Category Archives: By-elections
Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the Newark by-election in the UK, held on June 5. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.
Following very quickly on from the European and local elections on the 22nd of May, the 5th of June saw a UK parliamentary by-election in the seat of Newark. For those who wish to read the wider UK political context, might I recommend my recent blog post about the local and European elections.
Newark covers part of rural Nottinghamshire, in the East Midlands. The largest settlement is the eponymous Newark-on-Trent, a market town in Nottinghamshire, with a population of around 26,000. Historically a local centre for the wool and cloth trade, Newark has transformed into a commuter belt town predominantly for Nottingham but also partially for urban behemoth London (which is a little more than an hour away by train). It is a prosperous town, and overwhelmingly white British town. The only other town in the constituency is Southwell, with a population of almost 7,000. The rest of the seat is very rural, with villages, farms and forest covering the bulk of the constituency. Sherwood Forest, of Robin Food fame, is in the neighbouring Sherwood constituency.
Newark is a safe Conservative constituency. The seat was Labour held between 1950 (one of the few Labour gains that year) and 1979, but never with particularly sizeable majorities. Under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative governments the seat became a Tory safe seat and they won more than 50% of the vote between 1983 and 1992. The seat was lost to Labour, however, in the landslide defeat of 1997, a demonstration of the massive Labour wave of that year.
The new MP, Fiona Jones, became the first MP in British history to be disqualified from the House of Commons under the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883, after allegations of electoral fraud, her conviction was quickly overturned, but Newark was one of the nine Conservative gains in 2001, a generally appalling year for the party as it failed to unwind the Blair landslide of ’97. Jones later attempted to sue Nottinghamshire Police but her case failed, leaving her with legal bills of £45,000. She later claimed that a government minister had offered her sex in exchange for a promotion. Whatever the truth of these claims she was shunned by colleagues after her return to parliament and fell into alcoholism. She lost her seat in 2001. She was found dead in her home by her husband surrounded by 15 vodka bottles in 2007.
Since 2001, Newark’s MP had been Patrick Mercer, a former Army colonel who was given an OBE for his tour of duty in Yugoslavia. He briefly turned his hand to journalism after he left the military. Upon his election Mercer had experienced an initially dizzying rise through the Conservative Party ranks, serving as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Defence Secretary and, then, as Shadow Minister for Homeland Security soon after his election. Mercer was on the right of the Conservative Party, he backed right-wing candidates Iain Duncan Smith (who won in 2001) and David Davis (who lost in 2005) for leader of his party.
Mercer’s politics and brash style meant that he was not a particularly good match for the modernising wing of the party which took control under David Cameron from 2005. However he was allowed to keep his post in the Shadow frontbench until 2007 when he made public comments about ‘idle and useless’ ethnic minority soldiers who he said were using racism as a ‘cover’. While Cameron tries to run a party which includes those from across its length and breadth he is noticeably less forgiving to those outside his own modernising faction if he perceives that they have failed him, and Mercer was permanently relegated to the backbenches.
Relations no doubt soured further when, in November 2011, Mercer was taped making disparaging remarks about Cameron including referring to him as the “worst politician in British history since William Gladstone” and predicting that Cameron would be ousted by his own MPs in 2012.
Mercer was implicated in a scandal in May 2013. Mercer was investigated by the Daily Telegraph and the BBC’s Panorama series who demonstrated that he took payment of £4,000 from undercover reporters supposedly lobbying on behalf of the military regime of Fiji. He subsequently resigned from the Conservative Party and sat as an Independent. His motor mouth once again got him in trouble as he told a story about meeting a young Israeli soldier to whom he supposedly said “You don’t look like a soldier to me, you look like a bloody Jew.” His behaviour was investigated by the Commons Standards Committee.
The Standards Committee reported on the 1st of May this year. It found that he had deliberately avoided the rules, and failed to declare a relevant interest. Suspension from the Commons was recommended but with less than a year to an election which he was not planning on contesting anyway, Mercer decided to resign his seat, taking the position as Crown Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds (technically MPs cannot resign from the Commons, but a legal incompatibility exists between royal positions and being a member of parliament, hence giving meaningless royal positions to MPs is a time honoured way of facilitating resignation).
The by-election was scheduled too late for it to be held alongside Britain’s local and European elections, and so was scheduled for June the 5th, two weeks later.
The result in 2010 was:
Patrick Mercer (Conservative) 53.9%
Ian Campbell (Labour) 22.3%
Pauline Jenkins (Liberal Democrat) 20.0%
Rev Major Tom Irvine (UKIP) 3.8%
The Conservative majority was 16,152 (31.5%) and turnout was 71.4%, much higher than the nationwide turnout of 65.1%.
Under Mercer, the seat had become one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, the 55th safest seat for the party.
As has often been the case in recent by-elections in the UK, the big question of the campaign, nonetheless, was how UKIP would do. Despite conclusive evidence that UKIP’s base is predominantly made up of poorer ‘left behind’ voters which draws support from both Labour and the Conservatives, parts of the media insist on viewing it as the right-wing of the Conservative Party in rebellion. The announcement of the by-election resulted in a frenzy of speculation that the party’s leader, Nigel Farage would stand, with Farage quickly denying he had any plans to.
The party instead selected Roger Helmer, one of its East Midland MEPs. Helmer, a former business executive, was actually elected as a Conservative MEP at the 1999, 2004, and 2009 elections. Helmer had always been an outspoken Tory even as the party was at its most right-wing during its wilderness years between 1997 and 2005. In 2005 he was suspended from the Conservative group and the EPP-ED in the European Parliament after voting to censure the European Commission and criticising the party’s lead MEP, Timothy Kirkhope. He rejoined the Tories in 2006 but remained outside the EPP-ED group.
Helmer, is, naturally, extremely Eurosceptic, but also holds views extremely critical of anthropocentric climate change, which he refers to as ‘climate-alarmism’. He has also previously suggested that women had some responsibility if they were date raped and that homophobia “is merely a propaganda device” and does not exist. He opposed same-sex marriage, labelling it a “grotesque subversion of a universal human right”. However, Farage claims that Helmer has since “relaxed” his views about homosexuality.
Helmer has always claimed that his views are simply those of a typical Conservative Party activist.
Helmer announced his resignation from the European Parliament in 2011, citing disillusionment with the direction of his party under Cameron. Helmer expected to be succeeded by Rupert Matthews, who was next in line for a seat, but media reports about Matthews led to Helmer delaying his resignation. Media reports focused on Matthews career as an expert on the paranormal. He claims to have written over 200 books on the paranormal. Another book published by his company on political correctness appeared to feature golliwog dolls on the cover, widely considered to be racist in the UK. The party thus seemed to desire to avoid Matthews. Hence, Helmer defected to UKIP instead.
UKIP’s campaign was, as is becoming the norm, fairly professional. The party has very quickly gained a fairly complex understanding of the ground campaign. During the by-election an interview with Helmer was printed in the Mail on Sunday which purportedly stated that Helmer endorsed providing ‘gay cures’ on the NHS. Helmer accused the MoS of “deliberate, defamatory lies”, stating that he never said such things.
Speculation grew about UKIP’s chances when UKIP topped the poll in the Newark and Sherwood council area in the European elections, beating the Tories by almost 500 votes. Yet it should be remembered both that Newark and Sherwood covers a much wider area than just the Newark constituency and that there are different factors of a European Parliament election which tend to favour UKIP (higher turnout amongst UKIP’s base and strategic ‘single-issue’ defectors who vote for UKIP solely in European elections to register their opposition to the EU).
The Conservatives selected Robert Jenrick, a 32 year old former solicitor who was a manager at the world famous Christie’s auction house. He had contested Newcastle-under-Lyme for the Conservatives in 2010. Jenrick was attacked by Helmer on the campaign trail as an out of touch millionaire with multiple homes. Jenrick stated that having three homes “doesn’t mean that I don’t know about life on the breadline”, and the Conservatives sought to present Jenrick as a ‘self-made man’. Jenrick had no prior connection to the seat before his selection, though he is from the Midlands, coming from Wolverhampton. It should be noted that Helmer is not a Newark native either, though he lives nearby.
The Conservatives poured resources into Newark with cabinet ministers making frequent trips to the constituency and the party making the most of its new ‘Team 2015’ infrastructure. Losing Newark would be a great blow to the party especially coming off a respectable local and European election performance.
Labour selected Michael Payne, a Nottinghamshire councillor based in Gedling, to the West of Newark. While the party has held the seat before no one seriously expected Labour to win it this time around. Labour’s win of the seat in 1997 represents a high watermark of Labour Party fortunes, and even the most optimistic Labour supporter would agree that a 1997 election landslide is far from on the cards. Labour’s aim was predominantly to maintain a sense of momentum, therefore.
Former by-election masters, the Lib Dems, nominated David Watts, a councillor for Broxtowe on the other side of Nottinghamshire. While the party won 20% of the vote in 2010 this represents their height in the seat since 1983. The party has little infrastructure on the ground and only holds 3 councillors in the seat. Its aim, if any, was to hold its deposit (a party’s £500 deposit is returned if it wins more than 5% of the vote).
The Greens nominated David Kirwan. Two independents stood, Paul Baggaley, standing on a highly localist ‘save Newark hospital’ platform, and Andy Hayes, standing on a disabled rights platform. Reverend Dick Rodgers of the tiny Christian party The Common Good stood with the ballot descriptor ‘Stop Commercial Banks Owning Britain’s Money’. The final serious candidate was Lee Woods of the ‘Patriotic Socialist Party’.
Two joke candidates stood. Nick the Flying Brick of the Official Monster Raving Looney Party is their Treasurer and their Shadow Minister for the Abolition of Gravity. His policies include making fishing a spectator sport by introducing piranhas into the local river, developing Newark castle into an intergalactic space port, and, naturally, abolition of the laws of gravity. Nick claims to have a ‘vendetta’ against gravity due to injury in a paragliding accident which he says was caused by gravity.
The other joke candidate was David Bishop, standing as ‘Bus Pass Elvis’. Bishop’s manifesto included a mix of joke and serious policies, including legalisation of brothels, with a discount for OAPs, students and the disabled, sending foreign pets back to their original country and environmentalist/animal rights policies such as stopping the importing of endangered species. Bus Pass Elvis also promised to “save the Antarctic, save the penguins and save Roger Helmer from being eaten by a polar bear”. Bishop has been a perennial candidate in British elections since standing against the disgraced former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton in 1997 under the name ‘Lord Biro vs. the Scallywag Tories’ but has received recent attention after he beat the Lib Dems in a council by-election.
Three polls were taken during the campaign, two by Survation, and one by former Tory treasurer turned quasi-professional psephologist, Lord Ashcroft. The first Survation poll was taken on the 27th-28th of May and showed Conservatives 36%, UKIP 28%, Labour 27% and Lib Dems 5%. Lord Ashcroft’s poll was taken between the 27th and the 1st of June. It had a larger sample (1,000 vs. 600) and showed Conservatives 42%, UKIP 27%, Labour 20%, Lib Dems 6%. The second Survation, and final poll full stop, was taken between the 2nd and 3rd of June, and showed 42% Conservative, 27% UKIP, 22% Labour, 4% Lib Dem.
Robert Jenrick (Conservative) 45.0% (-8.9%)
Roger Helmer (UKIP) 25.9% (+22.1%)
Michael Payne (Labour) 17.7% (-4.7%)
Paul Baggaley (Independent) 4.9%
David Kirwan (Green Party) 2.7%
David Watts (Liberal Democrats) 2.6% (-17.4%)
Nick the Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony) 0.4%
Andy Hayes (Independent) 0.3%
David Bishop (Bus Pass Elvis) 0.2%
Reverend Dick Rodgers (Common Good) 0.2%
Lee Waters (Patriotic Socialist Party) 0.0%
The Conservative majority is 7,403 (19.1%) and turnout was a very high 52.8%, strong for a by-election, especially one held so close to the May election.
The by-election was a solid result for the Conservatives. Their candidate won a sizeable majority. While this is one of the party’s safest seats it is good for them to be seen to have performed strongly against UKIP in a straight fight.
The party has traditionally been very bad at by-election campaigns, and by-elections in the UK tend to be sombre affairs for governing parties. As the Conservatives point out, this is the first time they have won a by-election in government in 25 years. In fairness, that is largely out of luck. The party had been out of government for 13 years before 2010, and the period prior to 1997 had seen a long and drawn out series of by-election losses as the former Conservative government was extremely unpopular.
On the other hand, the party has had the fortune of seeing only one of its seats fall to a by-election since 2010 – Corby, a marginal seat which has tended to lean more Labour than Conservative and which had a thin majority of less than 2,000.
Nonetheless, the party was widely expected to lose more of the vote than it did, and a high turnout and a suggestion from the polls that it gained support closer to the election suggest that it ran a solid campaign.
UKIP performed less well than they hoped. The party did not appear to seriously expect to win Newark but it did expect to beat the record it set in Eastleigh in terms of a by-election performance. Instead, it will have to make do with second best at 25.9%. This has led some to conclude that UKIP has reached is ceiling, at least for the time being. Yet Newark is profoundly unfriendly ground for UKIP. Right-wing it may be, but it is very prosperous and does not have particularly high inward migration. Newark is not natural ground for UKIP, unlike the string of seats along the East Coast that UKIP ‘won’ in the local elections in 2013 and 2014 local elections.
It is hard to know whether the candidature of Helmer helped or hindered the party, in a sense it showed the public its most easily caricatured face. Yet, Helmer, as one of the more identifiably ‘Tory’ components of the UKIP machine may retain something of an appeal in the Conservative safe seat. In the absence of an exit poll it really is difficult to impossible to know.
Labour suffered a stinging rebuke. To lose support at this time is not something that should be happening to the party. The party ran a low-level campaign; understandably, as this was a seat it was unlikely to win. There may be an element of strategic voting at play (Labour/UKIP swing voters voting UKIP to keep the Tories out, and Labour/Tory vice versa?). Certainly the party’s stronger result in polls may suggest that the party was squeezed at the last minute. The party certainly cannot blame low turnout!
While the party never expected to win the seat, and almost everyone expected it to come third, no one really expected it to lose support from 2010. Still, it is difficult to translate a single by-election into national results and this may just be a freak occurrence. A negative sign it may be, but it is important not to over-read such things.
The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing rebuke at the ballot box. Winning just 2.6% of the vote the party went from third to sixth. It not only lost its deposit, but lost to an independent and the Greens (who did not stand a candidate in 2010!). 2.6% of the vote represents a record low for the Lib Dems in a post-war by-election. What must really hurt is that the party is not utterly without infrastructure and support in the seat, unlike, say, Barnsley Central or other constituencies where it has lost its deposit since 2010. The party has blamed tactical voting for its failure.
Anecdotal evidence from the ground does seem to suggest that some Lib Dem voters did indeed vote Conservative just to keep UKIP out. One of the effects of UKIP’s rise has been to make it more visible. Many voters see in UKIP a radical new saviour, and the party’s support has grown, but polls also show that UKIP has never been seen as negatively before. Around 40% of Brits see UKIP as racist. In addition to support, exposure has brought visceral dislike, and this may be the first sign of a UKIP backlash with liberally minded voters seeing the Tories as preferable and voting accordingly to keep them out.
For the Lib Dems it is also worth remembering that the party is polling around 10% at the moment. If it is collapsing from 20% to less than 3% in seats like Newark, that lays extra credibility to the claim that the party can rely on core areas to return MPs in 2015. That 10% of the vote must be somewhere and if it is geographically concentrated then hope remains for the party under Britain’s First Past the Post system.
Provincial by-elections were held in the Ontario (Canada) ridings of Niagara Falls and Thornhill on February 13, 2014. These seats fell vacant in September and December 2013 following the resignations of their sitting MPPs, respectively from the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservatives (PC).
We last discussed Ontarian provincial politics following five provincial by-elections in early August last year, all of which were in ridings previously held by the governing (in a minority government) Liberals. The Liberals lost three of these five seats; one to the official opposition PCs and two to the Ontario New Democrats (NDP). The results were, on the whole, bad news for the governing Liberals, who got trounced in Windsor and London by the NDP. At the same time, however, the PCs did poorly: they had been expected, by the polls, to win three of the ridings on that day, but ended up winning only one (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in Toronto). The Liberals narrowly and surprisingly held Ottawa South, a riding vacated by former Premier Dalton McGuinty (2003-2013) and the NDP shocked the Tories by winning London West, a riding in which the PCs were the favourites. By failing to live up to expectations, therefore, the PCs were portrayed as net losers of the round of by-elections. Opposition leader Tim Hudak’s fiery, tough and incessant attacks on the Liberals did not connect with voters, despite voter fatigue after ten years of Liberal governments and several major scandals and policy mishaps for the Liberals. On the other hand, the NDP, the third party in the legislature but whose leader, Andrea Horwath, is the most popular of the three party leader, were the major winners of the August by-elections. They handily won a seat in Windsor, a traditionally NDP-leaning area, but also picked up London West, a seat which isn’t as friendly to the NDP. That, combined with the NDP’s high-profile victory in Kitchener-Waterloo (a seat held by the PCs) in a 2012 by-election, further boosted the NDP’s profile.
Since the August by-elections, the provincial political scene has been rather quiet or at least predictable. In September, Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne dared the PCs and NDP to cause a snap election but privately confided that she had little desire to go to the polls in the fall. PC leader Tim Hudak, who has been clamoring for an election since day one, continued hounding on the government but also directed some of his fire to the NDP, who has collaborated with the Liberal government and propped it up on several occasions. Hudak accused NDP leader Andrea Horwath of propping up a corrupt and discredited government, unwilling to bring about change. However, Hudak faced trouble in PC ranks. Following the by-elections, there were local and isolated but well publicized grumbling in party ranks over Hudak’s leadership and isolated demands for a leadership review. Later, Hudak was forced to dump his finance critic, Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman amid a scandal and he removed vocal hard-right ‘maverick’ MPP Randy Hillier from the frontbench.
At the same time, there is a widespread feeling that the Liberals are running on borrowed time. Most think that the government will fall on the budget in the spring (likely in March). The PCs will vote against the budget no matter its contents, while the NDP might prove unwilling to extend the Liberals’ lease on government for the third budget in a row. One issue which is already straining relations between the Liberals and the NDP is the question of new tolls or fees to fund public transit: the Liberal government, promoting upgrades to public transit in Toronto and Hamilton, supports new tolls/taxes to raise revenue; the NDP has warned that they will stand against that. Facing attacks from Hudak in propping up the Liberals since 2012, Horwath recently came out more determined, saying that she is “seeking the job of Premier”. If the government falls on the budget, there would be a spring election, likely in April or May.
In the polls, the parties’ standings haven’t budged much since August. The PCs retain a small but fairly consistent edge over the Liberals, generally ranging from 3 to 7 points. A few pollsters, most recently Ipsos-Reid in November, have put the Liberals ahead of the PCs. The NDP has ranged between 23% and 31%, that is, either a more distant third or in serious contention for second (if not first). The latest poll, by Forum Research (Jan. 25-24), had the PCs up 3 on the Liberals (36 to 33) with the NDP at 26%.
Wynne’s decision to call the two by-elections so quickly is certainly a calculated means for her and the Liberals to test the waters (in two marginal ridings) before an election.
Niagara Falls includes the city of Niagara Falls and the towns of Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the Lake in Niagara Regional Municipality. The riding is located at the eastern edge of the Niagara Peninsula, its eastern border being formed by the Niagara River and the international border with the United States. About 65% of the riding’s population lives in the city of Niagara Falls, which has a population of about 83,000. The riding is particularly famous for its namesake; the spectacular Niagara Falls, one of the top tourist destinations in Ontario. The Canadian ‘side’ of the falls have drawn the most tourist revenue, compared to the rather rundown American ‘side’ of the falls. The Canadian city of Niagara Falls has become notoriously kitsch, particularly the Strip-like Clifton Hill with its gaudy and ostentatious mix of wax museums, clinquant attractions and fast food chains. The quaint colonial town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara’s famous wine country and War of 1812 battlefields also draw a lot of tourists.
The seat fell vacant with the resignation of backbench Liberal MPP Kim Craitor in September 2013. Craitor, who was first elected in 2003, cited mental exhaustion and wanting to focus on his health and family upon resigning. However, he’s since indicated that he plans to run for Niagara Falls city council in the next municipal elections in October 2014; he had been in municipal politics for 13 years before entering the provincial arena.
The riding is tough to describe as a whole: it is a major urban area (as a tourist magnet) in its own right, but it is also clearly influenced by the industrial centres along the Welland Canal and St. Catharines (just next door) and Niagara forms the eastern end of a huge, sprawling urban conglomeration including Toronto and Hamilton (the Golden Horseshoe). Statistically, however, the riding sticks out by the importance of the tourism industry.
In 2001 and 2006 (and probably in 2011 as well), the riding had the highest percentage of persons employed in sales and service occupations in all of Canada’s 308 constituencies: a full 34.4% of the labour force worked in sales and service jobs. About 23% of all Canadians are employed in sales and service occupations. Further reflection of the riding’s tourism-oriented nature is found in the top industries (NAICS): in 2011, the single largest industry was accommodation and food services (15.9% of the labour force), followed by retail trade (11.5%), healthcare (9.2%) manufacturing (8.8%) and arts/entertainment/recreation (8.7%). Comparatively, across Canada, only 6.2% are employed in the accommodation and food services industry and 1.9% in arts/entertainment/recreation. Other main occupations in the riding include trades, transport and equipment operators (14.2%), business/finance/administration occupations (12.8%) and management (9.6%).
There are few perceptible remnants (statistically) of the area’s industrial past. Although tourism has been important to the region since the late 1800s, the hydroelectric power provided by the falls (and ‘immortalized’ by the large number of dams and electrical installations on both sides of the Niagara River, either shut down or still running) allowed for the growth of a large electro-chemical and electro-metallurgical industries in the twentieth century. Across the river, Niagara Falls (NY) was driven by similar industries. In the 1970s and 1980s, those industries in both Canada and the US shutdown with the recession, deindustrialization and foreign competition. Niagara Falls, ON has weathered deindustrialization far better than Niagara Falls, NY and transitioned into a tourism-driven tertiary economy. Factors helping the Ontarian city included the better view of the falls from Canada (although the experience at the American Falls is quite spectacular in its own right), a favourable exchange rate (at the time), Ontario’s focus on tourism, Ontario’s lower drinking age (19) and the opening of casinos on the Canadian side in the mid 90s (Seneca Niagara Casino has since tried to compete with Niagara Falls, ON’s two casinos).
Perhaps due to wages in the tourism industry, the median household income (2010) was $56,537. 53% of the riding’s population fall in the bottom half of the Canadian population (by income decile); 46.5% of Ontarians fall in those same lower five income deciles. However, the percentage of individuals classified as low income after tax was lower than the Canadian average (13.3% vs 14.9%).
The Niagara region has attracted a fairly large retiree population. The median age of the population was 45.1 (40.6 in Canada); 19.3% were aged 65 or over (14.8% in Canada) and 20% of the total income of the riding’s population comes from retirement and pensions (private retirement pensions, superannuation, Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security), compared to 13.3% of the total income in all of Canada.
The Niagara Peninsula became one of the first areas in Upper Canada to be settled, by United Empire Loyalists at the end of the American Revolution in the 18th century. Most early settlers were British, but also included German Protestants. Niagara-on-the-Lake, which actually served as Upper Canada’s colonial capital between 1792 and 1797, was founded in 1781. The Niagara region was one of the main theaters of action in the War of 1812, with major battles at Queenston Heights, Fort Erie, Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane. Industrial growth and the construction of the Welland Canal in the nineteenth century led to major European immigration, notably from Italy and Germany. According to the 2011 NHS, 30% of riding residents claimed English ancestry, followed by Canadian ancestry (26.2%), Scottish (19.5%), Irish (18.7%), Italian (16.3%), German (15.7%) and French (11.9%). Overall, over 50% of residents identified British Isles ancestries and ‘Canadian’ ethnicity can be taken, partly, as a descriptor for families who have lived in the region for generations. The Italian-descent population is significant in Niagara Falls (19.4%), while German ancestry is higher in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie (about 22%). The single largest religious denomination are Catholics (35.5%), followed by other Christians (11.7%), Anglicans (9.2%) and the United Church (7.3%). 23.2% have no religious affiliation.
The visible minority population is small, only 8.1% are visible minorities (the largest groups are blacks and Chinese) and another 2.4% claim Aboriginal identity.
While largely urban, Niagara Falls’ demographics have little in common with an inner city seat. A high percentage of those aged over 15 are married (57.3%), the vast majority of the housing stock is made up of single-detached houses (73.6%) and are owned (76.9%). While Niagara Falls has seen fairly strong population growth, the majority of dwellings are rather old: seven in ten were built in 1980 or before. In terms of education, 31.4% of the 15+ population have a high school diploma as their highest qualification, 48.3% have some kind of postsecondary certifications and 20.4% have no certificate, diploma or degree. 13.8% have a university degree at the bachelor level or above and 21.7% have a college education.
The provincial riding of Niagara Falls has existed since 1914 and has been aligned with the federal riding of the same name since 1999. Federally, the riding of Niagara Falls was created from Welland (Fort Erie and Niagara Falls were part of the old Welland county) and Lincoln (Niagara-on-the-Lake was part of Lincoln county) in 1952; always centered on Niagara Falls, its borders have shifted northwards (towards Niagara-on-the-Lake) or southwards (towards Fort Erie) before taking its current shape in 2003. Without any confirmation, I would imagine the provincial riding of Niagara Falls have been centered on the city itself with the north and south of the current ridings being combined with parts of Lincoln and Welland county-based seats respectively. Between 1999 and 2007, the southern half of the present riding was part of the riding of Erie-Lincoln, represented by current PC leader Tim Hudak (he currently represents Niagara West-Glanbrook).
Provincially, all three parties have held the seat: the Conservatives (1914-1919, 1923-1934, 1945-1948, 1953-1959, 1971-1975, 1995-2003), the CCF or NDP (Labour from 1919 to 1923, CCF from 1943 to 1945 and NDP from 1990 to 1995) and the Liberals (1934-1943, 1948-1953, 1959-1971, 1975-1990, 2003-2013). Federally, however, the NDP or its predecessors have never held the seat. It has been held since 2004 by Conservative MP Rob Nicholson, the current Minister of National Defence.
The Ontario NDP won the riding in the 1990 Bob Rae landslide, with a nearly 20 point majority over the Liberals. However, Bart Maves, the PC candidate, gained the seat with a 13.7% majority on the Liberals and held it with a much tighter 3.5% majority in 1999. In 2003, Liberal candidate Kim Craitor, a longtime municipal politician, defeated Maves with a 8.8% majority (46.9% to 38.1%). In 2007, the Liberals were reelected with 47.5% to the PCs’ 31.2%; in 2011, the Liberal majority fell to only 1.19% – 35.95% against 34.76% for the PCs, while the NDP, running a strong candidate, significantly improved its vote to 26.3% (it placed fourth, behind the Greens, with 9.8% in 2007).
Federally, the Liberals held the seat from 1953 to 1972 – even in the Tory landslide of 1958 – and again from 1974 to 1979, 1980 to 1984 and 1993 to 2004 – but Rob Nicholson, who had first held the seat as a PC MP from 1984 to 1988 (going down to bloody defeat in 1993), regained his old seat with a 2.2% majority in the 2004 federal election. His majority has since expanded while the Liberal vote tanked; in 2011, Nicholson held his seat with a 29.8% majority and it was the NDP, with 23.5%, which placed a distant second.
In the 2011 provincial election, the Liberals drew their narrow victory from Niagara Falls and, to a lesser extent, Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Liberal incumbent, a former Niagara Falls alderman, won all but a handful of polls in the city. The NDP did better in some older, historically working-class neighborhoods of the city (such as Silvertown) while doing slightly poorer in newer suburban subdivisions; in the federal election, the NDP managed to pick up a handful of polls, again largely in the Silvertown area. But just as the Liberals won nearly every poll in Niagara Falls (the city) in the last three provincial elections; the federal Tories have won most polls in the city in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections. In the north, the wealthier and older Niagara-on-the-Lake is disputed between Liberals and Tories, with little NDP support (the Greens outpolled them in 2007 and 2008), with an edge to the provincial Grits in the last two provincial elections. In the 2011 provincial election, the NDP candidate was Wayne Redekop, the former mayor of Fort Erie. With a favourite son vote, he swept most of the urban polls in Fort Erie. His candidacy also created an interesting north-south dynamic: the Liberals placed third in every poll in the municipality of Fort Erie, where the match was played between the NDP and the PCs. While the NDP appears to have some solid natural support in Fort Erie and Crystal Beach, the Liberals were competitive – at both levels of government – in past elections. One constant in the electoral geography, finally, have been the very strong Tory results in the rural polls outside the riding’s three main towns.
All three major party candidates were Niagara Falls city or regional councillors. The Liberals nominated Joyce Morocco, the NDP nominated Wayne Gates and the PCs nominated Bart Maves, who has been regional councillor since 2010 after having served as MPP between 1995 and 2003. Joyce Morocco ran and lost for the federal Liberals in the 2008 election; Gates ran for the federal NDP in 2004 and 2006. Bart Maves tried to regain his old seat, without success, in the 2007 provincial election. Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati endorsed the Liberal candidate. In the 2010 municipal election, in the at-large election for city council, Gates won won 10,879 votes and Morocco won 9,720. Bart Maves won 13,695 votes in a 7-candidate race for three seats on the regional council (Maves’ uncle is a city councillor in Niagara Falls). A PC website branded Wayne Gates, a former union official, as ‘radical Wayne’, leading to an hilarious Tumblr parody.
Wayne Gates (NDP) 39.44% (+13.14%)
Bart Maves (PC) 36.83% (+2%)
Joyce Morocco (Liberal) 19.39% (-16.5%)
Clarke Bitter (Green) 2.73% (+1.11%)
Tim Tredwell (Ind) 0.61% (+0.24%)
Stefanos Karatopis (Libertarian) 0.43% (-0.03%)
Troy Young (PPP) 0.29% (+0.29%)
Andrew Brannan (Freedom) 0.28%
A last minute poll by Forum Research had shown the NDP’s Wayne Gates leading the PCs 48 to 33, with the Liberals standing a distant third with only 17%. As the poll had predicted, the NDP came out victorious, although it was by a much narrower margin: a 2.61% majority over the PCs. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and Niagara Falls is (yet another) significant victory for the Ontario NDP, the fourth seat they pick up after Kitchener-Waterloo (from the PCs in 2012), London West and Windsor-Tecumseh (both from the Liberals in 2013). Like the three other seats they have picked up, this is the kind of riding which the NDP need to win if they are to win the next provincial election (Niagara Falls itself has been a bellwether seat in provincial elections since 1985).
The clear losers are the Liberals, who, like in the three previous NDP gains in this legislature, suffered huge loses and slipped to a distant third. I’ll come back to what this trend means for the Liberals in my general conclusion. While the PCs performance is nowhere near as catastrophic as that of the Liberals, this isn’t a very good performance for them: they are up only 2 points from 2011 and they’re still lower than their 2003 result (38.1%).
Compared to 2011, the NDP made the largest inroads in the city of Niagara Falls, which it won by about ten points (43-33) over the PCs with the Liberals crashing 20 points to 22% (the NDP gained 18%, the PCs gained 2%). It held its ground well in Fort Erie, even making small gains and winning the municipality with a 2 point edge over the PCs; a remarkable performance given that the 2011 result for the NDP in Fort Erie owed a lot to a favourite son vote for the NDP’s local candidate. The NDP remained a distant third in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which the PCs won by 26 points (50-24) over the Liberals, with the NDP nevertheless up ten points to 22%.
Thornhill is an affluent, highly-educated and white-collar suburban riding located directly north of Toronto. The riding includes parts of the municipalities of Vaughan and Markham in York Regional Municipality, and it’s named after Thornhill, the most important neighborhood which straddles the border between the two municipalities (formed by Yonge Street).
The seat became vacant on December 31, 2013 following the resignation of PC MPP and opposition finance critic Peter Shurman in an expense scandal. Shurman had received a housing allowance for a Toronto apartment (despite representing the Toronto area), because he moved his primary residence to Niagara-on-the-Lake. In September 2013, following an ‘heated exchange’, Hudak removed Shurman from his job as PC finance critic. Hudak had asked him to repay his expenses, but Shurman refused and got booted from his frontbench gig as a result In December 2013, it was further revealed that Shurman was claiming mileage from his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto as an expense, Shurman was forced to resign his seat. Shurman’s scandal was something of a blow for the PCs, given his prominent frontbench role.
Thornhill is a rather special and unique riding. It is one of two ridings in Canada with a Jewish plurality – the other is the Montreal-area seat of Mount Royal (although in both ridings, all Christian denominations outnumber Jews), with 32.8% of residents being Jewish (the highest in Canada). There are no statistics on the issue, but Thornhill is said to have a large Orthodox Jewish population. 24.2% of residents checked ‘Jewish’ as their ethnic origin, making it the single largest ethnic origin reported. There is a large Eastern European, particularly Russian, population – judging by the geographic distribution of ethnic origin answers (in 2006), almost certainly Jews of Russian or Polish descent. In 2011, 12.2% claimed Russian ancestry (probably the highest in Canada) and 9.3% claimed Polish origins; overall, 24.8% of residents identified some Eastern European descent. There is also a fairly significant Iranian/Persian population (4.7%), which may include some Jews of Iranian background.
The visible minority (non-white) population is fairly significant, albeit not particularly high compared to other GTA ridings. In 2011, 36.9% of the population were visible minorities, the largest group being – by far – Chinese, who made up 12.6% of the total population. In the ethnic origin responses, Chinese was the second largest ethnicity behind Jewish (ahead of Russian), at 13.4%. The Chinese population in the riding is heavily concentrated in the portion of Markham municipality, a spillover from the heavily Chinese riding of Markham-Unionville. Other visible minority groups include South Asians (6.7%), West Asian (4.2%), Filipino (3.9%) and Korean (3.6%). The largest non-Jewish white demographic in the riding are Italians, again a spillover from the heavily Italian community of Woodbridge (in Vaughan municipality). 6.5% claimed Italian ancestry and 18.5% of residents were Catholics, the second largest religious denomination behind Judaism (no religious affiliation placed third, with 17.8%).
This diverse ethnic and religious mix means that a majority of the population (50.1%) have a language other than English as their mother tongue. Russian was actually the largest non-official language, spoken as the mother tongue of 10.6% of residents. Other main non-official languages (mother tongue) included Cantonese (4.4%), Persian/Farsi (4%) and Chinese (3.8%).
Thornhill is a very affluent, highly-educated and white-collar suburban riding. The median household income (2010) was $85,332, which likely places in the top 15-20 of all Canadian ridings. 62.5% of residents were in the top five income deciles, compared with 53.6% of residents: even more telling, the only income deciles overrepresented (against the provincial average) in Thornhill were the top three deciles: 44.9% of residents lived in the top 3 deciles (33.6% of Ontarians), including 19.4% in the top decile. No less than 41.3% of residents over 15 have a university degree at the bachelor level or above (a very high percentage, 16.6%, have a degree above the bachelor level), while low percentages have a HS diploma as their highest qualification (21.2%) or have no qualifications whatsoever (11.8%).
The largest industry in the riding (NAICS) were ‘professional, scientific and technical services’ (13.7%), followed by healthcare (10.5%), retail trade (10.4%) and manufacturing (9.1%). The main occupations, however, emphasize the white-collar nature even more: 21.1% are employed in business, finance and administration occupations; 19.3% (a very low number by Canadian standards) in sales and services; 12.8% had ‘occupations in education, law and social, community and government services’ and 12.7% were in management.
The suburban nature is highlighted by family and housing demographics (commuting information in the 2011 NHS was quite horrendous, but the average commute time was 30 minutes, against 20 minutes for all Ontario). There is a very high percentage of married individuals (58.1%), a low percentage of singles (27.9%) and a high percentage of households with children (46%). 87% of households are owned; a majority (55.3%) are single-detached houses, but there’s also a fairly significant number of new condo developments (about 27% of all households per the NHS in 2011) and some high-rise apartments (22.1%, largely along the main arteries). Thornhill is a riding which grew rapidly after the 1960s, as such, most houses (55.9%) were built between 1961 and 1990, and another 41.2% have been built since 1991. As a settled inner suburban area, growth has slowed down somewhat in the past decade, although the riding was still clearly overpopulated at the 2011 census (140,265) and did grow by +6.3% between 2006 and 2011.
The riding of Thornhill was created at the 1996 federal redistribution, from the division of the rapidly growing old suburban ridings of Markham—Whitchurch—Stouffville and York North. The provincial electoral district was created in 1999 on the lines of the federal seat. The seat has seen very closely fought between PCs and Liberals in the last four provincial election, but at the federal level, it witnessed a fairly sudden and dramatic swing from Liberals to Conservatives. The federal riding of Thornhill was solidly Liberal until 2008: the Liberals won 59% in 1997, 65% in 2000, 55% in 2004 and 53% in 2006. Even in 2006 – Harper’s first victory – the Liberals held Thornhill with a breezy 19% majority over the Tories. In 2008, however, the Conservatives, represented by British-born journalist Peter Kent (the former Minister of the Environment from 2011 to 2013), picked up the seat from incumbent Liberal (Jewish) MP Susan Kadis, with a 9.6% majority for the Tories. The Tory vote increased from 33.7% to 49% in the space of two years, while the Liberal vote fell from 53% to 39% in the same period. In 2011, Kent was reelected for a second term in a landslide, with 61% of the vote and a 37.7% majority over the Grits.
Provincially, the PCs won the seat in 1999, when it was first disputed, with a very thin majority on the Liberals (48.2% vs 47.4%), and while they lost it to the Liberals in the 2003 Grit landslide, it was by a narrow margin: 46.9% for the Liberals’ Mario Racco against 45.2% for the PC MPP Tina Molinari. The seat drew attention in the 2007 provincial election, when it was gained, countercyclically, by the PCs (who lost by a wide margin provincially). PC candidate Peter Shurman (who is Jewish) won 45.9% against 42.3% for the Liberals. In 2011, Shurman won reelection with 46.9% against 40.7% for the Liberals. Unlike the federal Grits, the provincial Liberals put up a fight in 2011: their candidate was Bernie Farber, the former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
The NDP has been very weak in Thornhill (even if the Jewish Canadian community, in its working-class days, strongly supported the CCF/NDP or Communists). In the 2011 provincial election, the NDP won 9%, a result which is actually at the upper end of recent NDP showings. In the federal election, the NDP won 12%.
The sudden shift from Liberals to Conservatives has everything to do with the changing political allegiances of the Canadian Jewish community: an hitherto reliably Liberal demographic which has become a solidly Conservative demographic since 2008 (the shift is very perceptible in seats in Toronto and Montreal). Federally, the shift is often assigned to the Harper Conservatives’ strongly pro-Israeli diplomatic stances (while some Liberals have taken more pro-Palestinian positions), which resonate very well with Canadian Jews. Provincially, it is often chalked down to the issue of private/denominational schools: in 2003, the PCs supported a tax credit for parents to send their children to private/denominational schools, and it allowed the PC vote to hold up very well in Thornhill. In 2007, PC leader John Tory famously – and disastrously – proposed to extend public funding to all faith-based schools (the Ontario provincial government funds Catholic schools); while that played disastrously for the PCs in the province, it may explain why the PCs gained Thornhill – for some Jewish parents, especially in the Orthodox Jewish community, access to Jewish schools is a major issue.
