Canadian Politics: Mix Well and See What Happens


Warren Kinsella recently got a reminder of how influential his blog is when a single post became national news. I’m sure he didn’t expect his single prediction to get so much attention but, slow news day or not, it’s understandable that some news columnists would pounce upon word from a staunch figure of the old administration of a party predicting that the new administration of the same party is doomed to minority government. Sure it’s one man’s opinion, but to the newspapers, it’s another symbol of an upcoming split. Warren may ask reporters to take it with the requisite grain of salt, but the reporters are more likely just to say “yum, yum!”

Ah, well; this will blow over, and if Warren Kinsella delivered a kick in Paul Martin’s complacency, so much the better. However, I’m still wrestling with Warren’s prediction of a minority government after the next election. Looking in my tea-leaves, I can’t see it. I’ve already made a prediction of my own and have gone in quite a different direction:









And, like Warren, my own prediction has received some attention and a little disbelief. After all, haven’t the PCs and the Alliance merged into one party? Hasn’t the vote-splitting of the right ended? Don over at All Things Canadian, developer of an interesting spreadsheet which calculates the changes in seat-totals based on the year 2000 election results the possible movement of PC supporters to the new Conservative Party of Canada, politely asked me what the heck I’ve been smoking.

Okay, confession time: the numbers above are less scientific prediction and more wishful thinking — not that I particularly want a Diefenbaker-sized Martin majority, but that the idea of having Prime Minister Paul Martin face Leader of the Opposition Jack Layton strikes me as deeply cool (yes, I do sometimes mix mysterious substances together just to see what happens). If I were being realistic, the numbers would probably be as follows:









Still a Diefenbaker-sized majority. Still a disaster for the Conservatives. I’m not even sure that the new Conservatives will get 40 seats, and any that they drop are heading to the Liberals.

It’s true that I’m not basing my predictions entirely on polls. These don’t always give an accurate reflection of the country as a whole, or the direction its heading. Other developments suggest that a Martin landslide is secure, and the Conservatives are doomed. Consider:

The Liberal Party’s website contains a page consisting of a point-for-point rebuttal of statements made by NDP leader Jack Layton (link courtesy Inkless Wells). At the time of this writing, no similar page exists for the Conservative Party or the Bloc Quebecois. Also, in end-of-year interviews, Paul Martin singled out and criticized the NDP. They were, in fact, the ONLY party and Mr. Layton the ONLY leader he named. Why would the Liberals act this way unless they saw the NDP, and not the Conservatives or the BQ as a threat?

Both the BQ and the Conservatives have lost MPs, two of them to the Liberals.

The new Conservative Party of Canada is seriously short credible moderate leadership candidates. Scott Brison crossed the floor rather than run for the leadership. Bernard Lord, probably the best choice, politely declined. Lord, in particular, gives the impression that he wants to lead the federal Conservatives at some point — but to preserve his reputation as a winner and rebuild a destroyed party, he has to see that party destroyed first, and not be leader when that happens.

As I mentioned before, the vote-splitting of the right that supposedly kept the Liberals in power since 1993 has been largely illusionary. It’s more accurate to blame the Reform/Alliance/Conservative parties’ failure to win on their inability to speak to the Canadian centre. Stockwell Day probably pulled all of the people he could out of the Progressive Conservative Party during the 2000 election when he got 28% of the vote, and the PCs a record low 12%. Consider, now, that those 12% are probably the most ardent, most loyal PC supporters on the planet. Now that you’ve removed the PCs as an option for PC voters, how likely are these PC supporters to join the Alliance? Polls show that most PC supporters, if forced to make a choice, would choose Liberal over Alliance; the ones that would choose the Alliance have probably already left.

Does 28 + 12 = 40 vs 40? No. More like 40 + 12 = 52 vs 28. And maybe not even 28, since Martin’s Liberals lead in three of the four provinces of Western Canada, and at least one Alliance MP has bolted for the Liberals.

Which brings us to the NDP, and the angry attention Martin has given them. Despite a couple of lapses in judgement, I think Martin is far from being a fool. He managed to convince the majority of Canadians not only that a finance minister could topple a sitting prime minister, but that such a move was inevitable. I think he has the pulse of the Canadian electorate and he knows that he has positioned himself in such a way that the only direction where his support could bleed is to the left.

I believe that as many as 25% of Canadians are sympathetic enough to the NDP that they will consider voting for them. In the past, the NDP has been able to count on the support of 20% of the electorate nationwide, but in the past two elections, NDP support dropped by half. Some of those voters became disillusioned and no longer consider the party relevant, but a substantial portion are simply NDP voters voting Liberal out of fear of what the Reform Party/Alliance could do to Canada. I know these people exist; until the 2000 election, I was one of them. I believe that as many as 5-10% of the electorate are former NDP voters bolstering Liberal support.

