1. Not enough to give the Tories a majority, to be sure, but certainly enough to reinforce the status quo.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I don't think what I'm suggesting is all that different from what John Wright was suggesting. According to Taber, “I think there has been a politically conscious move to almost ignore Quebec as a political entity to deliver seats,” Mr. Wright says, suggesting Mr. Harper likely asks himself: “Why am I wasting my time?”

    That doesn't mean that the Tories are giving up their existing ridings in Quebec (and, in light of the amount of stimulus spending devoted to some of those ridings, no one can seriously make the argument that they are). It means you don't try to win Quebec with big wholesale policies (the "nation" motion, addressing the "fiscal imbalance" at the requst of Jean Charest - who promptly used the money to cut provincial taxes and get himself re-elected - which are the sorts of specific policies wright talks about) addressed to Quebec as a whole (as a "political entity" as Wright puts it). In that, Wright is totally right. That doesn't mean (and Wright doesn't say) that don't play retail politics in those ridings where your MPs and your general policies are more popular.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Eric the Conservatives are always identifying and reaching out to their voters. The last by-election victory shows their "machine" is now operational.

    I'd say these strategic investments are more important than chasing after ephemeral voters in pre-writ polls.

    "What have you done for me lately?" is a common sentiment with voters, probably especially so in Quebec.

    Why not save up some goodies for an election, fire off the machine, and hope the incumbency advantage lets the CPC members hold on by the skin of their teeth ?


    Today the PM is somewhere in Toronto, then Mississauga, and then the riding of Ajax-Pickering.

    BC-Ontario-Maratimes seems to be where he's visiting and paying the most attention to lately.

    From a strategic standpoing i'd rather him in those places than in Quebec.

    ReplyDelete
  34. If you are talking about the by-election in Montmagny, that was the PLQ machine. Don't count on it in a general election.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Eric that's certainly the conventional wisdom - anything that goes well for the CPC in Quebec is the result of Mulroney's advice or Charest's fixers.

    But the CPC has its own money and its own databases and its own volunteers. A lot of them have nothing to do with Charest and are what's left of the ADQ.

    Charest certainly helped in the by-election. He needed to after the bridges he burnt in 2008.

    But no. A desperate, unpopular premier Charest has nothing to offer. As long as he keeps quiet in the next election and doesn't try to regain popularity by attacking the feds/Alberta we can do just fine on our own thank you.


    (BTW have I mentioned lately that people who think Charest could ever become leader of the CPC are crazy ??)

    ReplyDelete
  36. Eric said: "What good is our democracy if 1/4 of Canadians are ignored because some of them vote in a way that displeases the rest of the country? Quebecers who vote for the Bloc do so because they feel it speaks for them."

    If I were in your shoes, I might be equally upset. But you're a Quebecer so, understandably, you see it from your perspective. Let me show you my perspective which, I think is probably typical of a lot of English Canadians.

    The "ignore Quebec" strategy isn't the brain child of people who disparage Quebec. It isn't a strategy adopted because voting for the Bloc "displeases" English Canada. Rather it's a rational response to the message that Quebec has been sending to English Canada for 20 years, namely: "F*** you English Canada. We don't care about you, we don't care about the national interest, and the first chance we get, we're out of here (but, in the meantime, make sure those checks are in the mail)." If that's the message that you think speaks to Quebecers (or at least those who vote for the Bloc) that means that the federalist parties, by definition, can't speak to those Quebecers.

    Now, I know what you're going to say, no, I don't think that's what most Bloc voters think when they when they check their ballot. But think about it, for 17 years a plurality of Quebecers (and an absolute majority of Francophone Quebecers) have voted for MPs who represent a party which doesn't run MPs in English Canada, which doesn't purport to care about the collective interests of all Canadians (indeed, it explicitly states that it's goal is the advancement of Quebec's interests) and whose only real long-term goal is to expedite the break-up of Canada. How else should Canadians interpret that message? (And that is the way English Canadians interpret the message, have no doubt about that, witness the reaction in English Canada to Dion's "coalition" agreement with the Bloc).

