Thursday, December 29, 2011

U.S. primary watching guide

This coming Tuesday the first votes will be cast in the contest to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. The Iowa caucus will be held at nearly 2000 delegate selection sites across the mid-western state. The Iowa caucus is technically non-binding, so the first votes that count will follow the next Tuesday in New Hampshire.

The Iowa contest looks to between 2008 runner-up Mitt Romney and libertarian Ron Paul, with a surging Rick Santorum possibly being in play as well.

I made a prediction back on Dec. 6 of what I thought the Iowa caucus would turn out to be:
Paul 25
Perry 24
Romney 18
Gingrich 17
Santorum 12
Bachmann 4
At the time, this was rather bold. Ron Paul had not yet led in any poll and Newt Gingrich was heavily favoured to win both by polls, media, and pundits. I had made the following assumptions:I erred in thinking Rick Perry and his money would do this rather than Rick Santorum and his hard work. I stand by my above prediction with one adjustment: I wish to switch the names Perry and Santorum.

So if this comes to pass, what happens in New Hampshire?

Under my original prediction, it would likely have been a dog fight between Romney and Huntsman for survival.

Perry has no traction in New Hampshire and would have taken his momentum straight to South Carolina (which votes third). While Newt Gingrich, had he stayed atop of the polls, likely could have carried his momentum and won New Hampshire. Santorum falls somewhere in the middle between these extremes.

Santorum is unlikely to win in New Hampshire but as an unknown with momentum running against Mitt Romney (whose support is very soft), Jon Huntsman (who despite going all-in there hasn't be able to break 13% in any poll) and Ron Paul (who is a non-starter for about two-thirds of Republican primary voters) it could be very tempting.

If Santorum does place ahead of Romney in Iowa, he'll have a tough choice: either go to New Hampshire and roll the dice with high upside, or go to South Carolina with a week alone to run hard to build a lead. If Santorum places strongly but behind Romney, then he would be smart to go straight to S.C. and forget N.H.; if he places ahead of Romney the calculus is harder.

Another possible theory might be if the placement in Iowa is Paul-Santorum-Romney, Romney's standing in New Hampshire would likely be considerably reduced. Were Santorum to skip New Hampshire and leave Paul to take advantage of all of the Iowa momentum there, Paul might win New Hampshire as well. That would likely kill Romney leaving Santorum as the last man standing against Paul in South Carolina, which would likely mean an easy win for the former Pennsylvania senator. Though such an iteration might not be so simple; Huntsman could take disaffected Romney voters and place strongly enough in New Hampshire to become a contender and/or a wounded Romney could hang-in for likely wins in February caucus states (+ the Michigan primary where he is a favourite son) with the hopes of a super Tuesday (March 6) rebound.

It will be an interesting few weeks. I'll live blog the Iowa results and fallout on Tuesday and put out a New Hampshire prediction either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

As for where to watch, I'll give you three recommendations. If you are looking for a national broadcaster it would be a hard choice between CNN and Fox News. While CNN has a pretty good election team, they've fallen a long way from the days of Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw and they no longer have anyone with the presence of Aaron Brown or the charm of Larry King. Fox on the other hand, while a bit tainted with bias, will have the best connected Republican commentators owing to their status as the GOPs network of record. When it comes to New Hampshire, if you can get WMUR, it is a no-brainer (other network affiliates from Boston may work too if you like the local touch).

I'm not going to try something as convoluted as TTTT from 2008, but if you'd like to take a shot at the vote totals for Iowa as I have above, the comments section and bragging rights await!

My final prediction for the record:
Paul 25
PerrySantorum 24
Romney 18
Gingrich 17
SantorumPerry 12
Bachmann 4

Monday, September 19, 2011

Romney and electability

The conventional wisdom that Mitt Romney is the most electable of the Republican presidential candidates makes absolutely no sense to me. I am not even sure that he is relatively more electable than Rick Perry - as is widely accepted - or even Michele Bachmann - as is almost universally accepted.

The single biggest barrier to electability in my view is inauthenticity, inconsistency and self-contradiction. I am not sure that in the history of the world, there has been a candidate for any office with more examples of this unelectable behaviour than Mitt Romney.

Many would argue that John Kerry lost the 2004 election thanks to the playing and replaying of his infamous quote "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Ad makers could have a field day with the many similar or worse examples of Mitt Romney quotes. Imagine ads playing footage of Romney saying the following things side-by-side:

Romney then
Romney now
"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country... Many, many years ago I had a dear close family relative - that was very close to me - who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and our family have been committed to the belief." - 1994

"I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose." - 2002
"I am pro-life; that's the truth." - 2007
"Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan/Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan/Bush." - 1994"I take my inspiration from Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush." - 2008

Those are just two of my favourites. There are others on gay rights, individually-mandated health care, affirmative action, states rights, gun rights, etc, etc.

