Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three holds, two close races

The by-elections last night ended up as most by-elections do, with the incumbent parties holding on to their seats. The results in Durham and Calgary Centre went as scripted, with the Conservatives winning the first by a wide margin and the second by a narrow one. Victoria, however, was supposed to be a cakewalk for the New Democrats - instead, it almost gave the Greens their second MP in the House of Commons.

My detailed analysis of the results can be read at The Globe and Mail website. This post will focus more on the forecasts that were made and what each party can take away from the results.

Calling for the incumbent to win is never a risky bet, but the By-Election Barometer continued to have success with its ninth consecutive correct call. The results fell within the forecasted vote ranges for all parties in Durham and Calgary Centre (except for the NDP in the latter), but not in Victoria where the Greens performed unexpectedly well. That is itself a telling result.
Durham was the easy call last night, as there were few indications that the race was going to be much different than the one in 2011. Erin O'Toole easily won with 50.7% support, down less than four points. That's a performance that is generally in line with what most parties do when they lose an incumbent MP.

The New Democrats did quite well, though, picking up more than five points and distancing themselves from the Liberals, who did about as well as in 2011. While the result of 4.1% for the Greens may not look very good, that is actually not so bad in a by-election - the Greens tend to do very poorly in by-elections when they are not in the running.

The results all fell within the forecasted ranges, and quite close to the median forecast for both O'Toole and Larry O'Connor. The last poll by Forum gave the Liberals more of the Conservative vote, suggesting that some Liberals stayed home or opted for O'Toole when it became clear he would be the winner. Turnout was somewhat low, even for a by-election.
It was not as low as it was in Calgary Centre, however, which was supposed to be the most competitive race of the three. There were even news reports that turnout was brisk. Instead, turnout was less than 30%. That is a quite bad result, and before any accusations of vote-splitting are made there needs to be some questions concerning why neither Harvey Locke nor Chris Turner were able to turn out more of their vote.

In the end, Joan Crockatt won by a margin of 4.2 points, almost identical to the five point margin that was measured by the final polls of Forum and Return on Insight. While the scale is very small, this is a comeback of sorts for Alberta polling. Both firms were quite close, with Forum under-estimating Crockatt and Locke's support to the benefit of the NDP and RoI under-estimating Turner's support, again to the benefit of the NDP.

In fact, the New Democrats did quite poorly in this by-election. The forecast expected a minimum of 5% for the NDP, while the lowest poll result had them at 8%. Instead, they ended up with less than half of that. It would appear that many of the voters who cast their ballot for the NDP in 2011 went elsewhere or stayed home. Only the Conservatives lost more support, much of that going to Turner instead of Locke.

The results were again near the median forecast for Crockatt, Locke, and Turner, with Locke somewhat out-performing expectations and Crockatt under-performing. This is a good result for the Liberals, and it is a sign that they can be competitive in Alberta. This is also a very good result for the Greens, but it is hard to imagine that the party would be able to retain this level of support in a general election. The NDP lost out primarily due to the party not being seen as in the running compared to Locke and Turner, but the New Democrats are nevertheless the Official Opposition. While this is too isolated a case to call this a rebuke of Thomas Mulcair's western strategy, there certainly isn't any silver lining in Calgary Centre for the NDP.
There is in Victoria, however, where despite a steep drop in support the New Democrats held on to the riding.

Murray Rankin must have been somewhat nervous looking at the numbers coming in, as Donald Galloway of the Greens held the lead for much of the early counting. The last poll of the race was done two weeks before the vote and showed the NDP with a comfortable lead, though it also suggested that the Greens were making a push. But with generally poor polling numbers in British Columbia for the Greens of late, it was very surprising to see such a strong showing for Galloway in Victoria.

But this was something I had called a wild-card in the By-Election Barometer. Elizabeth May's riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands is next door and the Greens have generally done well enough in Victoria in recent provincial and federal elections. Turnout was about average for a by-election (though, at almost 44%, stellar compared to Durham and Calgary Centre), but the Greens certainly got their vote out to the polls. The party picked up over 6,000 new voters in this riding alone.