    And it's understandable that English Canada interprets the vote for the Bloc that way. If our places were reversed, and English Canadians consistently voted for a party that explicitly stated that its objective was to advance English Canada's interests and that it had no desire to represent Quebec in parliament? Or imagine the reaction amongst Quebec federalists if an English Canadian "separatist" party (presumably running on platform of leaving Quebec in Canada) routinely won a plurality of the votes in English Canada? I think it's a safe bet that Quebecers would be enraged. Heck, they'd be right to be so enraged, because such a position would be an expression of utter contempt for Quebecers as fellow citizens of Canada. Yet that's the message that has been emanating from Quebec for 17+ years. Quebec, as a political entity, has chosen an "ignore Canada" strategy.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Of course, the "ignore Quebec" strategy isn't at all the same as the "ignore Canada" strategy adopted by Quebecers when they vote for the Bloc. No one is suggesting that the federal parties should just cut off Quebec and give up on them. They're still going to be running candidates in every riding in Quebec (and elsewhere) and taking its concerns into consideration in forming policy (although, the weight to be given to those considerations may be lessened) - we're just saying that the focus of the federal parties should be (has to be) on winning seats elsewhere.

    That said, the "ignore Quebec" strategy is a reflection of the "ignore Canada" strategy adopted by Quebecers. It isn't a policy that is adopted because voting for the Bloc "displeases" English Canada, as you suggest. It's a strategy adopted because the people who vote for the Bloc are saying that they have no interest in participating in the governance of Canada, no particular regard for the interests of English Canadians and, moreover, that there is nothing that the federalist parties can do to change that. Fair enough, that's a choice those Quebecers are free to make, but they shouldn't be surprised by the predictable consequences of their choices. And they certainly shouldn't be surprised, having repeatedly told English Canadians that they don't care about them, if English Canadians decide that maybe they're not going to bend over backwards to advance the interests of Quebecers.


    Is that unfair to those federalist Quebecers who are represented by the Bloc in parliament (but not in the governance of Canada)? Maybe, but I'd suggest that the problem lies not with the federalist parties, or with English Canada. They, after all, aren't the ones who decided to opt-out of the governance of Canada. The blame for that lies with those Quebecers who, for whatever reason, have decided to vote for a party that shuns the responsibility of trying to govern Canada for the benefit of all its citizens and instead focuses on advancing the narrow self-interest of its voters. Take it up with them.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Quebecers who vote Bloc do so because Canadians haven't offered them anything better. That is Canada's fault, Carl. You can't blame Quebecers for making the best democratic choice for themselves. You also can't blame Quebecers for having their own national interest at heart over the interests of another nation.

    But they haven't opted out of governing anymore than NDP or Green voters do. Should we somehow punish the millions of Canadians who do not vote for the governing party?

    And conflating all of Quebecers with only those who vote for the Bloc is completely unfair and spits in the face of democracy. If Canadians truly are as undemocratic as you suggest, that is a much bigger problem.

    ReplyDelete
  39. FYI: While the NDP is most definitely a federalist party - there is a lot of evidence that its votes in Quebec are mostly coming from former BQ voters - so while you might be able to say that the Tories and liberals are splitting the federalist vote - that its a bit more complicated with the NDP vote in Quebec.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Great analysis. I love this site for it's projections but every once in a while I'm blown away by a post like this.

    Keep em coming Eric!

    ReplyDelete
  41. "You also can't blame Quebecers for having their own national interest at heart over the interests of another nation."

    No, you're right, I can't blame Quebecers for putting their "national interests" at heart over the interests of "another nation". And once they're a separate nation, they're free to do so. However, so long as they're part of Canada, I can critize them for putting their parochial interests at heart over the interests of their fellow citizens. Just, I suspect, as you would criticize English Canada for putting its interests at heart over the interests of "another nation" (i.e., Quebec).