The idea that this guy has a snowball's chance in hell in a general election is the greatest political joke ever told.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Canada can (and likely will) block reform of the "British" monarchy

In 1931, the British monarchy evolved into something less specific. Rather than a single monarchy throughout the British Empire, from 1931 on a single monarch has worn several separate crowns - one for each realm (or soverign country) over which the monarch is sovereign. Under the same statute, the realms must all share the same monarch and any changes to the succession must be approved by all of the realms' parliaments.

This is where it gets tricky. Prior to 1982, Canada's parliament could have consented to a change in succession by a simple majority vote in both houses. However, under section 42 of the Canada Act 1982 (i.e. the Constitution), changes "in relation to the office of the [monarch]" can only be made with the unanimous consent of all provinces.

Notwithstanding one-off amendments that only affect a single province, since the adoption of the constitution in 1982 it has only been successfully amended once. And that was under the relatively easy formula which demands the consent of 7 provinces representing 50% of the population. And even that was way back in 1983. It has never been successfully amended using this unanimous formula despite two high profile attempts.

If we look to the lessons of Meech and Charlottetown, it seems unlikely that we will ever be able to get any amendment that requires the broad provincial consent of the 7-50 forumla adopted, let alone through the unanimous one. As I wrote in my earlier post on Senate and constitutional reform:
I suspect (though I'm not sure) that the federal and provincial first ministers and attorneys general looked to the American constitution when they came up with the amendment formula. The US constitution requires 3/4s of states to approve, while ours requires 2/3s of provinces. But ours is more difficult to attain. Why? There are 50 states, but only 10 provinces. That means that it only takes four provinces to stall constitutional reform in Canada, while it would take 13 states to do the same in the USA. It is pretty easy to get 4 premiers, who ordinarily can count on a rubberstamp from their legislatures where they likely hold a majority, to agree to a set of demands. It is much harder to get 13 governors, with legislatures who won't automatically agree with them, to do the same.

The result is ridiculous exercises like the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord: provinces band together and get all kinds of quasi-related or completely unrelated demands tagged on to the actual issue at hand in exchange for their support.

Comedic-historian Will Ferguson summed it up best when he described Meech as (I'm paraphrasing from memory) "Provinces: gimme, gimme, gimme" and Charlottetown as "Provinces, women's groups and Aborignal groups: gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme."
Thus, while the British press often write about (and even sue to implement) the idea of (and MPs and Lords try to legislate the) amending the succession either to allow for Catholics to sit on the throne, or to allow an elder daughter to succeed rather than her younger brother, they seem to forget one thing: Canada must agree.

And it doesn't look likely that Canada ever will.

Indeed, even Edward VIII's abdication back in 1936 would be impossible in present day Canada. A constitutional amendment would have to pass 12 legislative bodies (the Commons, Senate and 10 provincial legislatures) before a British King or Queen could step down. So the idea of the Crown skipping Charles for William is just as unlikely.

Yet another reason why I think we need to change the amending provisions. As I wrote in that same post:
The first constitutional amendment we need is one that would prohibit constitutional amendments that aren't addressing one specific issue. That would allow us to have intelligent debate and discussion on constitutional change without adding in everything but the kitchen sink.
Yes I know, never gunna happen. I continue to dream.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to fix the Senate

Today, word is leaking out about the Stephen Harper's first Senate reform plans that have a hope of passing.

I am a strong proponent of Senate reform, however I disagree with the prime minister's approach.

Stephen Harper's piecemeal approach to Senate reform completely ignores its real problems and would only serve to give democratic legitimacy to a broken body while risking national unity in the process.

One must remember why Canada got a Senate in the first place. As part of the bargain of Confederation, the Senate was made to temper the possibility of wild swings in voter preference from a fickle electorate and to allow smaller regions to have a place where their concerns would have weight.

If Canadians like the monarchy because it differentiates us from our American friends, why wouldn't they like an unbroken Senate? I think they would.

So what is *really* broken with the Senate? Its membership, and more specifically how its members are chosen, and is distribution of seats across the country.

Harper's proposals would try to tackle the membership question in an uneven way (some provinces could choose not to hold elections for Senators) while ignoring the seat distribution question. That's a problem.

Back to the history lesson...

Nationbuilders tend to be either very naïve or (to be more generous) very opptomistic.

The Amercians never foresaw that their grand plan to choose the federal executive through an electoral college would fail in their own lifetimes. The electoral college was meant to have state legislators chose a panel of elders who would in turn select presidents who are above politics and make their chief rivals vice-president a heartbeat away from the presidency. Within 10-15 years, the process was overtaken by partisanship and had to be amended. A few years after that, the whole electoral college process was made a rubberstamp.