Rankin's result fell just below the forecasted range, while Galloway was just above it. A late poll might have shed more light on the race, but because there wasn't one the forecast had to rely more on province-wide data. That Galloway took so much more of the vote from Rankin than expected is an indication of just how local this race was. The Conservatives dropped a lot of votes as well, but did a little better than expected: instead of finishing just behind the Liberals, they placed just ahead. But both Dale Gann and Paul Summerville's results fell within the forecast ranges.

In sum, it was a decent night for polling as the results in Durham, Calgary Centre, and (to a lesser extent, but certainly in terms of the prospects of Gann and Summerville) Victoria generally aligned with expectations. The forecast was accordingly good, with only three candidates of the 12 forecasted falling outside their expected ranges (and that by an average of only 2.8 points), and most of the results within a few points of the median forecast. I think this is about as good as can be done in by-elections with the information available and the amount of unknowns at play.

It is difficult to choose a winner or a loser in last night's results. The Greens did about as well as possible without winning a race, making the by-elections a big moral victory for the party. That is only worth so much, however. The real test will be how Green candidates will do in Victoria and Calgary Centre in 2015.

The Liberals showed they can be competitive in Alberta, which is a strong signal from a party that has been increasingly written-off, both provincially and federally, in western Canada. But they slightly under-performed their 2011 results in Durham and Victoria. As that federal election has to be a low point for the party if they have any hope of a future, that is nothing to crow about.

The New Democrats held on to their riding in Victoria, so they have more to show from last night than either the Greens or Liberals. They were never in the running in either Durham or Calgary Centre. But they almost lost Victoria and their result in Calgary was very low for the Official Opposition. Growth in Durham, on the other hand, suggests that the NDP can make inroads in Ontario, an absolutely essential component to any winning NDP map in 2015.

As the Conservatives won two of three by-elections at stake, they have to be last night's big winners. But that is more due to the bullet they dodged. Had Crockatt lost the by-election in Calgary Centre (and she almost did), the Conservatives would have had a very bad night. Questions would have been asked about whether the party was shifting too far to the right, or if the split between Wildrose and the PCs could poison the party in the long-term. If these are indeed problems, the winning result could lead to the party ignoring them, but a win is a win and the Conservatives have plenty of time to rebuild whatever bridges have been burnt with a segment of the Albertan electorate. Durham was a strong result with over 50% support and only a slight dip in support (as should be expected when an incumbent retires), and though Victoria was a very poor showing, it isn't the sort of riding the Tories need to win.

Mixed results for all four parties, then. Silver-linings for the Greens and Liberals in their losses (which, in the end, would have been upsets anyway) and wins for the Conservatives and NDP despite their setbacks. All four parties have something to be proud of and something to give them pause. But with their huge increase in vote totals and vote share, the Greens are the only party that may have changed things last night.

46 comments:

  1. Meanwhile the Online Party of Canada, represented by leader Michael Nicula in their first contest ever, got 132 votes in Durham. Very neat party concept: their platform, policies and positions are entirely determined by the membership through continuous online debating and voting; i.e. there is absolutely no "party brass" calling the shots. Even the leader and local candidates are chosen this way. Further, any elected MPs are entirely bound by the will of their local constituents (also through online debating and voting) when voting in the House of Commons; there is no party whip. This would require a solid level of participation to avoid hijacking by fringe/special interest groups, but it's a real intriguing idea nevertheless in an era when Canadians are increasingly lamenting partisan politics. Let's see if it ever goes anywhere...

    Dom

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    1. What constituents? They are on-line? Ridings are geographical in nature how could one identify a legitimate constituent without identifying place of residence?

      To me this is a very bad idea as the process has the potential to be easily exploited/ manipulated. This is especially problematic as on-line polling will be used to determine policy and HoC votes.

      Does one have to join the party?

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    2. Obviously there are some potential concerns, like those you and I raised, that would need to be ironed out, but I still applaud the basic idea: if it can be made to work properly it would represent a revolution in grassroots democracy.

      My understanding is that you have to take out a full membership in the party, just like you would any other party, in order to be able to influence things (party policies, local MP voting, etc.). This entails providing a legitimate, verifiable residential address, some basic personal info (e.g. full name, date of birth, maybe a social insurance number...), etc. If every online member can thus be confirmed "legit", the only major remaining problem that can I see is the possibility of insufficiently broad participation making the process vulnerable to disproportionate influence by special interesting groups, as I mentioned above.

