Monday, July 14, 2014

Riding History: Kingston and the Islands

During the Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2013, one of the backer rewards was the option to choose a riding the history of which I would profile, as I have previously done for Toronto-Danforth and Calgary Southwest. The first request I received, from Justin Irwin, was for the riding of Kingston and the Islands. This riding also holds a special place in my heart, as I lived there for four years when I studied at Queen's University.

Kingston is an old, charming city of about 160,000 people located where the Cataraqui River flows into the St. Lawrence and where the St. Lawrence flows out of Lake Ontario. Kingston was once the most important city in Upper Canada and was briefly the capital of the British colony. Some of the relics of Kingston's time in the sun still remain, like Fort Henry, built in the 1830s to guard the St. Lawrence and the entrance to the Rideau Canal from an American attack, and Kingston City Hall, built in the 1840s to house the legislature of a fledgling colony.

John A. Macdonald
Politically, Kingston has been the home riding of one premier, one Speaker of the House of Commons and a clutch of cabinet ministers. But it is perhaps most famous for being the riding of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald.

Before getting to the history of the riding, a few words about the project behind this profile. Tapping into the Pulse: Political public opinion polling in Canada, 2013 was published as an ebook earlier this year, and is a retrospective look at politics and polling for 2013. Now that we are in the second half of 2014, a history book on 2013 may be a little out of date. But there is much in the book that is timeless: the story of the provincial election campaigns in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, the federal Liberal leadership race and the first year of the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau, and discussion of the polling debacle in B.C. and in a few federal and Ontario by-elections, as well as the polling success of the Nova Scotia campaign. A foreword by Paul Adams, journalism professor at Carleton University and former journalist with the CBC and The Globe and Mail, is worth the price of admission alone, as it goes over the evolving history of the relationship between pollsters and the media.

The ebook is now listed at $4.99, and can be downloaded directly from Gumroad, Amazon (for your Kindle) and Kobo (for your Kobo eReader).

The riding of Kingston and the Islands began its history in 1867 as the riding of Kingston, limited to the City of Kingston itself. Its first MP was the man who represented the riding in the colonial legislature: John A. Macdonald.

There is little reason for me to recount the storied career of Canada's first Prime Minister here. Macdonald served, in his first stint, from July 1867 to November 1873, when he also took on the role of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada. Leader of the Liberal-Conservative Party from 1867 to 1891, in his first election in the new Dominion of Canada Macdonald took 83.8% of the vote, or 735 votes against 142 for a physician named John Stewart.

Macdonald was re-elected again in 1872, this time in a closer contest with just 54.9% of the vote against John Carruthers, who took the other 45.1%. By 1874, when Macdonald had lost power and was then sitting as the Leader of the Official Opposition, Macdonald won again against Carruthers by a whisker: 51.2% against 48.8% - a margin of 38 votes. The election was declared void and a second vote, held at the end of 1874, was won again by Macdonald, but this time by just 17 votes.

Alexander Gunn
Macdonald's luck ran out in 1878 - at least in Kingston. Though his party was returned to power, Macdonald lost Kingston to the Liberal Alexander Gunn, another Scot, by 53.7% to 45.9%. Perhaps sensing the danger, Macdonald also ran in the ridings of Marquette in Manitoba and Victoria in British Columbia, a rules quirk of the age. He was elected in both, but not in his home town.

In 1882, Gunn was re-elected against the new Conservative candidate, Michael Sullivan, by a reduced margin. Luckily for Sullivan, though, he was named to the Senate by Macdonald and would serve until 1912, when he was disqualified.

In 1887, Macdonald took another shot at Kingston, though still keeping his options open in the riding of Carleton. This time, Macdonald defeated Gunn - but again the margin was just 17 votes. Macdonald was also re-elected in Carleton, but he opted to represent Kingston again.

Macdonald and Gunn squared off for the last time in 1891, but this time Macdonald finally won a comfortable majority with 57.3%. It was his last election, and his best in Kingston since 1867. Macdonald passed away in June 1891 after suffering a stroke. He was replaced in the riding by James H. Metcalfe, who was acclaimed in 1892.

Kingston riding boundaries, 1895
In the post-Macdonald era, the riding of Kingston turned to the Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier, who would hold the riding for the next 15 years. Metcalfe opted not to run in 1896, and was replaced by Liberal Byron Moffatt Britton, who had briefly been the Mayor of Kingston from 1876 to 1877. Britton, whose father-in-law was Luther Hamilton Holton, a four-term Liberal MP for the riding of Chateauguay in Quebec and a member of the National Assembly at various times between the 1850s and 1870s, was re-elected in 1900 by a similarly narrow margin against the Conservatives.