At the same time it didn't seem to occur to our own Fathers of Confederation that a body of "sober" statesmen and scholars appointed by the prime minister would quickly evolve to a body of prime ministers' friends and supporters.

However, their idea was pretty good on principle. We have an elected and representative House of Commons. But some times voters do get buyer remorse and in a system with few checks on the executive power, a distinct second legislative body could be helpful. But an elected Senate wouldn't be distinct, it would be a clone of the other place. And thus a waste of money.

If only we had some kind of proven means to neutrally select and recognize preeminent Canadians. If we did, maybe we could get them to be Senators?

Wait! We do! There is the Order of Canada.

There are 165 companions of the Order of Canada and 105 Senators (later I will suggest this should be 120). From among these we could likely put together a geographically representative Senate filled with the sorts of folk that it was always meant to be filled with. If 105 (or 120) Senators couldn't be drawn from among them for reasons of geography or willingness, one could always turn to the officers (2nd tier) members. The companions could elect the Senators in the same way heritary peers did when they were largely phased out in Britain. This would remove political interference and cronyism from Senator selection while still allowing for a body of sober second thought.

Now onto the Senate's composition. The idea was to have regions with equal power in the Senate. At first, this was adhered to. Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes each got 24 seats. When PEI joined, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick became the only provinces in history to lose Senate seats as their numbers were reduced by 2 each to give PEI their 4.

Later, Senate seats were added haphazardly without regard to regions. This broke the regional representation model of the Senate.

This model should be restored in the following fashion:

  • Maritimes (24) + Newfoundland (6) should make a new 24-member Atlantic region;

  • The Ontario region (24) and the Quebec region (24) would remain unchanged;

  • The West (24) + Yukon (1) + NWT (1) + Nunavut (1) should be split into a Prairie region of 24-members and a Pacific and Arctic region of 24-members.
This is how the results could break out by Senate seats by province:
  • Ontario and Quebec - 24 each

  • British Columbia - 21*

  • Alberta - 10

  • Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland - 7 each

  • PEI - 3

  • Yukon, NWT and Nunavut - 1* each
* - the constitution should make an allowance for each of the territories to get 3 seats should they become provinces, to be offset by BC gradually going to 15 seats.
This all sounds pretty easy right? If it were, I suspect Stephen Harper would take an approach like this. But it isn't. The problem? The constitutional amendment mechanism.

I suspect (though I'm not sure) that the federal and provincial first ministers and attorneys general looked to the American constitution when they came up with the amendment formula. The US constitution requires 3/4s of states to approve, while ours requires 2/3s of provinces. But ours is more difficult to attain. Why? There are 50 states, but only 10 provinces. That means that it only takes four provinces to stall constitutional reform in Canada, while it would take 13 states to do the same in the USA. It is pretty easy to get 4 premiers, who ordinarily can count on a rubberstamp from their legislatures where they likely hold a majority, to agree to a set of demands. It is much harder to get 13 governors, with legislatures who won't automatically agree with them, to do the same.

The result is ridiculous exercises like the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord: provinces band together and get all kinds of quasi-related or completely unrelated demands tagged on to the actual issue at hand in exchange for their support.

Comedic-historian Will Ferguson summed it up best when he described Meech as (I'm paraphrasing from memory) "Provinces: gimme, gimme, gimme" and Charlottetown as "Provinces, women's groups and Aborignal groups: gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme."

The first constitutional amendment we need is one that would prohibit constitutional amendments that aren't addressing one specific issue. That would allow us to have intelligent debate and discussion on constitutional change without adding in everything but the kitchen sink.

Then we should have a sensible discussion about a second constituional change to fix the Senate.

Yes, I know that this will never happen. One can dream.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Would the real ACOA minister please stand up?

The media has widely reported that Bernard Valcourt has been named ACOA minister. However, that is not so. He has been named a minister of state only; which means he is not a full minister, but a junior minister supporting a more senior minister.

The Order-in-Council designating him a minister of state is now online. It clarifies that he is indeed not the minister of ACOA but "a Minister of State ... to assist ... the Minister for the purposes of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Act in the carrying out of that Minister’s responsibilities."

So, who is that minister? Well, as I can find no Order-in-Council terminating Keith Ashfield's appointment to that job, it is either still Ashfield or PCO hasn't yet updated it's database with all of the OICs from yesterday.

Inquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE: Confirmed, from watching CPAC's video-on-demand recording of the swearing-in, that Keith Ashfield remains the real ACOA minister, with Valcourt assisting him.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

What if...

As usual, the lobby groups are crying foul over the election results. These groups favour perpetual minority government by requiring a party to get over 50% of the vote to win a majority government. Under our current system, a party that wins a clear pluarilty can form a majority government. No party has won more than 50% of the vote in Canada since Brian Mulroney in 1984 and then it was just barely.

