Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Conservative Blue Arrow?

In 2011, the Conservatives won a majority government with just five seats in Quebec. The electoral math was stark. With 166 seats, the Conservatives could have formed a majority government without a single vote, let alone a single seat, from Quebec. And, it has been assumed, that was something the Conservatives were taking for granted. Better to win Ontario than to waste time and energy on the enigmatic Quebec voter.

But the Conservatives were not writing off Quebec entirely. Early last year, The Globe and Mail reported on Conservative plans to win a 'Blue Arrow' of seats in Quebec, some 15 in all. It seemed unlikely at the time, considering the party was at 13%.

I wrote about how the Conservatives' chances in Quebec are looking a lot better lately, and why, for the CBC. Check out the article.

Here, let's take a look at what this 'Blue Arrow' might look like, using the current seat projections. Note that this is about where the parties are now, not necessarily where they will be in October.

At the moment, the projection awards 16 seats to the Conservatives in Quebec, or a likely range of between 13 and 18 seats. The maximum range extends to between nine and 22 seats. Where are they?

There are nine seats that are currently considered to be very likely Conservative wins. At neither the likely nor maximum ranges does another party overlap with the Tories in these nine ridings.

Of course, five of these are the seats the Conservatives currently hold: Beauce (Maxime Bernier), Bellechasse - Les Etchemins - Lévis (Steven Blaney), Lac-Saint-Jean (Denis Lebel), Lévis - Lotbinière (Jacques Gourde), and Mégantic - L'Érable (Christian Paradis).

Three other seats were won by the New Democrats in 2011, but had been held by the Conservatives prior to that vote. These are Jonquière (now occupied by NDP-turned-Bloc Claude Patry, who will not be running again in 2015), Louis-Saint-Laurent (where NDP MP Alexandrine Latendresse will not be running for re-election), and Montmagny - L'Islet - Kamouraska - Rivière-du-Loup (where Bernard Généreux is seeking to re-take the seat).

The last on the list has no recent Conservative history. It is Richmond - Arthabaska, which had been held by André Bellavance of the Bloc from 2004. But the Conservatives did finish a strong third in 2011 with 25%, and the riding was formerly held by André Bachand of the Progressive Conservatives. With Bellavance not running again, Richmond - Arthabaska is an open seat. It also next door to Paradis's riding of Mégantic - L'Érable.

Here we can see the arrow the Conservatives are taking about. It starts in the Lac-Saint-Jean region and stretches down to Quebec City and over the St. Lawrence into Bernier's riding. From there, it stretches to the west towards Richmond - Arthabaska, and to the east to Montmagny.

There are four likely Conservative seats, as they only overlap with another party at the maximum ranges. These are all ridings currently held by the New Democrats.

Two of them are again in the Quebec City region: Charlesbourg - Haute-Saint-Charles, formerly held by Conservative MP Daniel Petit, and Portneuf - Jacques Cartier, formerly the riding of independent (but Conservative aligned) MP André Arthur.

The riding of Pontiac in the Outaouais (far from Blue Arrow territory) is also a likely Conservative pick-up. This was Lawrence Cannon's seat prior to 2011.

Finally, there is Chicoutimi - Le Fjord. This riding has not voted Conservative of any stripe since 1997, but here again the party was a strong third in 2011 with 26% of the vote.

Here, we're starting to see why the Conservative gain in the province could be a lot of trouble for the New Democrats. All of the Conservatives' losses in Quebec came at the hands of the NDP in 2011, and if trends continue positively for the Tories their gains will come at the expense of the NDP in 2015. At the same time, a Conservative increase is a problem for the Liberals, as it reduces their chances of winning new seats from the NDP as well. In this batch, that means Pontiac.

The next batch of ridings are ones that are currently projected to go Conservative, but where at least one party is overlapping with them at the likely ranges. These are seats that are leaning Conservative, but could easily go another way.

All three of these are in or around Quebec City, ground zero for any Conservative breakthrough in the province.

