Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By-Election Aftermath

UPDATE: Fixed Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette comparison, as I was comparing it to my early November projection.

It was quite an exciting night, far more exciting than most by-elections are expected to be. There was one provincial and three federal by-elections last night, two of them being incredibly close races and a third being a huge surprise.

We'll start with the provincial by-election in Kamouraska-Témiscouata, a riding in eastern Quebec. It was billed as a test of the Parti Québécois, as an inability for them to win against Jean Charest at an all-time low in his popularity would be a huge mark against PQ leader Pauline Marois.

It was a close race, the lead going back and forth throughout the night. But in the end, the PQ's André Simard edged out the Liberal candidate France Dionne by 196 votes.That it was a close race should not be a knock against the PQ. The party had not been a factor in the riding for years, and managed to increase its vote share by more than 15 points. They also increased their raw vote total by almost 3,000 votes - quite a feat in a by-election. The Liberals dropped almost 18 points, with the ADQ picking up a few percentage points but losing 73 votes. That is actually a remarkable performance for the ADQ, considering that they have virtually fallen off the face of the earth.

While the Crop poll of the riding did not choose the winner, with its margin of error it actually turned out to be pretty accurate. They had the PLQ at 34% to the PQ's 32% and the ADQ's 25%. They under-estimated PQ support by about five points, but was within two for the PLQ and ADQ.

Turnout was a very impressive 57.7%, high for a by-election.

Now on to the federal by-elections. I had a stake in the results considering my projections at the end of November and the ones posted yesterday. I knew I was going to take a drubbing in Winnipeg North, but I had no idea how to reflect the effect that Kevin Lamoureux would have on the race. And even then he out-performed my worst fears.

We'll start with Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, which was the easiest one to call. The Conservatives did well enough in the race, dropping less than five points in Robert Sopuck's successful campaign. The New Democrats performed very well, increasing their vote share by almost 10 points while only losing about 1,100 votes to lower turnout. The Liberals sank a little, losing four points and 2,600 votes.While my projection was off by about six to eight points between the Conservatives and New Democrats, I think the model performed pretty well. The order of the parties was correct, and the Liberal and Green totals were off by only five and two points, respectively. The strong NDP performance was unexpected. As the region has a few NDP representatives at the provincial level, I think that provincial electoral results need to be looked at next time, especially in provinces where provincial politics take centre stage.

Turnout was a pitiful 26.9%.

Next, Vaughan. This was the race to watch, or at least that is what it was supposed to be. The narrative was that Julian Fantino's victory for the Conservatives would be a serious blow against Michael Ignatieff's leadership. But, it is hard to blame the Liberal leader for the loss here. Fantino was a star candidate and a good pick-up, and Tony Genco did far better than anyone expected.

In the end, the Conservatives gained almost 15 points and managed to retain all but 130 of their votes from the 2008 election. The Liberals lost about 9,500 votes, but less than 3 points on their vote share. The surprise, to me, was the collapse of the NDP. They went from 9.6% to only 1.7%, losing almost 5,000 voters. The Greens also performed very badly.In this case, again my projection was right for the order of the parties. Picking Fantino to win by a small margin was the right call to make. The margin of error was 8 points, but that was the fault of the NDP. It was only six points for the two front-runners, so I am pretty pleased with how my projection model performed for Vaughan. The lesson to draw from this race is that a much-publicized personality contest can push second-tier parties out.

Turnout was 32.4%.

Winnipeg North (turnout 30.8%) was always going to be the problematic race for me. Liberal performances in the riding had been weak for a long time, and it was impossible to predict exactly how much of an effect Kevin Lamoureux would have on the race. As my post on star candidates pointed out, there can be some anomalies in the influence a notable local can have on an election. While my average factor was an increase of 14% of the vote share, the case of Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who increased his party's vote share by more than three times, is one that would have applied here. Had I used that as my modifier, I would have been much closer on the projection.