I was asked on Twitter the other day to take a look at what the election results might have looked like under a different electoral system. I've done this before for provincial elections.

It is impossible to give a perfect picture of what might have been for several reasons. First, is there are nearly an infinite number of possible versions of proportional representation that Canada might choose were it to move in that direction. Second, voters might not cast their ballots in the same way if there were a different electoral system presented to them, especially as they would have a ballot specifically for a party seperate from local candidates in almost all iterations.

There are four main types of proportional representation systems that are worth exploring. For reasons of pure logistics, I can only explore three of them.

Mixed Member Proportional

MMP seems to be the most popular model in Canada, in that it has been chosen by electoral reform groups in three provinces (Ontario, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) to be put to a referendum. In Ontario and PEI, voters rejected electoral reform, while in New Brunswick a referendum was never held on the proposal.

In an MMP system, there are two tiers of legislators. The first tier continues to be elected from single member districts as they are today. A second tier are selected for multi-member regions (or the jurisdiction as a whole) based on the popular vote for each party (various types of PR can be used to elect this second tier); the second tier legislators are not selected based on the popular votes however, but are used to proportionalize the overall results to bring legislators from both tiers into as close a possible match to the popular vote. For instance, in the 1993 federal election, most of the second tier seats would have gone to the PCs who won 16% of the vote but less than 1% of the seats. An explainer of the Ontario-version of MMP can be found here.

MMP is used to elect the German federal parliament, the New Zealand federal parliament and the devolved assemblies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the UK.

For the purposes of my analysis, I will assume that each province gets 25% more members assigned to a province-wide region. This would increase the size of the House of Commons from a 308 member both to a 388 member body. For comparison purposes in the table I present below, I have scaled these results down to a 308 member House of Commons.

Single Transferable Vote

STV is the other proportional representation system given serious consideration in Canada. It has been put to a referendum unsuccessfully in British Comlumbia on two separate occassions. Interestingly, BC voters actually voted in favour of STV in 2005, but the referendum was only to be successful if it received the support of 60% of voters. In a do-over in 2009, support for STV declined from 58% to 39%.

In an STV system, ridings are fused together to larger multi-member districts. Parties may, and ususally do, run as many candidates as there are seats in each district. Voters cast a preferential ballot, ranking all of the candidates of all parties in order. Voters could rank all of the candidates for their prefered party first, or they could mix and match. Candidates are elected when they reach the quota for the riding, which in most cases is 1/(n+1) where n is the number of seats up for election. For instance, in a 7-member riding, candidates would win when they get 1/8th of the vote. When a candidate is elected, his or her second preferences votes are distributed to the other candidates. If no candidate is elected in a given counting round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his or her votes are distrbuted to the next preferences. An explainer on BC-STV can be found here.

Ireland and Malta are the only countries to use STV for their national legislative elections, though Australia and India also use it to choose the upper house (i.e. Senate-type body).

Unfortunately, as this system is so radically different than our current system, I cannot think of a proper way to extrapolate the election results onto this system so it will not be included in my analysis.

Party-list proportional representation

This is the purest form of PR; it is a simple matter of people voting for a party, and that party gets the percentage of seats that it got in votes. There are closed-list and open-list models; in the former the party puts forward its list of candidates and if they get 20 seats, the top 20 people on the list get elected. It is this model that was proposed to elect the regional (second tier) MLAs in New Brunswick under the MMP proposal here. The latter gives voters two ballots, where they vote for their party of choice and also to rank the individual candidates (like in STV). Under this model, if a party won 20 seats, the top 20 candidates as ranked by voters would be elected.

Israel is the most well known country to use this system, and it doesn't really make a lot of sense on a national level for a country as diverse as Canada. It could also be applied at the provincial or sub-provincial level. It also usually includes a threshold (commonly 2 or 5%) to screen out "fringe parties."

I will run a provincial and national list PR results using both 2% and 5% thresholds for my analysis.

Additional Member Method

This system is very similar to the MMP system, except that rather than a fixed number of seats permanently enlarging the parliament, as many extra seats as necessary are added to proportionalize the result of the single member constituencies. In some elections, where the results came out proportional anyway, there would be no need to add extra seats. In extreme elections - think BC in 2001, New Brunswick in 1987, etc, many extra seats would need to be added to proportionalize the results.

I ran an analysis of the potential impacts of AMM if the extra seats were added at a provincial or national basis. As adding the seats at a provincial basis can distort the provinces' relative share of seats in parliament, I doubt this system would work in Canada. Therefore, I'll only show the national model below. As with MMP, I've scaled the results to a 308 member House of Commons for comparison purposes.