Two of these ridings are in Quebec City itself and were formerly held by the Conservatives: Beauport - Limoilou (Sylvie Boucher) and Louis-Hébert (Luc Harvey). In both ridings the Conservatives will be vying with the NDP for the seat, while the Liberals are also in play in Louis-Hébert.

Beauport - Côte-de-Beaupré - Île d'Orléans - Charlevoix, along with being ungodly long as a riding name, is a large riding stretching from just east of Quebec City to beyond the Saguenay River. It has not voted Conservative recently, but with the re-distribution the riding has become slightly more Conservative (the party took 23% of ballots cast in the new riding in 2011). Boucher will try her luck here, rather than in her old riding. Along with the NDP, the Bloc is in play here.

There are two ridings in which the Conservatives are not projected to win, but where their likely ranges overlap with the favoured party. Both of these are not in that Blue Arrow territory, suggesting that we're now heading well off the map.

The first is Abitibi - Baie-James - Nunavik - Eeyou, currently held by the NDP's Roméo Saganash. This riding, which spans all of northern Quebec, last voted for the Tories in 1988. But the party finished second here in 2011, with 23% of the vote. That was 22 points behind the NDP, but with the party dropping in the polls it puts the riding potentially in play for the Conservatives. Intuitively unlikely, perhaps.

The other riding is a complete toss-up: Saint-Maurice - Champlain in the Mauricie, where Lise St-Denis (the NDP-turned-Liberal) will not run again. The Conservatives finished third here with 17%, behind the NDP (41%) and Bloc (29%). But because of the shift in voting intentions since then, the riding could go any which way.

Saint-Maurice - Champlain is a good example of how confused the political landscape could become in Quebec. The current projection gives it to the NDP with 25%, with the Bloc, Liberals, and Conservatives all at 23%. This is what happens when you have no party with over 30% support province wide, and demonstrates nicely how the first-past-the-post system can get very strange when pushed to its extremes. I don't know if Saint-Maurice - Champlain will actually divide up so cleanly between the four parties, but I am certain that unless things change we will see a number of MPs elected in Quebec with less than 30% of the vote.

Finally, we get to the marginal Conservative seats, all but one of them well outside the Blue Arrow. These are ridings in which the Conservatives overlap with the projected winner at the extrme ranges.

Two of them are in western Quebec: Argenteuil - La-Petite-Nation, which occupies much of the border between Ontario and Quebec east of Gatineau. The riding has no particular Conservative history, but the party did finish second there in 2011 with 23%. The Tories will have to fight off the Liberals and NDP to win it.

The other riding in the west is Vaudreuil - Soulanges, which would be an interesting pick-up for the Conservatives. You may recall that this is the riding Michael Fortier tried to win a few elections back. In 2011, the party took 18% of the vote. They would have to make up a lot of ground, but it could be one of their better chances at a Greater Montreal area riding. The Liberals and NDP are the parties more likely in play here, though.

The last part of the Quebec City puzzle is the riding of Québec, which forms the downtown core of the city. It resisted the Conservative blue wave in the provincial capital in 2006 and 2008, before being wrestled away from the Bloc by the NDP in 2011. The Conservatives took 18% of the vote at the time.

Finally, there is the eastern Quebec riding of Gaspésie - Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine. The party took 19% of the vote here in 2011, but it was one of the marginal NDP pick-ups. Philip Toone won it with just 34% of the vote on the original boundaries. On the new ones, he would finish second with just 29%.

This is well outside of Quebec's conservative heartland, but the federal Tories did take 32% of the vote here in 2006. A more likely winner, though, is the Liberal Party, which has more of a history in the Gaspésie (particularly at the provincial level) or the Bloc, which benefited greatly from the redrawing of the boundaries. But if Conservative fortunes continue to improve, this riding and the ones above would start to move over into the party's column.

A Conservative breakthrough in Quebec turns everything on its head. If the party can capture 10 more seats in Quebec, losses in Atlantic Canada are suddenly much more palatable. And Quebec is the province where the Liberals desperately need to win seats to counter the Conservative advantage in the West. It is also the province the NDP needs to win to have a chance at holding on to its Official Opposition role, let alone to form government.