At the same time, however, it may also have something to do with a wider shift: many affluent white-collar suburban voters have shifted, fairly dramatically in the long term, from Liberal to Conservatives. Jewish Canadians tend to be like many Canadian suburbanites: socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. Jewish voters, much like those south of the border, are very much allergic to (Christian) religious conservatism, social conservatism or more populist conservative rhetoric. The Canadian Alliance and Reform Party, associated with religious and populist conservatism, did very poorly with Jewish voters (although from poll-by-poll results, it appears the Alliance did fairly well with Orthodox Jews in Thornhill in 2000, presumably helped by a Jewish candidate). Similarly, in the 2011 provincial election, the PCs lost ground (compared to 2007) with more secular Jewish voters in urban Toronto (St. Paul’s and Eglinton-Lawrence), a reaction to Hudak’s populist and right-wing campaign which repelled affluent, urban moderates.
The map of the 2011 provincial election portrays the riding’s electoral geography well. The PCs were very strong – over 70% of the vote in a handful of polls – in the heavily Jewish areas along Bathurst Street (Toronto’s main ‘Jewish road’ – see a map here) in the Thornhill neighborhood. There were smaller outcrops of PC support in the eastern (Markham) end of the riding, primarily in mixed-Jewish neighborhoods. On the other hand, the Liberals were strongest in non-Jewish areas: areas west of Dufferin Street (more Italian) or between Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue (less Jewish, more Chinese and Iranian). The 2007 election is much the same: the PCs clearly owed their victory to very strong numbers with Jewish voters (again, with numbers over 60-70% in the most Jewish areas) while the Grits won non-Jewish voters. From 2007 to 2011, it appears as if the PC vote in the Jewish areas stagnated while improving in then non-Jewish areas.
The 2011 federal election is a Tory sweep, with many heavily Jewish polls giving over 80% of the vote to the Conservatives. The 2008 map is very similar to the provincial maps from 2007 or 2011, while the 2006 and 2004 maps – Liberal landslides – show a Tory enclave in Thornhill, presumably an Orthodox Jewish area, with the Liberals sweeping the rest (including many Jewish areas).
The PCs nominated optometrist Gila Martow, who ran and lost for Vaughan city council in 2010. On her website, Martow’s biographical blurb includes a well-placed picture of her with Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom are held in high esteem by the Canadian Jewish community. The Liberal candidate was Sandra Yeung Racco, a Vaughan city councillor and the wife of former Liberal MPP Mario Racco (2003-2007). The NDP’s sacrificial lamb was Cindy Hackelberg, the 2011 candidate.
Gila Martow (PC) 47.96% (+1.25%)
Sandra Yeung Racco (Liberal) 41.50% (+0.58%)
Cindy Hackelberg (NDP) 6.79% (-2.18%)
Teresa Pun (Green) 1.44% (-0.25%)
Gene Balfour (Libertarian) 1.06% (-0.33%)
Erin Goodwin (Freedom) 0.56% (+0.23%)
Kevin Clarke (PPP) 0.52% (+0.52%)
John Turmel (Pauper) 0.18% (+0.18%)
The PCs narrowly held Thornhill, with a margin similar to the 2011 election. As early results trickled in, the Liberals took a narrow lead over the PCs, but as it turned out it was likely the Grit-leaning non-Jewish polls reporting first. Later on, the PCs regained the lead and never gave it back. A Tory defeat in Thornhill (at the hands of the governing Liberals) would have been a serious, potentially fatal, blow to Hudak’s leadership; a victory, even if fairly narrow, allows him to breath a sigh of relief. The Liberals’ decent showing, in sharp contrast to their results in Niagara Falls, shows that the Grits are still a force to be reckoned with in the 416 (city of Toronto) and GTA/905 suburbs. The NDP’s poor result is not surprising if you take into account the propensity for Canadian by-elections to turn into two-party contests in a majority of cases, squeezing out any third party lacking a base and organization in the riding.
Overall, the main winner of these two by-elections was the NDP, which gained Niagara Falls. It was not as extraordinary a victory as Kitchener-Waterloo (2012) or London West/Windsor-Tecumseh (2013), which may or may not indicate that some of the NDP’s momentum has tapered off since then. Yet, all this is still very good news for the NDP and Andrea Horwath. Although Horwath has taken hits from both the Liberals and PCs, and has been the target of PC criticism for ‘propping up’ the Liberal government since 2011, she remains the most popular political leader in the province and for the first time in a long time, the NDP has a good chance of actually winning the next election. The NDP has been riding high in the polls in Southwestern Ontario (home to Kitchener, London and Windsor although not Niagara Falls) and their results in by-elections since 2012 indicate that the NDP are the only threat to the PCs outside of Ottawa and Toronto, even in Liberal-held ridings.
It remains to be seen, of course, if the NDP could repeat the remarkable results of the by-elections since 2012 in a general election. In a province-wide contest, the NDP would focus less heavily on specific ridings (like in by-elections), leaving some local candidates who might receive disproportionate backing from HQs in a by-election to fend for themselves. But the by-elections since 2012 have shown that the NDP are capable of regaining Dipper heartlands (Windsor-Tecumseh) and challenging the Liberals and PCs in seats where the NDP hasn’t usually been a factor in past provincial or federal elections (Kitchener, London, Niagara…): these are exactly the kind of ridings which the NDP need to win in a provincial election if they want to win government.
The NDP’s raw vote across both ridings was very, very close to the 2011 results. But the details show two very different dynamics at work: in Thornhill, a seat which will go NDP only when hell freezes over, the NDP lost 2,128 votes from their 2011 result. In Niagara Falls, where Wayne Gates won, the NDP increased their raw vote total by 2,222 – despite turnout falling by 9,960 votes since 2011. This indicates that the NDP was able to directly win voters who had backed the Grits or Tories in the last election.
The PCs had mixed results, on the whole. There is disagreement as to whether they won (by not losing any riding and by winning the most votes across the two ridings) or if they lost (by failing to regain low-hanging fruit like Niagara Falls and making very limited gains overall), I’d personally lean towards the latter. Holding Thornhill, where the PCs faced a rather serious threat from the Liberals (while still being favoured), is a good result for them insofar as it allows the PCs to breath a sigh of relief. But defeat in Niagara Falls is undeniably bad news for the PCs, which adds on to their defeats in Kitchener-Waterloo, London West and Ottawa South. Niagara Falls was low-hanging fruit for the PCs, who should have won the seat without too much trouble given their lead in province-wide polls, the swings against the Liberals and the federal Conservatives’ success in that seat in federal elections since 2004. It is also, like London West, the kind of riding which Hudak’s PCs need to win in the next election if they are to form government. Hudak, who has a remarkable inability for introspection, preferred to trumpet the meaningless statistic of ‘winning the most votes in the two ridings together’ and blame the Niagara Falls result on ‘unions’ (Hudak’s favourite boogeyman) turning out for the NDP.
The PCs saw their raw vote fall significantly in both ridings: across both, they lost over 10,300 votes. Their gains, in percentage terms, in both ridings were purely by virtue of retaining a good share of their 2011 votes than by any gains directly at another party’s expense. In a general election, the PCs may still win by just getting their 2011 voters again and little else, but they’ll most likely need to expand their base a bit by drawing voters who had backed the Liberals (or, less likely, the NDP) in 2011.
The clear loser were the Liberals – again. They lost yet another seat, after losing three seats in last summer’s five by-elections. What is especially cause for concern for the Liberals is that the disaster in Niagara Falls adds on to the disasters in Kitchener, London and Windsor in the last two years. All this seems to mean that the Liberals are quickly turning irrelevant in ridings outside of Toronto and Ottawa (in the 2013 by-elections, the Liberals held their ground – placing first or second – in the three ridings in Ottawa or Toronto; the Liberals still placed a decent second in the GTA riding of Thornhill). In a general election, the Liberals may very well face a bloodbath outside Ottawa and the 416/905: ridings outside those regions are shaping up, if by-elections are anything to go by, into PC-NDP battles with the Liberals not a factor. Some commentators have said that the Liberals could still be serious contenders for a fourth term in office because of their hold on ‘fortress Toronto’. I don’t disagree with the idea that the Liberals could still be contenders for reelection in the next general election, but I have serious doubts on the solidity of ‘fortress Toronto’. A lot of commentators rehashing that line seem to be assuming that the Liberals face no threat from either the PCs or NDP in the 416 ridings, or that they remain very competitive with the PCs in 905 suburban ridings where the NDP is weak. The latter is probably true; the Liberals will remain the main competition to the PCs in places like Vaughan, Markham, Oakville, Richmond Hill, Aurora and so forth. However, very little proves that Toronto is the impregnable Liberal ‘fortress’ some people present it as. In the 2013 by-elections, the PCs actually gained a seat from the Liberals in Toronto (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) and the Liberals held Scarborough-Guildwood by a narrow margin against serious PC and NDP threats. The NDP has a large potential base in Toronto; it did very poorly in Toronto in the 2011 provincial election, but nothing says that the next election will be just as disappointing for them. The PCs also have the potential to win seats inside Toronto. I would posit, therefore, that the Liberals aren’t particularly safe(r) in Toronto as a whole; in a general election, anything could happen.
It is unclear what impact these results have in the short term, especially as it relates to the likelihood of an early election in the spring. The NDP comes out with a big boost from these by-elections and it might be tempted to finally pull the plug on the Liberals, but from the early rhetoric from Horwath, she doesn’t seem particularly ‘trigger-happy’ and she prefers to present herself as a ‘responsible leader’ who doesn’t talk incessantly about elections. From past experience, Horwath does seem rather reluctant to take the responsibility for provoking an early election. Meanwhile, the Liberals do seem less interested than before in having an early election. In a case of acute spinning, the Liberals said that “a small percentage of people vote in by-elections” and affirm that “a general election will be a different story”. If the Liberals are reading the tea leaves, they might opt to delay an increasingly inevitable defeat at the polls by trying to stay in power for as long as possible. If Wynne was fairly bullish on election night with talk of a general election, other Liberals were on the defensive the next day and downplaying talks of an election (and rumours that the Liberals might engineer their own defeat on the budget).
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the Liberal spin about a general election being a different story is somewhat correct. By-elections are sometimes good predictors, but at best imperfect because of low turnout and the tendency for anti-incumbent votes against the government. It is interesting that the by-election results since 2013 haven’t been lining up with province-wide polling, in which the Liberals remain a fairly strong second not too far behind the PCs. Are the provincial polls all wrong? Are the by-elections showing an exaggerated swing against the Liberals because the Liberals’ supporters are not showing up? A general election will have different and unpredictable dynamics: the Liberals may turn out to be good campaigners who will find what it takes to seriously challenge Hudak and Horwath; but the Liberals may also collapse, if momentum builds around the NDP and leads to Liberal supporters abandoning the Grits for the NDP or PCs (a repeat of what happened federally in May 2011). As things stand, however, the Liberals are in a very difficult position.
Four federal by-elections were held in Canada on November 25, 2013 in the ridings of Bourassa (Quebec), Brandon—Souris (Manitoba), Provencher (Manitoba) and Toronto Centre (Ontario). These seats, two of which were held by the Liberal Party and the other two by the governing Conservative Party, had fallen vacant over the summer.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority government is in its third year – and the Conservatives have been in power for seven years now, first winning a minority mandate in January 2006. Three years in, the Tories are struggling in the polls and facing a rejuvenated and re-energized opposition, both from the official opposition New Democrats (NDP) and the third-placed Liberals.
Harper’s remarkable ability to survive two minority governments and win a third term as a majority government has been due, in part, to his ‘teflon’ qualities – almost all of what was thrown at him by the opposition, the media, the economy or what have you have largely failed to stick. For example, Harper’s second minority government was brought down in March 2011 by a motion which found his government to be in contempt of Parliament, becoming the first Canadian and Commonwealth government to be found in contempt of Parliament. And yet, despite all that, Harper led the Conservatives to a huge victory on May 2, 2011 – winning a majority government, and relegating the Liberals – Canada’s so-called ‘natural governing party’ – into third place behind the centre-left NDP.
The other part in the Harper winning equation has been his political and strategic acuity, which allowed him to outmaneuver the hapless Liberals on countless occasions since defeating Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2006. The complacent and arrogant Liberals seriously underestimated their opponent’s political acumen and his sharp strategical mind, and it led them into the ditch. Harper has centralized power and decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), keeping a tight leash on Conservative ministers and MPs and ensuring that the government is kept ‘on message’ at all times. The extremely strict party discipline and deference to authority which characterizes Canadian governance and parliamentary politics predates Harper, but Harper has brought it to new heights. The Conservatives successfully targeted key demographics which had been reliably Liberal in the 1990s – visible minorities, upwardly mobile new Canadians and middle-classes and well-off middle-class suburbanites.
Now, it appears that Harper’s teflon qualities are beginning to wear off. This has been most evident in the Senate scandal which has rocked Canadian politics throughout 2013.
Members of the Canadian Senate, a relatively weak upper house, are appointed by the Prime Minister (officially, by the Governor General on his ‘advice’) and may serve until they reach the age of 75. The unelected nature of the Senate, the unequal representation of provinces (based neither on the equal representation of all constituent units or rep-by-pop) and its perceived uselessness has led to numerous calls for reform. Stephen Harper and the modern Tories were strongly influenced by the strong demands for Senate reform in Western Canada, commonly expressed as ‘Triple E’ (elected, equal, effective). Upon taking office, Harper set out to reform the Senate, tabling legislation to limit Senators to eight-year terms and allowing for the direct election of Senators in each province (Alberta already holds non-binding ‘Senate nominee’ elections, but the Prime Minister is under no obligation to appoint the winner(s), although Harper has done so). However, both bills and other attempts at reform died. Seeing the difficulty of short-term Senate reform, Harper, who had let sixteen vacancies go unfilled since taking office, appointed sixteen new Senators in January 2009. Overall, Harper has appointed no less than 59 senators – all Conservatives – since 2009. Critics have accused Harper, a longstanding supporter of Senate reform, of hypocrisy.
Beginning in late 2012, four senators – three Conservatives appointed by Harper and one Liberal – were investigated for expense claims (housing and travel) for which they were not eligible. Conservative Senators Mike Duffy (PEI) and Pamela Wallin (Saskatchewan) both claimed primary residences in the province they represented, allowing them to claim living expenses while they work in Ottawa, while both still had Ontario health cards. Wallin claimed a total of C$369,593 in expenses in 2011-2012, including C$163,216 in ‘other travel’. Duffy claimed a total of C$298,310 in the same period. A third Tory senator, Patrick Brazeau, also faced questions over his expenses but what attracted the focus on him was his arrest in February for domestic and sexual assault and is awaiting trial.
In May 2013, it was revealed that Harper’s chief of staff, chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had written Duffy a personal cheque for C$90,172 to cover his fraudulent expense claims. Wright was forced to resign his position, and Harper tried to distance himself from his former chief of staff and the three embattled Tory senators he had appointed. Harper denied that he or anyone in the PMO had knowledge of Wright’s cheque, but subsequent revelations that senior members of the PMO were in on the details cast serious doubts on Harper’s honesty. Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were removed from the Conservative caucus and sat as independents.
As Parliament reconvened and the Tories continued to struggle under the weight of the Senate kerfuffle, Harper was determined to suspend the three senators in a bid to put the affair behind him. However, the three senators, who have been accused but not charged, mounted a spirited defense in which they were joined by some Liberal and Conservative colleagues, who protested the government “driving roughshod over due process and the presumption of innocence” (to quote Tory Senator Hugh Segal). Finally, the Senate did vote to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau without pay until the end of the session on November 5.
Harper is a shrewd political strategist who has been able to weather many storms in the past. He more or less maneuvered his way out of the 2008-2009 coalition crisis, two prorogations in controversial circumstances, criticism of major cost overruns in the acquisition of F-35 fighter planes, a scandal involving illegal Tory robocalls during the last federal election, harsh domestic and international criticism of Canada’s environmental and natural resources policies and ethics scandals involving cabinet ministers. However, Harper’s handling of the Senate scandal was not nearly as successful. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair led strong offensives against the government on the scandal during Question Periods in the House of Commons. During the Senate suspension debate, Duffy used the opportunity to throw more mud at the government – his lawyers claimed the PMO had pushed him into accepting the cheque or that the Conservative Party had paid all of his legal fees relating to the scandal. According to documents released by RCMP investigators, Wright may be charged for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and that Harper might have known more than he admits (an email from Wright said that the PM knew ‘in broad terms’ of the transaction). The RCMP report also claimed that the PMO had arranged to alter a Senate subcommittee report critical of Duffy.
Harper has tried to get a reboot after a tough start to 2013 by announcing a major cabinet shuffle in July, and a new Throne Speech to open a new session of Parliament in October. His shuffle, unsurprisingly, drew relatively little interest outside political circles given that most of the key portfolios – finance, foreign affairs, natural resources and the President of the Treasury Board – didn’t change hands and some of the more important changes (at justice, national defence, citizenship and immigration) were not really indicative of major changes. Some up-and-coming Conservative MPs, such as Chris Alexander (Citizenship and Immigration), Shelly Glover (Canadian Heritage), Kellie Leitch (Labour), entered cabinet with some significant portfolios.
The Throne Speech in October reiterated the Conservative government’s traditional agenda of small government, low taxes, balanced budgets, private sector job creation, expanding free trade and tough stances on crime. However, an early sign that the Conservatives are looking ahead to the 2015 election, the speech included several popular measures and ‘goodies’ targeting consumers – reducing roaming costs on networks within Canada or requiring television channels to be unbundled.
The Tories are also moving forward on Senate reform, asking the Supreme Court whether it can act alone and/or how much provincial consultation would be needed to (a) set term limits, (b) consultative elections on the appointment of Senators and (c) abolishing the Senate. The Tories’ preferred options remains term limits and elections, while the NDP is vocal about its wish to see the Senate abolished. However, in the Throne Speech, the government stated that “The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish” and at least one Tory junior minister (Maxime Bernier) has floated the idea of a referendum on Senate reform. The federal government, backed by Alberta and Saskatchewan, argue that the Senate can be abolished using the traditional 7/50 amending formula (consent of Parliament and two-thirds of provinces representing 50% of the population) although all other provinces and a lot of legal experts say that abolition of the Senate would require unanimous consent of all provinces. Most think that the Supreme Court will rule that abolition requires unanimous consent (meaning that it would be impossible in reality) and that consultative elections would require the 7/50 rule; Harper is unwilling to open the Pandora’s box of constitutional politics, meaning that he will need to choose between Senate reform through constitutional negotiations or letting the issue slide, perhaps to use it to run against the provinces and the courts in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Tories are facing stronger opposition. In April 2013, Liberal members and ‘supporters’ (non-paying sympathizers who could vote in the leadership contest) elected Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979, 1980-1984), as Liberal leader, replacing Ontario MP Bob Rae, who had been serving as interim leader since the Grits were obliterated into third place in May 2011. Justin Trudeau, elected in a marginal Montreal-area riding in 2008 and reelected in 2011 despite the NDP’s Orange Crush landslide in Quebec that year, is young (41), photogenic, quite charismatic, at ease in the media and has a famous name. Trudeau had originally declined to run (when Rae was widely anticipated to run for the permanent leadership) but, as Rae did not run, Trudeau reconsidered and threw his hat into the race. Trudeau, by far the strongest and most well-known of the contenders, won handily with 80% of the ‘points’ and 78.8% of the votes.
Since then, the Liberals have led the Tories and NDP in almost all polls. The size of the Liberal lead has varied, peaking after his election in April and dropping somewhat afterwards. Unlike what many had predicted, Trudeau’s honeymoon has prolonged itself – the Liberal lead grew in September and October, while the Tories have foundered – falling below the traditional Tory ‘floor’ of 30%.
Trudeau’s appeal is largely built on his personality and message.
Canadians, outside of the 40% of Tory supporters or floating sympathizers, have never really warmed to Harper (whose approval ratings have always been mediocre) although many respect him as a ‘strong leader’ and view him as most capable on economic issues (the government’s self-proclaimed priority). The Canadian economy is doing relatively well (with natural resource-rich provinces such as Saskatchewan or Alberta leading the way), although growth is projected to slow to 1.5% in 2013 as a result of public spending cuts, restrained foreign demand, the persistent strength of the Canadian dollar, ongoing competitiveness challenges and government policies to curb and reverse record high levels of household debt. Economic recovery in the US and high commodity prices should continue to help the economy. The economy remains one of Harper’s main strengths going into an election campaign, although he is not unassailable on the issue. After seven years in power (and nine by 2015), the mishandled Senate debacle and other scandals/issues, voter fatigue is definitely settling in.
There are also signs that Harper is facing push-back from Tory backbenchers for his ultra-centralist, hegemonic, PMO rule style of governance. Again, while both the Liberals and NDP have whipped caucuses in which backbenchers are told to tow the party line or else, the Tory government has taken it to another level. Government news releases are now signed as ‘the Harper Government’ rather than ‘the Government of Canada’, the PMO and the Privy Council Office vet their content, ministers are tightly controlled and backbenchers generally irrelevant and forgettable cogs. In October 2012, a Tory backbencher introduced a private members’ motion to form a committee to review the meaning of life (reopening the abortion debate), despite Harper’s objection to having the touchy issue reopened (Harper wants to keep a tight lid on social conservative issues like these, to kill the old ‘Tory secret agenda’ ideas). It was voted down 203 to 91, but 86 Tory MPs – including 10 members of cabinet – voted in favour. Just this month, Michael Chong, a Conservative backbencher, introduced a much-discussed ‘reform bill’ which would formalize a caucus’ ability to call for a leadership review and remove leaders’ power to deny nomination to candidates by not signing their nomination papers.
Similarly, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who won the NDP leadership in March 2012 following the death of iconic NDP leader Jack Layton in August 2011, has seen his star fade and popularity decline. He is a capable politician and a strong performer in the House, but the Mulcair NDP has been somewhat stale and unappealing. Mulcair has been working hard to finally shake off the NDP’s image as a leftist third party, by transforming the NDP into a moderate, pragmatic and vaguely centre-left party – a transformation which actually began with Layton (whose 2011 platform was more Tony Blair than anything socialist). For example, while Mulcair supports a cap-and-trade system and drew flack for his comments on Canada facing a ‘Dutch disease’ because of the Albertan oil sands industry, he opposes any changes to personal income tax levels (so no ‘wealth tax’) and only proposes raising corporate tax levels to pre-Harper levels (22%) and cutting business subsidies (notably to the oil and gas sector).
In this context, Trudeau – who presents a fresh face and a vague but appealing message (‘hope and change’, ‘hard work’, ‘middle-classes’) – is seen as a refreshing alternative. Even his admission that he smoked pot, even after becoming an MP, failed to make a lasting mark on the Liberals. Despite Mulcair’s stronger performances in QP, Trudeau’s Grits are still seen as the anti-Harper Trudeau’s main Achilles heel, however, is that his appeal remains quite fragile. He has been criticized countless times for being an empty suit who lacks coherent policies behind pablum like ‘real priorities’. In fact, his policies appear a rather vague mix-mash of things designed to please both the left (legalizing marijuana, opposition to Northern Gateway pipeline, musings about a carbon tax) and the right (support for the Keystone XL pipeline, pro-free trade) all couched in vague language about helping the middle-classes. To add to this, Trudeau still has a knack for rookie gaffes which may come back to haunt him. Most recently, in early November, Trudeau said he ‘admired’ China’s administration because of their environmental policies (while Trudeau was not explicit and may have phrased it awkwardly, it was widely read as ‘Trudeau admires authoritarian China’). He said this at an event for ‘ladies’ whose promotional poster was widely ridiculed because it looked like some Justin Bieber meet-and-greet event and invited ‘ladies’ to “really get to know the future PM” and asked “who are your real life heroes?” or “what is your favourite virtue?” (seriously).
Bourassa is located in northeastern Montreal, including the entirety of the borough of Montréal-Nord and parts of the boroughs of Ahuntsic (Sault-au-Recollet) and Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles (part of Rivière-des-Prairies).
The seat became vacant in June following the resignation of Liberal MP Denis Coderre to run for mayor of Montreal in last month’s municipal elections (he won). Coderre, a prominent Quebec Liberal MP, had represented the riding since 1997 and served in cabinets under Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin.
Bourassa is a lower-income multicultural suburban riding. In 2011, 40.2% of the population were visible minorities, and the largest visible minority groups were blacks (21% of the population), Arab (8.9%) and Latin American (6.1%) populations. Bourassa has a large Haitian population – 17.5% claimed Haitian ancestry (the highest in the country), 11% were born in Haiti (29.8% of immigrants were Haitian-born) and 8.6% said Creole was their mother tongue. This demographic makeup explains why Bourassa is still predominantly Francophone (51.4% as a mother tongue, 58.9% speak French most often at home) and largely Catholic (61.8%).
On the note of religion, Quebec is very much a secular province and religious practice is very low. But there’s still a strong secular Christian/Catholic tradition lingering in most of the province, meaning that the percentage of those who pick ‘no religious affiliation’ is very low (except in the more bobo parts of Montreal) compared to Anglo parts of Canada (except perhaps the Atlantic), so only 8.2% of Bourassa’s residents claimed no religious affiliation on the NHS in 2011.
Nevertheless, this should not obscure the fact that Bourassa also has, by Canadian standards, large Arab and Latin American populations as well as a significant Italian community. Most Arabs come from North Africa or Lebanon, countries with a significant Francophone influence. Muslims, at 12.7%, form the second largest religious group after Catholics and 7.3% claimed Arab as their mother tongue. Most Latin Americans are of Peruvian, Salvadoran or Mexican origin and Spanish was the mother tongue of 6.7% of the riding’s population. Finally, Bourassa has a large Italian population, albeit smaller than in neighboring Saint-Léonard or Rivière-des-Prairies, the Italian heartlands of Montreal. Still, 14.3% claimed Italian ancestry and around 9% said Italian was their mother tongue. The Italian population is spread out throughout most of the riding, but largest in the small part of Rivière-des-Prairies included in the riding.
The riding is largely poor – in 2006, it ranked as one of the poorest ridings in all of Canada and it was undoubtedly the same in 2011. The 2010 median household income was $36,981 and 30.4% of all persons were considered low income after tax. Another indicator of the riding’s deprivation is that only 60% of income came from employment earnings while 26.8% came from government transfers.
Low income is also reflected in education, work and housing. 32.2% of the 15+ population had no certificate/diploma/degree of any kind and 24.6% only had a high school diploma – and if 43.2% had post-sec qualifications, most of these were apprenticeship/trades (14.8%) or CEGEP/college diplomas (13.1%), only 10.9% had a university diploma. The leading occupations in 2011 were sales and services (27.8% of the labour force), business/finance/administration (15.4%) and trades/transport (12.9%). The riding’s main industries (NAICS) are retail trade (14.5%), healthcare and social services (13.9%) and manufacturing (13%). In 2011, 69% of households were rented and 60% of them were apartments with fewer than five floors.
Montréal-Nord has a fairly grim reputation in Montreal (as always, certainly undeserved in good part) as a poor, dangerous high-crime neighborhood. It does have something like the third highest crime rate of the island, and crime and violence – gang, drug or prostitution related – is high in parts of the borough, especially in the eastern end close to highway 25. In August 2008, protests following the death of an Honduran teenager at the hands of the police turned into riots (vandalism, cars burned, looting).
The riding of Bourassa was created in 1966 and first contested in 1968, and although the boundaries have shifted eastwards or westwards since then, it has always been centered on Montréal-Nord, an independent municipality until amalgamation. Since 1968, the Liberals lost the riding only twice – to the Progressive Conservatives (PC) in Brian Mulroney’s 1988 Quebec landslide and to the Bloc Québécois (BQ) in the 1993 election. That year, Bloc candidate Osvaldo Nunez, a Chilean immigrant who fled the Pinochet coup in 1973, won the seat by 95 votes (0.12%) over Liberal candidate Denis Coderre, 42% to 41.9%. The PC incumbent, who had won 43.4% in 1988, won 12%. In 1997, a much less favourable year for the Bloc in Quebec, Coderre defeated Nunez in a rematch – and it wasn’t even close: Coderre won the seat by 19.7%, with 52.2% to the Bloc’s 32.5%. Thereafter, he was reelected by comfortable margins – a huge 34% in 2000, more modest margins of 12% (2004), 11% (2006) and 24% (2008) in the subsequent elections. In 2008, Coderre had won 49.8% against 25.4% for the Bloc and 13.6% for the Tories. In 2011, Coderre held his seat with an 8.6% majority over the NDP, with 40.9% against 32.3% for the NDP, 16.1% for the Bloc and 8.8% for the Conservatives.
With redistribution, the new (post-2015) riding will expand westwards to take in the rest of Sault-au-Recollet but lost all Rivière-des-Prairies; this reduces the Liberal majority in 2011 to 6.1%.
The parties lack well-defined ‘strongholds’ in the riding, although there are some general patterns – broken by the NDP’s Orange Crush in 2011. The Liberals, since the 1990s, have tended to perform best in areas of Montréal-Nord with a large(r) Haitian or Arab population or in Rivière-des-Prairies, and its strong Italian presence. In 2006, for example, the Liberals won over 60% in a series of polls in Rivière-des-Prairies, where the Conservatives also did relatively well – second ahead of the Bloc in a few polls. The Bloc, prior to 2011, did better in polls with a smaller immigrant population. As in the rest of Montreal/Quebec, the 2011 NDP Orange Crush was at its strongest with Francophone ex-BQ voters and the NDP did not do as well with immigrants and minorities, who remained Liberals – although the NDP still won higher numbers with them than the Bloc had in the past. Therefore, the NDP’s support in 2011 bears some similarities to the Bloc’s pre-2011 support, although naturally the correlation isn’t perfect.
The Liberals and the NDP both had contested nomination meetings. The Liberals nominated Emmanuel Dubourg, an Haitian-born who served as provincial Liberal MNA for the provincial riding of Viau (which borders Bourassa, but does not include any parts thereof) between 2007 and his resignation in August 2013. When Dubourg resigned from the National Assembly, he received (legally) a severance pay of $100,000. That sparked some controversy, especially as some felt that he had resigned early before the provincial government passed a law which will abolish severance pays for MNAs resigning for no official reason. Dubourg and the federal Liberals consider the case closed and he has no intention of relinquishing his retirement bonus. The NDP made noise about having a “star candidate” – but as often happens with parties trumpeting a mystery star candidate, it turned out that said star candidate wasn’t a start candidate. The NDP nominated this ‘star candidate’, Stéphane Moraille, an Haitian lawyer and singer in Bran Van 3000, a Juno Award-winning (in 1998) band.
The Bloc nominated Daniel Duranleau, a former school trustee. There was some speculation at the outset about whether the Bloc’s leader, Daniel Paillé, who has no seat in the House, would throw his hat into the ring but unsurprisingly he did not run – as that would have been suicidal. The Conservatives nominated Rida Mahmoud, an engineer from Côte-d’Ivoire.
The Green Party, which is for all intents and purposes dead in Quebec besides managing to run no-namers in elections, was excited by its original candidate, Georges Laraque. Laraque, who is of Haitian ancestry, was a NHL hockey player between 1997 and his retirement in 2010; he finished his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens. He became deputy leader of the Green Party in 2010, but he didn’t even run in the 2011 federal election and the Greens performed, unsurprisingly, disastrously in Quebec in 2011. Laraque polled up to 12% in October, entirely on the star factor and his ties with the Haitian community which likely won him the backing of a few (probably usually Liberal) Haitian voters. However, he quit as candidate and Green deputy leader on October 17 after it was revealed he was charged on five counts of fraud. His unethical business practices were already public and police had raided his home in January 2013, raising major questions as to why Green leader Elizabeth May thought running Laraque would end up being beneficial for the Greens. It seemed, however, that May was desperately looking for another ‘beach-head’ in her micro-targeting strategy (after the successful results in last year’s Victoria and Calgary by-elections) and was ready to bankrupt her very thinly spread party in the process. When Laraque dropped out, despite May reaffirming her ‘faith in his innocence’, the Greens went with one Danny Polifroni, who ran for the provincial Greens in 2012.
Forum Research polled the riding five times, including four times with the names of the candidates themselves. The Liberals saw their support fall from 56% on November 5 to 43% on November 22, while the NDP’s numbers rose from 18% in October to 31% in the final poll in late November. The Bloc, which got 26% in the May poll, was pegged at 15-17% for the campaign (except one poll on November 14 which had them at 20%). Green support collapsed to 2% after Laraque dropped out.
Turnout was only 26.2%, down from 55.1% in 2011.
Emmanuel Dubourg (Liberal) 48.12% (+7.21%)
Stéphane Moraille (NDP) 31.44% (-0.84%)
Daniel Duranleau (Bloc Québécois) 13.02% (-3.04%)
Rida Mahmoud (Conservative) 4.65% (-4.17%)
Danny Polifroni (Green) 2.01% (+0.4%)
Serge Lavoie (Rhinoceros) 0.76%
Unsurprisingly, the Liberals held the seat with a comfortable majority, with a 16.7% majority, significantly larger than Coderre’s small 8.6% majority over the NDP in May 2011. The seat has a strong and old Liberal tradition, which both predates Coderre and goes beyond a simple personal vote for Coderre. Like Coderre before him, Dubourg had strong roots in the Haitian community, probably far more so than somebody like Moraille who is not a politician. This factor, combined with the continuing popularity of the Trudeau Liberal brand – which has given signs of being even stronger in immigrant-heavy ridings such as this one, where immigrant voters might harbour positive opinions of the Trudeau last name because, in part, of Pierre Trudeau’s multiculturalism policy. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have led the polls in Quebec since he became leader, but Trudeau is the most polarizing politician in Quebec according to a recent poll, which found his favourables/unfavourables split 44-32 – against 60/10 for Mulcair and 67% unfavourables for Harper.
That being said, the NDP vote held up quite well considering that the NDP’s popularity in Quebec has fallen significantly since the Orange Crush, when the NDP won 43% of the vote in the province. According to 308.com’s latest polling average (November), the NDP’s support stood at 25% in Quebec, trailing the Liberals by 11 points (36%, up from 32% last month). That might be due, in part, to the natural propensity in most by-elections to squeeze minor parties out and coalesce the vote around two parties. After Laraque dropped out, Moraille presented the race as a two-way contest. Political winds change direction very quickly in Quebec (witness the evolution of voting intentions during the 2011 campaign), but for the time being, the NDP, while its support has been eroded as of late with the Liberal upsurge, shouldn’t be counted out.
For one, the Dippers are in a much stronger position than the Bloc, which has failed to recover from the drubbing it received in 2011 because of the Orange Crush (23% of the vote). Because its leader, the rather low-key Daniel Paillé, lacks a seat in the House and the Bloc lacks official party status (4 MPs) it receives low media coverage. Add to that that the PQ provincial government is unpopular, that support for independence is low and that the last time the Bloc got significant media attention was when one of its MPs, Maria Mourani, was expelled from the party from opposing the PQ’s new and controversial Quebec Charter of Values. However, to be fairer, the Bloc likely didn’t put put much of its meager resources into the race.
Similarly, the Conservative vote consistently drops, often rather significantly, in those by-elections in which the Tories have no chance of winning and therefore don’t put any effort into them.
Without Laraque, in a riding which is demographically unfavourable to the Greens to begin with, the Greens did poorly, although they increased their percentage share of the vote by a few decimals.
Turnout was very low, so any conclusions we can draw from this by-election should be taken with a grain of salt. There were 19,675 less valid votes in 2013 than in 2011. All parties, even the Liberals, saw their actual raw vote fall from 2011 – the Liberals lost 6,725, the NDP lost 6,504, the Bloc lost 3,718, the Tories lost 2,502 and the Greens lost 245. More than anything else, in such circumstances, each party likely held their core voters who vote in every election and direct gains/loses from party to party were likely limited.
Brandon—Souris is located in the southwestern corner of Manitoba, centered around the city of Brandon. The city, the second largest in the province, has a population of about 56,000 (with 64,200 in the wider metro area), making it – by miles – the largest town in the constituency, which is otherwise made up of small towns with only a few thousand inhabitants, Prairie farmland and a few Native reserves.
The seat became vacant with the resignation of Conservative backbench MP Merv Tweed resigned at the end of August. Tweed was first elected in 2004.
Brandon-Souris is a largely white and Protestant riding, but given that 72% of the riding’s population lives in the Brandon metro I would object to the descriptor ‘rural’ for this riding. It is more rural, obviously, than many ridings in Canada – in 2011, 9.6% were employed in agriculture/forestry which places it significantly above the Canadian average in terms of population employed in agriculture. However, the main industries in Brandon-Souris are healthcare (14.3%) and retail trade (11.4%), with agriculture in third followed down the list by public administration (9.4%) and manufacturing (8%). Brandon has a regional health centre, contributing the strong presence of healthcare and social assistance in the riding; it also has a university (Brandon University) meaning that education is also rather big (7.4% in 2011). The leading occupations in 2011 were sales/services (22% of the labour force), trades/transport/equipment operators (15.1%), management (13.8%) and education/law/social, community and government services (13.5%).
The median household income, $57,055, not particularly high, but poverty is rather low – 14.8% were low income after tax in 2011. Low income but comparatively low poverty is common for a ‘rural/small town’ areas. One reason being that houses are fairly cheap, the median value of dwellings in 2011 was $189,875 against $280,552 for the entire country. Seven in ten households are owned (72% to be exact), most of them were built before the 1980s and the huge majority of them are single-detached houses.
Another typical characteristic of ridings such as Brandon-Souris is the relatively low level of education – despite the presence of a (small) university campus. 24% have no certifications and 29.5% only have their high school diploma. 46.6% do have post-secondary qualifications, largely from college (17.9%) or university (13.7%).
6.8% of the population are visible minorities, the leading communities being Latin Americans and Chinese. Another 9.8% claim ‘aboriginal identity’ – including 5.6% of Native Americans and 4.1% Métis. The non-white population is largest in the city of Brandon, where ‘only’ 77% are white.
Of more political relevance is the ethnic/ancestral makeup of the riding. Southwestern Manitoba, where the land was the best, attracted well-off ‘elite’ English settlers from Ontario or the British Isles beginning in the 1870s and 1880s, who gradually came to outnumbers the Natives and Métis. These Ontarian-English farmers and businessmen came to form the political and economic elite of the province, which more or less retained power at the provincial level until the election of Ed Schreyer’s NDP government in 1969. Several Manitoba Premiers, including famous names such as Thomas Greenway, Rodmond Roblin or John Bracken, had immigrated from Ontario. The result of this interesting history is that the Brandon area, in contrast with other parts of the Canadian Prairies which attracted very diverse immigration from Eastern Europe, the Russian Empire or Germany, has a more English/Scottish population. English and Scottish were the two leading ethnic origins declared in 2011, with 35.9% and 29.9% of the population respectively. Germans came in fifth – behind Canadian and Irish – with 16.7% – while a total of 17.5% declaring various Eastern European origins, mostly Ukrainian, Polish or Russian.