Kingston, 1900
By 1902, Britton had been named a Judge of the Court of King's Bench for Ontario. Metcalfe made a failed attempt at a comeback, as William Harty, Commissioner of Public Works for Ontario from 1894 to 1899 and Liberal MPP for Kingston from 1895 to 1902, took a stab at replacing Britton. He was very successful, taking 60.8% of the vote, which still ranks as the highest share of the vote won by a Liberal in the riding. He would not win by the same margins in 1904 and 1908, but he was re-elected in both cases.

Harty decided not to run again in 1911, and William Folger Nickle, Conservative MPP for Kingston from 1908 to 1911, and later from 1922 to 1926 when he was named the Attorney General, ran as the Conservative candidate. He was elected, as Robert Borden's Conservatives were swept to power. In 1917, running under the banner of the Unionists at the height of the First World War, Nickle was re-elected with 77.7% of the vote.

Nickle stepped down in July 1919, and Henry Lumle Drayton was acclaimed in his place that October. Drayton had been named the Minister of Finance and Receiver General in August, and so needed a seat. He would hold these titles until December 1921.

Drayton did not run again in Kingston in the election held that year, moving over to York West instead where he would be elected three times before becoming the Chairman of the LCBO. Arthur Edward Ross, who first ran against Harty in 1908, took his place in the riding.

Ross had a distinguished military career, serving in the Boer War and being awarded the Croix de Guerre for his service in World War I, where he was mentioned in dispatches seven times. He ended the war as Director of Medical Services of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, retiring with the rank of Brigadier-General.

Arthur E. Ross
He had a distinguished political career as well. An alderman from 1904 to 1907 and mayor in 1908, Ross served as the Conservative MPP for Kingston from 1911 to 1921 and was the provincial Minister of Health from 1919 to 1921.

But he only won the 1921 election by a margin of 171 votes, taking it with 50.7%. He would subsequently be re-elected three more times, with far more comfortable margins.

He was defeated in 1935, however, in the election that saw R.B. Bennett's Conservatives drop from 48% to just 30% against Mackenzie King's Liberals. Norman McLeod Rogers defeated Ross by seven points, and would serve as Minister of Labour until September 1939, when he took over the Ministry of National Defence. Rogers was a military man, too, having served in the 6th Nova Scotia Mounted Rifles during the First World War. Notable in 1935 was the first appearance of the CCF in Kingston. The party took 2.8% of the vote.

Rogers was re-elected in 1940 with ease but died in office shortly thereafter at the age of 45. Angus Lewis MacDonald was acclaimed in his place that year. MacDonald, who was the Premier of Nova Scotia from 1933 to 1940, and again from 1945 to 1954, claimed the seat after being named Minister of National Defence for Naval Services in July 1940. He served in that capacity until the end of the Second World War.

MacDonald returned to Nova Scotia and the Conservatives took the seat back for the first time in 15 years. Thomas Ashmore Kidd won the riding with 50.9% of the vote in 1945. Another veteran of the First World War, Kidd was the MPP for Kingston from 1926 to 1940 and Speaker of the Ontario legislature from 1930 to 1934.

Kidd's tenure in office did not last long, however, as his vote share dropped to 42% in 1949 when William James Henderson was elected instead. A member of the Royal Canadian Signal Corps from 1942 to 1944, and then of the Legal Section in Italy in 1944, Henderson would be re-elected again in 1953 and 1957, that year fending off a comeback attempt by Kidd.

He was not able to fend off the Progressive Conservatives again in 1958, however, when Ben Allmark, an alderman from 1953 to 1958, was elected with 51.9% of the vote. But Allmark would not stay very long, being defeated by Edgar John Benson of the Liberals in 1962. This election was also the first one by the New Democrats, and the party took 4.6% of the vote.

Benson, a sergeant in the 1st Survey Regiment during World War II, was re-elected in 1963, 1965, and 1968 by comfortable margins. He served as the Minister of National Revenue from 1964 to 1968, President of the Treasury Board from 1966 to 1968, Minister of Finance from 1968 to 1972, and finally as Minister of National Defence in 1972.

But Benson resigned that year to become the President of the Canadian Transport Commission, and this was the opportunity for Flora MacDonald of the Progressive Conservatives, who won handily with 53.4% of the vote. She was the first woman to represent Kingston in the House of Commons.

MacDonald, the third with that name to represent the riding, would be re-elected four more times, serving until the 1988 election. MacDonald stood as a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 1976, and was named Secretary of State for External Affairs, the first woman to get the post, from June 1979 to March 1980. She was named Minister of Employment and Immigration in Brian Mulroney's first cabinet, and then served as Minister of Communications from 1986 to 1988.