But as you can see above, 16 of the 17 seats the Conservatives could potentially gain on current support levels come from the NDP. They stand to lose the most by the Conservative increase - at least in terms of the current map. The Liberals lose a lot of opportunity, as they are in play in six of those 17 potential gains. They would be in play in a lot more of them if the Conservatives hadn't gained at their expense.

And the fact that the Conservatives are now first in the national polling averages owes a lot to Quebec. The party has gained about eight points in the province since early November, equally at the expense of the Liberals and NDP. Without those gains, then, the Conservatives would instead be at around 32% nationwide, with the Liberals holding a two-point lead (and the NDP at 21%). Of all the scenarios that might have been envisioned to cause the Liberals to lose the national lead in the polls, I don't think many of us had wagered on a Conservative breakthrough in Quebec. The province continues to surprise us.


  1. I'm going to wait till I see several polls with the Conservatives surging in Quebec before I even begin to consider the implications. It's not that I doubt the results; I just don't understand them.

    1. Thingamabob,

      There have been three polls in the last week with the Tories at 26% The implications are quite obvious-Quebec will give Harper his second majority.

    2. The numbers don't suggest the Conservatives are quite there yet.

    3. I'm in full agreement with Thinamabob.

      While there has been some new strength in Quebec for the CPC, the last poll by EKOS is not believable and in MHO and it's the only driving force behind this kind of speculation.

    4. What about Abacus, Forum, Eric's monthly polling averages and now Ekos?

      So I guess you don't believe Ekos' 33% for the Liberals in BC and 54% for the Grits in the Atlantic?

      I think some people don't like the results and so "disbelieve" in order to keep hope their party isn't crashing and burning. We all know any poll is unlikely to be bang on which is why confidence intervals exist.

      Dippers and Grits need to wake up to the fact Mulcair and young Trudeau are not impressing many people in English Canada or Quebec.

    5. bede
      Polls are statistical surveys with confidence levels, probabilities, methodological differences, and a certain amount of art in the form of how questions are constructed. I don't have a problem with that, but polls produce data that requires interpretation, and there is no interpretation of the surge in Quebec that makes sense to me. Libs in BC and Atlantic are perfectly reasonable numbers, given the last 8 years, Harper's questionable policies regarding those regions and historical norms. The argument I have read is that Quebecers, who just soundly rejected an attempt to legislate against ethnic diversity, now embrace security and anti-terrorism in droves, so much so as to drive a sudden and entirely unique to Quebec, new found love of the Conservatives. (10-12% increase overnight is simply not a normal occurrence in polling for anyone anywhere.) Your point about results people like/don't like may be accurate... perhaps that's the reason you're quick to see such an anomaly as perfectly normal.

    6. Abacus and Leger have the Conservatives in approximately the same place they've been for a long time 14 and 16% in Quebec respectively.

      Ekos and Forum have them around equal to the NDP and Liberals.

      To claim that the polls are in agreement and the Conservative are polling equal to the other parties in Quebec is factually incorrect. Some have found this new strength in the province, others haven't.

    7. You are correct about Léger, but not Abacus. Latest poll put CPC at 18% in Quebec, whereas the party was at 14% in three Abacus polls in October, November, and December.

    8. Thingamabob,

      Interpreting surveys does take some imagination I suppose but, come me your reply says it all

      "Libs in BC and Atlantic are perfectly reasonable numbers, given the last 8 years, Harper's questionable policies regarding those regions and historical norms"

      You hold a bias against Harper. In fact Both the Atlantic and BC benefit from the Conservative's economic policies so your reasoning is somewhat counter-intuitive.

    9. Pietro,

      The last Abacus poll had the Tories at 18% in Quebec. I don't mention Leger but, Forum who had the Tories at 26%. I'm not claiming the polls are in agreement so I am a little confused by your accusatory tone! Nor do I claim the Tories are polling equal to other parties! I have no idea whether you came up with such a notion? Did you read my comment or just assume? I do point out that over the last month or so 3 pollsters have found high polling numbers for the Tories which should mean something to panicking Grits and Dippers! The Liberals are headed for disaster in the election that is becoming painfully obvious.