Nevertheless, the race was talked about as one for the NDP to lose. They should've had it in the bag, but when the votes were counted they had lost more than 21 points and almost 8,000 votes. The Liberals picked up a whopping 35 points and lured more than 5,000 new voters. One of the surprises was the weakness of the Conservative candidate, who lost 12 points and about 3,500 votes.Obviously, the projection here was a complete and utter failure. The NDP's Kevin Chief and the Conservatives' Julie Javier under-performed, while Lamoureux surpassed all expectations. Even had I taken into account the provincial numbers here, I still wouldn't have had Lamoureux over 25%. His drawing power was completely unpredictable, and all I can really say about it is that any projection which would have given this result would not have been based on anything but a gut feeling.

All in all, I called 2 out of 3 correctly, with the margins of error in the two correctly-called races being a little outside of my comfort zone. The Winnipeg North projection was a failure and could not have been more wrong. But, there are lessons to be learned from these results, one of them being that projection by-elections may not be a very good idea.

As for the implications, I don't think there is anything earth-shattering in these results.

The PQ victory in Kamouraska-Témiscouata is good for the party and Marois' leadership, but it wasn't as disastrous for the Liberals as it could have been. Even the ADQ can take something away from the result.

Federally, the Conservatives can be pleased. They won Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette easily, and stole away a long-time Liberal riding in the GTA. But this isn't the beginning of the Liberal End Times - the Conservatives hold some neighbouring ridings. They also did not perform well in Winnipeg North, which is a blot on an otherwise successful night.

For Jack Layton, it was a very bad night. A better performance in Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette is little consolation for losing an NDP fortress and performing so abysmally in Vaughan.

The Liberals had some mixed results. Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette was no good, but it wasn't expected to be anything but no good. Losing Vaughan hurts the party, but they nevertheless performed very well with a relatively unknown candidate against a Conservative star, so I don't think they should lose too much sleep over it. Winning in Winnipeg North, though, is huge. This is an NDP riding, and they came from nowhere to win it. The results in Vaughan and Winnipeg North indicate that the Liberals are in a good position, as they are able to compete against the Conservatives when they shouldn't be able to, and are able to beat the NDP if they put an effort into it. They could be in a better position, but these results have them poised to give the Conservatives battle in Ontario and steal a few seats from the NDP.


  1. For the Federal by-elections - looks like at some point it came down to "anyone but the other guy", with quite a large group of voters choosing to vote strategically. So we ended up with a close 2-way race in Winnipeg North and Vaughan and even in (where it was obvious who was going to win,) the opposition made an effort to show their discontent with the governing party by supporting the second front-runner.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful and interesting analysis. I was wondering if the Québec provincial by-election might have on the corresponding federal riding(s). I don't know the extent to which federal Kamouraska overlaps with provincial, but the former was the scene of a spring 2009 by-election that the Tories won by 12 percent over the BQ. Recognizing that there's no perfect translation between federal and provincial voting intentions, does this nonetheless suggest that the Tories may face a slightly harder slog in the next federal race?

  3. Must say that Vaughan and Dauphin weren't a surprise. Followed accepted ideas.

    Wpg. North though is a real shocker.

    As you say the Libs aren't dead yet, Eric.

  4. Nothing major to quibble with, except for the notion that the Liberals are in a good place in Ontario.

    That's a pretty massive vote swing.

    Yeah, yeah Fantino was a star candidate.

    But candidate quality is a factor in elections and we now know that the Liberals are having some difficulty in this area.

    Not every riding has a popular Kevin Lamareoux ready or willing to jump to the federal scene.

    For example Mississauga East – Cooksville.

    Your projection model wouldn't show a CPC victory there in a million years.

    But after tonight its likely that the CPC will win it. Star candidate, Liberals can't recruit anyone, GTA riding.

    Make no mistake, the Liberals are in an incredibly bad place in Michael Ignatieff's own back yard.

    At this rate its an open question whether he even holds on to his own seat next election.

  5. The CPC set up the Liberals to win in Winnipeg by running a very weak candidate. Ms. Javier had difficulty communicating in English.

    The Left united in Vaughan. The NDP Green (and Bloc) all voted Liberal in this Liberal stronghold and were defeated.