This period also featured a steady growth for the NDP, from just 10.9% in 1965 to between 18% and 20% in the 1979, 1980, and 1988 elections. But in 1988, MacDonald was defeated by the Liberal candidate Peter Milliken, who took 40.6% of the vote to 35.9% for MacDonald, the worst Conservative performance since Confederation at the time.

Milliken would go on to be the longest serving MP for Kingston and the Islands and its predecessors. His family had a political background, with his cousin, John Ross Matheson, being the Liberal MP for Leeds from 1961 to 1968 and Order of Canada recipient.

Milliken was re-elected six more times, taking a majority of ballots cast in 1993, 2000, and 2004. The Progressive Conservatives were reduced to around 20% support in the 1990s here, as the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties took between 12.5% and 15.4% of the vote between 1993 and 2000. With the merger that formed the current Conservative Party, that support increased to 23.1% in 2004, 26.1% in 2006, and 32.5% in 2008. That election was the closest for Milliken, as he took 39.2% of the vote - his lowest share.

But he had become a political fixture in Canada by this time. He was parliamentary secretary to the House Leader until 1996, and became Deputy Speaker from September 1997 to October 2000. In January 2001, he was named Speaker of the House of Commons, a role he would fill until June 2011. That made him the longest serving speaker in Canadian history.

Milliken retired in the run-up to the 2011 election, and Ted Hsu of the Liberals was elected with 39.3% of the vote. The Conservatives came close, with 34.9% of the vote (their best since 1988), while the New Democrats took 21.5%, their best ever. The Greens, after growing steady from 1.7% in 1997 to 10.8% in 2008, dropped again to 4.2% of the vote. 

Kingston and the Islands, and its predecessors, has had a rather stable political history. Only the Liberals and the Conservatives have ever represented the riding, and their vote share has merely wobbled back and forth before the breakdown of the traditional party system in 1993. After Liberal dominance in the Milliken era, the riding seems to be returning to a closer Liberal-Conservative contest, as the NDP returns to the level of support the party was enjoying in the Ed Broadbent years.

Overall, Kingston and the Islands is a Liberal riding - the party has won it 24 times against 19 for the Conservatives, and has averaged 46.1% support since 1935, compared to 39.9% for the Conservatives and 11.5% for the CCF/NDP. It was closely contested in 2011, but that was a historically bad election for the Liberals. Will it return to being one of the safest ridings in the country for the party in 2015?

12 comments:

  1. Fascinating how in those early day elections a seat could be won by as few as 17 votes !! Don't know what it tells us except how things have changed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. a seat can still be won by as few as 17 votes...

      Delete
    2. And if you don't think that would command an instant recount ?? Elections in theory can be won by that few votes but in reality would see months of litigation.

      Delete
    3. There is an automatic recount when the margin is that small.

      Delete
    4. Yeah exactly and when that's done the court battles start !!

      Delete
    5. Peter,

      A close election result by itself is not sufficient to litigate. Some injustice, adverse effect or illegality must occur or be claimed to have occurred otherwise the action will be viewed as specious and thrown out.

      Election litigation is very rare in Canada, partly this is the result of the excellent work of Elections Canada. Clear rules are in place for close election results; all recounts are supervised by a judge and a number of methods exist depending on the jurisdiction to resolve an election in the case of a tie.

      In fact most recounts do not result in litigation. Of four recounts resulting from the 2011 election only Etobicoke-Centre was litigated. The Liberal candidate Borys Wrzesnewskyj claimed voter registration irregularities may have influenced the result. After a trial and subsequent appeals the SCOC determined that whatever voter registration irregularities existed they alone were not enough to change the outcome of the election and so upheld the Conservative win. The margin of victory was 26 votes.

      Peter, your comments imply that litigation is commonplace, when in fact that couldn't be farther from the truth. Part of the reason litigation is rare is the low probability the litigant will be successful. Courts are understandably hesitant to overturn results of an election.

      Delete
  2. Ted Hsu just posted this to his Facebook feed btw.

    Also, speaking of Hsu and Kingston and the Islands, I believe this was the only Liberal win for someone who wasn't an incumbent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sean Casey in Charlottetown was the other one.

      Delete
  3. It is also significant to note that the Liberals didn't just avoid losing Kingston; their vote share also increased slightly! This was a bucking of the national trend unique to the election west of Montreal. My explanation is that vote bleeding to Conservatives and NDP was buttressed by soft Green voters moving to the Liberal camp, with Ted's personal popularity and appeal to young professionals and students helping to shift those voters.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice use of "comeback" with "Kidd"- us political nerds love those sorts of plays on words.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Could you please correct the spelling of John A.'s surname? He used a lowercase "d" (i.e. Macdonald, not MacDonald).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, sorry, I'll get to it soon.

      Delete

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.