English was the mother tongue of 85% of residents in 2011. German was a very far second, with 4.4%, although the proportion of German speakers rises to over 20% in some rural municipalities outside Brandon.
Religiously, the riding is heavily Protestant – in 2011, the various Protestant and non-Catholic Christian denominations accounted for 50.1% of the population, undoubtedly ranking the riding near the top in terms of Protestants. Catholics made up only 16.6% of the population, and 31.4% claimed no religious affiliation (you will notice the irony of a conservative small town riding in Manitoba having a much larger share of irreligious identifiers than a urban riding in Montreal!).
English-Ontarian voters, at the provincial level, historically split their allegiances between the Conservatives, Liberals and Progressives and strongly resisted the NDP. Agrarian socialism carried no appeal to southwestern Manitoba’s prosperous English farmers and agrarian politics in Manitoba were steeped in Ontarian rural liberalism, extremely moderate if compared to the ‘group government’ and proto-socialist ideas of Albertan and Saskatchewan agrarianism. The Brandon-Souris area, provincially and federally, has a strong Conservative tradition. Provincially, the PCs have represented the rural ridings with almost no interruption since at least 1958, but the NDP has usually held Brandon East, the poorer part of the city.
Federally, Brandon-Souris was created in 1952 from the merger of the separate ridings of Brandon and Souris, which more or less represented the north and south halves of the current riding respectively. Since the riding’s creations, the Conservatives lost the seat only once – to the Liberals in the 1993, largely because the right-wing vote was split between Reform and the PCs, allowing the Grits to win with only 33%.
Before the 1950s, the Liberals had represented the area a few times. Clifford Sifton, Wilfrid Laurier’s Minister of the Interior between 1896 and 1905 who is most famous for promoting European immigration to Western Canada at the turn of the last century, held the seat of Brandon between 1896 and 1911. Robert Forke, the moderate and liberal leader of the Progressive Party, represented Brandon between 1921 and 1930, although he was returned as a Liberal-Progressive in 1926 and joined the federal Liberal cabinet that same year.
Brandon-Souris sticks out from other ‘rural’ ridings in Western Canada by never having elected a Reform/Alliance MP. In 1997, it was Brandon mayor Rick Borotsik, a Progressive Conservative, who won the seat with a thin 1.7% margin over the Reform Party. Borotsik, something of a Red Tory and critic of the Reform Party, was reelected in 2000 with a 5.5% majority over the Alliance. In both elections, the Liberals placed a paltry third with only 18% of the vote – Borotsik certainly ate into the Liberal potential a lot.
Borotsik only reluctantly joined the united Conservative Party in 2003 and backed Belinda Stronach over Harper for the leadership of the new party. He did not seek reelection in 2004, allowing Merv Tweed, a provincial PC MLA, to easily win the seat for the Tories with 51.7% against 24.2% for the Liberals and 19.2% for the NDP. Tweed was reelected with huge majorities in the next three elections – 34% in 2006, 39% in 2008 and 2011. The Liberal vote has consistently declined since 2004, from 18% in 2006 to only 5.4% in 2011; while the NDP has become the strongest rival to the Tories with 25% in 2011 (against 63.7% for Tweed). In 2008, the Greens placed a strong third with 15.8% of the vote, probably because their candidate spent $37,583 – much more than either the Grits or the Dippers, and only slightly less than the Tories themselves. In 2011, however, he spent only $10,000 or so and the Green vote fell to 5.7% (still ahead of the Liberals).
With redistribution, the boundaries shift slightly southwards – losing the northern parts of the riding to Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa – but expanding eastwards a bit. The impact on the 2011 results is negligible.
Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have tended to do far better in rural and small town polls than in Brandon itself, although the size of their margin in the last elections has lessened the divide somewhat. Indeed, in 2011, the NDP won only 12 regular polls to the Tories’ 167 – all of them were in Brandon except for the Dakota Native reserves (Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation). The Tories won upwards of 70%, even over 80%, in most rural and small town polls outside the Brandon metro. In areas closer to Brandon, the Tory vote fell under 70% and stood at 40-60% in most of Brandon. In detail, the Conservatives did best in the suburban neighborhoods of Brandon, particularly the newer subdivisions and the more affluent western half of the city. The NDP and the Greens have tended to do best in downtown Brandon, near the university and in the poorer eastern half. In 2011, the NDP’s strongest results came from the downtown core while in 2008, the Greens had won the poll covering the university as well as downtown, with the NDP doing better in some poorer neighborhoods in eastern Brandon.
In 1997, the PCs won Brandon (where Borotsik was mayor), doing particularly well in western Brandon, and some small towns and rural polls while the Reform Party generally won the rural polls.
The Conservative nomination process rose quite a ruckus. Chris Kennedy, a former aide to outgoing MP Merv Tweed, was considered the favourite for the nomination until he was mysteriously disqualified or failed to hand in his nomination papers on time, depending on who you believe. The Conservative Party says that Kennedy’s nomination papers arrived in Ottawa one day after they were due, something confirmed by a tracking of the Purolator package from Brandon to Ottawa, which shows that it left Brandon on the afternoon of Sept. 11 (the day it was due in Ottawa) and arrived in Ottawa the next day. Kennedy, on the other hand, says he delivered the package on Sept. 10 for a next-day delivery to Ottawa (he might be correct, but that would mean that Purolator in Brandon sat on the package for a day) and swears that he had attached the $1,000 deposit cheque to his papers (the Tory HQ had originally told him he had not stapled the cheque to his papers). With Kennedy out and another contender dropping out, the Tories nominated (now former) Arthur-Virden PC MLA Larry Maguire by acclamation. Regardless of what went down, the shenanigans – well publicized by the media and Kennedy’s recriminations – hurt the local Tories, with reports of memberships being returned and a right-wing editorialist in the local newspaper was visibly peeved at the whole issue.
In contrast, the Liberals handled their nomination process far better and attracted a strong candidate. Rolf Dinsdale, a media executive and the son of former PC MP Walter Dinsdale (who held the seat between 1951 and 1982) won the nomination. The NDP nominated Labour Council president Cory Szczepanski, the Greens nominated greenhouse owner David Neufeld and the Libertarians ran Frank Godon, a former US Marine and briefly candidate for the Liberal nomination before dropping out.
Brandon-Souris was the most competitive of the four ridings with by-elections, according to polling by Forum Research – who were in the field five times between October and November. The Liberals led the Tories by 4 points, 40 to 36, in a first poll in October. The Liberal lead grew in each poll thereafter. On November 22, the Liberals led by 14 – 50 to 36 – and on November 24, the last poll out, the Liberals led by a phenomenal 29 points, or 59 to 30. NDP and Green support in the polls was halved over the course of the campaign, from 12% to 6% and 5% respectively.
Turnout was 44.8%, down from 57.5% in 2011.
Larry Maguire (Conservative) 44.16% (-19.57%)
Rolf Dinsdale (Liberal) 42.75% (+37.59%)
Cory Szczepanski (NDP) 7.22% (-17.96%)
David Neufeld (Green) 4.88% (-0.85%)
Frank Godon (Libertarian) 0.98%
In a major surprise – and yet another black eye for Canadian polling – the Tories managed to narrowly hold the seat, with a 1.4% majority over the Liberals. The Grit defeat will disappoint Liberals who had been keeping tabs on this race, and could be interpreted as a Grit ‘underperformance’ given polling expectations. However, Trudeau seems to have done a good job of managing expectations, and the idea that the Grit defeat here was a bad result for them has not been widespread (although I don’t follow the media blabber’s much).
Forum Research, which is not a bad pollster in general (although as a new-ish company, its track record is limited), totally bombed on this one – the Liberals up 29 points (!), in reality they lost by 1. The most likely explanation would probably be the obligatory comment on the difficulty of polling by-elections, which compound the natural difficulty of accurately polling a single riding with about 62,000 registered voters and a usual turnout of 35-36k in normal elections. Related to this is the impact of low turnout; only 27.7k voters turned out in the by-election and it’s no secret that low turnout can create weird results (although this result is not particularly weird, disregarding expectations built on polling) and lead even the best pollsters astray. Speculating further, pollsters might have some trouble accurately polling outside large built-up urban areas, in a riding which, while more urban than actually agricultural/rural, still has a significant share of voters in small towns and rural areas. Finally, some kind of shy Tory/shy government support effect might have played a role; the Tories as incumbents have underpolled in the last two federal elections (but the incumbent Liberals underpolled in 2006) and Forum also underpolled the Tories in Provencher (see later).
The Winnipeg Free Press attributed the Liberal defeat to a series of tactical errors: having a Tory mayor run for the Liberal nomination for the illusion of having a contested nomination (instead of letting him run as an independent), having Trudeau not campaign more heavily outside Brandon and Trudeau opting to spend the final weekend campaigning in the Liberal strongholds in Quebec and Ontario instead of this marginal riding.
Nevertheless, the Liberals’ defeat should not obscure the fact that this was nevertheless an excellent result for them. They won 42.8% of the vote, the highest vote share for the party since its creation (the last time it was this high was in a two-way by-election contest in 1951 in the riding of Brandon) and despite low turnout this is the highest raw vote for the Liberals since 1993, when turnout was 69%.
The Liberal vote was likely inflated some by the two-way nature of this particular by-election, which once again saw the natural propensity for third parties to be squeezed in by-elections. In a general election, I would certainly expect the NDP to do much better – at the very least, 12 or 13% like they won in the 1990s and 2000 (horrible years for the federal NDP). In this by-election with two high profile candidates for the Tories and the Grits, they found themselves squeezed and likely didn’t invest much resources into this riding either. Therefore, the Liberals likely ate into the Dippers’ vote, while other NDP voters from 2011 likely did not turn out. The NDP in Manitoba was also hurt by the provincial NDP government’s unpopularity; the long-time NDP government is trailing in the polls provincially after a decision to raise the sales tax to pay for flood mitigation.
The Conservatives won by 389 votes. The Tories lost over 10,000 votes from the last election, when they had won 22.3k votes – this year, they won only 12.2k votes. The Liberals, on the other hand, increased their raw vote by a significant amount – despite, again, turnout over 10 points lower than in 2011. In the annus horribilis 2011, the Grits won only 1,882 votes in Brandon-Souris whereas this year they took 11,816 – which is, as noted above, the highest raw vote for the Grits since 1993. On the other hand, the NDP lost 6,849 votes; the Greens lost 663 votes and overall 7,521 less votes were cast in 2013. Unlike in Bourassa, where no party gained in raw votes and likely only held its reliable voters from 2011, in Brandon-Souris, the Liberals made sizable gains (+9,934 votes) despite turnout falling by 7.5k. Poll-by-poll results would allow more detailed analysis, but it would appear as if the Liberal gains came from both the NDP and the Tories – which is, needless to say, excellent news for the Grits if they’re able to repeat such gains across Canada. Many Tory and/or Dipper voters must have stayed home as well (possibly more Tories stayed home, as often happens with demotivated and demobilized soft government supporters in by-elections/midterms, further compounded perhaps by the Tory nomination shenanigans).
The Liberal result is even more impressive if you remember how low the Liberals have sunk in Western Canada, outside of a few ‘Indian reserves’ holdouts in Winnipeg, Ralph Goodale’s personal stomping ground (Wascana) and Greater Vancouver. In 2008 and 2011, the Liberals polled single digits in most Western ridings outside urban areas (and even in some urban areas), making the NDP the strongest rivals to the Tories. Under Dion and Ignatieff, the Liberal brand in the west – already damaged by Trudeau and not durably improved by Chrétien/Martin, had become closely associated with eastern ‘elitism’ – Dion as the egghead from Quebec, Ignatieff as the vilified Harvard academic who was “just visiting” and “didn’t come back for you” – but also fairly left-leaning policies which were out of touch with Western Canada: Dion’s green shift (carbon tax) platform in 2008, and even a fairly centre-left platform from Ignatieff despite Ignatieff being closer to the party’s right. Stephen Harper’s Tories, more strongly rooted in Western Canadian conservatism of the Reform/Alliance variety than the PCs ever were (especially post-Diefenbaker), have therefore been an extremely attractive option in the region. While some Western Canadians may feel that Harper hasn’t fulfilled all he said he would or addressed the region’s old grievances fully, it is still clear that under Harper, Western Canada is stronger than it ever was under past Liberal and even PC (Mulroney) governments.
Therefore, if the Liberals are this competitive against the Tories, it is certainly excellent news for the Grits and cause of major concern for the Tories. It does not seem as if Justin Trudeau is, as of today, suffering from his late father’s deep unpopularity in Western Canada. In fact, since Trudeau won the leadership, polling in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (with small samples and large margins of error) have shown the Liberals performing surprisingly well.
Provencher is located in southeastern Manitoba. Unlike Brandon—Souris, where over 70% of the population lives in one metro area, only 13.7% of Provencher’s population lives in the largest community in the riding, Steinbach. Geographically, the bulk of the population is concentrated in small communities in the Prairies, while the eastern and northern halves of the riding (extending to the border with Ontario), which are in the barren Canadian Shield, are sparsely populated because the land is unsuitable for agriculture.
The seat became vacant in July 2013 following the retirement of Conservative MP Vic Toews, who had held the seat since 2000. A former provincial cabinet minister under the Manitoba PC government in the 1990s, Toews became the senior Manitoba minister in the Harper government serving as Minister of Justice (2006-2007), President of the Treasury Board (2007-2010) and Minister of Public Safety (2010-2013). Toews gained a reputation as a strong proponent of the government’s law-and-order agenda, spearheading legislative efforts to toughen detention laws for gun crimes and youth offenders and, in his last position, a very controversial bill which would have expanded law enforcement agencies’ power to monitor and track digital communications. The bill, “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act”, would have allowed authorities to demand access to subscriber information from ISPs and telephone providers without a warrant. There was major public opposition to the bill, and Toews became a lightning rod for criticism after saying people “either stand with us or with the child pornographers” while a Twitter account (run by a Liberal staffer) leaked details of Toews’ divorce details. The legislation was withdrawn in February 2013, and the whole episode badly hurt Toews’ credibility and reputation as cabinet minister. Younger Manitoba MPs such as Shelly Glover (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages since July 2013) and Candice Bergen (Minister of State (Social Development) since July 2013) have replaced him as the leading Tory MPs from the province in the Harper cabinet.
Provencher is a largely white riding. Visible minorities make up only 2.3% of the population but 12.3% claimed Aboriginal identity, including 9.4% with official Métis identity. The relatively large Métis population – nearly 10,000 people – is a remnant of the riding’s early settlement and history. When Manitoba joined Confederation in 1871, the province’s small population was largely Francophone and Métis. Immigration, first from Ontario or the British Isles, significantly altered the ethnic makeup of the province and had significant consequences for the province’s history. Although the Francophone and Métis presence in Manitoba has been significantly reduced since the nineteenth century, their presence is still perceptible. Provencher has the second highest Francophone population in the province outside of St. Boniface in Winnipeg (the historical centre of the Franco-Manitoban population), with 9.9% speaking French as their mother tongue and 5.4% still speaking French most often at home. French ancestry was the third most commonly reported ethnic origin in 2011, with 19.9%. Canadian, the second largest ethnic origin with 25.6%, may also include persons of French ancestry as the term ‘Canadian’ is heavily used by Francophones in Quebec and some other provinces to describe their ethnic origin.
The French history of the riding is perceptible in the toponyms of towns and villages: Ste. Anne, St-Pierre-Jolys, Saint Malo, Lorette, De Salaberry Rural Municipality or Montcalm Regional Municipality. These areas also have the largest Francophone populations: in St-Pierre-Jolys, French was the mother tongue of 47% of the population in 2011 and over 35% spoke French as their mother tongue in De Salaberry and Montcalm RMs.
Provencher, however, has an even stronger German influence. In the late nineteenth century, German-speaking Mennonites fleeing persecution in Czarist Russia settled in southeastern Manitoba, in the so-called ‘Mennonite Reserve’. There were later waves of Mennonite immigration from Prussia or Russia in the early twentieth century, in the 1920s after the Bolshevik victory and in the late 1940s following World War II. Some more conservative Mennonites emigrated to Mexico or Paraguay in the early twentieth century, a reaction to new provincial legislation which abolished instruction in languages other than English in schools. German Lutherans and Catholics also settled in the region. As far as Provencher is concerned, however, the Mennonite presence has been larger. In 2011, 35.8% of residents identified their religion as ‘other Christian’, a category including Mennonite. Roman Catholics made up 23.6%, 19.5% claimed no religious affiliation and only 6.3% identified with the United Church of Canada and 4.8% as Lutheran.
The family structure reflects the strong Mennonite presence. 60.8% of the population over 15 were married in 2011, one of the highest rates of all 308 ridings. 82.4% of the 27,440 census families that year were married couples, and only 9.1% of census families were lone-parent families. In 2006, Provencher had the lowest percentage of lone-parent families.
German was the largest ancestry declared in 2011, with no less than 35.7%. Some Mennonites began identifying as Dutch to escape association with Germany during World War I, so there is a sizeable share claiming Dutch origins (8.9%). There are also significant Ukrainian (13.8%), Russian (10.1%) and Belgian (2.5%) communities. In contrast to Brandon-Souris, a fairly WASP riding, only 28.8% of the population claimed English, Scottish, Irish or other British Isles ancestry.
Once again, the German influence can be seen in place names: Steinbach, the largest city in the riding, Hanover RM, Hochstadt, Kleefeld, Friedensfeld or Grunthal. The German Mennonite population is highest in Hanover RM (51.7% German ancestry, 72.7% other Christian) and Steinbach (51.7% German ancestry, 56.7% other Christian) but also in Franklin RM, Morris RM, La Broquerie RM and Niverville. 17.3% of residents in 2011 identified German as their mother tongue and 7.5% still spoke German most often at home.
Like in Brandon-Souris, only 9% of the labour force are employed in agriculture and related industries the riding; the main industries being construction (11.3%), manufacturing (10.1%) and healthcare (9.8%). The leading occupations in 2011 were trades/transport (22.3%), sales and services (18.3%), business/finance/administration (14.3%) and management (11.9%). The median household income was $63,156 and 15% were low income after tax in 2010. As is the case in most ‘rural’ ridings, education levels are rather low. In 2011, 29% had no certifications of any kind and 28.9% only had a high school diploma. Of the 42% with post-sec qualifications, most came from colleges or trades/apprenticeship schools as only 10.8% of the population in 2011 had a university degree at the bachelor level or above.
Provencher has existed as a riding under that name since 1871, and it has always included parts of southeast Manitoba – at the least, the areas south of Steinbach and east of the Red River. George Étienne Cartier, John A. Macdonald’s Quebec ally, was acclaimed in the riding in 1872 following his defeat in Montreal. Louis Riel, the famous Métis leader of the Red River and North-West rebellions, was elected thrice – in a 1873 by-election following Cartier’s death, the 1874 federal election and in a 1874 by-election following his own expulsion from the House. However, Riel was living in exile in the US at the time and never sat, and was finally unseated and declared an outlaw in 1875. Between 1878 and 1904, the riding was represented by Francophone Conservative MPs. The Liberals gained the seat in 1904 and held it until 1957, with two Francophone Liberals serving between 1921 and 1957. In the 1917 conscription election, Provencher was one of two ridings east of Ontario which elected a Laurier Liberal (anti-conscription) member, given the riding’s large anti-conscription/anti-war French and German populations (although Mennonites still largely kept outside of politics). In the following decades, the large Francophone/Métis and German Mennonite population made the seat a Liberal stronghold. Social Credit had a foothold with French and German voters, and won 29.7% in 1957. The Francophones’ political domination of the riding decreased in the 1950s, as German Mennonite immigrants became more politically active.
The PCs gained the riding in Diefenbaker’s first victory in 1957, and, with the exception of the Trudeaumania election of 1968, would hold it until 1993. German Mennonite, small-c conservatives to begin with, became a reliable Tory constituency as the Tories slowly transformed from the party of the central Canadian WASP elite to a broad-based party appealing to conservative voters in rural Western Canada. Jake Epp, a Mennonite, held the seat for the PCs between 1972 and his retirement in 1993. Liberal support in the riding declined, and the Grits placed third behind the NDP in 1979, 1980 and 1984.
The Liberals regained the seat in 1993, with 44% against 36.8% for Reform and 10.3% for the PCs. Liberal MP David Iftody, a socially conservative Catholic, won reelection with a 5% majority over Reform in 1997 (40 to 35.1). In 2000, however, Alliance star candidate Vic Toews, a Paraguayan-born Mennonite, defeated Iftody with a 17 point majority (52.8% vs 35.6%). Toews was reelected with even larger majorities in the last four elections. In 2011, Toews won 70.6% of the vote against 17.9% for the NDP, a 53 point majority. As in other Western Canadian ridings, Liberal support in the constituency collapsed over the course of the last four elections: a consistent drop from 24.9% in 2004 to 6.7% in 2011. The NDP placed second ahead of the Grits in 2008 and 2011.
In the 2011 election, Vic Toews won all but one polls – the Roseau River Reserve, where the NDP won 58%. The Conservatives did best in the German Mennonite areas, where they won over 80% of the vote (and even over 90% in a few polls) in almost every single poll – and the few polls where they didn’t, they still won well over 70%. The German Mennonite areas post astounding results for the Tories, both provincially and federally. Francophone areas have shifted to the Tories since the late 1990s, and Toews also won every Francophone poll in 2008 and 2011, although by smaller margins than the German polls. For example, he won in the 50s or high 40s in polls in Lorette, Ste. Anne and St-Pierre-Jolys.
In the 1997 and 2000 federal elections, a fairly clear split is visible between the Francophone areas – which voted Liberal by large margins – and the German areas – which voted Reform/Alliance by large margins as well. The Liberals also did well in the remote town of Pinawa in the Canadian Shield, which was home to a nuclear research facility which was decommissioned beginning in 1998. Even in 2004, the Liberals still won a handful of polls in Franco-Manitoban towns such as Ste. Anne, St-Pierre-Jolys, Lorette or Saint-Malo; while Toews was already scoring over 80% in the Mennonite Reserve (Steinbach/Hanover). In 2008 and 2011, a lot of Liberal voters in these towns shifted over to the NDP. In 2011, the NDP managed decent second place showings in most of these towns, especially in Ste. Anne and Lorette, where the Dippers took over 30% in most polls.
The socially conservative right-wing Christian Heritage Party won 1.3% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2008; they did quite well in the Mennonite Reserve areas in 2008, placing distant seconds or thirds behind the Tories but ahead of the Grits and/or Dippers.
The riding was the least interesting of the four by-elections. The Conservatives nominated Ted Falk, a Mennonite credit union president from Steinbach. The Liberals nominated their 2011 candidate, retired public servant Terry Hayward. The NDP candidate was Natalie Courcelles Beaudry, the Greens ran Janine Gibson.
Forum Research showed the Tories leading the field by reduced but comfortable margins in their four polls between October and November, but the Tory advantage dropped from 27% in their first poll in mid-October to only 11 points in their final poll on November 22. The Conservatives fell from 56% to 48%, while the Liberals increased from 29% to 37%.
Turnout was only 33.9%. Unlike in Brandon-Souris, where turnout dropped by about 13 points, turnout in Provencher collapsed by 27.9%. In Brandon-Souris, only 7,521 less votes were cast in 2013 than in 2011, but in Provencher, there were 17,021 less votes.
Ted Falk (Conservative) 58.20% (-12.40%)
Terry Hayward (Liberal) 29.94% (+23.23%)
Natalie Courcelles Beaudry (NDP) 8.22% (-9.67%)
Janine Gibson (Green) 3.64% (+0.69%)
Unsurprisingly, the Tories held the seat without any trouble. Like in Brandon-Souris, however, the Tories underpolled significantly in Forum’s polls – an 11 point lead in the final poll, while they ended up winning by no less than 28 points. My observations and speculation as to why the polls fumbled these two Manitoba by-elections so badly while doing a slightly better job at predicting the two other (urban) by-elections likely apply in this case as well.
Again, as in Brandon-Souris, the Tories’ victory shouldn’t hide the fact that the Liberals performed very well – their best % share since 2000 and their highest raw vote since 2004 (despite much lower turnout than in 2004). The Liberals gained 4,066 votes from their meagre harvest in 2011 – despite turnout dropping by over 17,000 votes. The Conservatives were the main losers, naturally, with 14,774 less votes than in May 2011. The NDP also lost 5,208 votes from their 2011 result. It would certainly appear as if a lot of the Liberal gains came directly at the expense of the Tories and the NDP, like in Brandon-Souris but unlike in the two other by-elections. It is worth repeating that it is a rather spectacular performance for the Liberals, who had been obliterated in this (and similar) ridings in the last two elections and who didn’t even a prominent star candidate like they did in Brandon-Souris.
Toronto Centre, ON
Toronto Centre covers the heart of downtown Toronto, including neighborhoods such as Cabbagetown, St. James Town, Regent Park, Church and Wellesley, the Garden District, the eastern portion of the University of Toronto (UofT) and the affluent ‘enclave’ of Rosedale.
The riding became vacant following the resignation of Liberal MP Bob Rae, the former interim leader of the Liberal Party (2011-2013) and NDP Premier of Ontario (1990-1995), on July 31, 2013. Rae entered politics for the NDP in the late 1970s, as a federal NDP MP between 1978 and 1982 before switching to provincial politics to become the leader of the Ontario NDP. Rae’s NDP supported Liberal Premier David Peterson’s minority government between 1985 and 1987 and became Leader of the Opposition following the 1987 provincial election, when the Tories dropped to third place. Rae’s NDP won a surprise majority government in the 1990 election, making Rae the first – and, to date, only – NDP Premier of Ontario. His premiership remains negatively perceived, a result of the government’s inexperience, a major recession and backtracking on several policies such as public auto insurance. His austerity policies to tackle the recession (the Social Contract) caused huge strains with organized labour, historic allies of the CCF/NDP. The ONDP was crushed by Mike Harris’ PCs in the 1995 election, and Rae retired from politics. Howard Hampton, a left-wing rival of Rae who was critical of some Rae policies, replaced him as NDP leader and dissociated the NDP from the Rae years. Rae returned to politics for the federal Liberal Party, running for the party leadership at the 2006 convention, ending third on the third ballot. He was elected to the House from Toronto Centre in a 2008 by-election and reelected in 2008 and 2011. As a leading Liberal MP, Rae gained a reputation as a competent and intelligent member and was selected as interim Liberal leader in May 2011 following the election defeat. Originally, the interim leader was barred from running for the leadership in 2013, but as Rae turned out to be a strong leader who placed the Liberals as leading opponents of the government after Layton’s death and before Mulcair’s election, there was widespread speculation that the rules would be changed and Rae would run. In a surprise turn, he declined to run and resigned a few months after Trudeau’s victory to become a First Nations negotiator.
Toronto Centre is a diverse riding, with marked contrasts. It includes both poor immigrant neighbourhoods with high-rise apartment and social housing, gentrified professional middle-class neighbourhoods, Toronto’s gay village but also Rosedale, one of the wealthiest neigbourhoods in all of Canada.
Taken as a whole, the riding stands out on a number of census measures, reflecting its cosmopolitan, downtown nature. It has a high percentage of working-age adults, with relatively few children or seniors – in 2011, 91% of the population was aged 15 or over, one of the highest in Canada, while the median age (37.8) was fairly low, indicating a large presence of younger adults. Most residents were actually single and never married (45.3%) while only 29.2% were married and not separated, some of the highest and lowest numbers in the country. Households in the riding, on average, have few children (the average number of children per census family was 0.8) and a majority (62% in 2011) were actually one-person households. However, immigrant-heavy lower income neighborhoods and Rosedale both have a higher proportion of children; for example, in low income Regent Park only 78% of the population was older than 15.
Toronto Centre is a diverse, multicultural riding – 40.8% of residents in 2011 identified as visible minorities, which is high by Canadian standards but many GTA ridings have much higher numbers. The leading visible minority groups were South Asians (9% of the population), Chinese (8.3%), black (7.7%) and Filipino (4.6%). While the wealthy enclave of Rosedale remains very much a ‘white English’ neighbourhood, poorer areas have huge non-white populations – 81.4% in Regent Park or 73.4% in St. James Town, to name only two.
The largest ethnic origin declared in 2011 was English, but with only 19.8% of the population. Other major ancestries included Irish (15.2%), Scottish (14.8%), Canadian (13.3%), Chinese (9.3%), German (7.3%), French (7.3%) and East Indian (5.2%). Similarly, while English was the mother tongue for 59.9% of residents, 34.5% said their mother tongue was a non-official language – the leading such languages being Chinese/Mandarin/Cantonese, Bengali, Tagalog and Spanish.
Unsurprisingly for this kind of riding, 34% in 2011 had no religious affiliation – the middle-class professional areas showing the highest rates, while affluent Rosedale and some of the immigrant areas had lower levels.
Toronto Centre is one of the most educated ridings in Canada, with 50% holding a university degree at the bachelor’s level or above and only 8.9% without any certifications of any kind. As a nice indicator of the kind of riding we’re dealing with, Toronto Centre has some of the highest percentages across Canada’s 308 ridings of degrees in social and behavioural sciences and law (13.5% of the 15+ population), humanities (6.8%) and visual and performing arts, and communications technologies (6.1%) There is a significant percentage of business, management and public admin degrees (17.3%) but comparatively few in architecture or engineering (7.5%).
On a similar note, occupations in social science/education/government service (15.5%) or in art/culture/recreation and sports (8.5%) were overrepresented compared to both the provincial and federal averages. Business/finance jobs, the second largest occupational category following sales and services (which were underrepresented compared to Ontario or Canada), employed 19.2% of the labour force and 14.3% had management occupations. The major industries, according to the NAICS categories, are professional, scientific and technical services (15.9%); finance and insurance (11.6%); healthcare (8.9%) and educational services (8.5%). Retail trade, which employs 11.3% of Canadian workers, in contrast employed only 7.8% of residents in this riding.
The riding’s major contrasts are best seen when looking at income. Although it is a well educated, fairly young, highly mobile and cosmopolitan riding, there are significant pockets of deprivation contrasting with wealthy enclaves. The median household income of $49,773 in 2010 was significantly below the Canadian level ($61,072) and Toronto CMA level ($70,365). On the other hand, the average household income – $95,451 – was slightly above the Toronto CMA and significantly higher than the Canadian average household income ($79,102). The prevalence of low income, 26.4%, was over ten points higher than the Canadian average. In poor neighbourhoods, up to 50% of residents may fall under the low income cutoff rate while in Rosedale, that proportion drops to low single digits.
There are there major wealth gaps in Toronto Centre. According to the 2011 NHS, 20% of individuals were in the bottom decile while an almost identical number were in the top decile – that makes 40% of the population living at the extreme ends of the income scale. The graph to the left clearly shows the income disparities in the riding compared to the province and the Toronto CMA.
In economic, social and political terms, Bloor Street forms a sharp boundary between the ‘north’ and ‘south’ of the riding. North of Bloor, the neighbourhoods of Rosedale, Moore Park and Yorkville are all very affluent (Rosedale, it is worth repeating, is one of the wealthiest places in all of Canada) with leafy, secluded residential streets with single-detached homes and sprawling lawns. Yorkville, a more central neighborhood, is a high-end shopping district with some of the most expensive real estate (condos) in Toronto.
South of Bloor offers a wide mix of neighborhoods. Regent Park, St. James Town, Trefann Court and parts of Moss Park are low-income neighborhoods, with large immigrant (visible minority) populations and a significant share of the population living in poverty. These areas have historically been low-income, originally home to Irish or ‘ethnic white’ working-class immigrants, and today home to immigrants from Asia, Africa or the Caribbean. Regent Park has a large South Asian (Bengali) population while St. James Town, the most densely populated area in Canada, has a large Filipino population. Housing largely consists of older high-rise apartment towers or social housing projects.
Other parts of the riding, along Yonge Street near Ryerson University, UofT and further south towards the waterfront, are bustling commercial, business or retail downtown areas. Church and Wellesley, in the centre of the riding, is known as Toronto’s gay village.
Cabbagetown, formerly an Irish working-class neighborhood, has been at the forefront of gentrification since the 1970. Rowhouses have been refurbished and have attracted well-off and highly educated professionals – lawyers, doctors, journalists – but also artists, musicians, academics and social workers. Corktown has been gentrifying in the past decade or so.
The riding was historically something of a Conservative stronghold, as much of Toronto was prior to World War II and mass immigration. The riding of Rosedale, an elongated riding similar to the present-day seat, was created in 1933. The Tories represented predecessor seats for the bulk of the period since Confederation, and held Rosedale between 1935 and 1949, when the Liberals gained the seat and held it by narrow margins until Diefenbaker’s victories in 1957 and 1958. Liberal candidate Donald S. Macdonald went on to hold the seat between 1962 and 1978, serving in cabinet under Trudeau and famously chairing a Royal Commission which recommended a free trade agreement with the US. David Crombie, an urban reformist who served as mayor of Toronto between 1974 and 1978, gained the seat for the PCs in 1978 and held it until 1988. While the Tories held the seat by a hair in 1988, the Liberals, with Bill Graham, won the seat in 1993 with a 28% margin over the PCs. Graham, who later served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002-2004) and Minister of National Defence (2004-2006), was reelected with large majorities four times. The NDP became the Liberals’ main (distant) rival in the riding after 2004 (they also placed second in 1997), winning around 24% in 2004 and 2006 against over 50% for the Liberals.
Graham, who briefly served as Liberal interim leader after 2006, stepped down in 2008, allowing Bob Rae to win the seat in a by-election with a 46-point majority over the NDP (who won only 14%). In 2008, he was reelected with 53.5% against 18% for the Tories and 15% for the NDP. The Greens performed well in both the earlier by-election and the October 2008 general election, taking 13% and 12% respectively.
The 2011 election was the closest race since 1988, as the Liberals suffered heavy loses largely at the NDP’s expense. Rae was reelected, but with a much thinner (but nevertheless fairly comfortable) 10.8% majority, taking 41% to the NDP’s 30.2%. The Conservatives won 22.6%, their best result in years. However, the Conservatives are now rather weak in the riding. The Harper Tories, too closely tied to the Western right-populist tradition of the Reform/Alliance and perceived as socially conservative, are a poor fit for this riding, even in the affluent areas which should normally provide a solid base for the Tories. The quip about the Liberals’ 2011 voters being “too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP” holds some weight in Toronto Centre, and other similar ‘urban core’ ridings.
The Liberals’ much-reduced majority made for a very interesting map in the 2011 election. In their previous landslides in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals had won almost every single poll, north or south of Bloor, masking the differences between the northern and southern halves of the riding. Indeed, one of the main reasons behind the Liberals’ strength in this riding since the 1990s has been their ability, unmatched by the Tories or NDP, to ‘bridge’ the two halves of the riding and win substantial support both in affluent polls and in the high-rise, multiethnic neighbourhoods. The 2011 election did not break that pattern, but the Liberals suffered loses to the Tories in the affluent polls and to the NDP in the yuppie/artsy downtown polls and the low-income immigrant areas.
In 2011, the NDP won slightly more polls than the Liberals (125 regular polls vs. 108, 22 for the Tories). However, they did not win any poll north of Bloor – in fact, the NDP only placed second (ahead of the Tories) in one poll north of Bloor, a small poll covering high-rise apartments. In the most affluent parts of Rosedale and Moore Park, the NDP won less than 10% of the vote. On the other hand, the NDP were very strong south of Bloor. The Dippers won low-income immigrant areas such as Regent Park, St. James Town and Trefann Court; but also the areas around Ryerson University, the socioeconomically diverse Garden District and Moss Park, housing coops near the waterfront and the trendy cosmopolitan Church and Wellesley area. The Liberals had done well in all of these areas prior to 2011, in fact Regent Park had usually been one of the Liberals’ strongest neighbourhoods, with over 60% (if not 70%) support in years such as 2006 and 2008. There were large swings to the NDP in Regent Park, but also in most areas south of Bloor, including in more middle-class parts of neighbourhoods such as Moss Park, where the Greens had done very well in 2008.
North of Bloor, the Conservatives won the wealthiest parts of Rosedale, Moore Park but also the high-end downtown Yorkville area. In between the two, the Liberals’ best results came from Cabbagetown, a place where the line “too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP” might really apply; the NDP doesn’t do all that well there – in 2008, they placed behind the Greens in most polls – and the Conservatives are very weak. The Liberals did well in the Old Town, a bustling downtown area where most votes are probably cast in new condo developments. That area is also one of the few places south of Bloor where the Conservatives do decently well, often placing second behind the Liberals.
The 2011 maps show a clear contrast between north and south, and explain why the Liberals have the upper hand. The NDP, in 2011, was able to record major swings south of Bloor, but it failed to make any inroads in the riding’s affluent northern end. The Conservatives’ hopes of actually winning the seat are even lesser, given that the bulk of votes are cast south of Bloor, where the Conservatives place third in almost every single poll. The Liberals, in contrast, placed first or second in just about every poll in 2011, regardless of location, and effectively did just as well in affluent homeowner areas of Rosedale and Moore Park than in poor(er) renters areas south of Bloor.
Toronto Centre was the most closely watched race, even though it wasn’t the closest battle. It received so much attention from the media because of its location (by-elections in Toronto tend to draw far more media coverage, at least in English Canada, than by-elections in some far-off rural place nobody knows about) and because the Liberals and NDP both recruited high-profile candidates. Both Trudeau and Mulcair invested significant political capital in the riding: for Trudeau, holding the highly mediatized riding was a must, while for the NDP, winning a seat from the Liberals would be a huge boost. However, the NDP likely understood that winning the seat as it stands was an uphill battle given the NDP’s challenges mentioned above. Instead, the NDP was more realistically aiming for a strong result in preparation for 2015. The 2015 federal election will be fought on entirely new boundaries across Canada, in 338 ridings instead of 308. Toronto Centre, which saw significant population growth (with condos and whatnot) since 2003, was overpopulated with over 130,000 residents in 2011.
The final report of the boundary commission shrank the riding of Toronto Centre, removing everything north of Bloor (and also the area around UofT) and the waterfront area. Rosedale and the other areas north of Bloor were merged with the northern half of the neighbouring riding of Trinity-Spadina to create the seat of University-Rosedale. The University-Rosedale riding, the two-thirds of which come from NDP MP Olivia Chow’s riding of Trinity-Spadina, has a solid NDP notional majority of 12.3% (43.2% vs. 30.9% for the Liberals). The new Toronto Centre is still notionally Liberal, but with a small 3.1% majority. Therefore, it’s understandable why the Dippers wanted to hit the ground running with a strong campaign, even if ultimately unsuccessful, in the old riding before the 2015 election. A solid run would provide the NDP with solid footing for the next federal election.
The Liberals nominated Chrystia Freeland, a journalist who worked for the Financial Times and later The Globe and Mail. Freeland moved to Toronto in the summer of 2013, having previously lived in New York City. She published a book on income inequality, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, in October 2012. The NDP nominated Linda McQuaiq, a former journalist, columnist and writer. As a columnist (often for the Toronto Star) and a writer, McQuaiq has focused on issues such as universal social programs, ‘big oil’, progressive taxation and income inequality. Indeed, like her Liberal rival, McQuaiq published a book on income inequality, The Trouble with Billionaires, in 2010.