    It gives pause to think how the coalition will end up in a General election.

    Am I the only one seeing this by election as a sharp and radical move to the Right?

    In Vaughan the CPC won over the united Left coalition.

    In Winnipeg this was as socialist haven as anyone could possibly imagine. This was Stanley Knowles riding who elected communists to city council as late as 1984!!! It is unthinkable that a party trying for the Center would have a chance here never mind win.

    I think that some of the credit for the Liberal win in this riding goes to the Harper CPC for getting the centre of the political spectrum shifting to the Right.

    The radical Left wing politicians like Jack Layton, Gerard Kennedy, Pat Martin, Libby Davies, Bob Rae and Dosanjh must be shaking in their boots.

  6. People don't talk enough about the Bloc vote in Vaughan.

  7. "Am I the only one seeing this by election as a sharp and radical move to the Right?"

    Yes, I can assure you that you are the only one!

    The Conservative vote plummeted in both Manitoba ridings and it went up in Vaughan.

  8. I agree there seems to be a polarization between the incumbent and whoever is seen as most able to defeat them. I see three things 1. Star candidate power counts.2 There is a strong anti-incubent sentiment on a riding basis. 3 It means an electorate so volatile(angry)ANYTHING can happen! Scarry for all leaders

  9. The results seem to be terrible news for the Greens, bad news for NDP, and ominous for the Liberals. The Green vote evaporated into thin air except in the rural/northern riding of Dauphin. NDP lost a stronghold in Winnipeg North and tanked in Vaughan. Vaughan results show that Liberals are vulnerable in their main remaining fortress Toronto. Someone said the Winnipeg results imply a potential upswing in western Canada. Libs have two pockets of strength in western Canada, Winnipeg and Vancouver and they are likely to face losses in BC because of a backlash against provincial Liberals. The one potential mitigating factor for non-conservatives is the possibility that next general election may see a huge increase in strategic voting of those displeased with Conservative government.

  10. Most by-elections are GOTV efforts are they not?

    I think the Conservatives have shown great strength in that area in by-elections across the country; they took away a few seats from the Bloc a while ago. So Vaughan could go either way next election.

    In Winnipeg, it makes sense that a provincial politician whose volunteers are not both exhausted and disheartened from a recent loss would be able to pull off an upset.

    I tend to support the NDP, but I'm happy the Liberals got a win somewhere. They need to get over their squabbles and focus on coherent messaging. Hopefully this win will let them do that.

  11. I think you compared teh result to your older project in Dauphin. you compared it to the one at Con-66, but your adjusted projection was 63 with a stronger NDP result, meaning your projection model was actually more correct than the post shows...

  12. Could I suggest that hyper-partisan magical thinking (BC Voice of Reason, I'm looking at you) be saved for the viper forums of the Globe and Mail, the National Post etc? It would be nice to have one small corner of the internet where we can discuss Canadian political polls without being inundated by commentary from self-appointed spin-doctors...

  13. I think the one thing that the Liberals have to take from this election is that some of the Ontario risings they won in 1993 are vulnerable if the incumbant steps down. Although Vaughn has been a Liberal stronghold for two decades, there is nothing about the 905 ridings that makes them inherently Liberal ridings (the Provincial Tories ran the board in the 905 in the late 1990s). They've held them since 2004 largely on the strength of the incumbents who were elected against a divided right in the 1990s, but as those incumbants move on to bigger and better things, look for them to change hands.

    I also wouldn't read too much into the NDP performance (or the surprisingly high Liberal vote) in Vaughn. While Fantino was a star candidate, he was also a polarizing one (when you're a law and order candidate and Cristy Blatchford is crapping on you, you have a problem). I read the Liberal vote as being, in part, an anti-Fantino vote more than a pro-Liberal one. In a general election, that personal dynamic will likely be less significant and we'll see a reversion to party loyalties.

    The Winnipeg win is significant for the Liberals, but it seems to be driven largely by the quality of the local candidate (and possibly election fatigue on the part of the NDP base).