      But if the concept really took flight among the public it could be pretty effective. One of the major reasons "ordinary Canadians" are so tuned out of politics these days is because they feel that as individuals they have absolutely no voice, no influence on the political process aside from the ability to cast a single vote once every few years, especially in this era of increasingly dominant party whips where the original notion of representing one's local constituents has pretty much taken the backseat.

      Dom

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    3. Thanks for the info Dom.

      This project certainly has value if only conceptual.

      I can envision however, that we would be left with the same problem Edmund Burke faced-is he a member of Parliament or a member from Bristol? No one would deny a very important job of MP is to represent constituents but, is that his or her only job?

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  2. It looks like the greens in Victoria should have made a little bigger push in advance polling, while Liberals should have done that in Calgary.

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    1. Charles Harrison27 November, 2012 12:59

      Good suggestion.

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  3. Liberals finished behind the Greens in the popular vote last night. Spinning this as a Liberal success is simply spin. Fourth is a disaster.

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    1. As much as I despise the Liberals, you cannot take three select ridings and apply some sort of meaning to the popular vote across the three. Local politics will highly skew those results.

      As we know Calgary Centre and Durham is supposed to be heavily in favour of CPC, and Victoria is supposed to be in favour of the NDP and Greens. None of these three seats were supposed to show any strength whatsoever for the Liberals... but the fact that they were even competitive in Calgary Centre is a positive movement for them in the results.

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    2. Adam, that's true. However, it is useful to recall that the Liberals won Durham and Victoria throughout the Chretien years. If the Liberals didn't sweep Ontario and the left-leaning parts of BC in the 90s, then they'd have lost, and today we'd be counting down the days until Kim Campbell surpasses MacKenzie King as our longest-serving Prime Minister.

      Finishing 3rd or 4th in these ridings shows how far the Liberals are from being competitive for government again. Their path to power isn't through Calgary.

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  4. Early on in the evening I was looking at the Victoria riding being led by the Greens and a three-way race in Calgary. I had to think about the possilbe headlines if the Greens managed to steal both of them!

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    1. Charles Harrison27 November, 2012 12:52

      So did I.

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    2. Yep.

      The Greens did decent but it's so easy to vote Green whatever side of the political spectrum you're on. It is fun being Green!!

      As a New Democrat though (not an insider), I think the results, along with recent national polling, should give my party cause to re-evaluate
      why it isn't connecting better with Canadians. Also of concern should be Mulcair's leadership index numbers.

      They should have had better results in Durham, and certainly in Victoria. The federal is still a few years away, and these are by-elections, but still Mulcair and the NDP had better start shaking things up.

      BTW wasn't Victoria Liberal candidate Paul Summerville, the NDP candidate in Toronto St. Pauls in the federal election before last. He was always paraded out to the media as the party's spokesperson on economic credibility. At the time, he did say he was a New Democrat for that election, at least.


      And thank you Eric, again, for all your work, really enjoy your site; I check it daily.

      JV




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    3. Perth Lincolnshire27 November, 2012 14:29

      Victoria had a specific set of circumstances with the sewage plant that partially explains the low NDP and high Green result. It is interesting in both CC and Victoria a large segment of the population is willing to vote for an opposition party other than the NDP. This is re-inforced in Durham where the NDP should have improved significantly on their election performance simply due to Bev Oda's expensive orange juice but, failed to do so. It should give Liberals and Greens hope that anti-Harperites are still weighing their options and have not picked a horse to coalesce around.

      The results combined with recent polls showing a marked decline in NDP support should be very worrying. The next 6 months are likely to be dominated with positive Liberal leadership media and post-selection honeymoon-the window for the NDP to become the dominant "progressive" party appears to be closing.

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    4. LOL about the OJ-- I can see if it were a "screwdriver" ... a double at that!!

