Category Archives: Canada

Prince Edward Island and Alberta (Canada) 2015

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Alberta on May 4 and 5, 2015 respectively.

Prince Edward Island

All 27 members of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, the unicameral provincial legislature of the province, were up for reelection. The smallest province by population, PEI also has the smallest provincial legislature in Canada. As in every other province, members – styled MLAs – are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (which are called districts in PEI). However, PEI was the last Canadian jurisdiction to transition to only single-member constituencies – until the 1996 election, PEI’s MLAs were elected in two-member districts, with each of the island’s three counties electing 10 members in 5 two-member districts (until 1966, when 5th Queens was divided to create a 6th Queens district covering part of Charlottetown, the provincial capital). Since PEI did not abolish its old upper house but instead merged it with its lower house in 1893, the two-member districts returned one assemblyman and one councillor. Until 1963, while all voters could vote for assemblymen, only property owners could elect the councillor. Although the property qualification was dropped in 1963, the nominal titles continued to be used until the creation of the single-member districts.

The two-member districts map, which had remained unchanged save for one exception for a hundred years, and contained very large differences in population across districts, was struck down in Mackinnon v. Prince Edward Island in 1993. The successor map was challenged on the grounds that it over-represented rural areas and did not follow municipal boundaries, but it was upheld by the Prince Edward Island Supreme Court in 1996.

Background

Prince Edward Island, located in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and connected to mainland Canada (New Brunswick) by the Confederation Bridge, is Canada’s smallest constituent unit (province or territory) in land area and smallest province by population (the three territories have a smaller population than PEI). According to the 2011 Census, PEI’s population was only 140,204 – basically a medium-sized regional town (the Sherbrooke urban area in Quebec has a similar population), which also means that PEI’s electoral districts, with an average population of only 5,000 in each, are very small units comparable to municipal wards in most countries. The provincial capital, Charlottetown, has a population of only 34,562 (although the census agglomeration has 64,487 people. Summerside, the Island’s second-largest city, has a population of 14,751 and is the only other community on the Island with a population of over 10,000.

PEI is a fairly linguistically homogeneous province: 92% of residents in 2011 reported English as their mother tongue, with only 3.7% (or 5,190 people) saying French was their mother tongue and 3.5% with a non-official language as their mother tongue. 87% of Islanders are unilingual Anglophone and 95% speak English most often at home. The Francophone (Acadian) minority in PEI is largely concentrated in Prince County (the western third of the island), in the provincial district of Évangéline-Miscouche (where they may make up a majority of the population) and more specifically in three census subdivisions (Lot 15, Abrams Village and Wellington). In racial terms, PEI is also – unsurprisingly – quasi-homogeneously white, with visible minorities making up only 3.1% (4,260) of the population, with Chinese being the single largest minority group (with 1,830 people), and an additional 1.6% (2,230) claiming Aboriginal identity. The Mi’kmaq are, like in the other Maritime provinces, the main Aboriginal group in PEI, which has two First Nations reserves (both Mi’kmaq).

Islanders are largely of British Isles ancestries – Scottish, English or Irish. According to the 2011 NHS, 66.8% of residents claimed British Isles ancestry – more specifically, 39.3% claimed Scottish ancestry, 31.1% claimed English ancestry and 30.4% claimed Irish ancestry. PEI has the highest percentage of persons claiming Scottish or Irish ancestries of any province in Canada. Additionally, 36.8% claimed ‘Canadian’ ancestry and 21.1% claimed French ancestry. One of the more salient divides on the island has traditionally been religion (like in the other Atlantic provinces): PEI was 84% Christian as of 2011, with only 14.4% non-religious. Christians are fairly evenly divided between Catholics (42.9%) and the various Protestant denominations (41.1%, including 9.6% of ‘Other Christians’), and the United Church of Canada is the single largest Protestant denomination. Catholics and Protestants are fairly evenly spread throughout the island, although the eastern and western ends of the island (Kings and Prince counties) tend to be more Catholic while central Queen’s County is slightly more Protestant or non-religious (in Charlottetown, which is 20.8% non-religious).

PEI has the smallest economy of any province, contributing only 0.3% of GDP. The island, like most of the Atlantic provinces, has a weak economy which has been struggling for decades (in fact, the Maritimes’ best economic days, in general terms, were probably before Confederation). PEI has the lowest GDP per capita of any province ($39,780), and its median household income in 2011 ($55,311) was significantly lower than the national median HH income ($61,072). 59% of Islanders, in 2011, fell in the bottom half of the Canadian population (by income decile) and 15.8% were classified as low income (after-tax), compared to 14.9% of all Canadians. Only 82.2% of income came from ‘market income’, the second lowest in Canada (after Newfoundland), while 17.8% of Islanders’ income came from government transfer payments – including a full 5.8% from Employment Insurance (EI), compared to 1.8% across Canada. In April 2015, finally, PEI’s unemployment rate – 10.5% – was the third highest in Canada (after Newfoundland and Nunavut) and significantly higher than the national average (6.8%).

After Confederation, federal economic policies such as the National Policy primarily benefited the industrial powerhouses of central Canada and hurt the Maritimes, as did changing patterns of trade. Furthermore, PEI, an agricultural province lacking in natural resources and transportation links essential to industrial development, was unprepared for industrialization. The province, like the other Atlantic provinces of Canada, have benefited from post-1945 federal economic policies, social programs and transfer payments. In recent years, the provincial government has tried to break the province’s dependence on federal transfers by developing industries such as tourism. However, like the other Maritime provinces of Canada, PEI’s traditional dependence on federal funding and programs has meant that its provincial government has typically not been assertive or one to rock the boat in federal-provincial relations.

PEI was historically a predominantly agricultural province, thanks to its rich soil, ample supply of arable land and temperate climate. PEI is widely known across Canada for its potato production: in 2012, potatoes were the single most profitable crop, earning $246 million out of a total farm cash receipts of $467 million. The province is the nation’s largest supplier of potatoes. Fishing is also a major activity for the coastal communities. However, since the 1950s, the number of farms on the island has declined considerably and existing farms are large enterprises. In 2014, 8.4% of the labour force was directly employed in agriculture or fishing, which made it the fourth largest industry behind public administration (9.5%), retail trade (13.5%) and health care/social assistance (14.2%). Comparatively, across the country, only 3.8% of the labour force was employed in agriculture, forestry or fishing in 2014. Additionally, fisherman was the second most common specific occupation in 2011 (3.2% of the employed labour force), whereas across Canada it was ranked 219th and employed only 0.1%. Nowadays, public sector employment – public administration, education, healthcare and federal services – has replaced agriculture as the major employer on the island, alongside tourism (Anne of Green Gables, PEI’s red cliffs, beaches and unspoiled landscape), construction and light manufacturing (often primary resource-related).

The most common occupations (NOC) in 2011 were sales and services (22.4%), trades transport and equipment operators (15.3%), business finance and administrative occupations (14.9%) and occupations in education, law and social, community and government services (11.3%).

Political history

Prince Edward Island hosted the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, the first in a series of interprovincial conferences which would culminate in Canadian Confederation in 1867. However, the island declined to join Confederation immediately. By 1873, however, construction debts from the provincial railway threatened to bankrupt the colony, and the Liberal government of Premier Robert Haythorne sent a delegation to Ottawa to seek terms for admission to Confederation in return for the federal government assuming the colony’s extensive railway debts.

The other major issue in 19th century PEI was the land question. In 1767, Britain had divided the island into 67 lots owned by ‘proprietors’ (mostly absentee landlords in England) who collected rent from tenant farmers. The issue had been a hot button issue since the 1790s, but London blocked several attempts at land reform by colonial leaders prior to the advent of responsible government (1851). Afterwards, despite significant activism from tenant farmers, the cash-strapped and rather weak colonial government struggled to find a solution to the land question – which dragged on for over two decades after the introduction of responsible government. In 1873, one of the terms of joining Confederation was that the federal government would provide $800,000 towards the purchase of absentee landholdings on the island. In 1875, the province passed the Land Purchase Act, which made compulsory the sale of estates on PEI larger than 500 acres. To this day, non-residents are not permitted to purchase land on the island in excess of 2 hectares without approval from the cabinet.

The issue of separate schools – establishing a parallel system of separate Catholic schools – continued to divide the Liberals and Conservatives in island politics for a few years following Confederation, until 1876, when a coalition of Protestant Liberals and Conservative won power and created a non-sectarian, secular public school system.

With the three major political debates of the 19th century being settled within a few years, PEI politics moved towards the traditional political culture of the other Maritime provinces, characterized by parochialism, tradition, conservatism, pragmatism and a dose of cynicism and caution. Ideology has played a relatively minor role in PEI politics, and most observers have pointed out that few if any meaningful issues or ideologies divide the Liberals and the Conservatives. The parties reached their positions more on grounds of political expediency rather than principles, and they have always operated as patronage machines alternating in power rather than ideological parties. If the two parties were to be ideologically classified, both would end up in the centre, with the Liberals usually a bit more to the left and the Conservatives a bit more to the right.

Like in Nova Scotia, no great ethnic, religious, class or ideological antagonisms have had a strong, lasting influence on Island election. Religion has sometimes been identified as the main cleavage between Liberals and Conservatives, with the former being favoured by Catholics and the latter by Protestants, but PEI politics have never been sectarian and the parties have always had voters, members and leaders from both religious groups. Regionally, the Conservatives have usually been stronger in eastern Kings County and the Liberals in western Prince County, but this has hardly been a set rule: for example, in the 2008 federal election, the federal Conservatives (Gail Shea, a former provincial politician) was elected to the House for the western riding of Egmont while the Liberals retained the three other seats.

PEI is the Canadian province which has remained the most loyal to the old two-party (Liberals and Conservatives) system from Confederation. With the exception of independents elected in the first two provincial elections, no third party won a seat in the provincial legislature until the New Democrats (NDP) won a single seat in 1996, which they lost in 2000. No third party ever won over 10% of the popular vote, with the provincial NDP peaking at about 8% in the 1996 and 2000 elections.

Despite the little ideological differences between the traditional parties and the low stakes of most provincial elections, partisan identification and voter turnout have remained unusually high (turnout has almost always been over 80%, only falling to an historic low of 76.5% in 2011).

Since Confederation, Island politics have been dull to outside observers. The Liberals and Conservatives have alternated in power, and, with the exception of a series of one-term governments in the 1920s and early 1930s, all governments have been reelected at least once. However, neither party has managed to build a monopoly on power – no government has won more than three terms in office since 1978, when Premier Alex Campbell’s Liberals won a fourth (but final) term in office. After three terms in office, voter fatigue tends to set in and the governing party loses to the opposition, which campaigns on the vague promise of ‘change’ and open-ended criticism of some unpopular government decisions. The last change of government on the Island happened in 2007, when Premier Pat Binns’ Progressive Conservatives (PC) sought a fourth term but were soundly defeated by Robert Ghiz’s Liberals, who won 23 seats to the PCs’ 4 and won the popular vote 53% to 41%.

The relative social and political homogeneity of the Island has meant that elections, in terms of seat count, tend to be very lopsided, even if the popular vote has always remained quite close. Governing parties win huge majorities with the opposition being kept to a tiny caucus. The last time the seat count was close was in 1978 (the election split 17-15 between the Liberals and PCs).

Most PEI premiers since Confederation have been unremarkable, with few making a lasting mark by staying in power for a very long period of time or by attaching their names to landmark policies (which have been few in Island politics). Historically, many PEI premiers used the office as a stepping stone in their careers, leaving the job for a judicial appointment or an upgrade to federal politics. In the recent past, the most important PEI premiers have been Liberals Alex Campbell (1966-1978) and Joe Ghiz (1986-1993) and Tory Pat Binns (1996-2007). Alex Campbell supported government intervention in the economy to help diversify PEI’s mainly agricultural economy, and modernized some aspects of Island politics and institutions. Joe Ghiz gained some national notoriety by opposing free trade and supporting the two failed attempts at constitutional reform (Meech and Charlottetown). Pat Binns presided during fairly good economic times.

The provincial Liberals, led by Robert Ghiz – the son of former Premier Joe Ghiz – defeated the PCs in 2007. Remaining fairly popular throughout their first terms, the Liberals were widely expected to win a landslide in the 2011 election. However, the Liberals unexpectedly hit a bump, with a scandal involving the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). The program allows provinces to nominate foreign nationals for entry to Canada, where they can fill local labour market needs. The PEI PNP program was set up in 2001 but shut down by Ottawa in 2008, after the federal government cracked down on years of irregularities in the province’s administration of the PNP. However, just as the program was about to be shut down, the province rushed through a large number of applications in order to maximize benefit from the embattled program. Immigrants invested their money into PEI businesses in return for immigrant status (for critics, ‘buying their way’ into Canada), but the program spun out of hand and a lot of the investment was pocketed by intermediaries and businesses who had no real relations with the immigrant-investors, while few immigrants actually moved to PEI. Relatives of the Premier, along with cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and several MLAs, benefited financially from the PNP. During the election campaign, the federal government called the RCMP and CBSA to investigate allegations of fraud and bribery in the PEI immigration program. Citizenship and Immigration Canada had received information from three former provincial public servants who claimed that would-be immigrant investors gave senior PEI bureaucrats cash-stuffed envelopes during a meeting in Hong Kong in 2008. Ghiz’s Liberals called the allegations politically motivated, but the opposition PCs went on the offensive in the hopes of shaking the government’s support. The RCMP investigation continued for three years but closed in January 2015 without any charges laid.

The PCs gained 5 points in polls in a month with the scandal, and probably spoiled Ghiz’s hopes of a clean-sweep of all 27 seats. In the end, the Liberals, however, were reelected with a barely reduced majority – 22 seats and 51.4% against 5 seats and 40.2% for the PCs. Once again, the provincial New Democrats or Greens failed to make any breakthroughs, winning 3.2% and 4.4% of the vote respectively.

In its second term, the Liberals have also been mixed up in another major scandal; a complicated e-gaming scheme. A number of islanders, including Ghiz’s close confidantes and the PEI conflict of interest commissioner, invested about $700,000 in a US-based tech firm which wanted to set up global banking platform on the island. The province had been trying to get into the online gambling business for some years, in the hopes of generating millions a year, but faced several thorny legal questions. Although the provincial government axed the e-gaming side of the deal due to legal and technical problems, it remained interested in turning the Island into a financial services hub. In 2012, it signed a MOU with a company which ended up embroiled in a securities investigation some months later. Questions have been raised about the conduct of current and former elected officials and staff.

The Liberals have also been criticized for the government’s poor record on the deficit. Since 2011, the Liberals have announced three successive deficit elimination plans, none of which have seen a successful conclusion. Before the 2011 election, the government announced that it would eliminate the deficit by 2013-14, but after they were reelected, the Liberals announced that the deficit was bigger than expected. In 2012, the government came out with another plan, aiming for a small deficit in 2014-15, instead of balance in 2013-14. The finance minister said increased costs of public pension were having a big impact on the budget. The Liberals’ 2012 plan announced 0% increases in all departmental budgets, with the exception of health (which would get a 3% annual increase), until the budget was balanced. In 2012, the Liberals broke a 2011 campaign promise by introducing the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) to PEI, an introduction which would not be revenue neutral. Despite the introduction of the HST, the government’s budget presentation in 2013 announced a much larger budget deficit (missing the target by $25 million). The Liberals now aimed for balance in 2015-16. To raise revenues, the Liberals increased taxes on gas (by 9 cents) and adult clothing, previously exempt from the provincial sales tax. The limits on government spending also meant important cuts in post-secondary education.

2015 election: Campaign and issues

Premier Robert Ghiz somewhat unexpectedly announced his pending resignation as Premier in November 2014, the day after his government opened a new session of the legislature with a Speech from the Throne. In February 2015, the PEI Liberals acclaimed Wade MacLauchlan, the 60/61-year old former president of the University of Prince Edward Island (1996-2011), who is also openly gay (somewhat notable, perhaps, for a traditionalist and conservative province like PEI). None of the senior cabinet ministers in Ghiz’s cabinet stepped up, but instead they all lined up behind MacLauchlan, who ended up as the sole candidate in the race. MacLauchlan was a successful president at UPEI, but is a political rookie. Upon his selection as Premier, MacLauchlan introduced new conflict of interest regulations for politicians and signalled that he’d like the Auditor General to look into the e-gaming scandal. As an outs

PEI last voted in October 2011, and PEI’s fixed election dates law mandates that the next election should have been held on the first Monday of October. However, the newly-elected Premier was eager to seek a mandate from Islanders – and take on the opposition parties, especially the PCs, before they were quite ready – so he dropped the writ for an election on May 4.

Indeed, the PEI PCs went through a deeply chaotic period in 2013. Olive Crane, the PCs’ leader in the 2011 election, stayed on after the election defeat, but her party performed poorly in polls, which showed very high levels of support for the PEI NDP, up to 22% in December 2012 (just 6 points behind the PCs). In December 2012, she survived a leadership review but got a very poor result, which led to her resignation as Leader of the Opposition and PC leader in January 2013. The 5-member PC caucus elected Hal Perry, the MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road, as Leader of the Opposition. However, the PC party – the caucus and the executive – decided to elect Steven Myers, MLA for Georgetown-St. Peters as interim PC leader. Perry initially announced that he would stay on as opposition leader, but the situation became chaotic and ridiculous: the 5-member PC caucus had one MLA as party leader and another MLA as opposition leader. The Liberal Speaker recognized Perry as opposition leader, which added to the ridiculousness of the situation – the Liberals picking the PC leader for them. However, Perry was soon forced to resign his untenable position and Myers got both jobs, although with limited caucus support. The March 2013 CRA opinion poll showed the PCs, after their leadership troubles, down to disastrous third place with only 16% support against 51% for the Liberals and 26% for the NDP (which won, you’ll recall, all of 3.2% in 2011). The PCs climbed back up to second place with 22% in May 2013, but by August 2013, they had fallen back to third again with 23% against the NDP’s historic 32% and the Liberals’ 42%.

In October, the chaos in PC ranks started anew when the PCs lost two-fifths of their caucus within 48 hours. On October 3, Hal Perry crossed the floor to join the Liberals, officially citing the PCs’ reluctance to criticize the federal Conservatives’ changes to Employment Insurance. On October 4, Myers expelled Olive Crane from the PC caucus for rather long-winded reasons: basically, Crane spoke to the media about Perry’s departure when she wasn’t supposed to according to official PC directives. Crane continued to sit as an independent. The PCs, therefore, were down to 3 MLAs. In November 2013 and February 2014, the CRA polls again showed the PCs languishing in a horrible third with only 17% support while the NDP continued riding high at 26% and 22% support respectively.

The PCs brought forward their leadership convention after the Liberals elected their new leader (on February 21), holding theirs on February 28. In a contested race, the PCs elected outsider Rob Lantz, a Charlottetown city councillor, who defeated James Aylward, the MLA for Stratford-Kinlock who had the backing of interim PC leader Steven Myers and the other sitting PC MLA (Colin LaVie). Polls in 2014 had shown the PCs struggling with poor polling numbers, but pushing their way back into second as the NDP’s remarkable (but unrealistic) momentum wore off. In February of this year, CRA showed the Liberals enjoying very strong support (58%) after MacLauchlan’s coronation with the PCs a poor second (26%) and the NDP in a strong but weaker third (12%).

As usual, the Liberals and the PCs did not differ much on the major issues – healthcare, jobs, economy, education and the like – and mostly had the same positions phrased differently. The PCs mostly focused on change, running on the slogan ‘A New Direction’, and sometimes hitting the Liberals quite hard on ethics issues and promising “major governance reforms to increase accountability, transparency and open government.” The PCs also promise to rebate the 9% provincial portion of the HST on residential electricity and a 20% reduction in copay for seniors’ drugs. Both parties steered clear of the abortion debate – PEI is the only province in Canada where a woman still cannot get a surgical abortion (as there are no abortion providers on the island), instead she must go to Halifax (Nova Scotia). Neither the Liberals or the PCs are interested in opening up abortion services on the Island (although the NDP and the Greens are). Even federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who has famously demanded that his MPs and candidate be prepared to cast pro-choice votes, sidestepped the issue of on-Island abortions when campaigning with MacLauchlan.

The PEI NDP and Greens both made a much stronger run than in any other election in the past. The PEI NDP, the weakest of all provincial New Democrats in the country, peaked at 8.4% of the vote in the 2000 election and won a seat in the Legislative Assembly only once – in 1996 – when then-NDP leader Herb Dickieson was elected in West Point-Bloomfield, a victory owed mostly to local issues at the time. In 2011, the NDP ran only 14 candidates and won 3.2% of the vote; as in 2007, it placed fourth, behind the Greens, who ran 22 candidates and obtained 4.4% of the vote. Both parties went into this election led by new, ambitious leaders. The NDP was led by Michael Redmond, who ran in Montague-Kilmuir against a Liberal incumbent. The Greens were led by Scottish-born dentist and perennial Green candidate Peter Bevan-Baker. The NDP put up a full slate of 27 candidates, while the Greens had 24 candidates. Unlike the NDP, the Greens followed the new federal and provincial Green parties strategy of putting the most resources in the leader’s riding (in this case, Kellys Cross-Cumberland), a strategy which notably saw the New Brunswick Greens elect their leader in a Fredericton riding in last year’s provincial election.

Results and Analysis

Turnout was 85.9%, up 10.5% from the last election, when turnout hit an Island low of 76.2%. Compared to 2011, this election was closer, more disputed, more open-ended (with the NDP and the Greens both making a much stronger run than in any other election).

Liberal 40.83% (-10.55%) winning 18 seats (-4)
PC 37.39% (-2.77%) winning 8 seats (+3)
Green 10.81% (+6.45%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NDP 10.97% (+7.81%) winning 0 seats (nc)

PEI 2015

In one of the most exciting provincial elections in recent PEI political history, the Liberals were – as expected – reelected to a third term majority government, but they suffered significant loses and won a narrow majority with 18 seats out of 27 seats, a loss of 4 seats compared to the 2011 election. While in terms of seats the main beneficiaries of the Liberals’ loses were the opposition Tories, who gained 3 seats and now form a much stronger official opposition caucus of 8 (up from 5 in 2011 and 3 at dissolution), in terms of vote share the PCs did rather poorly as well, losing about 3% of their vote from the 2011 election. That being said, given how terrible the PCs did in opposition and how they managed to climb out of chaos only a few short months ago and elect a permanent leader only two months before the election (after 2 years with an interim leader), they should be pleased with their performance. In fact, the main winners of this election were the third parties – the NDP and the Greens. The Liberals’ 40.8% was the lowest vote share for a winning party in Island history, the Tory vote is the lowest it’s ever been since 1989 and above all the combined Liberal and Tory vote share – 78.22% – is the lowest in Island history.

The NDP and the Greens, together, won an amazing 21.78% of the vote, a remarkable feat in PEI. Naturally, both the NDP and the Greens won their best popular vote results in their (short, especially for the Greens) history, both winning nearly 11% of the vote. The NDP and the Greens’ results show that Islanders were displeased with both Liberals and Tories – one an unpopular governing party with a few ethics problems, the other an uninspiring and bland opposition party – and that some of them, for the first time, looked for an alternative to the two traditional parties in the NDP or the Greens.

However, of the two third parties, the Greens had the better election – even if they placed fourth in vote share, they won a seat, with an astonishing landslide for Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker in his riding of Kellys Cross-Cumberland (23% of all Green votes on the Island were cast for Bevan-Baker!). On the other hand, the NDP won more votes than the Greens and were generally stronger than the Greens in ridings where both parties competed against each other, but the NDP once again fell short of actually winning a seat. NDP leader Michael Redmond had a decent result in Montague-Kilmuir (23%), but he still ended up in third place in that rural Kings County seat which isn’t natural Dipper country; the NDP came within 109 votes in Charlottetown-Lewis Point.

This is very reminiscent of what happened last year in New Brunswick: the NDP stronger than the Greens in terms of votes, but the Greens coming out as the stronger of the two because they managed to elect their leader to the legislature while the NDP remained shut-out. The Greens, as in the federal election (2011), BC (2013) and NB (2014), used the successfully tried-and-tested strategy of dumping their scarce resources on the leader’s seat (or, if not, a limited number of seats, as in BC 2013) and going all-out there. In Canada’s FPTP system which really hurts a party like the Greens, this strategy has proven to be very successful for the Greens. The NDP, in provinces like PEI and NB where it is very weak and has the same FPTP issues as the Greens there, hasn’t really gone for the same strategy as the Greens and they’ve paid the price.

The PCs did best in Kings County/eastern PEI, holding the four seats they were defending there (including retiring ex-PC MLA Olive Crane’s riding) and gaining the marginal riding of Belfast-Murray River from the Liberals. Belfast-Murray River was former PC Premier Pat Binns’ seat, which the Liberals gained in a 2007 by-election (after Binns stepped down after his defeat) during their long honeymoon and held by only 8 votes in the 2011 election. This year’s race, a rematch of the 2011 contest between Liberal MLA Charlie McGeoghegan and PC challenger Darlene Compton, went in the Tories’ favour, who won the seat with a more comfortable margin of 108 votes. The Liberals held Vernon River-Stratford by a tiny margin of only 2 votes for Liberal incumbent Alan McIsaac on election night. After a recount, the result there actually ended up as a perfect tie, and the Liberals only won the seat by coin toss. The Liberals had an easier time in Montague-Kilmuir, winning 41.8% against 31% for the PCs and 23.1% for NDP leader Michael Redmond. Compared to the NDP’s results in surrounding districts (7-9%), this was a strong performance for the NDP, but they still fell short by a good distance.

The PCs also had good results in rural central PEI (Queen’s County), a key swing region where elections are won. The Tories gained Borden-Kinkora, Kensington-Malpeque and Rustico-Emerald from the Liberals (incumbents standing down) – with fairly consequential margins in all three. Liberal leader and Premier Wade MacLauchlan was elected in his riding of York-Oyster Bed, with a 600 vote victory over the Tories (47.7% to 32.9%) while the Liberals also held the Charlottetown suburban districts of Cornwall-Meadowbank (46.3% to 33.8%) and Tracadie-Hillsborough Park (45.7% to 27.8%). However, the Liberals held the other suburban district, West Royalty-Springvale, by only 59 votes against the PCs. In Kellys Cross-Cumberland, a predominantly rural/small town riding on the south-central coast of PEI, Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker saw his hard work pay off, winning in a shocking landslide – a margin of 1,031 votes, taking 54.8% of the vote against only 27.6% for the Liberal incumbent. In fact, Bevan-Baker’s margin of victory (in terms of votes, not percentages), was the largest of any winning candidate on the island!

Of decisive importance to the Liberal victory was Charlottetown – where they won every seat, despite tough challenges in a number of them and loses in most. In Charlottetown-Brighton, one of the key races of the election, Liberal candidate Jordan Brown defeated PC leader Rob Lantz by a 24-vote margin (39% to 38.1%). In Charlottetown-Lewis Point (many students from UPEI live in this district), the Liberals held on despite a tough challenge from the NDP – the NDP lead for a good part of the night, but the advance polls won it for the Liberals, by a thin 109 vote margin (34.3% to 30.7% for the NDP, with 27% for the PCs). The Liberals didn’t sweat as much in Charlottetown-Victoria Park, Charlottetown-Parkdale and Charlottetown-Sherwood. However, the Greens did win some very good results in Charlottetown-Victoria Park (18.8%) and Charlottetown-Parkdale (19.2%), winning a number of polls in both (in the downtown core areas and surrounding areas, with a young population, and gentrified low-income areas)

The Liberals swept western PEI, and won tight but decisive victories in the two districts of Summerside, PEI’s second-largest city. In Summerside-St. Eleanors, the Liberals won by 148 votes against the PCs, while in neighbouring Summerside-Wilmot, Liberal MLA Janice Sherry was reelected with a lead of only 30 votes against the Tories. The Liberals had an easier time in Tyne Valley-Linklater (337 vote victory) and O’Leary-Inverness (247 vote victory), while their incumbents won by big margins in Évangéline-Miscouche (62.6% for Liberal MLA Sonny Gallant in PEI’s Acadian riding), Alberton-Roseville and Tignish-Palmer Road. In the latter, floor crosser incumbent Hal Perry – elected as a Conservative in 2011 but running for reelection as a Liberal this year – was handily reelected, with a 668 vote lead and some 58.2% of the vote.

The Liberals won four districts by less than 100 votes (including one by only 2 votes) – if the PCs had won them, they would have held 12 seats to the Liberals’ 14, a wafer-thin majority for the Liberals. If the Liberals also lost the two other ridings which they won by less than 200 votes, we’d be looking at a Tory minority government and a Legislative Assembly with 13 Tories, 12 Liberals, 1 Dipper and 1 Green.

PEI political history dictates that the Liberals will be defeated as they try to win a fourth term in 2019. In the meantime, however, the PCs – who, in spite of everything, remain the only alternative governing party on the Island – will need to manage their time in opposition far better than they have since 2011. Rob Lantz turned out to be a strong and competent leader on the campaign trail, who managed the PCs well after the chaos of 2013, but unfortunately for them he was narrowly defeated in his own bid to enter the Legislative Assembly, although he will remain (for now) as the PC leader from the outside. The PCs will also need to deal with this potentially tricky situation. As for the third parties, the NDP comes out with a strong showing but also a frustrating and disappointing end result, while the Greens come out with a foothold in the legislature for their amiable and popular leader, and will thus have a stronger voice than the NDP. However, neither the NDP or the Greens can be seen as realistic alternative governing parties for the Island (although this is Canada we’re talking about, and considering I’m about to talk about Alberta’s election…).

Alberta

All 87 members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, the unicameral provincial legislature of the province, were up for reelection. Members – styled MLAs – are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (or ridings).

Background

Alberta, located in Western Canada and bordered by British Columbia (to the west, across the Rocky Mountains), Saskatchewan (to the east), the United States (to the south) and the territories (to the north), is Canada’s fourth-most populous province – after Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. According to the 2011 Census, Alberta had a population of 3,645,257 while the latest population estimates for the first quarter of 2015 pegged Alberta’s population at 4,160,044 – or 11.7% of the total Canadian population. Between 2006 and 2011 and again between 2011 and 2014, Alberta had the second highest population growth rate of any jurisdiction in Canada – +10.8% from 2006 to 2011 (only Yukon had higher growth) and +13.7% from 2011 to 2014 (only Nunavut had higher growth). In the past 100 and 50 years, mainly because of its burgeoning economy, Alberta’s population has grown dramatically – in 1911, Alberta’s population was a mere 374,295 and in 1966, Alberta’s population was 1,463,203.

The Albertan population is one of the most mobile in the country: in 2011, 44.9% of Albertans lived at a different address than they did 5 years ago, compared to 38.6% of Canadians. 6.5% of Albertans in 2011 were interprovincial migrants (lived in a different province 5 years before), compared to only 2.8% of the Canadian population in 2011. Alberta’s strong economy and employment opportunities have famously attracted Canadians from other provinces, most notably the Atlantic provinces. Only 53.6% of the population in 2011 was actually born in Alberta, compared to two-thirds of Canadians who were born in the same province that they resided in.

Alberta has two major cities, Calgary and Edmonton. In 2011, the Calgary CMA had a population of 1,214,839 while the Edmonton CMA had a population of 1,159,869 – taken together, 65% of Alberta’s population in 2011 lived in these two metropolitan areas, which have also seen rapid population growth throughout the 20th century and particularly in the last 10-15 years. The relatively equal weight of the two cities has produced a lasting political, economic and sports rivalry between them, with began when Edmonton was selected as the provincial capital over Calgary in 1905. Other large cities in Alberta include Red Deer (90,564) in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, Lethbridge (83,517) in southern Alberta, St. Albert (61,466) in the Edmonton CMA, the oil boom town of Fort McMurray (61,374) in northeastern Alberta, Medicine Hat (60,005) in southeastern Alberta and Grande Prairie (55,032) in northwestern Alberta.

Compared to the rest of the country, while Alberta is aging it has of the youngest populations in Canada – in 2011, the lowest median age (36.5) and the lowest percentage of the population aged 65+ (11.1%).

Alberta is Canada’s third largest economy, contributing 17.9% of the national GDP. The province’s economy is famously driven by oil – Canada is now the world’s fifth largest producer of oil, and Alberta is the largest producer of conventional crude oil, synthetic crude and natural gas in the country. More importantly, Alberta has the largest reserves of unconventional oil in the world – in the form of the oil sands (or tar sands), found mostly in the Athabasca region in northeastern Alberta. Oil sands now account for the vast majority of Canada’s rapidly increasing oil production: of the 173 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered with today’s technology, 168 billion of those are found in the oil sands (giving Canada the third largest proven crude oil reserves in the world). Conventional oil production in Alberta began in earnest in 1947, a date which marks the beginning of the oil era in Alberta’s economy. Because of the high cost of developing the oil sands and the difficulty of extraction (today, most oil sands extraction in Canada require advanced in situ technologies in most cases), commercial production has only become viable when the price of oil is high. Commercial production of oil from the Athabasca oil sands only began in 1967, but only took off with rising oil prices since the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since the 1960s, Alberta’s economy has followed the oil cycle, doing well when oil prices have been high but struggling when oil prices fall. Therefore, Alberta’s economy was doing very well between the late 1990s until 2008.

Alberta has the highest GDP per capita of any province ($84,390) – only the Northwest Territories, with a far smaller population and due to its booming diamond mining industry, has a higher GDP per capita in Canada. Moreover, its median household income in 2011 ($78,632) was the highest of any province, significantly higher than the national median HH income ($61,072). Calgary and Edmonton are two of the most affluent metro areas in the country, along with Ottawa-Gatineau.

60% of Albertans, in 2011, fell in the higher half of the Canadian population (by income decile), with 17% in the highest decile. 10.7% were classified as low income (after-tax), compared to 14.9% of all Canadians. 92.7% of incomes in 2010 came from market income, the highest of any jurisdiction in Canada, and only 7.3% came from government transfer payments. In April 2015, Alberta’s unemployment rate – 5.5% – was below the national average (6.8%), tied with Manitoba for the second lowest unemployment rate behind Saskatchewan. Although low compared to other provinces, Alberta’s unemployment rate has been increasing in the last few months and is quite a bit higher than what it used to be during pre-recession boom days – in 2006, for example, unemployment was as low as 3% in the province. In March 2015, 38,750 people received regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefits in Alberta, up 24.7% on the previous year (by comparison, the number of beneficiaries rose by 0.5% in Canada over the same period).