    In any rate, coming out of this I don't see an election until the fall of 2011 at the earliest (unlike Harper forces one). The only unamiguous winner from this round of by-elections are the Tories so look to see either the NDP or the Grits maneuvering to avoid having to bring down the government on the budget. And, of course, if the budget includes an arrangement with Quebec over harmonization, look to the Bloc to be conveniently absent if the NDP and grits do decide to vote against it.

  14. the notion that bob rae and libby davies would be shaking in their boots is the stupidest thing I've read in a while.... genco almost took Vaughn against a certain future cabinet minister... if Vaughn had of gone slightly different than last night would have been huge for the liberals... the most heartening thing a liberal supporter can take from this is that the ndp vote seems to have gone to the liberals... if voters vote this way in the next election in ridings where it is an obvious 2way race between blue and red than the red team should be able to pick up a bunch of close ridings that they have been losing from vote splitting...
    spin on spinsters!

  15. Carl we might have 2 more byelections before a budget.

    BC will give the NDP a shot at redemption.

    Quebec will be a HUGE test for Ignatieff with Nancy Charest for the Liberals and the CPC recruiting a SERIOUS candidate who just might win.

    So its very possible that those elections could reset the political calculus before a budget.

    Which might be a reason why they could be pushed back way off into the spring.

  16. "The only unambiguous winner from this round of by-elections are the Tories"

    I don't agree. I will give credit where credit is due to the Tories. They managed to recruit Fantino and so they won Vaughan. But there are not 308 Fantinos. Similarly, I hate to say it but - as much as winning Outremont was a great thing for the NDP - its not as if the NDP suddenly managed Outremont-style swings across Quebec in the '08 election.

    There was bad news for the Tories too last night. In Winnipeg North, they spent the maximum and pulled out all stop for Julie Javier and tried to hammer home their message about crime and their efforts to infiltrate ethnic communities - and they crashed from 23% to 10% of the vote. Harper even campaigned personally for Javier - his star candidate - all for not.

    In Dauphin, you had no star candidates and no one who had ever been elected to anything before. Just generic Tory, NDP, Liberal and Green candidates - and the NDP vote went up 10% and the Tory vote dropped 7 points. This shows that despite all the squawking about the gun registry - Tory support probably has no where to go but down in rural and nothern and remote parts of western Canada and this could cost the Tories seats in marginal ridings in Saskatchewan and BC.

  17. I think the takeaway is that simple formulas may not be the best way to operationalize "star candidates". While Fantino has name recognition, he is also a polarizing figure. A guy like Lamoreux may not have had a national profile, but his strong local roots ultimately counted for more.

    The nature of a candidate's "star-ness" is much stronger when it gives them access to a constituency, especially one that is:
    -not normally aligned with one's party
    -has strong social networks, facilitating mobilization

    So while many people might have heard of Fantino, and may even have positive views of him, it isn't clear that he has deep roots in Vaughan. I mean he entered the public eye by being the police chief of Toronto, a city "beneath" Vaughan (at least according to their radio ads). Even if Fantino was perceived as highly competent on law and order issues, that happens to be a strong issue for the Tories anyway.

    This can help explain why some candidates move voters while others don't, eg.

    Rooted star candidates
    1. Belinda Stronach (Magna employees)
    2. Jean-Pierre Blackburn (Mulroney era supporters)
    3. Lawrence Cannon (Quebec Liberals)
    4. Joe Clark in Calgary Centre (gay voters)
    5. Thomas Mulcair (Quebec Liberals)

    Non-rooted star candidates
    1. John Tory (in Don Valley West)
    2. Allan Cutler (adscam whistleblower)
    3. Paul Summerville
    4. Peter Kent
    5. Marc Garneau
    6. Justin Trudeau
    7. Lewis Mackenzie

    Overlapping constituency candidates
    1. Chris Axworthy (SK NDP'ers)
    2. Ed Schreyer (Manitoba NDP'ers)
    3. Jean Dorion (separatists)

  18. Fantino was also police chief of York Region (which includes Vaughan) before he was chief in Toronto. He also lives in Vaughan - so he has lots of local fame.