The Tories nominated corporate lawyer Geoff Pollock and the Greens nominated John Deverell, another journalist. Seven other candidates also ran, including John Turmel, who ran in his 79th election.
The battle between Freeland and McQuaig was rather bloody. McQuaiq accused her rival of not seeing inequality as a problem in her book (referring to it as part of the ‘creative destruction of capitalism’), although Freeland insists she does see it as a problem – but mostly because of the ‘hollowing out’ of the middle-class. Freeland’s rhetoric in the campaign mostly focused on the middle-class, an issue at the forefront of Trudeau’s pitch and a major problem in Toronto, where researchers have pointed to the ‘disappearing’ middle-class and the polarization of the city between rich and poor – a gap very much visible in Toronto Centre, which might have one of the highest Gini indexes in all of Canada. Freeland said that McQuaiq and the Dippers subscribe to the ‘outdated’ “simple take-from-the-rich, give-to-the-poor” solution. In her book, McQuaig advocated for steep marginal tax rate increases of 60% for those earning about $500,000 a year and 70% for those earning $2.5 million. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair having ruled out income tax increases, McQuaig was forced to fall in line with NDP policy. Freeland said she opposes the income tax hikes backed by her rival but also the corporate tax increases which form part of NDP policy, arguing that taxation is part of the middle-class ‘squeeze’ and that corporate tax increases would hurt Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy. She is critical, however, of new tax credits introduced by the Conservative government, which many feel offer tax breaks for the wealthy.
The two candidates and their campaigns threw mud at one another and tried to play on wedge issues. Freeland was attacked for spending too much time outside Canada and only moving back to the country this summer; the NDP also said she admired Margaret Thatcher and she drew flack for referring to Sarah Palin as a ‘feminist hero’ in a newspaper column once. The NDP tried to capitalize on potential unease about Trudeau with left-wing progressive voters by drawing attention to Trudeau’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline and criticizing Freeland for campaigning with Liberal MP John McKay, one of the few Grit MPs to vote against same-sex marriage. The Liberals, on the other hand, drew attention to a column by McQuaig praising Hugo Chávez (and a photo of her shaking hands with Chávez) or to her former opulent home in suburban Oakville.
Forum Research confirmed the Liberals were the favourites, although the NDP made inroads as the campaign progressed. In June, before candidates were known, Forum found the NDP in third with 20%, against 49% for the Grits and 25% for the Tories. However, in October, Forum showed the Liberals leading the NDP by 15 (45-30), a lead which narrowed to 8 in the last poll on November 24, which had the Liberals up 47-39 to the NDP. While the Liberals and NDP increased their standings, the Tories and the Greens saw their support decline over the course of the campaign.
Turnout was 38.2%, down 24.7% from 62.9% in 2011.
Chrystia Freeland (Liberal) 49.38% (+8.37%)
Linda McQuaig (NDP) 36.30% (+6.09%)
Geoff Pollock (Conservative) 8.63% (-14.01%)
John Deverell (Green) 2.97% (-2.05%)
Dorian Baxter (PC) 1.3%
Judi Falardeau (Libertarian) 0.68% (+0.18%)
Kevin Clarke (Ind) 0.24%
John Turmel (Ind) 0.16%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.15%
Michael Nicula (Online) 0.12%
Bahman Yazdanfar (Ind) 0.07% (-0.12%)
The Liberals held Toronto Centre with an expanded majority of 12.8% (up from 10.8% in 2011). Both the Liberals and the NDP made gains, however – as far as percentages of the vote are concerned. The Liberals won 49.4%, up about 8.4% from 2011, while the NDP expanded their share of the vote by about 6 points, winning 36% – which is certainly their best result since I don’t know when. In contrast, the Tories were very much squeezed by the extremely polarized contest and depressed turnout, and their vote share dropped to only 8.6%, an horrible result. While the Tories have been on a downwards trend compared to the 1980s, the Tories have always been able to maintain a decent vote (their lowest being 12% in another by-election, in 2008), even during the days of the divided right when the PCs nevertheless polled between 21% (1993, with an incumbent) and 17% (2000). It is of course worth remembering that this is not unusual for by-elections: they tend to turn into two-way races far more than general elections (when a favourable national trend for the party may lift the local candidate up, even if the local candidate’s campaign is weak) and the Tories have a record of ignoring by-elections which they know are unwinnable (to focus their resources on defending seats or attacking winnable seats).
Winning was always an uphill battle for the NDP given the current make-up of the seat. However, they ran a strong campaign and won a good result, which kind of makes up for the terrible results in Manitoba and the flat result in Quebec. The NDP, perhaps with McQuaig as their candidate, will stand a good chance of winning the redistributed riding of Toronto Centre in 2015. PunditsGuide.ca tweeted that her rough calculations on election night still gave the Grits an edge in the redistributed riding, with 48% to the NDP’s 43% – up from 39.6% and 36.5% on the 2011 notional results. According to these same rough numbers, the Liberals also made substantial gains in the portion of the new University-Rosedale in the current riding, from 45% in 2011 to 59% in the by-election (the Tory vote collapsed from 35.8% to about 19%, tied with the NDP).
#torcen Back-of-napkin transposition: 1) Spadina-Ft York: 43L-47N-6C-4G, 2) Univ-Rosedale: 59L-19N-19C-3G, 3) new TC (rough): 48-43-6-3
— Pundits’ Guide (@punditsguide) November 26, 2013
It is important to temper the talk of “Liberal gains” or “NDP gains” or stuff about the NDP or Liberal building on/solidifying their 2011 vote. In reality, neither the Liberals or NDP made substantial gains when it came to raw votes: the Liberal vote fell by 5,638 ballots and the NDP shed 4,178 votes. Of course, the Conservatives were much heavier – they lost 9,600 votes compared to the 2011 election (the Greens also lost substantially, polling a full 1,762 votes less than in 2011). While there were likely voters who turned out in both 2011 and 2013 who switched their votes from one party to another (for example, there were likely some 2011 Conservative voters in Rosedale who voted Liberal; the Liberals apparently swept Rosedale, like in pre-2011 elections), the more likely explanation of the results overall is that the Liberals and NDP did the best job at retaining their votes from 2011 while the Tories and Greens did a terrible job at it.
By-elections remain by-elections: trying to draw nationwide conclusions from them will always remain a complicated, futile and often silly exercise. By-elections have different dynamics than general elections: the local ‘can’t win here’ parties are squeezed in more polarized races and poll less than they would in a general election, turnout is in almost all cases down rather significantly from the last general election (and in almost all cases the turnout in the next general election is higher than in the by-election) and some races may be more affected by local factors and candidate notoriety/strength than in general elections. That being said, it’s obviously not impossible or completely useless to draw some conclusions from the results. And, at the very least, by-elections offer an often reasonably accurate snapshot of what certain people in certain parts are thinking.
The table above shows the results expressed in raw votes rather than percentages, which is arguably just as important to look at than raw percentages in a by-election scenario.
The Liberals are the clear winners of these four by-elections: they made gains, in percentage terms, in all four riding; they held their two seats; they made major gains in two hitherto Conservative citadels where the Liberal brand had been dead in the last two elections (at least) and they increased their raw vote across all four ridings by 1,637 votes despite turnout being much lower than in 2011 (-65,499 votes). Of course, the Liberals fell short of winning what had been looking to be a likely gain (Brandon-Souris) and underperformed the polls in Provencher. In Bourassa and Toronto Centre, while the Liberals expanded their majority and their share of the vote, they lost votes from 2011 and their share of the vote was – while higher than in the annus horribilis 2011 – still on the lower end of historical Liberal results in those seats since 1993 (the same wasn’t true, of course, for the two MB seats where the Liberal result was the best in years if not decades). Still, those are fairly minor issues. The Liberals had the best retention of any party in Bourassa and Toronto Centre and they directly gained at the Tories and Dippers’ expense in Manitoba. These elections confirm that, for the time being, Trudeau’s Liberals are being seen as the strongest alternative to Harper’s Conservatives for 2015. That may change, especially in a fickle country like Canada. Trudeau is still showing clear signs of weakness when it comes to being coherent with policy and a knack for saying or doing boneheaded things. On election night in Toronto, he somewhat disgracefully attempted to claim Jack Layton’s mantle by presenting the Liberals as those showing that ‘hope is stronger than fear, that positive politics can and should win out over negative’ and saying that the NDP is now a negative, divisive party and no longer Layton’s hopeful and optimistic party. In the heat of a gruelling federal election campaign – one which is shaping up to be close to a three-way toss-up – Trudeau’s really going to need to step up his game against two strong opponents.
The NDP, on balance, were net losers of the by-elections. Their major bright spot was Toronto Centre, where their strong and high-profile candidate won a solid 36% of the vote and held about three-quarters of the NDP’s 2011 votes. That places them on solid footing for 2015 in the new riding, and might be interpreted as a sign that the progressive base in downtown Toronto isn’t all that enamoured by Trudeau. Their result in Bourassa wasn’t too shabby either, although they only retained 47% of their 2011 ballots. Still, it does show that the NDP is still in the game in Quebec, where its ability to defend its 2011 Orange Crush results might be make-or-break for the party come 2015. In Manitoba, however, the NDP was crushed – squeezed by Lib-Con battles, worn down by the unpopularity of the provincial Dipper government and hurt by low turnout.
The main losers were the Conservatives, who had a bad night. The only bright spot proved to be the surprise hold in Brandon-Souris, a relief for many Tories and salvation from a near-death experience in a Tory stronghold. They also overperformed their polling numbers in Provencher. On the whole, however, there are few silver linings for the Tories in these numbers. They ignored Bourassa and Toronto Centre, so understandably they were crushed, but even the size of their shellacking they got in those seats was surprising. Unlike in past by-elections, the Conservatives were not able to go on the offensive in any of these by-elections, a strategy which had worked for them in by-elections under the 39th and 40th Parliaments (seat gains in Quebec, Ontario). In the two Manitoba ridings, despite Tory holds, the Conservatives lost over 10,000 votes in each and their share of the vote fell drastically from 2011. The Liberals proved to be a threat to the Tory hold on hitherto solid Tory citadels in the Prairies, and if that’s repeated across Western Canada in 2015 that is very bad news for the Tories (who are already facing some trouble in Ontario, the other part of the winning formula from 2011).
As mentioned in the introduction, the Tories are perhaps at their lowest ebb since 2006. Harper’s teflon is wearing off and there is rising unease within Tory ranks about PMO centralism in his governance. Although Harper insisted over the summer that he will be a candidate in 2015, but an informed comment piece by John Ivision in the National Post on December 4 indicated that there is speculation that Harper may actually resign after returning from an Israel-Mid East trip pushed up to early 2014. In the past few days, there have been cracks in the Conservative cabinet. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Employment Minister and potential leadership contender Jason Kenney confronted one another over Toronto’s embattled right-wing mayor Rob Ford, with Flaherty offering an angry response (“shut the fuck up”) to Kenney’s call on Ford to resign – and it apparently almost got physical. Ivision commented on simmering divisions between cabinet ministers.
The Bloc Québécois was unlucky that the first post-2011 by-election in which it had a chance to prove itself was held in a Liberal stronghold where the Bloc has been increasingly weak. With a poor candidate adding to the Bloc’s troubles across the province, they had a poor showing. Bloc leader Daniel Paillé stood down as leader of the party on December 16 for health reasons (he has epilepsy); but it’s also perhaps partly because he knew that the Bloc is increasingly going nowhere. The party has a tiny caucus, an anonymous leadership, low coverage in the media and little interest from the public. They will have a tough time recruiting a leader who feels that they can take the Bloc somewhere in 2015, and be able to successfully challenge the NDP and the Liberals for the attention and support of Quebec Francophone voters.
The Greens had a poor run as well, losing votes in every riding and increasing their vote share in only a single seat (and not by much). Elizabeth May’s ill-advised decision to promote Laraque in Bourassa in a futile attempt to give the Greens a beachhead in a province where the party is dead fell flat on its face and may have hurt the financially cash-strapped party a lot. In other ridings, the Greens had little-known candidates and the national party did not target any of those seats. In Toronto Centre, the Greens, who have potential in the riding, found themselves squeezed even more by the high-profile Liberal-NDP contest. There, the Greens’ vote suffered the most – falling 2.1% and retaining only 37% of their 2011 ballots (compared to 60-70% in the 3 other seats). Elizabeth May’s micro-targeting/beachhead strategy yielded positive results in 2011 (the first Green MP, May herself) and 2012 (strong results in Victoria and Calgary by-elections), but on the other hand that strategy will not increase the Green vote in ridings not targeted – in 2011, the Greens’ support nationally fell and the Greens have done poorly in by-elections where they weren’t campaigning hard.
The table confirms my observations on the by-election dynamics which create two-way battles and squeeze third parties out. The Tories retained the most votes – 55% and 47% respectively – in the two seats where they were competitive while in the two other ridings they held only 25% and 24% of their 2011 ballots. The NDP similarly held 47% and 75% of its votes in those seats where they were strong seconds in 2011 but held only 23% and 26% in the two Manitoba seats where they were not competitive and squeezed by the Grits.
These by-elections ultimately yielded a status-quo result. But they also confirmed that the 2015 federal election is looking to be one of the most exciting in recent history, especially if it does turn out to be a three-way race for first and second.
Five provincial by-elections were held in Ontario (Canada) on August 1, 2013 in the ridings of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, London West, Ottawa South, Scarborough-Guildwood and Windsor-Tecumseh. These seats fell vacant between early February and late June 2013, after their incumbent MPPs – all five Liberals, including a former Premier and three other former provincial cabinet ministers – resigned their seats.
The timing of the by-elections raised a few eyebrows. Elections rarely fall during the heat of the summer months, so many thought that Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne deliberately scheduled by-elections in early August to ensure low turnout and so that voters don’t have too much time to read into the results of the by-election while they’re on vacation or prepping for vacation. Besides, August 1 fell on a Thursday right before a long weekend (the first Monday in August is Ontario’s provincial holiday).
Poll-by-poll maps of the 2011 provincial election results are available on the Blunt Objects blog or the Canadian Election Atlas blog. Interactive maps of the results of federal elections since 1997 to the polling station level are available on the awesome Canadian Federal Election Atlas. My riding profiles integrate the results of the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census. Results of the NHS are available on Stats Can’s website.
In October 2011, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s provincial Liberals won a third straight term in office; but unlike in 2003 and 2007, they fell short – by a single seat – of winning a majority government. Therefore, for the first time since gaining power in 2003, the Liberals have been forced to work with other parties to pass legislation.
Ontario’s economy has been struggling in the past few years, a far cry from the days where Canada’s most populous province was seen as the country’s economic/industrial powerhouse. Indeed, Ontario’s manufacturing-driven and export-oriented economy has been badly hurt by subdued domestic activity and declining demand from the US. Economic growth slowed to 1.5% in 2012 and is forecast to remain low in 2013, although growth could increase by 2014 if US growth accelerates. The provincial government has been forced to deal with, since 2008-2009, a very large deficit and ballooning public debt. The 2013-2014 deficit projection is $11.8 billion, up from a $9.8 billion deficit in 2012-2013; the province’s debt stands at 37.5% of GDP and should increase to 40% by 2015-2016. The size of Ontario’s debt and deficit has led some fiscally conservative economists to liken Ontario to California and Greece.
The Liberal government introduced a severe austerity-minded budget in 2012, including major cuts in government spending and services and a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees (including teachers and doctors). The opposition Progressive Conservatives (PCs), led by Tim Hudak, rejected the budget out of hand, claiming it did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The Liberals were forced to reach a compromise with the centre-left New Democrats (NDP), led by Andrea Horwath. In April, the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes, although in June the province seemed to be on the verge of an election when the NDP and the PCs started voting against key planks of the budget. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP blinked and abstained on the final vote, allowing the Liberal government to survive its first supply vote.
The Liberal government’s decision to impose a two-year pay freeze on public employees was met by strong opposition from teachers and their unions. In September 2012, the Liberals – with PC support – passed the very controversial Bill 115 (‘Putting Students First Act’) which severely limited teachers’ right to strike and imposed the two-year pay freeze (along with less benefits). There were rolling one-day strikes by elementary school teachers throughout the province in early and mid-December. The government and the unions finally reached agreement shortly after the bill’s December 31 deadline, and Bill 115 was repealed in January 2013. However, elementary and high school teachers promised province-wide one-day walkouts until the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the walkouts illegal.
To make things worse, McGuinty’s Liberals were constantly dogged by various high-profile scandals which have seriously undermined the government’s legitimacy and popularity. The Liberal government has faced various scandals since taking office in 2003, but after 2011, it was as if all the most crippling scandals came raining down. In December 2011, the government was drawn into the Ornge (the province’s air-ambulance service) scandal, after allegations of financial irregularities, cost overruns, huge salaries for managers and kickbacks. It was later shown that the McGuinty government had wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in Ornge and had turned a blind eye to earlier reports of corruption.
However, the most damaging scandal has been the power plants scandal. In 2009, the Liberal government, which had closed down two polluting coal-powered power plants in southern Ontario approved the construction of two new natural gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, two suburban communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – and also key electoral battlegrounds. However, the plants faced the opposition of local residents, which forced the Liberals to cancel the Oakville plant in October 2010. In September 2011, a month before the elections and facing a strong challenge – notably in Mississauga – from the Tories and the NDP, the Liberals cancelled the Mississauga power plant. The Oakville cancellation cost $40 million and the Mississauga cancellation cost $190 million. Today, the total cost for the cancellation of two plants – which includes the need to build two new plants to replace them – could be $600 million.
The Liberals were reelected in October 2011, and held seats in Mississauga and Oakville. In the summer of 2012, the emboldened PCs and New Democrats called on Liberal energy minister Chris Bentley to hand over all documents related to the gas plant cancellations, which he refused to do, until September 2012. In early October, Bentley was facing an opposition motion which would hold him in “contempt of Parliament” – a very serious and rare offence which might have meant jail time for him.
The power plant scandal was one of the major factors which led Premier McGuinty to announce his surprise resignation on October 15. However, at the same time, the outgoing Premier prorogued Parliament – effectively killing off the opposition’s contempt motion.
The Liberal leadership election on January 26, 2013 opposed six candidates – the top three being former MPP and cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, incumbent cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne and former provincial cabinet minister and former federal Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy. Kathleen Wynne, considered as being on the left of the party, won on the third ballot at the convention, with 57% against 43% for Pupatello.
The Liberals, who had dropped to third place and oscillating in the low-to-mid 20s, saw their support increase considerably after Wynne’s election, shooting into second or first place and over 30% – in some cases over 35%. There were rumours – unfounded – that Wynne would seek a mandate of her own and take advantage of her honeymoon.
In May 2013, the NDP once again backed the Liberals’ 2013 budget, which included a few NDP-influenced goodies (15% cut in auto insurance, new funding for youth jobs etc) while continuing with the government’s stated intent to achieve a surplus in 2017-2018. Two of the NDP’s three post-budget demands were satisfied by the Liberals. The gas plant scandal has continued to hurt the Liberals, with recent revelations of Liberal cover-ups or attempts to intimidate the speaker. Wynne has been unable to shake off the perception that she is only a new face on the McGuinty Liberal government, rather than a clear break with McGuinty’s tainted legacy.
Etobicoke-Lakeshore covers the southern portion of the former city of Etobicoke in western Toronto. The riding, which borders Lake Ontario to the south and the Humber River to the east, includes neighborhoods such as Mimico, New Toronto, Long Branch, Alderwood, The Queensway or Eatonville.
The seat fell vacant in July when the Liberal incumbent, former education minister Laurel Broten resigned, apparently to move to Nova Scotia. Broten, who first won her seat in 2003, served as McGuinty’s Minister of Education between 2011 and 2013, and became closely associated with the government’s push against teacher’s unions over pay, benefits and Bill 115. She was shuffled to Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs after Wynne became Premier, but she resigned effective July 2.
Taken as a whole, Etobicoke-Lakeshore is a fairly middle-class and white-collar riding. It has a high percentage of residents with a university diploma or degree (33.5%), a high percentage of residents employed in managerial occupations or business/finance/administration (34%) and a fairly high median household income ($58,088 in 2005). Only 7.9% of the riding’s labour force is employed in manufacturing. Demographically, 23.8% of the riding’s inhabitants are visible minorities, a rather high proportion by provincial or national standards, but the lowest of all Toronto ridings. South Asians (4.6% of the population) form the largest single visible minority group. That being said, a significantly larger percentage of the riding’s residents are immigrants – 39.5% (27.7% of which immigrated after 2001).
Etobicoke-Lakeshore is home to one of the largest Eastern European populations in all of Canada: 21.7% of the riding’s residents are of Eastern European ancestry, most of them Polish (10% of the population) or Ukrainian (7.6%). As a result, it has a large Catholic (40.8%) and Eastern Orthodox (5.9%) population and a small but significant share of the population claim languages such as Polish or Ukrainian as their mother tongues.
In 2005, 60.1% of dwellings were owned.
At a more micro level, the riding present a diverse mix of neighborhoods. Traditionally, the communities lining the lake have been more industrial and working-class: Mimico, New Toronto or Long Branch (but especially the first two) – and to this day, these neighborhoods remain slightly less affluent and more lower middle-class/working-class in character. That being said, the coastal stretch of the riding has been changed by the construction of a large number of high-rise condo towers on the Humber Bay Shores, which has attracted some wealthier residents.
In contrast, the neighborhoods north of the Gardiner Expressway between Mimico Creek and the Humber River (The Kingsway, Lambton Hills etc) are upper middle-class, high-income and well educated. The Kingsway is one of Toronto’s most affluent neighborhoods.
Other neighborhoods such as Alderwood, Sunnylea, Norseman Heights and Eatonville are post-war middle-class suburban communities, with single family homes but also their share of apartments or condos along main arteries. Alderwood and Sunnylea have a particularly high Polish and/or Ukrainian population. These areas were identified as some of the last remaining ‘middle-income’ neighborhoods in a 2010 study about income polarization since 1970 in Toronto.
Islington-City Centre West, a densely populated neighborhood at the intersections of Bloor and Dundas streets (two of the city’s main avenues), includes a number of lower-income high-rise apartment buildings and has a fairly large visible minority population.
Finally, the riding includes large swathes of industrial land, including a large rail yard in New Toronto and a major industrial/business district north of the Gardiner Expressway.
Politically, all three parties have a history in the riding. What would become Etobicoke-Lakeshore flipped between the Liberals and the Conservatives until the 1940s, at which point the socialist CCF – and their successor, the NDP – became a major force, fighting with the Tories over the riding. The CCF/NDP’s strength was concentrated in the industrial and working-class areas of Mimico and New Toronto, while the northern half of the present-day riding was more reliably Conservative. Provincially, the NDP’s Patrick Lawlor held the seat between 1967 and 1981, the Tories gaining the seat when he retired. In 1985, the NDP’s Ruth Grier regained the seat from the PCs and held it until 1995, when Morley Kells, a Conservative, took the seat. Kells was defeated in 2003 by Liberal candidate Laurel Broten, who increased her majorities not only in 2007 but also in 2011 (when she won by 21.8%). In 2011, she won a third term with 51% against 29% for the PCs; the NDP took only 15.5%, the new suburban nature of the riding has made it progressively more hostile to the NDP.
Federally, the seat has a longer Liberal history. Most famously, it was former federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s seat between 2006 and his surprise defeat at the hands of Conservative candidate Bernard Trottier in 2011. The Liberals, who had held the seat since 1993 with about 45-50% of the vote in every elections, fell to only 35.1% in 2011, against 40.4% for the Tories. The NDP increased its support to 20.3%.
In October 2011, Liberal incumbent Laurel Broten swept most of the riding, winning polls throughout the riding, in both the urban and lower-income south and the more suburban, middle-class north. The Conservatives won a few scattered polls throughout the riding, their strongest results coming from The Kingsway, a traditional Tory bastion. A few months prior in the federal elections, the Conservatives had won most of the polls, doing best in The Kingsway but also in Humber Bay Shores and swingy middle-class suburbs such as Eatonville, Alderwood, Sunnylea, The Queensway or Long Branch which had previously been more or less solidly Liberal. Ignatieff managed to keep a few lower-income polls red, notably in Islington, New Toronto and parts of Mimico. The NDP polled quite well in the southern half of the riding and other apartment-laden areas, but did poorly in the affluent neighborhoods.
The PCs recruited a very strong candidate, Toronto Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. Holyday was the city of Etobicoke’s last mayor between 1994 and 1998, when it was amalgamated with other municipalities to form the single-tier city of Toronto. He has been a Toronto city councillor since 1998, although his current ward covers part of the riding of Etobicoke Centre, not Etobicoke-Lakeshore. In council, he had a reputation as a staunch fiscal conservative, but he seems to be respected across ideological lines for his honesty. Holyday is a close ally of Toronto’s bombastic (and embattled) conservative mayor, Rob Ford. Etobicoke as a whole, Ford’s stomping grounds, is a core part of the so-called ‘Ford Nation’. In the 2010 election, Rob Ford won over 55% in both wards covering Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and took well over 60% in middle-class suburbs such as Alderwood, Eatonville, Stonegate or The Queensway. Interestingly, Ford didn’t do as well (comparatively) in the most affluent and well-educated polls, even the solidly Conservative Kingsway (although he still won it comfortably).
There was some limited controversy about how Hudak more or less dumped the original PC candidate, a lesser known guy named Steve Ryan, in favour of his star candidate, Holyday. Officially, Ryan dropped out because of injuries sustained in a car accident.
The Liberals nominated Peter Milczyn, another Toronto city councillor whose ward covers the northern half of the riding. Like Holyday, Milczyn is a right-leaning councillor and is generally pro-Ford.
Although one might have expected that a race between two right-leaning candidates might have opened up some wiggle room on the left for the NDP, that wasn’t the case. The NDP nominated Pak-Cheong ‘P.C.’ Choo, a Malaysian-born Canadian and formed public school board trustee. The race quickly turned into a highly polarized and acrimonious contest between the PC’s Holyday and the Liberals’ Milczyn. Mayor Rob Ford publicly endorsed Holyday, and even ‘recommended’ that anti-Conservative/anti-Ford voters vote for the NDP rather than the Liberals.
The first polls, in the last week of June and then in the second week of July, showed the Liberals with a strong leader – a 25% point lead in June, reduced to a 6% lead in early July. Holyday’s candidacy was great news for the PCs, who shot into the lead in mid-July, leading the Liberals by as much as 7% according to a Forum Research poll on July 24. Two polls on July 30, however, showed a very close race: Forum had the PCs up by 4%, one ‘Campaign Research’ had them trailing by one.
Turnout was 38.6%, down from 50% in 2011:
Doug Holyday (PC) 46.94% (+17.4%)
Peter Milczyn (Liberal) 41.96% (-9.06%)
P.C. Choo (NDP) 7.82% (-7.63%)
Angela Salewsky (Green) 2.26% (-0.42%)
Hans Kunov (Libertarian) 0.45% (+0.06%)
Dan King (Special Needs) 0.45%
Kevin Clarke (People’s) 0.25%
Wayne Simmons (Freedom) 0.16% (-0.24%)
Tim Hudak’s Tories scored an impressive gain in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, turning a 22-point deficit in the last election into a comfortable 5-point victory over the Liberals. In 2011, Hudak’s PCs, widely seen as being too right-wing, did poorly throughout the city of Toronto – oftentimes doing worse than they had in 2007, under a less successful (but more moderate) leader. Therefore, Holyday’s victory, is a major coup for Hudak’s PCs – as we’ll see, probably their brightest spot on an otherwise mediocre night. This is the first time a provincial Tory has won a seat in Toronto proper since Mike Harris’ victory in the 1999 provincial election, and while Hudak could win the next election while still being shut out (or nearly shut out) of Toronto proper (he’d need to win big in Toronto’s suburbs, however), the ability to win a seat in Toronto is very good news for the PCs – and bad news for the Liberals, whose 2011 reelection was, in part, due to holding up very well in Toronto proper.
Of course, the PC gain does owe a lot to Doug Holyday. The Tories recruited a very strong star candidate in Holyday, a popular city councillor. With a lesser known, less prominent candidates, it is quite possible that the Liberals could have held the seat, although the PCs would likely have made some gains on their paltry 2011 showing.
Squeezed by two strong and polarizing candidates for the Liberals and the Tories, the NDP’s P.C. Choo did poorly, winning only 7.8% of the vote – a low point for the NDP, which last won in the single digits in the 2000 federal election and had managed to garner between 15% and 20% in most provincial elections since 1999. That being said, many Canadian by-elections – both federally and provincially – in recent years turned into polarized two-party contests with the third party, which might have managed a rather decent showing in the last general election, being totally squeezed by the two main parties and ending up with a poor vote share. In this sense, while the NDP’s result in Etobicoke-Lakeshore is disappointing for the party, it probably doesn’t have any longer-term consequences: the NDP didn’t put much effort into this race, and a higher-turnout general election will probably be less polarized between the top two parties.
London West, as you might have guessed again, covers the western end of the city of London in southwestern Ontario. The riding is divided in two by the Thames River; it includes neighborhoods such as Oakridge, Hyde Park, Byron, River Bend, Westmount, Southcrest, South London and Medway Heights.
The seat became vacant on February 14, 2013 when Liberal MPP Chris Bentley, (in)famous since the power plants scandal, resigned. Bentley was a McGuinty loyalist and sometimes seen as a potential successor. He held several high-profile portfolios during his ten years in government: labour (2003-2005), colleges and universities (2005-2007), Attorney General (2007-2011) and – of course – energy (2011-2013).
London West is the most suburban, affluent and white-collar riding of the city of London’s three core ridings. Its median household income, $56,859 in 2005, land it right smack in the middle of all Ontario ridings when ranked by that measure. 13.5% of residents in 2005 were low on income (before tax), again the lowest of London’s three ridings. It is not, however, the most educated riding of the three: London North Centre, which includes the University of Western Ontario, takes that honour; however, it is still quite educated: 28.1% have a university diploma or degree, and only 13.8% lack a high school diploma, the lowest out of the three ridings. Sales and services (24.6%) and business/finance/administration (15.7%) are the top two occupations; not all that surprising for a largely suburban and residential riding. However, it does stand out by the large percentage of the labour force employed in health (8.6%) and “occupations in education, law and social, community and government services” (15.1%) – both significantly above the provincial average. In terms of ‘industry’ (NAICS classifications), healthcare and social services (14.7%), retail trade (11.6%) and ‘educational services’ (10.9%) are the top three industries; again, on healthcare and education, London West’s percentages are significantly above the provincial average. These numbers likely reflect the presence of London’s general hospital in the riding and the proximity of Western U (I’m guessing university staff including profs, rather than students, are more likely to live in London West).
For a urban/suburban riding, London West has a small non-white population; only 15.1% are visible minorities, the leading such groups being Latin Americans (2.9% of the total population) and Arabs (2.4%). Therefore, the leading ancestries are European: English (32.1%), Scottish (22.3%), Irish (21.5%) but also ‘Canadian’ (25%).
In 2005, 62.2% of dwellings were owned and 37.8% were rented.
London West is a mixed urban and suburban riding, which includes both very recent suburban housing developments and urban neighborhoods which were first developed in the late nineteenth century as early suburbs of London. Located south of the Thames River opposite the city’s downtown, South London is very much a urban area, with old houses – ranging from smaller bungalows to some post-war constructions and larger (old) properties. On the north of the river, and just across downtown, the Blackfriars area is similarly urban, with a large student population.
Other neighborhoods, however, tend to be more suburban, although they tend to vary in terms of affluence. At the western end of the riding, River Bend, the Hunt Club part of Oakridge and other small neighborhoods on either side of the Thames are some of the most affluent areas in the city, with very large houses (of the ‘McMansion’ type). The Southcrest and Manor Park area, located south of the Thames, have more ‘urban’ demographics: less families, more renters and slightly lower incomes. Neighborhoods such as Westmount, Byron (both south of the river), Oakridge Acres, Medway Heights or White Hill (all north of the river) are typically suburban areas; more families, most houses being owned and single houses (although there quite a few small apartment blocks, row houses or community housing projects too) and more affordable property prices. A lot of areas have older properties, likely post-70s, but there has been rapid housing development in new cookie-cutter subdivisions in parts.
Politically, the western end of London has tended to be a closely disputed Liberal/Conservative marginal, and something of a bellwether (with an imperfect track record). The provincial Liberals have held the seat since 2003, but the federal Tories came within a hair of picking it up in 2006 and they have held it since 2008. At the provincial level, the seat was only created in 1999 when provincial ridings were lined up with federal ridings; prior to that, provincial ridings were divided north to south, cut by the Thames River. The PCs were generally strong in both ridings, Tory Premier John Robarts represented the area between 1951 and 1971. The Liberals gained London North, the more suburban of the two, in 1977 and held it until a 1988 by-election (the PCs then held that seat until its demise). They held London South between 1975 and 1977 and again between 1985 and 1990, when the NDP gained London South for a single term. The very right-wing Bob Wood, a ‘maverick’ social conservative within the Harris PC caucus, gained the seat in 1995 and was reelected in London West in 1999, although only by a tiny margin. Chris Bentley, a lawyer and former prof, gained the seat for the McGuinty Liberals in 2003, defeating Wood by nearly 21 points. He was reelected with a 28% majority in 2007 and defeated the PCs by a 16% margin in 2011. The NDP did quite well in October 2011, winning 21.7%.
Federally, the seat has voted with the national winner in every election except 1979 (when it reelected its Liberal MP) and 2006 (same story). London West was, however, always the top Tory target of the three urban ridings in London. In 2006, when Harper first won power, they lost it by only 2.2% to the incumbent Liberal MP, Sue Barnes. The Conservatives, with Ed Holder, gained it with a 3.7% majority over the Liberals. In the 2011 election, Holder had no problems holding his seat; he won by nearly 18 points, taking 44.5% to the Liberals’ 26.8% and the NDP’s 25.9% (a record high for the Dippers).
The October 2011 results map is largely a sea of red, with a good number of orange polls and a rather small number of blue polls. Indeed, Bentley, who won by 16 points, won polls throughout the riding, breaking the urban-suburban split which candidates (especially Liberals) need to breach in order to win. He did well in the urban South London and Blackfriars neighborhoods, but also just as well in suburban Westmount, Byron, Oakridge and – to a lesser extent – Southcrest and Medway. The PCs did best in River Bend and the Hunt Club part of Oakridge; basically, the PCs performed best in the McMansion neighborhoods and the very affluent ‘executive’ neighborhoods near golf courses – for example, the Tories took 55% in Riverbend Golf Community, a 50+ gated community/country club. The NDP won more polls than the PCs, and won a number of polls scattered throughout the riding. They won consistently solid numbers in the less affluent (bungalow-type housing) parts of urban South London, and in Manor Park. Outside those areas, the NDP’s best numbers came from apartment complexes, small row houses or community housing projects.
The 2011 federal election is a totally different picture: the Conservatives winning most of the polls, with the NDP winning almost all its polls in the ‘urban’ part of the riding – and also winning more polls than the Liberals, despite the Grits doing a tad better overall. The race for second shows a pretty stark urban-suburban divide: the NDP placed first or second in the eastern end of the riding (South London, Southcrest, parts of Westmount, Manor Park etc), the Liberals placed second in suburban neighborhoods such as Oakridge, most of Westmount and Byron. The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, did best in the very affluent neighborhoods, generally well in other suburban areas and poorly in South London. However, while the NDP showed to be strongest in urban parts of the riding, its performance in more suburban areas wasn’t all that bad (outside very affluent and solidly Tory polls): again, they tended to do best in suburban areas with apartment complexes, row houses or community housing projects but they also put up some solid numbers – second place even – in more traditionally suburban areas, even ‘cookie-cutter’ new subdivisions.
The provincial Liberal candidate in this race is the story of a star candidate turned awry. The Liberals were excited about having recruited Ken Coran, the former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation – hey, look at us, the teachers’ unions don’t hate our guts any longer; it would also have made a good symbol for Wynne, breaking free from McGuinty’s anti-union drive in his final year in office. The problem was that the same Ken Coran, just last year, was angrily denouncing the Liberals for Bill 115 and endorsed the Ontario NDP in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election. Coran’s “star candidacy” quickly turned into a disaster for the Liberals. The Tories nominated their 2011 candidate, Ali Chahbar, a lawyer. The NDP had a fairly prominent candidate as well: Peggy Sattler, a Thames Valley District School Board trustee. The Freedom Party, a small Randian libertarian party, nominated Al Gretzky, the uncle of Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzy and the federal Tories’ 2006 candidate.
The polls show how Coran’s candidacy turned into a disaster for the Liberals: from 30% in February, they collapsed to 15-19% on July 30. The PCs led all polls in the riding, from February until the end. Chahbar led the Grits by 4 (and the NDP by 6) in February, the NDP moved into second by early July, trailing the PCs by 7. They made substantial gains in the final stretch: Campaign (Jul 30) had the NDP down by 3, Forum (Jul 30) down by 2.
Turnout was 38.9%, down from 53% in 2011.
Peggy Sattler (NDP) 41.88% (+20.16%)
Ali Chahbar (PC) 32.74% (+3.26%)
Ken Coran (Liberal) 15.85% (-29.81%)
Al Gretzky (Freedom) 4.96% (+4.36%)
Gary Brown (Green) 4.25% (+1.84%)
Geoffrey Serbee (Libertarian) 0.31%
London West was probably – with Ottawa South – the most surprising result of the night. The NDP’s strong performance was to be expected, given that it was clear that with the Liberal collapse that the race had turned into a two-candidate battle between the NDP and the PCs. What was not expected, however, was the NDP defeating the Tories – thought of as the favourites – by 9 points. A bad result both for the PCs and the pollsters who had predicted a PC win.
Provincial polling in the last few months has been showing that the NDP has been on the upswing throughout southwestern Ontario; I’m not sure if this is due to any regional factors or if it’s something else. The NDP’s big win in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election showed that, London West (and Windsor Tecumseh) confirmed that – meaning that the NDP gained three seats in SW Ontario since the last provincial election.
For the Tories, a rather disappointing result, especially considering that they were seen as the favourites. Their result, no matter how disappointing it is, doesn’t compare to the Liberals’ result: an unmitigated disaster. Coran’s “star candidacy” turned awry likely further aggravated matters for the Liberals, rather than helping them. By reading the polls, the Liberals had already conceded London West to the PCs or Dippers before polls even opened. Nevertheless, London West is an important swing riding, and one in which the Liberals have no business collapsing to an horrible third with barely 15% of the vote. If the Liberals win such results in ridings like London West outside the 416 and Ottawa, then they’ve lost the election and probably lost official opposition as well.
Ottawa South, as you might have guessed it, covers the southern end of the urbanized core of Ottawa. It includes neighborhoods such as Alta Vista, Riverview, Elmvale Acres, Hunt Club, Greenboro, South Keys, Heron Gate and Blossom Park. The riding also includes two of the main entry points into the city: the airport and the train station.
The seat became vacant on June 12 when former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty resigned his seat a few months after he stepped down as Premier. McGuinty was Premier of Ontario between 2003 and 2013 and leader of the Ontario Liberal Party since 1996.