      JV

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  5. @anon 10:37,

    Its actually a Conservative disaster more then a liberal one, for that matter even the NDP should be worried about resurgent Liberal and protest green votes. Many of the Green votes in Victoria and Calgary Centre were regular conservative voter protest votes. I think that if the 2010 Trudeau comments that Jason Kenney put into media focus and similar anti Alberta perceived comments did prevent Calgary Centre from being a Liberal seat. Whatever the case if fortress Alberta is vulnerable then the Conservatives should be paying attention to a Trudeau led Liberal party. There are many urban seats vulnerable that the Conservatives will lose in the next election, especially in Ontario. For the NDP there is potential that they become more of a Quebec based party then is currently the case.

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    1. Based on my criteria, there are many more suburban than urban seats in Ontario (the inner suburbs of Toronto are suburban seats, not urban, for example) and Canada. The Conservatives won very few urban ridings.

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  6. Charles Harrison27 November, 2012 12:52

    Misprojecting Victoria. Though I feel for you Eric, I thought the NDP would win 45-55%, the Greens 20-30, etc. Good try. It was just an unusual night.

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    1. I'm not bothered by it, overall things went well.

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    2. The results in Victoria was much closer than anyone thought it would.

      Turn out in the traditionally strongest NDP areas were low, very low is some cases. If it were not for the advance polls there would be another Green MP.

      One thing to note about the Liberals is that Victoria and Durham are both seats they held while Chretien was PM, they have fallen very far in both since then

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  7. Charles Harrison27 November, 2012 12:54

    Now please edit your by-election barometer.

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  8. Well done, Eric. Victoria was a real shocker last night. I stayed up way later than I wanted to in order to see the final polls report in.

    As a New Democrat, the Victoria result and the slow leak in the national numbers are making me worried. An important question for the next few months is whether Justin Trudeau lets his temper slip and says something really stupid.

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  9. TS and VR made solid comments (as declared NDP supporters) that the big story in these by-elections is the exposure of the the Mulcair leadership weakness outside of Quebec.

    The appeal of the NDP in the Orange Crush might be playing out as a non-idealogical protest vote...

    In these by-elections they have had their main appeal taken away by the Green and somewhat the Liberals (in their current 3rd party (party least likely to exist in 10 years status)

    If the NDP is not able to win the protest votes they will have to rely on policies. They have policies that no one really wants implemented.

    The mish mash of Liberals/Greens/NDP with the bottom gaining strength and the offical opposition in disarry makes a long CPC political dynasty the default result in the next couple of federal elections.

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    1. I don't think that's true at all. If the Conservatives win anything less than a majority of seats in the next election, they will be done. The other parties will almost certainly combine to vote down the government on the throne speech. If that happens, I don't see any way that the GG doesn't call on the leader of the second party to try to form a government.

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    2. TS,

      We have seen this show before and the Tories were not voted down by the opposition.

      The Governor General may call on whomever he thinks fit to form a government. A precednet of sorts exists that the second party gets the second kick at the can if you will but, I would be hesitant to call it a full-blown constitutional convention. History would suggest that when the second party does form government they usually do so on an acting or interim basis until they either secure the supoort of the House or win an election. This was the case with Malcom Fraser of Australia in 1975 and Arthur Meighen in 1926. Both were appointed on the condition that a general election woudl follow a defeat of a confidence measure.

      If a government is defeated on a confidence motion they must either resign or advise the Monarch or Governor for a dissolution.

      Adrienne Clarkson erred when suggesting that within a year of a general election the proper course of action would be to seek a new ministry for the current Parliament. The only instance I recall where this happened was David Peterson in 1985. In almost all other cases a dissolution was requested and granted- for the simple reason that a PM is still PM until dismissed.

      It should be noted the Monarch or Governor's duty is not to find "any government" but to ensure a stable and functioning government is in place. Accordingly some Parliaments are inherently unstable and the proper course of action is to seek a new mandate from the people.

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    3. Derek Andrew, we have a Canadian example though. In Ontario in 1985, Frank Miller's PCs won the most seats, however Miller and his cabinet were unable to gain the confidence of the house and were defeated on the speech from the throne. Peterson and Rae advised Lincoln Alexander that Peterson could obtain the confidence of the house, and Alexander called on Peterson to do so.

