This is my latest assessment of where the five parties stand a good chance of winning in 2014. First, I assessed the general leanings of each of the new 49 ridings for the two main parties, then I looked at the NDP's best shots, and then the Greens. Now I turn to the People's Alliance.
In some ways, the People's Alliance provides the most difficult task for objective analysis. The NDP has been on the ballot for decades, so it is easy to look for trends and consistent pockets of strength. For the Greens, though they too have only fought one election, there are at least federal election results where the Greens have had consistent campaigns and trends going back to 2004.
The People's Alliance has no federal counterpart and has no provincial electoral history. And even in 2010, they only contested 14 of 55 ridings. How might they have done in the other 41 ridings had they been on the ballot? It is nearly impossible to say.
However, there is one other dataset at which we can look. That is the results for the Confederation of Regions party in the 1991 and 1995 elections. The People's Alliance does not seem to welcome comparisons to CoR. However, they are both populist parties made up principally of right-of-centre individuals with a skepticism towards at least some aspects of official bilingualism. Even if PANB is not a successor to CoR, they would seem to compete for the same universe of voters.
It is not likely a coincidence that the leader and deputy leader of the party both hail from areas where CoR won seats in 1991.
It is easy to write off the People's Alliance as a fringe party after they got only 1.2% of the vote in 2010. However, that does not tell the whole story. The People's Alliance only contested a small subset of ridings, PANB got 4.9% of the vote in the 14 ridings where they actually ran candidates.
Compare this to the Greens who took 5.0% in the 49 ridings they contested. When one looks at the potential for these two parties, they must be treated at least as equals. Indeed, the Alliance vote was more "efficient" in that their best riding saw their candidate take almost 50% more of the vote share than in the Greens' best riding.
Curiously, the People's Alliance ran in only 2 of the 9 ridings in Central New Brunswick which had been CoR's strongest region in 1991. This suggests there was untapped potential for the party in 2010. Indeed, with the PCs almost certain to lose some of their vote from 2010 (when they scored their second highest popular vote in modern history), the PANB is well positioned to capture right-of-centre voters who would not consider the Liberals, NDP or Greens.
Taking a look back to CoR's 1991 results, they won 8 ridings. I'll lay them out here and explain how they relate to current ridings:
- Fredericton North: The current Fredericton North falls completely within the boundaries of this old riding, but significant portions of the old Fredericton North can also be found in Fredericton-York and Fredericton-Grand Lake
- York North: This old riding is distributed almost evenly between Fredericton-York and York
- York South: Most of this old riding can be found in York and Fredericton-Hanwell, small portions of it can be found in New Maryland-Sunbury and Charlotte-Campobello
- Sunbury: This riding is split roughly in three between Fredericton-Grand Lake, Oromocto-Lincoln and New Maryland-Sunbury
- Oromocto: This riding is wholly contained in the new riding of Oromocto-Lincoln
- Southwest Miramichi: This riding is almost wholly contained in the new riding of Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin, small pieces of it are in Miramichi Bay-Neguac
- Riverview: Most of this riding is still found in the modern riding of Riverview, with pieces of it in Albert
- Albert: This riding is almost wholly contained within the new, larger Albert riding; a small piece of it can be found in Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins
One of the advantages that CoR had in 1991 which they won't in 2014, is that there were no PC incumbents. Right-of-centre voters had no sitting MLAs where they were naturally aligned. This probably allowed them to get higher vote totals than they might have otherwise. For this reason, PANB may want to target opportunities where there is no PC incumbent, such as New Maryland-Sunbury.
First Tier TargetsThese are ridings where PANB has nominated candidates early, the candidate has some profile, and the riding has shown a sympathy for the party. All of these are key factors in a potential breakthrough.
Party leader Kris Austin will run here. He scored an impressive 20% of the vote in the old Grand Lake-Gagetown riding in 2010. Even though there was no People's Alliance candidate on the ballot in Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak in that election, the redistributed boundaries give Austin a starting base of 15%. This is because Austin took a whooping 30% of the vote within the Grand Lake-Gagetown polls that move into this new district.