Ottawa South is a largely suburban constituency, with a large industrial park in the north of the district. The riding’s median household income in 2005, $60,667, places it in the upper half of Ontario ridings in terms of wealth (40th out 107). That being said, the riding still includes a few pockets of deprivation – the percentage of residents low on income before tax in 2005, 22%, is the 21st highest in the province. Like most of the Ottawa region, residents in this riding tend to be highly educated – 33.2% have a university diploma or degree, which probably places it in the top 20 Ontario ridings by that measure. This being the federal capital, the federal government remains a top employer in this riding like in neighboring ridings: 21.4% of the labour force were employed in public administration, making it – by far – the single largest industry. Furthermore, the NAICS ‘public administration’ category does not cover all fields in which public servants may be employed; so the overall percentage of federal government employees is higher. In contrast, the percentage of the labour force employed in manufacturing (2.7%) or construction (3.8%) is one of the lowest in the entire province.
Ottawa South has the highest visible minority populations outside the GTA – 36.3%. The largest minorities are blacks (10.2% of the total population) and Arabs (9.6%). The riding has the second largest Arab population in Canada, and the largest in Ontario. Most blacks are of African, not Caribbean descent. Indeed, Ottawa South has one of the largest – if not the largest – Somali communities in Canada, making up 3.1% of the total population (overall, 10.2% of the riding’s population claimed African origins). Most Arabs are Lebanese, with 6.3% of the riding’s residents in 2011 claiming Lebanese origins.
Most of Ottawa’s Francophone population lives in Ottawa-Vanier or Ottawa-Orleans. Ottawa South has a small Francophone community, with 12.2% of residents identifying French as their mother tongue. A much larger percentage – 30% – said their mother tongue was a non-official language (Arabic and Somali being, obviously, the top two non-official languages).
In 2005, 59.5% of dwellings were owned.
Ottawa South is, with some exceptions, a largely suburban riding; a mix of post-war suburbs and newer developments, further south. Alta Vista, in the centre-north of the riding, is an older leafy middle/upper middle-class suburban neighborhood with single houses. Located north of Alta Vista, Riverview is slightly less affluent, with some apartment complexes or social housing projects, as well as a larger visible minority population (in parts).
There are pockets of deprivation – mostly consisting of large apartment complexes or social housing projects – scattered throughout the riding. The Heron Gate area, which is nearly 80% non-white, is the poorest part of the riding. There are other low-income areas, notably the Hawthorne Meadows neighborhood located east of Urbandale and Elmvale Acres.
Hunt Club, Greenboro and South Keys are more recent suburban developments, located to the south of the riding and consisting of a mix of single houses or rowhouses. Hunt Club and Greenboro both have a rather large (45-50%) visible minority population, and while most dwellings are owned, it is generally a lower middle-class area.
At the provincial level, what is today included in the riding of Ottawa South was a reliably Conservative seat – the Tories held the seat without interruption between 1948 and 1987. Prior to 1926 (and for quite some time after that, at the federal level), Ottawa South – which was probably sparsely populated countryside back then – was included in Russell, a riding which included solidly Liberal Francophone areas in eastern present-day Ottawa. In the 1985 provincial election, PC MPP Claude Bennett saw his majority (over the Liberals) sharply reduced from 21% to only 4%. In the 1987 Liberal landslide and with Bennett’s retirement, Liberal candidate Dalton McGuinty Sr., a former University of Ottawa lecturer, won handily, with 51% to the PC’s 31%. McGuinty the elder only served a single term – he died of a heart attack in 1990. In the general election that year, his son, Dalton McGuinty Jr., held his father’s seat by a 20 point margin over the NDP and was the only freshman Liberal MPP to win in that ‘Dipperslide’ election. From that point on, McGuinty held on to his seat with similarly large – and remarkably stable – margins in every election. The Liberal vote has since oscillated between 45 and 50%; the PCs, save for 1999 when they managed 42%, generally in the low 30s and the NDP, very weak in the riding, in the high single digits/low double digits. In 2011, McGuinty was reelected with a barely reduced majority, taking 49% to the PC’s 33% – this despite some predictions that he could lose his seat.
At the federal level, the riding of Ottawa South was created in 1987, before the 1988 election. That year, John Manley, a Liberal lawyer, defeated incumbent PC MP Barry Turner (from Ottawa-Carleton), 51% to 35%. Manley went on to hold the seat until his retirement in 2004, winning each year by massive margins. Manley served as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs and even Deputy Prime Minister as one of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s top lieutenants. He was a candidate for the Liberal leadership in 2002 against Chrétien’s longtime rival Paul Martin, but seeing Martin’s inevitable win he dropped out and then retired from politics in 2004. David McGuinty, then-Premier Dalton McGuinty’s brother, holding the seat by a 9% margin over the Tories. In 2006, the Tories put some serious effort into the riding, nominating sponsorship scandal whistle-blower Alan Cutler. Sign of the riding’s remarkably static nature, the Tories only increased their vote share from 35% to 37%, while McGuinty improved his own vote share by a few decimals, winning reelection with a 6.7% majority. In the 2008 election, despite a sizable anti-Liberal swing that year, McGuinty increased his majority to a solid 16.5%, winning just short of 50% to the Tories’ 33%. In the 2011 federal election, McGuinty’s vote fell sharply, from 49.9% to 44%, but largely to the NDP’s benefits, who, with 18%, won their best ever result in Ottawa South. Counter cyclical to the rest of the country but in line with most Ottawa-area ridings, the Tory vote fell by one decimal point.
The Liberals tend to be strong throughout the riding, with the exception of the more exurban/rural southern end of the riding. The Liberals have tended to do best in Alta Vista, a middle-class neighborhood with a large portion of residents employed by the government or in health/education; the Grits have usually managed between 50 and 60% in most polls there. The Liberals also do similarly well in Elmvale Acres, Riverview, Billings Bridge, parts of Riverside Park and Hawthorne Meadows. When the NDP is weak, the Liberals may do tremendously well in Heron Gate, winning upwards of 60-65% of the vote; however, in elections like May 2011, the NDP can do well enough in Heron Gate – and other lower-income apartment complexes or social housing projects – to win a few polls or place a strong second. This was the case in May 2011, when the NDP won or placed a solid second (almost always behind the Liberals) in lower-income polls. In contrast, the NDP does poorly in suburban single house/row house-type neighborhoods, such as Alta Vista, Hunt Club or Greenboro.
The Liberals often do well (40-55%) in Hunt Club, Greenboro, and, to a lesser extent, South Keys. The PCs put up some respectable showings in these neighborhoods, as well as other neighborhoods such as Urbandale or Confederation Heights (or the condos overlooking the Rideau River in the north of the riding). In both the federal and provincial elections in 2011, the only neighborhood the Tories won was Blossom Park, at the far southern end of the riding, and more exurban in nature. The Tories also do very well in a the polls around Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, specifically military housing polls at CFB Uplands.
The Liberals nominated John Fraser, McGuinty’s constituency assistant for 14 years. There’s some significance in that pick, as the Liberals nominated somebody closely tied to McGuinty – and, by extension, his tainted legacy – and Fraser campaigned on his record as McGuinty’s aide (having built up, it seems, a solid reputation, as McGuinty’s local voice in the riding for so long). McGuinty still casts a long shadow over his former riding – in part because the McGuintys are a major ‘clan’ in the riding, with Dalton’s nine siblings; and while he probably isn’t all that popular even in his old riding, it is probably the one riding where voters might be a bit more generous with him than elsewhere. The PCs nominated a little-known defense contractor, Matt Young. The NDP, weak in the riding, nominated probably their strongest possible candidate: the vice-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Bronwyn Funiciello, whose zone covers Alta Vista Ward (as well as another ward, outside the riding).Everybody’s favourite candidate – and the definition of ‘perennial candidate’ – John Turmel, contested his 78th election since 1979 here.
The early polls out the gates showed a tight race between the Liberals and the PCs, with the latter leading by 3 in an early June poll but then trailing the Grits by 4 in early July. A poll in mid-July showed a statistical tie, with the PCs up 1. However, the Tories surged ahead in the last stretch of the campaign: Forum on July 24 had them up 14; the two July 30 polls showed the PCs up 7 (Campaign) or 16 (Forum); with the NDP low, at 12% and 9% respectively.
Turnout was 40.8%, the highest of all five by-elections, down from 51.2% in 2011:
John Fraser (Liberal) 42.34% (-6.51%)
Matt Young (PC) 38.67% (+5.24%)
Bronwyn Funiciello (NDP) 14.27% (+0.88%)
Taylor Howarth (Green) 3.14% (-0.09%)
Jean-Serge Brisson (Libertarian) 0.06% (+0.04%)
John Redins (Special Needs) 0.29% (-0.24%)
Daniel Post (Ind) 0.26%
David McGruer (Freedom) 0.24%
John Turmel (Paupers) 0.18%
In one of the night’s most surprising results, the Liberals managed to hold Ottawa South with a 3.6% majority. It was also one the worst performance, of all five ridings, by pollsters. The Liberals have to be happy that they held this seat; a loss would have been all the more difficult to swallow because losing McGuinty’s old riding would mark a harsh repudiation of McGuinty and his government in his own riding, and a very poor result for Premier Wynne’s new government. Additionally, Ottawa South is one of the eleven seats still held by the federal Liberals after the May 2011 shipwreck; the provincial Liberals – who are still a stronger machine than the federal Liberals – losing a seat which even their hapless federal counterparts held on to in May 2011 would be extremely bad news and make for some really bad symbolism.
The PCs did well, being able to break out of the low-30s trap they were stuck in since the 2003 Liberal landslide, and also performing better than the federal Tories did in the past four federal elections. Despite low name recognition, Tory candidate Matt Young was successful – but only incompletely so – in riding a wave of dissatisfaction with McGuinty/Liberal governance and the associated scandals.
The Liberals, under McGuinty, built up a very strong GOTV operation/machine in Ottawa South, and that’s probably what made the difference on election day and explains why the Liberals beat the polls. They were able to mobilize people who had voted Liberal in recent elections, and turn them out to the polls – something which, seemingly, the Liberals weren’t as successful in the other four ridings. The relatively high turnout – 40% – is probably the result of that relatively strong Liberal GOTV op.
The NDP will probably be disappointed by their performance. 14.3% isn’t bad – it’s on the upper end of their range in the riding – but it’s still lower than their federal record (18%) and they probably would have expected something better considering that they nominated their strongest possible candidate in Bronwyn Funiciello. Low turnout probably hurt them; turnout tends to be lower in those places, like Heron Gate, where the NDP does best.
Scarborough-Guildwood covers the south-central portion of Scarborough, a large former municipality in suburban western Toronto. The riding, named after and centered on the neighborhood of Guildwood, also includes West Hill, Scarborough Village, Woburn and Morningside.
The seat became vacant on June 27 when Liberal MPP Margarett Best resigned due to “undisclosed health reasons”. Of the five Liberal MPPs who stepped down in 2013, Best was the only one who wasn’t a member of ex-Premier Dalton McGuinty’s inner circle – she was elected for the first time in 2007, and she was only a minor cabinet minister as Minister of Health Promotion (2007-2011) and Minister of Consumer Services (2011-2013).
Scarborough-Guildwood, like most of the former municipality, is a suburban neighborhood; but not particularly affluent at that. The median household income in 2005, $47,963, made it the ninth poorest riding in Ontario. With nearly 30% of residents low on income before tax (in 2005), it was the fourth riding in Ontario in terms of low-income citizens. Education levels are significantly lower than in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, with 20.4% lacking a high school graduation certificate, although at the other end, 20.6% do have a university diploma or degree. Most of the riding’s labour force work in sales and services (26.1%) or in business/finance/administration (17.5%). Unemployment is quite high, it was 13.2% in the 2011 National Household Survey.
Like most of Scarborough, Scarborough-Guildwood is an extremely ethnically diverse riding. Nearly two-thirds of the riding’s residents (65.8%) are visible minorities, the largest visible minority groups being South Asians (30.6% of the overall population), blacks (14.7%) and Filipinos (7.4%). Nearly 20% of the riding’s population immigrated to Canada after 2001.
Most South Asians in Scarborough and this riding tend to be Tamils from Sri Lanka or India – 27.8% of residents claimed Tamil, Sri Lankan or East Indian ancestry; and 7.5% claimed Tamil as their mother tongue. Most blacks are from the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago) or Guyana.
There doesn’t seem to be huge differences, either income-wise or demographically, between the various neighborhoods in the riding. The one exception might be Guildwood, which is more affluent and whiter than other parts of the riding, but not dramatically more so. Housing in the riding is split between apartment buildings (43% of dwellings) and single-detached homes (35.6%), about nine in ten of dwellings were built more than 20 years ago. In 2005, 55.6% of dwellings were owned.
There are several large apartment complexes, which tend to be poorer and more ethnically diverse, concentrated along the main thoroughfares – Lawrence Avenue, Markham Road, Eglinton Avenue, Kingston Road or the Mornelle Crescent area in Morningside.
The riding’s strong Liberal lean only dates back to the 1990s, at most. Provincially, the Liberals held the much more extensive riding which included all of present-day Scarborough-Guildwood between 1867 and 1905, but the Conservatives went on to hold the seat – with only three one-term interruptions, between 1905 and 1985. The CCF’s Agnes Macphail, who had been Canada’s first woman MP in 1921, won the riding of York East in 1943 and again in 1948. Liberal Timothy Reid won the seat from the PCs in 1967, but the Tories regained it in 1971 and held it until David Peterson’s Liberals formed government in 1985. Up until the 1970s, Scarborough was a largely white/English middle-class post-war suburban area, with small pockets of deprivation or immigration.
The NDP won the riding of Scarborough East in their 1990 landslide, although only narrowly over the Liberals. In 1995, PC candidate Steve Gilchrist handily won the seat, taking nearly 56% of the vote. Gilchrist, who was reelected with a reduced majority in 1999, briefly served as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in Mike Harris’ cabinet, and became most famous for spearheading the controversial forced amalgamation of Hamilton, Ottawa and Sudbury. Within a few months, he was forced to resign from cabinet following a scandal of some kind. He was defeated in a landslide by Liberal candidate Mary Anne Chambers in 2003, taking only 34% of the vote to the Liberals’ 51.5%. Chambers served only one term and was succeeded in 2007 by Margarett Best, who held the seat with a 14.5% majority in 2007 and an even larger 20% majority in 2011.
Federally, the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood (and before that, Scarborough East, about three-fifths of which were redistributed to create the current riding in 2003) has been held by the Liberals since 1993, and by Liberal MP John McKay since 1997. Prior to that, the seat was closely disputed between Liberals and Tories, with a small edge to the former. After 1993, rising immigration and the changing demographic character of Scarborough helped the Liberals, who came to dominate Scarborough-Guildwood and its neighbours with huge majorities – a 44% majority in 2000, and a still hefty 20% majority in 2008. The 2011 federal election marked a sea change in the riding’s politics: McKay was reelected with a tiny 1.8% (691 vote) margin over the Tories, taking 36.2% to 34.4% for the Tories and a solid 26.5% for the NDP.
The poll-by-poll results of the October 2011 provincial election do not show any clear-cut political divides within the riding: the Liberals won almost all polls, while the Tories’ few polls were scattered throughout the riding.
The May 2011 federal election shows a much closer race – and also a rather messy map, with ‘random’ patches of blue, red and orange scattered across the riding. That being said, some kind of patterns can be worked out. The Liberals and the NDP clearly dominated apartment polls, which are concentrated along the main roads or in large complexes in Morningside (near the UofT-Scarborough uni campus) or in the Woburn Park area. Most of the NDP’s polls, for examples, are either apartment buildings or polling stations covering large apartment complexes. In October 2011, the Liberals’ majorities were again higher in apartment polls. Similarly, the Liberals did better in apartment polls or in neighborhoods – such as Golfdale Gardens, which was the only solidly Liberal cluster in the riding in May 2011 – where most houses are rented rather than owned. Apartment polls, as aforementioned, tend to be poorer and have a larger visible minority population. The Liberals also did well in single-house polls across the riding, specifically those with a large South Asian or black population. In contrast, Tory support is higher in more leafy, suburban and single-house neighborhoods, such as parts of West Hill, Morningside or Curran Hall.
That being said, the picture (from the federal election) remains all quite patchy. With a few isolated exceptions, neither the Tories nor the Liberals thoroughly dominated any one part of the riding, and the Liberals managed to win scattered polls in more affluent middle-class neighborhoods, including parts of Guildwood which are whiter (and, historically, more solidly Tory) and Scarborough Village, which is – in parts – a tad more affluent.
The Liberals nominated Mitzie Hunter, a community activist and the CEO of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance. Like the past two Liberal MPPs – Hunter was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada in her youth. The PCs nominated Ken Kirupa, a realtor and Sri Lankan immigrant. While both the Grits and the Tories went for locals with ethnic ties, the NDP nominated an ‘outsider’ star candidate – Adam Giambrone, the former Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, a former president of the federal NDP and a former Toronto city councillor (for Davenport) between 2003 and 2010. Giambrone was forced to drop out of the 2010 mayoral election after a sex scandal, which also cut short his career in municipal politics. His nomination in Scarborough-Guildwood was somewhat controversial, the local community activist he defeated threatened a legal challenge after alleging that 12 of the 32 who voted at the nomination meeting might not have been eligible to vote under NDP rules.
Polling throughout the short campaign showed a close race between the Liberals and the PCs, with the NDP a solid third. In the last two polls published – again on July 30 by Forum and Campaign – the Liberals by 7 and 5 points respectively, with the NDP at 27% and 24%.
Turnout was 36.2%, down from 47.7% in 2011.
Mitzie Hunter (Liberal) 35.83% (-13.10%)
Ken Kirupa (PC) 30.79% (+2.14%)
Adam Giambrone (NDP) 28.37% (+8.95%)
Nick Leeson (Green) 2.15% (+0.86%)
Jim Hamilton (Ind) 0.79%
Danish Ahmed (Special Needs) 0.75%
Heath Thomas (Libertarian) 0.48% (-0.8%)
Raphael Rosch (Family Coalition) 0.42%
Matthew Oliver (Freedom) 0.32% (-0.1%)
Bill Rawdah (People’s) 0.1%
Scarborough-Guildwood was seen as the Liberals’ best shot at holding on to one of their five seats up for grabs, and they did. The polls, for a change, were almost spot on – the Liberals held the seat by a 5% margin, which is obviously a much reduced majority compared to Best’s 20% majority in October 2011. Unlike in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the main winner in Scarborough-Guildwood was the NDP, not the PCs. Adam Giambrone, a strong candidate for an increasingly popular party, won the NDP’s best result in any election – federal or provincial – since 1990. Giambrone finds his political career rehabilitated, and we should probably count on him to return as a top NDP candidate in a future provincial or federal election. Additionally, this result is more confirmation that the NDP is an increasingly powerful actor in Scarborough, something which we saw in 2011 (the NDP picked up heavily Tamil Scarborough-Rouge River by a wide margin with a Tamil candidate in May 2011, and came very close to upsetting the Liberals there again in October 2011 with another Tamil candidate). Traditionally fairly weak in Scarborough, particularly with historically Liberal visible minority voters, the NDP – at both levels – has made significant inroads, notably with South Asian voters.
While the Liberals can take comfort in that they held the seat and that the Tories’ showing was nothing spectacular, they should beware that the NDP has been confirmed as a serious threat to some of their seats in Scarborough, which was an impregnable Liberal fortress until 2011.
Windsor-Tecumseh basically covers the eastern half of the city of Windsor, as well as the entirety of the neighboring suburban town of Tecumseh. Within Windsor, the riding includes Walkerville, East Windsor, Riverside, Forest Glade and parts of Fontainebleau.
The seat became vacant on February 14 when incumbent Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan resigned his seat. Duncan, first elected to the Ontario legislature in 1995 and an unsuccesful candidate for the party’s leadership in 1996, served in several important cabinet positions in McGuinty’s cabinets: energy (2003-2005, 2006-2007) and finance (2005-2006, 2007-2013). Originally seen as a frontrunner for the Liberal leadership after McGuinty’s resignation, Duncan chose to retire from provincial politics after Wynne’s victory.
Windsor-Tecumseh is a mixed urban and suburban riding. The riding’s median household income in 2005 was $58,189, not particularly affluent but still not all that poor – additionally, only 13.4% of residents in 2005 were low income (before tax). I would, however, expect 2011 numbers (which come out on August 14) to show a significant drop in the median HH income in this riding; with the recession, income levels have dropped pretty sharply in Windsor.
Education levels are similarly average: 31.7% of Windsor-Tecumseh’s residents highest qualification is a high school diploma – it is one of the province’s top ridings in terms of residents with a HS diploma as their top qualification. 17.5% have no diploma, and, at the other end, 17.6% of residents have a university diploma or degree.
Windsor is a major industrial city, located across the border from Detroit. Like Detroit, Windsor’s economy has long been driven by the auto manufacturing industry (awful pun) – American car manufacturers such as Ford and Chrysler have manufactured cars or car parts across the border in Canada for decades now. The 1965 Auto Pact between the US and Canada, which removed tariffs on automobiles and automotive parts, was a major boon for Windsor’s auto industry, creating many new blue collar jobs as American manufacturers set up branch plants to produce generic car models or provide auto parts. Although job loses in the auto manufacturing sector, particularly in the recent recession, have hurt Windsor’s economy and given it a somewhat bad reputation elsewhere in the country as “Ontario’s armpit”, manufacturing remains the top industry in the city. In 2011, 17.5% of Windsor-Tecumseh’s labour force was employed in manufacturing, one of the highest percentages in Canada. In 2006, manufacturing was even more important – it employed 24.9% of the riding’s labour force. Other major industries in the riding include healthcare and social assistance (12.2%), retail trade (11%) and educational services (7.4%). The leading occupations, in 2011, were sales and services (26.4%), ‘trades, transport and equipment operators’ (13.3%), business/finance/administration (13.3%). Manufacturing and utilities occupations, which employed over 14% in 2006, employed only 9.6% in 2011.
The riding has a 13.2% visible minority population, the leading groups being blacks and Arabs. The city’s ethnolinguistic mix and background is rather interesting. The Windsor area has a large population with French ancestry; the French first settled the area in 1749 and the city’s French heritage is still perceptible in parts. 25.7% of the riding’s residents claimed French origins in 2011, although only 3.6% of the riding’s population is Francophone. ‘Canadian’ (25.6%), English (22.9%) and Irish (14.9%) were the next three leading ancestries in 2011.
There’s a fairly important split between the more ‘urban’ western end of the riding and the more suburban neighborhoods of Windsor as well as the town of Tecumseh. Walkerville, located just east of downtown Windsor (which is in Windsor West for electoral purposes), is an urban neighborhood and former ‘company town’ founded in 1890 by whisky distiller Hiram Walker. Ford opened its first factory there in 1904, and the Windsor engine plant is located just outside Walkerville, in East Windsor (and the Chrysler plant is nearby as well). Walkerville is an urban neighborhood, with a mix of old bungalows and larger houses in leafy streets. It has some pockets of deprivation and incomes are fairly low; . East Windsor, newer and more residential in nature, includes a large Ford plant. Most houses are bungalows, although there are large social housing projects in the area as well. Forest Glade, located in the southeast of the city of Windsor, is a post-war (1960s-1970s) planned community/suburb, largely lower middle/middle-class.
Riverside is a large post-war (1950s) neighborhood, which includes some of the most expensive homes in Windsor, concentrated along the waterfront (which also has condo towers now) or in leafy backstreets; although it also includes some less expensive bungalow-type suburban properties and a few social housing projects. East Riverside, on the outskirts of the city, is a very recent suburban development, of the cookie-cutter type.
Saint Clair Beach, at the eastern extremity of Windsor-Tecumseh, is the most affluent in the riding and certainly one of the most affluent in Essex County as a whole. It includes golf courses, a gated community and sprawling suburban houses.
The Windsor area, now an NDP stronghold federally, was traditionally disputed between the Liberals and the NDP, with an edge to the former – especially in federal elections. The area’s French Catholic heritage has given it a strong Liberal tradition, while the area’s industrial makeup and the strength of unions – notably the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) has given the NDP a strong base since the 1960s/1970s.
Provincially, like London West, the riding is a recent creation – it dates back to 1999, when Mike Harris compacted 130 provincial ridings into 103, which line up – with a few exceptions (in northern Ontario) with federal ridings. Before that, it was divided between Windsor-Riverside, which included the eastern end of the current riding centered around, I believe, Riverside and parts of Tecumseh; and Windsor-Walkerville, which included the western end of the current riding centered around Walkerville. Windsor-Riverside was held by the NDP without interruption between 1967 and 1999. Windsor-Walkerville, in contrast, was a Liberal stronghold: the Liberals held it continunously between 1959 and 1990 and Dwight Duncan regained it from the NDP in 1995. The 1999 election featured a fight between two incumbents: Dwight Duncan, the Liberal from Windsor-Walkerville; and Wayne Lessard, the NDP MPP from Windsor-Riverside (he had represented Windsor-Walkerville between 1990 and 1995 and returned to the legislature following a 1997 by-election in Windsor-Riverside). Duncan defeated Lessard 45% to 34%, and went on to win three more terms by comfortable margins. Duncan won by 26 in 2003 and by 25 in 2007. In 2011, he was reelected with a reduced 10 point majority, 42.9% to the NDP’s 32.8%. Duncan clearly built up a solid personal vote in the riding, winning voters which voted NDP federally since 2000/2004. The PCs have been irrelevant in the riding for decades now; the last time they placed second was in 1985 in both former ridings.
Federally, the NDP’s Joe Comartin, has held the riding since 2000. Having lost a 1999 by-election to the Liberals by only 91 votes, he returned to defeat the Liberals by 401 votes in the 2000 election, a bright spot in an otherwise bleak year for the NDP. Since then, the Liberal vote has collapsed – from 34% in 2004 to 13% in 2011. In this regards, the federal Tories have been much more successful at coalescing anti-NDP voters than their provincial counterparts. Comartin won by 16 points in 2011 and by an even wider 25 points in 2008, so the seat is an NDP fortress for the foreseeable future. However, the Tories did manage to poll an excellent 33.6% in 2011. However, the NDP’s success federally is more recent – until 1984, the seat was a Liberal stronghold. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s father, Paul Martin Sr, who was a prominent Liberal cabinet minister and leadership contender at one point, represented the area between 1935 and 1968 and the Liberals continued to hold the seat until 1984, when the NDP won it. The Liberals defeated the incumbent Dipper MP by 34 points in 1993 but held it by a much tighter 5.5% in 1997.
The October 2011 provincial election results showed an interesting geographic division between the Liberals and the NDP. The NDP won heavily in East Windsor, and also carried the poorer parts of Walkerville and Riverside, including social housing projects. The Liberals, who won the election by 10 points, won the bulk of Riverside and Forest Glade by varying margins, doing best in new subdivisions or the affluent parts on the waterfront. Similarly, the Liberals won the more upscale parts of Walkerville. The NDP’s worst results came from, you might have guessed, St. Clair Beach.
The 2011 federal election is, obviously, a rather different. Joe Comartin won the vast majority of polls in Windsor-Tecumseh, putting up huge margins in East Windsor and other traditional NDP strongholds, but basically doing well across the riding, including most of Riverside and Forest Glade. The Conservatives won by big margins in St. Clair Beach, but besides that they only won a few of the newer suburban subdivisions in East Riverside and a few waterfront polls scattered throughout Riverside. The 2000 federal election, however, has a geography very similar to that of the October 2011 vote.
The NDP went into this race as the favourites. They had, by far, the strongest candidate of the three parties: Percy Hatfield, a Windsor city councillor representing Ward 7, which East Riverside and Forest Glade, two neighborhoods where the NDP struggles in competitive races. The Liberal candidate was Jeewin Gill, apparently a businessman/’community leader’ married to a CAW member. In general, this seems to indicate that the Liberals conceded the race long ago. Without Dwight Duncan, the Liberals are at a major disadvantage against the NDP here. The only strong candidate the Liberals could have gotten was Sandra Pupatello, who held Windsor West between 1999 and 2011. But after losing the Liberal leadership, she said that she had no interest in seeking elected office again, despite Wynne’s urging. The PCs renominated their 2011 candidate Robert de Verteuil, an automotive consultant.
The polls confirmed that this was a NDP shoe-in. Although the Liberals were at 32%, 10 points behind the NDP, in a poll back in early February, when the race settled down with the three candidates in July, the NDP maintained a huge leader, over 50% and leading the PCs and/or Liberals by about 30 points. The last polls showed the PCs in second with between 22% and 28%, and the Liberals in third with 16% or 12%.
Turnout was 30.1%, down from 44.7% in 2011:
Percy Hatfield (NDP) 61.31% (+28.47%)
Robert de Verteuil (PC) 20.12% (-0.7%)
Jeewen Gill (Liberal) 11.94% (-30.89%)
Adam Wright (Green) 3.65% (+1.42%)
Dan Dominato (Libertarian) 1.55% (+0.28%)
Lee Watson (Family Coalition) 0.94%
Andrew Brannan (Freedom) 0.48%
Unsurprisingly, the NDP picked up Windsor-Tecumseh with a phenomenal 41% majority over the Tories. The NDP had been the overwhelming favourites to win, and the race was uninteresting compared to the other four, much closer, contests, but such a huge majority was even bigger than expected. The PCs did poorly, underperforming their polling numbers, and ending up roughly with the same paltry result they had gotten in October 2011. Finally, the Liberals were the biggest losers of the night – hell, they got even less than what the federal Liberals had won in May 2011! Obviously without Duncan (or Pupatello), the Liberals had little to no chance of holding this riding in a by-election anyway, but still, 12%?
While one might argue that the NDP might face a tougher fight to hold on to their big gains in Kitchener-Waterloo and London West, there’s no doubt that this seat will be established as an NDP stronghold for years and years to come – and there’s little doubt that the NDP will be able to pick up Windsor West, the last holdout of Windsor-area Liberal-ism in the next provincial election. The Liberals have, as far as I know, no ‘star candidate’ who could threaten the NDP here now.
The major winner of these five by-elections was the NDP, no question. The NDP not only won Windsor-Tecumseh, as widely expected, but also managed a surprise gain in London West (with a surprisingly large margin to boot). To cap it off, the NDP won a very strong third place in Scarborough-Guildwood, which confirms that they’re an ever-more important force in Scarborough, a direct threat to the provincial Liberals’ fledgling hegemony in that area.
Their main disappointments are Etobicoke-Lakeshore (Etobs for short) and Ottawa South. Etobs isn’t surprising – this is, as I mentioned above, another of those by-elections which turn into closely fought contests between the top two parties in that riding, effectively squeezing out whoever is the third party. A great example is the 2010 federal by-election in Vaughan: it became a hard fought battle between a Tory star candidate (who eventually won) and a fledgling Liberal Party trying hard to save a former Liberal stronghold. In the process, the NDP, weak in the riding, collapsed from 9.6% to 1.7% while the Tories and Liberals both won in the high 40s. In the 2011 federal election, when the Liberals just collapsed and the Conservatives won handily, the NDP vote jumped back up to 11.6%. Etobs was the same thing: two strong candidates fighting it out, with the NDP being irrelevant in all this.
Ottawa South is more disappointing. The NDP knew it never had a shot there and probably doesn’t have a shot unless they win a 1990-landslide all over again (and even then); but they ran their strongest possible candidate and they certainly would have expected that with a strong candidate they could come close/beat the 18% record set by the federal NDP in 2011. That wasn’t the case.
The NDP’s strong performance isn’t all that surprising. At a micro level, they ran strong candidates with fairly strong local ties (through local politics or school boards) in all ridings (except perhaps in Etobs). The Liberals’ unpopularity with teachers’ unions since 2011-2012 also guarantees the NDP a motivated base of supporters and activists throughout the province. Provincially, the NDP remains in a very favourable position. NDP leader Andrea Horwath has been the most popular of all three leaders for quite some time, coming off as a likable and pragmatic politician. That being said, she’s received criticism from various quarters for effectively propping up the Liberals two budgets in a row.
For the time being, however, the NDP are in a very strong position. They have a popular leader, an energized and motivated base and a lot of voters in the middle who like them best for the time being. The NDP can both claim to be a progressive alternative for dissatisfied left-Liberal voters, and “the lesser of three evils” to other voters. They can appear more pragmatic than the PCs because they didn’t reject the budgets out of hand and got some form of compromise with the Liberals on the budgets; they’re also not tainted by damaging scandals like the Liberals and not associated with a divisive former Premier (Mike Harris) like the PCs. The NDP will need a lot more to be able to win the next election, but the prospect of the NDP actually winning the election is now a very serious one.
The PCs had mixed results, and by failing to live up to expectations (created by inaccurate polling, to be fair), they’ve been identified by a lot of commentators as effective ‘losers’ in this string of by-elections. The PCs – who were seen as the favourites in three of the five seats – ended up winning only one of them, and a good case could be made that they only won that seat because they had a very strong candidate. The PCs ran weaker candidates in London West and Ottawa South, the other two ridings were they were thought of as favourites. They banked on the Liberal government’s unpopularity and voters’ disgust with Liberal governance and the Liberal scandals to ride a wave of opposition in those seats, notwithstanding their rather weak candidates with lower name recognition.
Nevertheless, the PCs can certainly be happy with their victory in Etobs. The PCs have been shut out of the city of Toronto (the 416) since the 2003 McGuinty landslide, and they did very poorly in most urban Toronto ridings in the 2011 election, suffering from a perception that Tim Hudak was too right-wing. With the same leader, they showed that they could still be competitive to the point of winning within the 416, and that can only be good news for them. It remains to be seen, however, if their win in Etobs is largely the result of a strong, local candidate or if the the PCs are truly on the upswing in the 416 (Scarborough-Guildwood results would, however, tend to disprove that idea).
Besides, even though the PCs did poorly and only increased their popular vote results by a few points at best outside of Etobs, they can argue (and they would be correct, in good part) that just gaining those ‘few points’ province-wide in the next provincial election would be enough for them to gain enough seats to form government. However, if the PCs are to be forming government, they would certainly need to win seats like London West across the province. These by-elections kind of show that they’re still unable to do that.
The PCs poor showing has led to a new round of leadership speculation about Tim Hudak. Hudak didn’t do a very good job in the 2011 election – he could have won that election, but largely through his own poorly-managed and orchestrated campaign, he lost although he did significantly improve on the Tories’ horrible 2003 and 2007 results. Those improvements allowed him to survive a leadership review in 2012 with 79% approval.
However, the poor by-election results has reopened rumblings. Many argue that these results, along with Kitchener-Waterloo/Vaughan in 2012 and the 2011 election, show that Hudak doesn’t have what it takes to win: he’s too conservative for some (too close to Mike Harris/the Common Sense Revolution and that controversial legacy), others say that, alas, he doesn’t have Harris’ political acumen and charisma. Indeed, it is true that Hudak has had trouble communicating his party’s message since 2011, and the election results show that. He doesn’t seem to be able to connect with voters. Even by continuously pounding on the Liberals for the corruption and perceived mismanagement/incompetence, he hasn’t been able to hit a chord with voters outside the Tory base.
Ten London-based PC members have apparently signed a petition asking for an amendment to party bylaws to allow for a leadership review this year; they claim that they’re supported by a few PC MPPs – Frank Klees and the very conservative ‘maverick’ Randy Hillier have openly supported those ‘grassroots’ efforts to force a leadership review. Both of them ran in the 2009 PC leadership convention against Hudak. Neither is openly hostile to Hudak’s leadership, but they argue that having an impromptu leadership review now would defuse tensions. Hudak has rejected all calls for a leadership review, spinning the by-election results by playing up the win in Etobs and downplaying the NDP’s upset over his party in London West as the result of ‘union muscle’. Hudak, despite some grassroots rumblings, does remain in a fairly solid position as leader. It’s very unlikely that he’ll be toppled by the malcontents within the PCs. He retains strong support within the PC caucus, and even from federal Tory MPs from the province (such as foreign minister John Baird).
It’s clear that the big losers are the Liberals. They can take solace in the fact that they won two instead of one or even zero of the five ridings up, and that the official opposition – the PCs – still fell flat on their faces, in large part. Indeed, the Liberals did manage to beat the extremely low expectations set for them. They held Ottawa South, hence escaping a very symbolic defeat in their longtime leaders’ home turf. They did fairly ‘well’ in both 416 ridings, although they lost one to the PCs.
Nevertheless, the Liberals remain the big losers of the by-elections. It’s a bad start for Kathleen Wynne’s government, showing that voters haven’t really warmed up to her after souring on McGuinty, and that voters haven’t dissociated her government from McGuinty’s government. They lost three ridings, and they placed extremely poor thirds in two of those ridings (even if they had won both of them by over 10 points in 2011). Basically, on these by-election results, we could assume that the Liberals are dropping like flies outside of Ottawa and the 416/GTA. If they place third with such horrible numbers throughout SW Ontario (and probably northern Ontario and most of central/eastern Ontario), especially in must-win ridings like London West, then they’ve almost certainly lost the next election and probably lost official opposition as well. To be fair, however, the Liberals wrote off Windsor-Tecumseh nearly from the get-go and they realized in July that their ‘star candidate’ Ken Coran was a shipwreck and they conceded that race too, throwing it all on the two 416 ridings and Ottawa South.
Furthermore, even if the Liberal results in Etobs and Scarborough were not bad, comparatively, they face a strong threat from both the PCs and NDP in their ‘Toronto fortress’. If the PCs can repeat their Etobs results elsewhere in the 416 (and 905), then they would pick up seats like York Centre, Willowdale, Etobs Centre or Eglinton-Lawrence. If the NDP can repeat their Scarborough-Guildwood performance, they could pick up seats like York South-Weston, Scarborough-Rouge River and Scarborough-Southwest. Even the Liberals’ so-called Toronto fortress is showing some pretty fatal cracks on these by-election numbers.
Part of this is of the Liberals’ own making. After all, they’re the ones in government – and they’ve been there for ten years, and even Liberal supporters are forced to admit that, especially since 2011, their party has had a big share of serious, damaging scandals and governance screw-ups. Wynne hasn’t been able to shift focus away from those scandals either. On the other hand, they’ve been also been dragged down by the knock-on effects of the recession and Ontario’s economic woes, and by inevitable voter fatigue after ten years in government.
The Liberals certainly face a huge uphill battle in the next election, which will probably be sometime in 2014. Winning a fourth term, which hasn’t been done since the bygone days of the Big Blue Machine, will be extremely tough. Scandals, economic woes, a strong sense that the Liberals have had too many screw-ups in government and voter fatigue will drag down the Liberals like never before. Even with a new face at the helm, it will hard to resist what is perhaps inevitable after ten years in power. That being said, the provincial Liberals are not in the same dire straits as their federal counterparts were in back in 2011. Dalton McGuinty was supposed to lose the 2011 election, and spring/summer polling in 2011 was particularly brutal for the Liberals. Yet, he defied the odds and won, although with a much reduced mandate.
Besides, by-elections are what they are – by-elections. Especially by-elections in early August. Low turnout creates different dynamics and forces than in regular general elections, where turnout is at least a bit higher (considering how low even general election turnout has been as of late). Those more likely to vote in by-elections often tend to be particularly worked up voters eager to vote with their middle fingers and send a mid-term message to the government of the day. While by-elections still remain good predictor of popular opinion between elections, they’re only imperfect guides.