Additionally, I was asked to examine the possible impact of the "alternate vote." This system, also known as preferntial voting or instant runoff voting, has been used in Australia since 1918 and is the subject of a referendum today in the UK. AV is not a proportional representation system, it is an evolution of our current first-past-the-post system. In AV, people rank the candidates in their single member constituencies rather than simply marking an X for their prefered candidate. Candidates aren't elected until they get 50% + 1 of the vote, ending vote spliting. The UK electoral commission has a video to explain the difference between FPTP and AV.

Using the best data I could find on voters' second choices (which turned out to be this Leger poll), I ran the ridings through until we got majority winners in each riding. There are a number of huge caveats with this - particularly that there are no second perferences for people voting for minor parties and independents, causing all of those votes to become spolied when their first choice dropped out of the balloting. Another big problem is that I couldn't seperate Quebec's second choices from the rest of Canada, meaning second preference choices of and for the BQ are a bit distorted.

However, this should give us a rough picture of how the result would have been with AV and whether or not vote splitting was responsible for the election of a Conservative majority.


Anyway, without further ado, here are the results of the various electoral systems according to my analysis.

Seat comparison

New Democrats1021019599959888123

Proportionality comparison (share of votes vs. share of seats)

 Seat Share
New Democrats30.733.132.830.832.130.831.828.639.9

For all of the data, and most of the calculations used, click here. Some of the calculations were done manually so they are entered directly, while most are the result of spreadsheet-driven calculations.

I'm curious to hear your reactions.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

What a night

Last night was the most remarkable Canadian election since at least 1993, possibly since the dawn of television.

Here is my round up of thoughts....

Winners and losers all face challenges

The big winners are obviously the NDP, the Greens and the Conservatives (and I would argue in that order).

But all 5 parties face major challenges going forward.

The Conservatives will no longer be able to use the minority situation as an excuse to their base when justifying not pursing some policies that might not be politically palatable. They will have to walk a difficult balancing act in order to hold their electoral coalition together without risking losing their majority in 2015.

The NDP has a caucus with 60 MPs from Quebec, the vast majority of whom are inexperienced. The party has an opportunity to cement itself as the Canada's new second party, but will have to avoid the pitfalls that brought down Mario Dumont's ADQ after their 2007 breakthrough. Moreover, the NDP will need to be careful to not alienate Quebecers, who gave them their status as the official opposition, with a party that has long been dominated by Ontario operatives. Some of that possible resentment has already started to appear on Twitter.

The Greens get their first MP and Elizabeth May is owed congratulations for succeeding at her risky gambit of going all in on her local campaign. However, the Greens stand to lose half of their vote subsidy (having lost half of their national popular vote). Though, if the Conservatives cancel or phase out the subsidy that may be moot. In any event this cash loss will be offset by May being able to use her Hill office budget to employ the brightest lights of the Green Party, and her platform as an MP to get lots of free media.

Now, on to the Liberals and Bloc. Their challenges are more obvious, and more stark. The Liberals face the risk of following their UK forebears into perpetual third party status. The Bloc has only 4 MPs and limited financial resources. Will either be able to rebound from these low water marks?

What does this all mean for New Brunswick?

The Liberals have been reduced to 1 seat for the first time since 1984. And they placed third in 7 of the 10 ridings. The NDP won a remarkable share of the vote and came close to picking up seats in Moncton and Saint John. Is this a good omen for Dominic Cardy and the provincial NDP? Or is it solely a federal phenomenon? If the latter, is it a one time thing or is the NDP poised to make gains here in 2015 as they look to solidify their status as one of the country's two major parties?

And with Harper's new majority holding only 6 seats in Quebec, will unilingual ministers Keith Ashfield and Rob Moore be pushed aside to make room for needed francophones in the cabinet? Bernard Valcourt and Robert Goguen are likely already making that pitch!

What's next for the NDP?

The NDP seems to have lots of potential growth potential. It's birthplace and former stronghold of Saskatchewan eluded them for the 4th straight election (my prediction quite foolishly thought they could rebound to 10 seats there last night's scenario) and were held to only 2 seats in Manitoba. This is highly unusual territory for the NDP and those areas should be worked hard over the next four years if they wish to expand/secure their position.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Federal election prediction - New Brunswick

If you looked at my prediction from last night, you may have noticed my New Brunswick prediciton - 6 CPC, 2 Lib and 2 NDP. I was expecting some reaction to that but maybe my blog isn't as widely read as I'd like to think!

In any event, I will break that out into three categories: easy holds, close holds and seats changing hands.

Easy Holds

The ridings of Tobique-Mactaquac, Fundy-Royal and New Brunswick Southwest are among the safest Conservative seats east of Alberta. They would only change hands if there was a big anti-Conservative sweep. And there doesn't really seem to be one.

The riding of Beauséjour should be just as strong for the Liberals. Acadie-Bathurst for the NDP is a no brainer.

