Monday, November 3, 2014

Which party is at most risk from Forces et Démocratie?

Two weeks ago, Jean-François Fortin launched Forces et Démocratie, his new political vehicle. The party is a Quebec-focused regional party, dedicated to giving its MPs more independence to represent their region's interests in the House of Commons. He was able to convince Jean-François Larose, an NDP MP, to cross the floor to sit with him.

Due to Fortin's past as an MP for the Bloc Québécois, one might assume that FeD is poised to eat further into the Bloc's support. But FeD is trying to straddle the line between sovereigntist and federalist, much like the Coalition Avenir Québec at the provincial level, by avoiding the issue entirely. This has the potential to make FeD the kind of party a lot of Quebecers felt the Bloc was when it was dominant - one that could represent the views of Quebecers who were disconnected from the federal system.

But by not being a sovereigntist party, FeD could potentially rob votes from the federalist parties that have stepped into the gap opened up by the downfall of the Bloc. Are any of the parties at particular risk?

Let's look at this as a thought exercise. Even if FeD never takes off and attracts just 1% or 2% of the vote in 2015, those voters will still come from across the political spectrum in different proportions. But to answer the question of which party could be hurt the most by FeD, let's take support only from one party and give it all to FeD. This should give us an idea of which party stands to lose the most. (And for the purposes of this exercise, let's put aside the question of whether FeD would win any seats.)

We'll start with awarding FeD just 5% of the vote, taken directly from each of the parties. There is reason why FeD could be an attractive option to supporters of other political organizations. Giving more power to MPs is popular across the board. As a regionalist party, individual candidates could take a more centrist or even centre-right approach, pick-pocketing from the Conservatives. As a new party, FeD could be an attractive option to voters charmed by the novelty of the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals. As a voice for francophone Quebecers, FeD could be a vehicle for Quebecers who voted NDP but are not keen on pan-Canadian parties. And as a defender of Quebec's interests first and foremost, it is a natural heir to the Bloc.

Based on the current polling averages, the NDP would likely win around 46 seats in Quebec with 31.1% of the vote, with the Liberals taking 23 seats with 31.6% of the vote. The Conservatives, at 13.4%, would win seven seats, while the Bloc could win two with 17.1%.

If FeD captures 5% of the vote, it will only play a very minor spoiler role. By reducing the Conservatives to just 8.4%, they would be the most impacted, dropping to just two seats.

The Liberals would hardly take a dent, slipping two seats to 21. This is an indication of how the Liberals' vote is unlikely to be concentrated in the outlying regions of the province.

The New Democrats would drop four seats, proportionally a small amount, while the Bloc would be wiped off the electoral map. From that perspective, FeD might have the potential to be symbolically most dangerous to the Bloc at a low level of support like 5%.

But what if we up FeD's score slightly, to 7.5%? At that level, I would suspect Fortin might have a chance at re-election. And with just 2.5 more points' worth of support, FeD really starts to become a problem.

Now we see how FeD is, in the end, a party that could hurt the NDP the most.

The New Democrats, dropping to 23.6%, lose 17 seats and fall to just 29 province-wide. The Liberals take advantage of the split among francophones to win 34 seats, 11 more than they would be projected to win now. Even the Bloc, still with just 17.1% of the vote, makes gains.

By comparison, a slightly stronger FeD has not much of a greater impact on the other parties. The Conservatives would be shutout in the province, but that is to be expected at just 5.9% of the vote. The Liberals drop just four seats despite a slide of 7.5 points. The Bloc, of course, again gets a goose-egg with even less of the vote than before.

The NDP is the party that has to take most note of FeD. The Bloc is already polling so low that it is unlikely more blood can be drawn from that stone - there are sovereigntist voters in Quebec who will only ever vote for a sovereigntist party, and that may be the base the Bloc now finds itself at. The Conservatives could lose a few votes, but there is a world of difference between a protest party doomed to the opposition benches like FeD and a party of power like the Conservatives. The Liberals are probably furthest away from the FeD, also being a party of power but one that is perhaps even less inclined to give local MPs in Quebec free reign than either the Conservatives (who need their Quebec MPs to show a little autonomy from an unpopular government) or the NDP (who need their MPs to be good constituent representatives, if only to gain some incumbency advantages that they sorely lack).

As the New Democrats made their breakthrough in Quebec primarily at the expense of the Bloc Québécois, it makes Forces et Démocratie a competitor for those votes. They are fishing in the same pond, with the NDP having an edge on those former Bloc voters who were more social democratic than nationalist, and FeD having the edge among those who were more nationalist than social democratic.

But that assumes that Fortin can manage to attract voters in the first place. He lacks the charisma of former titans of Quebec federal politics like Gilles Duceppe or Jack Layton, and is likely to pale in comparison to the charm of Justin Trudeau and the confidence of Thomas Mulcair on the campaign trail. Fortin will not have an easy time of it, and the scenarios listed above of 5% or 7.5% of the vote may be on the optimistic side. But this exercise does show the kind of role Fortin's FeD could play in the next election and why the NDP, more than any other party, needs to ensure it never gets off the ground.