    And that's the catch, isn't it. Quebecers, on your account, don't see themselves as being part of a common "nation" with English Canada, and therefore, don't feel obliged to take into account the interests of their fellow citizens outside of Quebec. But curiously, you (and I suspect you're not alone) seem offended by the suggestion that English Canadians might return the favour. If Quebec is "another nation" and doesn't feel compelled to take into account English Canada's interests, what right do they have to expect English Canada to suborne their interests to those of Quebec?

    "Quebecers who vote Bloc do so because Canadians haven't offered them anything better. That is Canada's fault, Carl."

    Quebecers who vote for the Bloc do so because they want to separate from Canada. What can Canada (that's a telling slip, surely you mean't English Canada, and English Canadians) possibly offer to woo them back? Oh sure, I know, many Quebecers (separatist and federalist both) cherish the illusion that they negotiate some sort of altered federalism with the rest of Canada. That's a dangerous illusion, because the likelihood of such a federalism being acceptable in the rest of Canada is approximately nil (and the careers of more than a few Canadian politicians have been wrecked proving that point).

    Indeed, it's odd to suggest that the support for the Bloc is English Canada's fault, as that's a suggestion premised on the assumption that English Canada's interests should be suborned to those of Quebec. That may be a popular assumption in Quebec, but it's understandably less compelling in the rest of the country. Moreover, the goodwill that once existed in English Canada which might have made such a compromise possible has been burned away by 30 years of the threat of separatism and support for the PQ and the Bloc. That's not English Canada's fault, that the predictable reaction to 30 years of Quebec rejectionism.

    In any event, I could equally ask, what has Quebec, and Quebecers, offered to the rest of Canada? What proposals have the Bloc (or the PQ) put forth to try to reach an accomodation with English Canada? Again, your statement is premised on the assumption that English Canada "owes" Quebec - English Canadians don't see it that way.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I will say that any party ignoring Quebec might sxeve to win support in other parts of the country, not only because it will free up resources (imagine not having to make any french-language TV ads), but also because some people are tireed of Quebec would support a party that so explicitly excluded it.

    This could be a winning strategy.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Another
    Tory Fubar ??


    These people in Govt are out of control !!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Does anybody have any in for or experience with the Australian "preferential" vote system??

    Might be a decent alternative to Prop ?


    Well, Australia actually uses two preferential voting systems, one for the House and one for the Senate. For the House, they use a standard alternative vote/instant run-off, which has basically had the effect of consolidating all votes into the two main camps of Labour and the Coalition. In the Senate, they use a single transferable vote system that has resulted in substantial representation by minor parties. I have not read enough to tell you why the minor parties have not been able to leverage their position in the Senate to win some elections in the House, but it hasn't happened.

    FWIW, some Canadian provinces have used the alternative vote in the past, with varying success. Manitoba had a mixed system from about 1920 to 1950, with single transferable vote used in Winnipeg and alternative vote used elsewhere - the result was a period where a lot of parties were represented in the provincial assembly and there were usually minority governments. On the other hand, BC adopted alternative vote in the early 50s as a scheme by the Libs and Tories to prevent the CCF from winning the next election; as it turned out, the distant fourth place Social Credit party won a surprise victory and, safely ensconced in power, immediately switched back to first-past-the-post.

    And as for whether the alternative vote would be a good alternative for contemporary Canada, I personally think it would be, but that it would be strongly opposed by the Conservatives (who would likely get disproportionately fewer second place votes), and would probably reinforce the "unable to elect a majority government" status quo. On the other hand, it could have a major effect on the number of Bloc seats in Quebec (though the Bloc would still probably be the largest party in the province).

    ReplyDelete
  45. First of all, you have an excellent site, Éric, where I follow all ins-and-outs. Also, your analysis here of possible "ignoring" tactics of federal parties and its possible results are outstanding; thank you!