So, while the Liberals will probably gain most of the 12% of PC supporters , they could potentially lose 5-10% of the electorate to the NDP, assuming that these NDPers no longer view the Conservative Party as a threat. The fact that NDP support is flirting with the high teens does not bode well for Stephen Harper and his great right hope. It helps the NDP no end to see that Paul Martin’s government is in some ways only marginally different from the moderate elements of the new Conservative Party; not only is it safe to vote NDP, now, it makes little difference whether the Liberals or the Conservatives are in power.

And with all due respect to Don’s spreadsheets, he appears to be considering only provincial and regional poll numbers; he is not considering how concentrated pockets of votes might be within those provinces and regions. He notes that in the Atlantic provinces, Liberal support is at 50%, while NDP support is at 11%, but the NDP support is concentrated in urban areas, and within a handful of ridings they have already won. Whereas the new Conservative Party appears to have failed to resonate with Atlantic voters (remember the defection of Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison to the Liberals), the NDP are as relevant (or irrelevant) as ever, and I can see them keeping their 4 seats, even if Elsie Wayne and Peter MacKay are the only Atlantic Conservatives left standing.

Don’s own calculations suggest that the NDP can get as many as 14 seats in Western Canada, based on polls which show the party polling at 22% in the region. But the NDP is not much of a factor in Alberta, nor in rural Saskatchewan and BC. This boosts their representation elsewhere. As a result, I see 6 seats for the NDP in Saskatchewan (all in Saskatoon and Regina), 5 seats in Manitoba and 5 seats in BC (mostly Vancouver), bringing their total to 16. A decent amount considering their previous performance.

In Ontario, things get interesting. I’ve already noted that the suggestion that ending the PC/Alliance vote splitting amounts to 20 seats in the province is based on a false assumption. The new party will only get 4 seats, likely two in Simcoe County, and two in Renfrew County (rural Ottawa). NDP support, however, is concentrated in urban areas, and they’re playing to that support by bringing in some star candidates. I can see Ed Broadbent taking Ottawa Centre. I can see Jack Layton squeaking out a victory over Dennis Mills in Toronto-Danforth. I can see the party keeping Windsor-Techumseth. I also see NDP victories in Trinity-Spadina (long an NDP stronghold, and which they came close to winning in 1997 and 2000) and in Oshawa. They have decent chances in Davenport and in central Hamilton. That’s 5-7 seats, giving them a total of anywhere from 25-27.

If the Liberals lose 11 seats in Ontario, that’s a significant dent on their near-clean sweeps of the past three elections, but whatever the Liberals lose in Ontario, they’ll gain in Quebec and the West. Martin is more popular than Chretien in Quebec, and I can see Martin building on Chretien’s impressive 2000 election victories against the BQ. I see the Liberals almost sweeping Edmonton and taking 5 seats in Alberta. I see them taking more in Manitoba and BC. They are serious contenders throughout this nation, but most of the support they’ll steal will come from the former Progressive Conservatives.

Martin only needs 50% in order to achieve a Diefenbaker-like majority, and the latest polls suggest that he’s just 5% off of that target. But within the 307 seats in the new parliament, there is fertile ground for a party on the left to gather up a decent contingent of parliamentarians. Things could change, but I believe that, right now, this is where the country is headed. Not to hell in a handbasket, but towards interesting times indeed.

The Fate of the BQ

Among my more liberal friends, there is a suggestion that the NDP could do well (possibly even assure itself Official Opposition status) if Jack Layton opened merger talks with the Bloc Quebecois. Although the BQ were born out of Quebec PC members breaking away from the Mulroney coalition, some believe that their core values (beyond Quebec separation) are closer to that of the current NDP. After all, the Parti Quebecois tend to win on their social democratic policies, not separation, and didn’t Lucien Bouchard react angrily to Reform Party leader Preston Manning’s suggestion that the BQ and the Reform Party were very alike, saying in essence “how can he believe that? We are a party of the left!” The NDP has always sought to make inroads in Quebec and has always failed. Hooking onto the social democrats of the BQ and borrowing their extensive organization may finally provide the solution. Sure, critics would harrange the NDP for getting in bed with the separatists, but then those critics don’t give the NDP much credit for anything, anyway. Besides, now that the issue of separation sleeps, the Alliance has also reached out the olive branch to its Mulroney-era allies, so why not the NDP?

Dan pooh-poohs this notion, noting that the BQ is actually a big tent (notice how a number of them voted against Gay rights legislation, despite the fact that one of their members became only the second sitting MP to declare himself homosexual). Also, the coming election is likely to cost the BQ dearly (Dan will be surprised if they maintain more than 18 seats); of the MPs that remain, what will they be like? Will they be the soft-sovereigntists like Robert Lanctot, who already crossed the floor to Martin’s Liberals? Or will they be hardliners, unwilling to work with any party whose headquarters are across the Ottawa River?

He has a point. It’s a shame, really. I still think the idea of an NDP-BQ alliance would be rather cool. Remember, I do like to mix those chemicals and see what happens.

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