Alberta has always been an export-oriented economy, but the economy has changed substantially as different export commodities have risen or fallen in importance. Over the province’s history, the most important products have been fur, wheat and beef and oil and gas. With the expansion of the railway to Western Canada in the late 19th century, commercial farming – mostly wheat farming – became viable and replaced fur trading as Alberta’s main industry. Agriculture dominated the Albertan economy from around the time it joined Confederation in 1905 until the expansion of the oil and gas industry in the 1950s. Naturally, the changing nature of the Albertan economy has had major impacts on Albertan society, culture and politics. Various authors, for example, have explained Alberta’s unique political culture partly in terms of believed shared interest in a single dominant commodity (Gurston Duck’s ‘Alberta consensus’ theory) or supposed class homogeneity (C.B. Macpherson’s Democracy in Alberta).

In 2014, mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction contributed the largest share – 27.4% – of Alberta’s GDP, followed at some distance by construction (10.7%) and real estate (9.5%). The top industries in terms of employment in 2011 were elementary and secondary schools (4.1%), hospitals (3.5%) – like across Canada – but 3.3% were directly employed in oil and gas extraction and another 2.9% in support activities for oil and gas extraction, making them the third and fourth most important industries in Alberta, whereas they only rank 55th and 49th nationally. An above average percentage, compared to Canada as a whole, were also employed in architectural, engineering and related services (2.8%) and farms (2.7%). Using NAICS industries, the largest general industries in 2014 were construction (11.3%), health care and social assistance (10.6% of the labour force), retail trade (10.3% of the labour force) and professional, scientific and technical services (8.1%). Compared to Canada as a whole, a large percentage, unsurprisingly, were employed in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (7.7%; 1.7% in Canada); vice versa, manufacturing and public administration were less significant employers than in the wider country.

In 2011, the most common occupations (NOC) were sales and services (20.7%), trades transport and equipment operators (17.4%), business finance and administrative occupations (16.4%) and management occupations (11.7%).

As with all of Western Canada outside of Manitoba, in terms of official languages, Alberta is overwhelmingly Anglophone: in 2011. 77% reported English as their sole mother tongue and only 1.9% reported French as their sole mother tongue; 92% spoke only English and 85.7% spoke English most often at home. The town of St. Paul, first settled by French missionary activity, has the largest French-speaking population Alberta, making up 15% of that town’s population. While Alberta’s Francophone population is very small, it has a growing immigrant population who speak a non-official language as their mother tongue (19.4%) and at home (10.5%).

18.4% of the population in 2011 were visible minorities, only slightly less than the national average; the largest visible minority groups in Alberta were South Asians (4.4%; mostly Punjabi), Chinese (3.7%), blacks (2.1%) and Filipinos (3% – significantly above the Canadian average). Nearly 11% of all immigrants in Alberta were born in the Philippines and Tagalog had become the third biggest non-English mother tongue in the province after German and French, a sharp increase on 2001 and 2006. Visible minorities make up 22% of the population in Edmonton and 28% in Calgary.

Alberta’s white population is also very diverse in terms of ancestry. The most common ethnic origin in 2011 was English (24.9%), a percentage significantly higher than the Canadian average, followed by ‘Canadian’ (21.8% – over 10% below national average), German (19.2% – nearly 10% above the Canadian average), Scottish (18.8% – also above average), Irish (15.8%), French (11.1%), Ukrainian (9.7%) and Dutch (5.1%). Alberta, like other Western provinces, sticks out by its large proportion of Ukrainians (who make up only 3.8% of the Canadian population), Dutch and Scandinavians. The federal Liberal government under the direction of Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton (1896-1905) allowed for non-British white European immigration to settle Western Canada, the ‘Last Best West’ in the 1890s following the closing of the American frontier. Ukrainians and others mostly settled in ‘ethnic block settlements’, many of them in northern Alberta.

The closing of the American frontier also led to significant American immigration from the United States – English-stock Americans, Canadians who had moved to the US but returned north, European-stock immigrants to the US. In 1916, Americans accounted for 36% of all foreign-born residents of Alberta (and 30% of those in Saskatchewan, but only 8% of those in Manitoba – far more influenced by English Ontarian settlement). Americans mostly settled in rural southern Alberta, while the cities – Calgary and Edmonton – were mostly settled by British immigrants; American immigrants tended to be farmers looking for land in Canada, while British immigrants tended to be workers and/or urban-dwellers. Nelson Wiseman (2011) showed how American immigrants to Alberta have had a significant impact on the province’s political culture, especially in its infancy years.

Alberta is contradictory in religious terms. Evangelical Christianity is important and has played a significant role in its politics, but Alberta is the second-most non-religious province in Canada after BC, with 31.6% of Albertans in 2011 not reporting a religious affiliation compared to 24% of Canadians. 60.3% are Christians, divided between 24% of Catholics, 7.5% of UCC adherents, 3.9% of Anglicans, 3.3% of Lutherans and a large percentage identified as ‘other Christian’ (15.2%). Alberta has Canada’s only significant Mormon population, around Cardston in southern Alberta, who are mostly descended from pioneers who emigrated from Utah. There are also significant numbers of Mennonites, Hutterites, Seventh-day Adventists and evangelical Protestant denominations. The ‘other Christian’ grouping likely includes non-negligible numbers of Eastern Rite Churches – Ukrainian Catholics, Ukrainian Orthodox etc.

There is also a significant Aboriginal population in Alberta – in 2011, 6.2% of residents claimed Aboriginal ancestry, which is higher than the national average (4.3%); most of them being First Nation (3.3%, Cree being the most important tribal group) and Métis (2.7%).

Political history

Alberta has a unique and distinctive political culture and history which sets it apart from the rest of Canada and has generated loads of academic debate. The province is most notable for its dynastic politics – up until this election, four parties have ruled Alberta, each for fairly long period of times: the Liberal Party (1905-1921), the United Farmers (1921-1935), Social Credit (1935-1971) and the Progressive Conservatives (since 1971). There have been no one-term governments (in fact, no government has served less than 3 terms) or minority governments in Alberta. No party which has lost power has ever regained power – in fact, of the three former governing parties, two of them (the UFA and SoCred) basically died out only a few years after their defeat. It can be said that Alberta has had a dominant-party system since entering Confederation in 1905.

C.B. Macpherson (1953)’s Democracy in Alberta described Alberta as having a unique ‘quasi-party system’ – incorporating elements of an ordinary party system, a nonparty system and a one-party system while having significant differences with all of them. In his Marxist analysis, Alberta’s party system was the result of its purported ‘relatively homogeneous class composition’ as an agrarian petit bourgeois society and its quasi-colonial relationship with central Canada. However, Alberta’s party system has never been so unique: large legislative majorities for governing parties are the products of FPTP, there has never been political unanimity in Alberta, political longevity in Canadian politics is by no means limited to Alberta and the dramatic rise of the UFA and SoCred is not particularly unusual in Canada’s political system prone to large swings. Furthermore, Alberta could never have been described as a ‘relatively homogeneous’ agrarian petit bourgeois society – not even in the 1930s, and certainly not by the 1950s. The argument about the West’s ‘quasi-colonial’ relationship with central Canada is more valid, and ‘Western alienation’ has been a major theme in Alberta politics – past, present and future. However, while Albertan governments since 1921 have made use of Western alienation, it was never SoCreds or the PCs’ raison d’être.

More recently, Nelson Wiseman (2011) described Alberta as having a distinctive ‘liberal-individualist populist’ ideological orientation, which he argues is the result of American immigration to Alberta. While Alberta has undeniably been influenced by the general political culture of English Canada, and in general Albertans do not differ as much in their political views as is often imagined, some characteristics of America’s classical liberal ideology – rugged individualism, free market capitalism, egalitarianism and hostility towards centralized federalism – have been important in Alberta’s political culture. At the same time, Alberta has been less influenced by the central Canadian/British traditions of Toryism and later socialism, especially in comparison to Manitoba – a province built firstly by Ontarian settlers, unlike Alberta, a province built by the quasi-simultaneous immigration of a large array of ethnic groups. Nelson Wiseman argues that American immigrants to Alberta (who were mostly of English, rather than European, descent, and thus of higher social status) at the turn of the last century shaped early Alberta’s political culture – particularly its liberal, individualist and populist streak. The American influence was particularly strong in the 1920s agrarian movement in Alberta, the UFA. Henry Wise Wood, the president of the UFA from 1916 to 1931 (and the éminence grise behind the UFA in government), was born in Missouri and active in the US Populist movement in the late 19th century before moving to Canada at age 45. The Non-Partisan League from North Dakota expanded into Canada, but was only somewhat successful in Alberta, and was absorbed by the UFA in 1919. The UFA’s ideas were influenced by the American populist and progressive movements – direct democracy, proportional representation, monetary reform –  which were anathema to central Canadian (and Manitoban) Tories and Grits alike. The difference could be seen within the Canadian progressive movement – Thomas Crerar’s Manitoba Progressives were former Liberals who wanted to ‘moralize’ the federal Liberals and supported the Westminster parliamentary system, the Albertans were more radical populists who rejected the party system and the parliamentary system. Geographically, the UFA and later SoCred performed best in rural southern Alberta, the region most heavily settled by Americans, while Edmonton and especially Calgary – mostly settled by the British – resisted these two movements, preferring the traditional parties and later the socialist movement (mostly built by Scottish and English immigrants in the British Fabian tradition).

The SoCred movement was also heavily influenced by evangelical Christianity (and not the Canadian social gospel of the CCF/NDP), and Mormons were important in the party – Solon Low, the SoCred federal leader from 1944 to 1961, was a Mormon. Although both the UFA and SoCred were populist movements hostile to big business and finance, and the UFA had collectivist ideas, both were – on the whole – liberal and individualist movements. Certainly SoCred, under Ernest Manning, became a socially conservative party hostile to big government and socialism. In more recent years, Wiseman pointed to the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance as influenced by modern American conservatism and the Republican Party. In the 1990s, the so-called ‘Calgary School’ group of conservative academics – including American-born Tom Flanagan and Ted Morton, among others (including Stephen Harper, active in the late 1990s in conservative academia) – expressed a low-tax, small government, anti-centralized government, free-market libertarian/conservative ideology quite similar to American conservatism.

Certainly, Alberta’s ‘liberal-individualist populism’ – if you accept that label to be an accurate descriptor of Alberta’s political culture – sets it apart from eastern and central English Canada, but also neighbouring Saskatchewan – the cradle of agrarian socialism, the first socialist government in North America in 1944 and what Wiseman described as a more collectivist populism.

Liberal era (1905-1921)

Alberta was created as a province, alongside Saskatchewan, out of the Northwest Territories in 1905. Under the terms of the Act which brought Alberta into Confederation, the federal government would retain ownership over natural resources and imposed requirements for separate schools, two terms which were already highly controversial in 1905 and became even more contentious in later years. The federal Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier, as expected, selected a Liberal as Alberta’s first lieutenant-governor, who in turn appointed a Liberal as the first Premier of the province – Alexander Rutherford. The dominant figure of Northwest Territories politics and leading lobbyist for provincial status (although one instead of two provinces), Frederick W.A.G. Haultain, was ‘snubbed’ because he was a Conservative. Although elected from Alberta, Haultain opted to lead the opposition to the Liberals in Saskatchewan rather than Alberta. Therefore, in Alberta, Rutherford’s Liberals, with the benefits of incumbency (patronage) and attacking R.B. Bennett’s Conservatives for their ties to the widely disliked Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), were returned in a landslide with 22 seats to the Conservatives’ 3.

Rutherford set up the main provincial institutions and, despite the Liberals’ usual aversion to government interventionism, made some large-scale forays into telecommunications by investing in a public telephone system and offering loan guarantees to several companies in exchange for commitments to build railway lines. Although disinterested by labour issues, the government intervened to moderate a major labour dispute in the coal mines in 1907, by setting up a commission and legislating a eight-hour day and workers’ compensation. Early in the government, Rutherford alienated Calgary by selecting Edmonton as the provincial capital and added to injury by later ensuring that the new University of Alberta would be in Edmonton (Strathcona). The popularity of the Liberals’ public telephone system carried them to an increased majority in 1909.

However, Rutherford began facing inconvenient questioning from a Liberal backbencher over very generous loan guarantees given to a railway company it knew little about and which had fulfilled virtually none of its promises regarding construction of the railway. The Conservative opposition accused the government of culpable negligence in failing to properly oversee the company’s activities. Bennett claimed that due to the discrepancy in the sale price of the bonds and what the government had received for them meant that the company had made a profit of $200,000-300,000 at the government’s expense. The scandal divided the government – the public works minister resigned as the scandal broke because of his disagreements with Rutherford – and the Liberal caucus. A number of Liberal MLAs voted in favour of a motion of no-confidence. Rutherford failed to quell the controversy with the appointment of a royal commission; the federal Liberal government and the lieutenant-governor intervene to force Rutherford to resign, which he reluctantly did in May 1910. He was replaced by Arthur Sifton, the former provincial chief justice, who had a veneer of impartiality and probity. Sifton repudiated Rutherford’s railway policy, in part, by passing legislation to confiscate the proceeds of the sale of government-guaranteed bonds sold to finance the controversial railway’s construction.

Sifton tried to restore party unity, but Rutherford stayed on as a backbencher critical of his successor. In the 1913 election, although renominated as a Liberal in his Edmonton riding, Rutherford effectively rejected the party label at his nomination meeting and even offered to campaign for the Conservatives (who rejected his offer, ran a candidate against him who ultimately defeated him). Sifton’s Liberals were reelected in 1913 but with a significantly reduced majority, while the Conservatives formed a strong opposition force with 17 MLAs against 38 for the Liberals.

Sifton’s tenure as Premier corresponded to the rise of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), which was still a farmers’ lobby group, although one with a very large membership and thus a force to be reckoned with. Sifton’s policies were increasingly driven by the UFA. Responding to UFA demands, he built agricultural colleges, allowed municipalities to levy property taxes (and required that rural municipalities tax only land), scrapped plans to privatize hail insurance and incorporated the Alberta Farmers’ Co-operative Elevator Company – a farmer-owned grain elevator company. The UFA also supported political reform – direct democracy, recall, women’s suffrage, so they influenced the Liberal government to pass a ‘direct democracy act’ (1913) which allowed for voters to call a referendum directly by submitting a petition including the names of eligible voters representing 10% of votes cast in the previous general election (and at least 8% in each of the provincial ridings), so a very high number of signatures. The law did not allow for recalls, as the UFA supported. One of the issues which did gather enough signatures for a citizen-initiated referendum was prohibition, which was voted on in 1915 and passed by a wide margin (61% yes) leading to the introduction of prohibition legislation in 1916. Sifton dragged his feet on women’s suffrage and made ridiculously sexist comments on the topic, but feeling pressure from women’s groups and the UFA, he committed to a debate on the issue and women gained the right to vote in 1916.

The Liberals were reelected in 1917, in the midst of World War I and the conscription debate in Canada. The election was fairly low-key – under an amendment to the election law, incumbent members who had signed up for war service were automatically reelected by acclamation (7 Liberals and 5 Tories were reelected this year). Overall, the Liberals won a reduced majority, with 34 seats against 19 for the Conservatives. The election saw competition from the Non-Partisan League (NPL), which originated in North Dakota and called for a ‘business administration’ and the election of a ‘truly people’s party’ rather than a traditional ‘party administration’ – a characteristically non/anti-partisan, grassroots populist discourse later adopted by the Canadian/Albertan agrarian progressive movement. Two NPL candidates were elected, while a Labor candidate was also elected from Calgary. The Albertan labour movement was led by Scottish-born William Irvine, a follower of the social gospel and later an advocate of UFA political participation. Sifton, however, resigned shortly after his reelection to serve as a cabinet minister in Prime Minister Robert Borden’s wartime pro-conscription Unionist government.

The conscription crisis divided Canada and the Alberta Liberals. While most Alberta Liberals backed Borden’s Tories in his pro-conscription coalition government, a significant number of them remained loyal to Laurier’s anti-conscription Liberals. Sifton was replaced as Premier by Charles Stewart, who also supported conscription.

Stewart continued to deal with the UFA, on issues like irrigation and a stillborn committee to look into proportional representation, but relations soured as the UFA had less success in driving the Liberal agenda during World War I.

United Farmers era (1921-1935)

Across Canada, farmers movements like the UFA hotly debated whether or not they should participate in politics and contest elections themselves. Western farmers had several reasons to be unhappy with the Canadian political system and the two major political parties. The National Policy, which imposed high tariffs on the import of manufacturing goods to protect central Canadian industries, was forcing Western farmers to sell their agricultural products at lower prices, and buy farm equipment and manufactures from central Canada at higher prices. At the federal level, low tariffs or free trade were the farmers’ main demand. Other complaints included the CPR high rates and the behaviour of private grain traders. Farmers grew to resent both the Liberals and Conservatives as corrupt central Canadian parties, which did not represent them or their interests – something which became especially true when the Liberals lost their enthusiasm for free trade after the defeat of reciprocity in 1911. In Alberta, UFA leader Henry Wise Wood believed that the UFA should exist only as a farmers’ interests organization om the principle of ‘group government’ – where government would function through the representation of major groups in society with direct democracy. The UFA distrusted traditional parties in part because they aggregate interests, dominated by elite powers who had no interest in extending democracy. The pressure from the NPL in the 1917 election and after the NPL merged with the UFA in 1919, led the UFA to reluctantly allow candidates to run in elections although ultimately leaving that decision in the hands of local branches. The UFA had a vast network of branches throughout the province, a sort of proto-constituency associations. In 1919, the UFA won a by-election in Cochrane from the Liberals, an event which marked the end of the fuzzy UFA-Liberal détente and the beginning of the UFA’s rapid ascent to power. The former leader of the Conservative Party, hitherto the main opposition to the Liberals, crossed the floor to join the UFA in 1920 and created a major split in Tory ranks which would cripple them for years to come. Ironically, Stewart was a member of the UFA and broadly sympathized with the UFA’s aims (and Stewart was fairly well regarded by the UFA leadership), but he opposed the UFA’s political vision and its political participation.

Provincial elections were held in July 1921. Just before the election, the Liberals were hit by a scandal, in which it was learned that the government spent money to have telephone poles crated and shipped in big stacks to remote communities in which they had no intention of installing phone lines in an effort to win support. The 1921 campaign was rather peculiar by any standards. The UFA ran candidates in only 45 of the 61 ridings – most notably, they ran no candidates in Calgary (which now elected five members using block voting) and only one candidate in Edmonton (which now elected five members using block voting), they had no leader (Henry Wise Wood did not run in the election, and neither did the man who would eventually become Premier) and had little in the way of a proper platform (besides opposing ‘partyism’, caucus secrecy and cabinet domination favouring instead direct democracy). Nevertheless, the United Farmers swept the province, winning 38 seats to the Liberals’ 15. The Tories were crushed, holding on to just one seat, while 3 independent and 4 Dominion Labor candidates were returned. In the popular vote, the Liberals won more votes than the UFA, 34.1% to 28.9%, but because the three main cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat) elected members by block voting in multi-member ridings, voters there had up to 5 votes (in Calgary and Edmonton) while rural voters had only one vote in FPTP single-member districts. The UFA also ran less candidates than the Liberals – overall, all but 7 of the 45 UFA candidates won, while 46 of the Liberals’ 61 candidates lost. A few months later, the Progressives/UFA won 10 of the 12 federal seats in Alberta in the 1921 federal election. Both the Tories and the Grits were shut out.

Henry Wise Wood, the president of the UFA, declined becoming Premier, preferring to operate the UFA machinery and the movement. The UFA settled on Herbert Greenfield, the UFA vice-president and an English-born farmer who reluctantly agreed to take the job. Greenfield was not a politician and had troubles controlling his caucus, which included a large number of radical backbenchers who opposed the parliamentary system. In early caucus meetings, Greenfield was challenged to include several Liberals in his cabinet, lest the UFA was to become like other political parties and in a naive hope of encourage sufficient cooperation to kill off notions of an ‘official opposition’. In handling the restless UFA backbenchers, Greenfield turned to his Attorney General, John E. Brownlee, an Ontarian-born lawyer and the UFA’s former solicitor. Brownlee would quickly rise to prominence because of his legal acumen and become the de facto leader of the government. Brownlee provided Greenfield with invaluable support and counsel, and the government relied on him in the legislature, where the Liberals formed a strong opposition. Brownlee led the UFA’s conservative faction – that is to say, the more traditionalist moderates who urged the UFA to reconcile with parliamentary government and tempered the more radical ideas of the backbenchers (like passing a motion which declared that only motions explicitly declaring a lack of confidence in the government should be treated as confidence votes, or the creation of a provincial bank). Brownlee also pushed for fiscal conservatism, advocating for deep spending cuts to reduce the large budget deficit.

Brownlee played a leading role in most of the first UFA government’s main initiatives. On agricultural issues, Brownlee pushed passage of legislation which created a drought relief commission to help indebted and drought-stricken southern Alberta farmers manage their debts with lenders. He played a central role in the creation of the Alberta Wheat Pool in 1923. For years, Western farmers had protested the private grain trade, as they suspected grain traders of being middle men who profited by leeching off the efforts of farmers and believed that they were artificially holding down prices. Wheat pools, farmer-owned cooperatives, purchased the grain and then sold the grain, and all farmers received the same price. Brownlee was also Alberta’s chief negotiator in talks with Ottawa to win control of natural resources from the federal government; for most of the decade, these talks with the federal Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King drew out with no resolution, perhaps due to the pressure from the provincial Liberals, who didn’t want to let the UFA walk away with such a major political victory. As Attorney General, Brownlee was also in charge of enforcing prohibition, which became increasingly unpopular in 1922/1923 after the murder of three policemen by bootleggers. Although the UFA supported prohibition, it was forced to admit that it was unenforceable due to rising public opposition, and a plebiscite was held on the issue in 1923. Voters rejected prohibition in favour of the government sale of all liquors.

By 1925, Greenfield was widely seen as weak and indecisive, while UFA MLAs found his reliance on Brownlee to be embarrassing. Many assumed that, led by Greenfield, the UFA would lose the next election; the provincial Liberals had confidently predicted that they would win back power in the next election. In 1924, Brownlee had rejected an offer from rebel MLAs to replace Greenfield as premier, but in November 1925, Brownlee was persuaded by Henry Wise Wood to accept the office if Greenfield was to relinquish it voluntarily. Greenfield had never wanted to be premier, so he gladly stepped aside for Brownlee. An election was held in June 1926, and the UFA was reelected with an increased majority over a poor Liberal and Tory opposition. Of the UFA’s 46 candidates in the province, only three did not win their seats, giving 43 out of 60 seats to the UFA against 7 for the Liberals, 6 for labour candidates and 4 Tories. The UFA won a seat in Edmonton. The election was the first Albertan election fought using a different electoral system – STV in multi-member Calgary and Edmonton, and IRV (optional counting) in the rest of the province.

Brownlee’s first term government was largely successful. The government had tried to divest itself of money-losing railways under Greenfield’s premiership, but attempts to sell them to the Canadian Pacific (CPR) and Canadian National (CN) failed at the time and the railways continued draining the provincial budget. In 1928, after they began showing a profit, Alberta was able to sell the remaining lines to the CPR. The budget situation was also solid: Alberta recorded a surplus in 1925 and 1926. Brownlee’s rigid fiscal conservatism irked radicals in the party, and he was not keen on increased spending on new social programs or on social programs altogether. His ‘scrooge’ reputation would come to hurt his popularity later on.

However, his government also passed the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta in 1928, which created the Alberta Eugenics Board, whose role was to review and mandate the sterilization of any mentally disabled psychiatric patient (if there was unanimity among board members and permission of the patient/nearest relative). The law remained in place under Social Credit (which even facilitated its application), and was only repealed by the Conservatives in 1972. Between 1929 and 1972, 4,785 cases were presented to the Alberta Eugenics Board, and 99% of these cases were approved, resulting in the sterilization of 2,832 children and adults in the province. At the time, however, eugenics were supported by progressive moral reformers like early feminist Nellie McClung, socialist leader J.S. Woodsworth and the UFA’s women’s league.

Negotiations with Ottawa over provincial control of natural resources continued; the two sides came close to an agreement in 1926, but Alberta disagreed with Ottawa’s inclusion of an amendment which required the province to continue supporting separate schools, and the issue remained a point of contention which blocked any final agreement until 1929. That year, both King and Brownlee came to an agreement in December 1929. Alberta would receive an annual subsidy in perpetuity, the amount of which would increase as the province’s population grew. The federal-provincial agreement was a major victory for Brownlee, who had succeeded where all his predecessors had failed, and he was hailed as hero in Alberta.

In 1930, despite the onset of the Great Depression, the government was still surfing on the popularity of the resource transfer agreement and the UFA was easily reelected to another majority government – although with a slightly reduced majority, with 39 seats out of 63 (and 47 candidates) against 11 for the Liberals, 6 for the Conservatives and 4 for Dominion Labor.

Brownlee’s second term was characterized by the collapse of the government, the UFA and the rise of a new populist political movement which would replace the UFA as Alberta’s next political dynasty in 1935.

The Great Depression saw wheat prices tumble from $1.78 per bushel in 1929 to $0.45 per bushel by the end of 1930, causing severe economic hardships for most farmers. Banks denied credit to farmers, while Brownlee was unwilling to provide loan guarantees, concerned that such guarantees would encourage lenders to offer loans at high interest rates knowing that the province would repay them if the farmers did not. The government’s cautious measures had some minor successes, but the lack of decisive legislation alienated many farmers. The collapse in prices also bankrupted the Alberta Wheat Pool, which in 1930 was selling wheat at a price well below the $1 per bushel it guaranteed to its farmers. The Alberta Wheat Pool became reliant on provincial support. In the cities, unemployment reached record levels, a situation only exacerbated by farmers’ sons moving to the cities in desperate need of work. Provincial finances deteriorated, and Brownlee adopted severe austerity measures to cut spending – closing all but two of the agricultural colleges, disbanding the provincial police force, shrinking the civil service, cutting government spending and pay cuts for most government employees. The government also increased taxes, and was reluctant to provide relief to unemployed men.

Labour militancy and political radicalism increased during the Depression years, which worried the conservative Brownlee. The socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the forerunner to the modern NDP, was founded in Calgary in 1932. Many UFA members joined the CCF, but Brownlee saw the CCF as dangerously socialist. The UFA base drifted further away from the government: in 1931, Brownlee’s key ally Henry Wise Wood was replaced as UFA president by MP Robert Gardiner, who moved the UFA sharply to the left and was critical of Brownlee. Gardiner advocated for nationalizations, the cancellation of interest payments and concluded that the monetary system had failed.

As if it was not enough, Brownlee was brought down by a sex scandal in 1934. Brownlee was accused of seducing Vivian MacMillan, a family friend and a secretary for Brownlee’s attorney general in 1930 (when the girl was 18) and continuing the affair for 3 years. MacMillan claimed that Brownlee had seduced her and told her that she must have sex with him for his sake and that of his invalid wife, and that she had relented after physical and emotional pressure. Brownlee denied the charges and claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy by MacMillan, her new would-be fiancé and the provincial Liberals. MacMillan and her father sued the Premier for seduction. In July 1934, despite discrepancies in MacMillan’s story, the jury found that Brownlee had seduced her in 1930 and that both she and her father had suffered damages in the amounts claimed. The presiding judge, however, disagreed and overturned the jury’s verdict. In February 1935, the Alberta Supreme Court appeals division upheld the court’s ruling. However, on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the provincial court’s decision was overturned in March 1937 and the SCC ordered Brownlee to pay $10,000 in damages to MacMillan, plus trial costs. Although Brownlee settled with MacMillan, he sought to clear his name and obtained leave from the federal government to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at the time Canada’s highest court of appeal. In March 1940, the committee denied Brownlee’s appeal and endorsed the SCC’s decision.

However, as soon as the jury found that Brownlee had seduced Vivian MacMillan, he recognized that his political career was over and resigned as Premier. He was succeeded on July 10, 1934 by Richard Gavin Reid, the conservative provincial treasurer. Although Reid did take some policy initiatives, the government was very weak. It found itself at odds with the UFA’s membership, and was forced to deal with a serious and dangerous threat: social credit.

Social Credit era (1935-1971)

William “Bible Bill” Aberhart was born in Ontario in 1878 and moved to Calgary in 1910, where he worked as a school principal, a job he held until 1935. He was an able, competent, intelligent and generally respected principal, although he was inflexible and fairly authoritarian. Aberhart was intensely religious, an evangelical Christian who believed in the literal meaning of the Bible. In Calgary, he began preaching at a Baptist church but by 1918 he had established an inter-denominational Bible study group which grew in size. In 1924, Aberhart agreed to do weekly religious radio broadcasts, which carried his voice across the Canadian Prairies and even into the United States. He was a charismatic man, a great story-teller who captivated his listeners. He took little interests in politics until 1932, when he stumbled across the writings of Major C.H. Douglas, a British engineer who had written on the theory of social credit.

Douglas saw that the sums paid out in salaries, wages and dividends were almost always less than the total costs of goods and services produced, and therefore wanted to bring purchasing power in line with production. He therefore proposed to create a national dividend, providing debt-free credit to all citizens over and above their earnings to help bridge the gap between purchasing power and prices; and a price adjustment mechanism, which would forestall inflation and reduce prices by a percentage that reflected the physical efficiency of the production system. The social credit theory’s view of history also included a very heavy dose of crude anti-Semitism: it viewed history in terms of a long-existing Jewish plot to dominate the world. Unlike the UFA, social credit had no time for direct democracy: Douglas’s political theories were extremely authoritarian, calling for representatives to limit their role to consideration of objectives while technocrats would handle the rest. It is unlikely that Aberhart ever fully understood Douglas’ economies theories, and the two men did not like each other much. Aberhart mixed Douglas’ monetary theories with a heavy dose of Christian fundamentalism and meaningless slogans about ‘individual enterprise’ and freedom.

Aberhart’s social credit was centred around the issuance of a monthly $25 ‘basic dividend’ to all Albertans to cover basic necessities – clothing, food, housing – distributed in the form of credit rather than cash. A commission of experts would meet to determine a ‘fair and just price’ for all goods and services in the province, ensuring a fair commission on turnover while not exploiting the consumer’s purchasing power. In the rather utopian social credit theory, individuals would be freed of their debts, taxes would gradually decrease with the introduction of social credit, employment would immediately increase and ‘fair salaries’ would be established (with minimum and maximum wages). The Social Credit Manual from the 1935 election, available here, explains the original Aberhart social credit theory. Aberhart’s social credit offered an attractive, novel and non-socialist populist response to the poverty, deprivation and socioeconomic challenges of the Depression years.

Originally, Aberhart claimed that his intention was not to enter politics but only to persuade existing parties to adopt social credit policies in their platforms. Social credit became quite popular in Alberta, forcing most politicians, even those from traditional parties, to at least pay lip service to the theory. For example, in the 1935 campaign, the Liberals pledged to set up a full investigation into the proposed scheme and submit a social credit plan to the legislature for its consideration. In January 1935, Aberhart was invited to address the UFA convention, which was set to vote on a resolution which would include Aberhart’s social credit theories as a plank in the UFA platform. However, the resolution was rejected by a wide margin, in a significant victory for Reid and other traditionalists in the movement.

The UFA convention’s repudiation convinced Aberhart that his Social Credit League must run candidates in the next election. He transformed his religious study groups into local social credit study groups, which became a key grassroots base for the movement and crucial to the SoCred victory in the 1935 election. To tackle the social credit threat, Reid began overtly attacking Aberhart’s policies, claiming that the $25 ‘basic dividends’ would require major tax increases, and further argued that other parts Aberhart’s ideas – like provincial entry into the banking business – were ultra vires of the province under the British North America Act (the raising of money by taxation, the borrowing of money, banking, incorporation of banks, issue of paper money and saving banks are all exclusive federal powers under s. 91, with provinces having powers only over direct taxation within the province to raise revenue and borrowing of money on the sole credit of the province under s. 92). The other element of Reid’s approach was to invite C.H. Douglas to Alberta, in the hope that he would expose inconsistencies in Aberhart’s theory and discredit him. The strategy proved to be a massive failure: Douglas, a dry technocrat, did not attack Aberhart as forcefully and consistently as Reid hoped he would (in fact, he penned a statement saying that there were no essential differences between Aberhart and himself), and Douglas’ final report concerned itself primarily with political and legal technicalities (rather than economics) and was of little use to the government.

In the 1935 campaign, most voters, living in poverty, were not interested by the UFA’s economic and legal arguments against social credit and felt that it had nothing to lose with Aberhart’s attractive scheme. Besides Aberhart, the charismatic radio evangelical, being a good salesman for social credit, the ideology’s original anti-capitalist (but not socialist) tone, its attacks on bankers and rich, heartless industrialists, and its promise of dividends were unsurprisingly popular in the middle of the depression. Like the UFA before it, the early Social Credit political movement claimed that it was not a political party, but rather an outsider nonpartisan movement which would run government for the benefit of all citizens (and not the ‘privileged classes’) and it sought out ‘honest men’ to run for the movement. The UFA attacked Aberhart for being so vague and evasive about how he would apply social credit in Alberta, but it was to no avail. Given that the UFA offered no alternative to social credit and the Liberals and Conservatives still so weak (and, in the case of the Liberals, running a terrible campaign), the 1935 election resulted in a massive landslide victory for Social Credit and one of the worst defeats for a sitting government. SoCred won 54.3% of the vote and won 56 of the 63 seats in the legislature, leaving the Liberals with 5 and the Tories with 2 seats. The UFA won only 11% of the vote, and all incumbents were defeated, including Reid and Brownlee. SoCred kicked out UFA incumbents in rural Alberta, but was also successful in the cities – winning 4 of Calgary’s 6 block seats and 2 of Edmonton’s 6 block seats. In urban areas, SoCred obliterated the Labour party, which had been rather strong in both cities up until that point. However, the Labour party’s image as a conservative clique of union bosses and the party’s disastrous alliance with the UFA, and its urban working-class based voted heavily for SoCred in 1935 (while wealthier residents stuck with the Grits or Tories). Like with the UFA in 1921, Aberhart himself didn’t run in the election, and he needed some prodding from his enthusiastic rookie caucus to become Premier, but by September 1935, he was Premier of Alberta. In October 1935, Social Credit won 47% of the vote in the 1935 federal election in Alberta and won 15 seats (all but two of the province’s seats) in the province and 17 seats in the country (the other two came from neighbouring Saskatchewan).