This was the Alliance's second best seat in 2010, where St. Andrews mayor John Craig took nearly 7% of the vote. They have again nominated a candidate here with a high profile and by nominating her early that should give them an organizational edge. Working against them is the fact that this was not a strong area for CoR in 1991, when they placed third in both Charlotte West and St. Stephen-Milltown. However, this riding brings in polls from the McAdam area which gave CoR 54% of the vote in 1991. This is also a riding where the NDP has the potential to do well, so if the Alliance can make a good run here, it could become a four-way race which could be won with less than 30% of the vote.
Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin
CoR won the Southwest Miramichi part of this riding by a slim margin in 1991, while doing very poorly in the Bay du Vin portion of the riding. In 2010, Wes Gullison got 5% of the vote here - roughly mirroring the average PANB received in ridings where they stood candidates. Therefore, on paper this does not really look like a great riding for the People's Alliance. However, Gullison is already renominated and should have the advantage of an early start. This combined with his profile as deputy leader of the party, should give him a slight edge.
Second Tier TargetsThese are ridings where either COR did well in 1991 or the People's Alliance did well in 2010 and where there is either no incumbent, or where the incumbent running has not represented the majority of the new riding previously.
This would have been a very strong riding for CoR in 1991 and has the advantage of being one of the few ridings where the People's Alliance can realistically compete where there is no PC incumbent on the ballot. They would be wise to nominate a candidate here soon.
York North was the Alliance's third best riding in 2010, and it is from that riding that the new York draws most of its population. Carl Urquhart, PC incumbent from the old York riding, has prepsented less than 20% of this new territory. The PANB's 2010 candidate was former Nackawic mayor Steven Hawkes. He did very well despite being nominated late. Nackawic finds itself in the centre of this new riding, while it was on the outer-edge of York North with some of its closest neighbours, including Hawkes' hometown of Canterbury in another district. Were Hawkes to run again and be nominated early, the stars are fairly well aligned for him, relatively speaking.
CoR would have won or nearly won this riding in 1991. The PC incumbent from Grand Lake-Gagetown has represented a minority of the riding.
Third Tier Targets
These are ridings where CoR did well in 1991 or the People's Alliance did well in 2010, but are represented by strong PC incumbents.
MLA Kirk MacDonald has served since 1999 and has won all elections easily, except for 2003 when he won by only 101 votes. The new Fredericton-York riding draws just under 50% of its population from MacDonald's current York North riding, however when one takes territory he currently represents as well as territory from the old pre-2006 riding of Mactaquac, MacDonald has represented a solid majority of this area. While this riding would have gone for CoR in 1991, it would have done so against first-term incumbent Liberal backbenchers, far easier targets for a conservative-populist than a four-term Conservative.
Unlike Fredericton-York, this riding is in fact largely unchanged from when CoR won it in 1991 (it has added a bit of Riverview and the village of Salisbury). However, as with York North and Fredericton North (the 'ancestors' of Fredericton-York), then the CoR candidate defeated a one-term Liberal backbencher. Defeating a four-term Conservative like Wayne Steeves is a far taller order.
Fourth Tier Targets
These are ridings where CoR did well in 1991 but the People's Alliance did not contest in 2010. They are also ridings where demographic changes mean CoR would not likely have done as well today as they did 20 years ago and thus the Alliance is less likely to find them attractive targets.
- Fredericton West-Hanwell
- Fredericton North
The People's Alliance are likely longshots to win any seats if current polling trends hold. However, if they can manage to capture a significant slice of declining PC support and concentrate that in the Fredericton area as CoR did in 1991, it is not unrealistic for them to see a win. Kris Austin starts with a base of 30% in his home turf, if he can take 30% across the whole of his new riding then he would be very well positioned to win. It is not hard to imagine 35% of the vote being enough to carry Fredericton-Grand Lake in this election. I would say Austin's odds at winning are similar to the odds of Greens leader David Coon.
Overall, I would say that the People's Alliance are more likely to wind up as the fourth party in the legislature than the Greens. That, however, remains an unlikely scenario.