And Miramichi, though some view it as a close race, will be solidly in the blue column Monday night.

Close Holds

I think that Fredericton will stay with Keith Ashfield for a second term but with a surprisingly strong showing by the NDP. I see the NDP placing a close third or even second. Ashfield will be held to the low 40s in terms of percentage of the popular vote.

Brian Murphy will expand on his narrow win in Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe from 2008, but just a bit.

Changing Hands

Jean-Claude D'Amour's three elections have been somewhat flukey. He won Madawaska-Restigouche in 2004 because francophone New Brunswickers weren't ready to accept Harper's new "Reform-Conservative Party". He barely survived in 2006, despite the fact that his Conservative opponent hadn't been on a ballot in 19 years nor really heard from in that time. D'Amours built some strength back up in 2008 but he'll certainly note be able to fend off the force that is Bernard Valcourt.

And I save my boldest prediction for last. There is only reason that Jack Layton went to Saint John this week that I can fathom; their internal polls showed something that is counterintuitive. Rob Moir's record of building the NDP up from nothing in the uber-conservative stronghold of Fundy-Royal coupled with the NDP's strong showing in Saint John in last fall's provincial election (despite not really paying any attention to the Port City) bode well in theory. Layton's visit suggests that there is emperical evidence (in internal NDP polls) to suggest this seat could flip orange.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Federal election prediction

I can never resist; here is my federal election prediction.

Not a lot of science here... I ran my gut instincts on the provincial popular votes through UBC's election forecaster and made a few adjustments (mainly in Quebec) to be more in sync with what I believe can be possible considering get-out-the-vote operations, etc.

Here's what I came up with:

CPC   121

I'm not sure what these results would mean in terms of government. The Conservatives would be very small were they to continue in office and would need the support of either the NDP or the Liberals to pass things through the house; the Bloc would not have enough votes to prop up a government.

The Liberals would be left in quite a pickle. Were they to prop up the Tories they would give the NDP the opportunity to reassert that they're the only alternative to the Conservatives and boost their chances at eliminating the Liberals as the principal centre-left party. Were they to join an NDP-led coalition, or just sign a confidence agreement to put the NDP into office solo, they would be giving the NDP the opportunity to have a record in office and remove for eternity the argument that only the Conservatives and Liberals can form a government.

May we indeed live in interesting times.

For those interested, here is my somewhat wacky province-by-province breakdown.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A cautionary tale for the NDP

Not too far from here, not too long ago, there was an election. The campaign had raged for months between two party leaders who weren't well loved by either their party or the people. An underdog yelled from the treetops that there was a third option, and no one heard. Or at least, they acted as though they didn't.

And then, when the distance to the election was being measured in days instead of weeks, something incredible happened. That third option surged in the polls. At first he was rivaling the liberal option for second. Then he pulled ahead just a little bit. And in the final days he actually started to tie the conservative frontrunner and even lead him.

The final results were 38.3% for the conservative frontrunner to 36.5% for that implausible third option. The liberal trailed distantly at 19.1%.

We're of course talking about the race for governor of Maine. The conservative Republican is now-governor Paul LePage. The third option was independent Eliot Cutler. And the liberal Democrat was Libby Mitchell.

And one might argue that this isn't such a cautionary tale for the NDP; were they to do as well as this it would be an incredible trimuph. But here's the rub: Cutler won the votes on election day. But he placed third in advanced polling before people realized he was a viable option, handing the election to LePage.

Here in Canada, the NDP surge first started being talked about last Thursday, the day before advanced polling began - and the day before the Easter long weekend. Many people cast their ballots on Good Friday. Would the average voter have even heard about the NDP surge at that point? And had they heard it, would they have thought it a rogue poll that only pertained to Quebec anyway? Today, we're seeing more polls putting the NDP firmly in second place nationally and gaining. But how many anti-Harper voters cast ballots for the Liberals this past weekend thinking they were the only viable alternative? With a record 2 million Canadians voting in those polls, how much damage will that have done to the NDP's high hopes?

Here is Eliot Cutler's take:
Marie had read about my plans for reforming health care in Maine and wanted to know more. She quickly told me that she already had voted; because she didn't say that she had voted for me, I was certain that she hadn't.

After we had talked for three or four minutes, she suddenly looked up at me, stricken.

"Oh dear," she blurted out, "I think I made a mistake!"

"Don't fret," I reassured her. "You can make up for it by persuading two of your friends inside to vote for me!"

Marie ran up to me three times during lunch to report her conquests, which ended up numbering six. But despite her efforts I lost the Maine gubernatorial election.

An Independent starting with zero name recognition in a five-person race, I finished a close second, losing 38% to 37% but winning nearly twice the votes cast for the Democrat.