For example, Pierre Trudeau’s federal Liberal government scheduled no less than fifteen by-elections on the same day in October 1978, a few months before the May 1979 federal election. His government being quite unpopular, the Liberals lost all but one of the seven constituencies out of those 15 which they held (and gained one, in Quebec). The PCs gained all but one of those seven lost seats. One might have thought that the Liberals would lose the 1979 federal election in a landslide. They lost, but it was close (thanks to a strong campaign and a weak PC leader); Joe Clark’s PCs only won a minority government, infamously ill-fated.
The table below shows the results of August 1st’ five by-elections – looking at raw votes, not percentages. Looking only at percentages in by-elections can be misleading because of significantly lower turnout.
Table 1: Results of the August 1, 2013 Ontario provincial by-elections by raw votes and turnout
This alternative look at the results allows us to nuance our conclusions a bit. The NDP are the clear winners here, given that they increased their raw vote in 3/5 ridings despite much lower turnout in all five ridings. In London West, for example, although turnout was 12.7k votes lower than in 2011, the NDP gained over 4,700 votes from their performance in the 2011 election.
The chart also shows that the Greens had a not a too-shabby night on the whole. They’re not a relevant force, and they didn’t seem to put much attention (or resources) on any of the five by-elections considering that none of these ridings (except perhaps London West) are promising for the Greens. They likely managed to gain a few hundred votes from 2011 Liberal voters. I’m not sure if the Ontario Greens have adopted the federal party and the BC Greens’ rather lucrative micro-targeting strategy which is, with FPTP, their best shot at winning seats (although not their best shot at maximizing their popular vote share throughout the province).
The chart also shows that the PCs did indeed have a mediocre night, at best. They only gained votes in one riding, Etobs. Elsewhere, even if their popular vote went up in three of those four ridings, they lost over 1,000 votes from their 2011 results. In London West, the PCs lost over 2,400 votes despite increasing their percentage by 3.3%. Therefore, with the exception of Etobs where PC star candidate Doug Holyday was likely able to directly win (‘switch over’) a good number of 2011 Liberal voters (this isn’t surprising – Etobs has more elastic voting patterns, and a lot of middle-class suburbanites switch their votes between Tories and Grits on a regular basis – after all, Rob Ford certainly won a good number of provincial Liberal voters in Etobs and elsewhere in the city in 2010!), the PCs most likely held on to their base in the other ridings. Of course, it’s impossible to prove this – it’s quite possible that a lot of 2011 PC voters stayed home, partially compensated by some Liberal malcontents voting PC, although I don’t think such behaviour was massive in these five by-elections.
We didn’t need this chart to tell us that the Liberals were the major losers. They bled a huge amount of votes in all five ridings, losing the least in the two seats they held and losing the most in London West and Windsor-Tecumseh. However, from this chart and comparing Liberal loses to gain/loses by the PCs/NDP and fall in turnout, we can come to a tentative conclusion that the Liberals lost not so much because their voters directly went to the PCs or NDP, but rather because they stayed home. The Liberals obviously lost some 2011 supporters to the PCs in Etobs and to the NDP in London West, Windsor-Tecumseh and Scarborough-Guildwood.
An unpopular party’s voters opting to stay home in a by-election or other off-year/mid-term election is not uniquely Canadian nor even remotely surprising. It is also slightly less fatal than an unpopular party’s voters opting to turn out for another party in a a by-election or off-year/mid-term ballot; they can always be re-motivated to show up when stakes are high in the regular election. They’re dissatisfied with their party of choice, but the other parties haven’t convinced them enough to ditch their old party for them instead, or they’re not ready (or dissatisfied enough) to ditch their former partisan home.
Again, correlation isn’t causation and I don’t want to firmly conclude that Liberal voters stayed home en masse and just didn’t vote for other parties. There’s no way for me to find out who exactly turned out and who didn’t, and who those ‘lost voters’ had voted for in 2011. Besides, five ridings isn’t close to being a scientifically valid sample. But, just for kicks, there’s a 0.92 correlation (very strong) between Liberal vote loses and fall in turnout from 2011.
Regardless, these mid-summer by-elections were exciting, interesting and still pretty relevant to Ontarian provincial politics. And congratulations for making it all the way through this post.
A legislative by-election was held in the Lot-et-Garonne’s 3rd constituency in France on June 16 and 23, 2013. The constituency’s deputy, Jérôme Cahuzac (Socialist Party, PS), was compelled to resign his seat on April 16, 2013 after having been removed from Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government on March 19, 2013. In France’s semi-presidential system, a sitting deputy relinquishes his legislative seat to his suppléant (running mate) once he enters government. Until 2008, upon leaving the government, the former deputy needed to run and win in a by-election to retrieve his seat in the National Assembly. Since a constitutional reform in 2008, the former deputy automatically regains his seats upon leaving the government. However, given the nature of the accusations against him which had forced him to leave the government, Cahuzac had little choice but to resign his seat as deputy, creating a vacancy.
French legislative elections or by-elections are fought on a two-round system. A candidate must win over 50% of valid votes representing at least 25% of registered voters to win outright by the first round. If a second round is organized, all candidates who have won over 12.5% of registered voters are qualified for the runoff; or, if no candidates meet this requirement, the top two candidates in the first round. In by-elections were turnout is almost always lows, this means that only the top two candidates will qualify.
Jérôme Cahuzac held this constituency between 1997 and 2002 and again between 2007 and 2012. Cahuzac gained a profile as a moderate and ‘expert’ on fiscal and budgetary issues, serving as president of the National Assembly’s finance commission after 2010. After having served in François Hollande’s campaign team in the 2012 presidential election, he was name junior minister for the budget in Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government in May 2012, after Hollande’s victory. With a reputation as an orthodox ‘budget hawk’, he was in charge of dealing with France’s large government deficit and public debt.
In December 2012, the online newspaper Mediapart accused Cahuzac of tax evasion, alleging that he had a hidden offshore account in Switzerland until 2010 (at which point it was closed and the money transferred to another account, in Singapore). Unwilling to reveal their sources, Cahuzac vehemently denied Mediapart‘s allegations and received the backing of the President and Prime Minister. At that point, Mediapart was running on the basis of a voice recording from 2000, a conversation between Cahuzac and his asset manager. This recording’s veracity was confirmed by sources close to Cahuzac and some of his former local political rivals. On March 19, 2013, a Parisian court opened a preliminary inquiry into suspicions of tax evasion. While continuing to claim his innocence, Cahuzac was removed from government that same day. On April 2, Cahuzac was indicted on a charge “laundering of tax fraud proceeds and money laundering of proceeds from a company whose products or services are covered by Social Security” and he was forced to admit, on his blog, that he did indeed hold 600,000 euros (likely more) in an offshore account. Swiss authorities had already discovered a bank account belonging to him.
President Hollande and Prime Minister Ayrault minced no words in disowning him, Hollande saying it was a “moral fault”. On April 9, Cahuzac was excluded from the PS. However, legitimate suspicions abound as to whether or not Hollande, Ayrault and the top echelons of the PS knew that Cahuzac had concealed his offshore account before he admitted to it himself. Mediapart claimed that the interior ministry authenticated the voice recording in a three-page report to the presidency; it also claimed that Cahuzac’s then-senior minister, Pierre Moscovici (minister of the economy and finances) intervened in January 2013 to protect Cahuzac.
The Cahuzac affair, the first major scandal for the new Socialist government, could not have come at a worst time for the government. A bit over a year after taking office, President Hollande’s disapproval rating stands at 70% (!) and his Prime Minister’s disapproval ratings only slightly better at 65-67%. This is the lowest approval rating for any President after a year in office, and approaching all-time lows for presidential unpopularity (mid to low 20s).
A large part of this unpopularity stems from the politcal and economic conjuncture. France is wracked with high unemployment (over 10%), an economy in recession and a very large public debt (90%). At least some of France’s economic woes are beyond the government’s control, although voters will invariably lay the blame on a poor economy on whoever has the bad luck of being in power. It is likely that if President Nicolas Sarkozy had won reelection in May 2012, his approval ratings would be just as low as Hollande’s. However, the economic crisis has only aggravated matters and a good part of this government’s unpopularity is of its own making.
At times, the government has been a bit like a deer in the headlights when it comes to dealing with the economic crisis. It has been seen as powerless, lost and incompetent in its handling of the economy. The right has criticized the ‘amateurism’ and jumbled response of the government and denounced high taxes. Many on the left, however, also dislike the government. Hollande and the PS won the 2012 election on a fairly anti-austerity platform full with flowery rhetoric about ‘growth’ and nice things, but once in power it has largely continued Sarkozy’s austerity policies (disguised as ‘efforts’ because austerity is unpronounceable by governments since the 1980s). Hollande approved the European Fiscal Compact without any substantial changes, despite having pledged to renegotiate it. His government has implemented harsh austerity measures, including tax increases and spending/job cuts in the public sector. The Constitutional Council has also forced him to scrap, entirely, his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over a million euros. With good reason, many on the left feel that Hollande’s policies are no different than his predecessor’s policies.
Other election promises – constitutional reforms, cracking down on dual office holding (cumul des mandats) and so forth – have been watered down or indefinitely delayed. The government was successful in passing its landmark same-sex marriage and adoption law in May 2013, but it was passed at the price of riling up social conservative and Catholic public opinion in the form of enormous anti-gay marriage rallies.
On the symbolic aspect of things, Hollande had made a big deal of Sarkozy’s centralizing, autocratic and flashy presidential style and he famously presented himself as the ‘normal President’ in contrast to the ‘hyper-President’. Yet, the symbolic changes at that level have been slow to come. The ‘normal president’ mantra was quickly dropped. By choosing his close ally Jean-Marc Ayrault as Prime Minister, Hollande signaled that he was continuing in Sarkozy’s, rather than Mitterrand’s, footsteps by choosing a close ally and partner as Prime Minister. While the left criticized Sarkozy for sidelining the Prime Minister and concentrating powers in the executive branch, Hollande has done largely the same. Ayrault, a year later, appears effaced and a mere ‘sidekick’ in comparison to his President.
Within the government, there has often been cacophony and public disagreements between cabinet ministers, which Ayrault has struggled to deal with. Cabinet solidarity appears to be quite shaky. For example, Arnaud Montebourg – the minister of industry and a leader of the PS’ left-wing faction – told Ayrault that he was managing France like the municipal council in Nantes (Ayrault was mayor of Nantes before becoming Prime Minister) and that he was ‘pissing off’ everybody with the controversial new airport project on the outskirts of Nantes (which Ayrault strongly supports, along with most of the PS, but not Montebourg and the Greens). Ayrault confirmed Montebourg’s insubordination but he was not fired. There have also been internal disagreements between the PS and its most demanding junior partner, the Greens (EELV) – which is seriously considering leaving the governing coalition. The Left Front (FG) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Communist Party (PCF) have been vocal critics of government policies.
There have been eight legislative by-elections since the last legislative elections (seven of them actually ‘count’ because Wallis-et-Futuna has no impact on national politics and vice-versa – the ‘right-winger’ backed by the UMP who won that by-election now sits with the PS…). The PS held four of these eight seats, and it has lost all of them. It was eliminated by the first round in two seats it already held and in two other seats in which it was the main challenger in 2012.
The first ‘mid-term’ electoral test for the government will be municipal elections in March 2014, followed by European elections in June 2014. The left might manage to hold on fairly well in the municipal elections, but European elections are usually brutal for the governing party and the PS will likely take a massive thumping. Many assume that Hollande will change Prime Ministers after the Euros in June 2014.
Lot-et-Garonne’s third constituency includes the northeastern region of the Lot-et-Garonne, the region centered around Villeneuve-sur-Lot. The constituency includes the cantons of Beauville, Cancon, Castillonnès, Fumel, Laroque-Timbaut, Monclar, Monflanquin, Penne-d’Agenais, Prayssas, Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot, Tournon-d’Agenais, Villeneuve-sur-Lot Nord, Villeneuve-sur-Lot Sud and Villeréal. Its boundaries have remained unchanged since 1986.
This is a predominantly small town constituency, with some more rural and sparsely populated regions. Villeneuve-sur-Lot, with a population of 23,530 is the largest city in the constituency. Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot (pop. 6,410) and Fumel (pop. 5,186) are the two other major towns in the constituency, although a good number of towns have over 2,000 inhabitants. In general, the main centres of population are concentrated along the Lot river, which flows through the constituency and its three largest communes. The ‘inland’ communes tend to be rural, isolated from major urban centres. Historically an agricultural region, the constituency nowadays tends to be lower middle-class, with a large blue-collar (ouvriers and employees) population and a high percentage (36%) of retirees.
Historically, the department (and this constituency) was rural and agricultural – wheat, wines, fruits and vegetables being the dominant crops in the department. As recently as 1968, agriculteurs (farmers who owned and work their land) still made up a plurality of the working population in most of the constituency, excluding the major cities and the Fumélois. The Lot-et-Garonne’s social structure was a mix of smallholdings and métayage (a form of sharecropping), although métayage was more dominant in the Marmandais (the western half of the department). Agriculture declined significantly after the Second World War, continuing a rural exodus which had begun in the mid-nineteenth century and continued into the 1970s, although urban areas grew considerably after the 1920s.
The exception to the agricultural nature of the constituency was found in the three main urban centres. Villeneuve-sur-Lot has always served as an important commercial centre by virtue of its geographic location on the Lot river. Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot’s economy has been more closely tied to its rural surroundings. Fumel and its immediate surroundings, located at the eastern extremity of the constituency along the Lot river, has had a large iron working/metallurgical industry since the 1850s. Some rural areas, however, have some industrial backbone as well – construction, small businesses and so forth.
After the Algerian War and Algerian independence (1962), a large number (about 20,000) of pieds noirs and harki refugees settled in the Lot and Garonne valleys. In the interwar years, the region had already received Italian and Spanish immigrants.
Politically, this region of the department has been a closely disputed bellwether since the 1980s. The Communist Party (PCF), which was extremely powerful in the Marmandais as early as the mid-1920s until 1981, was never as strong in the Villeneuvois, although it did fairly well in the industrialized Fumélois and in some rural cantons in the north. Instead, the constituency remained dominated by notables and moderate ‘bourgeois parties’ – Georges Leygues, a centre-right republican who served President of the Council between September 1920 and January 1921, held the continuously seat between 1885 and 1933. The Radical Party, the epitome of the parti de notables which dominated small-town republican and anti-clerical areas such as this one for decades, was rather strong in the region as well. In 1958, a former Radical-turned-Gaullist (Jacques Raphaël-Leygues, none other than Georges Leygues’ grandson) won this seat for the Gaullist UNR. He was defeated in 1962 by Édouard Schloesing, a moderate Radical who refused the Programme commun with the PS and PCF in 1972 and was reelected – one last time – in 1973 for the centrist ‘Reformist Movement’ (MR). The first left-winger to represent the constituency was Marcel Garrouste, a Socialist elected in 1978, 1981 and 1988.
Nevertheless, the left – echoing a long Radical tradition which retained leftist overtones for quite some time – dominated presidential politics until 1981. Mitterrand easily won the constituency in 1965, 1974 and 1981 – on the current boundaries, he won 55.8% of the vote in 1981. The substantial shift away from the left came in one shot – in 1988, Mitterrand actually performed below his national average in the seat, winning only 52.8% in the second round. Since then, numbers have been stabilized – the constituency is a pure bellwether. The results in presidential elections since 1995 have been remarkably close to national numbers: 53.2% for Chirac in 1995, 53.7% for Sarkozy in 2007 and 51.8% for Hollande in 2012. Even in the first rounds, with the exception of the far-right which tends to be a few points above average and the Greens and far-left who are a few points below, the numbers for the PCF, PS, UDF and RPR-UMP have been very similar to national numbers.
What explains the sudden shift away from the left, between 1981 and 1988? The left-wing anti-clerical and republican tradition which had prevailed for over a hundred years declined, with a rural exodus, urbanization and social dislocation bred by such changes. This was likely aggravated by the economic crisis of the 1980s. Immigration became a major issue in this region starting around the same time. The region’s strong fruit and vegetable industry has always required a large seasonal workforce. While these roles were often filled by Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese in the 1960s and 1970s, they were progressively replaced by Moroccan and other North African immigrants. The constituency has a fairly large foreign population (6%), although some of those ‘foreign nationals’ are British or other EU citizens who settled in rural southern France.
Each main party’s strength is almost evenly distributed throughout the constituency. In the 2012 runoff, Hollande did best in the cantons of Fumel (59.6%) and Tournon-d’Agenais (57.7%) – both industrialized (metal) areas in the Fumélois; but in all other cantons, his support ranged from 47% to 54%. Similarly, Marine Le Pen’s support was fairly evenly spread – she did not do significantly worse in major cities (she won 23% in Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot, although she performed a bit below average in the other towns) and her support ranged from 19% to 23%. The FN traditionally tends to be strong along the Lot and Garonne rivers, a region mixing Pieds-Noirs with seasonal immigration, fruit/vegetable farms and small businesses (a perfect recipe for a strong FN vote); but in 2012, Marine Le Pen improved on past far-right performances in the more rural ‘inland’ cantons.
Villeneuve-sur-Lot, like many similar commercial and rather bourgeois towns in the old Radical southwest, was a Gaullist stronghold until 2001 – in many elections (such as 1981), the right’s strength was concentrated in Villeneuve-sur-Lot while the left prevailed in the surrounding rural areas. It has since shifted to the left. In 1998, Jérôme Cahuzac gained the canton of Villeneuve-sur-Lot-Sud and he gained the town hall from the RPR’s Michel Gonelle in a triangulaire in 2001. He was reelected by the first round in 2008. Hollande narrowly won Villeneuve-sur-Lot in the 2012 runoff.
As a rural area, the Chasse, pêche, nature et traditions (CPNT) did very well in the constituency in the 1990s. It won 10.1% in the 1999 European elections, and CPNT presidential candidate Jean Saint-Josse did rather well in isolated rural cantons in 2002 – up to 19% support.
The PS narrowly held the seat in the 1988 legislative elections, with former deputy Marcel Garrouste. However, Garrouste retired prior to the catastrophic 1993 elections. Hurt by the atypical candidacy of Anne Carpentier, owner of a satirical local paper, the PS found itself eliminated by the first round and the second round was a fraternal runoff between the UDF mayor of Monflanquin, Daniel Soulage, and the RPR mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Michel Gonelle. Soulage won a by a hair. In 1997, however, the PS – with Jérôme Cahuzac – staged its revenge and narrowly defeated Soulage (UDF) in the runoff, with 50.7% for Cahuzac. In 2002, the pendulum swung back to the right – Alain Merly, the UDF-UMP mayor of Prayssas, defeated Cahuzac in the runoff, with 51.8%. Merly served only one term, retiring before the 2007 election. Cahuzac, trying to regain his old seat, faced Jean-Louis Bruguière, a famous counter-terrorism magistrate. Cahuzac defeated Bruguière in the second round, winning 52.1%.
The 2012 election was different from all others. Jérôme Cahuzac, who had just been named to cabinet and was riding on wave of notoriety (and popularity), won a record 46.9% by the first round and steamrolled the UMP’s candidate, Jean-Louis Costes, in the second round with 61.5%. Cahuzac likely received a substantial local boost from his nomination to cabinet, a ‘cabinet effect’ which benefited a few other of his (former) colleagues in June 2012.
No less than seventeen candidates faced off in the first round of the by-election.
The UMP candidate, as in June 2012, was Jean-Louis Costes, the mayor and general councillor for (the strongly left-wing) Fumel and the leader of the departmental opposition in the general council. Jean-Louis Costes appears to be on his party’s right – he is a close sympathizer of the Mouvement initiative et liberté (MIL), a hardright Gaullist movement known for its strongly anti-leftist, anti-immigration and anti-Islam attitudes. Its ranks include the likes of Bernard Debré, Yves Guéna, Charles Pasqua and Jean Tiberi. He faced some minor right-wing dissidents, including Joffrey Raphaël-Leygues, the 18-year old grandson of former UNR deputy Jacques Raphaël-Leygues (and great-great-grandson of Georges Leygues), who ran as an ‘extreme centrist’ (I really love that).
The PS candidate was Bernard Barral, a retired 66-year old businessman. The left was shaken up for a few weeks in early-mid May by persistent rumours that Jérôme Cahuzac would seek to regain his old seat as a PS dissident candidate. Cahuzac has taken his ‘forced’ resignation and subsequent lynching by his former colleagues quite badly – while he has admitted that he did have an offshore account, he doesn’t seem to think that it was a big deal and he feels that he has been betrayed by his old party and colleagues. He seems quite intent on taking his revenge, and he is out for blood – particularly Socialist blood. In early May, he apparently surveyed the ground for a potential dissident candidacy and said – with such chutzpah – that “some are speaking for me without a mandate to do so”. A poll by LH2 showed that he would have won 11% as a dissident candidate. He ultimately decided against running, but it’s quite clear that he intends to stage a comeback – perhaps in the 2014 local elections in Villeneuve-sur-Lot. The PS also faced FG and EELV candidates.
The FN candidate was 23-year old Etienne Bousquet-Cassagne, the departmental secretary (leader) of the FN in the department. Bousquet-Cassagne symbolizes a new generation of FN candidates being promoted by the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen. Seeking to assert her control over the party, sideline the ‘old guard’ and sanitize the far-right’s image (dédiabolisation), she has been promoting a new generation of young leaders and candidates to prominent roles in the FN’s leadership (Florian Philippot, a 31-year old Gaullist technocrat, is the FN’s vice-president and rising star). This strategy has ruffled a lot of feathers and displeased the more radical (neo-fascist) old guard of the FN, but it is quite irrelevant in the electoral scheme of things – FN dissidents have invariably been crushed and killed off by the FN leadership since 1998.
There was also a slew of perennial candidates – most of whom didn’t actually live in the department, let alone the constituency. Nicolas Miguet, leader of the anti-tax ‘Rally of French Taxpayers’ (RCF) and tax fraudster, ran here. You also had a monarchist candidate, a libertarian, one for the far-left (NPA), a Pirate and a few other jokers.
Turnout was 45.88%, down from 64.16% in 2007 but nonetheless an excellent turnout for a by-election.
Jean-Louis Costes (UMP) 28.71% (+1.71%)
Etienne Bousquet-Cassagne (FN) 26.04% (+10.33%)
Bernard Barral (PS) 23.69% (-23.17%)
Marie-Hélène Loiseau (FG) 5.08% (+0.58%)
Anne Carpentier (Parti d’en rire) 3.28%
Lionel Feuillas (EELV) 2.78% (+0.75%)
Yamina Kichi (MoDem) 2.33%
Benoît Frison-Roche (DVD) 2.32%
Hervé Lebreton (SE) 1.69%
Joffrey-Raphaël Leygues (DVC) 1.44%
Maria-Fé Garay (NPA) 1.11% (+0.46%)
François Asselineau (UPR) 0.58%
Nicolas Miguet (RCF) 0.42%
Cédric Levieux (Pirate) 0.19%
Stéphane Geyres (Libertarian) 0.17%
Michel Garcia-Luna (AR) 0.16%
Rachid Nekkaz (RSD) 0.00% (0 votes!)
Turnout in the second round was 52.47%. Blancs et nuls votes (invalid) stood at 7.48%, up from 2.18% in the first round.
Jean-Louis Costes (UMP) 53.76%
Etienne Bousquet-Cassagne (FN) 46.24%
The PS candidate was eliminated by the first round, similar to what happened in March in the Oise’s 2nd constituency. In this case, however, it is even worse. The Oise result was bad for the PS, no doubt about that, but it was a right-wing constituency (and one which has been moving rightwards consistently since 1981) – Sarkozy won 56% in the runoff there and Hollande had placed third in the first round with only 22% of the vote. This constituency, however, is a bellwether constituency (not a left-wing stronghold as the 2012 results indicate). Of the seven ‘normal’ by-elections since June 2012 (again, excluding idiosyncratic Wallis-et-Futuna), this is the first one in a seat which Hollande won in the runoff.
After losing in the Oise, the PS lost two by-elections in constituencies for French citizens living abroad. The PS did, all things considered, fairly well in the first constituency (United States and Canada), winning 25% (with an additional 7.4% for the EELV candidate, who had backed the PS in 2012) and saving face (despite losing) in the second round with 46.8%. But that was probably due, in large part, to the flukes of low turnout (13%) and the personality of the UMP’s candidate, Frédéric Lefebvre – a former junior cabinet minister under Sarkozy who had been parachuted into the constituency in June 2012, much to the distaste of the local right-wing networks. Although Frédéric Lefebvre managed to win the seat in the by-election, his result was nothing to write home about.
However, the result for the PS in the eight constituency (Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel) was disastrous – in a seat which it had won in 2012 (but that was a huge fluke), it was eliminated by the first round with only 14.6% of the vote. But while that was a bad result, no doubt about it, the PS’ victory in June 2012 owed a lot to the fraternal (Israel-induced) divisions of the right. Hollande had won 37% in that constituency in the May 2012 runoff, with Sarkozy handily winning on the back of quasi-unanimous support (around 90%) in Israel. The UMP candidate in June 2012, who ran again in the by-election, was accused by a right-wing dissident of being too pro-Palestinian (even if she was quite pro-Israeli, just not to the extent of the dissident in question), and the dissident went on to back the PS in the second round. In the by-election, the PS was hurt by a EELV candidate who drew a lot of left-wing/PS voters away in Greece, and it was eliminated by the first round – the runoff was a fraternal battle between the UMP’s Valérie Hoffenberg and Meyer Habib, running for Jean-Louis Borloo’s ostensibly centre-right Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI). Meyer Habib, who was publicly endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, won the second round with 53.4%.
The PS’ result is beyond disastrous. To be fair, commentary on the loss of nearly half of their votes from June 2012 (or -23.2% in percentage terms) should be tempered by the observation that the PS’ result in June 2012 was abnormally high given the constituency’s swingy nature – a lot of those votes were likely fairly non-ideological personal votes for Cahuzac, who, back then, was something of a rising star and quite popular both in his constituency and France as a whole. Cahuzac’s 46.9% in the first round in June 2012 should not be interpreted as a sign that this is a solidly left-wing seat or that 46% represents the average share for the PS. Nevertheless, even when compared to more ‘normal’ results – 2007, 2002 and 1997 – it is clear that the PS has taken quite a tumble. In 2007, Cahuzac won 37.6% in the first round. In 2002, he had won 34% and in 1997 he had taken 27.6% (his gains between 1997 and 2002 likely came from the PCF and the Greens, whose votes collapsed in 2002). Another reference point for comparison might be presidential and regional elections: in 2012, Hollande won 27.6% in the first round in the constituency; in 2010, the PS list had won 33.8% in the constituency for the first round of regional elections; in 2007, Royal won 25.8% in the first round.
As in the last by-elections, an important share of the PS’ 2012/2007 voters likely did not vote in the by-election. However, unlike in past by-elections, the first round results do not indicate a clear correlation between higher abstention and a higher share for the left either in the by-election or in 2012. In fact, turnout was generally lower where the FN did best. Furthermore, abstention in the first round (54%) was much lower here than in the Oise (67%) – sure, the Oise is more abstentionist by nature, but we might have expected that turnout would be rather low here considering circumstances: a large left-wing electorate (one much larger than in the Oise) tempted to not show up, a little-known PS candidate and the stench associated with the Cahuzac scandal.
We may reasonably assume that some ‘lost’ PS voters did in fact turn out, but voted for other leftist/left-leaning candidates: either the FG or EELV candidates but also Anne Carpentier, the aforementioned left-inclined satirical candidate who won 3.3% in the first round (more than the EELV candidate). There is some evidence, it would seem, that the FN’s strongest gains came from precincts where the left had done well in its happier days – the PS will hate to admit it, but some of its past voters voted for the FN this year.
As always, analysis of this election is clouded by partisanship, mindless blabbering by the inevitable self-proclaimed ‘experts’ and journalists who have no clue about elections coming up with their grand theories. One particular factor merits attention, to help explain the PS’ catastrophic result. The PS leadership has preferred to go the easy way out, finding scapegoats for its (largely self-induced) defeat: the Greens split the vote (reasonable, but the PS-FN gap was 770 votes and EELV won 914 votes, meaning that 84% of the EELV’s voters would have needed to vote PS for it to qualify) and it’s all Cahuzac’s fault. Cahuzac likely contributed to aggravating the situation for the PS, but the PS’ defeat was self-induced, by external (the government’s unpopularity, the crisis) and internal factors.
At the local level, the PS had a mediocre candidate who lacked an obvious geographic base in the constituency. Cahuzac had a local base in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, and he did a few points better in Villeneuve-sur-Lot than the constituency as a whole. Jean-Louis Costes, the UMP’s candidate, is mayor and general councillor of Fumel, a strongly left-wing town (62% Hollande). This hadn’t been of much help against Cahuzac in June 2012, although he did manage to hold Cahuzac down to 56% in Fumel (the commune). However, in a by-election against a little-known PS candidate with no similar local implantation, this was a major boon for Costes: he won 49.8% in the canton of Fumel, against 22% for the PS and 15.2% for the FN. In contrast, Barral (PS) peaked at only 28% in Tournon-d’Agenais and his support generally ranged from 20% to 25% in almost every other canton.
The UMP’s result, by itself, was nothing exceptional. In past by-elections, despite the unpopularity of UMP president Jean-François Copé since the November 2012 kerfuffle, the UMP’s vote had increased by a fairly substantial margin in the first round – on average by 7 or 8%. The only exception was the last by-election in the 8th foreign constituency, but that was most likely due to the right’s eternal internecine warfare there and very low turnout. Yet, in the Lot-et-Garonne, Costes won only 28.7% – only a marginal improvement on his 27% from June 2012, a result which had been very poor – in 2007, the UMP won 42% in the first round and in 2002, 30%. Some right-wing votes were probably dispersed between the many minor right-wing/centrist candidates and, to a certain extent, the FN.
The Left Front (FG) was, once again, unable to benefit from the PS’ collapse – its candidate won only 5.1%, a minor improvement (0.6%) on a fairly paltry showing in 2012. This harks back to two episodes where the PCF was in opposition to a PS government – from 1984 to 1986 and from 1988 to 1993. However, in both cases, the PCF was only able to stop the bleeding – it did not gain (a significant amount of) votes.
In the second round, Costes (UMP) won with 53.8%, a slightly wider margin than the UMP’s victory in Oise-2 (51.4%) and, on the whole, a fairly good result for the UMP given that the FN had a lot of momentum going into the runoff and many were wondering whether or not the FN would be able to pull off an upset victory.
Nevertheless, it is another excellent result for the FN – after gaining 10 points from 2012 in the first round, the FN increased its vote in the runoff by some 20 points (nearly 8,000 additional votes). What is more, unlike in the Oise-2, the FN candidate won more votes in the runoff (15,647) than Marine Le Pen had won herself in April 2012 (some 13,000). The UMP candidate gained 8,762 votes between the two rounds.
While left>FN transfers undeniably exist, the June 2012 legislative election showed that they were far less significant than right>FN transfers. In 9 right/FN runoffs in the last legislative election, there was only a weak correlation (0.21) between left-wing strength in the first round and FN gains between both rounds; there was, however, a 0.64 correlation between left-wing strength and a decline in voter turnout between between both rounds. Turnout declined by an average of 8% in the 9 right/FN battles in June, it only increased by 1.2% in left/FN battles. The percentage of voters who turned out in the runoff but cast blank or invalid votes was also very high (over 10%) in right/FN runoffs.
However, as in Oise-2, turnout increased (pretty significantly here, to the point where turnout was higher than abstention) between both rounds although there was, a large increase in invalid votes. Once again, this begs the question – where did the FN’s nearly 8,000 new voters come from?
In the Oise, an ecological inference analysis by Joël Gombin had found that 43% of the PS candidate’s first round voter had voted for the FN candidate in the runoff, with the remnants split between staying home, invalid votes and the UMP. However, a study done by the PS federation in the department disproved this ‘transfer’ theory in favour of the ‘substitution’ theory which holds that there was a significant change in the composition of the electorate between the two rounds, with first round leftists not voting being compensated by a large increase in turnout on the far-right. Analyzing 84% of the listes d’émargement (signing sheets where voters sign their initials after casting their ballot), the PS found that there was a large change in the electorate – about 4,700 first round voters did not vote a week later, but about 6,350 voters who had voted in the first round did so in the second round. This observation was more in line with the results of the 9 right/FN runoff in June 2012.
It is quite possible that the same thing happened in the Lot-et-Garonne, but there is also a strong possibility that a significant number of left-wing voters from the first round voted FN in the second round. If this was true, this would be a major defeat for the old strategy of the ‘republican front’ (anti-FN alliances). Unlike in the Oise, where the local PS candidate had not endorsed either the UMP or the FN candidate, the PS here endorsed the UMP candidate and Costes – fairly ironically given how he’s on his party’s right (MIL) – embraced the ‘republican front’. The ‘republican front’ strategy has been challenged and almost thoroughly discredited since 2010. On the one hand, the UMP no longer automatically endorses the left against the FN and many UMP leaders – Copé first and foremost – have had ambiguous statements on all this. The UMP nowadays tends to prefer the ni ni strategy – neither the left nor the FN – although the party remains split between a moderate faction of the ruling elite which still has sympathy for the ‘republican front’ and a more conservative activist base which has a large minority favouring open electoral alliances with the FN. The PS, meanwhile, still has a preference for the ‘republican front’ but the UMP’s strategy has unnerved it, to the point where some local PS candidates will endorse neither the UMP nor the FN. Recently, there were allegations that the PS in the Vaucluse covertly supported FN candidate (now deputy) Marion Maréchal-Le Pen by not withdrawing its candidate from the three-way runoff in which Marion Maréchal-Le Pen emerged victorious.
Finally, the continuation of a ‘republican front’ strategy tends to play right into the FN’s hand. A large part of Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric is denouncing the corrupt ‘UMPS’ elites – a message incessantly regurgitated by her new circle of obedient young leaders and candidates, including the FN candidate in this constituency. A ‘republican front’ between UMP and PS can easily be presented by the FN as ‘proof’ that both parties are, in reality, two sides of the same coin and are in cahoots with one another. And neither the UMP nor the PS try very hard to disprove that – PS deputies recently found common cause with UMP deputies in significantly watering down the government’s post-Cahuzac transparency and ethics legislation.
In the first round, the left (PS-FG-EELV) won around 10,400 votes (11,872 if you include Carpentier, the NPA and the Pirates). There were an additional 3,984 invalid votes in the second round, and we can safely assume that most of those were from left-wingers. 992 additional valid votes were cast in the second round. The UMP candidate gained 8,762 votes – the additional votes from the MoDem and the other right-wingers/centrists give him an additional 2,437 votes from the first round. There are therefore about 6,300 additional UMP votes which came from other ‘sources’. The FN candidate gained about 8,000 new votes. On these numbers, it would appear that the FN gained a large number of its additional votes from left-wing voters. But this is an extremely rudimentary and unscientific calculation. It can neither prove nor disprove the ‘transfer’ or ‘substitution’ theories.
As in the Oise-2, this by-election has shown two things – the PS is unpopular and faces an electoral drubbing if these numbers hold up in a national election; the FN is the only political force in the country which is truly on the upswing and it has proven that it has a remarkable ability to gain significant support from one round to another in duel runoffs. The cordon sanitaire is – in good part – gone. The FN has a far less ‘toxic’ image. Marine Le Pen’s dédiabolisation efforts are paying off, and many voters – left and right – are willing to vote for the FN over a more ‘acceptable’ party in the runoff when their preferred candidate is eliminated. We cannot treat voters as mathematical, rational and predictable individuals who can be expected to follow the directions given by their party of choice. Despite the strong enmity between national PS and FN leadership, there is some overlap between both parties. Some left-wing voters will prefer the FN over the right when faced with that choice.
The PS has lost four seats in by-elections, two of those were lost by the first round. PS candidates lost votes in all seven ‘normal’ by-elections, in all but one they lost a significant amount. The PS was eliminated by the first round in a total of four out of these seven by-elections. In France, midterm by-election loses for the governing party are the rule, so this is not particularly surprising although still quite spectacular.
Kyle Hutton is an avid reader of World Elections, and a Liberal blogger from Ontario, who runs a partisan blog at Blunt Objects, as well as a blog looking at historical elections in Canada at Canadian Psephos. You can follow him on Twitter here.
A federal by-election was held in Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador (also known as the “Big Land”) on May 13th, 2013, following the resignation of that riding’s Conservative MP Peter Penashue, who won the seat from the Liberals in a close race in 2011’s federal election.
Before we get into why the by-election was called, we must first understand some of the history and demographics that make up the Big Land.
Labrador is the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, taking up the eastern seaboard of the huge Labrador Peninsula, the large span of land that covers northern Quebec and Labrador, from the Hudson Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 30,000 permanent residents, and only two towns of significant size (Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Labrador City, both between 7,000-8,000 residents). Despite the small population, there is extensive industry in Labrador, ranging from large-scale iron-ore mining and hydro-electric projects in the west, to extensive logging and fisheries in the east. There is also a Canadian Forces air base located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though its importance to the military has declined significantly since its heyday in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when it served as a training base for several European air forces. Though 5-Wing Goose Bay and Search & Rescue services still use the base, Canadian Forces personnel there number under 100.
While Labrador is a mostly Anglophone and dominated by whites (who make up just over 62% of the population), there exists a large Aboriginal population that numbers around 38% according to the 2006 Census. Around 15% of Aboriginals lay claim to Inuit ancestry, while the rest are either Métis (15%) or undefined First Nations (7%). The Innu Nation is probably the largest and most well-known of the First Nations groups, representing many of the First Peoples communities in northern Quebec and Labrador (Nitassinan, or “Our Land”). Most of their members live in central Labrador, near Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though are spread throughout the district.
The Inuit of Labrador are somewhat split into two groups. The first live in the north of Labrador, in an area recognized by the Canadian and Newfoundland governments as an autonomous area known as “Nunatsiavut,” governed by their own council and somewhat similar to what Nunavut would have been like had it not become its own territory. The major settlement in Nunatsiavut is Nain, which numbers just under 2,000 people, though the claimed regions go as far south as Rigolet, which is at the mouth of Hamilton Inlet (that which feeds Lake Melville, the large basin in the middle of Labrador).
The second group of Inuit are actually a Métis group with heavy roots in Inuit culture, known as the NunatuKavummiut. Unlike their cousins in Nunatsiavut, however, their claimed territory of NunatuKavut, which takes up most of southeastern Labrador from Lake Melville to the coast, is unrecognized by either the federal or provincial government. Though they have a council and a President (led by former MP Todd Russell), they do not enjoy the same status as the northern Inuit. The largest town dominated by NunatuKavummiut is Cartwright, which has under 1,000 residents.
Labrador joined in Confederation in 1949 as a part of the province of Newfoundland, previous to which it had been a somewhat neglected northern district in a semi-independent British Dominion. Like the rest of the province, both the MHAs and MPs elected from Labrador for the first couple of decades after ‘49 were Liberals. This was mostly due to the phenomenon known as Joey Smallwood, who had led the province into Confederation and dominated its politics for years, though federal Liberals also heaped federal money on the region during their terms in power. Labrador was represented by Liberals continuously since 1949 to 2011, except for the brief stint of Ambrose Peddle between 1968-1972. In 1988, Labrador was molded into its own district despite being the least populated riding in Canada, which it remains to this day with only 27,000 residents, falling underneath the “distinct region” clause of Elections Canada’s redistribution rules.