SoCred came to power invested with high expectations, but found an empty treasury. In the 1935 election, Aberhart had told voters that he would implement social credit within 18 months of winning government. However, enthusiastic voters and his backbench rookies were initially willing to grant him a long honeymoon and accept the early ‘delays’ in implementation of social credit. In 1936, the government made few concrete steps towards social credit, besides an Act which provided for the registration of citizens (signing covenants in which individuals agreed to “cooperate most heartily” with the government), invited manufacturers and farmers to produce as much as possible and sell 50% of their products in the provincial market. These measures anticipated the creation of ‘Alberta credit’ distinct from Canadian currency, the establishment of price controls (‘just price’) and distribution of the dividend. In April 1936, the government defaulted on a bond payment, further exciting those social crediters eager for the government to stand up to the ‘money power’. That summer, the government also introduced ‘prosperity certificates‘, which many people mistakenly saw as the first step towards their monthly $25. The government also introduced another controversial legislation, including a bill forcing licensing of all trades and businesses as the government wished, a bill authorizing the minister to fix prices for all commodities and products sold in Alberta and a bill providing for the creation of a provincial trading board. All three bills were controversial, eliciting a storm of protest from opposition parties and SoCred backbenchers, so the government allowed them to die.

By late 1936, SoCred backbenchers became increasingly frustrated with the government as Aberhart’s 18 months were running out. In December 1936, some SoCred MLAs welcomed John Hargrave, the leader of the British SoCreds, who gave some unsolicited and unwanted advice, which likely annoyed Aberhart. In late 1936, two ministers resigned from cabinet, officially for reasons unrelated to those of the dissident MLAs but still a troubling sign for the government. In the February 1937 speech from the throne, the government made only limited commitments to social credit and Aberhart later admitted during one of his radio programs that he had been unable to create the basic dividends within 18 months, and called on SoCred constituency branches to decide whether he should resign. In March 1937, after treasurer Solon Low introduced a budget which did not include even one time which resembled social credit, the SoCred backbench rebels began an open insurgency. They threatened to deny supply to the government (which would force it to resign) and considered introducing a motion of no confidence. In his constituency, Aberhart faced a recall effort, as citizens availed themselves of a new recall bill passed by SoCred in 1935 – faced with the recall threat, the government decided to repeal the Act. After manoeuvring, Aberhart reached a deal with the rebels: they would back the supply bill, in exchange for which the government would allow MLAs to establish a board to implement social credit. The Act which established the board also created a provincial credit house which would operate ‘Alberta credit’ (the difference between “productive capacity” and “total
consumption,” would be credited annually to the provincial credit account) and provided for a consumers’ dividend (not fixed over time, but instead subject to variation). This Alberta Social Credit Act was the closest Alberta came to social credit. It was designed to create prosperity by subsidizing consumption. However, the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1938, unanimously ruled the Alberta Social Credit Act to be ultra vires.

The Social Credit Board was made up of five MLAs, four of which were rebels. The board tried to invite C.H. Douglas to come from England as an expert, but he declined, though he did send two of his associates to Alberta to act as the board’s experts. One of the English experts required SoCred MLAs to sign a loyalty pledge to the Social Credit Board, which virtually all MLAs did. The two English experts prepared three laws which became highly controversial: the first required all banks to obtain a license from the provincial credit commission (created by the Alberta Social Credit Act) and be controlled by a ‘directorate’ largely appointed by the Board, the second prevented unlicensed banks and their employees from initiating civil actions and the third prevent anybody from challenging the constitutionality of Alberta’s laws in court without receiving the approval of the provincial cabinet. Lieutenant Governor John Bowen asked for Aberhart and the Attorney General’s views on the constitutionality of the bills; the Attorney General said he did not believe they were constitutional, but Aberhart took responsibility for them and dismissed his Attorney General. The Lieutenant Governor granted Royal Assent to the bills, but they were later disallowed by the federal government. Prime Minister Mackenzie King had originally sought Aberhart’s cooperation in facilitating a reference to the Supreme Court, but Aberhart defiantly answered that he had a popular mandate to uphold and warned of tension if Ottawa sided with the ‘plutocratic bankers’ rather than Alberta.

In the fall, the government reintroduced these bills, and two more: one imposing high taxes on banks operating in Alberta, and the inflammatory Accurate News and Information Act. The latter Act gave the chairman of the Social Credit Board the power to compel all newspapers in Alberta to print government rebuttals or amplifications to any article dealing with government policies and require them to supply the names and addresses of sources. Non-compliance would result in fines or prohibitions on the publishing of the newspaper or some of its materials. The vast majority of the Albertan press was strongly critical of SoCred, pre- and post-election. At the same time, police raided SoCred offices in Edmonton and confiscated copies of a pamphlet which named nine ‘Bankers’ Toadies’ in the province and called for their ‘extermination’. The SoCred chief whip and one of Douglas’ English advisers were both charged and convicted for criminal libel, and the English adviser was deported to the UK.

Lieutenant Governor Bowen chose to reserve assent on the new bills (i.e. referring the bill to the Governor General, or the federal government). Ottawa posed a reference question to the Supreme Court of Canada, which unanimously ruled the three bills (along with the Alberta Social Credit Act) to be ultra vires of the provincial legislature. Significantly for Canadian constitutional law, the SCC’s decision on the press bill was one of the cases which recognized an ‘implied bill of rights’ in the Canadian constitution because of the preamble of the BNA Act. On appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council effectively upheld the SCC’s decision – because the Alberta Social Credit Act had been struck down, the bank licensing and press bills were rendered inoperative and thus the question was moot, while it ruled that the bank tax bill was in pith and substance a measure to regulate banking and was thus ultra vires the province.

Disallowance and the SCC/JCPC decisions meant, in reality, the end of the road for actual social credit measures in Alberta. Granted, the Board was revitalized, but it quickly became more of an outlet for the voicing of SoCred’s anti-Semitic garbage (and C.H. Douglas’ ideas), and it was abolished by Premier Ernest Manning in 1948 when it went crazy (by basically proposing to abolish democracy). However, Aberhart did established the Alberta Treasury Branches, which still exist today, originally for the government to gain a foothold in the financial sector.

Early SoCred definitely had an unconventional, radical side to it – especially in its membership base. Local SoCred organizations in the 1930s and early 1940s passed some fairly social democratic resolutions at conferences (which were, however, ignored or rejected by the government) including calls for free textbooks, state medicine and hospitalization, adequate relief for the poor, producers’ marketing boards, eight-hour workdays and a stand (shared with the CCF) that conscription of wealth should precede conscription of men.

Aberhart’s government also enacted a variety of relief programs, public works projects and a debt relief program (later overturned by the SCC), but also passed very strict socially conservative legislation – notably very strict alcohol laws.

By the time of the 1940 election, the political climate in Alberta was very polarized. The Liberal and Conservative opposition to Aberhart, eager to defeat him, formed a common front – the so-called United Movement or Independent party, whereby the Conservatives, non-socialist remnants of the UFA and some Liberals ran joint candidates as independents against the SoCreds. These independents were hurt by their close association with the old elites of Calgary and Edmonton and the vociferously anti-Aberhart press. ‘Ottawa-bashing’ feature prominently Aberhart’s 1940 SoCred campaign – he claimed that Ottawa, under the influence of the ‘Money Power’, had struck down his legislation. However, radical ideas for monetary reform were already absent from the SoCred manifesto. The SoCreds and independents were evenly matched in terms of vote, winning 42.9% and 42.5% respectively, but the SoCreds retained a significant if reduced majority with 36 out of 57 seats against 19 independents, 1 Labour and 1 Liberal. The socialist CCF, on a platform of social ownership of ‘public property’ won 11% of the vote but no seats.

As World War II broke out in 1939, Aberhart had decreed that all energies should be devoted to Canada’s war effort, which was a further blow to those radicals pushing for social credit. In the 1940s, SoCred was slowly turning into an institutionalized conservative party – the early radical enthusiasm died out (some genuine radicals in SoCred went over to the CCF, which grew in size in Alberta and across Canada during the war) and the social credit study groups dwindled in size as they became useless.

William Aberhart unexpectedly died during a family trip to BC in 1943. SoCred MLAs, not members, selected Aberhart’s loyal chief lieutenant Ernest Manning as his successor. Manning pledged to never give up the fight for social credit, but that was almost entirely for show (though it did issue prosperity certificates from oil royalties in 1957 and 1958). Manning completed the transformation of the Social Credit Party into a conservative political party. As aforementioned, Manning abolished the Social Credit Board in 1948 after they went overboard with the crazy, a move which coincided with Manning’s purge of the more vocal anti-Semitic cranks from the party (although Solon Low, the federal SoCred leader from 1944 to 1958, was a notorious anti-Semite). In 1946, bowing to pressure for the remaining advocates of monetary reform in the party grassroots, Manning’s government passed a Bill of Rights Act, a halfhearted attempt as monetary reform (among other things). The Act promised social and economic security for all with individual freedom, an offer of a social security pension and medical benefits to working-age unemployed or disabled persons, and contained descriptions of how social credit theories would allow the government to pay for those benefits. However, the government added a provision which delayed proclamation of the Act until it had been tested by the courts. The Act was apathetically received by supporters and aroused no great opposition, and when it was declared ultra vires by the Supreme Court of Alberta (confirmed by the JCPC) in 1947, nobody really cared.

Manning was reelected with a large majority in 1944, an election much different from that four years prior. The main challenge to SoCred was now seen as the CCF (the CCF had just swept Saskatchewan prior to Manning dropping the writs), so the SoCred language shifted from attacking the financiers to attacking socialism. With Aberhart of the picture and with social credit disallowed by Ottawa, business leaders and the economic elite of Alberta understood that they had nothing to fear from Manning, and they largely embraced Social Credit as the conservative force against the socialist CCF. Indeed, in contrast to the Saskatchewan CCF, which ran on social programs, the Alberta CCF had a fairly radical socialist platform in 1944, advocating public ownership of natural resources and industries. In the 1944 election, SoCred won 50.5% of the vote and 51 seats out of 60, against 3 for the moribund independents (all their supporters from 1940 had basically defected to SoCred), 2 from the CCF, 1 veterans’ independent candidate and 3 seats elected by Canadian soldiers in active service overseas. In terms of vote share, the CCF was a strong but distant second with 24%.

Populations of Alberta and Saskatchewan from 1901 to 2011 (own graph, data from StatsCan)

Populations of Alberta and Saskatchewan from 1901 to 2011 (own graph, data from StatsCan)

A major crude oil discovery was made near Leduc in 1947, inaugurating the prosperous oil and gas era of Alberta: oil and gas supplanted farming as the primary industry and resulted in the province becoming one of the richest in Canada. The SoCred government set a fairly low maximum royalty rate in 1947, and Manning built alliances with American oil companies. The oil boom in Alberta also led to a population boom: in 1941, Saskatchewan still had a larger population than Alberta, but Alberta’s population grew by 18% in the next 10 years, so that by 1951, Alberta had 939,501 people against 831,728 for Saskatchewan (which lost population during the decade). During the ensuing decade (from 1951 to 1961), Alberta’s population grew by 42%, reaching a population of 1,331,944 in 1961. This population boom also coincided with the urbanization of Alberta: in 1941, 61% of the population was still rural, but this fell to 52% in 1951, 43% in 1956 and 37% in 1961.

Manning was reelected in 1948, holding all 51 seats (plus one independent SoCrediter), against 2 for the CCF, 2 for the Liberals and 1 for the ‘independents’ of years past (ie a Tory). In 1952, SoCred won 56.2% of the vote and 53 out of 60 seats, against only 3 Liberals, 2 CCFers, 2 Tories and one independent SoCrediter. In 1955, however, after opposition charges of corruption, the SoCreds seemed to falter: the SoCred vote fell by nearly 10% and they were reduced to 37 seats out of 61 in the legislature, while the Liberals won 31% and 15 seats, with the remaining seats going to the Tories (3), the CCF (2), two Grit-Tory candidates, one independent and one independent SoCrediter. After the 1955 election, the government abolished the IRV system in the rural single-member seats and STV in Calgary/Edmonton; the SoCreds had lost five rural constituencies in the 1955 to opposition parties on the second counts, after leading in the first count. Second preferences from the CCF had split fairly heavily against the government.

After the 1955 scare, Manning appointed a Royal Commission to investigate corruption (as the Liberals had demanded) and he took up other opposition proposals, like larger fiscal transfers to the municipalities. In the 1959 election, Manning was rewarded by an easy landslide victory – taking 55.7% of the vote and 61 of 65 seats (plus one independent SoCrediter), against only one seat each for the Progressive Conservatives (PCs), Liberals and a Grit-Tory ‘coalition’ incumbent MLA. In terms of votes, the Liberals, who had done well in 1955, were the main losers taking only 14% of the vote to the PCs’ 24%. The CCF’s election was disastrous, losing both of its seats and its vote crumbling further to a mere 4.3%. The provincial PCs likely benefited from the popularity of the federal party, which had won an historic victory nationally and provincially in the 1958 federal election, when the Diefenbaker Tories won a huge majority in Canada but also knocked down all SoCred MPs in Alberta to win nearly 60% of the vote and all 17 ridings in the province. The federal SoCreds had dominated federal politics in Alberta from 1945 to 1958. When SoCred returned 30 MPs in the 1962 federal election, all but 4 of its MPs now came from Quebec with only 2 elected in Alberta, where the PCs remained the new dominant force despite major loses.

Social Credit platform advertisement, 1955 (source: poltext.org)

Albertan politics were “curiously apolitical” in the later half of Manning’s premiership. The legislature seldom met, assembling for only six or seven weeks a year, and even the SoCred caucus virtually never met when the legislature was not in session. Instead, most decisions were taken by Manning and his cabinet. Manning and his government came to market themselves ‘above and beyond’ partisan lines, as is quite common for Albertan governments. In election platforms, SoCred boasted the province’s prosperity (compared to its bankruptcy in 1935) and underlined their consensual conservative record – ‘rapid and orderly development of natural resources’ ensuring huge government revenues (the government claimed Albertans were getting their fair share, a claim which the opposition, especially the CCF, disagreed with), low taxes, reduction of the provincial debt, assistance to municipalities, healthcare and education spending, many public works projects (building roads, schools, hospitals), electrification, welfare policies (partial hospital insurance introduced by the early 1950s) and low taxes.

SoCred was handily reelected in 1963, getting 60 of 63 seats, falling just short of its “63 in ’63” goal. The PCs suffered major loses and won no seats, while the Liberals, on a platform calling for a public electricity company and environmental conservation, made a small recovery to win 19.8% and 2 seats. The New Democratic Party (NDP) improved on the CCF’s result, getting 9.5% of the vote, but was still shut out of the legislature. The NDP called for public ownership of utility companies, increased royalties, a Medicare program, public auto insurance, progressive taxation and collective bargaining for provincial/municipal employees.

Manning was an important figure in federal politics as well. He played a key role in the disputed 1961 federal SoCred leadership convention, in which Manning supported Albertan candidate Robert N. Thompson, who emerged victorious in a close contest against Quebec’s Réal Caouette, who had been told by Manning that Western Canada wouldn’t accept a French Catholic leader. In 1963, the federal party split, with Caouette leading the dominant Quebec faction (Ralliement des créditistes) and Thompson leading a rump Anglophone SoCred party, which won only 5 seats in 1965 (including 2 in Alberta, with only 23% of the vote). Following the 1963 split, Manning offered little support to the federal party, and in 1967 unsuccessfully sought to bring about a merger of the federal party with the PCs to challenge Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals. Although the idea failed, Thompson crossed the floor and was reelected as a PC in 1968, while the remnants of the Anglophone SoCred party was annihilated.

Manning was reelected to his last term in 1967, but in an ominous sign, SoCred lost over 10% of its vote share, winning 44.6%, its lowest popular vote result since 1940, although it retained a hefty majority with 55 out of 65 seats. The Progressive Conservatives were the main winners. In 1965, ambitious Calgary lawyer Peter Lougheed had won the PC leadership, and quickly set about establishing the PCs as a strong and credible alternative to SoCred. While the SoCred government’s campaign once again focused on Premier Manning’s immense personal popularity and the party’s record in government, the Lougheed PCs ran a positive and forward-looking campaign which did not attack Manning directly and made use of some new campaign tactics. The PC platform called for government transparency, local government autonomy, a more assertive government in intergovernmental relations, a more activist government (but clearly aimed at defending individual liberties), fiscal responsibility (but rejecting ‘ultra-cautious fiscal policies’) and development of natural resources to provide ‘adequate returns’ to citizens. It was, in short, a centre-right (Red Tory) platform but one clearly aimed at change and modernization. In the end, the PCs won a strong second place, taking 26% and electing 6 MLAs, most of them (including Lougheed) from urban ridings in booming Calgary and Edmonton. The Liberals, divided after leadership conflict after the 1963 election and led by an unwilling leader, saw their vote tank to only 10.8% although they managed to win 3 seats. The NDP increased its support to 16% but was unable to elect a single MLA.

Ernest Manning retired in 1968, and the SoCreds held their first leadership contest. The favourite was Harry Strom, the agriculture minister who was supported by most senior SoCred ministers but also many young members who saw him as somebody opened to change. He was victorious on the second ballot, his main rival being Gordon Taylor, the respected but bland long-time transportation minister. As Premier, Strom was responsible for several major policy initiatives regarding youth and education, but he was a poor leader – an ineffective and uncharismatic speaker, he also failed to modernize the party’s machinery. Nevertheless, he was an honest, humble and kind man.

The Progressive Conservative era (1971-2012)

Strom did not call a snap election after winning the leadership in 1968, against the advice of his chief of staff. He finally called an election for August 1971, about a year early. The threat to the SoCreds came from Peter Lougheed’s PCs, who had formed a robust and combative official opposition in the outgoing legislature.

Lougheed’s PC platform in 1971, similar to that of 1967, was both a traditionally conservative one and a reformist one – it endorsed conservative values such as free enterprise, private industry, small government, fiscal orthodoxy, rejection of government bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ – but at the same time it was reformist, aiming to change the province and reject the most objectionable aspects of SoCred government. For example, it proposed a human rights act to protect individual rights from government interference (and ban discrimination), protecting local government autonomy from heavy-handed provincial interference (“guidance, advice and assistance”, not “direction, control and restriction”) and increased citizen participation in the democratic process (and greater government transparency and respecting the due role of the legislature). Lougheed criticized the passive rentier approach of the SoCred government towards natural resources, vowing to capture a greater share of resource rents to finance his ambitious ‘province building’ agenda (all while explicitly rejecting any more radical changes which would endanger relations with the oil industry). The PCs promised to invest in ‘job-producing activity’ and called for greater participation by Albertans in the ownership and control of provincial industry. Finally, the PCs attacked the passive ‘isolationist’ attitude of the SoCred government in federal-provincial relations, and aimed to dramatically increase Alberta’s clout in Canada and perform a role of “national leadership, not provincial reactionism”.

Harry Strom led a poor campaign, performing poorly in TV advertisements (which the SoCreds, tellingly, thought little of) and his rallies drew less people than Lougheed. Indeeed, in contrast to the ambitious and charismatic Lougheed, Strom was an ineffective leader who failed to inject new blood in his party and struggled to run a modern campaign.

The Progressive Conservatives emerged victorious from the 1971 election, ending 36 years of unbroken Social Credit rule. The PCs won 49 seats against 25 for SoCred, and a single seat for the NDP (for its leader, Grant Notley, elected in the northern riding of Spirit River-Fairview). In the popular vote, however, the election was quite close and the SoCred result far from catastrophic: the PCs won 46.4% of the vote, up 20.4% on the 1967 election, but the SoCreds won 41.1%, down only 3.5% from the 1967 election. The NDP won 11.4%, down 4.6%, while the Liberals – who only ran 20 candidates (out of 75) collapsed to only 1% of the vote. The Liberals had gone through leadership chaos since the last election, and some had even considered approaching the SoCreds for an alliance or a merger. Besides the Albertan unpopularity of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at the time, many Liberal voters likely defected to the Tories to defeat SoCred.

Results of the 1971 Alberta provincial election (own map)

The conventional view on the 1971 election is that Social Credit, at its roots a rural, small town and lower middle-class movement had little chance of surviving in an increasingly urban and professional middle-class society. Therefore, it was argued, the PC victory was the somewhat inevitable result of social change. However, that view is based on an erroneous notion of social bases of party support. Firstly, while SoCred was slightly stronger in the rural areas than in the cities, the party had received substantial urban support from the very beginning (in 1935) and, after all, Ernest Manning had represented an Edmonton riding from 1940 to 1968. Secondly, survey data from the 1967 and 1971 elections indicate that the new middle-classes did not indicate a decisive preference for the PCs – in 1967, almost all income levels and occupational groups supported the SoCreds over the PCs, while in 1971, the PC victory was more the product of a broad coalition than middle-classes overwhelmingly backing the PCs (although it is true that the SoCreds did better with lower-income voters than high-income voters).

Finally, while the PCs won both Calgary and Edmonton, their victory was by only 4% in Calgary (and SoCred retained some seats there) and it was really only Edmonton which provided an impressive PC landslide (52% to 34% and all seats). In Edmonton, the government had been hurt by threats of a civil servants’ strike and a conflict over telephone services to new suburbs (the government had decided to allow the provincially owned Alberta Government Telephones rather than Edmonton’s municipally owned company to provide phone services there). Social Credit remained strong in southern Alberta, traditionally the province’s most conservative region.

Peter Lougheed became one of Alberta’s most popular Premiers once in office. He had the good fortunes of governing Alberta during a period of unprecedented prosperity, which allowed the government to maintain high levels of public services and the lowest taxes in Canada (including no sales tax), certainly a politically appealing combination. The PC government, in its first term, cut income taxes to the lowest levels in the country, presided over the creation of 96,000 new jobs in three years (giving Alberta the highest percentage of employed working age population in Canada), provided generous benefits to seniors, provided substantial assistance to farmers, improved services and infrastructures in rural Alberta, provided the highest support for education on a per capita basis in Canada and passed the Alberta Bill of Rights (which, among other things, meant the repeal of the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1972). By 1982, Lougheed’s last election as PC leader, the Tories claimed credit for major investments in housing, provision of interest-shielded mortgages, a mortgage interest rate reduction plan, more opportunities for post-secondary students, construction of 22 hospitals and generous social services.

The effect of the first OPEC price shock, combined with the efforts of the PC government to negotiate a new royalty framework, contributed to a dramatic increase in resource revenues. Alberta was able to post large budget surpluses from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. The widespread expectation that energy revenues would continue to grow prompted the government to establish the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund (AHSTF) in 1976, established with three objectives: “to save for the future; to strengthen or diversify the economy; and to improve the quality of life of Albertans.” 30% of Alberta’s oil and gas revenues were initially deposited in the AHSTF. It is also in this period that large-scale development of the tar/oil sands began in earnest, with strong support from the PC government.

Lougheed needed to defend that prosperity in a series of bitter provincial-federal fights over energy policy following the first OPEC oil shock in 1973. With a federal Liberal government led by Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa, Lougheed had ample opportunity to project himself as the defender of Albertans against an overbearing and eastern-dominated federal government. In 1973, in response to rising inflation in Canada, Trudeau asked western provinces to a voluntary freeze on oil prices, and within days imposed a 40% tax on every barrel of Canadian oil exported. Ottawa used the revenues to subsidize eastern refiners while reducing revenues available to the producing provinces and the oil industry. Lougheed called the decision the most discriminatory decision taken by Ottawa against a particular province in the entire history of Canadian Confederation. The Albertan government, in response, announced that it would revise its royalty regime in favour of a system linked to international oil prices. The 1973 oil embargo, which came just a few weeks after Trudeau’s oil export tax, aggravated tensions between the federal government and provincial and industry leaders.

In the 1980 budget, Pierre Trudeau’s federal Liberal government announced the National Energy Program (NEP), which is held in infamy by western Canadians to this day. The NEP was a unilateral attempt by Ottawa to achieve three objectives: “security of supply and ultimate independence from the world market (i.e. make Canada self-sufficient); opportunity for all Canadians to participate in the energy industry, particularly oil and gas, and to share in the benefits of its expansion (i.e. boost Canadian ownership in the industry); and fairness, with a pricing and revenue-sharing regime which recognizes the needs and rights of all Canadians.” To reach these objectives, the NEP included a wide-ranging set of measures: setting a Canadian price of oil below world market prices, new taxes on the oil industry, increasing the federal share of oil production income (largely at companies’ expense) and a target for 50% domestic ownership of oil and gas production by 1990. Alberta, as Canada’s main oil producer, had the most to lose from the NEP and the province and its government were, unsurprisingly, furious. This period saw bumper stickers like “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.” In 1980, Lougheed responded to the NEP by vowing to shrink the industry’s output to about 85% of its capacity and the provincial government increased support to the oil industry (including a $5.4 billion program in royalty reductions and grants introduced in 1982). To offset the effects of such measures on the budget, the government diverted the investment income earned by the AHSTF to the general fund and reduce the percentage of resource revenues deposited in the AHSTF from 30% to 15%, two decisions which – combined with later renegotiation of some aspects of the NEP –  caused resource revenues to recover and allowed the provincial government to remain in a budgetary surplus until 1985.

In 1981, Lougheed reached an agreement with Trudeau which rejigged the energy-sharing proportions and reduced the much-reviled NEP oil export tax to zero pending a court challenge (which Alberta won in 1982, with the SCC ruling that the feds couldn’t legally tax provincially owned oil and gas wells). A picture of Lougheed and Trudeau toasting Champagne glasses at the agreement was badly received by Albertans and the oil industry, and Lougheed later called the photo-op the biggest mistake of his political career.

Lougheed was a major player in the constitutional debates in the 1970s and early 1980s. Upon taking office in 1971, Lougheed signaled his disapproval of the proposed Victoria Charter amending formula, which would have granted a veto to Quebec and Ontario. The PC government was committed to a vision of ‘provincial equality’, defending proprietary rights (including natural resource ownership) and provincial jurisdiction. Lougheed played the key role in designing what would become the amending formula in the Constitution Act, 1982 – a formula which does not include any special provincial vetoes for Quebec (or other provinces), allows provinces to ‘opt out’ of some amendments it opposes and seeks to strike a balance between rigidity and flexibility in amendments. In the wake of the NEP, Alberta and other provinces successfully pushed for the inclusion of Section 92A which clarified and strengthened the areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction over nonrenewable natural resources. Alberta also supported the inclusion of the ‘notwithstanding clause’ (Section 33) in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows provincial legislatures and Parliament the authority to state that a law will (temporarily) stand notwithstanding the provisions of the Charter as they concern fundamental rights, legal rights and equality rights. At the time, Senate reform did not feature on Alberta’s constitutional agenda. During the Lougheed years, Alberta often found support from Quebec in the constitutional debates, because both sought an expansion in provincial control and a reduction in federal intervention.

During the Lougheed years, the cabinet machinery was reorganized to make it run for effectively than during the SoCred years. The result was a strong cabinet and disciplined caucus, but a weak legislature – whose powers of oversight were render anemic by the PC dominance and the weakness of the opposition benches.

Lougheed’s PCs were remarkably popular. In 1975, the PCs won a record-breaking landslide with 62.7% of the vote and 69 of 75 seats – obtaining a share of the vote larger than what the SoCreds had ever won. The Social Credit party, running on a conservative small government platform, had been a very poor fit for the opposition benches, and saw its support collapsed in 1975, reduced to 18.2% of the vote and only 4 seats (plus one independent SoCrediter). The SoCred leader, Werner Schmidt, was defeated in his own riding and resigned. Obviously, given the ideological proximity of the PCs and SoCreds, many of the latter party’s supporters easily found a home in the new governing dynasty. The NDP won 12.9% and retained its only seat, while a stronger Liberal effort saw them take 5% but no seats. Given the unpopularity of the federal Liberals, the Alberta Liberals cut their ties with the federal party in 1977. In 1979, the PC vote fell to 57.4% but they won 74 out of 79 seats (although they fell short of their “79 in ’79” target). The SoCreds, with 19.9%, managed to hold their four seats and retain Official Opposition, while the NDP won 15.8% and held Grant Notley’s seat. The Liberals won 6.2% but were still shut out.

In 1980, SoCred leader Robert Curtis Clark resigned and was replaced by former Calgary mayor Rod Sykes, who, however, did not have a seat in the legislature. In 1982, Clark resigned his seat of Olds-Didsbury, sparking a by-election. The winner was Gordon Kesler, the candidate of the Western Canada Concept (WCC) party, a very right-wing (with, later, disturbing racist tendencies) separatist party dedicated to the independence of the four western province and the northern territories. The WCC surfed on a wave of loud anti-Ottawa sentiments in Alberta in the wake of the NEP and claims that Lougheed was too weak in his dealings with the federal government. To cut short any momentum for the WCC, Lougheed called an early election for November 1982, and ran a campaign warning Albertans against electing a separatist government. The election proved a major success for the Tories, who won 62.3% and 75 seats in the legislature. The NDP, with 18.8% of the vote, now won two seats – Notley was joined by Ray Martin, elected in Edmonton – and formed the Official Opposition. The WCC achieved a respectable 11.8% of the vote, but with Kessler defeated standing for reelection in another riding, the WCC was shut out and the party’s 15 minutes of fame ended. Social Credit went into the election with no incumbents standing – the parliamentary leader who had succeeded Sykes didn’t want the party to fight the election, but he was overruled, leading him and a colleague to leave the party to fight as independents while the last remaining MLA retired. With no MLAs and the party in shambles, SoCred fielded only 23 candidates and won 0.8% (and no seats, naturally). The two former SoCred MLAs running for reelection were returned as independents. The Liberals, hurt by the NEP, only ran 29 candidates and won 1.8%.

Lougheed retired in 1985. He was succeeded by Don Getty, a former CFL quarterback who had been elected to the legislature with Lougheeed in 1967, but who had taken a time out from politics in 1979. Getty was Lougheed and the establishment’s favourite, but despite that he failed to win the PC leadership on the first ballot. In May 1986, Getty sought and received a mandate from voters – but the PCs did poorly. The Tories won 51.4%, down nearly 11 points, and 61 of 83 seats – a substantially reduced, but still very comfortable, majority. The main change was the election of a strong opposition caucus: the NDP, now led by Edmonton MLA Ray Martin after Grant Notley’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1984, won 29.2% of the vote and 16 seats. The NDP had moderated and ran on a bread-and-butter social democratic platform in the election, distancing itself from more ‘radical’ stances it had taken in the past. The New Democrats won most seats in Edmonton and two seats in Calgary. The Liberals, on a platform mixing concern for the environment with free-market economics, finally recovered and won 12.2% and 4 seats. The Representative Party of Alberta, a right-wing party (imagined as SoCred without the social credit baggage) led by the two former SoCred-turned-independent MLAs won 5.2% and both of their incumbents were reelected. Nevertheless, the party quickly collapsed as one retired and the other crossed the floor to join the PCs.

Getty came in office as Alberta’s rosy economic times became history. In Lougheed’s last budget in 1985, the province had recorded a deficit. Alberta had been hurt by falling oil prices and the NEP since 1980, and suffered badly when oil prices took a tumble in 1985-1986 (after Saudi Arabia doubled its oil production in early 1986). Getty’s first budget was particularly bad: with the fall in revenues, the province recorded a $4 billion deficit. The government increased taxes and cut spending, so that over the time of Getty’s premiership, government spending grew by one of the slowest rates in the country (and, if adjusting for inflation, spending actually fell during his premiership). In 1987, the government abandoned its efforts to save nonrenewable resource revenues and diverted all investment income earned by the AHSTF to the general fund and deposits ended completely. The government did not make another deposit in the AHSTF until 2006-2008. The problem was that the government assumed that the abnormally high oil prices observed in previous years would be permanent and sustainable. Getty’s government was thus reluctant to either quickly raise taxes or quickly cut expenditures, so the 1980s proved to be disastrous for provincial budgets. Furthermore, growing servicing costs on a growing debt meant that the inevitable fiscal adjustment would prove more painful. Throughout Getty’s tenure, the government always posted a deficit.

The slowdown in the energy sector contributed to a decrease in capital spending and reduced demand for labour in the construction industry. Banks, credit unions, farms and oil companies all struggled. Getty’s government was very criticized for its coziness to big business – the government tried to stimulate the energy sector by making loan guarantees to two oil giants for new capital projects, and also granted a loan and loan guarantee to a meat-packing plant which later defaulted on the loan. Edmonton also showered the oil industry with millions in incentives and royalty cuts. The government also faced controversy with the failure and shut-down of a trust company in 1987, after an investigation found that a minister had disregarded earlier warnings that the company was insolvent. The 1992 privatization of Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) was also controversial.

In the field of intergovernmental relations and constitutional debates, the Getty Tories were less successful than Lougheed had been. To begin with, Ottawa-bashing had been made much more difficult with the election of a federal Conservative government under Brian Mulroney in 1984, which enjoyed strong support in Alberta (and therefore provided Alberta with a voice in cabinet, unlike under Trudeau) and quickly dismantled the NEP. Getty was very much on Mulroney’s side in the constitutional debates of the late 1980s, beginning with Meech Lake, despite polls showing that the accord was very unpopular in Alberta. Going into Meech Lake, the centrepiece of Alberta’s constitutional proposals was Senate reform. Initially, since Lougheed, the Alberta government had endorsed a Senate reform model whereby senators would be appointed by provincial governments and the reformed Senate would function similarly to Germany’s Bundesrat in terms of the federal units’ participation in the federal legislative process. However, under popular pressure, Getty’s government came to favour the Triple-E Senate reform model, whereby senators would be directly appointed by the people. In 1985 and 1987, the legislature’s committee on Senate reform endorsed the Triple-E model, which was supported by all legislative parties. In Canada, Alberta’s government took the lead in pushing for Senate reform, but this time it did not find an ally in Quebec. Although Senate reform was on the agenda at Meech, Getty’s government was later criticized for not being able to impose it more forcefully. After Meech’s failure, Getty challenged the federal government to pursue Senate reform by introducing legislation which allowed for ‘Senate nominee’ elections in the province, and the first Senate nominee election was held in October 1989. Stan Waters, from the Reform Party, defeated Getty’s preferred candidate, PC nominee Bert Brown. Waters was appointed to the Senate by Mulroney. In 1992, Getty was successfully able to include the Triple-E reform in the Charlottetown Accord despite Mulroney’s opposition, but Charlottetown ended up being rejected by Canadians, including Albertans, in a referendum.

Getty called an early election in March 1989, seeking to take advantage of a recovering economy and job market. The PCs, however, remained fairly unpopular and while they were reelected to a sixth term in office, their vote share took a big hit again – down 7.1% to 44.3%, winning 59 of 83 seats. Premier Getty himself was defeated in his Edmonton-Whitemud riding by the Liberals, and he was forced to enter the legislature through a by-election in a safe Tory rural seat. The NDP, still led by Ray Martin, attacked the PCs on issues like taxes, healthcare, coziness with big business, labour relations and school user fees, but there were questions about Martin’s leadership and the NDP failed to articulate an alternative economic vision. The party ended up holding its 16 seats and opposition status, although its vote share dipped slightly to 26.3%. The major winners were the Liberals, who were now led by former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore. The Liberals campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility and open government, criticizing the PCs for their involvement in private businesses, the deficit and the growing debt. The Liberals ended up placing second in the popular vote with a solid 28.7%, up over 16 points from the last election, but were only able to win 8 seats – including 3 in Calgary and 4 in Edmonton. The Liberals achieved such a result despite running a very low-budget campaign.