According to our internal polls, I had the support of only 15% of Maine voters when early voting was about to start in mid-September. By mid-October, after Marie already had voted, I was still in the low 20s. In the end, more than 207,000 voters marked their ballots for me, and perhaps several thousand more would have had they not voted early.
The cautionary tale is this: the NDP may have peaked too late, for 15% of people have already cast their vote.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Un gouvernment NPD?

Much like the shocking majority victory for the PQ back in the 1976 provincial election, crazy things are happening electorally in Quebec.

Should the current NDP numbers hold, some are predicting that the NDP could win 30 seats... in Quebec alone.

A few years ago, in a post I wrote about the underacheivements of NDP, I noted that since 1979, the NDP had won 74 different ridings in general elections. Since then, they've won a few more. Throw in 30 from Quebec and you could theoretically see over 100 seats for the Dippers.

That sounds crazy, and it probably won't happen, but crazier things have happened. No one saw the NDP winning 19 seats in Nova Scotia in 1998, and no one saw them forming a government in Ontario in 1990. No one saw the BQ winning 54 seats in Quebec in 1993, or the Tories falling to 2 nationally in that same election.

So what does this all mean for New Brunswick? I was surprised to note that Jack Layton made an appearance in Saint John today.

The NDP got only 16% of the vote there in each of the past two elections. And their high water mark was 19% in 2004. However, Rob Moir grew the vote in neighbouring Fundy-Royal from 16 to 21 and finally to 24% and second place in 2008. He is now running in Saint John. Moreover, 2 of the 3 provincial ridings to ever elect NDP members are in the Port City. Does Layton think that his surge in Quebec will spill across the country and could then translate into winning these sorts of ridings that have never before been on their radar?

If so, Fredericton is probably another possibility. The Liberals didn't nominate a candidate until 10 days into the writ and his signs (and other activities) were very slow in going up as a result. The NDP broke 20% here in 2006, and has often done the same in provincial elections in Fredericton-area ridings.

All this seems to suggest the NDP is on the cusp of a major breakthrough. But one must remember that the NDP could just as easily be the victim of what is called "inefficient vote." This is what happened to the PCs in the 1993, 1997 and 2000 elections. The NDP could suffer from this phenomenon especially in Quebec.

If the NDP were to win 25% of the vote in every single riding in the country, they would walk away with somewhere between 0 and a handful of seats. Apply this to Quebec and the same logic holds. They need to raise their national vote to higher levels, or ensure that their vote is concentrated in specific seats that they win.

In 1997 for instance, we saw some great examples of efficient vs. inefficient vote. Working down the scale we see the BQ getting 4.1 seats for every percentage point of the national popular vote, Reform got 3.1, the NDP got 1.9, and the PCs got only 1.1. In fact, though the PCs had nearly twice the popular votes of the NDP, they actually won 1 seat less.

So, an NDP government still seems impossible. But winning 80-100 seats seemed impossible a week ago.

Neither may happen, but it is certainly something that bears watching.

UPDATE: 308dotcom has more on the possibilities of inefficient NDP votes in Quebec.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ummm... okay

I guess it shows when Paul Zed isn't your chief of staff anymore...

Someone call Elsie quick!


Alright, it looks like the Liberals have "fixed" this mistake by changing it to "St. John." As much as I found it funny when they erred in calling it "St. John's," that's a common and excusable mistake. But it is something worse to still get it wrong when intentionally "fixing" it. Good work folks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keep May out

Back in 2008, I made the case for Elizabeth May to be included in the debate. This election, I hold a different view.

In 2008, the Greens had a good case to make. They were the modern day answer to Reform and the Bloc in 1993; parties that had not won seats in a general election but polled far ahead of other "fringe" parties and had a good chance of winning seats. They were included in the debates and went on to both win more than 50 seats. How much the debates influenced their electoral showing is, well, a matter for debate, but it is obvious that it helped these parties (particularly Reform) get on to more voters' radars.

In 2011, the Greens no longer can make that case. While neither of the scenarios I envisioned for the Greens after being in the debates in 2008 came to pass, the fact is that their thesis was disproven. The whole argument for the Greens to be in the debates was that they were building up impressive amounts of support with little money and public exposure. The debates would undo the bottleneck they faced allowing them to raise funds and earn votes.

It didn't happen. Their vote increased incrementally as it had for the past several elections. They had no electoral breakthrough, and really didn't do any better than they likely would have without the debate.

The more leaders you have in the leaders' debate, the less of a debate it becomes and what you get is a shouting match. I'm all for including up-and-comers to give them the chance to breakthrough. But when they get that chance and fail, let's not crowd the stage with also rans.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Harper's easy path to majority

So we're looking at a federal election on May 2 or 9. And at first blush, it looks like Stephen Harper has a pretty easy path to a majority government. As Calgary Grit noted, the current polls suggest an 85% chance of a majority government. (Though he also notes that polls at this point are fairly meaningless as the last three parties ejected from office have led in polls when the writ dropped.)