Set amongst the background of the Liberal collapse, NDP rise, and Conservative majority built elsewhere in the country, Newfoundland and Labrador stuck out like something of a sore thumb on any map, returning four Liberal MPs from Central Newfoundland, two New Democrats from St. John’s, and of course, Peter Penashue in Labrador. Much of the reason for the lack of major Conservative momentum in the province was due to how damaged the Harper government had been damaged by former Premier Danny Williams’ – himself a Conservative – “Anything But Conservative” campaign, which encouraged voters in 2008’s federal election to reject the party for reneging on equalization payments to Newfoundland. The Conservatives, previously the main challengers to the Liberals in the province, dropped like a stone to only 16% support province-wide. The effects were pretty clearly felt in Labrador, where the Conservatives dropped from just under 40% in 2006 to 8% in 2008. Todd Russell, the Liberal MP since 2005, won with a whopping 70% support, though mostly on the back of low turnout (38.6%, or just 7,787 voters).
Enter in Peter Penashue, the former Grand Chief of the Innu Nation for a dozen years between the 1990’s and early 2000’s, as well as holder of various other leadership roles. The recruitment of Penashue by the Conservatives was a major coup, representing a major voting bloc in the riding and having an extremely high profile even amongst non-Innu. He had a profile equal to that of Russell’s, plus the backing of a Conservative establishment really pining for a win in the province. As we’ll see in a minute, he may have had too much backing for Elections Canada’s liking.
On May 2nd, Penashue battled in a tight race for the riding with Russell, with it being called for the latter prematurely by some media until they saw they had a race on their hands. In the end, Penashue won with a mere 79 votes, or roughly 1.7%, over Russell. Much of his win came from voters in Lake Melville region (basically, Central Labrador), where much of the Innu population lives, as well as support from the northern Inuit communities. He won 88% in the two Innu-dominated polls, and his support in those polls provided him with his margin of victory. Russell’s support ballooned in NunatuKavut polls, but came in second (or third) everywhere else. Finally, the NDP dominated in Labrador West – basically around Labrador City and Wabush (iron ore mining is important in the area), the NDP’s traditional base of support both provincially and federally.
Penashue’s Resignation and Re-Candidacy
Peter Penashue was named Intergovernmental Affairs Minister in the majority cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conseratives, as well as being Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in the government (by virtue of being the only Conservative from the province!). However, he ran into trouble following revelations that his 2011 campaign had taken nearly $28,000 in illegal campaign donations, usually in the form of free airplane trips (you need a plane to cover Labrador’s large and sparsely populated interior), as well as a $5,500 donation from a local construction company. This money was on top of roughly $44,000 that the Conservative Party had given Penashue’s campaign, as well as a loan from a local Innu business, run by his brother-in-law, interest-free, which is illegal under Canadian law.
Despite paying back Elections Canada for the illegal donations (and then some), as well as laying the blame at the feet of his rookie campaign manager in 2011, Penashue resigned from cabinet and his seat on March 14th. In a somewhat different twist, he also announced his candidacy for the by-election as a Conservative, hoping for redemption from Labrador’s electorate.
Penashue faced no opposition from the Conservative establishment in either Ottawa or Labrador, with Prime Minister Harper even calling the by-election rather quickly than in the past (for example, the last by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham, and Victoria weren’t held until three months after the last resignation). The date was set for May 13th, a day before the previously-announced date of the general election in British Columbia, causing some speculation that Harper was hoping to drown out a possible loss in Labrador to the expected NDP victory on the other side of the country.
Penashue, despite the issues surrounding his candidacy, was a fairly obvious choice for the Conservatives. He remains the highest profile federal Conservative in the Big Land, if not in Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole. Even if the Conservatives wanted someone else, they would ne unable to match Penashue’s popularity.
The main challengers to Penashue were expected to be the Liberals, based mostly upon the race back in 2011. The New Democratic Party, while posting an impressive 19.8% and 2,120 votes in that election, were not seen as a threat unless they ran a star candidate, or the vote split in the riding in a big way. The Greens, for their part, decided not to run a candidate in order to avoid “splitting the progressive vote” (they managed 1.3% in 2011), while going so far as to ask the NDP not to run a candidate and give the Liberals a free pass. Suffice to say, the NDP rejected this proposal.
The race also came at an opportune time for the Liberals, who had recently concluded a leadership race just the month before. Papineau MP Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had won a resounding victory in that race (including over 90% support from Liberals in Labrador). Many in the media, rightly or wrongly, said the Labrador by-election would be Trudeau’s first big “test” as leader.
Todd Russell, the former MP and re-elected President of NunatuKavut, was originally expected to run but was pre-empted by the extremely popular Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair MHA Yvonne Jones, which apparently shut down Russell’s hypothetical run (he was none too happy about it, though he didn’t raise too much of a stink as the campaign went underway). Jones, whose provincial district covers southeastern Labrador and the majority of NunatuKavut, was formerly the leader of the provincial Liberals before stepping down to undergo successful treatment for breast cancer. She was quickly acclaimed as the candidate, resigned her seat in the House of Assembly, and started campaigning early. Labrador received visits from both Interim Leader Bob Rae, and then permanent leader Trudeau, as well as a slew of Liberal MPs and personalities. In other words, the Liberals really wanted this riding back, seeing it as the first big step towards rebuilding the party.
The NDP for their part had a contested nomination, with Harry Borlase, an analyst for an environmental research and development agency based out of St. John’s, coming out on top. Borlase was born and raised in Labrador, though some sources I’ve seen said that he lives in St. John’s (who knows). Either way, he was far from the big name that the NDP probably wanted to elect, which is odd considering they have a strong base in Labrador West, even winning those communities in 2011. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a high-profile visit to the riding – to Labrador West, specifically – in the early stages of the campaign. The provincial NDP also have big momentum, with the most recent poll placing them first in the province, ahead of the governing Conservatives. The extremely popular provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, however, did not pay a visit to Labrador for this campaign.
The Libertarians also nominated Norman Andrews, a local blogger (though he barely posts) and advocate for Labrador power for Labradorians… I think. Not really sure what he was about.
Aside from the ethics issues with Penashue’s 2011 campaign and resignation, the big questions for Labrador these days surrounds the Lower Churchill hydro-electricity projection, a series of proposed generating stations being built along the Churchill River that will put an estimated 16.7 Terawatts into the system per year. The project is supported by the provincial government and being built by energy giants Nalcor and Emera, with investments worth billions of dollars in order to route that power across the Straight to Newfoundland itself (then to Nova Scotia), rather than through Québec which has had a bad habit of ripping off Newfoundland and Labrador in the past.
The big contention currently is Phase I, located at Muskrat Falls just outside of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is expected to be a huge job provider for the community (possibly totalling $1.9-billion in revenue), though at the same time there are concerns from residents of being “swamped” by the project, the thousands of new workers and mouths to feed, and the potential for the status-quo to be upset in their usually-calm community. There are also a whole slew of concerns about what effect Phase I will have on the environment, and protests from NunatuKavut members on the provincial government’s refusal to negotiate with them on the pace of, and revenues from, development. At one point near the start of the campaign, Todd Russell and other members protesting on the road to Muskrat Falls were arrested by the RCMP for disruption of the peace.
This all being said, all three major party candidates held similar positions in favour of Muskrat Falls, though drilling down on details such as getting more local workers or bringing in the NunatuKavut into talks, you see some slight discrepancies.
Issues also began to spring up in regards to Labrador’s representation in Ottawa. Penashue came out and basically said that without a federal Conservative representative like him, Labrador would be at the mercy of spending cuts – including for 5-Wing Goose Bay, Search & Rescue, and so on. At one point, Penashue came out and said that he had held up funding for some project in Newfoundland to get funding to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway, which is apparently gravel in some parts. Essentially, the question Penashue tried to build a campaign issue around was “who will get us the most pork?”
Finally, though not limited to Labrador alone, is the current unpopularity of the Conservative government. While not doing terribly in recent polls, the Conservatives have had to deal with several problems since the beginning of their majority term in 2011. The biggest to affect Labrador are the spending cuts by the government, which has resulted in the shutdown of Search & Rescue centres on the Atlantic Coast, vital to many Labradorian’s safety; as well as the government’s targeting of seasonal workers who use EI to supplement their income in the off-season, which affects thousands of residents. The phenomenon of Justin Trudeau may also have played a factor, as the new Liberal Leader has proven exceptionally popular according to polls – but as British Columbia showed us, maybe we need to take a grain of salt with polling these days.
Yvonne Jones (Liberal) 48.2% (+9.1%)
Peter Penashue (Conservative) 32.5% (-7.3%)
Harry Borlase (NDP) 18.8% (-1.0%)
Norman Andrews (Libertarian): 0.4%
Turnout was 59.5%, up over 6% from the 2011 federal election, and the best turnout since at least 2004, and the second-highest number of votes (about 12,000) since the riding was created in 1988.
Jones won with an easy 16-point margin, or nearly 2,000 votes over Penashue, with voters in Labrador turfing their cabinet minister in favour of a member of the third party. The turnout as well probably says more than the result does, as voters were clearly engaged in this race, and seemingly were more than happy to vote for the Liberals. While it is hard to say where the boost in turnout went to, it is interesting to note that Jones gained nearly 1,600 votes over Russell’s 2011 result, while Penashue only lost 334 votes.
It is hard to say where Penashue lost this race, though the entire reason for the by-election would certainly be enough for most voters. While Penashue did do the honourable thing in paying back the money to Elections Canada, as well as resigning in order to redeem himself, voters may not have bought his story and made him an example of what happens when you don’t keep an eye on your campaign expenses. Alternatively, it is possible that the unpopularity of the federal Conservatives could have made his campaign, no matter how good it was, dead-on-arrival.
However, the result is not as bad as some earlier polls suggested, including Penashue ending up third behind Borlase, so the Conservatives can rest easy knowing that they did not completely blow it.
For the NDP, the campaign result is, at best, “OK.” They lost some ground but gained about 100 new voters with their candidate Borlase, and likely maintained strong support in Labrador West, overall not doing terribly and not getting their vote squeezed into oblivion. However, failing to make a big impact in Labrador is an issue, given that of the five by-elections held since 2011, the NDP have fallen behind their previous totals in all but one (Durham). The Official Opposition, especially one the size of the NDP, should in theory be doing better than they have so far.
Finally, much can be said about Yvonne Jones’ campaign and personal popularity, and the fact that this is a traditionally Liberal riding. Though Penashue tried to take Jones down a notch with accusations that she held back from repaying expenses to the House of Assembly (something which Jones, who was on the board to review the rules surrounding expenses, adamantly denied), Jones did her best to keep the focus on Penashue and the Conservatives, on the ethics issues and on her previous record as a strong representative for Labrador in St. John’s. It is pretty clear that voters responded well to her campaign, and the spinsters in Justin Trudeau’s office are painting this as the first of many victories for the Liberals. Whether that is true remains to be seen.
Special European parliamentary elections were held in Croatia on April 14, 2013 to elect Croatia’s 12 members of the European Parliament for the remainder of the EP’s 2009-2014 term. Croatia’s MEPs are elected in a single nationwide constituency using open list proportional representation. Croatia will formally become the 28th member state of the European Union (EU) on July 1, 2013.
Two-thirds of Croatians voted in favour of joining the European Union in a referendum in January 2012, although turnout was only 43.5%. Croatia’s accession process formally began in June 2004 when it became an official candidate country and negotiations between Zagreb and Brussels were launched in October 2005 and lasted until June 2011. Public opinion had generally been strongly supportive of EU membership, with the exception of a brief period in April 2011 after the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) sentenced Croatian war hero Ante Gotovina to 24 years in jail for war crimes/crimes against humanity in the Croatian war of independence in the early 1990s. Gotovina and fellow general Mladen Markač were later found innocent on all charges and their convictions overturned by the ICTY’s appeals panel in November 2012.
The Kukuriku, a centre-left multi-party alliance led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), won the December 2011 election defeating the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) which had been in power since 2003. In the 1990s, the HDZ was a hard-right nationalist party led by Franjo Tuđman, a controversial strongman whose policies during the war years and the turbulent 90s isolated the country diplomatically. The HDZ was voted out of office in 2000, replaced by a heterogeneous reformist coalition around Prime Minister Ivica Račan (SDP) and President Stjepan Mesić (left-liberal HNS). Račan’s government, rapidly crippled by divisions between coalition members, only lasted until 2003 but under his and President Mesić’s leadership, Croatia gradually emerged from the semi-isolation of the Tuđman era and placed on the road to EU membership. The HDZ, transformed into a pro-European centre-right party under Ivo Sanader, won the 2003 elections by a decisive margin and was narrowly reelected in 2007.
While Sanader’s first term was generally successful because of a strong economy and EU negotiations, the second term proved to be a disaster from which the HDZ has yet to fully recover from. Croatia was hit particularly badly by the onset of the economic crisis in 2009-2010, which wrecked economic growth. Public opinion responded very poorly to the HDZ’s austerity policies, which included a very unpopular hike in the VAT and the introduction of a new ‘crisis’ income tax. Ivo Sanader resigned in the summer of 2009, and he was succeeded by Jadranka Kosor. Around the same time, Sanader himself and the HDZ as a whole were hit by a whole slew of particularly egregious corruption scandals. While Kosor herself was probably not directly involved and she took a hardline stance against corruption once in office, the whole thing blew up in her party’s face once prosecutors started digging and unearthing some pretty big corruption scandals – many of them involving Sanader himself. In January 2010, his ploy to reclaim the party’s leadership was foiled and in December, the Parliament voted to strip his immunity. He initially fled across the border to Austria, but he was arrested on an Interpol arrest warrant within hours. Sanader was sentenced to ten years in prison in November 2012.
Crippled by the stench of corruption and the economic crisis, Jadranka Kosor’s HDZ was handily defeated by SDP leader Zoran Milanović’s Kukuriku centre-left coalition in the 2011 elections. Although he was elected on a vaguely anti-austerity and broadly left-leaning agenda, Milanović’s government has been forced to tackle the economic crisis and the country’s large budgetary deficit – unsurprisingly, in the form of austerity measures and economic reforms which have included major public spending cuts, pension reforms, the sell of state assets (privatizations) and the liberalization of foreign investment. The country’s economy remains in a weak position: it has very low credit ratings, the GDP shrank by 2% in 2012 and it is still projected to be negative this year, unemployment is still rising exponentially (now up to 17%) and debt repayments combined with new EU contributions will frustrate the government’s objective of reducing the deficit in line with IMF recommendations. The IMF projects the country’s deficit will be 4.25% of GDP this year.
The government has also faced a few low-intensity scandals or embarrassing affairs. In November 2012, the Vice Premier and leader of the largest junior coalition party (HNS-LD) Radimir Čačić resigned after he was sentenced to 22 months in jail by a Hungarian court over a car crash he caused in 2010 resulting in the death of two people. In March 2013, the tourism minister was forced to resign after a media investigation revealed details about how his family had profited from a real estate deal in Istria.
In October 2012, the government was rattled by a bizarre affair likely orchestrated by the right-wing opposition which has since blown up in the opposition’s face. The right-wing newspaper Večernji list alleged that Interior Minister Ranko Ostojić had been illegally tapping the phones of intelligence operatives. The left-wing newspaper Jutarnji list countered with claims that the intelligence operatives were tracked because of suspected contacts with the mafia, and accused HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko and Večernji list of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government. The weird scandal backfired on the opposition – in December, Ostojić ordered an investigation into a spying scandal from Karamarko’s days as Interior Minister. Karamarko is accussed of tracking Attorney General Mladen Bajić and several journalists.
The government has become fairly unpopular, with its approval ratings down to 30% and its polling numbers down nearly ten points from its 2011 result (40%). But, thus far, the HDZ has struggled to profit from the government’s unpopularity. It remains badly tainted with the corruption scandals from its last term in office, and the stench refuses to go away. Indeed, the party itself is currently on trial for corruption. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor lost the party leadership in May 2012, placing third in a leadership election won by Tomislav Karamarko, who appears more right-wing and nationalistic than recent HDZ leaders. Kosor was recently expelled from the party. The main beneficiary, instead, of the government’s declining popularity have been the Labourists (Hrvatski laburisti), a new left-wing party which won 5.1% and 6 seats in 2011. Claiming to represent the working-classes, the Labourists oppose austerity policies.
The SDP ran a common list with the left-liberal HNS-LD and the main pensioners’ party (HSU). The HDZ ran a common list with the nationalistic right-wing Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP AS, one seat in 2011) and a smaller pensioners’ party. The Croatian Peasants’ Party (HSS) and the Social Liberals (HSLS) ran a common list and the right-wing regionalistic Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB) ran with smaller allied parties. The small regionalist Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), although a governing party in the current coalition, ran its own separate list led by IDS leader and Istria County head Ivan Jakovčić.
Turnout in these EU elections was an utterly catastrophic 20.84% – certainly one of the lowest turnouts in any EU election (besides Slovakia). Very low turnout in EU elections is the norm in the newer member states in eastern Europe, where any original enthusiasm for joining the EU has certainly not translated into any interest into the EU Parliament. Besides the fact that basically nobody in Croatia or in the rest of the EU for that matter actually cares about the EU Parliament or actually knows what it does, this particular election was very low-key. The major elections will be local and county elections in May, this election was a dress rehearsal for those elections in which no party placed tons of efforts or attention.
HDZ-HSP AS-BUZ 32.86% winning 6 seats
SDP-HNS-HSU 32.07% winning 5 seats
Labourists 5.77% winning 1 seat
HSS-HSLS 3.86% winning 0 seats
Ivan Jakovčić (IDS) 3.84% winning 0 seats
HDSSB 3.01% winning 0 seats
Croatian Growth 2.55% winning 0 seats
Youth Action 1.49% winning 0 seats
Pensioners’ Party 1.48% winning 0 seats
HSP 1.39% winning 0 seats
Greens 1.16% winning 0 seats
Pirate Party 1.13% winning 0 seats
All others 9.39% winning 0 seats
The centre-right opposition coalition led by the HDZ eked out a surprise victory, taking six of the country’s 12 seats. Whereas sparse polling prior to the election had shown them trailing the governing SDP-led coalition by a fairly substantial margin and on track to win only 4 or 5 seats, it came out ahead by a whisker. At cause here is probably the low turnout. When turnout is so low, elections are even more unpredictable and even good pollsters will have lots of trouble accurately predicting the outcome – because tons of voters lie to them by saying that they will certainly vote when in fact a lot/most end up not voting. Therefore, given the low turnout it is hard to interpret this election as a significant defeat for the governing coalition – their real test will be in the local elections next month, where turnout will be much higher and the stakes fairly high as well. Nevertheless, it remains an unwelcome surprise for the government.
The HDZ’s list was likely boosted by the presence of Ruža Tomašić, the leader of the right-wing/far-right HSP AS, who was sixth on the party’s list but who won the most preference votes of any candidates on the list – she won 26.6% of all votes cast for the lists’ candidates. Tomašić is a prominent anti-corruption crusader who gained notoriety – and controversy – recently by saying that “Croatia is for Croatians” and that the “others” are just “guests”. It is unclear whether she will join her five HDZ colleagues in the European People’s Party (EPP) group.
It also helps that the HDZ tends to be very good at turning out voters and motivating its electorate, something which has allowed it to outperform the SDP in close elections – such as the 2007 legislative election or the 2009 local elections.
The Labourists too will be disappointed by their performance. National polling consistently gives them about 10% of voting intentions and they had a solid chance to win two seats in this election. Their result, barely above their 2011 result percentage-wise, was disappointing for them.
As is usually the case in EU elections, a whole slew of tiny parties and third parties did very well. 29% of voters cast votes for parties or lists which did not win any seats, over 9% cast votes for lists which did not even win over 1% of the vote. In Istria, Ivan Jakovčić’s list won 44.5% of the vote in the county. The HDSSB also did quite well, polling up to 22.5% in Osijek-Baranja County.
Unsurprisingly, the first EU elections in Croatia were marked by apathy and general indifference. Surprisingly, however, the governing party which had been expected to win ended up narrowly losing – the sign of rising discontent with the young left-wing government in the midst of recession and austerity, or just a quirk from low turnout?
A by-election was held in Ireland on March 27. One of this blog’s reader, EPG, posted this summary of the by-election in the comments section for another post, I have re-posted it here in a guest post for everybody to enjoy.
A legislative by-election was held in the Meath East constituency of Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s lower house, on March 27. The by-election was caused by the death of Shane McEntee, a Fine Gael TD (member of the Dáil) and the Junior Minister for Food.
Meath East is located to the north-west of Dublin. The south of the constituency is dominated by Dublin commuter towns, such as Ashbourne, Ratoath and Dunboyne. This is the heartland of an archetypical symbol of the Irish economic collapse called the “negative equity generation”: first-time house-buyers who purchased homes with large mortgage in the mid-2000s, and who now owe far more than their houses are worth. Many (probably most) are not originally from the county in which they now live, an important cultural marker in small and localistic Ireland. Meath East is more rural and settled in the northern part of the county, while the north-west end includes Kells, the largest town in northern Meath. The constituency’s somewhat bizarre, salamander-like shape is due to the exclusion of Meath’s largest town, Navan, and the inclusion of Kells, on population ratio equalisation grounds. Ironically, Meath was the home of James Tully, the Labour TD who oversaw a gerrymander that backfired in the 1970s (the Tullymander). To compound his misfortune, he then suffered shrapnel damage at the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat after Labour’s return to power in the 1980s.
The coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour has fallen sharply in popularity since their election in 2011, while the opposition parties of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have risen, as have independents and other candidates. This was probably predictable, since the government has continued most of the last (Fianna Fáil-Green) government’s policies, especially on economic issues, due to its support of the EU-ECB-IMF “troika” programme of financial support for the Irish State. This by-election was therefore considered a contest between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties. Meath East is mainly “exurban”, especially in the southern end of the constituency, but also small town and rural. This means the Labour Party was not considered a contender; their support is mainly in cities and important towns with local industry, and their current popularity is low in any case. It was enough to win one out of three seats in Meath East in 2011 under the STV proportional representation system, but it wouldn’t be enough to win an instant run-off by-election, even if they had held up their popularity. As for Sinn Féin, they did well at the by-election in Donegal South-West in 2010, which is also a rural area. But despite the despair of the negative equity generation, Meath is still a relatively prosperous part of Ireland, with big farms and many professionals who commute to jobs in Dublin. It’s a much higher-income area than Donegal, and that’s bad for Sinn Féin. Fine Gael outpolled Fianna Fáil hard in Meath East at the 2011 general election, and the big question was whether Fianna Fáil’s image-improvement since then would close enough of the gap to let them win.
Fine Gael fielded Helen McEntee, daughter of Shane McEntee, who worked on his political and ministerial teams. Family candidates are popular in Irish elections, especially by-elections, and form the “dynasties” that have provided many Taoisigh (heads of government), including the current Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his predecessor Brian Cowen, who both won by-elections to succeed their fathers. She primarily campaigned for a “sympathy vote” rather than seeking a mandate for a pretty unpopular government (). Labour chose Eoin Holmes, a county councillor and film producer who talked a lot about entrepreneurship. Fianna Fáil chose Thomas Byrne, the former TD who lost his seat at the 2011 epic fail but got a Senate seat as a consolation prize. Sinn Féin’s candidate was Darren O’Rourke, who works as an assistant to Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the party’s former parliamentary party leader in the Dáil (back when Gerry Adams was an MP in Northern Ireland). The Greens chose their former candidate, but they are now considered a minor party compared to the big four, with no Oireachtas representation. Independents and others included a Workers’ Party candidate and Ben Gilroy, a Direct Democracy Ireland activist who is popular among the crazy “Freeman on the Land” movement.
Helen McEntee (FG) 38.49% (-2.38%)
Thomas Byrne (FF) 32.92% (+13.31%)
Darren O’Rourke (SF) 13.02% (+4.14%)
Ben Gilroy (DDI) 6.45% (+6.45%)
Eoin Holmes (Lab) 4.57% (-16.46%)
Seán Ó Buachalla (GP) 1.74% (+0.66%)
Seamus McDonagh (WP) 1.08% (+1.08%)
Independent candidates 1.73% (-6.80%)
The huge story from this by-election has been the collapse of Labour’s vote, which was far bigger than national opinion polls would have suggested. Polls suggest that Labour has lost 6 to 10 points nationally compared to 2011. However, other stories are worth noting. Fine Gael’s vote held up much better than its partner, and much better than national polls would suggest. McEntee held onto her strong support base in the north of the constituency, as well as probably getting a sympathy vote (common for family members in Irish by-elections, though Fine Gael will deny this and claim that her success is a mandate for the party nationally). Interestingly, after 29 years when governments never won by-elections, this is the second government victory out of two by-elections in this Dáil. Labour won the first of these in late 2011, though their successful candidate left the parliamentary party about five weeks later. The last time Fine Gael won a by-election while in government was in 1975, when their candidate was a young Enda Kenny.
Fianna Fáil has recovered strongly, though they still can’t outpoll government candidates in actual elections. It seems that Fianna Fáil, not Sinn Féin, is enjoying the surge of anti-government feeling in relatively prosperous areas like Meath East (and the Dublin commuter belt more generally), though nobody would deny that Sinn Féin is the main beneficiary in deprived urban and rural areas. Among other opposition groups, Direct Democracy Ireland’s performance is striking. Small parties and independents rarely do very well at Irish by-elections. Gilroy ran a campaign strongly focussed on opposing repossessions of houses by banks, in tune with his support among the fringe, legal conspiracy theorists of the “Freeman on the Land” movement. This is at a time when the Irish government is openly discussing policies to make repossessions easier, due to the abnormally low rate compared to other countries with property price ex-bubbles like the USA, the UK or Spain. Gilroy caught a zeitgeist for what is basically a one-man party (though the Irish party registration requirements are reasonably strict, so he must have lots of supporters).
I now have details of the second and third counts, after which McEntee was elected. The second count excluded all but the top five candidates and Gilroy (DDI) won more of their transfers than any of the remaining five. This is less surprising than it may seem for a fourth-place candidate, as many independents tend to be fringe candidates themselves. They would be close to Gilroy’s anti-system and anti-party profile, which is even more anti-system than Sinn Féin. Independents in Ireland often seem to fill the “anti” role played by right-wing populists in other European countries, but with a local twist, and they have a similar support base of broadly non-left people with middling incomes. Fianna Fáil won fewest transfers, even fewer than Labour, which may suggest that the public is polarised by its recent rebirth. The third count was a run-off between McEntee (FG) and Byrne (FF). McEntee won 54.5% of the two-party vote after getting far more transfers than Byrne. A lot of SF or DDI voters must have given a higher preference to McEntee than to Byrne, their fellow opposition candidate, as McEntee’s third-count transfers (1,900) were much larger than Labour’s final vote total on the second round (1,200). Even if we assume that any remaining Labour supporters are firmly pro-coalition and sympathetic to Fine Gael, that still leaves about 800-900 of McEntee’s transfers that must have come from SF or DDI, after accounting for the usual transfer attrition. But she didn’t even need to do that well with opposition voters on these counts; she was safely ahead of Byrne from the outset. McEntee is now the youngest woman in the current Dáil.
The broader, national consequences are still unclear, though they can’t be good for Labour. Each of the opposition parties would have hoped to do better. Fianna Fáil wanted to win and Sinn Féin wanted to win votes in line with national polling (i.e. about 8% higher than in 2011). Fine Gael is glad to win and to have lost few votes, but the party was shaken by the sad death of Shane McEntee and would have preferred if this by-election had never happened.
A legislative by-election was held in the Oise’s second constituency in France on March 17 and 24, 2013. The results of the June 2012 legislative election in the constituency were declared invalid by the Constitutional Council, for reasons related to false statements in the incumbent deputy’s campaign propaganda. A by-election was held on the same day in Wallis-et-Futuna’s at-large constituency; these were the fourth and fifth legislative by-elections since the June 2012 elections: by-elections were held in Hérault (6), Hauts-de-Seine (13) and Val-de-Marne (1) in December after the initial results of the June 2012 elections were invalidated in these three constituencies. There are two pending by-elections in the constituencies for French citizens abroad (constituencies 1 and 8), the results of the June 2012 election in those two seats were also recently invalidated by the Constitutional Council but a date has not yet been set for the by-elections.
French legislative elections or by-elections are fought on a two-round system. A candidate must win over 50% of valid votes representing at least 25% of registered voters to win outright by the first round. If a second round is organized, all candidates who have won over 12.5% of registered voters are qualified for the runoff; or, if no candidates meet this requirement, the top two candidates in the first round. In by-elections were turnout is almost always lows, this means that only the top two candidates will qualify.
The incumbent deputy in Oise’s 2nd constituency, reelected in June, was Jean-François Mancel of the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The incumbent deputy in Wallis-et-Futuna, elected in June, was David Vergé, classified as a right-winger but who sat with the Socialist (PS) group. In Wallis-et-Futuna, the ConCon also declared Vergé and some other candidates from the June 2012 to be ineligible for any elected office for a period of one year.
These by-elections come at a bad time for the incumbent centre-left government. Less than a year after he defeated incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande is nearing record levels of unpopularity, his approval ratings having sunk faster than any other President under the Fifth Republic. His approval rating currently stands at about 31%, the lowest for any President after ten months in office and approaching the record lows set by Jacques Chirac in his second term (mid to low 20s). Part of this unpopularity stems from the particular politcal and economic conjuncture. The French economy, like that of most of its neighbors, remains weak with high unemployment, low economic growth and a large public debt. The situation, naturally, was never going to brighten up miraculously with the election of a new head of state. Secondly, Hollande’s victory in May 2012 owed a lot to the ephemeral appeal of anti-Sarkozysm on the left and parts of the centre. As I noted in my analysis of the runoff last year, “the fact that the election was more Sarkozy’s defeat than Hollande’s victory and that Hollande owes his victory to anti-Sarkozysm will certainly come back to haunt the PS and Hollande in the near future, once voters forget Sarkozy and shift their judgement to the new incumbent.” While the economic context has further aggravated matters, a good part of the government’s unpopularity is of their own making.
Faced with an ever bleaker economic picture – unemployment at 10% and up nearly 1% on the previous years, flat economic growth in 2012 and a high public debt (90%) – the government has suffered heavily from the perception that it is slow to react and that it has found itself completely lost and powerless against the economic crisis. The right, which disliked Hollande from the get-go, has criticized the ‘amateurism’ and jumbled response of the government and decried its economic policies (the UMP has placed particular emphasis on higher taxes). But many on the left have felt let down by the government on the economic front. It was fairly clear that for all of the PS’s flowery rhetoric about growth, it would be forced to implement austerity measures including spending cuts in the public sector (the public sector is a PS stronghold); and it has done so, although it has disguised it as ‘efforts’. Hollande had promised to renegotiate the European Fiscal Compact to give it a more ‘pro-growth’ orientation, but he and his governing majority ultimately approved it without any major changes. The Constitutional Council has also forced him to scrap, entirely, his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over a million euros. For many voters on the left, very little positive change is perceptible and many voters feel that Hollande’s policies are no different than his predecessor’s policies.
On a whole slew of other issues and campaign promises, the government has either ‘delayed’ reforms or watered them down fairly significantly. For example, because it lacks a three-fifths majority to pass major constitutional changes, a number of promised constitutional reforms have been have been written off the agenda. Faced with major internal unease within its own majority, the government has ‘delayed’ – probably indefinitely – a major reform to crack down on dual office holding (cumul des mandats). Proportional representations seems, once agian, to have been lost somewhere along the road. The latest round of ‘decentralization reforms’ which seem to be obligatory for every President has been delayed, held up in the Senate and met with the wrath of some local officials. While the government will likely be able to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption rights eventually, it has mobilized social conservative groups and is widely rejected by the quasi-entirety of the opposition.
On the symbolic aspect of things, Hollande had made a big deal of Sarkozy’s centralizing, autocratic and flashy (bling-bling) presidential system and he famously presented himself as the ‘normal President’ in contrast to the ‘hyper-President’ Sarkozy. Yet, the symbolic changes at that level have been slow to come. The ‘normal president’ mantra was quickly dropped. By choosing his close ally Jean-Marc Ayrault as Prime Minister (rather than party rival Martine Aubry, for example) Hollande signaled that he was continuing in Sarkozy’s, rather than Mitterrand’s, footsteps by choosing a close ally and partner as Prime Minister. While the left criticized Sarkozy for sidelining the Prime Minister and concentrating powers in the executive branch, Hollande has done largely the same. Ayrault, ten months down the road, appears effaced and a mere ‘sidekick’ in comparison to his President.
Having been in opposition for ten years upon taking office last spring, the PS and the wider ‘presidential majority’ has had some trouble adapting to the rigours of governing. Cabinet ministers, from early on, have contradicted each other or diverged from the government line publicly, and Ayrault has often appeared powerless or unable to put his ministers back in place. And the government has been hit by its first ethics scandal: the budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, a respected figure, was forced to resign on March 19 after facing allegations of tax fraud and a secret bank account in Switzerland. Meanwhile, some signs of internal disagreements between the PS and its minor allies (particularly the Greens/EELV) have appeared on some issues, while the Left Front (FG) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Communist Party (PCF) have been vocal critics of government policies.
A few government ministers have been able to escape the government’s unpopularity. Top amongst them is Manuel Valls, the Interior minister, who is the most popular in France at the moment with wide support on the left and right. He has largely continued his right-wing predecessors’ tough crime and immigration policies, notably by continuing the expulsion of the Roma and dismantling illegal ‘squatter settlements’. Valls’ tough policies on crime, security and immigration has the right worried that the PS might be succeeding at ‘reappropriating’ the security issue from them.
Despite the government’s unpopularity, the right-wing opposition has had trouble appearing as a better alternative. Sarkozy’s right-wing party, the UMP, was almost torn apart in November at the party congress meant to choose Sarkozy’s successor as the head of the party. Although both warring sides in the UMP’s civil war have since come to an agreement (a new congress in the fall, in the meantime the leadership is made up of an equal number of members from both sides), it is an uneasy truce between the two rival camps united only by their common opposition to the government. The few major UMP politicians who are very popular with the electorate at this point in time are those who are out of the limelight and the intrigues at the Parisian headquarters (Christine Lagarde as IMF managing director, Alain Juppé as mayor of Bordeaux and respected ‘party elder’). Finally, Nicolas Sarkozy’s potential ambitions for a rematch against Hollande in 2017 might be complicated by his recent indictment in an old corruption/party financing scandal.
Oise’s second constituency includes the west of the Oise department and the southwest canton of Beauvais, the main urban centre in the region. The constituency, whose borders have remained the same since 1986, is made up of the cantons of Auneuil, Beauvais Sud-Ouest, Chaumont-en-Vexin, Le Coudray-Saint-Germer, Fromerie, Grandvilliers, Noailles and Songeons. This constituency includes parts of four traditional natural regions: the Plateau Picard in the north; the Bray in the centre; the Thelle/Thérain valley running towards the south; and the Vexin français in the southwestern end of the constituency.
The common way of describing constituencies similar to this one is ‘rural’. Indeed, Beauvais is the only large city in the constituency where no other commune has over 3,000 inhabitants. However, the ‘rural’ descriptor is both deceptive and simplistic; the second constituency is much more of an exurban/small town constituency rather than a purely rural area. With the exception of the two northernmost cantons, most of the constituency is a patchwork of villages and small towns economically and socially tied to Beauvais and/or Paris. Beauvais is the only commune in the canton where over half of the economically active population are employed in the town where they live. Historically, this is also a working-class area with small industrial centres or small industries (glass-making, sugar beets, metallurgy, railway classification yards in cités cheminotes).
Politically, alongside the rest of the department and most of the region, the constituency has shifted heavily to the right and far-right over the course of the past decades. Socialist President François Hollande won 43.9% in the constituency in May 2012; about 4% worse than Lionel Jospin (PS) had done in the constituency in 1995 (remembering that Hollande did about 4% better nationally). For an even starker contrast, 31 years ago, François Mitterrand won the constituency with 51.5% in the 1981 election – nationally, Hollande and Mitterrand (1981) won by almost the exact same margin, in this constituency Hollande performed nearly 8 points worse than Mitterrand in 1981.
Nevertheless, this constituency has never really been markedly left-leaning. Less industrialized and urbanized than other parts of the department, the French Communist Party (PCF) was never as strong here than in other parts of the department, and there was some subsisting Radical strength in the more agricultural parts of the constituency (Bray) in the 1950s.
Nicolas Sarkozy won the constituency with 60.7% in 2007 and held it with 56.1% last May. In the second round, Sarkozy was victorious in every canton in the constituency with the exception of Beauvais Sud-Ouest, where Hollande won 53.4% thanks to his strength in Beauvais itself (the part of the city contained in the constituency includes a large zone urbaine sensible, a low-income urban neighborhood). Sarkozy thoroughly dominated the near totality of the ‘rural’ part of the constituency, with results above 58% in most cantons. The sole remnants of left-wing strength outside Beauvais subsist only in Sérifontaine (canton of Le Coudray-Saint-Germer, an old PCF stronghold with a large metal industry) and Feuquières, a glass-working town in the north of the constituency (canton of Grandvilliers), an extension of the ‘Glass valley’ region along the Bresle river. But whereas Lionel Jospin had won nearly 60% in both those towns in 1995, Hollande won only 53.6% in the former and 55.8% in the latter. Some isolated remnants of left-wing dominance from another era may still prop up, however, in towns such as Hermes, an old cité cheminote where Hollande won 48.7%. For the sake of comparison, Mitterrand had won majorities in six of the seat’s eight cantons in the 1981 runoff and over 54% in Beauvais SO (54.4%) and Coudray-Saint-Germer (54.4%).
Marine Le Pen did extremely well in the constituency, placing first in the first round with 27.9% against 27.6% for Sarkozy and only 22.1% for Hollande. Compared to her father’s performance in 2002 and 1995, she posted some very impressive results in constituencies just like this one across eastern and northern France. The FN has always been rather strong in this constituency, but Marine Le Pen was stronger than her father had ever been in the constituency.
The seat is an interesting mix of two distinct FN electorates: the area around Beauvais and the south of the constituency, in the Thelle/Thérain valley and the Vexin, are exurban areas drawn to Paris or smaller regional centres (Beauvais, Creil etc). The FN’s electorate there is relatively blue-collar as well, but it is of a more ideologically right-wing and périurbain subi variety. Even though the local foreign population is low (3%), because many of the inhabitants in the region tend to commute to large cities and interact/confront large immigrant populations there, the FN’s rhetoric on immigration is a powerful influence. The FN’s original support in the region came largely from these kind of areas – for example, in the 1984 Euro elections, the FN did better in the exurban-type cantons (Auneuil, Chaumont-en-Vexin, Beauvais SO) than in the industrial-type cantons (Formerie, Grandvilliers, Coudray-Saint-Germer). This is also a type of FN electorate which embraced Nicolas Sarkozy by the first round in 2007: Sarkozy won 33.4% in the first round in 2007, against only 23-24% for the mainstream right in 2002 (Chirac, Madelin, Boutin). His gains – and Le Pen’s loses – were heavier in the southern part of the constituency, the most suburban/exurban part.
