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Canadian Federal Election: Wrap Up

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First things first: How did my predictions pan out. Let’s have a look at what I said would happen:

And what really happened (pending four recounts) was the Conservatives won with 166 seats, a majority, the NDP came second with 102 seats. Then came the Liberals with 35, the Bloc Quebecois with 4 and the Elizabeth May – oops! I mean the Green Party took 1.

I thought the NDP would do a little better in Western Canada vs. the CPC and I did not see the Liberals doing so poorly in Ontario. I had no clue the Bloc would suffer as much as it did.

I strongly predicted throughout the campaign that the CPC would fall short of a majority. I was wrong. I feel like it’s all my fault but really, it was the Blue Liberals who abandoned their own party in order to facilitate a Conservative majority.

Overall, the Harpists got the result they wanted and worked hard to get. Mind you, there were some disturbing echoes of U.S. GOP tactics here and there before and on E-Day. Robocalls at late night hours claiming to be on behalf of Liberal candidates; Robocalls on E-Day falsely telling voters that polling locations had moved; a nasty and slanderous robocall whisper campaign against Liberal Glen Pearson in London North Centre (whisper campaigns are nothing new but automated slander is a tactic new to Canadian politics).

But it doesn’t seem like any serious investigation of these tactics will occur (I could be wrong) so it’s time to move on and consider what happened and what it will mean for the immediate future of Canadian politics.

The shock of election night was of course the Orange wave that swamped the Liberals, Conservatives and BQ in Quebec. t was stunning when polls showed a post debate surge for the social democrats into first place in Quebec, but as late as a few days before the election, pundits were predicting just a small increase of seats for the NPD. They were wrong too.

In Atlantic Canada, the NDP improved, the Liberals held steady and the Conservatives exceeded expectations, except in Newfoundland and Labrador where they were only able to take the Labrador seat.

Things went pretty much as expected in the West, with the Conservatives dominating, and the NDP gaining some new seats. The Liberals were reduced to 4 MPs.

In the North, the one Liberal seat was lost to the Tories, and the NDP and Conservatives split the other two.

The Conservatives really won their majority with a dramatic improvement in their position in Ontario. Here again, the Liberals gave ground to both of the other two parties, with then Conservatives doing most of the damage. At this point it looks like this result was a product of right wing Liberal voters (not an oxymoron) voting Conservative to stop the NDP.

So that’s a brief thumbnail sketch of the election results. Tomorrow I will look at what this all means for the immediate future of Canadian politics.

Canadian Election Update 4.25.11: 100 Seats for the NDP?

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Yesterday, Pundit’s Guide posted a useful corrective to many of the seat projections that have been offered to this point in the campaign. I really recommend reading the whole thing but PG says in part:

This may surprise some people, but very few of the current amateur seat projection websites have even a single federal general election track record under their belts. And none of them has had to predict an election where so many assumptions have been upended, and so many tectonic shifts have been telegraphed in leading indicators whose full effect has yet to be seen in the horserace numbers.

Significantly, not one seat projection methodology over-predicted the Conservatives, and not one under-predicted the Liberals or Bloc Québécois, although there were predictions on either side of the NDP’s final total. Only one predicted that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would win Central Nova, NS (she didn’t), while 4 of the 9 methodologies missed predicting both Independent candidate Bill Casey’s win in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, NS and André Arthur’s win in Portneuf-Jacques Cartier, QC.

The inherent bias in seat prediction methodologies to favour previous election results means they tend to overly favour parties set to lose seats, such as the Liberals and Bloc Québécois in the last election. They also tend to miss the likelihood of parties on the rise to gain seats, such as was the case with the Conservatives in the last election. Only the NDP, whose vote intention numbers showed little gain by the end of the 2008 campaign, saw seat count predictions on both sides of its eventual total.

Another problem for the seat projection methodologies is that they are backward-looking. They’re using days-old polling data at a time of incredible movement in the polls, and laying that on top of results from the last election when incumbency was a factor for some political parties’ votes that is no longer at play.

