Monday, December 12, 2011

Quebec-born leaders give federal parties a significant electoral edge

While the nine NDP leadership hopefuls have to wait till March before a winner is named, the Bloc Québécois announced Sunday that Daniel Paillé will be taking the reins of the sovereigntist party. His main opponent in the province will be decided after New Democrats cast their ballots and history suggests that his chances will be greatly improved if they opt for a non-Quebecker. 

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here. You can also read my column in this week's Hill Times here (subscription required, but it is money well spent!), and my piece on what Paillé's victory means at The Huffington Post Canada website here.

Daniel Paillé won the Bloc's leadership race yesterday on the second ballot, defeating Maria Mourani and Jean-François Fortin. Paillé isn't a Member of Parliament but he is in no rush to become one, meaning that a by-election in Quebec is not going to be forced by the resignation of one of the Bloc's four sitting MPs.

Paillé is calculating that he is not going to get much attention in the House of Commons as head of a party without official status. Instead, he can do interviews in Montreal and Quebec City and make preparations for 2015. Jack Layton, after all, spent more than a year outside of the House of Commons after he became leader in 2003. We shall see how it works out for Paillé, but the deck is already stacked against him.

His leadership run, though, was quite successful.

About 38% of the Bloc's members voted, or some 14,000. But the party has been losing members since the election as members allow their memberships to lapse. Undoubtedly, many of the 62% of Bloc members who did not vote are not going to be members this time next year. Though I imagine we won't know how many members the Bloc has in June 2012, that actually might be the better number to determine the participation rate of the Bloc's membership in the leadership race.

Daniel Paillé took 44.1% of the vote on the first ballot (I've seen 44.5% reported elsewhere, but the Bloc's website says 44.05%), with Maria Mourani beating out Jean-François Fortin by only 39 votes to take 28.1% to his 27.8%. That means Fortin was dropped off.

With the preferential system, the second choice of Fortin's supporters was then determined. Roughly 60% of Fortin's voters opted for Paillé, giving him 61.3% of the vote to Mourani's 38.7%.

What is really interesting to contemplate is what would have happened had Fortin received 40 more votes. Mourani would have been dropped off, and I think there is a much better chance that Mourani's voters would have gone to Fortin rather than Paillé. Mourani was the candidate promising to shake things up the most, while Paillé was the "establishment" candidate. Fortin being somewhere in the middle means he could have taken a good swathe of Mourani's support. I imagine Paillé was too close to the 50% mark to lose after the first ballot, as Fortin would have needed about 80% of Mourani's support, but it probably would have been a lot closer.

The endorsement system did its job, which was to gauge support within the party apparatus and give us an idea of the frontrunner. It isn't meant as a predictive model, but it tells us what the party elites think. Often, based on my tests of past leadership races, the party elites reflect the opinion of the general membership. This could be because they are of the same mind, because the elites don't want to be at odds with the membership, or because the membership respects what the elites think. It is probably a combination of all these factors, which is why an endorsement system like this will, more often than not, reflect the eventual result. There are always cases, though, where the membership and the elites do not see eye-to-eye.

What the endorsement system also shows us is how candidates performed within their own membership compared to the elites. Fortin was about par for the course, while Paillé was not as popular among the Bloc's membership as he was among the party's elites. Mourani was the outsider's candidate, as she greatly over-performed expectations. Her support from the Bloc's youth wing, usually the more dedicated supporters of any party, was probably a major factor.