  19. DL,

    I think you're stretching to find bad news for the Tories. Traditionally, the government is supposed to get kicked to the curb in a by-election (granted, the Tories haven't been, but that says more about the state of affairs with the Liberals). So a 4% drop (not 7%) in Dauphin (to a mere 57%) doesn't really say much.

    As for Winnipeg North, you're stretching to characterize the Conservative candidate as a "star candidate" (she wasn't a star in any objective sense of the term) and in any event the Tories have never been strong in Winnipeg North. I don't think anyone seriously expected the Tories to be competitive there. That they can spend the max in what is, at the end of the day, a marginal riding is a testament to conservative strength.

    In any event, I stand by my initial assessment. The Tories won the ridings they had to win, the other parties didn't.

  20. At the risk of dirtying up this board with partisan comments:

    Eric you have made much of the star candidate factor in this election.

    You have given it a very heavy weighting.

    I have suggested that "who would make the best PM" will have as a significant prediction impact but you seem to have followed a course that you feel that it is already incorporated in the which party you will vote for question.

    My question is who would you predict will win Ajax-Pickering seat next election?

    Mark Holland is the Liberal incumbent who won the seat last election by 3200 votes just over 6%. These are both much less than the Liberal margin of victory in Vaughan.

    Similarly the CPC have a star candidate Chris Alexander who was courted by Ignatieff and the Liberals but decided to run as CPC.

    What would your star candidate model say will happen in Ajax-Pickering?

    PS. I find it hard to believe that Mark Holland was commenting on these by-election results and not one commentator was astute enough to ask Mr. Holland how these results would impact him personally. Would he rely on Mr. Ignatieff's vote drawing power and the Liberal's peace keeping in Afghanistan and no F-35 planes?

    There is a turf Mark Holland web site (http://www.turfmholland.ca/) that has 184 people contribute 7,194.18 to the Chris Alexander campaign.

  21. BCVOR meanwhile Chris Alexander was on a panel of experts discussing the wiki leaks.

    He's clearly brilliant and easily a new cabinet minister.

    People like to say that there aren't 308 Julian Fantinos but all we need is 10.

    For example Bernard Lord would walk away with Moncton.

    Lots of nomination slots being left open, lots of persuasion.

    Meanwhile the Liberals can't convince anyone to run for them. Peter Donollo asked about a dozen "stars" before they settled with Genco.

  22. Ah, but if they had found one, they might have won pretty easily. The fact that Genco performed as well as he did, and that Lamoureux won, will make it easier next time for the Liberals to attract quality candidates.

  23. I'm not sure how much star power Chris Alexander will have. Sure Political junkies like us blog readers might know him but the average Joe will have no idea. If he wins it will be because he runs a good campaign and gets his message out. His name won't help him. He's no Fantino.

  24. Eric

    To the Liberal star gathering power: What could be more appealing than a seat that has been Liberal for 22 years and had a margin of victory of 8,000 votes last time out??

    Really this was the 22nd safest Liberal seat that there was. It was the kind of seat that the Liberals should have been able to parachute an American who was to be anointed Leader and PM.

    Usually to get someone like Bevilacqua to abandon this sort of seat would require some sort of C-level job offer in a Liberal friendly corporation or maybe an ambassador to Italy appointment.

    However he left due to Liberal policy to oppose everything, even bipartisan legislation that your members developed and thought was good for the country.

    Not only are the Liberals unable to draw star candidates they are unable to keep the few stars that they have.

    The really big carrot that the Liberals are 8 years from offering is the role as Cabinet minister.

    Why would a David Emerson or Bank CEO Clark want to leave their powerful job to replace Scottie Brisson as designated Liberal whiner.

    Do you think that Danny Williams wants to go from King of NL where he wielded real power and influence to a Liberal back bencher?

  25. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_federal_by-elections_in_Canada

    This is a list of federal by-elections in Canada.

    Its hard to get a sense of overall direction since I'm not counting up the entire thing, but it looks to me as if the case could be made that Liberals do poorly in by-elections more than the standing government does poorly in by-elections.