Moreover, they can’t account for turnout, in the sense that parties with momentum, or who have strong on-the-ground organization, will experience higher turnout of their own vote, than will parties who are organizationally weak and/or whose supporters are feeling demoralized.

The above problems were underlined in ThreeHundredEight.com’s projection/prediction for the 2010 New Brunswick general election, one that saw a one-term narrow Liberal majority turfed in favour of a massive Progressive Conservative majority government. His then-methodology over-predicted the Liberals by 10 seats (23 versus 13) out of 55.

Since then, ThreeHundredEight’s sensational projections have predicted doom and gloom for the NDP on the front page of the Hill Times (no, he’s not a “pollster” as they wrote) and the Globe and Mail. As recently as late January he claimed they would lose 13 seats, upped to 16 seats by early February, which emboldened some Liberals to predict they could gain 100 seats during an election campaign.

It took some peer review to examine his original methodology and determine that he had in fact placed a cap on the number of seats a party could be projected to win in any region (equivalent to the maximum it had even won plus those it came within 10% of winning), but put in place no comparable floor. Clearly the wrong assumption for the current election!

Apparently the methodology has since been changed, but not before it set the entire frame of coverage by the Parliamentary Press Gallery for the period leading up to and just following the federal budget vote (“NDP weakness sets up two-way race between Harper and Ignatieff”).

Indeed one could say that this one blog – without a single federal general election’s track record to its credit – was responsible for the mass failure of the Ottawa punditocracy to foresee either the NDP’s willingness to or interest in voting down the budget at the end of March, and for all we know the willingness of the Liberals to provoke an election dating from around that time.

So, what does all that mean for the current election?

It means that:

*the Liberals and Bloc are still likely being overly favoured by all these seat prediction methodologies,
*the projection methodologies are going to wind up missing NDP gains, particularly if the party continues to climb in the polls, and that
*projected seat counts for the Conservatives will likely fall on either side of their final tally.

It also means that the “strategic voting” websites, who are basing their recommendations on seat projection/seat prediction methodologies like 308’s are likely making a number of erroneous recommendations — another reason to be rid of those undemocratic and irresponsible projects once and for all — and that people voting in the Advance Polls shouldn’t put a lick of confidence in them, as a result.

On cue, there were a number of polls released today including one from Ekos who also provided a seat projection. Now I happen top like this seat projection because it gives the NDP 100 seats while the Conservatives are held to 131,far less than a majority. BTW, the Liberals and BQ get 62 1n3 14 respectively in this scenario. But just because I like the prediction, all of Pundit Guides caveats about seat projections apply to it as well.

Except that, Ekos does have a track record and not a bad one at that.

But starting tomorrow, there are there are more polls coming, including fresh ones form Ekos and Nanos and who knows who else. There will also be more seat projections until the end of the week at least. The pressure is on the pollsters and projectors in a contest to see who can be most accurate. It will be difficult for them because they are shooting at a moving target. A poll is supposed to be a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment in time. In the next week before the campaign there will be movement, how much and in what direction I cannot foresee from my little homestead in the Land of Lincoln.

I will suggest though that just as there has been bleeding of NDP votes to the Liberals in past elections, there could be movement this time from the Liberals to the NDP. It may be that the Orange Wave has not crested yet but will carry Jack Layton and his party to 30% on election day and x number of seats.

Canadian Leaders Debate (English Version) Update

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Last night I wrote that I thought Layton did pretty well in the English language Leaders’ debate. Upon reflection, and upon reading some instant polling results, I have decided I was right.

Ipsos Reid
tells us that before the debate:

…a flash poll of 1,861 English-speaking Canadians conducted by Ipsos Reid exclusively for Global National has revealed that one in three (33%) English-speaking Canadians believes that Stephen Harper will win the English-language debate tonight. Fewer believe that Michael Ignatieff (24%), Jack Layton (13%) or Gilles Duceppe (2%) will win. The winner’s circle is still up for grabs, however, with three in ten (28%) Canadians unsure of who will win the debate.