      People know where Conservatives stand on radical Islam, federal-provincial relations, taxes, foreign relations. People have no idea the policies of Trudeau and the Liberals or Mulcair and the NDP in relation to these issues. Mulcair and Trudeau want voters to give them a blank cheque in order for them to consummate an unholy coalition after the election.

    10. bede
      Oh please. You wrote: "Dippers and Grits need to wake up to the fact Mulcair and young Trudeau are not impressing many people in English Canada or Quebec." Very objective and non-partisan except for the barely concealed contempt and derogatory adjectives. And it is your partisanship that enables you to believe that "Both the Atlantic and BC benefit from the Conservative's economic policies" which is a) false, and b) fails utterly to take into consideration that, even if it were true, repeated difficulties with ACOA, now CETA, impolitic musings about the laziness and low productivity of Atlantic Canada, attacks upon environmentalists and anyone who dares speak against pipelines which promise to bring plenty of downside risk to BC for almost zero reward have created a significant amount of opposition to the Harper government, regardless of whatever other failings it has.
      I don't deny that I am biased against Harper, but only insofar as I am biased against arrogance, incompetence, ignorance and corruption. I didn't care for those traits under Chretien, and I can't abide them under Harper, since I also think Harper has undermined the national economy in the name of electoral gain on several occasions. Chretien at least improved the foundation of our economy.

      Basically what I am saying is that I am looking at these results as objectively as I can, and perhaps driven by some disappointment, I came to question how the surge in Quebec can be accounted for. At that point, my questions are not at all evidence of "bias" but just plainspoken attempts to find an explanation for data sets which don't have a clear narrative to explain them. You, on the other hand, seem to be more concerned with whether the data sets support your desired narrative, as opposed to a logically and evidentially supported narrative. In my books that makes both of us biased, but you allow your bias to determine the narrative.

    11. I never claimed I was non-partisan. You on the otherhand complain you don't "understand the results". I merely point out your lack of understanding is due to your extreme partisanship as someone who is more objective and less biasecd, myself for example, understand potential reasons for the Conservative rise in Quebec.

  2. The Conservatives have done very well in the past with their targeted campaigning. They find areas they can win and dedicate themselves to doing so, while making only a token effort in those areas they consider unwinnable.

    It's an efficient and effective strategy, albeit one with strange optics for a party seeking national government.

    1. The Tories won a seat in every province in 2011 as well as the Yukon. A far cry from the Trudeau years when he had to appoint senators to cabinet to get a "national quota"

  3. One Lone Wolf attack took place in Quebec and the other just across the river.

    Without detailed polling asking why voters have changed preference, that along with the robust CPC position on intervention against ISIS seems to be the major factor moving the meter as we don't see the economy doing significantly better.

    Yes, the CPC has proved highly effective in targeting ridings where they can win and we can expect to see more thumping of the Jihadisteria drum.

  4. Eric, I should have read your CBC article before my last comment. May as well retract it in light of information there.

  5. Where does Lac-Saint-Louis (or whatever new district takes its place) stand? I remember Conservatives making a big fuss there in 2008 and 2011, thinking they could convert the Anglo-Liberals into voting Conservative and giving the Tories a seat in Montréal. Could the cross-tabs for Anglos with these new polls, and the Lac seat's Anglo suggest a possibility for a win here against the Liberals? Seams to me to be their main pick-up opportunity against the Libs.

    1. With the Liberals polling so well in Quebec, it is hard to imagine a riding like that can now be lost by them. Conservative numbers on the island haven't been very good, but it is difficult to know for certain.

    2. How about Mount Royal? the NDP barely gained there at all, while the Liberals won it by a small margin against the Conservatives. Perhaps this one is the more realistic Montréal seat, upon review.