At the federal level, the Reform Party, led by Ernest Manning’s son Preston Manning, began achieving significant levels of support in Alberta. In the 1988 federal election, although Mulroney’s PCs still swept the province, discontent over some federal decisions and Meech allowed Reform to place third with 15.4% of the provincial vote (but it won no seats). The Reform Party was a grassroots right-wing populist party which channelled feelings of Western alienation and campaigned on themes popular in the west: opposition to official bilingualism, opposition to ‘distinct society’ recognition for Quebec, institutional reform of the federal government (including Senate reform), opposition to multiculturalism, direct democracy and limited government. Between 1989 and 1993, as federal Conservative support collapsed in Alberta, Reform quickly gained in strength and support. Relations between the Alberta PCs and the federal PCs later worsened, to the point that Getty broke off formal ties with the federal party in 1991 and opposed Mulroney’s unpopular GST.

At the same time, Getty’s growing unpopularity and a worsening deficit (the 1992-93 recorded a much larger deficit) meant that Getty’s popularity took a big hit. The Liberals were polling strongly, and other polls showed that an hypothetical provincial Reform party (which never happened) would be another very serious challenge to the Tories. Getty resigned in late 1992, before the national referendum on Charlottetown and the release of a damning report on the AGT privatization.

The PCs held a leadership election in November-December 1992. In 1991, the Alberta PCs had moved from the traditional convention system to a universal ballot (one member-one vote) system in which participation was open to all citizens with the only condition being purchase of a $5 PC membership. With over 52,700 votes in the first ballot and 78,251 votes on the second ballot, the PC election was a major success for the party. On the first ballot, the establishment favourite and ‘Red Tory’, health minister Nancy Betkowski, ended up a single vote ahead of environment minister and former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein (clearly on the party’s right), who had backbench support but insignificant cabinet support. On the second ballot, despite six of the seven other candidates endorsing Betkowski, Klein benefited from a surge in participation and soundly defeated her – 46,245 votes to 31,722.

Ralph Klein was a folksy populist, clearly on the party’s right after two moderate leaders. Klein repudiated Getty’s legacy, stating that the old government had a ‘spending problem’ and he made it his top priority to quickly balance the budget, exclusively through spending cuts rather than through tax increases. Klein inherited a big budget deficit and a $24.5 billion debt (Getty had inherited a debt-free province).

In May 1993, Klein’s government tabled its first budget, which laid out a plan to eliminate the deficit by 1996-97 by reducing government spending by 20% while not increasing taxes. The government targeted ‘eliminating waste and duplication’ and downsizing government, but the cuts also meant a significant hit to frontline public services – healthcare included. It also talked about ‘getting out of the way of business’ by limiting government intervention in private businesses and ending the much-criticized government subsidies to businesses. The government also passed the Deficit Elimination Act, which banned budget deficits after 1997-97. Following the budget, Klein’s new government sought a mandate from voters.

Laurence Decore’s Liberals had been a strong opposition, loudly hammering the PCs on the debt, deficit and fiscal responsibility, and the Liberals had been the favourites to win the next election until Getty retired. Now led by Klein, the PCs went into the election with a platform broadly similar to that of Decore’s Liberals – its four-year plan to balance the budget without increasing taxes or introducing a sales tax, reducing the size of government and the civil service, creating a business climate conducive to job creation (by competitive tax rates, cutting red tape and other barriers to trade), welfare reform, ‘controlling’ healthcare costs and education reform. The Liberals had a very similar platform – also pledging to balance the budget, eliminate the deficit, cut spending, liquidate the AHSTF to pay off the debt and cutting subsidies to businesses. Decore tried to differentiate himself from Klein’s PCs by claiming that the PCs lacked the credibility and moral authority on the economy. Ray Martin’s NDP was the only one of the three parties which didn’t campaign on a platform of fiscal orthodoxy and spending cuts – instead, the New Democrats called for cuts to MLA benefits, job creation, fair labour laws, cuts in government waste, government accountability, reorganization of service delivery and tax increases for corporations and the wealthiest. However, the campaign was very much a two-way contest between the PCs and the Liberals, who believed that they had a real chance at victory. In the end, with Klein in command, the PCs were reelected but facing one of the strongest opposition caucuses in Albertan history. The PCs won 44.5% of the vote and 51 seats, a loss of 8 seats from the last election, while the Liberals won 39.8% and a record 32 seats. The NDP suffered from significant tactical voting from anti-PC voters, who defected en masse to the Liberals, leaving the NDP with 11% and no seats for the first time since 1967. The Liberals swept all seats in Edmonton, gained a foothold in Calgary (with 3 members) and broke through in north-central Alberta.

Between 1993 and 1997, Alberta lived through a period of deep austerity – cuts in government spending, the elimination of over 2,000 jobs in the civil service, cuts in funding for arts, education and healthcare programs. In the civil service, the government introduced the principles of new public management which were in vogue in the early 1990s, and it cut regulations across the board. In healthcare, the government closed hospitals, increased healthcare premiums by 25% and laid off over 15,000 healthcare workers and nurses. In education it increased tuition fees, laid off teachers, leading to larger class sizes (in 1997, Alberta had the highest teacher-student ratio in Canada) and cuts in special ed and extra resources. At the same time, Klein’s government was the first Canadian government to open the way for charter schools and it increased support for private schools, two policies which were very criticized by public education workers. The government aggressively marketed the ‘Alberta Advantage’ – the province’s status as a low-tax, free enterprise, deregulated and economically/fiscal sound place to do business.

Sticking to its promises, Klein did not increase taxes and continued his original plan even when high windfall revenues meant that Alberta was out of deficit by FY 1994-95 (the government had pledged in its 1993 budget not to spend windfall revenue and use it to pay off the debt).

In 1993, the government began a major welfare reform which resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of cases and steadily decreasing social assistance payments for those who remained on it (total annual welfare incomes for a single employable person fell from $8,526 in 1992 to $6,729 in 1997 (and continued falling thereafter – it wasn’t until 2008 that Alberta started steadily increasing rates). Alberta’s welfare reform – later held by some as a model for later welfare reforms in Canada – included discouraging potential applications, tightening eligibility requirements, tightening administration of welfare to reduce caseloads, cuts in welfare rates, stricter work requirements, a shift to ‘workfare’ and lower earnings exemptions. Between 1993 and 1997, there was 60% decrease in Alberta’s welfare caseload. Cuts in welfare were accompanied by declining employment standards – over the 1990s, average hourly wages in Alberta failed to keep up with inflation and fell in real terms.

The government privatized liquor retailing between 1993 and 1994, selling or shutting down all government-owned liquor stores although the government retained warehousing and distribution responsibilities for wine, coolers, imported beers and spirits. Alberta remains the only province to have privatized liquor retailing.

In 1997, the PCs went into the election with a balanced budget, low unemployment, solid GDP growth, a plan to pay back the debt by 2005 and a record of low taxes. The Liberals were led by Grant Mitchell, who had replaced Decore not long after the 1993 election. The Liberals shifted to the left, running on a platform defending public services – maintaining public universal healthcare (against alleged Tory plans to introduce ‘two-tier healthcare’), hiring teachers and reducing class sizes, defending labour rights, protecting the environment while still pledging to not raise taxes and keep the budget in surplus. The NDP went into the election led by Pam Barrett, fighting on a platform vowing to ‘fight back’ against PC policies. The New Democrats focused on labour relations, poverty, the impacts of welfare reform, seniors, PC spending cuts, employment standards, public healthcare and education but also attacked the Tories’ socially conservative stances on LGBT rights (the PC government denied LGBT individual rights protection and spousal benefits). Klein was reelected to a second term with a much more comfortable majority. The PCs won 51.2% of the vote, up over 6% from the previous election, and they captured 63 of 83 seats – a gain of 12 seats. The Liberals remained the official opposition, but saw their vote drop by over 6% to 32.8% and they were left with only 18 seats – almost all of them in Edmonton. The NDP, despite a lower share of the vote than in 1993 (8.8%), gained 2 seats from the Liberals in Edmonton to reenter the legislature. The SoCreds, with 70 candidates, won a strong result (6.8%) but won no seats.

In its second term, Klein’s government continued its orthodox fiscal agenda, now squarely focused on paying off the province’s debt by 2004 and keeping the budget in surplus while not raising taxes. However, with an improved fiscal situation, spending increased beginning with the 1997 budget. Despite fluctuations in the price of oil, Alberta enjoyed very strong economic growth and declining unemployment rates during Klein’s second term in office.

Beginning in 1996, the PC government deregulated the electricity market, a controversial and poorly-handed policy decision which eventually led to significant rate increases for consumers (by 2001, Albertans paid the highest electricity prices in the country). The PCs deregulated the market without first ensuring adequate supply, leading to an unregulated oligopoly.

In 1998, the government began cutting taxes, and in the 1999 budget they began a three-year tax reform plan which culminated with Alberta ‘unhooking’ itself from the federal tax rates and introducing a single income tax rate (a flat tax) in 2001, to be set at 11%. Against claims that the flat tax would benefit middle and upper-income earners, the government responded by raising basic exemption levels by 60% by 2002. On top of that, the government also cut corporate taxes and renewed its commitment not to introduce a flat tax. The Klein government marketed the so-called ‘Alberta tax advantage’.

More controversial were Klein’s moves on healthcare. In the 1997 election, both Liberals and New Democrats had warned that the PCs wanted to move towards ‘US-like’ two-tier healthcare, which is very unpopular in Canada. In 2000, the government introduced Bill 11 (the Health Care Protection Act), which greatly expanded the range of treatments, operations and procedures which could be legally provided outside a public hospital and allowed them, within clearly delineated guidelines (but still granting considerable discretion to the physician) to charge patients extra for providing ‘enhanced medical services’. The government rejected all claims that Bill 11 was an opening to two-tier healthcare and pointed out the bill’s provisions banning queue jumping – so that people couldn’t pay extra to jump the line – but opponents of the legislation claimed that private medical facilities would be able to provide preferential treatment to those who paid. Despite widespread popular opposition, the bill was passed by the legislature in April 2000.

Going into the 2001 election, the PCs boasted Alberta’s low taxes, economic growth, low unemployment, the benefits of the strong oil and gas industry and reinvestment in healthcare and education. A weak Liberal opposition was now led by Nancy MacBeth (formerly Betkowski), the Red Tory who had been defeated by Ralph Klein in the 1993 PC leadership contest. The Liberals attacked the Tories on the declining quality of public education, the electricity deregulation ‘fiasco’ and Bill 11. The NDP was led by Indian-born MLA Raj Pannu, running on a combative platform attacking the PCs for Bill 11 (which the NDP, like the Liberals, pledged to repeal in favour of a ‘Patients Bill of Rights’ protecting public healthcare), the ‘failure’ of electricity deregulation, the flat tax (promising a ‘fair tax’ with breaks for low and middle-income earnings, scrapping health premiums and royalty tax credits), class sizes, employment standards, poverty, First Nations and the environment. Despite Bill 11 controversies and electricity deregulation, the PCs remained very popular. Ralph Klein’s PCs were reelected in a landslide, the biggest Tory victory in Alberta since the Lougheed days. The PCs won 61.9% of the vote and swept 74 of the legislature’s 83 seats. The opposition was reduced to a weak rump: the Liberals lost the most heavily, falling to 27.3% of the vote and holding only 7 seats (all but one of them in Edmonton), while the NDP was able to save its two urban Edmonton seats on a slightly reduced vote share provincially (8%). The SoCreds, who had made a strong run in 1997, collapsed to 0.5%. At a victory celebration in Calgary, Klein summarized the election himself: “Welcome to Ralph Klein’s world.”

After a post-9/11 slump, oil prices increased dramatically between 2002 and 2008 – which meant an era of prosperity and rapid growth for the province. Alberta, already Canada’s fastest-growing province, saw the strongest population growth since the mid-1970s (another boom time): it grew by 10.3% between 1996 and 2001 and by 10.6% between 2001 and 2006. Visible minorities have been one of the major contributors to population growth – their weight in Alberta grew from 11% to 16% in ten years between 1996 and 2006. Since 2001, following the late-1990s municipal amalgamations in Ontario, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city behind Toronto and Montreal. Calgary – home to most oil corporations’ head offices – has seen impressive population growth, even higher than the provincial average (Edmonton has grown, but less rapidly than Calgary). Economically, Alberta firmly established itself as Canada’s booming province and most prosperous jurisdiction in the early 2000s. Unemployment, the lowest in Canada, fell from 5.2% to 3.4% between 2002 and 2006. Alberta experienced strong economic growth during this time period, allowing for strong job creation numbers. High oil prices made developments of the oil sands even more profitable.

After an austerity budget in 2002 following the post-9/11 slump, the PC government increased spending on healthcare, education and infrastructure. Such investments allowed Alberta to rank near the top in Canada on several education and healthcare indicators. In 2003, to shield against oil and gas price volatility, the budget announced that, from that point forward, the government would consistently count on $3.5 billion in oil and gas revenues, and send any additional revenue to an Alberta Sustainability Fund to protect against poorer years. In 2004, the Klein government proudly announced that it had paid off Alberta’s debt in whole by FY 2004-05. With booming revenues far exceeding expenditure growths, the Klein government tabled budgets with increasingly large surpluses between 2002-03 and 2006-07. In 2006, Klein’s last budget as Premier, Alberta revenues stood at $38 billion, up from $21.9 billion in 2001 (not adjusted for inflation).

The 2004 election was a boring affair, as Klein’s mother died shortly after the dropping of the writs and all parties suspended their campaigns for several days. The PCs ran on an uninspiring platform reminding voters of their accomplishments in paying off the debt and reiterating old planks – low taxes, deficit and debt-free, small government and investments in core fields. The Liberals were led by Kevin Taft, who had previously been a fairly high-profile consultant, researcher and author. Prior to entering politics in 2001, Taft had written a book criticizing PC budget cuts in the 1990s (for which Klein called Taft a communist), co-authored a study criticizing the Tories’ electricity deregulation and co-authored a book attacking private healthcare. In the 2004 election, Taft’s Liberals focused on democratic reform, accountability, improving education and public healthcare, electricity prices, municipal autonomy, seniors, social justice, public auto insurance, environment/climate change all while pledging budget surpluses and no sales tax. The NDP, led by Edmonton MLA Brian Mason, campaigned on a bread-and-butter campaign promising to scrap healthcare premiums, bring in public auto insurance, lower home utility costs, scrap royalty tax credits, hire more nurses, lower prescription drug costs, stabilize education and healthcare funding, cut post-secondary tuition by 10% immediately, increase the minimum wage and working on democratic reform.

The PCs, however, also faced a serious challenger on their right – the Alberta Alliance, founded in 2002 by conservatives and libertarians who wished to emulate the federal Canadian Alliance (although the two parties were never affiliated). The party had gained a seat in the legislature when dissident PC MLA Gary Masyk crossed the floor to the Alliance in 2004. The Alberta Alliance criticized Klein’s erratic behaviour and tight control over government decision-making, and the party talked about accountability, electoral reform, free votes, grassroots citizen participation, recall, direct democracy, term limits and Senate reform. On social and economic matters, the Alliance called for strict ‘zero based’ budgeting, using all surplus funds to pay off debt, less red tape, cuts to government waste, privatizations, indexing spending growth to inflation, a 7% flat tax, ‘school choice’, school vouchers and ‘competition’ between hospitals and other healthcare facilities (and scrapping grants/subsidies to them). The Alliance also advocated for Alberta to take control of several key policy fields from Ottawa: unemployment insurance, pension plans (like Quebec), immigration policy, a provincial police force and firearms legislation.

Klein’s Tories were reelected, but Klein suffered his first electoral setback since winning power in 1993. The PCs saw their vote fall considerably, down 15% to 47%, and they lost 12 seats in the legislature – down to 62. Kevin Taft’s Liberals and Brian Mason’s NDP both saw modest increases in their parties’ support – up 2% to 29% and 10% respectively, giving the Liberals 16 seats and the NDP 4 seats. The Liberals and NDP almost swept Edmonton, leaving the PCs with only three seats in the capital, and the Liberals even managed to steal three seats in Calgary. The Alberta Alliance won 8.7%, a strong showing, and even won one seat – Paul Hinman – elected in the very conservative southern riding of Cardston-Taber-Warner, a seat with a large Mormon population. The Greens won 2.8%.

Very high oil prices led to large surpluses in the 2005 and 2006 budgets, which allowed the government to deposit funds into the sustainability fund but also to increase spending, notably on infrastructure projects which were big spending areas in both budgets. Taxes remained low, and it continued bringing down corporate taxes – overall, corporate taxes in the province fell from 15.5% in 2000 to 10% in April 2006. In June 2006, the government abolished the royalty tax credit, a program which allowed oil and gas companies to get a credit on their income tax returns for a percentage of the royalties paid. Since 1974, the credit had cost the province $113 million in 2005.

High revenues also allowed the Klein government to distribute a ‘Prosperity Bonus’, nicknamed Ralph bucks – announced in September 2005, each person in Alberta was to receive $400 (not taxable) from the government in early 2006, at the cost of about $1.4 billion to the government (the money came from the surplus, and accounted for about 20% of the total surplus). Some residents and academics criticized the cheques, as some would have preferred to see the money used for tax cuts, the abolition of healthcare premiums or for spending on core areas.

Prior to the 2004 election, Klein had announced that he would serve only one more term in office, but did not put a firm date on that. Pressure mounted on Klein to set a firm date, and he finally announced in March 2006 that he would resign at the end of October 2007, although the resignation would only take effect after his party chose a successor (so in 2008). The drawn-out schedule for his retirement, along with his announcement that any cabinet minister who wished to run for leader must resign by June 2006, generated controversy including within caucus and cabinet (one minister was fired and suspended from the caucus). On March 31, 2006, Klein received only 55% confidence from delegates at the PC leadership review, a very poor result and thus a crushing blow to his leadership. His poor result was attributed to concerns about his ‘long goodbye’ and how that might affect the party, similar to how Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s lengthy retirement notice was believed to have led to Liberal infighting in 2004. He announced within days that he would resign in September, and the PC leadership race was held in November and December 2006.

Jim Dinning, Klein’s first Treasurer in the 1990s who had been outside of politics since 1997, entered the race as the favourite and had the strongest support from the PC caucus. The first declared candidate was Ed Stelmach, a PC MLA since 1993 who had served in Klein’s cabinets since 1997, but had kept a low profile. Stelmach had substantial support in caucus, but was very much the dark horse candidate in the contest. Besides Dinning, most media attention focused on Ted Morton, a socially and fiscally conservative former academic (from the University of Calgary, where he was one of the figures of the conservative ‘Calgary School’) and freshman MLA. Along with other Calgary School academics and future Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Morton was one of the signatories of the 2001 ‘firewall letter’, a conservative manifesto which called on Alberta to seize new powers from Ottawa – including withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan, provincial collection of income tax (like Quebec), a provincial police force, provincial responsibility for healthcare policy (to allow for private healthcare), forcing Senate reform on the agenda and criticism of equalization payments. On the first ballot, Dinning led with 30% and Morton placed second with 26%, while Stelmach finished a distant third with 15%. However, in the top-three preferential ballot second round, Stelmach – who had been endorsed by three eliminated candidates – won 35.9% against 35.6% for Dinning and 28.6% for Morton. With Morton’s voters largely giving their second preferences to Stelmach, he was easily elected after redistribution of preferences.

Oil and the environment were key issues during Stelmach’s premiership. Oil sands production in Alberta had started to take off since 2003, as a result of high oil prices (which made extraction profitable) and generous investment incentives from the provincial and federal governments. However, as oil sands production increased, so did criticism of the environmental impacts. Oil sands production requires significant amounts of water, so oil sands projects divert about 359 million m3 of water from the Athabasca River, and there have been several cases of water pollution. Oil sands production emits 5-20% more carbon dioxide than average crude oil. Finally, the tailings ponds – byproducts of bitumen extraction from the oil sands – poses one of the most important environmental challenges. The serious environmental issues associated with oil sands productions has given Alberta’s oil industry a fairly bad image and reputation (with certain milieus) in Canada and the United States, forcing both government and oil producers to spend a considerable amount of money on PR campaigns which seek to convince the world that Alberta’s oil sands are environmentally friendly.

Stelmach was a vocal advocate of the oil sands industry in his province. In the run-up to the 2008 federal campaign, Stelmach strongly rejected federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s proposal to introduce a carbon tax. Instead, Alberta announced $2 billion in funding to explore carbon capture initiatives, an idea which got a mixed response. In January 2008, Stelmach introduced a ‘made-in-Alberta’ plan to cut carbon emissions – it called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 14% from 2007 levels by 2050, a target judged unambitious and insufficient by environmentalists in light of British Columbia’s plan to cut emissions by 80% from 2007 levels during the same period. Stelmach argued that Alberta’s position as an oil producer justified higher emissions. In April 2008, the death of 1,600 ducks who had landed in a northern Alberta tailings pond belonging to Syncrude were a blow to Stelmach’s efforts to portray the oil sands industry as environmentally friendly.

One of the major projects of the Stelmach government was a royalty review – a major commitment he had made in his 2006 bid for the PC leadership. In February 2007, Stelmach appointed the Alberta Royalty Review Panel to determine whether Albertans were received their ‘fair share’ from the province’s resource wealth. Klein’s government in the 1990s had lowered royalties, and his government was attacked by the opposition for being too weak and friendly with industry. Alberta was receiving much less in royalties than other oil producers, notably Alaska and Norway, were. The panel’s report, released in September 2007, determined that Albertans were not receiving their ‘fair share’ from energy development because royalties had not kept pace with changes in the resource base and the world energy markets. They recommended that total government intake in the oil sands increase from 47% to 64%, which would still place Alberta as a competitive energy producer in the world. In October 2008, Stelmach released its New Royalty Framework, which he claimed would provide Albertans with their fair share while providing ‘stability and predictability’ to industry and ensuring Alberta remains a competitive place to do business. Oil sands royalties had been fixed in 1997, at a time when the industry was nascent and required favourable conditions to get off the ground. Alberta’s 2007 royalty reviews, the base rate (gross revenue royalty) would start at 1%, and increase for every dollar oil is priced above $55 per barrel, to a maximum of 9% when oil is priced at $120 or higher. Royalties on net revenue applied post-payout, which was 25%, would start at 25% and increased for every dollar oil is priced above $55 per barrel to 40% when oil is priced at $120 or higher. The government rejected the panel’s recommendation for an oil sands severance tax. For conventional oil and natural gas, the new framework established a simplified sliding scales determined by prices and well productivity. The government projected royalties would increase by $1.4 billion by 2010. The new framework was introduced in 2009. The government’s royalty review had a fairly mixed response, and a largely negative one from industry. Some in the industry went so far as to compare Stelmach to Venezuela’s Chávez.

A 2015 study by the Parkland Institute, however, showed that instead of collecting an additional $10 billion over five years, total royalties collected went down by $13.5 billion. Most losses came from gas royalties, where the province collected $5.2 billion less per year in royalties following the review. This was due both to the major drop in natural gas prices after 2008 and the new royalty framework for gas. Although the province did get more in royalties from oil sands, the study faulted Alberta for its low royalty rate compared to other countries (and Newfoundland) and for pushing the Canadian price of oil below the European and US price.

Following a throne speech in February 2008, Stelmach called an election for March 2008. The PCs ran on a largely unexciting and uninspired manifesto, more pragmatic than ideological. The Tories promised to gradually eliminate healthcare premiums over four years, recruit and train more nurses and doctors, build 18 new schools, support the creation of 14,000 new childcare places, limit tuition increases, get tough on repeat offenders, establish an Energy Efficiency Act and an $18 billion three-year plan to build and improve transportation infrastructure, urban transit and schools. The Liberals, once again led by Kevin Taft, promised to eliminate healthcare premiums immediately, re-regulate electricity to lower bills, invest 30% of all royalties (in the AHSTF, the infrastructure deficit, a post-secondary endowment fund and an endowment for the arts , cap greenhouse gases in 5 years through a partnership with industry, train more healthcare workers, implement a public pharmacare program, redirect a $250 million natural gas rebate program towards energy efficiency, increase royalty revenues, vigorous enforcement of employment standards and accountable government. The NDP’s Brian Mason campaigned on four main themes: making life affordable (with rent controls, more childcare spaces, capped fees on after-school care, a $10 minimum wage and immediately ending healthcare premiums), full value royalties, a green energy plan (by creating a green energy fund for the creation of a green economy, supporting alternative power generation projects and hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions) and big money out of politics (banning corporate and union donations). The NDP had a populist platform which accused both Liberals and PCs of being on the side of ‘big corporations’ and big oil, while only the NDP was on the side of regular Albertans. On the right, the Alberta Alliance – which was failing to take off the ground – had merged with an ideologically identical unregistered party (the Wildrose Party) in January 2008 and changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance Party. The Wildrose Alliance ran on a conservative platform calling for a 2% cut in the flat-rate income tax, a higher personal exemption, directing savings from slower spending growth to the AHSTF so that income taxes could eventually be eliminated, a school voucher pilot program, a pilot program in a small health region based on per-patient rather than per-capita funding and democratic reform (fixed election dates, citizen initiatives, recall).

Although few people had thought much of Stelmach in comparison to his emblematic predecessor, Stelmach was able to win a landslide victory in the 2008 election. The PCs increased their vote by nearly 6 points to 52.7% and won 72 out of 83 seats. The Liberals and New Democrats both lost votes and seats, falling to 26.4% and 8.5% of the vote respectively. The Liberals fell from 16 to 9 seats, while the NDP fell from 4 to 2. The Wildrose Alliance saw support fall to 6.8% and Paul Hinman lost his seat. The Greens won 4.6% with a nearly full slate. The patterns of the vote were somewhat odd: in Stelmach’s Edmonton base, the PCs made strong gains and won some of their strongest numbers since the Lougheed era, defeating a number of Liberal and NDP incumbents to reduce the Liberals to only 3 seats in the city (from 12 in 2004). In Calgary, Klein’s base but a city which Stelmach had difficult relations with, the Liberals won 5 seats – a gain of one from dissolution and 2 from the 2004 election. The election was also noted for its very low turnout: only 40.6% of Albertans turned out to vote in an election widely considered to be boring and uninspiring.

After the election, the government controversially voted to award cabinet ministers and the Premier a pay increase.

In April 2008, as the Stelmach government delivered the first budget of the new legislature, Alberta’s economy seemed to still be doing well and the government projected a $1.6 billion surplus. The government eliminated healthcare premiums as of January 1, 2009. In the summer of 2008, with oil prices through the roof, the government revised its estimates to project a bigger surplus, but oil prices fell dramatically following the summer of 2008 during the global recession. Ultimately, the government ran a deficit in 2008-2009.

In April 2009, the government delivered the province’s first deficit budget in 16 years. Nevertheless, in a departure from the Klein era, austerity was not the first item in that budget: calling for ‘flexibility’, the government allowed borrowing for capital purposes (not for operating purposes) and it remained optimistic as it dipped into the sustainability fund to supplement revenues. The budget also announced a major $23 billion investment in infrastructure over three years, and did not include cuts to core areas. However, overall spending fell in the 2009 budget – the first incidence of spending cuts since the 2002 budget. The government’s fiscal plan included deficits until 2012-13. Stelmach’s government outlined a four-point plan to deal with deficits: ‘careful management’ of spending, protect and increase funding for priority services, continued investments in public infrastructure and keeping taxes low. In 2010, the government again used the sustainability fund to protect priority programs (education, healthcare, support for the elderly and disabled) and continued investments in infrastructure, while making cuts – mostly outside of frontline departments.

As Alberta slipped into recession in 2009, the PC government faced an unexpected surge in support for the Wildrose Alliance. In a September 2009 by-election in the suburban riding of Calgary-Glenmore, Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman captured the seat – held by the Tories since 1969 – with 36.9% support against 34.4% for the Liberals and only 25.9% for the PCs. Riding on a wave of momentum, the Wildrose Alliance saw its membership swell ahead of its October 2009 leadership race, which was easily won by Danielle Smith – a journalist and provincial director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Smith, a former Tory herself (who had backed Ted Morton in 2006), claimed that she had become disillusioned with Stelmach’s ‘free-spending’ ways. In January 2010, two PC MLAs crossed the floor to join Wildrose, boosting the party’s caucus to 3. In June, another defection gave them a fourth member and qualified them as a recognized political party in the legislature. Wildrose support surged in the polls in late 2009 and early 2010, increasing speculation that Stelmach could be forced out at the November 2009 PC leadership review. But he survived, with over 77% confidence. As the economy and jobs recovered in 2010, Stelmach’s support edged up again.

Stelmach announced in January 2011 that he would retire, and provided official notice of resignation at the end of May 2011. The PCs organized a leadership race for September-October 2011. Once again, the winner was not the early favourite. Gary Mar, a PC MLA from 1993 to 2007 and the province’s representative in Washington DC until March 2011, had the support of 27 PC MLAs and that of former Premier Ralph Klein. Other candidates included Alison Redford, a MLA since 2008 and justice minister, who had previously worked as a human rights lawyer and a senior policy adviser to then-foreign minister Joe Clark in the 1980s; Doug Horner, a MLA since 2001; Ted Morton, who had been promoted to finance minister in January 2010 and Rick Orman, a former MLA. On the first ballot, Mar, the favourite, was miles ahead of the others with 40.8% of the votes against 18.7% for Redford, 14.6% for Horner, 11.7% for Morton and 10.1% for Orman. Morton and Orman, eliminated, endorsed Gary Mar. Even on the second (top-three) ballot, Mar retained a narrow edge with 42.5% against 37.1% for Redford (and 20.4% for Horner), but it was clear that Redford had done the best job in signing up new members and outsiders (notably with a promise to reverse education cuts) and Mar had failed to capitalize on Morton and Orman’s endorsements. With the redistribution of Horner’s preferences, Redford narrowly won with 51.1%.

In the February 2012 budget, the government was unable to deliver on its previous target of balancing the budget by that date, although it now planned for a balanced budget in 2013-14.

The legislature was dissolved at the end of March 2012 for an election on April 23, 2012. As the election was called, Redford’s PCs maintained a narrow but shaky lead over the Wildrose, while support for the hitherto main opposition party (the Liberals) had collapsed to about 12% from over 26% in 2008. As the campaign progressed, Wildrose gained a consistent lead over the PCs – in fact, the rival right-wing party led in all polls conducted in April. The PCs had taken flack from the right for the 2012 budget, which Wildrose argued was a campaign document with unrealistic revenue projections and reckless spending, accusing the PCs of depleting the sustainability fund and AHSTF. Indeed, many critics on the right – not just Wildrose politicians – have argued that, after 2003, with high oil prices, PC governments spent heavily on the assumption that high revenues were permanent and spending increased at a much faster rate than inflation+population growth would allow. During the campaign, news of a ‘no-meet’ committee in the legislature (where MLAs were paid despite not doing any actual work) also hurt the PCs, reinforcing views that after a record 41 years in power, the PCs had become an arrogant and complacent dynastic party.

Wildrose focused on economic issues – the party attacked the 2012 budget, instead calling to limit annual spending growth to inflation+population growth, cuts in government waste (notably the PCs carbon capture projects), ‘targeted’ funding increases for front-line services, controlling the Tories’ ‘unsustainable capital spending spree’, instituting ‘zero-based budgeting’ and restraining government from dipping into the AHSTF to cover deficits. When in surplus, Wildrose said it would use the extra money to grow the AHSTF, pay off the debt, lower personal and business taxes and make investments in critical infrastructure. Furthermore, the party promised to cut red tape, reduce government regulations on businesses, lower oil royalties in order to encourage investment in the oil sands, decentralize (localize) education and healthcare decision making, protect ‘freedom of choice’ in education, ‘patient choice’ and ‘competition’ in healthcare (allowing patients to use their public insurance to obtain treatment with any provider, including private ones; it nevertheless claimed to uphold the principles of the Canada Health Act), democratic reforms (maximizing free votes, citizen-initiated referenda and recall, whistleblower protection, transparency), changes in human rights legislation to protect ‘freedom of speech’ (controversially, Alberta human rights legislation allows for the prosecution of somebody who ‘exposes a person or a class of persons to contempt’), abolish the human rights commission in favour of a new human rights division in the court system and to legally protect property rights. The party’s platform also attacked the federal equalization program, vowed to oppose any federal intrusion into environmental regulation and argued for Alberta to have more power over immigration.

The PCs promised to return to a balanced budget in 2013 with no new taxes and no service cuts; a good part of their platform repeated pledges from the 2012 budget or earlier legislative action – including improvements in student aid and grants, extra funding for education, improvements made to education laws etc. The incumbent party’s platform promised to ‘spend wisely’, build a ‘knowledge economy’, enhance market access for Alberta’s natural resources and agricultural produce, invest in families and communities (and lead the development of a social policy framework), build a network of 140 family care clinics, improve student aid and access to post-secondary education, a ‘Canadian Energy Strategy’, support new pipelines (Keystone XL and Northern Gateway), increase child care subsidies, implement a 10-year poverty reduction plan and build 50 new schools.

On the centre-left, Brian Mason’s NDP polled well but struggled to make major gains in the polls. The NDP ran on a populist platform, attacking the PCs as the party of the rich and powerful, and focused on quality public healthcare (increase the number of family doctors, cheaper drug prices, reducing wait times), affordable electricity through re-regulation, the youth (introducing a child care system with a maximum daily cost of $25 per child, ban school fees, freezing and reducing tuition fees, student loan debt forgiveness up to $1000 per year), a clean environment (energy efficient home retrofit loans, cleanups of tailings ponds) and making oil sands prosperity work for all Albertans (requiring all projects to have plans for upgrading in Alberta). The New Democrats would have funded their projects by increased corporate taxes, increased income tax on the wealthy and changes to bitumen royalties. The Liberals were clearly struggling and sickly going into the election, with 3 of 8 incumbents retiring and having lost two members since the 2008 election. They were led by Raj Sherman, who had been elected in Edmonton-Meadowlark as a PC candidate in 2008 but who had been thrown out of the PC caucus in 2010 before running, successfully, for the Liberal leadership in 2011. Sherman’s Liberals had an unremarkable centre-left social liberal platform – improving healthcare, expansion of early childhood education, immigrant integration support, cheaper hydro, ending school fees, cap and lower undergrad tuition, diversified markets, environmental innovation, green transportation, democratic reform (reducing the number of MLAs, free votes, recall, accountability, an IRV electoral system, eliminating private school funding, increased taxes on bigger corporations and a progressive tax system (targeting only the top 10%). To messy things up further, the Alberta Party – a party which had been founded in 1985 as one of the several hard-right/quasi-separatist parties to challenge the PCs in the late 80s – had shifted to the left since 2009 after the right-wingers joined Wildrose, transforming the party into a progressive party aiming to unite progressive forces (free of the baggage, supposedly, carried by the NDP and Liberals). One Liberal MLA, Dave Taylor, had joined the party in the legislature, although he didn’t run for reelection. The party’s leader, Glenn Taylor, ran a strong campaign in his local riding of West Yellowhead.