    Carl, you were saying about us, Québécois:
    ... (but, in the meantime, make sure those checks are in the mail).

    This (phrase) is easily to respond to:
    Don't send us those cheques, but then don't accept my and my fellow Québécois tax cheques either.

    Carl, you also said:
    The Harper government bent over backwards to accomodate Quebec between 2006 and 2008.

    My question to this:
    I hear this credo often in English Canada, but in which ways did they "bent over backwards"? Concrete answers, please.

    Finally you state:
    I can't blame Quebecers for putting their "national interests" at heart over the interests of "another nation". And once they're a separate nation, they're free to do so. However, so long as they're part of Canada, I can critize them for putting their parochial interests at heart over the interests of their fellow citizens. Just, I suspect, as you would criticize English Canada for putting its interests at heart over the interests of "another nation" (i.e., Quebec).

    My answer:
    But that's exactly what English Canada does - putting their own interests first! At least, this is how we perceive it here in
    Québec! Hence, the Bloc wins 2/3 of Québec's 75 federal seats.

    To close my reaction with ClaudeB, who touched the real issue here:
    Canada's problem is much deeper than the current or anticipated standings in the House of Commons. Like it or not, the death of Meech Lake still reverberates in Canadian politics 20 years later.

    Amen.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Eric, great article.

    However, there are some moving parts floating around the federalist vote in Quebec.

    Firstly, young Trudeau is being groomed to play a more prominent role there and that should at the very least blunt the NDP/green votes. They then have a chance at some of the current Tory seats and some Bloc seats where they were close last time.

    Secondly, as for the rest of Canada it sure appears the Libs are working their way back into the hearts and minds of Canadians. They are slowly eating away at Tory ridings that were Liberal seats all through the Chretien era and some before that,particularly in Ontario.

    Thirdly, in the last election the Tories actually lost popular vote totals across the Country (Alberta excepted) and the current polls show that erosion is continuing.

    Forth, Liberal voters sat on their hands last election and simply did not vote. I believe that will change next election.

    Fifth, the polls also indicate the Libs are second choice in a much higher % number than the other parties and the Tories in particular.

    So, while your analysis is interesting one should not discount a liberal resurgence. They may not move enough votes to win power next time out but they will be very competitive and could win.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Quite a remarkable list ??

    Linda Keen - Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission,

    Pat Stogran - Veterans' Ombudsman

    Steve Sullivan - Victims of Crime Ombudsmen

    Sheridan Scott - Competition Bureau head

    Paul Kennedy - RCMP Public Complaints Commission,

    Peter Tinsley - Chair of the Military Complaints Commission,

    Adrian Measner - President of the Canadian Wheat Board

    Bernard Shapiro - Ethics Commissioner

    Munir Sheikh, the chief statistician of Statistics Canada,

    Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak - Long-Gun Registry

    ReplyDelete
  48. Of course, the death of Meech Lake was a very good thing. We can't put interpretive clauses in the Constitution - it's too dangerous.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Daniel,

    You said:

    Carl, you were saying about us, Québécois:
    ... (but, in the meantime, make sure those checks are in the mail).

    This (phrase) is easily to respond to:
    Don't send us those cheques, but then don't accept my and my fellow Québécois tax cheques either."

    If that's a concrete offer the rest of English Canada would jump at it.

    I realize that this statement of fact is a heresy in Quebec, but Quebec is a net recipient of money from the rest of Canada. Indeed, the most recent numbers I've seen, based on 2004 data, and updated to reflect the significant increases in transfers to the Provinces since than, has Quebecers, collectively receiving more than $6.4 billion more from Canada than they paid in every year (most of which comes from inter-governmental transfers). You know all those social programs Quebecers like to boast about? Cheap day care, cheap tuition, etc.? How do you think the Quebec government pays for those? But don't worry, you're welcome.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Daniel,

    Furthermore, I realize that Quebecers see English Canada as only looking out for itself. That doesn't mean that perception is right. For example, that wouldn't explain why, in 2006, English Canadians voted overwelmingly in favour of parties (the NDP and the Tories) running on policies of fixing Quebec's concern about the (wholly mythical) "fiscal imbalance". Nor does it explain why English Canadians turned themselves inside out during the 80 and 90's trying to address Quebec's constitutional demands.