    3. With the current aggregate, my model places the CPC behind the LPC in both ridings by:

      Mount-Royal: 6,3%
      Lac-Saint-Louis: 8,2%

  6. With my model, I have slightly different results. The strong Conservatives are (more than 8,5%):

    Beauce CPC
    Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Lévis CPC
    Lac-Saint-Jean CPC
    Lévis-Lotbinière CPC
    Mégantic-L'Érable CPC
    Montmagny–L'Islet–Kamouraska–Rivière-du-Loup NDP

    The likely Conservatives are (between 3,5% and 8,5%):

    Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles NDP
    Chicoutimi NDP
    Jonquière NDP

    The leaning Conservatives are (between 0% and 3,5%):

    Richmond-Arthabaska BQ

    The Conservatives in play are (-3,5% to 0%):

    Louis-Hébert NDP
    Louis-Saint-Laurent NDP
    Pontiac NDP
    Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier NDP
    Saint-Maurice-Champlain LPC

    The Conservatives marginally in play are (between -8,5% and -3,5%):

    Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou NDP
    Beauport–Côte-de-Beaupré–Île d'Orléans–Charlevoix NDP (projected BQ)
    Beauport-Limoilou NDP
    Gaspésie-Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine NDP (projected LPC)
    Lac-Saint-Louis LPC
    Mont-Royal LPC
    Pierrefonds-Dollard NDP (projected LPC)
    Québec NDP

    So all in all, the Conservatives are in play in 23 seats according to my model, but at the moment, they are projected with only 8 seats. The NDP would be the major loser of a CPC advance, with a potential loss of 13 seats. The LPC could lose 3 seats and the BQ could lose 1 seat.

  7. Eric

    How does Trudeau's speaking voice sound in French?

    In English there is a bit of a lisp and a cadence that reinforces his softer image.

    When he is putting in 16 hour days campaigning in three time zones it will likely be more pronounced.

    It would seem that there is a significant portion of Quebec that likes manly men to be their leaders... Mulroney, Bouchard, Chretien, Layton and Duceppe (who suffered an major set-back with the hair net photo)

    Preston Manning had to deal with his speaking voice as well as his appearance as it was taken as a negative against him.

  8. Eric, I have a question about the poll aggregate: Generally speaking (because number of people polled change), what is the approximate margin of error of the aggregate?

    1. While one could theoretically be calculated, I'm afraid I don't have an answer for you. Mashing up a bunch of different polls and using the total sample size to get a margin of error would not be correct, each poll is different so you can't do it that way.

  9. Éric,

    When I look at ridings in and around La Capitale Nationale, I'm left with the impression that despite how the CPC are polling, it's not a natural progression for the vote to go from the NDP to the CPC.

    Logically speaking, it made far more sense to witness a move from long time BQ support to the NDP.

    I'm just spitballing.

    1. The vote shift is about the Islamic terrorist threat, which is more acute in Quebec. It makes perfect sense.

    2. I have to disagree Ronald. The NDP is a centralist party, the BQ separatist-polar opposites in terms of federalism.

      Conservatives and NDP have nationalist elements to them.

  10. Quebec has a volatile electorate.

    Some of the same francophone rural voters that vote Bloc (and NDP in 2011) can be a natural fit for the Conservative tent.

    These voters are centrist in their social and fiscal outlook. But can be considered right-wing in security and identity issues. They are soft-soverignist and are skeptical of the federal Liberal party.

    In 2008, when the Conservatives were seen as making a breakthrough in Quebec the arts funding controversy resulted in their support going back down.

    I think in 2015, I suspect the Mulcair will counter any Quebec surge by attacking the government's environmental record. Attempt to tie Stephen Harper as someone who puts the Alberta resources industry's interests first.

  11. So I'll go where no one else has on this one. Quebec is more threatened my Muslim extremism than the rest of Canada. There are far more French speaking Muslims immigrating here and yes there is more xenophobia (shall we call it) towards them. Both recent terrorist actions in Canada were committed by Francophones. If the ISIS threat continues, look to see the Conservative numbers rise in Quebec outside the island of Montreal. Trudeau's soft peddle on this issue is not impressing them very much.


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