    In Mulroney's days they didn't pick up any seats through by-elections. Through all of Dief's by-elections, (Like 20 of them) they were +3/-1 in changes.

    It may be that they just happen to have a very naturally disinterested constituency.


    Fantino probably won the CPC the seat with his stature, but I don't know if he's much of a star in the electoral sense. He barely made it over the lip of victory and he'll be relying on the CPC government's image to improve to protect him in the next election instead of his image protecting the party in the riding. If there's any degradation in the government's position he probably won't be back after an election.

    As to recruitment efforts... I think this shows that national profile isn't as good as local profile. Conservative stars may be encouraged, but maybe less interested in pushing their luck deeper into Toronto without more assurances. Liberal non-stars may be nervous, but they'll also look a the results of a no-name versus a star, and a local star against an incumbent party and see successful ways to campaign.

    Layton should be worried about Vaughan's result more than Winnipeg's.

  26. Mark Holland is an incumbent - its not like Vaughan where you had an open seat. While Alexander may be an impressive individual - no one has ever heard of him - outside of foreign policy circles. You can't compare him to a household name like Fantino.

  27. "Ah, but if they had found one, they might have won pretty easily. The fact that Genco performed as well as he did, and that Lamoureux won, will make it easier next time for the Liberals to attract quality candidates."

    Sure, if Iggy had better candidates (or more money, better instincts, or clear policies), he might win more ridings. The problem is, he doesn't.

    Moreover, I think you're wrong to suggest that the Liberals will find it easier to recruit star candidates based on the performance of their candidates in the by-election. Most "star" candidate aren't going to run for office for the privilege of being an opposition critic (Lamoureux's an exception, but he's a career politician jumping ship from an even weaker provincial Liberal party - his chances of being part of a government under Iggy, while not good, are a whole lot better than those of being part of the Manitoba government). Your "best case/worst case scenario" post makes it clear why Iggy's going to continue having a hard time attracting star candidates because even under the absolute (and highly improbably) case scenario, the Liberals are going to be hard pressed to form a stable government. So long as the Liberals can't credibly threaten to form a stable government, they're going to have a tough sell in terms of attracting star candidates.

    Finally, if we're considering counter-factual scenarios, had Iggy managed to bring in a star candidate in Vaughn, I'd expect that the Tories might have conducted their campaign differently (maybe the Tory candidate might have bothered campaigning).

  28. "Mark Holland is an incumbent - its not like Vaughan where you had an open seat. While Alexander may be an impressive individual - no one has ever heard of him - outside of foreign policy circles. You can't compare him to a household name like Fantino."

    Than again, Mark Holland didn't win his riding by 15% like Bevilacqua. And while Alexander might not be a household name, his resume will carry him far. Plus, he'll be a sure-fire cabinet minister. Swing voters might figure that, seeing as there isn't much difference between the party policies (and that Alexander could just as easily be a Liberal), they'd rather have a voice at the cabinet table.

  29. Eric do you know of a single star the Liberals have recruited for the next election ?

    The by-elections on tuesday won't make things any easier.

    Its pretty silly to think that the liberals are going to get a boost out of the fact that the CPC didn't win by a wider margin in the 22nd safest seat the Liberals.

    If Donolo called someone and said "hey we went from winning by 15% to only losing by 2.5%! ONLY!"

    More people are going to be hanging up on him than before, not less.

  30. Let's not forget that for all his weaknesses - Ignatieff and the Liberals will form a government unless the Conservatives win a majority. in other words there is about a 90% chance that by this time next year Ignatieff will be PM and will be filling a cabinet with Liberals.

  31. The negativity of the Liberal haters on here is truly impressive.

    Still given their consumption of Kool Aid somewhat understandable.

  32. DL said...
    "Let's not forget that for all his weaknesses - Ignatieff and the Liberals will form a government unless the Conservatives win a majority. in other words there is about a 90% chance that by this time next year Ignatieff will be PM and will be filling a cabinet with Liberals."

    And what's taht prediction based on (other than partisan wishful thinking)? All of Eric's recent predictions seem to suggest that the next election will just continue the status quo.