    It also wouldn't explain a number of long-running federal policies which are often quite detrimental to Canada's national interest but which are driven by Quebec's concerns (support for Asbestos exports at the WTO - a policy which is both morally reprehensible and quite damaging to Canada's international reputation - or Canada's tariff protection for the dairy industry - which means you and I pay twice as much for milk as we would without them, but which is essential to maintain the Quebec dairy industry).

    Rather, I suspect Quebecers see English Canada as looking out only for itself because they assume that English Canadians think about Quebec in the same way Quebecers think about English Canada. In fact, quite the opposite, Quebec may well be a "nation" but from the perspective of English Canada they're still Canadians - I.e., members of a common polity. In contrast, for Quebecers, whatever else English Canadians are, they aren't Quebecers, I.e, they aren't part of a common polity.

    And note, the disregard for the interests of English Canadians isn't a moral failing of Quebecers. They don't disregard English Canada's interests because they're selfish (any more than Canadians are selfish for disregarding the interest of other polities, such as Germany or Argentina). But that's an attitude which, understandably, creates resentment in English Canada who feel that, while they treat Quebecers like countrymen, they're treated as strangers.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Well, Carl, you obviously think English Canadians are bending over backwards to accept Quebecers as part of their nation, only to be met with disdain and a total lack of gratitude for their efforts. But the way I see it, modern Quebec just cannot fit in the way English Canadians view their nation, and Quebec's (or rather "French-Canadians'" or "the French fact's") place in it. The national concepts have diverged too much.

    I will probably oversimplify some issues in my post, but bear with me. The reason for this divergence is that, for historical reasons, the concept of a entity where they can live, work, study, entertain themselves, etc. in their language is very important to Quebecers. Quebec has become this territorial and social entity. English Canadians don't feel this need as strongly, but rather, since the 60s, some of them (especially Ontarians and Liberals) have adopted multiculturalism as their national philosophy, which they believe helps ethnic groups thrive culturally. So they view French-Canadians (outside Quebec) as a model ethnic group: proud of their traditions, often still living in French, but also proudly 100% Canadian and in fact culturally largely similar to their anglo or differently ethnic neighbours. So they don't get why, through ethnic kinship, Quebec francophones (assumed to be French-Canadians) aren't the same. But of course, to Quebecers, the existence of an entity that is "theirs" is necessary, and the English-Canadian dream would basically destroy this entity.

    English Canadians, of course, then feel (as you do) that they are bending over backwards to accommodate Quebecers, and are being rejected. So they get resentful, they suppose that Quebecers are being close-minded, ethnocentric, even racist (appropriately, these are also French-Canadian stereotypes). This in turn doesn't make Quebecers feel that English Canadians really consider them as fellow countrymen with valid ideas. Indeed, when you say that Quebecers would certainly react to being ignored by English Canada with anger, don't count me in. I'd rather see English Canadians willfully ignore us than perch over our shoulders like hungry vultures, ready to jump on anything they don't understand (and that's a lot: English Canadians are largely ignorant of us even if they don't yet ignore us) as a sign that we're a "sick society" in dire need of their guidance.

    There may be an exit, though. And interestingly it may be just what we're talking about here. Western populists are quite sick of bilingualism and what they see as the excesses of multiculturalism, but they also don't delude themselves into thinking that they can remodel Quebec in the image of their ideal Canada. So even though they're probably the Canadians who dislike Quebec the most, they may also be the ones who'd be most willing to just leave us be and concentrate on their part of the country.

    If this post is a bit confused, it's probably because I haven't slept for 48 hours or so. I'll be back with a rested mind to continue the discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  52. I believe Obelix just offered the best analysis of the Quebec situation that I have ever read.

