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Canadian Election Update 4.22.11: Wow, Just…Wow!

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A flurry of new polls are out in the last couple of days showing the NDP in first place in Quebec or in the case of Nanos with continuing and rising strength in that province.
here’s a link to a Wikipedia site that provides the latest Opinion polling in the Canadian federal election, 2011. From there you can link to the individual polls to get regional breakdowns and whatever other info the pollsters publish.

West of Ontario the NDP is the main opposition to the Harpists. This is also true in Northern Ontario and increasingly in parts of Southwestern Ontario. As already mentioned, Quebec has turned upside down, with the NDP ahead of all other parties and the Liberals at the bottom, drifting slowly down into Green Party territory.

A lot of chickens are coming home to roost. The Liberal party has grown increasingly dysfunctional in recent decades. Before the laws were changed they never had to work raise money (large corporations and wealthy individuals threw donations at the Grits to gain and maintain access) and they have not been good at grass roots organizing for a long time (something the NDP continued to work at even during their nadir in the 90’s).

Then there are the policy betrayals, like NAFTA and the GST, which Chretien promised to do away with and then strengthened. Furthermore, and as Jack Layton never tires of repeating, the Liberal record on health care funding in the last decade (especially under Martin) is far from stellar.

Finally the sponsorship scandals in Quebec may have finished the Liberals as a national party. it is no wonder the Liberals have had leadership problems since the departure of Trudeau. Dion was a compromise that did not work out (too bad, he had a lot of good qualities) and Ignatieff was a convenient but desperate choice who has never inspired much trust, let alone affection.

Progressive Liberals may be thinking hard right now about what they can do to advance their ideals.

Having said all this, what are the various parties doing to either encourage or mitigate the latest trends?

As I have written previously, the Conservatives have for the entire campaign to this point been satisfied to play a Republican game of maximizing turnout by their base and suppressing turnout for anyone else. The rhetorical weapon the Tories have flourished has been an atempt to get Canadian voters to fear a “coalition” of Liberals and “socialists” supported by “separatists.” Had they asked me and if I had been able to answer honestly I would have advised against such a strategy, because it would have been easier to get the last few seats needed for a majority by going after soft centrist, so called “blue Liberal” voters. But they chose to listen to Karl Rove instead and now they are stuck on a questionable course.

The rise of the NDP in Quebec, largely at the expense of the Bloc, dramatizes the weakness of the conservative strategy. they’ve been demonizing the Bloc while attacking the Liberals both of whom at this point are drifting out of the picture. Should they start attacking Layton? They might as well shoot the Easter Bunny while they’re at it. don’t get me wrong, the NDP is not immune to criticism from the Right, but it wouldn’t help the Conservatives very much to talk about the “socialists” and their lovable leader at this point. So I expect them to continue going after Iggy and the Liberals, while some Tory candidates avoid all-candidates meetings and Harper refuses to answer questions.

Updatye: 4/22/2011 8:56 pm CDT: Correction: The Conservatives released an attack ad against Layton and the NDP this morning.

The Conservatives are also suddenly doing a fair bit of damage control. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, Harper’s spokesman had to call a press conference in the middle of the night to refute an incumbent’s boast that he had provoked the government into blocking funding for Planned Parenthood International. Another scandal involves a more traditional example of possible corruption:

A series of recordings posted on YouTube are raising fresh questions about the role Stephen Harper’s key spokesman and former Quebec adviser may have played – and who he was dealing with – in an unsuccessful attempt to influence in 2007 the choice of who would be the new president of the Montreal Port Authority.

Allegations that Dimitri Soudas intervened in a bid to help Montreal engineer Robert Abdallah secure the plum post took a strange twist Thursday when Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe distributed transcripts of conversations in which men identified as Montreal construction boss Tony Accurso and businessman Bernard Poulin discuss the job and who they think should have it.

Incidentally, thoughtful conservative Andrew Coyne has written a Macleans column in which he speculates about what Harper may do should he be defeated in the new House of Commons:

Indeed, so unyielding and dogmatic have his statements become, against the views of every constitutional scholar, that I have to wonder whether there is something else going on. That is, I wonder whether he is preparing the ground, not just to prevent the opposition from electing enough members to be in a position to bring his government down, but to thwart them should they make the attempt.

What he may have in mind is this: that after losing a vote of non-confidence, he would advise the Governor General to dissolve the House and call new elections — rather than call upon someone else to form a government. He would then dare the Governor General to overrule his first minister’s advice, something that Governors General are quite properly extremely reluctant to do.