And afterward?

Immediately following the English-language leaders’ debate, a flash poll of debate viewers conducted by Ipsos Reid has found that four in ten (42%) English-speaking viewers say Conservative Leader Stephen Harper won the debate, up from the 34% of Canadians who, prior to the debate, thought he would win.

But:

Following his performance in the English-leader’s debate, which gave a majority (55%) of polled viewers an improved impression of Jack Layton coming out of the debate, Francophones appear to have high expectations for Mr. Layton in tonight’s melee.

So Ipsos says that Harper won but Layton impressed a whole lot of voters.

Which is all very interesting of course, but these polls do not tell us how many voters made up their minds or switched preferences. I think it will be a few days before people have had a chance to reflect and discuss and come to some conclusions about how or if the debate influenced their vote. The media and the parties have chosen their favorite moments but voters are funny and fickle creatures. It can be difficult to predict what they find important enough to vote over.

Layton, in my view, had some very good moments, like when he suggested to Harper that he didn’t know why he (Harper) wanted to build so many prisons since all the crooks were in the Senate (Canadian that is).

Meanwhile, the French debate wrapped up about an hour ago. I’ll have some thoughts about it some time in the next 24 hours.

Canadian Election Update 4.7.11

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We are at day 13 of the Canadian Federal Election Campaign and it seems possible at this point to describe a few trends, though the parties hopes and fortunes remain ever shifting.
To begin at the to p of the food chain, I think I will depart from the conventional wisdom by asserting the Harper and the Conservatives are in a spot of trouble. The Harpists have big problems if they don’t get a majority but they act like they are satisfied with the status quo. They have done nothing to attract support from outside their base and as a result the public horse race polls are showing their support softening just a little. I invite you to check out the latest from Environics and Angus Reid.

I think its a mugs game to try and explain poll results without doing some follow up research, but her I go anyway. If the Cons are slipping a little, it may have something to do with the way they are conducting the campaign. For example kicking people out of Harper rallies (and using RCMP resources to do it) just reminds people of why they haven’t yet given Harper a majority.

At the same time maybe the Karl Rove tactics the Cons are using are causing the Liberals problems. The Conservative campaign has observed that Ignatieff’s wife is not a Canadian citizen. Conservatives have tried with some success to make a big deal out of an Alberta Liberal candidate’s observation that not all sexual assault cases are the same. Clearly this man is objectively pro rape.

The Liberals also got caught with a rural Quebec candidate with a history of racist comments (to go with the unfortunate comments by Romeo Saganashes Incumbent Bloc opponent).

The Angus Reid and Environics polls out today both showed improved numbers for the NDP but with a healthy Con lead over the Liberals. Both polls were also notable for what they found in Quebec, namely the Bloc and Liberals dropping a little and with the NDP in 2nd place. Layton has given credit for much of the NDP’s tentative success in Quebec to Thomas Mulcair, his Quebec lieutenant and MP for the Montreal riding of Outrement. Since his election to the House of Commons, Mulcair has spent much time and effort to building up the Quebec wing of his adopted the party.

In the current campaign it seems like the Bloc and NDP are circling each other warily, afraid to attack because they’re targeting a lot of the same voters, voters who like both leaders and may not respond well to negative campaigning.

To sum up, it looks to me that Layton is winning the campaign. he’s getting around well enough (despite recovering from a broken hip), staying on message, dealing in substance while the Libs and Cons scrap over side issues. The NDP platform delivery has been unfocussed, but in the valley of the blind etc.

Whatever the status of the campaign today, there is a long way to go, and well timed dirty tricks, mistakes and unforeseen events are not only possible but nearly certain to occur. Poll results are interesting, but what is happening on the ground? Also, the debates could be a game changer for somebody. If the Liberals want to do well enough to form a government Ignatieff had better have two good debates, one in each of the two languages. Harper might even show up to discuss rather than evade – one never knows.

