Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wither the People's Alliance?

This is the third post in a three-post series on the prospects for New Brunswick's three registered third parties for this fall's provincial election.

The People's Alliance is running as a radically populist party. They will not whip their elected members in any way to support a central party platform, but they are instead a loose alliance of individuals who want to put their constituents before party.

This sounds like a good idea on paper, but it has not proved to work very well in practice both at the federal level and here in New Brunswick.

The Reform Party of Canada ran on a similar platform but it did not take them long to move to a more traditional approach when in parliament. The same happened to the Confederation of Regions here in New Brunswick. In Reform's case, they managed to adapt and thrive (though their populist views eventually vanished when merging to form today's Conservative Party). On the other hand, COR imploded after one term of having elected members.

While this model does not seem to work very well after elections, it does seem to be a good platform on which to run for election. Dissatisfaction with politics as usual (which we are certainly seeing in New Brunswick today) got Reform over 50 seats in 1993 and COR official opposition status in 1991.

While COR is best remembered for being opposed to official bilingualism, this was just one manifestation of a broader view of libertarian/populism. i.e. keep the state out of the people's business and give the people more power over the state.

One presumes that the People's Alliance will do best in ridings where COR did well.

COR won all of almost all of its seats in Greater Fredericton, with two others in anglophone parts of Greater Moncton. It also did relatively well throughout rural southern New Brunswick.

Riding boundaries have changed quite a bit since 1991 (in 1995 and again in 2006) but the following 11 ridings were all or largely represented by COR in 1991:

Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak
Grand Lake-Gagetown*
Miramichi Southwest
New Maryland-Sunbury West
York North
* The old riding of Sunbury makes up significant parts of these two ridings and was represented by COR. The ridings of Queens North (which makes up the rest of Grand Lake-Gagetown) and Frederiton South (which makes up the rest of Fredericton-Lincoln) were won by the Liberals in 1991.

I've colourcoded the ridings based on which party currently represents them. As you can see, both the Liberals and Conservatives are equally at risk.

The highest profile candidates so far are both former Conservative nomination contestants. One is party leader Kris Austin, running in Grand Lake-Gagetown and St. Andrews mayor John Craig in Charlotte-Campobello.

The People's Alliance's hopes rest largely with circumstances outside of their control. Because their ethos is to be against the system, the "system" needs to do something that will spur the disenfranchised to be against the main parties and therefore vote for this party.

Every day that passes since the NB Power debate, the less likely it is for this party to be able to ride the tide of that rage. Moreover, if their voters are most likely to be people that would otherwise vote Conservative, will they actually be able to get votes in an election where the Conservatives have a chance to win? In 1991 the PCs were in shambles and in 1993 they were crushed.

In those elections, voters could choose between a moderate party that was sure to lose and a radical party that was sure to lose. It is very easy to stay pure in those circumstances.

If people who generally prefer less government and small c conservatism have the choice between a more moderate Conservative Party that could win and a populist party that can't, I suspect they are more likely to choose the former.

So barring something dramatic happening between now and September 27, I expect that that People's Alliance will do well enough to scare the mainstream parties in a few ridings, but not likely pick up a seat. I'll set the odds at 20-80.


Kit said...

Glad your back.(sorry to see others have noticed as well). Interesting thoughts so far. I heard the Graham Liberals were talking about eco-fees (ecotaxes) like Ontario? Don't know if that's true.

daniel said...

Finally! NB has been sorely lacking a good political blog these days.

I honestly don't see the people's alliance as having much more of an effect than playing spoilers in one or two razor-thin races (the kind where a flip of a dozen votes would change the results, a la Brenda Fowlie in Quispamsis in 2003).

daniel said...

As for the two major parties, obviously the smart money right now is on a modest-to-moderate-sized PC victory in September. The numbers are still close, but it's worth noting that the Liberals haven't polled above the mid-to-high-thirties since the **** hit the fan with NB Power last fall. Granted, they closed a wider gap in a smaller timeframe to win in 2006 - but I have my reservations that the man who is now "Canada's Most Unpopular Premier" will be able to so easily turn things around in 2 months.

David Raymond Amos said...

I presume I am the unnamed "Other" EH Kitty?