But let's just assume for a moment that things keep chugging along fairly well for Harper and the Conservatives. After all, the growing number of "scandals" haven't seemed to have stuck and their budget was textbook in its use of microtargetting the sorts of people the Conservatives need to pick up as voters.

As it stands today, the Conservatives are only 11 seats short of a majority. And it isn't unreasonable to imagine that they could hold all or most of the seats they already have. Some like to talk about losses in Quebec, but the last election would seem to be a low-water-mark for them in that province considering all of the anger over arts cuts in 2008.

So let's lake a look at the top 20 pickup opportunities for the Conservatives.

Atlantic Canada

There are a number of pick-up opportunities in Atlantic Canada for the Tories. Newfoundland is an obvious target after they were shut out there in 2008 and now that Danny Williams is gone. And after widening their grip on New Brunswick to 6 seats in 2008, there is plenty of opportunity for them to grow here as well.

St. John's East and St. John's South-Mount Pearl

Both of these seats have been traditionally in the blue column. They went against the Tories in 1993 and 2008 but those seem to be historical anomalies. With Danny Williams gone both of these should be easy targets for the Tories - though Jack Harris may be a bit harder to beat than your average opposition member in St. John's.


Fabian Manning very nearly got re-elected here even when Danny Williams was running his ABC campaign. Manning is musing about resigning his Senate seat to run again which would suggest this seat is a target.


Daniel Allain very nearly defeated Brian Murphy in 2008. Murphy was thought by many to be untouchable so with that x-factor wiped away and the growing rumours that none other than Bernard Lord will be the Conservative candidate, things are looking pretty blue in Moncton.


Jean-Claude D'Amours barely won here in 2006 against former Hatfield minister Jean-Pierre Ouellet. While he did better in 2008, it is hard to imagine him being triumphant again if the rumours about a comeback for Bernard Valcourt are true.


Kingston and the Islands

This seat, surrounded on all sides by blue, has been held by narrower and narrower margins by Liberal speaker Peter Milliken. With Milliken retiring it seems to be a sure bet to go Tory.


Helena Guergis' seat will presumably come back to the Tories, but one never knows how the vote might split if she runs as an independent.


The Liberals have been holding this seat by smaller and smaller margins thanks to a very strong Green base here - it was there closest seat to a win in 2008 despite Elizabeth May running unopposed by the Liberals in Central Nova. That coupled with a strong NDP prescence would suggest that a Tory win over a three-way vote split on the left is inevitable eventually.

Welland, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay—Rainy River, and Thunder Bay—Superior North

These northern and/or rural Ontario seats all went to the NDP by relatively small margins in 2008. They are heavily targeted by the Conservatives and they'll win some if not all of these.

Brampton—Springdale, Brampton West, and Ajax—Pickering

These 905 area code seats all went to the Liberals by relatively small margins in 2008. They are heavily targeted by the Conservatives and they'll win some if not all of these.

Western and Northern Canada

Western Arctic

The NDP barely helded this seat in 2008 and the Conservatives have been heavily targeting Northern Canada generally and this seat specifically.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca

Keith Martin has managed to just barely hold on to this seat since switching to the Liberals in 2004. With his retirement it seems a no brainer for the Tories to pick it up.


Can the NDP hold a seat in Edmonton for two elections in a row? I don't think it likely.


The Conservatives (and the Canadian Alliance before them) have almost won this seat every election going back to 2000. With Bill Siksay's retirement they may have the edge they need.

Vancouver South

This seat was close enough for an automatic recount in 2008, and will likely be closely targeted again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sarah Palin's AlaskaArizona

Politico's Ben Smith reports today that were Sarah Palin to run for president, she would base her campaign in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.

The reason:
One lesson of Palin's sometimes-difficult time in the spotlight has been that Alaska is an extremely difficult base for national politics. From a distant political culture to a daunting time difference, Palin hasn't been terribly well served by the fact that her state is little-known to reporters in the lower 48, and that email inquiries arrive at 3:00 a.m. needing answers by 5:00 a.m.
There is a more specific rational for the Phoenix area: there are only 6 year-round detinations in the Lower 48 from Anchorage:
  • Chicago (home base of the Obama campaign)

  • Minneaplois (home base of the Pawlenty campaign)

  • Salt Lake City (where both Huntsman and Romney dominate)

  • Portland and Seattle (which lie in the Pacific time zone, an extra hour from most of the media)

  • and Phoenix.
Seems like a pretty logicial and well-thought-out place. Couple that with the fact that Palin daughter Bristol has settled in the area and it makes one wonder if Sarah Palin may be more serious about running for president than the conventional wisdom suggests.