    In any event, as of right now, I wouldn't even say that there's a 90% chance that they'll be an election within the next year (since the by-election result may give the NDP pause before forcing an election and the prospect of QST/HST harmonization gives the Tories something on the Bloc), and certainly I don't think there's any credible basis for suggesting, based on current polls, that the Liberals would be favoured to come out of such an election with a chance of forming a government (coalition or not). The only cabinet Iggy's going to be filling in the next year is his office filing cabinet.

  33. "More people are going to be hanging up on him than before, not less."

    Shadow, I gotta disagree with you on this point for the same reason I disagreed with Eric. The by-election results aren't going to affect Iggy's ability to attract star candidates. It's Iggy's inability to increase his party's overall popularity that's the problem, not whether he wins or loses a particular riding. So long as the polls have him consistenly behind the Tories (and Eric and others like him are predicting that he's not going to win more than 90-odd seats), he's going to have a hard time convincing successful people to give up their lives to join him on the opposition benches.

    In fairness to Iggy, this isn't his fault (or at least not entirely) but a function of the structural weakness of the Liberal party. Having lost their stronghold in Quebec and being more or less dead in the water west of Toronto, the Liberals basically aren't competitive is enough seats to be able to win an election (nor is the, unlikely, prospect of a coalition of some sort likely to be attractive to a potential Liberal candidate from the "blue" side of the party - if anything that might push them over to the Tories).

    Where Iggy is at fault is his failure to try to seriously address these structural problems. Until he (and his party) come to terms with the financial, organization, and policy weakness, they're going to have a hard sell.

  34. I wonder if the Liberals are hitting the same issue the Greens have - support being spread around rather than in single ridings.

    The more concentrated the votes, the better you do. Thus regional parties like the Bloc (and Reform in the 90's) do very well. The NDP has strong pockets, but also areas where they don't exist. The Conservatives have Alberta. The Liberals had Ontario for years but didn't keep the focus on Ontario thus as soon as the CPC was formed they lost dozens of seats.

    So, if I ran the Liberals (hah!) I'd be pushing for a regional strategy. Probably focused on Ontario & BC as those are the most 'in play' areas. Ignore Alberta as you'll never get more than 1 or 2 seats.

    Not the best for nation building, but the best for winning in our FPTP system. Sad eh?

  35. John,

    First, arguably, the Liberals are already a regional party. They win Toronto, Montreal and in the Atlantic provinces. How's that strategy working for them? Moreover, the problem isn't that their vote is dispersed (quite the contrary, it is very inefficiently concentrated in Toronto and Montreal). In large swaths of the country their support is so low that they aren't even close to being competitive (the Liberals finished third behind the NDP in the four western Provinces in terms of popular vote in 2008). Their weakness out West isn't caused by dispersed support, it's caused by no support.

    That leads to the second, and more important, problem for the "regional party" strategy for the Liberals (as it was for the Reform party). They aren't competitive enough in a region large enough for it to work.

    Take your suggested Ontario/BC strategy. The Liberals only swept Ontario in the 1990's by virtue of the divided right. Had Chretien faced a united right, he wouldn't have won 100 seats (after all, Dalton McGuinty thumped a united, and poorly led, right in similar ridings in 2003 and 2007 and "only" won 72 and 71 seats respectively). Chretien wouldn't have won a majority government with that result.

    As for a BC regional strategy, since the Liberals run a distant third in much of the Province, I'm not sure how that's going to work. I suppose if they change their polices enough to accomodate BC, they might be able to win a few seats in the province, but query whether they'd be able to hold their seats in the rest of the country if they did.

    In any event, the argument against a "regional" strategy is the electoral success of the one party that is clearly not a regional party, namely the Conservatives. They dumped the regional strategy of the Reform Party and focussed on winning accross Canada (i.e., by tempering their policies to win over support in areas in which they were weak). If the Liberals were smart, they'd dump their current regional strategy too and focus on winning in those provinces in which they're hopeless (i.e., everything West of Ontario).

  36. kevinsutton: ...it looks to me as if the case could be made that Liberals do poorly in by-elections more than the standing government does poorly in by-elections.