Alberta’s 2012 election has become a memorable one. Going into the election, with all polls predicting a Wildrose victory, most expected the end of the PC dynasty after 41 years in power. However, on election night, defying all polls and predictions, Alison Redford’s PCs were reelected to a reduced majority government, winning 44% of the vote (-8.8%) and 61 seats (-5 on dissolution) against 34.3% and 17 seats for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance Party. The polls had gotten it wrong – even if one poll (Forum Research) on the day before had shown the Wildrose lead cut down to only 2 points, even they missed the mark by quite some distance. There are some explanations as to why the Wildrose wave suddenly failed to materialize: in the last week, Smith’s campaign had been hit by two candidates making crazy statements (about, you guessed it, the gays/lesbians and racism) and Smith refusing to ‘throw them under the bus’, which sparked concerns about a potential Wildrose government and allowed the PCs to – according to their critics – run a scare campaign. There remains debate on what happened – the undecideds breaking heavily for the PCs, Liberal (and NDP) strategic voting to prevent a Wildrose victory, late switchers from Wildrose to the Tories and so forth. The Liberal vote did collapse, by 16.5% to only 9.9%, although they miraculously managed to reelect their 5 incumbent MLAs who ran for reelection. However, the Liberal collapse was not a surprise – it was already clear during the campaign that many Liberals had switched to the PCs, a friendlier option now that it was led by Redford, a ‘Red Tory’, or as a defence against Wildrose. The NDP won 9.8%, a slight increase but also a slight underperformance on polling, and doubled its caucus from 2 to 4 MLAs. The Alberta Party won 1.3% with 38 candidates but failed to win any seats.

In geographical terms, Wildrose swept southern Alberta – winning 9 of 10 rural seats in the south of the province, traditionally the province’s most conservative region – and did well in exurban Alberta, notably defeating Ted Morton in Chestermere-Rocky View. However, the party failed to make its expected breakthrough in Calgary – the party won only two suburban seats there, and Paul Hinman lost in Calgary-Glenmore. The PCs won 46.2% and 20 seats in Calgary, against 35.6% for the Wildrose. The upstart right-wing party was not expected to do well in more left-wing Edmonton, and indeed it won just 18.8% and no seats, while the NDP placed second in the city and took all of its 4 seats there. The PCs won 13 seats in the capital. The PCs also held their ground in Lethbridge and Red Deer, the province’s two smaller urban centres (although Medicine Hat voted Wildrose, in the south). In northern and central Alberta’s rural seats, the PCs won 23 seats against 6 for Wildrose.

The Decline and Fall of the PC dynasty (2012-2015)

The PCs were unable to deliver a balanced budget in 2013. The budget presented in March 2013 forecast a $451 million deficit, due in good part to significantly lower non-renewable resource revenues, particularly bitumen (oil sands) royalties, than originally expected. The 2012 budget had forecast $13.4 billion in resource revenues for 2013, but the 2013 budget now estimated resource royalties to come in at only $7.25 billion. As a result, the 2013 budget froze operating expenses for the fiscal year, as part of what the government called ‘living within our means’. The budget slowed growth in healthcare spending to 3% (down from about 9% in previous years), cut spending for post-secondary education (a decision very badly received by those concerned), cuts to MLA salaries and in public sector management, increased K-12 education spending by 0.6% and included $5.2 billion in capital spending. True to the old commitment, the budget did not raise taxes. The budget also included a savings plan, to replenish the AHSTF and the contingency account (formerly sustainability fund). On the right, opposition leader Danielle Smith called it the ‘get back in debt budget’ and attacked the PC spending plans. Redford’s government also changed its accounting practices, separating out capital spending. The move was explained as being more in line with common accounting principles, but fiscal hawks said it amounted to cooking the books. The Liberals and NDP would have preferred to see tax increases in the budget. The government would eventually report an operational surplus for 2013-14, although excluding $5 billion in capital spending.

In 2013, Redford’s government faced the ire of public sector unions after the legislature passed two anti-unions laws: Bill 45 and Bill 46. The former increased fines for illegal strikes, while the latter unilaterally striped the public sector union (AUPE) of its right to arbitration (a right granted by PC Premier Lougheed) and imposed a two-year pay freeze on public servants. Redford had previously been on fairly good terms with the AUPE, but her anti-union legislation in 2013 changed matters. The AUPE launched a legal challenge against Bill 46, and obtained a major win in February 2014 when a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench granted an indefinite injunction against the bill, arguing that the legislation could irreparably harm labour relations, guts the collective bargaining process and effectively emasculates the AUPE. Redford intended to appeal the decision, but the AUPE and the government reached a tentative agreement after her resignation and the appeal was dropped.

In March 2014, the government delivered a balanced budget, forecasting a $2.6 billion surplus due to higher revenues, both from taxes and non-renewable resources, than originally expected. As part of their ‘living within our means’ focus, however, operational expenditure increased by 3.7% in the 2014 budget, less than the projected rate of population growth plus inflation (4%). The budget’s capital plan included $19.2 billion investments into infrastructure projects in three years, including $6.6 billion in 2014. To finance the capital plan, the government forecast that it would borrow $4.8 billion in 2014, but insisted it was the right decision to make as well as a sustainable one. Wildrose warned that Alberta would carry $21 billion in debt by 2016 as a result of the government’s ‘doubling down on debt’ budget.

Redford’s downfall began with the death of Nelson Mandela, and her decision to attend Mandela’s funeral in South Africa at the cost of $45,000 to the Alberta government. Instead of travelling with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the rest of Canada’s representatives, she took a government plane, flew her aide separately and then flew back early. Further scrutiny into her expenses revealed several abuses, including having her daughter and a friend accompany her several times on government planes, booking first class fights and high-end hotels. Redford apologized for the Mandela trip, but remained defiant about repaying the $45,000 until the very end. She insisted that it was an ‘exceptional situation’ which wouldn’t happen again. Her entourage also faced withering criticism for their exorbitantly high salaries and luxury tastes.

Redford’s approval ratings collapsed below 20% while a poll in March 2014 showed that the PCs had fallen to 19% in voting intentions against 46% for Wildrose, 16% for the Liberals and 15% for the NDP. Having been elected to the leadership with little support in the PC caucus, Redford was left isolated when things got bad for her – although she had made things worse because of her leadership style, which left many MLAs out in the cold while she surrounded herself with outsiders (with few friends at home, she brought in top staff from Ontario). On March 13, PC MLA Len Webber quit the caucus and called Redford a ‘bully’. Redford’s allies attacked, saying he was “a very sad man” who should “go back to being an electrician.” On March 17, Donna Kennedy-Glans, an associate minister and PC MLA, resigned from cabinet and quit the caucus, attacking Redford’s leadership style. Around the same time, Redford was facing a possible caucus revolt, as no less than 10 MLAs were discussion leaving the party to sit as independents. On March 19, Redford announced her resignation, effectively almost immediately (on March 23). Unlike Klein and Stelmach, she did not stay on while a leadership election was organized. Instead, she was succeeded on an interim basis by Dave Hancock, the deputy premier. In August, she resigned her Calgary-Elbow seat. That same month, the Auditor General’s report into her travel expenses concluded that she had used “used public resources inappropriately” and “used public assets (aircraft) for personal and partisan purposes.” The report concluded that these abuses arose due to an “aura of power around Premier Redford and her office and the perceptions that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”

The PCs successfully convinced retired federal politician Jim Prentice to enter the race, in which he was naturally the runaway favourite. Prentice had been active in federal politics for the old Progressive Conservatives, and ran in the 2003 federal PC leadership as a supporter of efforts to ‘unite the right’ (he placed second on the final ballot, losing to Peter MacKay, who at the time opposed a full-fledged union). Prentice was elected as a federal Conservative MP in the 2004 election, and after Harper’s victory in the 2006 election, Prentice was appointed as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and later as Minister of Industry (in 2007) and Minister of the Environment (in 2008). He left those portfolios with mixed records, receiving criticism for not implementing the Kelowna Accords as Indian affairs minister and for his positions on copyright laws, net neutrality and text messaging charges while industry minister. As a federal Conservative, Prentice was widely seen as a Red Tory, given that he had voted in favour of the federal Liberal government’s bill which legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. Prentice resigned from cabinet and the House in November 2010 to take a job at the CIBC. Prentice entered the Alberta PC leadership race in May 2014, and faced only two rivals: Ric McIver, a rookie MLA (elected in 2012) and former cabinet minister, and Thomas Lukaszuk, a PC MLA since 2001 who had held several cabinet portfolios since 2010 including deputy premier (2012-2013). Prentice was easily elected on the first ballot on September 6 with 76.8% of the vote.

Jim Prentice was seen by Tories as the steady hand to right the ship and restore PC fortunes. Despite low turnout in the leadership election (some 23k v. 78.1k in 2011), everything seemed to be going according to plan at first. The PCs regained their lead in the polls. Prentice reversed some of the last government’s unpopular decisions – he let two controversial dealing with public service compensation die on the order paper, he visited a a long term care centre marked for closure by the Redford government and in March 2015 Prentice repealed Bill 45.

On October 27, voters in four ridings – three in Calgary and one in Edmonton – were called to the polls in by-elections. Jim Prentice sought Len Webber’s old seat in Calgary-Foothills, while two of his new cabinet members sought to enter the legislature: health minister Stephen Mandel, the former mayor of Edmonton (2004-2013), ran in Edmonton-Whitemud while education minister Gordon Dirks, a former Saskatchewan minister in the 1980s who aroused some controversy for his socially conservative religious views, ran in Redford’s old seat of Calgary-Elbow. The PCs swept all four by-elections – despite major swings against Mandel in Edmonton (where the NDP placed a strong, but distant, second) and Dirks in Calgary (where Alberta Party leader Greg Clark won 26.9% to Clark’s 33.2%) and a close race in Calgary-West (where Wildrose came within a few points of victory) – and the narrative coming out of the election was that voters were willing to give the PCs, despite their travails in the past month, a chance and that Wildrose (which had hoped to win one or two of the seats) were the main losers.

Wildrose entered a turbulent period following the by-elections. At the party’s AGM in November, members rejected a motion supporting equal rights for all minority groups, reigniting criticisms and fears that the party was bigoted and anti-gay. Nine days later, two Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to join the PCs, citing turmoil in the party and their confidence in Prentice’s leadership.

In the government’s Speech from the Throne in November, they focused on four key themes: commitment to conservative fiscal principles, ending the culture of entitlement to restore the public trust, maximize the value of natural resources while protecting property rights, protecting the environment and enhancing the quality of life.

Some weeks later, the media started reporting rumours of talks in the Wildrose caucus to merge with the PCs. The idea had been in the works since Prentice became premier and took steps to bring rebel social and fiscal conservatives back into the fold by adopting some key Wildrose issues (like defending property rights and pledging to defend fiscally conservative principles), and a leaked document about a Wildrose-PC mergers included Tory commitments to review Stelmach/Redford property rights bills, ‘patient choice’ in healthcare, free votes on issues of conscience, balance the budget, stop taking on debt and other things. On December 17, in a fairly unprecedented move in Canadian politics, Wildrose leader and Opposition Leader Danielle Smith announced that she and eight other Wildrose MLAs would cross the floor to join the PCs. Smith said that, under Prentice, they could work together “with a renewed focus on the values and principles that we share.” She added that she wanted Prentice to succeed, noted that they shared almost identical values. Smith also implied that social conservatives in the party had effectively pushed her out as well. Despite the rumours of a merger/reunification, however, angry Wildrose members (those who stayed behind) denied any such things. The mass defections were poorly received by some, who painted Smith and the 8 MLAs as power-hungry political opportunists who had betrayed their voters, while many on the left said that the PCs had betrayed those progressives who had voted PC in 2012 to keep the Wildrose out of government. Polls in December 2014, however, showed the PCs with a solid lead – one poll, for example, pegged the Tories at 42% (and another at 44%) against 14% for Wildrose and 18-19% apiece for the NDP and the Liberals.

Danielle Smith went on to lose the PC nomination in her riding of Highwood on March 28, as did two other Wildrose-turned-PC defectors (a fourth, who had left Wildrose earlier to sit as an independent, was denied the PC nomination as well).

In the meantime, however, Alberta’s economy was badly hit by the sharp, sudden and (for Alberta) catastrophic collapse in oil prices which began in August 2014 – something which Alberta’s budget, in March 2014, had certainly not expected. Beginning in January 2015, Prentice warned Albertans of impending austerity in a ‘transformational’ and ‘once-in-a-generation’ budget. Before the budget was dropped, Prentice made his first mistake – a comment about how Albertans “needed to look in the mirror” to understand the serious budget shortfall. It seemed as if Prentice was blaming Albertans for the province’s fiscal problems, when his party had been the one in charge for over 40 years. The reaction online and offline was, predictably, very negative.

On March 26, the Tories delivered a budget which they billed as making the ‘tough choices’ to make public services financially sustainable and with a plan to reduce Alberta’s dependence on non-renewable resources revenue in coming years. The 2015 budget forecast a very big $5 billion deficit – in good part due to the fall in oil prices, which meant that revenues from non-renewable resources fell from $8.8 billion in 2014-15 (forecast) to $2.9 billion in 2015-16, with bitumen and crude oil royalties 73% lower. The budget forecast a return to balance in 2017-18, after another deficit in 2016. The budget brought major changes both in revenues and expenditures.

The budget introduced ‘revenue initiatives’ worth about $1.5 billion in new revenue for 2015-16, in the form of increased taxes and user fees. It is the first budget to raise taxes in the province in years, in a radical change from past PC policy. The budget introduced a new healthcare contribution levy, similar to the old healthcare premiums abolished in 2008, but working in a more progressive manner, exempting low-income earners – the new contribution levy would apply to individual taxable incomes over $50,000 and increase progressively in $200 increments to a maximum contribution of $1,000 for those earning over $130,800. The budget effectively scrapped Ralph Klein’s old flat tax, introducing two new tax brackets starting in 2016, with a provincial income tax rate of 11.5% on taxable incomes over $100,000 once fully implemented in 2018 (with 0.5% tax increases in 2016, 2017 and 2018) and a temporary three-year tax of 0.5% on incomes over $250,000 (so that, by 2018, those earning over $250,000 would pay 12% in provincial income tax, before seeing them reduced to 11.5% in 2019 once the temporary tax expires). Other taxes and user fees also saw increases, some of them immediate: fuel tax (up 4 cents to 13 cents per litre), tobacco tax (up $5 to $45 per carton of 200 cigarettes), a 10% liquor mark-up, insurance premiums tax and numerous fees and charges (traffic tickets, motor vehicle registration fees, land titles transactions, provincial parks access fees, legal documents). Quite controversial was the government’s decision to slash the charitable donations tax credit from 21% to 12.75% for charity donations over $200. To compensate for these measures and spending cuts, the budget, however, also included some enhancements to tax credits for low-income families with children. In a decision which would come back to haunt them, the government did not increase corporate taxes (Alberta’s general corporate tax rate, 10%, is the lowest in Canada), arguing that times were tough enough as it is for businesses. Oil royalties were also left untouched.

The 2015 budget included spending cuts (about $300 million), officially under the objective of bringing the costs of Alberta’s public services in-line with the national average. Some key departments saw immediate budget cuts: health ($160 million), advanced education, environment, transportation and municipal affairs while all departments (including health and education) would have to absorb $1.9 billion ‘growth pressure’ in future years (meaning annual spending increases would be well below population growth+inflation). The budget noted that front-line services would not be affected, and most ‘savings’ would instead come from ‘administrative efficiencies’, exploring ‘alternative’ service delivery methods and eliminating waste. Some 2,000 public service full time equivalent positions were slated for elimination in the budget (the vast majority in the health system), mostly through attrition, while the government warned that new contracts to be negotiated with the public sector would take into account the ‘current fiscal situation’.

The budget’s capital plan forecast for $29.5 billion investments in infrastructure projects over five years, complemented with a commitment to gradually pay off capital debt once the budget is back in surplus (forecast for 2017-18). Finally, as part of the overarching theme of reducing the province’s dependence on non-renewable resource revenue, by 2019-20, only 50% of resource revenue would be used for program spending with the other 50% allocated to savings, the reduction of capital debt and building the AHSTF.

Reactions to the budget were, to say the least, mixed. Some in the business community thought it was a tough but fair budget, while PC supporters said it was a tough but realistic and necessary long-term plan to get Alberta back into surplus and off the “resource revenue roller-coaster”. However, the budget had something in it to displease everyone else, left and right. For the right, there were not enough cuts and the tax increases were repulsive. For the left, it cut spending too much and hit middle-class taxpayers too hard while favouring the corporate sector and big business. For regular Albertans, the hike in sin taxes and fuel tax or the re-introduction of a health care premium or the absence of a hike in corporate taxes were reasons to be unhappy with the budget.

Election Campaign and Issues

On April 7, 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election for May 5, 2015 – going to the polls a year early, disregarding fixed election date legislation. Prentice said he wanted to secure a mandate from voters for his ‘transformational’ budget, in reality he wanted to go early in the face of bad economic news and take advantage of the general disarray of the opposition parties. The early election call was also an example of PC (or long-time governing party) arrogance, in that they appeared so confident of their hold on the province that they were not bothered or took little notice of recent mistakes made or the poor reception of the March 26 budget.

Indeed, as he called the election, almost all the opposition parties were in disarray. The Wildrose Party had barely picked itself up following the mass defections of December 2014, and elected a permanent leader to lead them into an election only on March 28. Brian Jean, a former Conservative MP (Fort McMurray-Athabasca) from 2006 to 2014 – who had been a rather invisible backbencher for the duration of the Harper government, was elected as the Wildrose Party’s new leader. The Liberal Party, which was tied with the Wildrose Party in terms of seats at the dissolution of the legislature, had its leader Raj Sherman resign in late January 2015 and the Liberals headed into the 2015 election campaign led by an interim leader, the well-regarded but unambitious Dr. David Swann (a Calgary MLA and former Liberal leader himself, from 2008 to 2011). Only the NDP, it turned out, went into the election with a solid footing. Brian Mason, the NDP’s leader, had resigned in April 2014 and an October 2014 leadership election was easily won by Rachel Notley, two-term MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona and the daughter of former NDP leader Grant Notley (1968-1984).

The Progressive Conservatives focused their campaign on their March 26 ‘transformational’ and ‘forward-looking’ budget and its main themes – so saving oil revenues in the future, reducing government spending, revenue changes, cutting government waste and duplication, maintaining support for low-income families and disabled people, doubling the size of the AHSTF in 10 years, long-term debt reduction after 2017, capital plan infrastructure investments (building schools, healthcare facilities, improve roads) and a flat-out rejection of any tax hikes for corporations (claiming that it would cost billions in investment and thousands of jobs). The platform laid out a ‘long term plan to secure Alberta’s future’, focused on economic diversification (innovation and technology, agriculture, clean technologies), expanding market access (within Canada, and towards new markets in Asia and the EU), protecting the environment, defending property rights and improving relations with Aboriginals.

The Wildrose Party (WRP) went into the election led by Brian Jean, a rookie leader, elected to the position only days before the writ was dropped. As mentioned above, Jean had served as an unremarkable and anonymous backbench federal Tory MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca between 2006 and 2014, and entered the campaign with relatively low name recognition and a party still trying to pick itself up after the mass defections of December 2014. Amusingly, Jean had donated $10,000 to Prentice’s 2014 PC leadership campaign.

Taxes were at the centre of the WRP campaign, which attacked Prentice’s 59 tax and fee increases and promised to reverse them and balance the budget by 2017 (under a different accounting method which would take into account capital investments) without raising taxes or cutting front line services. It planned to balance the budget by cutting, primarily, in ‘PC waste and cronyism’ – corporate welfare, sole-source contracts, public sector management, government travel, advertising and mandating more transparency. Once the budget is balanced, Wildrose would use all surplus funds for investments into the AHSTF, debt reduction, contingency fund or infrastructure projects. To create jobs and growth, the WRP called for tax incentives to stimulate research, investment, and economic activity, facilitating the recognition of foreign credentials, provincial control over immigration to attract the necessary skilled workers, cuts to red tape and regulatory burdens and promised to ‘aggressively’ negotiate a fairer equalization program so that Alberta keeps more money.

The vague catchphrase ‘patient-centred healthcare’ headlined the WRP’s health platform, focused on improving patient care by cutting bureaucracy in the public health system. However, the platform was devoid of explicit calls for two-tiered healthcare or more private options, although it talked about ‘patient choice’ and use of non-hospital facilities/services (within the system) in vague terms. The rest talked mostly of curbing bureaucracy in health administration, localized decision-making and ’empowering’ patients. On education, the WRP vowed to protect ‘school choice’, speed up completion of new schools, empower school boards to find ‘efficiencies’ and set their priorities and assorted vague platitudes.

Democracy and accountability were key themes in the WRP platform, unsurprisingly. The platform repeated plans to end ‘PC entitlement’ and cut waste and abuse in government (public disclosure of government travel, limiting severance packages for all political staff and senior government and agency officials), complemented with proposals to strengthen independent officers of the legislature (like the auditor general or ethics commissioner), simplify access to freedom of information requests, toughen whistleblower legislation and more accountability/disclosure of government spending. On the issue of democratic reform, the Wildrose platform called for MLA recall legislation, banning floor crossing without a by-election, free votes, improved democracy in legislative proceedings (by enhancing the role of the opposition in committees) and ‘phasing out’ large corporate and union donations.

Reflecting the party’s base and the nature of its 2015 campaign, rural Alberta was an important focus of the platform. Protecting property rights – a major issue for rural voters and a favourite topic of the right – fell under this theme, and the WRP promised to repeal or amend controversial PC legislation which infringed on private property rights. They also talked of improving access to services and infrastructure in rural communities.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) has been a fixture of Alberta politics since the 1940s (when it was known as the CCF), but unlike in neighbouring British Columbia or Saskatchewan, the Alberta NDP had never been able to make a breakthrough in provincial politics – peaking at 29% of the vote in the 1986 election. This election, the NDP was the opposition party which was the most prepared for the election call, having begun nominating its candidates and found a strong leader in Rachel Notley. The NDP entered the campaign on a centre-left progressive platform attacking Jim Prentice and his budget; for example, the platform attacked “a budget that asks you and your family to pay for bad decisions by the Conservatives – through higher taxes and fees, and through deep cutbacks to your family’s health care and education.”

Given the importance of the Prentice Tories’ budget in the election, the NDP’s alternative to that budget came to dominate the election campaign. The NDP campaigned on the idea of ‘everyone contributing fairly’, which in reality meant a plan to increasing the corporate tax (for big corporations) to 12% (which would take Alberta from having the lowest corporate taxes in the country to one more in line with other provinces, albeit higher than BC, QC and ON), introducing a progressive income tax with several brackets for the top 10% of tax filers (12% on income over $125,000, 13% on $150k-200k, 14% on $200k-300k and 15% on income over $300,000) but providing breaks for the other 90% – eliminating the healthcare levy, rolling back the user fees, cuts to the charitable donation tax credit and enhancements to tax credits for low-income families. On that plan, the NDP platform forecast to balance the budget in 2018. The NDP platform also committed to establishing a commission to report on domestic resource processing and fair royalties.

Notley’s campaign also focused on job creation and diversification of the economy to reduce over-dependence on bitumen exports. The NDP proposed a job creation tax credit, increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2018 and supporting other sectors (alternative energies, high tech, research, knowledge industries).

The NDP also attacked the PC government over their spending cuts, notably those which hit healthcare. Besides vowing to reverse the cuts, scrap the healthcare levy and provide stable and secure funding, the NDP also promised to shorten wait times by creating more long-term care beds, expand public homecare, end PC experiments in privatization, properly repair (and constructing new) hospitals and seniors’ facilities. Similarly, for education, the NDP pledged to provide stable and secure funding and reverse cuts, invest to reduce class sizes to deal with growing K-12 enrollment, reduce school fees for essential services (like lunch), build new schools, phase-in all-day KG, restore a summer employment program for youth and implement a ‘real’ tuition freeze. Social issues were also important, unsurprisingly for the NDP. The party’s platform mentioned investments in childcare, immediate enhancements to tax credits for low-income families, a review of employment standards to support ‘family-friendly’ work standards, initiatives for gender equality and ‘smart regulation’ of electricity to ensure lower costs.

The environment was another key issue. The NDP committed to a green retrofitting loan program, phasing-out coal fired electricity generation (and expand cleaner, greener sources), scrapping the ineffective carbon capture program (to reinvest the 2015-16 component into public transit), strengthening environmental regulation and pledged to ‘take leadership’ on climate change. On the controversial and touchy issue of the Northern Gateway, Notley said it was ‘not the right decision’ and signaled that she’d take a hands-off approach to the pipeline, which had been actively pushed by the PCs. She also said that she would end lobbying for the embattled Keystone XL pipeline project.

The New Democrats forcefully attacked Prentice and the PCs on government ethics issues, accusing Prentice of refusing to accept responsibility by telling Albertans to ‘look in the mirror’ and of seeking to ‘game democracy’ with his secret deal with Danielle Smith in 2014. The NDP promised to ban corporate and union donations, transparent infrastructure decisions, strengthen conflict of interest laws, ban MLAs from using government resources during elections and respect all-party committees in the legislature.

Other issues addressed by the party included municipal affairs, a renewed partnership with Aboriginal peoples (notably joining in the calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women) and agriculture.

The Liberal Party has been struggling since the 2012 election, when the Liberals suffered a bad defeat. It has transformed more into an assemblage of like-minded independent MLAs rather than a major political party vying for power. To make matters quite worse, the Liberals’ leader, Raj Sherman, resigned in January 2015 and the party was drawn into this snap election without a permanent leader. The respected but ineffective Dr. David Swann, who had previously served as Liberal leader from 2008 to 2011 (stepping down without leading the party into an election), was interim leader and basically ran a campaign to win reelection for himself as Calgary-Mountain View’s MLA rather than a province-wide campaign. Only one other Liberal MLA, Edmonton’s Laurie Blakeman, sought reelection. Their three other incumbents were all retiring. The Liberals tried to mask their very poor shape by calling for ‘progressive cooperation’ between the left/progressive parties (NDP, Liberals, Alberta Party, Greens) to defeat the PCs; the NDP naturally didn’t care much for that, and the Alberta Party and the Greens weren’t overly keen on it either. However, incumbent Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre was also endorsed by the Alberta Party and the Greens, while the Greens endorsed the Liberal candidate in Red Deer-North. Overall, the Liberals were unable to run a full slate of candidates and nominated just 56 candidates – all heavily concentrated in urban Alberta.

The Liberal platform was weirdly disjointed, placing unusually large focus on fairly minor issues – for example, they talked about improving vaccination rates, legal aid, infertility (IVF) funding and age-appropriate teaching of consent in sex ed classes. Given the distribution of Liberal candidates, urban issues were important in the platform. The Liberals did not differ much from the NDP in terms of ideas – reducing wait times, phasing out school fees, smaller class sizes, childcare places, reducing tuition fees, hiring more teachers and protecting the environment. On taxation, the Liberals supported a progressive income tax (with 5 brackets, from 9.5% to 15%, with even bigger tax increases for the wealthy), a 2% increase in the corporate tax and eliminating small business taxes.

The Alberta Party, emerging since 2011 as a new centre-left progressive party in Alberta politics, nominated 36, two less than in the last election. Party leader Greg Clark ran in Calgary-Elbow, in a rematch of last year’s by-election in which he finished a strong second against PC education minister Gordon Dirks. Once again, the party’s platform did not markedly differ from that of the NDP – an ‘effective’ progressive income tax, a 1% hike in the corporate tax, new schools, reverse health and education cuts, tuition cap at inflation rate, tough ethics laws, phase-out coal power, carbon pricing for large emitters who don’t reduce their emissions by 30%, economic diversification, clean energy and phasing out small business taxes. The Alberta Party also supported using 100% of future surpluses to pay off the debt and then placed into the AHSTF, along with 50% of resource revenues.

The Green Party has been weak in Alberta, and has gone through complicated times in recent years. In 2008, the Greens managed to win 4.6% of the vote running almost a full slate, but went through major leadership problems shortly thereafter which left the new leadership much weakened and contested from within, and they were unable to file the necessary annual financial statement with Elections Alberta in 2009, and the party was deregistered. A new party, the Evergreen Party, was founded in 2011 and ran 25 candidates in the 2012 election (for 0.39% of the vote). It was renamed as the Green Party of Alberta in late 2012. In this election, the Greens ran 24 candidates. The party’s very left-wing platform included a carbon tax and a moratorium on oil sands development until the environmental impact is established and a global climate change agreement is signed.

Ab 2015 polls

Polls during the campaign period (own graph)

At the outset, given the state of the opposition, most of us expected that the PCs would a thirteenth term in office – extending their 44 year rule over the province, already the longest single-party dominance by any party in Canadian political history. Given the NDP’s strong polling, it seemed likely that the NDP would do well in Edmonton, their base, and perhaps form Official Opposition as the WRP struggled to hold their seats, but a change of dynasty looked unlikely.

The first polls, however, showed that something odd was up. On April 6, a little-known pollster showed Wildrose up on 31%, the NDP on 26% and the PCs in third with 25%. A poll soon thereafter by another little-known pollster showed similar numbers, but with the PCs in second with 27%. Few seemed to put any confidence in these polls, but Forum Research – a more established pan-Canadian pollster – on April 9 confirmed the other polls, with the WRP up 30-28-27 with the NDP in second. Other polls on April 13 and 20 showed the WRP narrowly ahead of a strong NDP and the PC vote dropping to the 24-25% range. While most accepted by this point that something was happening, many probably had a gut feeling that this was all wrong – like 2012, after all – and that the PCs would still win because, hey, this is Alberta.

The debate on April 23 proved to be a game-changer, in retrospect. Notley, Prentice and Jean entered the debate with a lot weighing on them. The PC campaign had run through several difficulties already, notably a poorly orchestrated flip-flop by Prentice on April 21, who desperately reversed the unpopular plan to reduce the charitable donations tax credit, a move which belied the Tories’ claim that the campaign was about the budget. The NDP had run a fairly smooth campaign, although it faced difficulties when it was revealed that their was a big hole in their budget and that they wouldn’t balance the budget by 2017 as originally claimed. In the debate, in the course of back-and-forth argument between Notley and Prentice, the Premier told the NDP leader “I know math is difficult.” The line came to define the budget and was, again, a poor choice of words by Prentice, who was flogged for the comment – which was at best condescending and at worst, sexist. Brian Jean failed to impress during the debate, being fixated on taxes. David Swann didn’t get noticed.

Polls after the debate all showed the NDP running away with the lead and not looking back. A Forum Research poll conducted pre-debate had shown the NDP already surging to a 13% lead (38-25) over the WRP with the PCs on 20%, so it’s not certain that the debate was what caused the NDP to surge ahead. However, all polls post-debate showed a large NDP lead and the NDP climbing over 40% while the WRP fell into the 25% range and the PCs generally in the low 20s. Running scared, the PCs tried modern-day red-baiting, trying to terrify voters over the prospect of a NDP economy, but that was too late and far too desperate. The PCs had already lost their credibility with voters, especially on the economy.

Forum Research’s last poll on May 4 had the NDP leading 45% to 23% for the WRP/PC (tied). EKOS had the NDP on 44%, a 20% lead over the WRP (24%) and the PCs in third (22.5%). At this point, a change of dynasty and NDP victory seemed likely – nothing’s certain in Canadian politics.

Results

Turnout was approximately 58.1%, up from 54.4% in 2012 and an all-time low of 40.6% in 2008. It is the highest turnout since 1993. Turnout has been low in Alberta, where all elections between 1997 and 2012 were boring dynastic landslides – note the low turnout in 2008, an extremely boring election by all accounts, which saw the landslide reelection of a boring and uninspiring Premier and PC party. The 2012 election had been a very interesting election, with the WRP leading all polls and the last minute reversal of fortunes, and saw many apathetic voters turn out either to throw out the PCs or keep the WRP out. The 1993 election, which had 60% turnout, was also a fairly closely contested election with a strong Liberal Party coalescing – unsuccessfully – opposition to the PCs. This election was already very interesting and motivated even more apathetic voters to turn out, likely with different motivations.

Alberta NDP 40.59% (+30.77%) winning 54 seats (+50)
Wildrose 24.22% (-10.07%) winning 21 seats (+16 on dissol., +4 on 2012)
PC 27.77% (-16.18%) winning 10 seats (-60 on dissol., -51 on 2012)
Liberal 4.18% (-5.71%) winning 1 seat (-4)
Alberta Party 2.28% (+0.95%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green 0.49% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.4% (+0.13%) winning 0 seats (-1 on dissol., nc on 2012)
Others 0.08% winning 0 seats (nc)

Alberta 2015

After 44 years of uninterrupted single-party PC rule in Alberta, Canada’s longest standing partisan dynasty was toppled in an historic election on May 5. What is more, Alberta – reputed to be Canada’s most conservative province (having been governed by unambiguously right-wing parties for 80 years since 2015 and being a stronghold of the right in federal politics for about the same period of time) – elected a left-wing social democratic government led by the NDP.

The NDP won 40.6% of the vote and won a majority government with 54 out of 87 seats. The NDP gained no less than 50 seats – having won just four seats in 2012 – and boosted its share of the vote by over 30 percentage points. The governing Progressive Conservatives did a bit better than expected in terms of share of the vote, winning 27.8% and placing a distant second in the popular vote, having been pegged at only 21-23% in the final round of polling, but the PCs’ inefficient vote distribution throughout the province meant that they suffered very badly in the seat count – holding only 10 seats, compared to the 61 they won in 2012 and the 70 they held at dissolution following defections from the WRP. With only 10 seats, the PCs placed third in the seat count, allowing the Wildrose to hold on to Official Opposition. The WRP’s share of the vote, compared to 2012, suffered significantly, falling to 24.2% – about 10 points less than in 2012 – but the unusual and historic nature of this election, combined with the inefficiency of the PC vote, meant that the WRP actually won more seats than they had in 2012. They won 21 seats, up from 17 in 2012 and 5 at dissolution. The WRP gained 7 seats from the PCs (vs. 2012), although they lost 2 of their 2012 seats to the NDP and one back to the Tories. Considering how low the WRP had sunk only a few months ago, and how they entered this campaign rather unprepared (with a quasi-nobody as their leader and the party in terrible shape), their result was rather good for them. All 21 WRP seats are either exurban or rural, the party lost its two 2012 seats in Calgary (and lost Medicine Hat to the NDP); of course, it is likely that the fledgling party chose to target their resources on more favourable ground in rural Alberta where they had their strongest base and PC votes to be gained, but if they want government in the future they will need to breakthrough in Calgary.