Layton could have some real success in the debates. He has more charisma than any of the other three (except maybe Duceppe on home turf). If he can translate his popularity into seats this could be a really interesting election.

Lib/Con Coalition in Ottawa

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

I meant to put up a reaction to the Liberal decision to support the Harper budget a few days ago, but I was abducted by aliens and they just now dropped me off. It’s OK though. My period of captivity gave me a chance to reflect on the situation in Ottawa, for the political dust to settle north of the border and for the Canadian version of the corporate media (incl the CBC) to bloviate itself into a tizzy about how wise is Ignatieff and how silly Jack Layton.

As Monk would say, here’s what happened.

1. The Conservatives won a plurality of seats in the last election. They then won a confidence vote on the Throne speech.

2. In late November, the Harper Finance Minister delivered a financial statement (a mini budget if you will) that included some mean spirited legislation but very little stimulus for an economy which was clearly going to soon be in trouble. There is an old saying; “When the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold.” The U.S. has a bad cold, and Canada can expect a case of economic pneumonia.

3. With Jack Layton as chief instigator, the three opposition parties declare themselves ready to vote against the Tories in a confidence vote and agree to form a Liberal/NDP coalition, with Bloc support (conditional upon the Governor General inviting the Leader of the Opposition to form a government after the Conservatives were defeated in the House).

4. Smelling defeat and the loss of power, Harper persuades the Governor General to prorogue (suspend) Parliament for a month while the Cons write a full budget.

5. The Liberal Caucus replaces outgoing Leader Stephane Dion with Michael Ignatieff. They did this for a number of reasons. In short it was awkward to have a lame duck leader when there was talk of forming a government and/or when there is an ongoing political and economic crisis in the land.

6. The Conservatives deliver their budget on schedule and on schedule the Liberals declare their willingness to support the budget and the Harper government.

7. The other two opposition parties, again with Layton and the NDP in the lead, attack Ignatieff and the Liberals for betraying the coalition and and all Canadians by supporting a budget that did not provide enough economic stimulus and which did not do enough to strengthen Employment Insurance (the Orwellian term for Unemployment Insurance).

8. Meanwhile, the Canadian corporate media mainly praises the budget and Ignatieff’s capitulation.

Here’s an example of the last point from Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff did the right thing in supporting the budget rather than trying to force an election or entering that ridiculous arrangement with the NDP and the separatists.

His demand as the price for his party’s support – periodic updates on how the budget is working – seems appropriate. Given the unknown ahead, chances are that six months from now, many of the budget’s assumptions, and at least some of the programs, are going to need serious adjustment.

And here is Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert:

Stephen Harper saved his job as prime minister but the Liberals are the net winners of the extraordinary parliamentary showdown that almost cost the Conservatives their minority government.

Less than four months after they were knocked down to a historical low in the popular vote in a general election, the just-concluded crisis has reset federal politics to their advantage.

Polling since the Tory budget shows little change from before. In Quebec the Libs are slightly behind the Bloc, with the NDP and Harpers in a virtual tie for third.

The Liberals may have gained in the short term, but there is time before the next election for them to regret Ignatieff’s choice. Since Ignatieff’s capitulation, the NDP has run a series of radio ads slamming the Liberal Leader for propping up the Tories as Dion had done.

The NDP’s strategy is now focused on courting progressive Liberals who had welcomed the Coalition. If that strategy works, the next election (to be held sometime this year, says the smart money) will see a strengthened Liberal Party and NDP with the Tories and Bloc dropping some seats. I would bet heavily against a Liberal majority, but a result like the one I described could lead to a Liberal/NDP working accord, if not a revived coalition that would not need Bloc support.

Canadian Election Update: Strange Days

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One of the differences between U.S. and Canadian politics is that American voters seem to identify much more closely with a political party than do Canadians (this is not my original observation; I read it in an academic paper many years ago. No I don’t recall either the author or title, but Mr. Google might be able to assist).