      You are conflating situations in which a plurality party obtains confidence initially and then loses it, a la 2008, with a situation in which the plurality party never obtains the confidence of the new legislature at all. In a situation such as the latter, there is absolutely a constitutional convention that rather than hold new elections, the leader of the second party is called upon if he or she can demonstrate the ability to command the confidence of the house.

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    4. Hi TS,

      Yes we do and I did cite 1985 Ontario. However, I am hesitant to say this is a full blown convention. King-Byng is the reason why; the whole exercised lead to an equally and just as exceptional convention in Canada-the Monarch or Governor does not choose the PM elections do. King campaign on this and won.

      These two conventions conflict and while one may be of much more recent vintage (that certainly favours it) we see the dangers and potential crises of the Crown unilateraly choosing the PM. it is for these reasons that I believe the choice is subjective. The Crown has a broad range of powers to exercise its judgement.

      I think there is a danger to state that the actions in Ontario amount to a convention. The Crown is not bound by convention. Instead its loyalty must be placed in the best iinterests of the country and monarchy itself.

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  10. TS ... Trudeau's comments did not help the Green in Victoria.

    There is no better I-hate-Harper-and-anyone with-a-job leader than Ms.May.

    The best protest draw was Layton.

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    1. I agree that Trudeau's comments had nothing to do with Victoria, but I think there's a reasonable case to be made that his comments, and the rather worse ones by David McGuinty, pay have helped to keep the opposition vote from coalescing behind Locke in Calgary Centre.

      Can you let the partisan rhetoric rest, though? None of the parties "hate anyone with a job". Falling back on partisan talking points doesn't advance any kind of rational discussion of what the polls mean.

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  11. The results are certainly confusing. I put a lot of stock in by-elections; not in who wins but in changes since the last general election. The way the results are shown graphically on threehundredeight is perfect from my perspective. The only consistency in the three ridings is that the Conservatives lost support in all three, which is consistent with polling since the general election. The NDP gained support only in the Ontario riding and lost support in BC and Alberta. You're right, the NDP should have made greater gains in Durham, but it is a very conservative riding. The Libs gained support only in the Alberta riding and lost in BC and Ontario. The Greens gained out west but lost support in Ontario; the latter of which is not surprising since they are almost invisible here.

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  12. I'd be curious to know if there's any kind of empirical evidence for something of a "byelection effect" which partly accounts for some of the strange results here (ie: the Green surge & Conservative / NDP drop in Calgary and Victoria)?

    My thinking is that during a by-election (where the results won't have any effect on the overall balance of power) you'd could have a situation where voters don't have to worry about / are not motivated by the overall lay of the land as they might during a general election; (b) casual electors don't bother showing up to vote so it's more about who can get out their base; and (c) supporters of a 3rd or 4th place party are more likely to jump ship and vote strategically.

    I find it hard to jump to any general conclusions about any party based on last night's performances. It all seems circumstantial...

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    1. Good question.

      In Victoria the vote focussed on local issues mainly the sewage treatment plant. If I recall correctly only the NDP was in favour so the Green vote was really an anti-treatment plant vote. This partly explains the declinr of the NDP, Tory popular vote.

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  13. The vastly different outcomes in the three ridings show the political diversity in our country. All politics was local last night. Partisans can spin the result in favour of any of the four parties.

    The Tories would claim that governments are not favoured well in by-elections and that they held onto both their ridings. The controversy surrounding Bev Oda did not do much harm in Durham, which demonstrates the party's strength in Southern Ontario. Of course, the Tories learned a lesson and will not take the voters of Calgary for granted. Perhaps, this will result in the government showing more concern to urban affairs.

    The NDP spin will be tougher to digest, but the party did hold on to their seat and gained in Durham. The NDP support is definitely becoming stronger and more durable in Ontario. Questions will be asked about Mulcair's leadership, but it should be noted that the NDP did poorly in the fall 2010 by-elections and then the come back with their best general election result a few months later.

    The Liberals can boast that they nearly won their first Calgary seat federally since the 1960s. Some parts of Calgary are becoming more moderate in their politics and this can play better for the Liberals than for the NDP. The Liberals are still important as they appeal to the socially progressive/fiscally conservative voters that are the future of ridings such as Calgary Centre. What is going against them, is the Liberals did poorly in Victoria and Durham which they held during Chretien era.