However, the two northernmost cantons (Formerie and Grandvilliers) are less suburban/exurban. Demographically, they are the most working-class parts of the seat and also the most economically deprived (highest unemployment, lowest incomes); but most of the old industries are dead, and most people work outside their town/village of residence. The FN vote is more recent, and the FN support tends to be a ‘pure’ protest vote which rejects the main parties and expresses discontent but also concerns and fears with the economic situation. These voters are described as ninistes in that they identify as ‘neither left nor right’, rather than very right-wing like their counterparts in other parts of the country. Marine Le Pen performed best in these two northern cantons, winning 32% and 34% respectively. In 2007, they also showed themselves to be more resistant to ‘electoral Sarkozysm’ – Le Pen’s loses were significantly lower in Formerie and Grandvilliers than in the other cantons.
Marine Le Pen also won 31% in the cantons of Coudray-Saint-Germer and Noailles – including 38% in Hermes. Her worst results were in Beauvais SO (20.7%) and the canton of Chaumont-en-Vexin (24%), which includes more affluent and well-educated Parisian outer suburbs.
The constituency has been held by the right since it took its current shape, with the exception of 1997 when the PS’ Béatrice Marre defeated the right thanks to a triangulaire with the FN. Logically, the UMP regained the seat in 2002 with 55% in the runoff and held it in 2007 with a reduced majority (52.8%). The UMP won the 2012 triangulaire by only 63 votes.
The UMP (RPR before that) incumbent since 1978 (with the exception of 1981-1986 and 1997-2002) is Jean-François Mancel, who is also the general councillor for the canton of Noailles and was president of the Oise general council between 1985 and 2004. Fitting in with his environment, Mancel is broadly on the right of the UMP (he is a copéiste); in fact, in 1998, he negotiated electoral alliances at the cantonal and regional level with the FN. Mancel is not a particularly strong incumbent and is not very influential within the ranks of his party, he has been weakened by a number of corruption allegations.
The main candidates were the same as in the June 2012 election: Mancel for the UMP, Beauvais SO general councillor Sylvie Houssin for the PS and Florence Italiani for the FN.
The results of the first round (March 17)
Jean-François Mancel (UMP) 40.61% (+7.25%)
Florence Italiani (FN) 26.58% (+3.35%)
Sylvie Houssin (PS) 21.37% (-9.13%)
Pierre Ripart (FG) 6.64% (+1.39%)
Clément Lesaege (Pirate) 1.97%
Renée Potchtovik (LO) 1.57% (+0.84%)
Michel Ramel (DVD) 1.25%
Turnout 32.79% (blank and invalid votes: 2.76%)
The results of the runoff (March 23)
Jean-François Mancel (UMP) 51.41%
Florence Italiani (FN) 48.59%
Turnout 35.3% (blank and invalid votes: 10.09%)
The first round was a major defeat for the PS. Sylvie Houssin, the PS candidate, was eliminated from the runoff by the first round, having won only 21.4% of the vote – over 9% less than in June. The local PS candidate was badly hurt by the government’s unpopularity. As is usually the case, a large part of the left-wing/PS electorate which had voted for the PS in June 2012 did not turn out in this by-election. This had already been the case for the PS in the 3 by-elections in December (which had ended in three bad defeats for the PS, including the loss of one seat to the UMP); but it worked the other way around in 2010 or 2011, when the UMP lost a good number of its voters to abstention. The results at the communal level, turnout in the first round was clearly lower in left-wing precincts, and higher in those precincts where the FN or UMP performed better.
The two main winners of the first round were the UMP and the FN. Mancel nearly came back to his level in the “blue wave” first round of the 2007 legislative election (41.9% against 21.1% for the PS); although basically all candidates won less raw votes than in June, Mancel only lost about 5,500 votes while Houssin shed a full 9,300 votes.
The FN had a strong performance in the first round, in addition to qualifying for the runoff by finishing ahead of the PS. This is a bit different from what happened in the December by-elections, particularly the one in the Hérault where the FN had fancied its chances. In December, the FN had fallen flat on its face in the Hérault’s 6th constituency; their intakes in the two petite couronne seats where they were weak was also unimpressive. What is the difference between the two by-elections? The FN’s underwhelming result in the Hérault in December may, in part, have something to do with the local FN electorate: a clearly ideologically right-wing electorate, which has shown itself to be more susceptible to the UMP’s consistent attempts (since 2007) to woo them over. In the Hérault, many either did not turn out or supported the UMP candidate, who was the former UMP deputy (defeated by the PS in June) who himself was on the party’s right. In the Oise, however, the FN electorate is sociologically different and slightly more resistant to the UMP’s strategy. Furthermore, Mancel is not greatly appealing to many ‘soft’ FN voters.
The FG’s candidate won 6.6%, better than he had performed in June 2012 but not a remarkable gain. The FG has been attempting to profit from the government’s unpopularity on the left, and it has been a very vocal critic of Hollande and his government’s policies from the get-go. However, in both the December by-elections and this by-election, the FG’s performance – decent, but not anything to write home about – has likely been below their expectations. The PCF had similarly tried to benefit from the PS’ unpopularity at the end of Mitterrand’s second term, but its electoral performance in 1992 and 1993 showed that it had not really been able to turn the PS’ unpopularity into electoral success. Time will tell if the FG will profit from the government’s unpopularity – particularly with a sizable number of left-wing voters – in upcoming nationwide elections where turnout will be higher.
If the first round had been a major blow for the PS, the runoff was a major blow for the UMP. The boomerang came back and hit the UMP in its face. Mancel was reelected with a majority of only 768 votes against the FN candidate, with 51.4% of the vote. The FN came within a whisker of a major upset victory.
The FN’s strong performance begs one big question: where did its new voters, nearly 6000 additional votes, come from? There are, two main theories on this question: the ‘transfer’ theory and the ‘substitution’ theory. According to the ‘transfer’ theory, the FN gained votes from those who had voted for the PS (or FG) in the first round. This theory is not as crazy as it may seem. To begin with, past elections have shown that a good number of left-wing voters from the first round will vote for the FN against the mainstream rights in runoff elections where the left’s candidate was eliminated by the first round. In both right/FN and left/FN runoffs in the 2011 cantonal elections, the FN gained about 10 points from their first round result; in both right/FN and left/FN runoffs in June 2012, the FN gained about 16% from their first round result. Secondly, the left-wing base in the constituency (outside Beauvais) tends to be white working-class voters, who may realistically prefer the FN over the UMP.
There are also local circumstances at play which may explain PS/FN transfers. Although the national PS leadership de facto endorsed Mancel against the FN, the local PS candidate did not endorse any candidate. She stated that voters were faced with a choice between the extrême droite and droite extrême; two sides of the same coin. Left-wing voters had no reason to show up and ‘save’ Mancel against the FN: there were no national issues at stake, and Mancel is unpopular on the left because of his 1998 deals with the FN and various corruption clouds which have hung over his head for years.
While left>FN tranfers undeniably exist, the June 2012 legislative election showed that they were far less significant than right>FN transfers. In 9 right/FN runoffs in the last legislative election, there was only a weak correlation (0.21) between left-wing strength in the first round and FN gains between both rounds; there was, however, a 0.64 correlation between left-wing strength and a decline in voter turnout between between both rounds. Turnout declined by an average of 8% in the 9 right/FN battles in June, it only increased by 1.2% in left/FN battles. The percentage of voters who turned out in the runoff but cast blank or invalid votes was also very high (over 10%) in right/FN runoffs.
This by-election, however, is an outlier in this case. Turnout increased in the runoff, by about 2%. However, there was a major increase in blank and invalid votes, from 2.8% to 10% (about 2000 ‘new’ blank or invalid votes); the number of valid votes was actually slightly lower in the runoff than in the first round.
The ‘substitution’ theory would hold that while a larger number of left-wing voters did not turn out or cast invalid votes, that decline was compensated by the stronger mobilization of FN voters. Florence Italiani did indeed have a bigger reservoir to build on; Marine Le Pen won over 19,000 votes in the constituency in April 2012, Italiani only won 7.2k in the first round and 13,190 in the runoff. Her strong result in the first round might have allowed FN voters who had not turned out on March 17 to mobilize in her favour for the second round.
The national context during the week between both rounds might have further boosted the FN. It was, really, the dream scenario for the FN: a PS cabinet minister forced to resign in an alleged tax fraud scandal, followed by the former UMP President indicted by the courts for a campaign financing scandal; the current economic situation in Cyprus; and the Court of Cassation’s controversial decision to annul a lower court decision which had confirmed the lay-off, in 2008, of a daycare employee who had refused to remove her hijab.
The data from the 9 right/FN runoffs in June 2012 would tend to confirm that the ‘substitution’ theory is a better explanation than the ‘transfer’ electorate, although both are relatively valid. The results from this by-election, however, troubles the substitution theory a bit. That being said, we are dealing with a case unlike the 9 constituencies from June. This was a by-election, with structurally low turnout which will always tend to messy things up a bit. The low turnout levels in both rounds makes it harder for us to draw clear conclusions from the results, and makes it tough to prove either theory.
Joël Gombin did an ecological inference analysis on the runoff at the precinct level for the runoff. He found that 43% of Houssin’s voters from March 17 voted for the FN in the runoff, while remaining 57% split fairly equally (19%, 18%, 20%) between abstention, blank/invalid votes and the UMP. The 43% seems like a reasonable estimate, although it should still be taken with a grain of salt given the difficulties of analysis in low-turnout by-elections.
Indeed, at the communal level, the FN won most of the traditionally left-leaning towns in the constituency (Sérifontaine, Feuquières, Hermes, Formerie; but not Beauvais) and often by quite strong margins. And even in those towns, while turnout remained very low in both rounds, it did not decline by much (if at all) between both rounds. In some low-income precincts in Beauvais, where the left had been strongest in the first round, the FN generally did quite well in the second round despite being well below average in the first round. Yet, we should still be careful about assuming that all FN ‘extra’ votes came from the left. Nothing can prove that the same 30% turned out in both rounds, though it does appear quite unlikely that the runoff electorate would be an entirely different bunch of people than first round voters.
Gombin’s data revealed a few oddities. There is the matter that Italiani would have kept ‘only’ 62% of her first round voters and lost a quarter of them to Mancel. While it is clear that there a number of FN voters who vote for the FN in the first round as a protest vote or to send a message but who will vote for the right or left in the runoff; it is tough to see why a quarter (!) of first round FN voters would prefer to vote UMP in the runoff against the FN. Granted, some right-wingers might have been tempted to send a message by voting FN in the first round but ‘played it safe’ in the runoff, but can they account for some 25% of Italiani’s 7.2 thousand voters from the first round?
His results also indicated that about 19% of Mancel’s first round voters went to the FN in the runoff; he kept 74% of his first round intake. There has been no research, as far as I know, on the behaviour of first round mainstream right voters in right/FN runoff situations, but it can be a bit puzzling as well. One explanation which Gombin tentatively suggested was Nicolas Sarkozy’s indictment in the Bettencourt affair in the week between the first and second round, and the negative effect it might have had on some UMP supporters.
The ‘substitution’ theory has been taken up by the local PS in Beauvais, which obviously has political interest in writing off the FN’s strong performance as a result of the mobilization of the electorate rather than the result of left>FN transfers, which would discredit its ‘two sides of the same coin’ strategy. Again, however, it is foolish and overly partisan to write off any kind of left>FN transfers. Both theories are valid, although in this particular case it would seem that evidence leans towards the ‘transfer’ theory
What lessons can be taken out of this by-election? Firstly, it shows that, on the ground, the traditional ‘republican front’ strategy is basically dead and whatever kind of cordon sanitaire which might have existed on the ground in the past between the FN and the other parties is long gone. We should stop treating voters as mathematical, rational and predictable individuals who can be expected to follow the directions given by their party of choice. Despite the strong enmity between national PS and FN leadership, there is some overlap between both parties. Some left-wing voters will prefer the FN over the right when faced with that choice.
While this by-election risks re-opening the old myth that there is a massive reservoir of voters who hesitate between the PS/FG and the FN, it is nevertheless clear that a certain part of the left-wing electorate flirts the FN and is open to voting for the FN in particular circumstances. In this sense, the PS should stop treating the FN issue as something which only concerns the right, because the FN is a potential danger to the left as well (though perhaps not as much of a problem as it is for the right).
The current political situation in France is ideal for the FN. The left-wing government is unpopular, including with a good part of its historical and/or current electoral clientele; but the main right-wing opposition is struggling to keep the lid on a simmering internal civil war and it has generally failed to present itself as the sole credible alternative to the left for the moment. With a morose economic and social situation, and a political climate in which both traditional parties are unpopular; the FN has almost everything going for it as things stand. Furthermore, as this by-election further confirmed, the FN is becoming less and less ‘toxic’ and repulsive to voters and its electoral potential in the runoff – while still far, far away from the 50%+1 it will need to win power – is clearly far wider under Marine Le Pen’s leadership.
Nevertheless, we should be careful about reading too much into low-turnout by-elections and we would do well to steer away from the inevitable mass panic and pandemonium which ensues whenever the FN does well somewhere.
The by-election in Wallis-et-Futuna received next to no attention from the national media, largely because politics on those remote islands of the French Pacific are disconnected from metropolitan politics and are heavily based on local factors. Even if the national parties exist on the islands, these partisan labels are meaningless. Insular politics revolve around local personalities – especially the endorsements of various traditional rulers – and campaigns have no ideological overtones. Voters often vote for the candidate based on family ties or the endorsement of their local ruler. National political trends don’t impact local politics at all. The seat was held by Benjamin Brial, a local Gaullist baron, between 1967 and 1988; and later by his son, Victor Brial, between 1997 and 2007. Albert Likuvalu, affiliated with the Left Radicals (PRG) at the national level, defeated Brial in 2007 but went down to defeat in 2012 – he placed third with barely 17% in June. David Vergé, the victor of the June 2012 election, was aligned with the vaguely centre-right opposition in the local legislature, but he joined the PS group in the National Assembly in July.
The candidate endorsed by the UMP, Napole Polutele, faced two centre-left candidates: Mikaele Kulimoetoke (the runner-up in June 2012) and Lauriane Tialetagi Vergé (PS, the wife of David Vergé, the deputy elected in June 2012 and ineligible for elected office for one year). In the first round, he won 37.4% against 33.1% for Kulimoetoke and 29.5% for Tialetagi Vergé. In the runoff, which featured the same candidates, Polutele won with 37.5% against 32.4% for Kulimoetoke and 30.2% for Tialetagi Vergé. Turnout was 75.7% in the first round and 79.7% in the runoff.
There are, as aforementioned, two pending legislative by-elections will be called in the 1st (North America) and 8th (Israel, Greece, Turkey, Italy) constituencies for French citizens abroad. Both seats were held by PS deputies whose elections were invalidated; both were also declared ineligible for elected office for a period of one year due to irregularities in their campaign’s financing. The PS is extremely vulnerable in both constituencies, both of which favoured Sarkozy over Hollande on May 6 – in fact, Sarkozy won 63% in the eight constituency! Nevertheless, both are unpredictable because turnout will be extremely low (in June 2012, turnout was 20% in the first and 13% in the eight!) and the local right, as in June, is badly divided in both constituencies.
While everybody was busy with Italy, an important by-election was held in the UK – in the constituency of Eastleigh. Chris Terry was nice enough to offer me a fantastic guest post on this by-election. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society in the United Kingdom and you can follow him on Twitter here.
A by-election was held in Eastleigh, England on the 28th of February.
The by-election was caused by the resignation of Chris Huhne MP. Huhne was a prominent Liberal Democrat, originally Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK’s coalition government. He had twice run for leader of the party, both times coming second. The second time he was only very narrowly beaten by 1.2% by current Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg. 1,200 votes were held up in the Christmas post and an unofficial check of them revealed that Huhne had had enough votes to win the leadership, though, to his credit, he stood by the result.
Shortly after being made a Minister in Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government in 2010 Huhne had split from his wife, Vicky Pryce, a former head of the Government Economic Service. He had left her for his press officer, Carina Trimingham. The nature of this revelation caused Pryce to leak to the press that Huhne had had her claim responsibility for speeding when he had been caught by a speed camera. Lying in this way was perversion of justice, and so a court case started against Huhne and then also against Pryce, as she, too, had been complicit in this. Pryce claimed not guilty due to ‘marital coercion’, a rarely used defence in UK law. Huhne eventually pleaded guilty on the 5th of February. He has not been sentenced yet but, as it was clear he would receive jail time he resigned his seat. Pryce’s trial is currently subject to a retrial as the Jury could not reach a decision in the original trial.
The 2010 election had resulted in Britain’s first hung parliament since 1974 and the first peacetime Coalition government since before the war. After thirteen years of Labour governance Britain was suddenly faced with a Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. During the 2010 election the Lib Dems and their leader, Nick Clegg, had become briefly extremely popular, riding a wave known as ‘Cleggmania’ from Clegg’s strong performance in Prime Ministerial debates. Polls early in the campaign had shown the Lib Dems challenging for the most votes. On election day, however, they fell back from these optimistic predictions, winning 23.0% (a gain of 1%) of the vote, and remaining in third. They also lost six seats. Nonetheless this was their strongest popular vote since 1983, and their second strongest since 1923, shortly after Labour had leap frogged them to being the main opposition to the Conservatives. They also held the balance of power in a hung parliament, and formed a Coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives.
After forming the Coalition, Lib Dem fortunes quickly deteriorated. Lib Dem voters are a heterogenous group but perhaps a majority in 2010 were either protest voters or left-of-centre. Many voters had voted for the Lib Dems because they saw them as more left-wing than Labour. A particularly symbolic moment for many was the vote on University tuition fees. The Lib Dems had long been against University tuition fees and during the 2010 campaign its MPs had signed a cast-iron pledge designed by the National Union of Students to the effect that, as a MP, they would not vote for any rise in tuition fees. This was a short-sighted policy in many ways, both Labour and Conservatives clearly favoured tuition fees in private and considering Britain’s economic position (a budget deficit equivalent to around 10% of GDP) it was difficult to see where the money would come from. The Lib Dem’s therefore ended up having to agree to raising tuition fees from a maximum of £3,000 a year; to £9,000 a year (it is very rare to see a University charging less than the maximum). The Lib Dems had had a very strong youth and student base and this was seen as a massive betrayal. The Lib Dem party itself split in the Commons. 27 Lib Dems, almost all ministers in the government, voted for the rise, 21 voted against and 8 abstained, in an atmosphere notable for the massive student protests in London.
From 23% in 2010, opinion polls indicated that the Lib Dems may have fallen into the single digits nationally, with some polls showing the Lib Dems as low as 8%, though some higher, at around 15%, with the polls mostly averaging around the 10% mark. Considering Britain’s First Past the Post electoral system if uniform swing applied this would mean the loss of a startling number of Lib Dem seats, the vast majority. However a glimmer of hope remained for the Lib Dems in their results in local elections where they demonstrated a capability to maintain strength in the areas where they have MPs and particularly against the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats as a party have often relied on strong local figures maintaining a strong profile as ‘local MPs’ and therefore having a strong personal vote. Indications were that this was continuing. A tradition of Labour supporters tactically voting Lib Dem to stop Conservatives getting in also seemed to continue. It was in areas where the Lib Dems had strong second or third places in 2010 where they lost the most votes. This suggested that the Lib Dems may save more seats than uniform swing indicated, especially as 38 of the party’s 57 seats were in seats where the Conservatives were in second place.
The Conservatives had had started in government fairly well, with a surprisingly long honeymoon period in the initial days of the Coalition in contrast to their Lib Dem partners. However since the 2012 budget things started to fall off the Conservative wagon. The government had cut the new top rate of tax introduced by Labour for those earning over £150,000 a year from 50% to 45%, whilst also removing certain exemptions from the tax code. A particularly odd argument that raged on was that of the ‘pasty tax’. The government had removed an exemption from VAT for hot takeaway food, such as pasties, a savoury pastry filled with meat and vegetables. The pasty is seen as a food of the working class, and so the ‘pasty tax’ was seen as symbolic of a government that did not understand ordinary people. Embarrassing photo ops had to be arranged where politicians explained just how much they enjoyed a pasty. At one point David Cameron was asked at a press conference when the last time he had a pasty was, he responded with a story about buying a pasty at Leeds railway station, but it was later revealed that the pasty shop he mentioned had shut down at the time he said! The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and many other prominent Conservatives come from aristocratic backgrounds and the Conservatives have often been seen as the ‘Party of the Rich’. There was therefore a contrast between the ‘tax cut for millionaires’ as Labour framed it, and a tax raise on a beloved lunchtime meal of the ordinary working man. The Conservatives have also been tainted by associations with the Murdoch press after the fall out from the phone hacking scandal and had to deal with an increasingly rebellious and unruly set of backbench MPs, who feel that the Coalition government has been insufficiently right-of-centre. Cameron has had to deal with an increasingly vocal and rebellious backbench who apparently feel that his moderation was beyond their failure to win in 2010. Unlike Blair who was able to hold moral authority over his party by virtue of his large majorities and therefore claim superior democratic legitimacy Cameron has had no such luck and many Conservative MPs feel a weak attachment to the Coalition Agreement, feeling that their party’s manifesto is more important. One particular backbench MP, Peter Bone, is well known for his almost weekly calls for Cameron to end the Coalition. While his is a lone voice, it is nonetheless a sign of the times in the party.
Labour had been launched into a leadership contest immediately after the 2010 election. The favourite was David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, a former aide to Tony Blair widely seen as on the right of the party. His main competitor was Ed Miliband, his younger brother, the former Energy and Climate Change Secretary and a former aide to Gordon Brown, who was seen as closer to the centre-left of the party. To the surprise of many commentators Ed Miliband won, just.
Ed’s earliest period in power was problematic for the party. He was painted out in the right wing press as ‘Red Ed’, opposed to any and all cuts to the state. He was seen as uncharismatic, nerdy, and even a little weird. There was a strong public perception that he had ‘stabbed his brother in the back’ with rumours that the two no longer spoke.
However as the Conservative’s problems grew Labour grew in strength in the polls, and this led to a change in the narrative about him. Ed also became more confident in front of a camera and in the Commons. While Ed still has his problems and is not riding any Obama-like wave of ascendancy, he is no longer seen as the unremitting disaster he was initially presented as.
Nonetheless, approval ratings for all three party leaders are now pretty terrible and there is a certain anti-establishment feeling in the UK. This has fed into the rise of a new(ish) force – UKIP. Originally short for UK Independence Party (the party recently changed its official name to just the acronym), UKIP was originally a very minor party, eclipsed by the similarly Eurosceptic Referendum Party of millionaire former Conservative donor Sir James Goldsmith. UKIP was originally a single-issue party with a single raison d’etre – the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The party had done well in European Parliamentary elections in the UK, aided by a broadly Eurosceptic electorate, a proportional voting system and low turnouts UKIP had managed to get 3 MEPs elected in 1999 (coming fourth), 12 elected in 2004 (beating the Lib Dems into third) and 13 in 2009 (beating Labour into second).
UKIP had never been particularly good at winning votes in general or local elections however. In 2010 it won 3.1% of the vote in the UK, but came nowhere close to a seat anywhere, with its most prominent candidate, current leader Nigel Farage, only succeeding in third place against Commons Speaker John Bercow (by convention the three main parties do not run against the Speaker). However since 2010 UKIP has been gaining steam, pulling off a string of impressive by-election results, often coming in second, though never actually winning. The party’s best record is 21.7% of the vote in Rotherham in November 2012. The party has also climbed in the opinion polls, where it ranges between 8% and 16%. The party’s success has been due to a variety of factors. Firstly their current leader, Nigel Farage, is a ‘straight talking’ sort of politician who has become popular with news organisations due to his bombastic style replete with quips and put downs for his political contemporaries. In one infamous speech in the European Parliament he lambasted the President of the European Council, the former Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy, as having the “charisma of a damp rag”, as “looking like a low-grade bank clerk” and as coming from a “non-country”. UKIP has also rounded its policies with policies designed to appeal to right-wing Conservatives in particular. The party increasingly concentrates on opposition to immigration and gay marriage. It is said to be pulling away significant numbers of activists from Conservative Future, the Conservatives youth wing. Finally the party appears to be benefitting from the removal of the Lib Dems as a viable protest vote.
All the seats that had been up for by-election so far had been either Labour safe seats, with the exception of Corby, a Lab/Con marginal which has tended to be the former rather than the latter in recent years. In all of these bar one notable exception (Bradford West, where the former Labour MP George Galloway won backed by his far-left RESPECT coalition) the Labour candidate had won, often fairly resoundingly. Eastleigh, however, was a LD/Con marginal. The Eastleigh by-election therefore provided an interesting opportunity for the psephologically-inclined to see how the Lib Dems might perform against the Conservatives at the next election, scheduled for 2015. It was also important to both Coalition parties. For the Lib Dems, a win would mean rare positive press, a significant morale boost for their base and a demonstration that the party was not heading towards electoral wipe-out. For the Conservatives the win was less necessary but it would show that the party was capable of defeating the Lib Dems, who hold significant numbers of Conservative target seats. Eastleigh was therefore, by many measures, the most important by-election since 2010.
Eastleigh is a railway town (a town that primarily developed because of its railway station) in the South of England. It is just 5 miles North of the city of Southampton, one of the larger cities in the South of England, besides London. Like most of Southern England outside London, Eastleigh is overwhelmingly White British, predominantly middle class, though there are working class areas, and economically active.
Up until 1994 Eastleigh had been regarded as a Conservative safe seat, won by the Conservatives at every election since the seat’s creation in 1955. In 1992 the Conservatives had won it with 51.3% of the vote, defeating the second placed Lib Dems with a majority of 23.3%. The sad death of the Conservative MP, Stephen Milligan, a rising star in the party, from what appeared to be a sex act gone wrong led to a by-election in 1994. By this point John Major’s Conservative government had become exceptionally unpopular and in the by-election the Conservative vote collapsed, with the Conservatives winning less than half of their 1992 vote, at 24.7%, coming third with the Lib Dems winning the seat with 44.3% for their candidate, David Chidgey. The seat was held by the Lib Dems from then on. The Conservatives, however, targeted Eastleigh which continually remained just out of reach. The Conservatives would gain votes, but the Lib Dems would succeed through tactical voting in their favour from Labour. Chidgey stood down in 2005, to be replaced by Chris Huhne. In doing so the party lost Chidgeys personal vote and Huhne was only able to defeat the Conservatives by 1.1% of the vote. He increased this in 2010 to 7.2%.
In many other respects Eastleigh has become something of a fortress for the Lib Dems. The party currently holds all of the council seats in the constituency, giving it a stupendous majority on Eastleigh borough council of 40-4 against the Conservatives (with the 4 Conservatives holding seats in areas outside the constituency boundaries). Remarkably the Lib Dems have even managed to gain seats in Eastleigh since 2010, gaining 2 in 2011. No other council is so dominated by the Lib Dems. They also hold all six county council seats in the constituency and even managed to top the poll locally in the super-low turnout Police and Crime Commissioner elections held last year. The Lib Dem machine in Eastleigh is infamous for its effectiveness and ruthlessness at Lib Dem ‘pavement politics’, the art of taking to the streets and campaigning viscerally on local issues. So effective is the Lib Dem machine that local businesses advertise on the back of their leaflets due to their reach. Having such a strong activist base and so many councillors gives the Lib Dems a strong advantage in terms of knowledge of the seat and voting data, something the party exploits.
At the last election the result had been as follows:
Chris Huhne (Liberal Democrat) 46.5%
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 39.3%
Leo Barraclough (Labour) 9.6%
Ray Finch (UKIP) 3.6%
The candidates and the campaign
The four most notable candidates (in order of their party’s performance in the 2010 election) were:
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrats). The Lib Dems took the safe route with the selection of their candidate in the form of Mike Thornton. Thornton is a local councillor, which gave them the opportunity to localise the contest somewhat and avoid the associations with Nick Clegg that would have happened if the Lib Dems had run a Westminster insider. Some on the campaign trail said he was boring, but this also meant he was uncontroversial.
During the campaign it seemed as if the entire Lib Dem activist base had decamped to Eastleigh for the month. The Lib Dems have traditionally been very good at targeting seats they hoped to win and highly effective at by-elections. They are very good at focusing a campaign on local issues – in this particular case opposition to a local housing development project in a classic piece of British NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard). While all parties notionally support increasing the housing stock nationally in practice at a local level people tend to think that the houses should be somewhere else! This strategy was masterminded by former Lib Dem Chief Executive Chris (now Lord) Rennard and is known as ‘Rennardism’ in some circles. In a twist of fate for the Lib Dems, Rennard was publicly accused of sexual harassment by 10 female former Lib Dem activists during the campaign with the intimation that this is why he lost his position as Chief Exec. The Rennard allegations created significant questions for the leadership, with their knowledge of the allegations being a key question. Rumours about Rennard had circulated in the Westminster village for years, but there had never been proof. Clegg’s claim on the Sunday prior to the by-election that he had not heard the allegations before therefore stretched credibility, and he quickly had to release a statement to the effect that he had heard rumours but nothing more. The Lib Dems were therefore faced an ironic situation where they may have lost the by-election due to the behaviour of Chris Rennard, a man who had previously been seen as responsible for many historic Lib Dem by-election wins. Nonetheless the party broadly remained the favourite, though not overwhelmingly so, during the campaign.
Maria Hutchings (Conservative). The Conservatives once again ran their candidate from 2010, Maria Hutchings, a local businesswoman. This was unsurprising given that the party needed a candidate with local credentials to take on the Liberal Democrat strategy of localised pavement politics. With the party having no local councillors Hutchings almost certainly represented the person in the party who knew the seat and its voters the best.
Hutchings was on the right of the party and stated during the campaign that she would have voted against the government’s recent same-sex marriage bill, a source of consternation on the Conservative backbenches and amongst party activists. She also stated that she would have voted for a motion backed by many Conservative rebels in the Commons for a referendum on European Union membership, another source of great division in the heavily Eurosceptic party. She also uttered some statements which were seen as controversial, such as stating that she had sent her son to an independent (fee-paying) school because he was gifted and wanted to be a surgeon and therefore the right kind of education for him would be “impossible” to find in the state system. This was in contrast to Thornton, whose daughter had had a state education and who is now currently studying Medicine! Hutchings also failed to attend two hustings (local Q&A sessions) for the candidates, the first time apparently because she was campaigning with Cameron, the second because she was “meeting with voters”. This led to allegations from her opponents that the party was trying to ‘hide her’ away.
John O’Farrell (Labour). In the 1994 by-election Labour had succeeded in coming second in Eastleigh, beating the Conservatives into third place. As recently as 2005 the party could still pull in more than 20% of the vote, but their vote had collapsed to less than half that in 2010. While no one expected Labour to win the by-election unless extremely lucky, there was an opportunity here to give a sense of momentum by winning back tactical voters from the Lib Dems, and put down a marker that Labour were viable in the South of England outside London and a few urban conurbations, the weakest area for the party. Compared to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the party took a radically different tack in its approach to candidate selection, however, selecting John O’Farrell, a comedian, television broadcaster and writer, who lives in Clapham, South London. O’Farrell is best known for his appearances on comedy panel shows such as Have I Got News for You. He has run for parliament before – running in 2001 in a Conservative safe seat, he is also known in Labour circles for his bestselling book Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter. The book is a memoir tracing the eighteen years of opposition that Labour found itself in between 1979 and 1997 and O’Farrell’s story is a story familiar to many Labour activists and to the party as a whole – that of the transition from radicalism to moderation.
O’Farrell’s campaign was predicated on suggesting that a Lib Dem or Conservative MP for Eastleigh was essentially the same thing as they would both be supporting the same government. Being a comedian his twitter feed included many humourous quips about the by-election. O’Farrell is well known and popular within the Labour Party and I suspect his candidacy helped to galvanise supporters and donors in favour of his campaign. During the campaign O’Farrell was attacked for excerpts from his bestselling memoir when he spoke about a momentary glee on hearing about the 1984 bombing of the Conservative Party conference by the IRA and of supporting the Argentines in the Fawklands War. In the book O’Farrell highlights these as examples of what he sees as the idiocy of radical knee-jerk politics and explains that he is now disgusted by both views but this was still used as a stick to beat him with. Perhaps more damagingly however, friends of mine who were campaigning on the ground say that Eastleigh voters appeared to feel that in nominating a South London based Comedian Labour were not taking the by-election ‘seriously’.
Diane James (UKIP). UKIP nominated Diane James, a councillor and healthcare expert from Waverley in Surrey, originally elected as an independent, James had later joined UKIP. Eastleigh had a special resonance for UKIP as during the 1994 by-election their candidate had been none other than Nigel Farage, their current leader. Farage turned down the opportunity to campaign in the seat again, however.
UKIP ran a surprisingly slick campaign in Eastleigh, and managed to succeed in gaining momentum as the campaign went on. The party nonetheless gained controversy when its leaflets claimed that when immigration laws are relaxed later this year 4 million Bulgarians would come to the UK (the population of Bulgaria is 7.4 million, so this would represent a very large number indeed!) but this did not seem to hurt the party. On Election Day the party pulled ahead of the Conservatives in the betting odds and there were many rumours of a late surge for the party.
In the grand tradition of British by-elections many minor party, fringe and joke party candidates stood. In all 14 candidates stood. The others were Danny Stupple, an independent standing on an anti-gay marriage platform, Michael Walters for the English Democrats, Darren Proctor for the far-left Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Kevin Milburn for the Christian Party. The National Health Action Party, a single-issue party that has gained some media attention for its opposition to NHS privatisation and particularly the government’s controversial new health law stood a candidate, Dr. Iain MacLennan, for the first time. Jim Duggan stood for the Peace Party, Colin Bex stood for the Wessex Regionalists and Ray Hall ran for the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet party, a single issue party which campaigns against pub closures and for the rural way of life. By-election favourites, the Official Monster Raving Looney Party, a joke party that dates back to the 1960s, ran their leader Alan “Howling Laud” Hope. Finally perennial by-election candidate, David Bishop, stood under the latest of his Elvis Presley themed joke labels, ‘Elvis Loves Pets’.
Five polls were carried out during the campaign. Three showed the Lib Dems ahead by 3-5% and two showed the Conservatives ahead by 3-4%. The most notable thing from the polls was the fall in the Labour vote and the increase in the UKIP vote. The last poll of the campaign, by Populus, showed Lib Dems 33%, Conservatives 28%, UKIP 21%, Labour 12% and Others 6%.
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 32.06% (-14.44%)
Diane James (UKIP) 27.80% (+24.20%)
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 25.37% (-13.93%)
John O’Farrell (Labour) 9.82% (+0.22%)
Danny Stupple (Ind) 1.85%
Iain Maclennan (National Health Action) 0.94%
Ray Hall (Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party) 0.56%
Kevin Milburn (Christian) 0.39%
Howling Laud Hope (OMRLP) 0.33%
Jim Duggan (Peace) 0.31%
David Bishop (Elvis Loves Pets) 0.17%
Michael Walters (ED) 0.17% (-0.33%)
Daz Procter (TUSC) 0.15%
Colin Bex (Wessex Regionalist) 0.07%
Turnout was 52.8%, down by 16.5% from 2010 but still a very healthy turnout for a by-election.
The Lib Dems therefore succeeded in holding their seat, something which they are exceptionally happy about. Nick Clegg described the victory as “stunning”. The Lib Dem victory does indeed have much to commend it. Despite the hard times of coalition, the Rennard scandal, the jail term of Chris Huhne which had started the whole by-election the Lib Dems had succeeded in running a well-targeted, slick campaign won on local issues, with a solid dependable local candidate. This will be the model the Lib Dems will pursue in 2015 and on this by-election gave them some confidence that they may save more seats than many expect. That said, this is a rather pyrrhic victory. The party still lost almost 15% of the vote compared to 2010, most likely to a combination of abstention of the historically unreliable Lib Dem vote and to UKIP, in the form of protest votes. In a sense they only won because the Conservatives lost almost as much of their vote as they did, and the Lib Dem loss is in line with national opinion polls too. According to an ‘exit poll’ of sorts, (with a low sample, 760) by Conservative Party election expert Lord Ashcroft, 43% of Lib Dem voters voted for the party tactically suggesting that despite the Coalition the party successfully retained Labour tactical voters. 26% of Lib Dem voters also stated that the main reason they voted for the party was local services, totally unprompted. Only 43% of Lib Dem voters said they would ‘probably’ vote for the party in 2010, however now he is the MP Thornton will no doubt pursue the traditional Lib Dem strategy of working very hard as a local MP and building a strong personal vote, so they probably have the advantage in 2015.
UKIP also pulled off a victory of sorts. While they didn’t win the seat, their 27.8% of the vote represents their best every score in a parliamentary constituency, and they came within 4.3% of victory. This gives the party a continued feeling of momentum. According to the Ashcroft polling the party won roughly equal amounts of the Lib Dem and Conservative vote from 2010 (around a fifth in both cases) and 83% of their voters said they “unhappy with the party they usually support nationally” and three quarters said that they were “unhappy with all the main parties at the moment” further evidence that UKIP’s appeal is primarily anti-establishment and ‘plague on all your houses’ based. There does indeed appear to be a late surge element – 31% made up their minds in the last week, 18% on the last day. As with the Lib Dems only 43% said they would probably vote UKIP in 2015, with 10% saying they would likely vote Conservative.
The Conservatives are reeling. Coming in second would have been poor, but understandable, coming third puts the party in an extremely difficult position. The party is calling this a mid-term protest vote and noting that voters often vote against the government in these types of elections. While that’s true, the voters did elect a MP from a party that is in the government! The Conservatives have historically been poor at by-elections as the party is bad at targeting its campaign activities, and not as good at the ‘ground war’ aspect of a by-election as other parties. Sections of the party have also blamed Cameron for moving the party too far to the left and abandoning the party’s core vote to be picked up by UKIP. However as Professor Tim Bale, the leading academic expert in the Conservative Party, notes, the Conservatives have been attempting to ape UKIP for some time in many respects in the form of Cameron’s recent call for an EU referendum and the Home Secretary, Theresa May’s promise to cut immigration by another quarter. In Bale’s view by doing so the Conservatives could be creating the impression that UKIP’s concerns about both are perfectly valid and giving the party credibility, as he puts it “Rather than shooting Nigel Farage’s fox, all Cameron has done is feed it”. The whole argument also ignores that Maria Hutchings stood on a platform that was clearly right of the party leadership. Yet the party leadership is once again under significant pressure from its activists and backbenchers to shift right as a response, and Sunday’s right wing newspapers are replete with references to getting rid of the Human Rights Act, a particular object of hatred for the right-wing media.
Labour are the only one of the main three parties to have gained votes, but they remain below 10% of the vote. This is hardly the marker that they can win votes in the South of England which the party wanted. The party appears to have made a serious tactical misstep by selecting O’Farrell. Polls suggest that the party lost around half its support over the course of the campaign with most probably going to the Lib Dems, but some also likely going to abstention or UKIP. By running a comedian from South London Labour appear to have given the local electorate the idea that they were not taking Eastleigh seriously. The party will have to work harder to convince the electorate that it can succeed in the South of England – a particular focus will be on this year’s county council elections.