The Liberals, running a weak campaign with 56 candidates, saw their support collapse further, winning just 4.2% of the vote after an already bleak election in 2012, continuing the party’s collapse into obscurity. Nevertheless, the Liberals did manage to hold one seat – the party’s interim leader, David Swann, was reelected in Calgary-Mountain View, and on election night he seemed elated with the NDP victory/PC defeat (and not too concerned about his party’s poor showing). The Alberta Party, fairly irrelevant in most ridings, successfully elected their leader, Greg Clark, in his Calgary-Elbow riding, where he handily defeated incumbent PC education minister Gordon Dirks in a rematch of their 2014 by-election battle.

The NDP’s victory puts into the question the common wisdom/general image of Alberta as Canada’s most conservative province, as the ‘Texas of Canada’. While Alberta is more conservative than other provinces of Canada – on certain issues, mostly economic issues – the general image of Alberta as an ultra-conservative fortress is a bit off. The province’s distinctive political culture and history is not only the result of conservatism.

Much like the other dynastic changes in Alberta politics – 1921, 1935 and 1971 – this dynastic change was not inevitable and still came as something of a shock. A month before election day, very few people would have expected that the NDP would emerge with a majority government and the formidable PC machine would collapse and end up with only 10 seats. That being said, one could argue, with hindsight, that a dynastic change was due to happen – it would have happened in 2012, if the WRP had not screwed up by allowing their cranks to sprout their nonsense, and if the PCs had not put together a last-minute coalition of moderates and worried progressives to the defeat the Wildrose. The PCs have been in a fairly poor shape for quite some years – arguably since Ralph Klein left office in 2006 – but each time they faced catastrophe, they found ways to stave off defeat. But, even if we accept that the PCs have been in poor shape for some time and that the 2012 election signalled the beginning of the end, why was the PC defeat on May 5 unexpected a month before. And why was it the NDP, almost always a weak third party limited to left-wing ridings in ‘Redmonton’, which defeated the PC dynasty, and not the WRP?

What happened? As noted above, the PCs have been struggling for quite some time, at least since after the 2008 election. In the 2012 election, the PCs faced a very serious revolt on the right, led by those who claimed that the Tories had lost their way by engaging in deficit spending and borrowing, becoming an arrogant and complacent governing party with autocratic tendencies and accountability issues and (for some) insufficiently conservative. Spearheaded by a polished and fairly well-spoken leader in Danielle Smith, the Wildrose insurgency threatened to topple the PC dynasty. However, in a dramatic, sudden last-minute shift, the PCs held back the Wildrose threat by assembling a coalition of conservatives, moderates, undecideds and progressives – largely united by a desire to keep the WRP, which had scared many voters by reminding them of the existence of hard-right and crazy elements within their ranks, out of power. A large number of former Liberal supporters, for example, voted strategically for the PCs – a friendlier option since they were led by Alison Redford, very much a ‘Red Tory’. The WRP won Alberta’s most conservative voters in rural/exurban ridings (largely in the south), but they failed to break through with suburban conservatives in Calgary and ran up against a wall in the progressive city of Edmonton. Alison Redford then proceeded to destroy whatever goodwill voters had in her, by alienating the progressives who had trusted her (by passing anti-union legislation which mobilized organized labour against the PCs) and seeming to confirm all that the Wildrose had said about the Tories being a tired, corrupt and arrogant governing party (when it turned out that she had serious entitlement problems). If Redford had not been thrown out (a very unlikely scenario), the PCs would have gone down to a massive defeat in 2016.

However, like they had done with Don Getty in 1992, they replaced a leader who had become a liability with a new face who they hoped would restore PC fortunes and perpetuate the dynasty. The new face was Jim Prentice, who looked very good on paper – a respected former federal Tory MP and cabinet minister, fairly moderate (but not quite a Redford-like Red Tory) but still able to rally the right of the party, and without any of the baggage which had plagued Redford (by being an outsider to provincial politics). In October 2014, the PCs held four seats in crucial by-elections for them, delivering a black eye to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began to collapse shortly afterwards. In November 2014, the WRP began to collapse and in December, the WRP unravelled entirely. Prentice, it seemed, had managed to defeat the Wildrose insurgency on the right by promising to accommodate the rebels’ concerns and worries with PC rule. Although that move threatened to hurt the PCs with progressives who had voted strategically for them to defeat the WRP in 2012, it would reunite the right after years of painful division.

Confident that the weakness of all opposition parties (especially the WRP) would mean that none of them would be able to seriously challenge the PC dominance, the Prentice government dropped a budget which they billed as once-in-a-generation and transformational, and used that as a springboard for a snap election in which they hoped to win a democratic mandate for this ‘transformational’ budget. Even though the budget was poorly received, that didn’t seem likely to matter, given the state of the opposition.

However, the PCs badly miscalculated everything. Prentice had a chance to fix the party, build a rapport and establish trust with voters, but he failed on every count. The Prentice-Smith deal, which saw most of the WRP caucus defect to the government, was seen by many voters as a dirty backroom deal by power-hungry opportunists; in the words of the NDP’s platform, Prentice tried to ‘game’ the election by orchestrating a deal with Smith. The deal failed to have any long-term impact on the polls, as even a much-weakened WRP retained a decently-sized base once the dust settled and the NDP was beginning to steadily gain support. The deal also proved disastrous, an hilariously terrible miscalculation, for Danielle Smith and many of her ex-WRP colleagues, as Smith was defeated by her new party’s members in her local nomination contest. As for the budget, it was a bad-news budget which alienated everybody: the average voter who doesn’t fancy paying more taxes (while the ‘fat cats’ don’t pay any more, seemingly protected by a corporation-friendly PC party) and seeing the services they like cut, the left-winger who disliked the service cuts but also the tax plan (failing to raise taxes on the ‘fat cats’ while hurting middle-classes) and the right-winger put off by any tax increase (and a repudiation of a fundamental Alberta PC dogma) and angry about mounting debts/deficits. Prentice made a fatal mistake in rushing a vote on a record which he hadn’t established yet and a budget which most normal people disliked.

Prentice and the PCs worsened things by running a bad campaign, which ran into several problems along the way. The debate could have been Prentice’s chance to make Notley and Jean look bad and unprepared, running on unrealistic plans, but instead Prentice came off as condescending and desperate in his exchanges with Rachel Notley. Notley, in contrast, seemed calm, composed, ready and quick on her feet. Although nervous in reality, she was not thrown off by Prentice’s attacks.

The split of the right-wing vote was an important, but probably not decisive, factor in this election. Unlike at the federal level, where Alberta’s conservatives share a common home in the federal Conservative Party, they are split in provincial politics. In contrast, again unlike in federal politics, where Albertan progressives split between the NDP and Liberals, in this election they united behind the NDP while the other progressive forces (Liberals and Alberta Party) were largely irrelevant. The last EKOS poll before the election detailed vote intention by federal voting intention, and showed the split of the right/unity of the left quite well. Those who intend to vote Conservative on October 19 split 45% for the PCs and 39% for the WRP (with a sizable 14% backing the NDP); 87% of those who intend to vote NDP on October 19 and 60% of those who intend to vote Liberal on October 19 indicated support for the provincial NDP. Only 18% of federal Liberal supporters said that they’d vote for the Alberta Liberals. The PCs and WRP gained almost no support from federal Grits and Dippers.

Although exit polling is not very developed in Canada compared to other jurisdictions, Abacus Data released a post-election survey to study the election results. Asked about their thoughts on the reasons for the PC defeat, almost all voters said the election was ‘people wanting change’ rather than ‘people liking the NDP’ and 63% said the election was more about people cooling on Prentice than people warming on Notley (37%). 44% said it was about the budget while 56% said it was about other things; 58% agreed that it was a vote for change but 42% thought it was a vote about arrogance.

Vote choice by demographic group, 2015 AB election (source: Abacus Data)

The survey detailed vote choice by demographic group. The features of the NDP base were not surprising – stronger with women (45%) than men (38%), stronger with younger voters (53% of those 18-29, 27% of those 60+), stronger with renters (51%) than homeowners (38%), very strong with union members (66%), better with poorer voters (49% with those whose income is less than $50k), stronger with non-religious people (46%) and strongest with public sector and non-profit employees (54% and 47%). But the NDP also managed strong support with middle-aged voters (49% 30-44 and 39% 45-59), homeowners (38%), families with children under 15 (45%), the middle-class (44% with those with an income between $50k and $100k) and even the wealthiest (37% with those whose income is over $100k) and private sector employees (44%). Education was also an important determinant, with the NDP polling very strongly with university-educated voters (45%), college-educated voters (42%) but not as well with those with high school or less (38%, vs. 30% WRP/25% PC). The PCs had a much older base (42% with those 60+, but only 14% with those 18-29/45% with retirees); compared with Wildrose, the PCs had, unsurprisingly, a more urban and better-educated base – with 28% support in urban Alberta compared to 21% in rural Alberta, and polling marginally better with university-educated voters (28%) than those with only a high school education or less (25%). The Abacus poll did not see significant variation in PC support in terms of income – instead, it was apparently the WRP vote which varied significantly in terms of income, doing much better with the wealthiest third (28%) than the poorest third (16%). However, other pre-election polling and the geography of the results suggest otherwise – that the PCs did best with wealthy voters (those in urban areas), while WRP attracted a more middle-class clientele. The WRP base was more masculine (an 8-pt gender gap, 28-20), fairly evenly distributed between age groups (although a bit more stacked towards older voters), skewed significantly towards less educated voters (30% with HS or less, only 16% with university grads), significantly more rural than urban (39% vs 20%), perhaps skewed towards the wealthier and very strong with self-employed independent workers (41%) but decent enough with private sector employees (26%, 18% with public servants).

Vote switching, 2012-2015

The Abacus survey also had some useful data on vote-switching from 2012. According to that data, the PCs held only half (49%) of their 2012 voters, losing 31% to the NDP and 17% to the WRP. The significant leakage to the NDP – far more significant than loses to the WRP – confirms that the PCs had attracted a large number of centre-left leaning voters in 2012, voting strategically for the PCs. The WRP held two-thirds of their 2012 support (66%), but lost 19% to the NDP – perhaps fickle voters motivated in both elections by a desire for change more than the ideology of the party in power. The NDP, of course, held nearly everybody who voted for them (93%); the Liberals lost 62% of their 2012 vote to the NDP (add to that the Liberals who voted PC in 2012 and then NDP this year, and most people who voted for the AB Liberals prior to 2012 voted NDP this year) and only 24% repeated their vote for the Liberals. 55% of 2012 non-voters who did vote in 2015 voted NDP, compared to 18% for Wildrose and 17% for the PCs – unsurprisingly, non-voters who turned out were highly motivated by the prospect of change. Abacus also reports that 40% of federal Tories voted PC, against 34% who backed the WRP and 22% who voted NDP. This proves that the NDP’s coalition was much wider than just the result of uniting almost all left-of-centre/progressive Albertans – the widespread anger/dissatisfaction with the Prentice PCs and the attractiveness of Notley’s moderate NDP/the vague idea of change (at any cost) also brought apathetic voters and a few right-of-centre voters.

Compared to the 1971 dynastic change, the NDP’s margin of victory is much wider – 16.4%, compared to 5.3% for the 1971 PCs. The PCs lost more than SoCred did in 1971, losing 51 seats and over 16 points in the popular vote, compared to a loss of only 3.5 points in the popular vote and 30 seats for the SoCreds in 1971. However, the Lougheed PCs won with a larger share of the vote (46.4% vs. 40.6%) and a slightly larger majority (65% of seats vs. 62%). The 1971 election was also very different in that it lacked a strong third party (Grant Notley, incidentally, was the only non-SoCred/PC MLA elected).

All ex-WRP MLAs who defected to the PCs in December 2014 and ran for reelection under the PC banner were defeated – Jeff Wilson in Calgary-Shaw, Bruce McAllister in Chestermere-Rocky View, Kerry Towle in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Ian Donovan in Little Bow and Blake Pedersen in Medicine Hat. In the case of Bruce McAllister in Chestermere-Rocky View, however, he managed to marginally improve the PC vote share (from 35.3% to 36%), the only instance of the Tories gaining from 2012. Ian Donovan in Little Bow also lost comparatively little from the PCs’ 2012 results in that riding. In these five ridings, lost by the PCs from dissolution, the NDP gained two and the WRP held the other three with new candidates. Former WRP MLA Joe Anglin, who had left the party to sit as an independent and ran for reelection as an independent, was also defeated in his riding of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, winning fourth place with 11.3%.

Geography of a Dynastic Change

The geography of the results provide details as to the nature of the new government’s majority and how the NDP was able to win such an impressive victory in Alberta.

The NDP’s base in Alberta has been in Edmonton, the provincial capital which has long had the reputation (well founded) of being the most left-wing/progressive city in the province, driven by the large provincial public sector. Edmonton has usually been the weakest region in Alberta for the PCs, who were shut out in 1993 (when Laurence Decore’s Liberals swept the city) and did poorly in 1997 and 2004. The last election in which the NDP won seats outside of Edmonton was in 1989, when Ray Martin’s NDP won 16 seats in the province. In all elections between 1997 and 2015, the NDP’s seats in the legislature were exclusively from Edmonton. While the NDP obviously won seats outside of the city in this historic election, the won a formidable victory in the city. The NDP swept all 19 seats in Edmonton, all by huge margins, and overall won 64.6% of the vote in the city of Edmonton proper against only 20.3% for the PCs and a puny 8.2% for the WRP. In 2012, the NDP had won 21.6% in Edmonton, against 40.4% for the PCs, 18.8% for the WRP and 16.1% for the Liberals. They had taken 4 seats against 13 for the PCs and 2 for the Liberals.

Premier-elect Rachel Notley was reelected with an extremely impressive result of 82.4% in her riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, the most left-wing riding in the province. The area, located south of downtown Edmonton, is a typical bobo-style urban riding of highly mobile, young, single university-educated professionals. Former NDP leader Brian Mason was also handsomely reelected in the nearby riding of Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, a lower-income area (it’s Edmonton’s second poorest riding after Edmonton-Centre), with 78%. The two other NDP MLAs, David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder) and Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview) were also reelected with massive majorities, receiving 70.7% and 73.8% respectively. These are predominantly urban/post-war suburban lower-middle income areas, with significant pockets of deprivation in both. In the core downtown riding of Edmonton-Centre, incumbent Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, an active and well-liked legislator who held the seat since 1997, was fighting an uphill battle against the NDP wave in the city and the province. She went down to defeat by a large margin, winning 25.4% against 54.4% for the NDP.

The NDP, unsurprisingly, also gained other low-hanging fruit in the city – demographically and politically favourable to the NDP – places like Edmonton-Glenora (68.5%), Edmonton-Riverview (62.8%) and Edmonton-Gold Bar (68.9%): more central ridings, which already had strong NDP bases prior to 2015, primarily in downtown-ish and lower-income neighbourhoods. In Glenora, PC cabinet minister Heather Klimchuk won only 17.3% of the vote and a very, very distant second. But the NDP wave was stronger than most people had dared to imagine – it also swept up suburban Edmonton. It easily defeated the Tories in Edmonton’s northern suburbs, socioeconomically mixed but predominantly lower-middle and middle income with fairly low levels of education. The Dippers gained Edmonton-Manning (71.8%) and Edmonton-Decore (67.9%) by huge margins; while in the more affluent riding of Edmonton-Castle Down, former PC cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk was badly defeating, holding only 23.1% against 64.5% for the NDP (and this in a riding where, unlike the others, the NDP had been rather weak in the past – only 12.6% in 2012). The NDP also gained Edmonton-Meadowlark with 57% of the vote; the open seat had been won in 2012 by then-Liberal leader (and ex-PC MLA) Raj Sherman, who did not run for reelection.

The NDP also picked up all the seats in suburban southern Edmonton, areas where the NDP – unlike in the northern half of the city – had been fairly weak in recent elections. The party easily gained Edmonton-Mill Woods (64.9%), Edmonton-Mill Creek (55.9%) and Edmonton-Ellerslie (61.6%) – middle-class suburbs (although Mill Creek is probably closer to upper middle-income) with large visible minority populations (35.2%, 52.5% and 40.5% respectively). They also gained Edmonton-Rutherford (with 63.9%), a mix of some very affluent neighbourhoods and generic older middle-class residential suburbia. Edmonton’s most affluent suburban ridings were also swept up in the massive ‘Orange crush’ – senior cabinet minister and former mayor Stephen Mandel was badly defeated in Edmonton-Whitemud, the city’s most affluent riding, taking only 32.2% against 57.5% for the NDP, in what was a rematch of last fall’s by-election. The NDP also gained the neighbouring affluent riding of Edmonton-McClung, with 55.4%; and the new cookie-cutter subdivisions of Edmonton-South West (54.4%).

The NDP also won the affluent suburban municipalities of St. Albert and Sherwood Park, usually quite conservative in their politics. The NDP won the riding of St. Albert with 53.9% and that of Sherwood Park with 52.1%; as well as the very affluent exurban ridings of Spruce Grove-St. Albert with 46.6% and Strathcona-Sherwood Park with 42.6%. Other exurban ridings in the Edmonton area also fell their way, like Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville (45.9%), Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater (40.5%) and Leduc-Beaumont (37.8%). In the case of some of these conservative exurban/rural ridings, however, the split in the right-wing vote between PCs and Wildrose likely played a key role in facilitating NDP gains. Nevertheless, the NDP’s gains, compared to their 2012 levels, are nothing short of impressive. Support for the party surged to high levels in ridings where the party had previously been confined to single digits!

Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, has the reputation of being a very conservative city, driven by the oil and gas companies with their headquarters in the city. It has traditionally been the PCs urban stronghold, although the Liberals had sometimes been able to pick up a few ridings in downtown Calgary. In 2012, the PCs resistance in the city had been crucial to their surprise win and the WRP defeat. In this election, the NDP’s surprisingly strong showing in Calgary proved crucial to their majority victory. The NDP won 15 seats in Calgary, against 8 for the PCs and one each for the Liberals and AP. Overall, the NDP won 34% of the vote against 31.5% for the PCs, 22.7% for Wildrose, 7.2% for the Liberals and 3.5% for the AP. In 2012, the NDP had won just 4.8% of the vote in Calgary, one of the party’s weakest regions. In contrast, the PCs won 46.2% and the WRP won 35.6% (the Liberals won about 12%).

Premier Jim Prentice was reelected in Calgary-Foothills, an upper middle-class suburban riding with a large Chinese immigrant population (it’s the city’s second most affluent riding, and is 47% non-white). Prentice won 40.3% against 32.4% for the NDP. However, voters in that riding will be returning to the polls for the third (fourth if you count the upcoming federal election) time in about a year since Prentice immediately resigned his seat upon his party’s defeat on election night – something which won him more criticism. It’s uncertain if the NDP will be able to pick up that seat, to reduce the PCs to 9 members, in the upcoming by-election on September 3. The word is that the race is expected to be between the NDP and Wildrose. The PCs also held Calgary-North West with a narrow 3% majority over the NDP, but in neighbouring Calgary-Hawkwood, similarly affluent and suburban, the NDP won with 36.4%. The NDP also gained the northern suburban ridings of Calgary-Northern Hills (38.2%) and Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill (36.9%). They scored a narrow victory over the Tories in Calgary-Bow (34.5%), largely due to strong support in the lower-income neighbourhood of Bowness. That seat’s MLA-elect, Deborah Drever, however, found herself in hot water for stupid comments and pictures on social media and the NDP was forced to suspend her from caucus (although her case will be ‘reevaluated’ after a year). The PCs strongest result in the province was in Calgary-West, where they won 46.8% (even improving on their 2014 by-election results). Unsurprisingly, Calgary-West is the most affluent riding in Calgary and the third most affluent in the province (after the oil patch ridings of Fort McMurray).

Liberal leader David Swann was reelected in Calgary-Mountain View, a central riding with fairly typical downtown demographics, on a personal vote rather than any attachment to the Liberal brand (in his absence, the NDP would certainly have won). He won 36.7% to the NDP’s 28.9%. In Calgary-Buffalo, which covers downtown Calgary and has typical demographics for that kind of riding, the NDP gained the seat (held by a retiring Liberal) with 35% against 28.1% for the PCs and 24.7% for the Liberals. In Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark won 42.2% against 30.3% for PC education minister Gordon Dirks. Dirks had been the target of criticism for using his office for political gain in last year’s by-election (by authorizing modular classrooms in his constituency), and his social conservatism made him a poor fit for a rather central riding whose conservatives are mostly of ‘Red Tory’ stock. The NDP won only 15.8% here, so Greg Clark’s victory was the result of his coalescing of much of the anti-PC vote. The NDP also gained the ridings of Calgary-Varsity, Calgary-Klein and Calgary-Currie – older middle-class residential areas (although they also include some more ‘central’/downtown-ish kind of neighbourhoods [renters, socioeconomically mixed, highly educated, young, non-religious etc.] and lower-income neighbourhoods, the most favourable to the NDP this year).

The low-income eastern suburban seat of Calgary-Fort was a top NDP target early in the campaign, when the NDP winning a majority of seats in Calgary seemed like a wet dream at best, because they had a star candidate there – former Calgary alderman Joe Ceci, who is now Alberta’s new finance minister. He was, of course, easily elected – with 49.8% of the vote, the NDP’s best result in the city. Calgary-Fort, like the neighbouring ridings of Calgary-East or Calgary-Cross, are low-income areas (some the poorest neighbourhoods in the city). The NDP did pick up both of these seats as well, although with smaller majorities – 11% in Calgary-East and by only 101 votes in Calgary-Cross. Cross, like the neighbouring ridings of Calgary-Greenway and Calgary-McCall have large (and, in the case of the latter two seats, very large – nearly 70%) visible minority populations, notably a large Punjabi community. The PCs held Calgary-Greenway, with 42.8% against 36.2% (that the PC MLA, Manmeet Bhullar, is himself Sikh may explain why they retained the seat) while the NDP gained Calgary-McCall (held by a retiring Liberal incumbent) with a bit under 30% of the vote against 26.5% for the WRP, with the PCs winning 18.2% and the Liberals 17.5%.

In suburban southern Calgary, the PCs won four seats against 3 for the NDP. In the riding of Calgary-Glenmore, a largely middle-class suburban riding (although with some poorer parts – where the NDP did quite well, naturally), the NDP and PCs ended up tied on election night, but a recount placed the NDP as the winners by 6 votes ahead of the PCs. In Calgary-Shaw, an affluent suburban riding, the NDP won by a hair in a three-way fight against a WRP-turned-PC incumbent and the WRP candidate (31.3 vs. 30.7% and 30.4%). Calgary-Acadia, an older middle-class residential area (not particularly affluent, with some poorer areas), went NDP by a narrow margin as well, 34.7% against 31.4% Wildrose and 29% for PC justice minister Jonathan Denis (who had been forced to resign his cabinet portfolio during the campaign because of legal proceedings with his estranged wife). The PCs actually gained Calgary-Fish Creek, because incumbent WRP MLA Heather Forsyth (who had held the seat as a Tory since 1993 before defecting to the WRP in 2010) was retiring this year. The PCs won 32.9% against 32.2% for the NDP and 29.6% for the WRP. The PCs held Calgary-Lougheed, Calgary-Hays and Calgary-South East, all affluent upper middle-class suburban seats on the outskirts of the city – but even in these parts, the most conservative parts of Calgary, the NDP did surprisingly well, with about 30% support overall (in places where in 2012 the NDP was not even getting 4% of the vote!) and winning a number of polls even in cookie-cutter subdivisions where you wouldn’t expect it.

While the NDP got lucky by gaining so many seats in Calgary (because of the PCs and WRP fighting for the conservative vote), their gains throughout the city remain tremendously impressive. By way of example, unlike in Edmonton where the NDP had an existing base of sorts to build from, the NDP was extremely weak in Calgary in 2012 – it won less than 5% of the vote at the time in ridings like Calgary-Acadia, Calgary-Buffalo, Calgary-Varsity, Calgary-Hawkwood, Calgary-Bow, Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill, Calgary-McCall and Calgary-Northern Hills – all seats which they won this year, gaining close to 30% in some of these seats.

Exurban Calgary, outside city limits, however, remained deeply conservative territory. The WRP won Chestermere-Rocky View, a riding which they had already won in 2012 (knocking off Ted Morton) but ‘lost’ to the PCs in 2014 when the MLA defected; this year, the new WRP candidate won 37% against 36% for Bruce McAllister, the incumbent PC MLA (ex-WRP), who still put in a good performance. The WRP held Airdrie, another exurban riding, with a new candidate (the MLA was standing down), with 35.1% against a bit less than 30% for the NDP. Finally, Danielle Smith’s old riding of Highwood returned to the WRP, 41.1% against 33% for the PC candidate (the one who had defeated Smith in the March PC nomination contest).

The NDP completed its sweep of urban Alberta by winning both seats in Red Deer and Lethbridge, as well as Medicine Hat. In Lethbridge West (which includes the local university), the NDP’s Shannon Phillips, who had already made a strong run for the seat in 2012 (placing second with 30% and losing to the Tories by only 6 points), was elected in a massive landslide – 59.3% against 21% for the Tories. In the city’s other riding, the NDP gained the seat from the PCs with 47.5% of the vote. The NDP even picked up seats in the traditionally conservative cities of Red Deer and Medicine Hat. They narrowly gained Red Deer-North with 29.4% against 24.7% for the WRP, in a riding which saw an unusually strong Liberal result for some unbeknownst reason (19.3%, actually higher than in 2012!), while their victory in the city’s southern seat was more comfortable (35.9% to 27.6% for the PCs). Even Medicine Hat, a conservative city in southern Alberta, was swept up in the orange wave. Incumbent MLA Blake Pedersen (ex-WRP) ran for reelection as a Tory, but ended up a poor third with only 21.1% against 37.9% for the Dippers and 35.6% for Wildrose.

Rural southern Alberta remained true to its conservative traditions and history. The region (part of Palliser’s Triangle, which extends into Saskatchewan), is a sparsely populated and semiarid region (see map) historically unsuitable for agriculture and thus traditionally dominated by mixed farming/ranching, has long been Alberta’s most conservative rural area. Non-conservative parties have never broken through and where conservative insurgents or the most right-wing party of the day have found success – SoCred won the region in 1971 while the PCs swept the rest of the province, and, of course, Wildrose was nearly confined to southern Alberta in the 2012 election. The WRP held Cypress-Medicine Hat, one of Alberta’s most conservative ridings, with 54.6%, the party’s best result in the province. Wildrose also ‘regained’ the rural seats of Cardston-Taber-Warner (which has a large Mormon population, 41.8% vs. 35.5% PC), Little Bow (35.4% vs. 35.3% for incumbent MLA Ian Donovan, now PC) and Strathmore-Brooks (52.6%); while holding Drumheller-Stettler and Livingstone-Macleod. While the NDP did far better than it had in previous years in this part of the world, it still placed third in all these ridings behind the WRP and PCs. The party only gained Banff-Cochrane – the only rural southern seat to vote PC in 2012 – but obviously that riding is unlike all the others, because of the Rocky Mountain tourist resort towns of Banff and Canmore. The NDP won 42.8% against 28.9% for Wildorse and 28.2% for the Tories.

Rural central Alberta, where Wildrose had also managed to break through in 2012, remained largely Wildrose green. The WRP ‘regained’ Innisfail-Sylvan Lake (42.7% vs. 28% PC), Lacombe-Ponoka (35.7% vs. 30.1% NDP), Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills (53.4%) and Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre (40.1%) while gaining Battle River-Wainwright and Drayton Valley-Devon (where the PC environment minister lost) from the Tories. The WRP gained votes from the PCs in rural polls, while the NDP gained some support from the PCs in the small urban centres of Lacombe and Ponoka. The NDP gained West Yellowhead, a mountainous riding in the Rockies home to the tourist/ski resort of Jasper, with 38.9% against 32.3% for PC finance minister Robin Campbell; they also gained Whitecourt-Ste. Anne (with 35.9% against 33% for Wildrose and 31.1% PC), Stony Plain (37.8% – likely the Edmonton influence) and Wetaskiwin-Camrose (43.9%). The PCs, for a reason unbeknownst to me, held Vermilion-Lloydminster quite handsomely, with 47.4% against 33.3% for the WRP.

In northern Alberta, the Wildrose gained the two oil patch Fort McMurray ridings from the PCs. WRP leader Brian Jean gained Fort McMurray-Conklin with 43.9% against 30.8% for the NDP, while his Wildrose colleague gained the other seat (-Wood Buffalo) by a very similar margin against the NDP. The WRP picked up three other seats from the PCs, already low-hanging fruit from the 2012 results – Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock and Grande Prairie-Smoky (while holding Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills). The PCs held Grande Prairie-Wapiti. The NDP, however, swept the Edmonton exurb of Morinville and made major inroads in Grande Prairie (although the rurban nature of the seats in that city meant that the NDP won neither of the two seats covering parts of the city). The NDP gained Lesser Slave Lake (a riding which is 54% Aboriginal), and won narrow victories in Peace River and Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley.

Conclusion

The NDP’s historic election victory in Alberta marks an end to the longest continuously-serving partisan dynasty in Albertan and Canadian history, and will likely carry a good deal of historical significance for Alberta and even Canada.

An NDP government in Alberta means some change in policy direction from the province – on economic, fiscal, tax and perhaps energy policy. While the government will get down to work only in September when it will deliver its first budget, but in a short legislative session in June, the government passed three bills – Bill 1 bans corporate and union donations to political parties (a bill which the PCs, for reasons which should be obvious, opposed); Bill 2 scraps the 10% flat personal income tax and replaces it with a progressive system for those earning over $125,000 (with 4 tax brackets from 12% to 15%, as outlined in the party’s platform) while also raising corporate taxes by 2% to 12%; Bill 3 was an interim supply bill which reversed PC cuts to health, education and human services funding.

Alberta political history over the past 110 years would suggest that the Alberta NDP government will be in office for at least three terms (like the UFA, the shortest government in the province’s history) and will be defeated after at least a decade (if not 2, 3 or even 4 decades) in office by a party which has not previously held power (like Wildrose?). Of course, politics in the 21st century are different – more unstable, unpredictable and less favourable to the kind of partisan dynasties which have ruled Alberta since 1905 – so the NDP’s tenure might be rather short. Alberta remains a fairly conservative province, but it is not a conservative fortress as this election showed. Therefore, if the NDP governs in a moderate direction and is perceived by voters as having done a good job, they will win reelection. A poor performance, however, will likely be punished by voters.

The PCs defeat may spell the death of the party, according to a number of commentators. The party will need to hold a leadership race, but that is likely to be put off by over a year as the party tries to evaluate where it’s going from here. For now, the PCs are led by Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver as interim leader. Many commentators and observers believe that the PCs, like SoCred before them, will have a very tough time adapting to life as a rump opposition (and third party!) caucus after decades in full control of government and that the PCs will likely die off in one way or another. There are rumours of a WRP-PC merger, but it doesn’t seem as if Jean’s WRP fancies that idea; in the absence of a merger, the PCs may see some of their voters drift off to the WRP and gradually die out (as SoCred did after 1971) as the WRP becomes the party of the right in Alberta. However, the WRP has lots of work to do before they can hope to challenge the NDP for government: the WRP is now an exclusively rural party, and to win they will need to breakthrough in Calgary and perhaps even in Edmonton. To do so, the WRP will need a more polished image – continuing to flush out the crazies, adopting a more moderate conservative platform and finding a more refined way to sell their ideas (beyond this year’s tax-centric campaign).

In short, it is an exciting and unpredictable time for Alberta politics.

Alberta’s election may also have played a decisive role in the upcoming October 19 Canadian federal election (more on that, hopefully, in the next months!). Before the Alberta election, the federal NDP was polling about 21-25% in national polls. Right after the election, polls showed a major surge in support for the federal NDP – moving to 30% and up, challenging or leading the Conservatives for first while the federal Liberals dropped to third. It is a pattern which has held up since, including early in the official campaign with the NDP leading or statistically tied with the Tories, with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals struggling in third. The NDP’s surge since May is connected to the Liberals’ sagging fortunes, a trend which had begun prior to the Alberta election for unrelated reasons; but the Alberta win seems to have convinced many voters that the NDP can win (if they won ‘conservative heartland’) and that they’re a credible option.

Guest Post: New Brunswick (Canada) 2014

I didn’t have time to cover an interesting provincial election in New Brunswick held on September 22. Luckily enough, Kyle Hutton – who blogs on Blunt Objects – was nice enough to write a fantastic guest post which explores every facet of New Brunswick’s political history and 2014 electoral campaign. Please contact me by email if you would like to write a guest post on any electoral event. 

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of New Brunswick (fr. Nouveau-Brunswick) on Monday, September 22nd. Like all other Canadian jurisdictions, New Brunswick uses the first-past-the-post method for electing members to legislatures, whereby having a simple plurality of the votes means you have won

In the last provincial election in 2010, 55 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were elected, however a redistribution in 2013 overseen by an independent commission reduced that number to 49 to reflect a smaller but more urban population. The redistribution was not without controversy in Canada’s most bilingual province (65% English to 32% French Acadian), with challenges to the new boundary law launched by Acadian advocacy groups and local movements who claimed discrimination due to the loss of clout for Francophones in the province with the merger and elimination of ridings from Acadian regions. In the end however, the commission dismissed many of the complaints on the basis that the “predominate language of a riding does not qualify as a special circumstance” to change the boundaries.

Historical Background

New Brunswick is one of Canada’s four “founding” provinces, being brought into Confederation on July 1st, 1867, along with Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia – though like the latter it isn’t entirely clear that it was supported by the population at the time. The province is nestled between Quebec to the north, the US state of Maine to the west, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to the east, and has a long history of settlement by First Nations (such as the Mi’kmaq) and European colonists.

New Brunswick has a unique set of circumstances as previously mentioned, with an Anglophone majority and significant Francophone minority, and lots of sore history between the two.

The Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick was primarily settled by British Loyalist refugees from the United States following the American Revolution, and New Brunswick was created as a separate crown colony from Nova Scotia in 1784 to accommodate Loyalist refugees (much like Upper Canada/Ontario).

The predominately Francophone and Catholic Acadian minority, descendants of the original French settlers and expellees in the region with Métis (mixed First Nations and European) heritage are centered around the north and east of the province, particularly in the modern counties of Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland, with smaller pockets in Victoria and Northumberland counties. Acadian history is a fascinating, complex, and tragic tale that is often overlooked as most in the Rest of Canada tend to think about Quebec when the subject of English/French relations comes up. If you’re interested more in the history, I suggest looking for the book The Lion and the Lily by historian Peter Landry. It focuses more on Nova Scotia’s Acadian history, but a lot of it connects back to the groups we’re talking about here.

The Acadian population presented a problem for the Protestant and Anglophone majority that government the province, many of them hostile to their Catholicism and, unlike in Quebec, able to push forward with an agenda to roll back the Church’s influence. Government policy such as the Common Schools Act of 1871, which abolished religious schools in the province (an act that was favoured by Protestants and hated by Catholics) often led to riots.

Political parties were not officially formed in the province until the 1930s, but there existed clear caucus affiliations since before Confederation. Early Conservative (Tory) and Liberal caucuses tended to have their bases among the two demographics, with the Conservatives sweeping most Anglophone counties and the Liberals sweeping Acadian counties, but this was by no means set in stone and support ebbed and flowed during various periods. The two parties regularly alternated power with each other, and like in Ontario the control of the Legislature often reflected the trends of the Parliament in Ottawa.

Early Conservatives were, unsurprisingly given their base of voters, usually less supportive of Francophone equality while the Liberal opposition was more supportive. As time went on however, both parties generally supported gradual inclusion of minorities in government, with progress made under both parties – however this tended to be piecemeal reforms or appointments that, while respectful, did not necessarily change the actual standard of living for many Acadians. This led to continued resentment and agitation among residents, who sought to at least be treated equally by the Anglophone-dominated parties.

1960s to 2010

Louis Robichaud (1960-1970)

The movement for equal rights came to a head in 1960 with the election of Louis Robichaud, the first elected Acadian Premier and a Liberal (Peter Veniot, the first Acadian Premier and also a Liberal, served briefly as Premier from 1923 to 1925 but failed to get re-elected). Robichaud was a reformist Premier, modernizing the province’s rather backwater health, education and social service infrastructure throughout many areas of the province, but specifically in the Acadian counties (often called the Equal Opportunity program). Robichaud also moved to introduce key rights and support for the Acadian minority, such as the 1969 Official Languages Act that enshrined official bilingualism in the province, and the establishment of the Univserité de Moncton, the province’s French-language university, among other initiatives.

Though praised by many, critics called Robichaud out as “robbing Peter to pay Pierre,” as Robichaud’s method to pay for his reforms included a restructuring of municipal tax transfers that funnelled money away from the richer Anglophone municipalities to pay for improvements in the Francophone areas of the province (though, in reality, the funds went to every part of the province that needed it). This raised a lot of resentment to the Robichaud government, and by extension Acadians, among certain parts of the province, leading to some not-so-nice campaigns. Robichaud’s Progressive Conservative opponent in 1967, Charles Van Horne, often campaigned around the province lambasting Acadian’s Métis heritage (literally calling Acadians “half-breeds” and drunks – classy).

In the 1970 election, Robichaud called a snap election, banking on an unprepared and disorganized opposition, which had just elected a new leader in Richard Hatfield. But the government ended up with a major gaffe on their hands by not having their own platform prepared in time, missing the publishing deadline for newspapers, many of whom ended up running blank pages where the Liberal platform was supposed to be. Hatfield also had the advantage of not being a buffoon, as he was fluently bilingual and friendly to Acadian interests instead of an English-speaking boogeyman. Still, the 1970 election results showed how starkly divided the province had become, with the province split right down the middle in terms of support.

Richard Hatfield (1970-1987)

Though he was elected with little support from Francophones in the province and arguably because conservatives had simply had enough of Robichaud’s administration, Hatfield continued to promote his predecessor’s Equal Opportunity program and expanded the promotion of Acadian rights and culture. Hatfield established historical Acadian villages, reorganized school boards on linguistic lines, and opened up more government positions to Francophones, while cementing many of Robichaud’s previous acts in law. None of these things impressed much of his base, but they likely continued to prefer Hatfield to another Liberal government.

Hatfield was also well known on the national stage, promoting various inter-provincial forums and became an ally of Pierre Trudeau’s when the Liberal Prime Minister moved to repatriate the Canadian constitution in the 1980s. Hatfield was also instrumental in the creation of the Charter of Rights, and is credited for the inclusion of minority language rights and equalization payments (the federal oversight of provincial transfers from richer, or ‘have’ provinces, to poorer, or ‘have-not’ provinces).

However, Hatfield didn’t always have it easy, falling into scandals throughout his tenure, including the infamous Bricklin debacle. In this, the government moved to subsidize a local car manufacturer to build and provide a cheap alternative vehicle in the province and beyond, but it backfired completely due to cost overruns, poor management, and frankly a ridiculous design. In the end, the company ended up costing taxpayers $23-million.

Hatfield also had a number of personal scandals, especially in his last term. In 1984, he was charged with the possession of nearly 30 grams of marijuana found in his luggage during a royal visit. Though acquitted, rumours popped up soon after that he had given cocaine to possibly underage boys at a Montreal hotel – an allegation that played off other numerous rumours about his sexuality. These personal scandals combined with general fatigue with the PC government over seventeen years led to an historic defeat in 1987.

Frank McKenna (1987-1999)

Though they had been out of power for a decade and a half, the ‘70, ’74, ’78 and ’82 elections had been relatively close affairs for the Liberals. The party still had a strong Acadian base to work off of, and there was an undercurrent of discontent among other voters with the Hatfield government – however the Liberals were hampered by Hatfield’s truly progressive Progressive Conservativism, as well as the growing support of the fledgling New Democratic Party (NDP). The Liberals needed to craft a different kind of message to get the support they needed to form another government.

In 1985, the Liberals chose former lawyer and Chatham MLA Frank McKenna as their next leader. McKenna crafted his campaign around a focus on the perceived Hatfield government failures on the economy and job creation, accusing the PCs of being poor economic managers (Bricklin a stark example) and forcing New Brunswickers to leave the province to find a steady job elsewhere (outmigration). McKenna was also able to successfully tie Hatfield to the at-the-time unpopular Mulroney government, which had just come out of the controversial Meech Lake negotiations and was being blasted on all sides for various issues.

Calling the 1987 Liberal campaign “successful” is a vast understatement. With just over 60% of the vote, McKenna’s Liberals won all 58 seats in the Legislature, sweeping away Hatfield’s Tories and creating an awkward situation for the new government, which had no Opposition to contend with for at least four years. The solution was the creation of an “unofficial opposition” of backbench MLAs who would hold the government to account – more or less.

As Premier, McKenna was not too focused on the issue of Acadian rights (though he was widely respected by Acadians for defending a local boxing champion in a widely-publicized trial), but instead on the issue of jobs, growth, and improving the government’s relationship with the public. Under his leadership, the Liberals made wide investments to encourage small and large business growth in the province, creating viable long-term jobs for New Brunswickers, and reduced the size of bloated government departments. McKenna also worked on improving the government’s relationship with the public, though was criticised for expanding communications personnel on the public payroll and his gimmicky toll-free 1-800-MCKENNA number.

However, in the 1991 election the ugly issue of the Anglophone/Acadian divide came back to the forefront in the form of the Confederation of Regions Party, or CoR. Previously a fringe right-wing party with little support, the party grew after Tories disillusioned with Hatfield’s legacy of Acadian accommodation flocked to the party, including a few former cabinet members. In the 1988 federal election, the first signs of the coming rise of CoR came when the federal party scored 4.3% in New Brunswick, playing off the provincial Acadian divide as well as Mulroney’s image as a Francophone/Quebec appeaser, somewhat mirroring the rise of the Reform Party in Western Canada.

With the provincial Tories still in disarray and stained by unpopular association with the federal PC government, CoR managed to become the Official Opposition with 8 seats – all Anglophone ridings – on 21% of the vote while the PCs clawed their way back, barely, with three seats at 20%. The split vote among the two conservative, Anglophone-based parties allowed the Liberals to return with another strong majority, a situation that, again, would end up mirroring federal results. CoR didn’t last long however, falling to internal discord between the party’s moderate nuts and nuttier nuts over leadership of the party, and by 1995 fell to under 10% of the vote and zero seats.

McKenna won final re-election in 1995 versus now-federal cabinet member Bernard Valcourt at the helm of the PCs, but in 1997 announced his surprise resignation, ten years to the day since he was elected. McKenna went on to work in the private sector and eventually became the Canadian ambassador to the US, as well as the federal Liberal Party’s mythical saviour for a while. He was replaced on a permanent basis as leader and Premier by Kent South MLA Camille Thériault, who led the “unofficial opposition” in the legislature after the 1987 sweep and served as a cabinet member after 1991. Thériault tried to take a slightly different tack than McKenna, focusing on improving social services in the province, though banked on the the McKenna legacy’s continued appeal to muddle his government through the next election. Instead, Thériault’s Liberals fell to the Tories led by a young Moncton lawyer named Bernard Lord, who used the government’s complacency to score a massive upset in the 1999 election.

Bernard Lord (1999-2006)

Lord, elected as Tory leader in 1997, campaigned on a theme of “change” from the tired Liberal government with great success, promising “200 Days of Change,” in which Lord made twenty specific commitments his government would accomplish within 200 days of taking office. These promises ranged from providing a breakfast program for elementary school students, halving government communications staff, and creating 300 nursing positions, though some promises like the elimination of an unpopular highway toll between Moncton and Fredericton apparently went unfulfilled. Though the government’s laser-like focus on the “200 Days” platform caused critics to say that the government was focusing on gimmicks rather than actual governing, the claimed success earned praise for the Lord government from most corners of the province.

However, the new Tory government soon ran into trouble as time went on and issues started to pile up. Lord’s government started facing off against stiff opposition after the Liberals, under new leader Shawn Graham, capitalized on voter anger over skyrocketing auto insurance rates in the province going into the 2003 election. The Liberal campaign ran flawlessly against the fumbling Tories, whose changing positions on key issues contrasted starkly with Graham’s focused platform and government criticism. In the end the Lord government was re-elected with a bare majority – 28 seats to 26 seats for the Liberals and one New Democrat, a virtually untenable position. Just 4,000 votes separated the two main contenders from each other across the province, though unlike previous polarized elections in the Hatfield era, this one did not feature as stark a divide between Anglophone and Francophone counties – the Liberals and PCs were both led by fluently bilingual men from the southeast of the province, and there was little real difference between the party platforms.

The Tory government continued to function, barely, and started dropping in the polls as the government was forced to take unpopular stances, notably with changes to the health care system that closed beds at hospitals in rural areas and unpopular consolidations of hospitals in the Upper Saint John River Valley (areas surrounding Fredericton, Carleton, and Victoria). Graham’s Liberals continued to gain in popularity while Lord was forced to call a snap election in 2006 after the resignation of one of his members reduced his government to a minority in the legislature.

Shawn Graham (2006-2010)

The 2006 campaign featured a tight, too-close-to-call race throughout five weeks that had everyone on the edge of their seats. The Tories campaigned on jobs, healthcare, and Lord’s leadership (and Graham’s lack of it), and by copying some of the tactics from their successful 1999 campaign, including the “twenty promises” idea. The Liberals put out an extensive platform with 250 promises, but most focused on specific themes of education, economic development, and the emerging issue of energy prices (an issue that jumped to the forefront due to the government’s introduction of gas price regulation at the beginning of the year). In the end, Graham managed to lead his Liberals to a majority government with 29 seats to the PC’s 26, though the Liberals lost the popular vote by 1,300 votes. This election continued the positive trend for the party in Anglophone ridings, with the Liberals winning a large number of districts, including sweeping Fredericton and holding three of Saint John’s four seats.

Shawn Graham enjoyed a popular honeymoon early upon taking office, at one point leading with two-thirds popular support in polls. The new Premier acted on some of his promises quickly, cutting the excise tax on gasoline, reduced student tuition, setting aside funds to improve ferry service, and a bunch of other things aimed at pleasing everyone he possibly could. Things continued to go well, with by-election wins and defections from the PCs testifying to the government’s popularity, but issues started piling up one by one. The refurbishment of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Reactor, a costly and controversial venture, started coming into focus; changes to French early immersion in favour of universal curriculum caused considerable opposition (and made Kelly Lamrock, then Education Minister, a popular person to hate); the economic downturn then hit and turned the province’s $12-million surplus into a $285-million deficit; costly bailouts to unpopular corporations caused people to question the government’s judgement; and then, finally, the sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec.

In fairness to the Graham government, this idea seemed like a good one at first, with Hydro-Québec promising to take on the massive debt of NB Power and freezing residential electricity rates in the province for five years. In exchange, most of the energy-related assets (including generation, transmission, and distribution) owned by the province would be transferred to Hydro-Québec’s – essentially giving the government of Quebec control over power and transmission in the province. This of course raised the heckles of other Premiers, specifically Danny Williams of Newfoundland & Labrador, who opposed the deal for several reasons (Quebec and NL have a longstanding rivalry over energy in the region), but provincial business groups widely supported the move, and the decision was supported by audits from independent sources showing that ratepayers would save over $5-billion thanks to the deal.

However, the Tories and New Democrats, under new leaders David Alward and Roger Duguay respectively, saw their opportunity and vigorously stated their opposition to the sale of NB Power, calling it a reckless sellout. Local advocacy groups started to encourage New Brunswickers to build up popular pushback against the government, holding protests outside the offices of government members and cabinet ministers. Eventually a poll showed that nearly 60% of residents opposed the deal, compared to just 22% that supported it. This lead initially to an attempted renegotiation of the deal, but eventually the entire thing fell through. Discredited and unpopular, the Liberals and Shawn Graham then had to call an election.

2010 Election

Eric has a good post on the provincial election from 2010 that I’d recommend people visit to get more detail, but essentially it went really, really poorly for the Graham Liberals. The attempted NB Power sale had completely ruined the government’s reputation, leading many to question Graham’s judgement as Premier and his overall competence. The early opposition from the PCs, even if somewhat hypocritical given the Lord government’s own similar attempts to sell off assets, gave David Alward and his strategists an easy attack line versus the government, while overall playing up a cautious platform. Many of the less severe issues during Graham’s tenure came back to haunt the government, leading to a death by a thousand cuts – vigorous local campaigns targeted several ministers, including Kelly Lamrock and Energy Minister Jack Keir, for their roles in Liberal debacles.

Alward and the Tories ended up winning a fairly impressive victory over the Liberals, with 48.8% support over the Liberal’s 34.5%, a massive swing from 2006 and the lowest recorded level of popular support for the Liberals in their history. Their previous gains in Anglophone New Brunswick were also rolled back, with all but one of the Liberal’s remaining thirteen seats located in Acadian ridings. A rise in support for the New Democrats, as well as the arrival of two new parties – the provincial Greens under former Liberal Jack MacDougall and the People’s Alliance under former Tory Kris Austin – took chunks out of the two major parties’ support. And to add insult to injury, Graham’s government became the first one-term government in the provinces history.

Alward Government

Like his predecessor, Alward came into power with an impressive honeymoon period, but it didn’t last long. By mid-2012, the Tories were already falling behind in the polls as the fairly hapless government stumbled into issue after issue with little to else to say. While the Alward government introduced some popular reforms to pension programs and a prescription drug program, the former of which received quite a bit of support from all sides, the government’s popularity nosedived after a rise in the income tax (that Alward promised he wouldn’t do in 2010), somewhat shady backroom deals (particularly with the forestry industry), and patronage appointments to campaign managers and former MLAs, things that as Opposition leader Alward had criticised Graham for doing. The continuing sad state of the government’s budget, increasing outmigration due to high unemployment, and other various issues also chipped away at the government’s confidence.

In late 2013, escalating protests and RCMP intervention near Rexton made national headlines. The protesters, many of whom were members of the Elsipogtog First Nation nearby, were angry over continuing shale gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing development (“fracking”) in the area, concerned about its impact on the environment after media reporting on the mining process raised alarms in the public. This issue had been stewing for a while and finally exploded after the RCMP intervened to clear road blocks, only furthering the protesters’ anger.

The Alward government, despite popular opinion generally being on the side of the protesters, continued to defend fracking as safe and the best way to create jobs in the province, especially in the Acadian east. The New Democrats and new leader Dominic Cardy seized on the opportunity to make hay out of the issue, calling for legislated bans and moratoriums on fracking and expressing support, if somewhat guarded, for the protests. The Liberals, under new leader Brian Gallant, were much more reserved with their opinion, though finally settled in opposition to continued fracking until more studies were complete. The issue also breathed new life into the Green Party and its new leader, David Coon, a well-known environmentalist who made vocal statements against the industry and its potential impact.

By the time the 2014 election was called, the Alward Tories were sitting behind the Liberals by, in some cases, twenty points or more. Combined with the unpopularity of the federal Conservative government’s EI reforms and the rise of federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, the Alward government looked pretty much cooked – however that was far from the only story, as we’ll get into now.

The 2014 Campaign – Parties, Leaders & Platforms

Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick

pc-logoThe New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives, like their cousins in other Atlantic Canadian provinces, tend to be more moderate (sometimes called “Red Toryism”) than the current incarnation of the federal Conservative Party, though by comparison they are probably the most “conservative” of the Conservatives in the region, simply by nature of their party base in the rural, religious areas in the southwest of the province (Upper Saint John River Valley) and their pro-business base in cities like Saint John, Moncton, and Fredericton. Since Hatfield, they also retain support in a few Acadian ridings with popular local members, such as Madeliene Dubé in Edmundston or Paul Robichaud in Lamèque-Shippagan-Miscou. However the PC base is undoubtedly located in the rural south of the province, with strong support in Carleton, York, Charlotte, Sunbury, Queens, Kings, and Albert counties, with significant support in Victoria and Northumberland as well.

As mentioned above, David Alward led the Tories to government in 2010 but failed to remain popular as issues piled up at his government’s feet. There seemed to be a sense of “drift” with the government, despite proposing some good reforms here and there – there just didn’t seem to be a major motivation to do, well, anything, and the government instead had to react to issues to get itself moving, taking controversial but polarizing stances on things like support for fracking in the province. This could have been due to the general feeling that the government was going down to defeat no matter what, and only until the campaign did that idea ever turn around.

The PC platform was released halfway through the campaign reflected this malaise, with the uninspiring slogan of “Say Yes!”. The platform focused mostly on general accolades about improving the economy, job creation, and how awesome they are compared to the mess left behind by the Liberals. The platform also showed that the PCs were ready to double down on their support for fracking, with clear support for the industry and various promises about supporting it and other industries (forestry, the Energy East pipeline, etc.) as a way to employ New Brunswickers. The calculation here is slightly puzzling, given fracking’s unpopularity in the province – though at the same time, it’s likely they believed it couldn’t hurt any worse than they already were.

New Brunswick Liberal Association

liberal-logoThe Liberals in New Brunswick are, and remain, the traditional opposition to the Tories, though often times the differences between the two are hard to decipher. Many Liberals are proud of their history of supporting Acadian equality and the progress made under Robichaud, though many previous Liberal Premiers served impressive terms as well. Like most other Canadian Liberals, the NBLA has its bout of reformist impulses but generally carries forward a status-quo agenda, leading to accusations of being a party of government rather than ideology, unlike the New Democrats and various conservative parties. The Liberal base is in the rural Acadian counties – Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland – as well as pockets of support in Victoria and Northumberland counties. The Liberals also do well, on a good day, in Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton, but the cities remain a battleground. As an aside, the NBLA is also officially linked with the federal Liberals, a rarity these days, but a useful one as the two sides share resources during elections.

After such a stinging defeat in 2010, the Liberals remained in some disarray as they tried to refocus. Graham resigned as Leader and was replaced by Shediac-Beaubassin-Cap-Pelé MLA and former Finance Minister Victor Boudreau until the leadership selection in October 2012. Three people entered the race, all of them not members of the Legislature – Brian Gallant, who previously ran against Bernard Lord in 2006; Mike Murphy, former cabinet member and MLA; and Nick Duivenvoorden, former mayor of Belledune, an Acadian town in northern New Brunswick. Many other prominent Liberals declined, which was taken to be a bad sign. Gallant ended up cruising to an easy victory over Murphy, though there was some controversy over the electronic voting process – kind of a theme as we’ll see – leading to hilarity when the Tories’ executive director managed to register his dog and vote online in the contest.

Gallant, a young Moncton lawyer with no previous political experience outside of his run in 2006, won a subsequent by-election in the riding of Kent, vacated by former Premier Shawn Graham. Kent, of course, is right in the heart of the protests against fracking (though the by-election was before the protests erupted into riots), making for a possibly interesting race (it wasn’t). He immediately became popular as opposition to Alward continued to grow, and comparisons were made favourably between him and federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau when the latter was elected in April 2013 – both were young, bilingual up-and-comers who seemed to earn accolades for doing nothing.

The Liberal platform is fairly insipid – and I say that as a Liberal supporter. Much like the PC platform, it focuses on bland assurances that we’ll invest money into this and that to create jobs and make your life better, unlike those dastardly Tories. This election campaign is boring in terms of party platforms, with all the parties sprinkling goodies around here and there but lacking anything inspiring to say. A couple things stand out, such as lowering the small business corporate tax rate to just 2.5% and increasing the taxes on the “richest 1%,” a clear attempt at populism that kind of falls flat, but that may just be me.

On the outstanding issues, the Liberals took the stance of proposing a moratorium on fracking in the province, a position that gave them some breathing space as it was/is the popular position to take, at least among their base, and provided clear contrast with the PCs. Another issue, though mostly among the Liberals and New Democrats and a select few advocacy groups, was abortion services in the province; New Brunswick has some of the most restrictive policies on abortion in Canada (though not as bad as PEI), and the closure of the Mortengaler Clinic in 2013 highlighted the issue among activists on both sides. Gallant, though himself pro-choice and supportive of removing barriers to abortion services, initially waffled back and forth on whether he would whip his caucus when it came to a vote. He eventually relented and said he would, but not before he was knocked around by the NDP and others for being unclear on the issue, and gaining opposition from anti-choice groups in the meantime.

As the campaign went on, Gallant ended up becoming something of a gaffe-machine and less-than-inspiring on the campaign trail, causing support for the Liberals to shrivel quite a bit. The most severe incident occurred during an interview with Gallant on CBC News on September 12th, just nine days before the vote. In it he incorrectly stated numbers relating to his promise to increase taxes on the richest residents, and had to ask for a “redo” (similar to Dion’s infamous interview, though this wasn’t unfairly characterised as that was) five hours later to give the correct numbers. Obviously this didn’t help his reputation at all, and caused a lot of worry up at Liberal HQ (as well as in Ottawa I imagine, where federal Liberal minders worry about Justin’s own gaffe-making tendencies).

New Brunswick New Democratic Party

ndp-logoIf you’ve read everything above, you’ll notice that I rarely mention anything about the NDP in the province’s political history. This is because the NDP’s particular brand of social democratic politics had a rough time catching on in Atlantic Canada, despite strong support for government intervention, fairly robust labour industries (fishing, logging, shipbuilding, etc.), and a need for effective for social services. Part of the problem is the traditional “red-blue” division and patronage, but also that the Liberals and Tories in the eastern provinces tend to be moderate, and the need for a more radical reform party like the NDP isn’t necessary. That said, the New Democrats have had recent success in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, taking the place of the Liberals in major urban centres with left-leaning populations and making inroads among rural ridings as well – well, they were successes, but have unfortunately been rolled back with the defeat of the Dexter government in Nova Scotia and the collapse of the NDP in Newfoundland.

Outside of PEI, the New Democrats in New Brunswick are the weakest provincial cousins, having never held more than two seats in its entire history (the second came from a by-election win in 1984, who crossed the floor to the Liberals in the same term), and reached a previous high of  only 11% under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF, banner in 1944. The party earned its first seat in the 1982 with a surprise win in Tantramar, a seat which was lost in the 1987 Liberal sweep. Greater success came when Elizabeth Weir was elected leader and won her seat in Saint John Harbour in 1991, and held it until her resignation in 2005. Since Weir’s resignation however, the NDP have been shut out of the Legislature.

Weir resigned both her party leadership and then her seat after being appointed by the Lord government to head up Effiency NB, a crown corporation. She was replaced as leader by Allison Brewer, a Fredericton-based social activist who incredibly, somehow, managed to decide to not run in the by-election to replace Weir in Saint John Harbour, which the NDP subsequently lost – badly. Brewer then led her party to its worst result since 1974 in the 2006 election, and resigned shortly thereafter.

The next NDP leader was Roger Duguay, an Acadian and former Catholic priest who earned the most votes as an NDP candidate in the province in 2006. Duguay led the party to mild success in 2010, improving the NDP vote in Acadian areas of the province but overall falling short of winning any seats, himself going down to defeat in Tracadie-Sheila by a fairly wide margin.

In 2011, the NDP took another shot at this leadership thing, acclaiming NDP activist Dominic Cardy as their leader. Cardy had previously worked as a campaign director in 2010 and co-founded moderate internal factions inside the federal NDP (modeled after the politics of Gary Doer, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder). In a 2012 by-election in Rothesay, Cardy finished a strong third in a traditionally Tory riding, impressing many despite falling short.

Following his debut, the NDP were hitting highs in public support not seen previously, reaching 27% support – two points behind the PCs, though fourteen behind the Liberals – in May 2013. This confirmed Cardy as a serious contender in the eyes of a lot of pundits, but his changes to party policy, especially in the last year, have alienated former supporters, including former leader Allison Brewer. Their complaints stem over the direction the party was heading, especially in tone, with Cardy adopting “right-populist” appeals, taking on the language of the right – lower taxes, effective but lean government, fiscal responsibility – while combining it with general social democratic values on services and social issues. Though the party started dropping in the polls following Gallant’s arrival, Cardy was successfully able to recruit ex-Liberals (including Kelly Lamrock) and ex-Tories, most notably sitting Hampton-Kings MLA Bev Harrison, to run for his party in this election.

The NDP platform, to its credit, is much more fleshed out than its major party competitors (to the point of being a wall’o’text). The focus is definitely on job creation, balancing budgets, and providing strong support for small businesses, while paying lip service to the traditional NDP muses of social justice and improving government services.

Much like the Liberals, the NDP’s stance on shale gas exploration and fracking changed over the course of the last year, though in the opposite direction. In October 2013, Cardy had stated that he would push for and sign an immediate moratorium on all development; by the time the campaign had rolled around, the NDP had a more nuanced position, calling for a two-year waiting period on development, royalties, and a free vote in the Legislature. This opened up a critical flank on the NDP’s environmental left, with the Liberals and Greens calling out Cardy as “flip-flopping” on the issue. It’s obvious why the direction was taken, however – one of the biggest opportunities for jobs in the province comes from resource development, and that’s what the NDP are all about.

Green Party of New Brunswick

green-logoThe NB Greens are one of the latest additions to the Canadian Green family, forming following a November 2008 convention in Moncton. The party was created at the spurring of federal and provincial organizers, in particular Jack MacDougall, a former Liberal Party organizer and leadership candidate in 2002 who switched parties and became the Maritimes Organizer for the federal Greens in August 2008.

The Green Party in Canada has been around for a couple of decades, but has only really come into focus – especially in Atlantic Canada – in the last decade. In the 2004 election, the first featuring the new leaner and meaner Conservative Party of Canada (the result of the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance/Reform parties), the federal Greens managed an impressive breakthrough, winning over 4% of the vote across Canada, though no seats. Under Torontonian Jim Harris, the Greens combined pro-environmental policies with fiscal conservatism (“blue greens”), appealing to a fair number of different demographics – the Greens manage to win support in both cities and rural areas, with their biggest trouble spot being in Quebec.

Following two unsuccessful elections, Harris stepped aside and was replaced by Elizabeth May, an environment activist and lawyer from Nova Scotia. May has an appeal about her that many appreciate – she is a friendly, positive, and open-minded person who has found a way to connect with voters, though she has faced criticism over perceived centralization of the Party around her. She ran unsuccessfully in a 2008 by-election in London, Ontario, but ended up a surprisingly close second to the Liberals, increasing her profile by leaps and bounds. May ran in the riding of Central Nova in the 2008 federal election against Conservative cabinet member Peter MacKay, ending up an impressive second once again, though nowhere close to winning. The important aspect of that election, however, was her inclusion in the televised leaders’ debates – May was now a major federal player, and the Greens had increased profile across the country, including in New Brunswick.

In 2011, May became the first elected Green parliamentarian by winning a seat in British Columbia, despite her party losing nearly half of its vote from the 2008 election. This strategy of pouring resources into one riding has shown some success; not only has it netted May a win, but in 2013 a Green was elected in the BC provincial election. At the same time, it is fairly controversial, given that other ridings suffer to put up a good showing without any resources – according to some estimates, over half of the federal Green Electoral District Associations have become inactive or deregistered in the past few years.

The New Brunswick Greens made a significant splash in the 2010 provincial election under leader Jack MacDougall, winning 4.5% of the vote and posting impressive numbers, but no wins, in several ridings. MacDougall resigned in 2011 and was replaced by David Coon a year later. Coon is well-known in New Brunswick, heading up the Conservation Council of New Brunswick for nearly three decades and spearheading several initiatives, such as one to make the fisheries working in the Bay of Fundy sustainable, or establishing nature parks and forests near local communities. Much like the federal Greens, Coon focused on prioritizing the Green’s resources on getting him elected in his riding for this election.

The Green platform reflects left-of-centre Green politics, which in addition to being environmentally focused includes a lot of community-based policies, anti-corporate measures, and citizen activist stands. This particular platform makes promises that you don’t see anywhere else, such as capping corporate ownership of print media to 40%, an overhaul of the Right to Information Act, and taxing junk food. It is by far the most left-wing platform of the parties on record, and of course includes admonishments against fracking and what it sees as unsustainable primary industries practices.

People’s Alliance of New Brunswick

panb-logoThe People’s Alliance (or PANB) is a small populist party founded in 2010 by Kris Austin, an interdenominational minister and Deputy Mayor from Minto, a town in central New Brunswick. Austin unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination in the riding of Grand Lake-Gagetown in 2009, but lost to eventual winner Ross Wetmore. He formed the PANB in response to the NB Power debacle of the Graham government, citing the PC’s uninspiring opposition to the sale and calling for open votes and more MLA independence in the Legislature.

The PANB is a strange creature. Though characterized sometimes as “Tea Party populist,” it seems a tad unfair. The party is certainly right-wing in nature, but it is not a social conservative outfit nor is it really libertarian in economics, though it can be when it comes to certain government decisions. Most of the Alliance’s rhetoric focuses on the perceived entitlement of the two major parties, MLAs, and bureaucrats. It is, in many ways, kind of a right-wing mirror of the Green Party.

One way it is not is in its anti-bilingualism policies. Since 2010, some – particularly in the Acadian media – have said Austin is attempting to emulate the CoR Party of the 90’s. Two party members, including a prospective candidate, made a public split with the party in 2012 over perceived anti-Francophone sentiments from Austin, including his opposition to duality in the education and health care systems, and that the province should loosen restrictions on language requirements for those in the civil service (saying Anglophones are discriminated against). However, that is countered with the PANB’s platform which, while somewhat criticizing bilingualism requirements, proposes to increase education and training to meet the demands of requirements, while also freeing up private businesses to do as they please.

Speaking of, the PANB platform this year focuses on the economy, with upfront calls to reduce the corporate tax rate, eliminate the small business income tax, and bring in a Saskatchewan-style royalties system for resource extraction in the province. Many of their platform statements also end with “Cost Estimate: Zero cost the government,” and promotion of fiscally sound policies. The party also proposes to repeal the “mandatory” aspect of the PC government’s recently introduced prescription drug program, instead making it available on a voluntary basis (which kind of misses the point). This is all in addition to the previous calls for more legislative freedom, community solutions, and so on – including a referendum, not just a free vote, on shale gas fracking.

Polling

polls-nb

Unlike in the larger provinces or federal politics, polling in New Brunswick (and the other Atlantic provinces) is scarce with just one company, Corporate Research Associates of Halifax, NS (CRA), doing a poll of voting intentions every three months. We got a little but more in the campaign as CRA put out a couple of polls mid-campaign alongside ones from Forum Research, a Toronto-based company that is probably the most regular pollster in Canada, and as such tends to receive a lot of flak for when pollsters get elections wrong.

That situation didn’t change, with Forum’s final poll for September 21st showing a tied vote, at 40% a piece for the Liberals and PCs. However, the overall trend was pretty clear – as the campaign went on, the PCs started gaining steam while the Liberals and NDP fell back.

Results

Turnout was 65.38%, down just over 4% from 2010, a continuing trend across the country, though New Brunswick remains slightly above-average in terms for voter participation.

Liberal – 42.73% (+8.31%) – 27 seats (+14)
PC – 34.65% (-14.19%) – 21 seats (-21)
Green – 6.61% (+2.07%) – 1 seat (+1)
NDP – 12.98% (+2.57%) 0 seats (nc)
PANB – 2.14% (+0.97%) 0 seats (nc)
Others – 0.89% (+0.28%) 0 seats (nc)

new brunswick-2014

And so New Brunswickers woke up on September 23rd with a new Liberal government, and yet another one-term Premier being shown the door. However, no one knew what was happening on election night itself.

New Brunswick was piloting electronic voting tabulators for this provincial election, a new idea in Canada that has been slow to gain traction outside of municipal elections. Most elections, including federal, are counted by hand at polling divisions within ridings, verified and sent back to a riding elections officer, and then on to Elections Canada through various routes. It is a laborious process that takes time and a lot of volunteers, but issues with the tabulators on September 22nd did not help convince many that changing to these newfangled technology machines was a good idea.

Roughly an hour and a half into the election night broadcasts, voting tabulation stopped dead for two hours, right at the point when there were just a handful of votes in about four ridings separating either the Liberals or PCs from a majority government – literally it was at a tie in seats. Elections New Brunswick defended the tabulator machines (which are used in places like Toronto), saying instead the problem related to the computer program used to enter in the results coming in from the tabulators. Concerns led to calls for manual recounts, but in the end, the results were certified by Elections NB and the PCs had to concede defeat.

Despite holding an impressive margin of 8% over the PCs, the Liberals came away with a bare majority, holding an effective 26 (minus the Speaker, usually a member selected from the government caucus) seats versus 22 for the opposition. Had a handful of votes gone another away, flipping just three seats over to the PCs, the Liberals would be in a minority territory – one more, and they’d be facing a majority PC government instead.