    The Greens can hold their head up high that they were extremely competitive in two ridings. The Greens had good ground organization in Victoria and Calgary Centre, and could be a second choice for both left-wing and right-wing voters. Partisan Greens should not conclude that this result will translate into the next general election. The Greens spend most of their focus on their last campaign to win one seat, with support declining everywhere else.

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    1. Interesting point re: Greens drawing support from both sides of the spectrum...

      Makes me wonder if the Greens ever *did* develop into a more established and organized party, would the divergent viewpoints gathering under the green tent become a point of division later on? Right now I think the lion's share of their appeal comes from being a party focused on a single issue that just about everyone can find a reason to support. I could easily see a lot of their supporters being eventually alienated when the time comes for them to actually stake out positions that go beyond the environment...

      Not meant as a 'partisan' statement, more thinking two steps ahead in the future...

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    2. Eric

      I thought you were turning Anonymous off permanently ??

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    3. No, I was forcing a heated discussion to cool off when I removed that option.

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    4. Unfortunately you have let the "No Responsibility" folk loose again.

      I think we need a vote on here re "Anonymous" ??

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    5. Peter,

      Threehundredeight.com is not a democracy. The only vote that counts is Eric's.

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    6. Sorry Cicero but we who frequent have rights as well.

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  14. I thought that the Greens were single issue as well, but attended several meetings and their big rally and saw a focus on democratic process and a belief in MPs thinking independently. I was still worrying over who to vote for at the very last second, having always been an NDP supporter. Three things that helped me decide: 1. a huge issue in this neighbourhood is sewage treatment; which could be better informed on an issue so bound up with ecology, 2. MacLean's Magazine naming May Parliamentarian of the year, 3. here it is: if the NDP had fielded a woman, I would have voted NDP. That would have tipped the scales for me. I still can't believe that not one woman ran in this by-election.

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    1. So you hold the NDP more into account for not fielding a woman over any of the other parties? Why?

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    2. False Creek Phil29 November, 2012 14:49

      Anon: 2:10,

      As you may be aware the BCNDP has (perhaps had)a policy whereby women and minorities are guaranteed nominations. For example when Gregor Robertson jumped to Vancouver politics the nomination was open only to female and or minoritiy candidates (in this case I believe only female)- white males need not apply. In the end Jenn McGinn won the nomination and subsequent by-election but, lost the general election (even though the provincial NDP vote increased and Liberal popular vote declined). Afterwards I could not help but muse perhaps the candidate did not really "fit" the riding or have the knowledge/ foundation within the constituency.

      I find this policy incredibly prejudiced as well as inherently poor public policy. One should vote for the best person for the job. The choice should not be limited by gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

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  15. From the NDP perspective there are 3 right of centre parties in English Canada, the CPC, the LPC, and the Greens. There is one progressive party, the NDP. The NDP looks forward to the day when the Liberals and Conservatives merge as we almost have in BC politics.

    What the nation needs is a 2 party system, one of which is social-democratic.

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    1. "What the nation needs is a 2 party system, one of which is social-democratic.
      "

      That is absolutely the last thing we need. One look South of the border would show just how bad that set up can be !!

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  16. The Victoria election was almost a referendum on the sewage treatment plant issue. The NDP was the only party that didn't twist themselves into a pretzel, or changing their position to pander to voters. Their position was for going ahead with the project, which leads to talk of tax increases. It is tough to win on that, but it shows that the excellent candidate pulled through. The Greens chose to not support the sewage plant, but went with looking at other options, as if 30 years of looking and deciding meant nothing. The Cons starting with the same position that the Greens ended up at, but then went with a 'no'. The Libs started with a 'no', then went with a no, look at it at a later time, 2040. If this issue was not front and centre the Greens would not have done so well, but they pulled votes from Cons and NDP who didn't want to pay for tax increases.
    In the end, the best candidate was elected to go to Ottawa.

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    1. They pulled votes from voters who didn't want the treatment plant!

      Money was not the only issue-if anything it was 3 or 4 down on the list.

      In any case Mulcair and the NDP proclaimed their by-election win resulted from opposition to Northern Gateway! Such statements show a disconnect between central office and the folks on the ground.

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