Thursday, September 23, 2010

Will the long-gun registry cost a party seats?

As I'm sure everyone and their mother knows, the plan to scrap the long gun registry was defeated 153-151 last night in the House of Commons. In order for the opposition to get those numbers, however, eight Liberal MPs and six New Democratic MPs had to "flip-flop", voting to keep the registry when they had voted to scrap it in the past.

Every Conservative and their mother immediately threatened these Liberal and NDP MPs with the loss of their seats come election time. In fact, the Conservatives are pushing hard against the MPs in these ridings and plan to do so during the next electoral campaign.

Talk of whether the NDP and Liberals will rue the day they "flip-flopped" was rife in the Ottawa punditry. The Liberals whipped their vote, and rumour is that the NDP put a lot of pressure on some of their MPs to toe the party line, at least those that weren't at a great risk of losing their seats.

But what of the 143 Conservatives who were whipped by their own party to vote to kill the registry? Though the Conservatives do not hold many urban ridings, they do hold some. And if this issue really is about "urban elites" trying to treat hunters as farmers as criminals, than we can expect the Conservatives to take a hit in some of their urban ridings.

So, I decided to take a look at those "flip-flopping" Liberal and NDP seats, as well as a few Conservative urban seats. Are the MPs from these ridings really at risk because of the long-gun registry?

We'll start with the Liberals and their eight MPs who changed their votes.The chart above shows these ridings, in order of risk from low (top) to high (bottom).

Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, represented by long-time Liberal MP Scott Simms, is not at great risk. Simms was re-elected in 2008 with 70% of the vote, followed by the Conservatives at 15%. While the Liberal Party itself grew its vote by 9% between 2006 and 2008 in Newfoundland & Labrador (not points, but growth), Simms saw his support grow by 35%. Though the Conservatives did have strong showings in 2004 (42%) and 2006 (40%), they currently don't have a nominated candidate and it would take a lot of angry people to unseat Simms.

Labrador is also a safe riding. Todd Russell should not be worried - though any riding with such a low turnout is always at risk of a surprise. Here, Russell grew his vote between 2006 and 2008 by 37%, also outperforming the party as a whole in the province. The Conservatives don't have a candidate nominated here, and though they did have 40% support in 2006 in the riding, they were only at 8% (10 points behind the NDP) in 2008.

Madawaska-Restigouche in New Brunswick is another safe riding. Jean-Claude d'Amours, long-time MP for the riding, increased his vote by 1/4th from 2006 to 2008, this while the party as a whole dropped 17% in the province. D'Amours hasn't had a huge majority since 2004, but he is still safely ahead and with a uniform swing we can expect him to get 52% of the vote next time.

Nipissing-Timiskaming is not as safe as the ones above, but is still a good bet for the Liberals. Anthony Rota won the seat with 45% of the vote, holding steady in his riding while the Liberals saw 15% of their vote disappear in Ontario in 2008. With the way things are going in Ontario, I project he could take 47% of the vote with only 29% going to the Conservatives, so he is not at any real risk.

In Yukon, Larry Bagnell has a long history in the riding. And while the Liberals dropped 27% from 2006 to 2008 in the North, Bagnell only saw his vote drop by 6%. The Conservatives haven't been over 33% in the last three elections, and since Bagnell appears to have been able to resist wider change he also appears to be relatively safe.

This is also the case for Scott Andrews in Avalon. This riding was won by the Conservatives in 2006, which makes it ripe for the picking. The Conservative vote did not erode here like it did in the rest of the province, but Andrews did increase his vote share at a higher rate than the party did in Newfoundland & Labrador. With a uniform swing based on the current projection, Andrews should win with 49% to the Conservatives' 37%, but that is not as much of a gap as the other ridings above have.

Malpeque, Wayne Easter's PEI riding, is at risk. The Liberal vote in PEI dropped 9% between 2006 and 2008, but Easter's dropped 12%, from 51% in 2006 to 44% in 2008. The Conservatives were within striking distance at 39%, and Tim Ogilvie is set to try to take the riding for the Tories during the next go. Though my projection would give Easter a 48% to 41% edge, it is still a close one and Malpeque will be a riding the Tories will target.

Finally, the only Liberal riding in serious danger is Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Keith Martin's riding. He only won by a few votes in 2008, after winning close races in 2006 and 2004. He did resist some of the Liberal change in British Columbia (losing 2% rather than the party's 30% vote decrease in the province), but Troy Desouza, who almost took the riding in 2008, will be the Conservative candidate next time. The uniform swing projection gives Martin an easy 42% to 28% win, so the trend is positive, but it is a riding that the Liberals will need to fight for if they want to hold on to it.

The NDP was specifically targeted on this issue as the party was officially allowing its members to vote their conscience. In the end, most of the NDP "flip-floppers" are safe, but two of them will have a big fight on their hands.Peter Stoffer made the news with his press conference, but he is probably the safest of the NDP members who changed their vote. He won with 61% in 2008, crushing the Conservative candidate who had 21%. His vote grew in his Nova Scotia riding while the party's diminished in the province as a whole. He has put together very big vote totals, has resisted outside change, and the projection gives him a 31-point lead. He's safe.