    ReplyDelete
  53. The analysis in this post is great. I remember reading that Taber piece and wondering how 30 seats could actually make the difference and give a majority to anyone. Here is the answer I was looking for.

    I think most of these comments are underestimating the impact of leadership and the possibility of swinging people's opinions. The reason the Bloc has been crushing everyone else in Quebec has way more to do with Gilles Duceppe than it does with separatist leanings. The Bloc today is not so much a separatist party as it is a Quebec first party. Regionalism is is just one of the many distortions that our electoral system creates.

    But regionalism is not insurmountable. Switch the personalities and charisma of Harper and Duceppe and the Conservatives win a majority easily, including taking many seats in Quebec.

    Harper completely poisoned his relationship with Quebec in 2008. The conservatives have gone about as far as they can with Harper at the helm, and if they really want to win, they need to replace him, not continue hurting their support by doing everything he says. Of course I can't actually think of anyone they have to replace him, but if any party is going to win a majority in the near future, it will likely be with a charismatic dark horse leader, not someone who has already been analyzed to death by the media.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Éric,

    I find Carl's analysis excellent but I'm with you except for this part:

    "As an aside, I am curious to see how a PQ government will work with this Conservative government, if it is still in place in 2013. I think Marois will have a very easy time against the Conservatives, as the party has a much larger "good riddance Quebec" base than Chretien had and she will be able to make it into a "English Canada vs. French Quebec" fight. And if the Tories take an "ignore Quebec" tact it will only snowball things in the PQ's favour."

    Quite naturally, as a federalist Quebecer, my bias will be showing. Like you, I expect a Marois win over Charest -- unless Fournier becomes leader before the next election. Then that eventuality becomes rather more dicey.

    But putting that aside for a moment, one has to separate out making Quebec hay from making Quebec noise. No question Marois gains political advantage with an us versus them strategy based on a language component.

    But history has shown us that it's only of limited use and is not likely to translate itself into an eventual referendum win on sovereignty.

    You seem to see the course of history leading to sovereignty as an inevitability. I remain to be convinced of it as the logical conclusion to Quebec's nationalist aspirations and evolution.

    But that debate is for another day!

    ReplyDelete
  55. Shadow,

    "[The Tories have no principles.]

    (Sure but power is nice. I can list 100 accomplishments that would NEVER have happened under a Liberal government.)

    [The Tories have no strategy/Harper isn't a strategic genius.]

    (Funny coming after a Paul Well's column pointing out that Harper has everybody where he wants them.

    Every piece of legislation has been passed by divide and rule. Constantly keeping the opposition off balance is necessary to prevent coalition cooperation.)"

    Yes Shadow, power IS NICE but so is political succession. The way this is going is more like Mulroney and Campbell rather than what should be the obvious course.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Éric,

    "[Doesn't it make more sense to focus on winning those seats than focusing on long shot Quebec seats ?]

    I believe the Conservatives can walk and chew gum at the same time."

    Carl and Shadow are being a bit disingenuous -- it goes without saying that to pick up further seats in Quebec, Conservatives need to show a moderate face. But the CPC, as a party, by its very creation is not the Progressive Conservatives. Moderation is no longer a central tenet but merely a core remnant...

    And in raw political terms, for this government to "go centrist" would lead to a firestorm in Western and other strongholds. God knows the base is quiet but unimpressed with the stimulus and other spending. In short, the CPC has one hell of a lot more to lose by appeasing Quebec and its moderate mentality than by courting them. Those are the plain political facts.

    ReplyDelete

COMMENT MODERATION POLICY - Please be respectful when commenting. If choosing to remain anonymous, please sign your comment with some sort of pseudonym to avoid confusion. Please do not use any derogatory terms for fellow commenters, parties, or politicians. Inflammatory and overly partisan comments will not be posted. PLEASE KEEP DISCUSSION ON TOPIC.