He would, in short, be doing another King-Byng, provoking a constitutional crisis rather than yield power, hoping to intimidate the Governor General and/or rally public opinion to his side. If so this would be extremely disturbing, though not alas unprecedented.

If the Conservatives are a prisoner of their chosen strategy, imagine the dilemmas Liberal strategists are facing right now. The plan was,as in numerous previous elections, to move left at the beginning of the campaign, thereby marginalizing the NDP, and then to pivot and attack the Conservatives following the debates. The trouble with that plan was that the voters did not cooperate. Who could have foreseen such a thing? The plan has always worked before – except that it has been less and less effective with each succeeding election. Paul Martin in 2006 Stephane Dion in 2008 and now Ignatieff have all followed the same pattern and in each campaign’s final stages, asked NDP voters for strategic votes to stop the Conservatives.

And they would have gotten away with it this time too if it weren’t for that meddling Jack Layton who it turns out won both the French and the English debates. Never mind what the flash polls said. It was the debates that gave voters the material with which they could fashion the narrative of the campaign.

And so, the Liberals are stuck repeating what is surely a tired old line about how the NDP has no chance so why waste your vote. Today’s variation on that theme is that Liberals have that New Democrats lack. By the way, Ignatieff made these remarks in Westmount Ville Marie, a Montreal riding the Liberals have had since Noah docked on Ararat.

Montreal is where the NDP surge in Quebec has reached its high point to date. A Crop survey has the NDP at 36% in Quebec but at 40% in Montreal. No wonder Ignatieff feels compelled to defend what should be safe Liberal turf.

A trend is not a final result. Polls do not vote. Polls are for dogs. There are thousands of expressions that all amount to the same thing. Don’t count your chickens, etc. The election is not over and the trends and the narrative could still change. But Ignatieff and the Liberals have some difficult days ahead. Victory seems out of reach, and the best they can hope for is to drag the NDP down to their level or lower. I do not expect to see Ignatieff spend much time west of Ontario between now and May 2.

The leader who appeared to have the easiest task in the campaign was Gilles Duceppe. After all, the Bloc only runs candidates in Quebec’s 75 ridings, so Duceppe would be spared the rigors of touring facing the other leaders. Furthermore, Quebec voters seemed comfortable with both Duceppe and his party, even if many opposed his nominal goal of sovereignty for Quebec. Then he phoned in his performance in the English debate before appearing to rally and dominate the French one the following night.

Then the perfect storm struck the Bloc. The NDP had been working hard in Quebec for years and finally gained a foothold with Thomas Mulcair’s election in 2008. In the moths leading up to the election writ, the NDP had begun rising in the polls, but no one seriously saw them as a threat to anyone, and especially not the Bloc.

Then, with feisty performances in both debates, Jack Layton moved ahead of the other federalist parties in the minds of many Quebec voters. Suddenly, Duceppe had a rival who posed a serious threat to his entire project. Duceppe began attacking the NDP and Layton, so far to no apparent effect. The Bloc has little choice now but to attack the NDP while trying to limit the damage in selected priority ridings.

But does he attack the NDP for being too centralist, driving federalist social democrats into Layton’s waiting arms, or does he appeal to strategic voters whose priority is to stop a Tory majority?

So far, predictions have been fo modest NDP gains in Quebec, partly because there is not a lot of NDP organization on the ground there. We shall see how true that is or how much difference it makes on the eve ning of May2. A problem for the Bloc on election day is that if the polls arfe correct, many Bloc voters are now supporting the NDP but may not have told the Bloc. The Bloc will do their best to get their supporters to the polls, but may inadvertently be helping the NDP as they do so.

The NDP’s challenge in the last week or so of the campaign is to consolidate their new found strength in Quebec and elsewhere, while identifying this ridings where they have a real opportunity to make gains. Of course, they will need to do this while countering the suddenly vicious attacks from the other parties.

Early this week, Le Devoir, a Quebec nationalist newspaper that supports the Bloc, published a story about a New Democratic candidate, Francoise Boisvin in Gatineau, alleging she had been thrown out of the Liberal P arty for breaking House of Commons rules while serving as a Liberal MP. The allegation was that she had given a job to her lesbian partner.

This was an attack that (it appears to me) was coordinated between the Bloc and the Liberals who together agree that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, the attack came too soon and gave Boisvin and her party time to repair any damage.

But the NDP should expect attacks like this and worse in the final days of the campaign.