Claude Gravelle in Nickel Belt is also safe. Though his vote in 2008 grew at a lesser rate than the party's did in Ontario, he still had a 47% to 26% lead over the Liberal candidate. The Conservatives have not been a factor here in the last three elections, so there is no reason to think they suddenly will become a factor.

Timmins-James Bay is another safe NDP riding, represented by Charlie Angus. He won it with 57% in 2008, while the Liberals were at 22% and the Conservatives 18%. He has had more than 50% of the vote in the last two elections, while the Conservatives have not managed more than 20%. The projection would give him a 30-point lead, so he is in no danger.

It is a little less safe in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, where Carol Hughes faced stiff Liberal competition in 2008, winning with 46% and taking the riding from them. Her vote grew at a greater rate than the party's in Ontario, and the projection gives her a nine point edge. But, here again, the Conservatives have never been a factor. While this is a relatively safe riding for the NDP, it is at risk of being lost - but to the Liberals.

Sudbury, Glenn Thibeault's riding, is definitely at risk. The NDP vote here has held relatively steady over the last three elections, going from 30% in 2004 to 35% in 2008. It has generally been a Liberal-NDP contest, as it was a Liberal riding prior to 2008. But the Conservatives did put up a 26% number here in 2008, so the next election will definitely be a three-way race between Thibeault, Carol Hartman of the Liberals, and Fred Slade of the Conservatives. The LGR could be the kind of issue that decides such a close contest.

The riding most at risk for the NDP is Welland, represented by Malcolm Allen. It had been a Liberal riding before 2008, when Allen won with 33%. That was only one point ahead of the Conservatives at 32% and five points ahead of the Liberals. Leanna Villella will try to take the riding for the Tories in the next election, and the projection gives her a shot at it. With uniform swing, the NDP would take 31% of the vote, with the Tories and Liberals tied at 29% apiece. So this riding is definitely at play.

All of this hubbub over "flip-flopping" MPs has been about the possibility of Conservative growth. However, the Tories hold several urban ridings, many of which were won by small margins in 2008. That the MPs from these ridings were whipped into scrapping the registry could hurt them.

I've taken a look at a few ridings I believe could be at risk because of the LGR vote, especially if voter displeasure goes both ways.As you can see, at least eight ridings are at play. If the next election is about the LGR, then these ridings will certainly be at risk of going over to the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc Québécois.

Ottawa-Orleans, represented by Royal Galipeau, has seen close races since 2004. Galipeau won in 2008 with 45% to the Liberals' 39%, but his vote grew at a lower rate than the party's did in Ontario. I project a 41% tie here in this riding, which means it could go either way.

Edwin Holder's London West was won by the Conservatives for the first time by only four points in 2008. Doug Ferguson of the Liberals will try to take it back, and with a uniform swing in support he would take it back with 37% to 35%.

Surrey North, represented by Dona Marie Cadman, has been an NDP riding, won by them in 2006 with 46% of the vote. The NDP is projected to take it with 36% to the Conservatives' 32%, so if the LGR becomes an issue it could hurt the Tories here.

It could also hurt them in Kitchener Centre and Kitchener-Waterloo, represented by Stephen Woodworth and Peter Braid, respectively. These were extremely narrow wins in 2008, and both of these ridings have a long prior history of Liberal representation. In both ridings, the former Liberal MPs will be standing again for election, and a uniform vote swing gives them both over to Michael Ignatieff.

Mississauga-Erindale was another close riding, won by Robert Dechert for the Conservatives in 2008. Again, the former Liberal MP will be running in the next election, and with the vote going 43% to 42% in 2008, it will be a very close contest in this Toronto-area riding.

Beauport-Limoilou in Quebec City is one that is expected to fall to the Bloc due to the Conservative drop in support in the province. It was won by small margins in 2006 and 2008, and with the Bloc a champion of the LGR (and support for it higher here than anywhere else in Canada), there is a very big risk of this seat being lost.

Finally, North Vancouver. It is at a very big risk of being lost to the Liberals. It was a Liberal riding in 2006 and 2004, and the gap was only five points in 2008. The Conservative vote grew at a lower rate here than the party's did in the province as a whole, and a uniform swing would give the Liberals an 11-point gap over the Conservatives. So this one is definitely at play.

A political insider once told me that local factors don't account for more than five points. If that's true, my uniform swing projection for each of these ridings would make someone safe only if they hold a 10-point lead.

With this in mind, the only Liberal seat in danger would be Malpeque. The only NDP seats at risk of going over to the Conservatives would be Welland and Sudbury. Three seats in all.

All eight Conservative ridings I've selected would be at risk. In other words, the long-gun registry issue could end up costing the Conservatives five seats, but I wouldn't call it so cut-and-dry as that.

In general terms, every party has something to lose on this issue. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals want to lose their rural representation, as they have too little of it already. But the Conservatives also can't risk losing their urban representation, something they also have very little of.

If this issue divides along urban and rural lines, then the Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats all stand to lose ground in the regions of the country in which they desperately need to make gains.