    How much of that is due to innate properties of byelections and how much is due to voter turnout?

    The Conservative GOTV machine is strong. It keeps Tories showing up at the polls while other supporters are staying home.

    Challenging that argument, we can argue that the Conservative vote dropped from 2008: -5% in DSRM, +15% in Vaughn, -12% in Winnipeg North for an apples+oranges net of -2%. Turnout was abysmal. However, voting rates obviously don't explain everything.

    Éric, over to you to figure out a test for the hypothesis.

  37. Carl I gotta disagree with you.

    Ignatieff's popularity is irrelevent. He's no more unpopular than Dion and these seats survived the disasterous '08 election.

    Losing Vaughan DOES decrease Ignatieff's ability to attract candidates because it puts to rest any notion of there being "safe" Liberal seats that someone can simply slide into with minimal effort.

    Such seats used to be a hot ticket, even if you weren't in government you got amazing perks, benefits, prestige, connections, and a good salary for life.

    Its why nobody has stepped up to represent the Liberals in Mississauga East – Cooksville.

    Safe Liberal seats just don't exist anymore.

    Stars will think twice before jumping into the cut throat world of politics because Donolo can't really promise them a win.

    And people like Julian Fantino don't run if they don't think there is a high chance of winning.

  38. Anonymous,

    I don;t think you're right on that. First, just to clarify, it's the Liberal party's popularity that's the problem, not Iggy's personal popularity. And on that front, the Liberals appear to be polling worse than they were in the run up to the 2008 election. For example, in the 6 months leading up to the 2008 election, Stephane Dion was polling a little over 30% (and almost 31% in the last 3 months of that period). In contrast, over the 6 months leading up to early November (I'm too lazy to update my dataset, but I don't think the recent polls change anything), Iggy was polling at 28% (just over 29% over the last 3 months). (In contrast the Tories have only slipped from high 33% to low 33%.)

    Given that, a star candidate might well ask themselves, why they'd want to run for a party that's even less popular now than it was when it took one of its worst beatings in history in 2008.

    Moreover, a star candidate, almost by definition, is someone who is supposed to be able to win a seat on their own merits - that's what makes them a star. So the loss of a previously safe seat isn't likely to dissuade a star candidate from running since they might reasonably expect (regardless of whether it is true or not) that their "star" power would help them deliver their seat.

    For that reason, it's not winning a seat that's an issue for a star candidates, it's doing something meaningful once you've won it. MOst "star" candidates (and certainly those the Liberals and Tories want to recruit) aren't going to enter the political fray in order to be an opposition critic.

    Sure, MP compensation would be considered by most Canadians to be filled with "amazing perks, benefits, prestige, connections, and a good salary for life" (though Cabinet minister perks are a lot better), but remember, "star" candidates aren't most Canadians (that's why they're "stars"). For many of them, the life they give up is one already filled with perks, benefits, prestige, connections and good pay".

    Heck, for a lot of "star" candidates, going to Ottawa would entail a lot more work and a hefty pay cut. Consider Julian Fantino, he could probably make a lot more money, and work a lot less, as an outside director or as an advisor for a security related public company. The same could be said for a lot of the "star" candidates who have run for office in recent years: Iggy (Harvard University Professor ), Marc Garneau (President of the Canadian space agency and chancellor of Carleton university), Peter Kent (Journalist), Ken Dryden (vice-chairman of the Toronto maple leafs), Belinda Stronach (CEO of Magna), Paul Summerville (bank VP). Hands up everyone who things that being an opposition MP is more prestigious or (financially) rewarding than the sorts of jobs those people left? The attraction of Ottawa isn't the perks and the money, it's the power that comes from being part of the government.

  39. Conservatives not regional? So that is why they won so many seats in Toronto and other urban centres... oh wait, 0 seats in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto (Vaughan isn't in Toronto)? Oops.

    The CPC is clearly a rural and Alberta based party, taking full advantage of the very undemocratic system we have in place. Can't blame them, any more than one could be mad at the Bloc for being a 100% Quebec party.


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