Consider the way Americans are almost equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, with a third of the electorate calling themselves independents. Even many of those independents lean toward one or the other of the major parties.

In Canada, there has traditionally been much more fluidity in the way political support is allocated. This was the case back in the “good old days”, when there were only three major parties: the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats. Since then we have seen the new parties like Reform and the Bloc Quebecois, and now the Greens, achieving measurable levels of support.

For the past few days, American pundits have been stating that the polls are “hardening”, becoming less likely to change. This means, of course, that Obama’s lead is becoming more difficult for McCain to overcome.

In the current Canadian election, four and one quarter parties are competing seriously (I count the Bloc as 1/4 of a party for obvious reasons). In contrast with the U.S. situation, we also see what appears to me to be an astonishing fluidity in the polls.

A week ago I thought that the Conservatives would win with either a majority or a strengthened minority. This conviction was strengthened by the polls following the English debate that said that a plurality thought Harper had won. “Not so fast.” say the voters now. In a number of polls over the last few days, support for the Harper Conservatives have been drifting downward (see the Toronto Star Poll Tracker for confirmation).

The Liberals have seen a modest rise in the polls since the debates, possibly extending their lead over the NDP, depending on which pollster one consults. This embryonic comeback for the Liberal seems to be result from increased support in Ontario and Quebec, which of course is where a majority of the seats are. In Quebec, the Libs are in second, according to the most recent Ekos daily tracking poll while the Conservatives have fallen to third, just two points above the still gaining NPD (Nouveau Parti Democratique. The Bloc still leads, but some of their support was strategic. Many Quebec voters have been planning to vote for the BQ to block a Conservative majority. With that seeming to be off the table, will some Bloc support drift to the Liberals or NDP?

In Ontario, the race between the Liberals and Conservatives for first place has tightened considerably, with the NDP well placed to come up the middle in a number of ridings.

In British Columbia, the Conservatives still lead, or are tied with the NDP, depending on which poll you believe. The Libs are third, barely ahead of the Greens.

In the Atlantic provinces, the polls differ and change from day to day. The Liberals should be ahead, but if they are it is not by much. The Conservatives have pockets of Atlantic strength, but will be shut out of Newfoundland. The NDP is doing well but we don’t know if their support is concentrated enough to result in more than a handful of seats.

The latest polls still show the Conservatives well in front in the prairies, although both the Liberals and NDP will win seats in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The NDP especially is coming on just a little stronger as the campaign winds down.

Alberta remains the Tory fortress, but it looks very likely that the NDP will win at least one seat in Edmonton.

Grit Leader Stephane Dion should not celebrate just yet, however, since his party is still below their traditional floor of support. In fact, the Liberal Leaders tour is apparent focusing on protecting seats they now hold, rather than seeking to conquer new territory.

On the the other hand, the NDP is still above their usual ceiling of support, and apparently still rising, albeit slowly. In recent days NDP Leader Jack Layton has been visiting ridings held by Liberals and Conservatives in an effort to add to his caucus. Indeed, the NDP already can expect victory in some surprising places, such as St. Johns East in Newfoundland.

One of the NDP’s greates assets is Lyton’s popularity and favorables. In most polls, Layton is the second choicce, behind Harper as best choice for Prime Minister. Dion’s personal popularity has improved since the debates.

I have never seen a Canadian election campaign like this one. So far, there is no winner, and no party is moving very quickly toward winner territory. It looks like the new House of Commons will be more equally divided between the four parties that now have seats there. There still does not seem to be any district where the Greens have concentrated enough support to win a seat. Still, everybody likes their Leader, Elizabeth May. And what Canadian does not care about the environment, with the ice caps melting and the Northwest passage becoming open water?

Green support will probably drift to other parties on election day, but which party will benefit the most? The answer to that question may determine the winner of this election.