Gallant had a very rough campaign, with his judgement and effectiveness questioned at every turn by a well-run PC campaign that had the unfortunate job of rolling a huge liability up a very steep hill indeed, plus the addition of a stronger NDP and Green presence which didn’t help matters.

In the end though, the Liberals did win, mostly by taking back their old Acadian strongholds from the PCs. Huge swings in ridings such as Tracadie-Sheila (43% PC to Lib), a heavily Francophone riding that was contested by former NDP Leader Roger Duguay in 2010 but went PC, flipped over early on in the night, as did Kent South (23.3%), Restigouche West (35.4%), Madawaska-Les Lacs (34.4%) – all four of which had incumbent PC members – as well as many others.

The Liberals did have some successes in Anglophone ridings, in particular Carleton-Victoria (23.7%) and Charlotte-Campobello (20.6%), but these were the exception rather than the rule. Among the Francophone ridings, the swing to the Liberals from 2010 was just under 25%; among Anglophone ridings, it was only 15.1%. If we were to break down the Anglophone swing even more, we’d likely see that most of it comes from Moncton and Miramichi, while in Fredericton and Saint John saw the Liberals lose votes, raising serious questions about their future, under Gallant, in those two cities. The three saints won in those cities – Fredericton North, Saint John Harbour, and Saint John East – were all won with super-slim margins, including just 8 votes (!) in Saint John East. Some of this can be attributed to the rise in NDP support in those cities, however a lot of the blame for this fumble rests on the Liberal campaign (and its leader).

On the bright side, they took back control of most of the Moncton ridings, which had been in Tory hands since Bernard Lord was Premier. Moncton is a city split by the bilingualism, and though the Liberals did well in the two Francophone ridings in 2010 – Dieppe and Moncton Centre – and the rurban conglomeration of Shediac Bay-Dieppe (where Gallant ran this election), they lagged behind the Tories in the city’s other four ridings (five if you include Riverview, a town across the Petitcodiac River). This year they increased their majorities in their held ridings, while knocking off two notional Tory holds from 2010 and threatening the others with close calls. You can either contribute this rise to Gallant’s connections to Moncton or a general settling back of a pattern of Liberal support in the area.

The Tories certainly had to enjoy election night, despite losing. They maintained a very strong presence in the Legislature, and were really only a handful of votes away from being re-elected. At the same time they took a lot of beatings across the province, especially in their Acadian ridings, losing long-time and presumably safe incumbents to massive swings – they even nearly lost Madeleine Dubé, the safest Francophone incumbent, who won re-election by just 243 votes – in 2010 she won by over 3,000 votes.

However the Tories did end up with some very close calls in Anglophone ridings. In Oromocto-Lincoln, where redistribution dropped incumbent MLA (and probably leadership candidate) Jody Carr’s majority from 81% to 56.5%, the Liberals put a strong challenge, probably mostly inside the friendly Fredericton suburban community of Lincoln. The PCs also faced strong challenges in their two remaining Moncton seats (Southwest and Northwest) from the Liberals. Yet the biggest challenge for many PCs in their ridings occurred not just because of the Liberals gaining ground, but because the NDP saw their support rise intensely in these otherwise strong Tory ridings, showing how well Cardy’s right-populist message appealed. Ridings like Kings Centre, Hampton, Fredericton-York, and Fredericton West-Hanwell (where Cardy ran) saw huge increases in New Democrat support, threatening to topple long-time Tory incumbents in ultra-safe ridings had the Liberals managed just a few hundred more votes in each. With a traditional campaign and traditional rhetoric, the NDP would not have seen those increases in popular support. Alward, after the business with the tabulators was done, announced his resignation from the PC leadership.

Despite their impressive success in many ridings across the province, the NDP, and Dominic Cardy, ended up with nothing to show for it. No New Democrat came within 5% of winning a riding – the closest margins being Cardy in Fredericton West-Hanwell, who lost by a margin of 5.6% or 469 votes, followed by Gary Stackhouse in Saint John Harbour (10.8% margin, or 566 votes) and Kelly Lamrock in Fredericton South (10.9%, or 807 votes). They lost support in most Acadian ridings from Duguay’s previous highs in the region, while falling prey to vote splitting with the Liberals and Greens everywhere else, especially in ridings like Saint John Harbour where an ex-NDP candidate ran and garnered 13% for the Greens. Cardy immediately announced his resignation on election night, probably for the best – despite leading the NDP to their best-ever result in popular support (13%), they remain irrelevant without an actual member in the Legislature, a fact now even more compounded by the success of the smaller Greens.

Outside of the Liberals winning a majority, the two smaller parties had their best nights ever. There is the obvious surprise win for Green Leader David Coon in Fredericton South, the party’s first win outside of British Columbia, an amazing event that knocked off a Tory minister and cemented yet another milestone in the Green Party’s continued momentum across the country, which is patchy but clearly on the upswing. Though it’s just one seat, it’s one more than the NDP, who garnered almost twice as much support across the province, have in the next Legislature. As a CBC commentator pointed out on election night, the Greens will now be treated as the third party in the province, with the media going to Coon for his opinion on the government’s actions rather than the next NDP leader.

The Greens also posted strong numbers in other ridings, including the aforementioned Saint John Harbour; Kent North (second place with 18.2%) and Kent South (third place with 10%), the two ridings at the epicenter of the fracking protests; Memramcook-Tantramar (third place with 15.3%); and Fredericton North (fourth place with 10.3%). Whether Coon’s presence in the Legislature can turn into more victories remains to be seen, but still it must definitely an exciting time to be a Green.

Coon’s success overshadows the near-miss for the other small party leader, Kris Austin. The PANB managed to run a few more candidates in this election (14 in 2010 to 18 in 2014), but there seemed to be a definite upswing for the populist party across the province. Austin managed to make his run in Fredericton-Grand Lake (his base is in Minto, a town located in the riding on the shores of Grand Lake) supremely close, with the PC incumbent, Pam Lynch, winning with a bare 0.3% or a mere 26 vote difference, in a tight three-way race with the Liberal candidate less than a 80 votes behind. Across the province the party earned an extra 3,500 votes (around 1,200 of which came from Austin alone), which is impressive for a party without any federal ties and little name recognition. However, without Austin in the Legislature, and this election likely being his best chance to win a seat, it’s hard to see that success continuing in the future, especially if Austin decides to not run again.

Conclusion

This election has takeaway lessons for every party. The Liberals were ultimately successful, but Gallant’s gaffes and inability to counter the Tory attacks nearly cost them; the PCs lost but were able to use wedge issues like fracking and leadership to retain significant support; the NDP increased their share of the vote among conservatives and became more credible on certain issues, yet failed to motivate their traditional base and impress enough voters to actually gain a seat; and the Greens won yet another seat with a popular activist, but poor results everywhere else show that their movement may not have the broad support needed to affect the change they want. All of these lessons can be, and very likely will be, taken into account for the federal parties’ strategies in the upcoming federal election.

For now, Gallant has the challenge of governing a province that is, more or less, on the decline, all without the ability to outright switch his position on the crucial issue of fracking. The new government was sworn in on October 7th with a smaller cabinet but much larger responsibilities – if Gallant wants to remain in charge in four years, he and his ministers need to forge a different path than the previous two one-term governments before him did. Whether it is in them remains to be seen.

A more immediate concern for the Liberals is a by-election – yes, a by-election. Barely successful Liberal candidate Gary Keating in Saint John East, who won by eight votes, decided to resign his seat two weeks after being elected due to family and health problems, and being unable to do the work he was elected to do. Thanks to this poor foresight on his part, Liberals must be shaking their heads – there is a fairly good chance they’ll lose this by-election, reducing their majority from 27 to 26 seats, effectively 25 with the Speaker as a neutral member, versus 23 members of the Opposition. Yikes.

Finally, the results in New Brunswick represent the fifth straight major election that a party with the name “Liberal” has won in Canada, reversing a previous trend that saw every provincial Liberal party suffering some sort of defeat (culminating in the historical third-place loss for the federal Liberals in May 2011). It is also the third straight vote in which an incumbent government lost re-election. Both these trends look set to continue with the upcoming Newfoundland & Labrador provincial election and polls indicate the same for the 2015 federal election as well.

Voters across the country seem relatively displeased with their governments in the last few years, though when offered a different choice at election time, the incumbents or traditional parties seem to retain a lot more support than expected by pollsters and pundits. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

Ontario 2014

Provincial elections were held in Ontario (Canada) on June 12, 2014. All 107 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (ridings) were up for reelection.

In 1999, Premier Mike Harris’ Conservative government reduced the number of seats in the provincial legislature from 130 t0 103 and aligned the borders of the new provincial ridings with those of the province’s federal ridings. Ontario’s provincial ridings were redistributed in 2005, increasing the number of seats to 107. In southern Ontario, the borders match up with the federal ridings of the 2003 redistribution. However, in northern Ontario, which lost one seat in the 2003 federal redistribution, the provincial redistribution in 2005 opted to retain the old borders – meaning that northern Ontario’s 11 provincial ridings still correspond to the 1996 federal redistribution (with one exception). Federally, the 2013 redistribution, which will be first used for the 2015 federal elections, increased the number of federal seats in Ontario from 106 to 121. It is unclear whether or not there will be a provincial redistribution during the term of the upcoming Legislative Assembly.

This election came over a year early, because the Liberal minority government fell after both opposition parties announced that they would not support the government’s budget tabled in early May 2014. Premier Kathleen Wynne formally asked the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the legislature and call an election for June 12.

Background

The Ontario Liberals have been in power since 2003 – they won reelection with a second majority in 2007 but they were reduced to a minority government in the October 2011 election. The Liberal government has had a remarkably long shelf life, especially for a government which rarely was very popular or at least enthusiastically supported by voters.

Dalton McGuinty led the Ontario Liberal Party to a large victory in the 2003 provincial election, after 8 years of Progressive Conservative (PC) governments under Premiers Mike Harris (1995-2002) and Ernie Eves (2002).

The Tories themselves had swept into power in 1995, on the back of five years of Premier Bob Rae’s woefully unpopular New Democratic Party (NDP) government. Mike Harris ran on a populist, anti-government platform – the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ – which proclaimed that government was broken, and promised to create over 700,000 jobs, cut personal income taxes by 30% and reduce the size and role of the provincial government. Uncharacteristically for a party which had hitherto been known for its moderate, pragmatic and inoffensive centrist managerialism under the ‘Big Blue Machine’ governments (the PCs ruled Ontario from 1943 to 1985), the Harris PC government ruled very much from the right. It cut taxes, balanced the budget, slashed public spending, repealed NDP ‘job-killing’ labour legislation, introduced workfare programs, cut social assistance benefits, deregulated the energy market (it stopped short of privatizing Ontario Hydro, but split it off and opened the market to competition), undertook a massive programs of forced municipal amalgamations (which led to the creation of large single-tier metro municipalities for Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and other urban centres), laid off public servants (including nurses), closed some hospitals and downloaded the costs of many programs on the municipalities. Harris’ legacy remains complicated – depending on who you ask, he may be painted either as a visionary who set the economy straight after the NDP ‘disaster’ or as a heartless monster whose slash-and-burn policies led to higher poverty and inequality.

At any rate, after Harris was reelected to a second term in 1999, his government’s popularity dwindled as a result of a series of unpopular policies and crises (notably the Walkerton tragedy, where 7 people died from e. coli. contaminated water, which was largely blamed on the Conservatives’ deregulation of water testing and cuts to inspection services). After Harris’ retirement, his successor, Ernie Eves, signaled a return to a more moderate and less confrontational style of Ontarian conservatism. He cancelled the planned privatization of hydro and deferred tax breaks for corporations and private schools; but the PCs remained in the ditch due to an uptick in hydro prices after deregulation, cabinet ethics scandals and the presentation the budget at the headquarters of Frank Stronach’s Magna International (for which Eves’ government faced a contempt motion).

Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, who had been defeated by Harris in 1999 despite a coalescing of anti-Harris support around the Liberals, were the favourites to win the 2003 election. The PC’s attempts to flash-polarize the election against the Liberals, which had worked well in 1995 and 1999, failed as most voters sought change and others were turned off by the Tories’ negativity (including, famously, a bizarre PC press release which called McGuinty an ‘evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet’). The Liberals ran on a fairly bland and centrist managerial platform emphasizing protection of public education and healthcare (smaller class sizes, reducing wait times in hospitals), good fiscal management, environmental protection, freezing taxes (no tax cuts, but a clear promise not to raise them) and generally giving the image of being a positive change after Tory divisiveness. It worked, as the Liberals won a majority government with 72 seats (and 46%) against 24 (and 35%) for the PCs.

McGuinty’s government more or less lived up to the general flair of the Liberal campaign, but he quickly broke key a Liberal campaign pledge not to raise taxes by imposing a new health premium in their very first budget – which the government argued was needed because of a ‘hidden deficit’ inherited from the Tories and the Liberals’ policies of reducing wait times and improving treatment in hospitals. Although the Liberals would continue to be dogged by their first broken promise, which earned them the epithet ‘lieberals’ from their strongest opponents, the first McGuinty government managed to remain relatively popular as the economy still sailed quite smoothly and the provincial government had achievements to its records (balanced budgets from 2005-6smaller class sizes, investments in education and healthcare, investments in public transit, child benefits, successful negotiations with public sector unions, environmental policies).

In the 2007 campaign, the Liberals faced criticism from the NDP and the PCs (now led by John Tory, who set the PCs on a moderate Red Tory course) for broken promises and other weaknesses in their record. The PCs moderate campaign targeted the unpopular ‘health premium’ (which they promised to repeal) and McGuinty’s “spending spree” (public spending had indeed grown dramatically since 2003) but themselves promised more money for public education and healthcare and to clean up the environment. The NDP promised better healthcare services (also including a repeal of the health tax), a post-secondary tuition fee freeze and excellence in schools. Given broken promises and other issues, the Liberals were vulnerable going into the campaign, but they ran a very strong campaign which successfully turned one minor plank of the PC platform into the defining election issue – Tory’s pledge to extend public funding to faith-based schools (under Ontario’s constitutionally-entrenched separate schools, the province funds English and French Catholic schools in addition to English and French public, non-denominational schools). It was very much of a wedge issue (only the Green Party opposed the status-quo, by promising to create a single public school system), but it divided and dragged down the PCs – fatally. The Liberals were reelected with a second majority, winning 71 seats (down only 1) and 42.3% against only 26 for the PCs (and 31.6%) and 10 seats (16.8%) for the NDP.

The Liberals’ second term proved significantly tougher for them, as the government faced an increasing number of scandals and the economic recession which began setting in after 2008. Ontario has been hard-hit by the recession – the province’s manufacturing-driven and export-oriented economy has been badly hurt by subdued domestic activity and declining demand from the US. The province’s economy took a hit (-3.2% recession in 2009) and government finances were deep in the red due to decreased revenues – the Ontario government posted a large $3.9 billion deficit in 2008-9, which grew to $19.3 billion (3.2% of GDP) in 2009-10. The province became heavily indebted as a result, from 28% of GDP in 2008-9 to 36% at the time of the 2011 election (and 40% this year). After tax cuts in the 2009 budget, the government was unable to offer very many goodies and tax reforms in following years, although it tried its hand at fiscal stimulus before turning towards more restraint after 2011 (although the government resisted austerity and chose to support public services over deficit elimination, projected for 2017-8). Employment-wise, Ontario lost many jobs during the recession, with unemployment hitting 9%, but the Liberals later insisted that Ontario’s recovery from the recession had been more robust than that of its Canadian and US neighbors.

Some of the government’s policies were controversial and unpopular. Beginning in 2009, Ontario transitioned towards the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a single 13% sales tax which merged the provincial and federal sales tax; consumers largely disliked the measure because it generally meant higher prices, but Ontario’s HST did not face the same kind of populist, bottom-up anger which led to British Columbia’s HST being repealed by voters in a referendum. The McGuinty government placed heavy emphasis on green, renewable energies and, with the Green Energy Act in 2009, the Liberals made significant investments to support new renewable technologies and promised that their green policies would create over 50,000 jobs. However, job creation has been far below target and the Tories pummeled the government for higher hydro bills.

The Liberals faced their toughest election yet in 2011, with a weaker and more unpopular record than in 2007 and enough ammunition for the NDP and PCs to attack the government from all sides. The PCs, which had shifted back towards the right and populism under Tim Hudak (elected in 2009), relentlessly attacked the McGuinty government for its several tax increases (and promised tax cuts), skyrocketing hydro bills, growing bureaucracy and shabby economic/jobs record. It promised lower taxes, HST breaks on energy bills, downsizing the bureaucracy, cut red tape, cut corporate taxes, a balanced budget with spending cuts but also more investments in healthcare and education. The NDP, under new leader Andrea Horwath, also had a populist campaign – from the left. Horwath promised to remove the HST from daily essentials (electricity, heating and gas), regulate gas prices, freeze transit fares, reduce hydro bills by cutting CEO pay, stop corporate tax giveaways, reward companies which create jobs in Ontario, protect domestic industries and natural resources, cut ER wait times by half, tackle growing healthcare costs shouldered by patients and cut wasteful spending.

The Liberals ran a cautious, centrist campaign built on the notion that they had a ‘good story to tell’ as a government – in terms of higher educational achievement, strong economic recovery, the innovations in green technologies and protecting public healthcare. The general gist of the platform is summed up with its insipid title ‘Forward. Together’ – more or less, keep doing what we’re doing with a few added promises (full-day KG – a landmark initiative of the government; a 30% off post-secondary tuition grant; continuing to attract new businesses and foreign investment) and lots of stuff about ‘preparing for the future’. The Liberals were seriously in the ditch following the May 2011 federal election, which saw their more hapless and incompetent federal counterparts take a thumping and place third for the first time. However, the Ontario Liberals again proved that they had a strong machine, and they roared back to make it a close race – never missing a chance to attack the PCs by tying them to Mike Harris, and taking advantage of voter unease with Hudak’s hard-hitting plan (the Liberals alleged there was a $14.8 billion ‘hole’ in the PC platform), Hudak’s gaffes and his penchant for cheap soundbites (the PC campaign eventually repeated ‘tax grab’ and ‘high hydro bills’ at every opportunity).

As in May 2011, voters opted to stick with ‘experienced and proven government’ in tough economic times, and the Liberals were reelected – although they were reduced to a minority and the party suffered major loses in parts of the province. McGuinty’s Liberals won 37.7% and 53 seats (falling one seat short of a majority), against 35.5% and 37 seats for the PCs and 22.7% and 17 seats for the NDP. Turnout fell to only 49%.

Economic growth slowed to 1.4% in 2012 and 1.2% in 2013, although growth should increase to 2.1% this year. 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 $11.3 billion, up from a $9.2 billion deficit in 2012-2013; the province’s debt has continued increasing. The size of Ontario’s debt and deficit has led some fiscally conservative economists to liken Ontario to California and Greece. Economist Don Drummond was appointed to lead a commission to examine the province’s finances, which reported in February 2012 and called on policy-makers to take tough actions (austerity measures) or else Ontario would face dangerous runaway debts and deficits. Some of Drummond’s recommendations – such as limiting spending increases in education and healthcare, scrapping full-day KG, increasing class sizes, eliminating sector-specific subsidies (notably for green energy) and reduced public sector benefits – went against the Liberals’ traditional platform, and they chose to silently ignore them.

The Liberal government introduced a severe austerity-minded budget in 2012, including very tight control of public expenditures and a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees (including teachers and doctors). The PCs 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 NDP. 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 minority government to survive its first supply vote.

The 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. 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) – a key electoral battleground. 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, 2012. 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. She did not.

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 continued to hurt the Liberals, with recent revelations of Liberal cover-ups or attempts to intimidate the Speaker. Wynne struggle to shake off the perception that she was only a new face on the McGuinty Liberal government, rather than a clear break with McGuinty’s tainted legacy.

In her first electoral test as Premier, she faced five by-elections in August 2013, all in Liberal-held ridings. The Liberals lost three of these seats – two (London West and Windsor-Tecumseh) to the NDP and one (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in Toronto) to the PCs. But because the PCs failed to gain at least one of London West, Ottawa South or Scarborough-Guildwood (three ridings in which they stood a strong chance), the Liberals could find a silver lining while questions about Hudak’s leadership abilities popped up again. In February 2014, the Liberals lost another seat in a by-election to the NDP – Niagara Falls, but because the Liberals had given up on the seat long ago and that the PCs were the most likely candidates to gain the seat, it was also interpreted as a mediocre result for Hudak. That same day, the PCs narrowly held Thornhill, an affluent and plurality-Jewish GTA riding held by the PCs since 2007.

In September 2013, Premier 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 had been clamoring for a rematch since day one, continued hounding on the government but also directed some of his fire to the NDP, who had 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 2013 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.

By early 2014 there was a widespread feeling that the Liberals are running on borrowed time. Most assumed that the government would fall on its May 2014 budget – the PCs would vote against 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 strained relations between the Liberals and the NDP was the question of new tolls or fees to fund public transit: the Liberal government, promoting upgrades to public transit in Toronto and Hamilton, supported new tolls/taxes to raise revenue; the NDP has warned that they would stand against that. Facing attacks from Hudak in propping up the Liberals since 2012, Horwath came out more determined, saying that she is “seeking the job of Premier”.

On May 1, the Liberals presented their budget, which, knowing that it would likely be defeated, also doubled up as an early election manifesto. Fiscally, the government announced a larger deficit in 2014-5 than in 2013-4 ($12.5 billion, up from $11.3 billion – but the government has undershot its deficit targets for 5 years in a row) and a record-high debt level (40.3% of GDP). The Liberals promised a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. Despite the challenging environment, the Liberals announced several major initiatives. Chief among them was the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), a defined-benefit plan which would top-up the federal Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for employers/employees who do not
have existing registered pension plans with contributions of 1.9% for employers and employees on earnings of up to $90,000. The Liberals proposed the ORPP after Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government refused to enhance the CPP. As expected, the Liberals confirmed a $29 billion transportation fund for transit development in the GTA/Hamilton and the rest of Ontario, which would be funded through existing taxes, borrowing, an increase in the aviation fuel tax. Other government announcements included an increased in child benefits (and their indexation to inflation), a 1% increase in social assistance rates, wage hikes for early childhood education and personal support workers, a 10-year $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract investments, remove the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills (the charge was introduced by Harris in 1998 to pay off the debts of Ontario Hydro) to ‘lower the rate of increase’ in hydro bills, raising the minimum wage to $11 and indexing it to inflation in 2015 and $80-million/year for five years toward a federal-provincial affordable housing program. The budget measures would be funded by ‘asset optimization’ (asset sales), income tax hikes for high-incomes (a 1% increase for incomes from $150k to $220k, and lowering the threshold for the top rate from $514k to $220k) while the government announced it would strive to meet more restraint recommendations from the Drummond report. Unsurprisingly for a pre-electoral budget, the 2014 budget was less austere and less focused on restraining spending growth than the 2012 and 2013 budgets.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s announcement that she would not support the government’s budget provided the trigger for a snap election which had been in the offing for a long time.

Parties and Issues

Ontario’s 2014 election opened as one of the most open-ended and unpredictable election battles in years (granted, 2011 was similar) – the Liberals, PCs and NDP all were in serious contention; even the third-party NDP was optimistic after gaining 4 seats in by-elections since 2011, and polls indicated the NDP now had a fighting chance at official opposition or even government. All three parties had advantages and disadvantages going into the election. Pollsters disagreed throughout the campaign on what was going on, creating a wild ride of emotions for supporters on all sides.

The Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) has formed government since 2003 in the province. The Liberals’ recent power in provincial politics, however, is fairly recent. The provincial Liberals were left decimated after Liberal Premier Mitch Hepburn (1934-1942) – something of a hubristic blowhard (but a complex and fascinating politician) – picked a fight with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King after 1935 and during World War II, which led to the division of the party and its landslide defeat in 1943, when the Liberals fell to third behind the PCs and the left-wing Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, the modern-day NDP’s ancestor). Between 1943 and 1985, the Ontario Liberals were out of power (and even fell into third twice – in 1948 and 1975), becoming largely a disorganized and directionless party left with a reduced base in rural southwestern Ontario (and with French-Catholic voters). It is often said that the Liberals in this era were even to the right of the hegemonic PCs, although this is not a universal rule. In 1985, the Liberals finally regained the initiative with the modernizing and progressive leadership of David Peterson, while the Tories had finally run out of steam. The PCs won the most seats in 1985, but Peterson’s Liberals were able to form a government thanks to a confidence and supply pact with the NDP for a 2-year period. Peterson’s first term in office saw passage of several progressive reforms (pay equity, eliminated extra billing by doctors, penalties for polluters, campaign finance reform, French-language services etc), which allowed the Liberals to win reelection in a landslide (with a majority mandate) in 1987. The second term saw a marked slowdown in reformist zeal, and the Liberals were hurt by problems in auto insurance and rent control, a Liberal financing scandal, a worsening economy and the Canadian constitutional crises of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Neverthless, Peterson made the ill-advised decision to call a snap election in September 1990, largely motivated by the desire to win reelection before the recession kicked in. Instead, however, the mood quickly turned against him for opportunistically calling a snap election, and the Liberals suffered a defeat of historic proportions at hands of the NDP. Widely expected to win in 1995 after Bob Rae’s unpopular government, the mood again turned against them, because of a weak and indecisive leader often found to be flip-flopping. The Liberals lost to the PCs in 1995, and again in 1999 – under McGuinty – despite strategic voting on the left for the Liberals against the PCs.

Like most successful Liberal parties in Canada, the OLP is a big-tent party, both in terms of voter support and internal factions within the party. It evens out, ideologically, to a vaguely centre-left or centrist stance, often derided by critics as being bland and insipid. Kathleen Wynne, who is the first woman premier of the province and the first openly lesbian head of government in Canada, hails from Toronto – so, unsurprisingly, she’s rather on the (progressive, urban) left of the party. In an encouraging sign, her sexual orientation was thankfully never an issue in this election.

Wynne took the party a bit to the left, although still presenting itself in the centre – the Liberals sold themselves as the ‘balanced and realistic approach’ against those (the NDP and PCs) who would endanger the recovery ‘radical schemes and reckless choices’. However, the budget was widely described by commentators as a left-wing budget (some said ‘NDP-friendly’) while left-wing Liberals praised Wynne for a manifesto which courageously defended the role of government and taxation in a global environment of austerity. The Liberals, like in 2011, did believe that they had a ‘good story to tell’, but the campaign was far less retrospective than that of 2011 – largely because it was imperative for Wynne to distance herself from McGuinty’s tainted legacy and break free from the ‘McGuinty-Wynne’ label which Hudak assigned to her government.

The Liberal manifesto, unsurprisingly, largely consisted of new policy announcements made with the 2014 budget or reiterating existing government policies. From the budget, the Liberals especially focused on the $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract new investments across all sectors; the ORPP to ensure a secure and predictable retirement income beginning in 2017; a 10-year $130 billion plan for infrastructure investments (which includes the $29 billion for transit, for major public transit projects in the GTA, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo etc) notably for roads, highways and bridges across Ontario and for upgrades to schools, hospitals and universities/colleges; eliminating the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills; the increase in and indexation of child benefits and the increase in and indexation of the minimum wage.

Other promises and reiterated policies included full implementation of full-day KG; continuing the 30% off tuition grant; increasing apprenticeships and training opportunities; lowering auto insurance rates; lowering electricity prices for low-income families; implementing a new anti-poverty strategy; expanding child care; promoting new methods of learning (experimental learning, technology in schools, global-oriented learning, fostering new skills); reducing wait times in healthcare; supporting seniors (home care, increased pay for personal support workers, a new palliative and end-of-life care strategy, seniors activity and community grants program); encouraging eco-friendly ‘smarter growth’; tackling climate change (Ontario finally shut down its last coal-powered power plant); greater government accountability and protecting consumers.

Economically, the Liberal Party planned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. It reiterated the budget’s tax changes including income tax hikes for high-incomes, increasing the aviation fuel tax but maintain Ontario’s low competitive corporate tax rate. The Liberals reiterated the government’s policies to make public sector pensions ‘more sustainable’ and to limit spending growth.

The Liberals also took on the mantle of ‘defending Ontario’s interests’ against the federal government – criticizing the federal government for not giving Ontario “its fair share” and advocating for a national drug insurance policy and child care program. Relations between the Ontario Liberals and the federal Conservatives have become increasingly testy, with federal cabinet ministers (some of whom are former Ontario provincial cabinet ministers or MPPs from the Harris era) criticizing the provincial Liberal government.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC) was Ontario’s natural governing party for most of the post-war era, governing Ontario without interruption between 1943 and 1985 (prior to that, the Conservatives also governed from 1905 to 1919 and 1923 to 1934). Prior to the election of Mike Harris to the PC leadership in 1990, the Tories were a largely moderate party – reflecting the soft interventionist tendencies of the party’s Protestant elite supporters. Premier James Whitney (1905-1914) led a progressive conservative administration whose achievements include Ontario Hydro, the Workmen’s Compensation Board and public works but also infamous Regulation 17, which restricted the use of French to the first two years of schooling. In 1943, George Drew led the PCs to a narrow victory on an unusually radical ’22 points program’ (including progressive labour legislation, full social security programs) and his victories in 1943 and 1945 (when the PCs led an anti-communist, red-baiting campaign to destroy the CCF and socialism) laid the roots of the Ontario PC dynasty which ruled until 1985. The remarkable longevity of the PCs can be explained by economic prosperity, low-key and inoffensive governments which laid low and followed the public mood, regular turnover in leadership to prevent voter fatigue, a weak and divided opposition, a big-tent party generously backed by big business, a strong electoral machine and policies moulded to the electorate’s taste for centrist managerialism. The PC premiers from this era (Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis) all came from WASP elite backgrounds, were ‘business-like’ managerial leaders and were flexible when required (changing their mind on hospital insurance, medicare, Francophone rights or full funding for Catholic separate schools). While they were unquestionably conservatives (for instance, the PCs were dragged into medicare and federal pensions by the federal Liberals), these premiers all are remembered for some progressive pieces of legislation or interventionist policies – Drew’s labour legislation, Frost’s public works investments, Robart’s recognition of Franco-Ontarian rights and Metro Toronto scheme, Davis’ big education investments, rent controls and piecemeal environmental legislation. The Tories ran out of steam after Davis’ retirement in early 1985, and his replacement by the more rural right-winger Frank Miller. The PCs were also hurt, in the 1985 election, by Davis’ about-face on separate schools with his decision to extend full funding for Catholic separate schools to all grades (hitherto limited to Grade 10, to be expanded to Grades 11 to 13). This decision, which broke with Tory tradition, alienated traditional Protestant Conservative voters in rural Anglo Ontario. The PCs still won the most seats (but not the most votes), but were defeated in the legislature right after it first convened by a Liberal-NDP coalition. In 1987, the PCs were decimated and dropped into third, and made no significant inroads under new leader Mike Harris in 1990. The PCs regained power with Mike Harris in 1995, and were reelected in 1999 but defeated by the Liberals in 2003.

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PC and Liberal signs in Ottawa-Orléans (own picture)

The election of Mike Harris was a sea-change for the PCs. Nevertheless, Ernie Eves and John Tory both represented a shift back to the centre-right Red Toryism of the Big Blue Machine – but Eves was defeated in 2003 and Tory was a gloriously incompetent leader who self-sabotaged the 2007 campaign. Tory failed to win his chosen seat in Toronto in 2007 (defeated by Wynne, as it turns out), but tried to hold on to the PC leadership, until he was defeated by a Liberal candidate in hilarious fashion in a 2009 by-election in a safe Tory seat. Tim Hudak clearly shifted the PCs back to the right – his leadership style has been called a retread of Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution or a ‘Tea Party north’ strategy. Despite performing poorly as a leader in the 2011 election, the PCs still made sufficient gains on the Liberals in that election to allow the PCs to be indulgent on Hudak and allow him to stay on. In the legislature, Hudak was a fiery and virulent opponent of the government – relentlessly attacking it for its fiscal and budgetary woes, ethics problems, countless scandals and alleged mismanagement. He refused to support any Liberal budget since 2011, always clamoring for a snap election and picking on the NDP for propping up the Liberals in 2012 and 2013.

An upbeat and confident Hudak kicked off his 2014 campaign with a heavy focus on job creation – Hudak said he had a “laser-like focus” on job creation. His manifesto, the Million Jobs Plan was very critical of the Liberal record – manufacturing job loses since 2003, emigration to Western Canada, equalization payments (for the first time in Canadian history, Ontario became a ‘have-not’ province because of the bad recession), the record debt, high taxes and ‘wasteful subsidies’ to green energy. The plan was very right-wing, neoliberal and populist, reminiscent of the Common Sense Revolution (some might say even to the right of that!). The manifesto was filled with proposals to reduce the size and role of government and ’empower entrepreneurs and job-creators’.

To encourage private sector job creation (because the PCs strongly reject the idea of government creating jobs), the PCs promised to replace ‘corporate welfare and handouts’ with a 30% corporate tax cut (to make Ontario’s corporate tax rate the lowest in North America); increase opportunities in skilled trades jobs (by abolishing the College of Trades and scrapping apprenticeship rules); cut hydro rates (by eliminating green energy subsidies); cut red tape; reduce government’s role and regulatory powers; allow pension plans to invest in Crown corporations; expand transit and roads in the GTA; reform labour laws to weaken union ‘bureaucracy’ and empower individuals; expand the roles of colleges; refocus universities on STEM subjects (to build a ‘culture of entrepreneurship’) and expand free trade. The PCs ultimately decided against backing controversial ‘right-to-work’ legislation.

The PC plan to reduce the size and role of government was controversial, and especially hard-hitting. The PCs planned to kill the deficit by 2016-7, a year ahead of the Liberals, and made it one of their top priorities. Hudak also delayed personal income tax cuts till after the budget is balanced. In their Million Jobs Plan, the PCs promised to limit government from growing (after the budget is balanced) beyond a fixed percentage of the economy. In the immediate, the PCs pledged to review all government programs, reduce spending (by 6% over 4 years), shrink the cabinet from 27 to 16, implement a two-year pay freeze for all public servants (saving $2 billion), limit public sector benefits (in line with the private sector), cut the public sector by 10% by cutting 100,000 jobs (Hudak promised that vital frontline services wouldn’t be affected), open government services to competition and refocus government on “jobs that only government can and should do”. Hudak mentioned privatizing gambling (the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, OLG) but still regulating gambling.

Healthcare and education, Hudak said, would remain two key government priorities but explained that both needed major reforms to make them sustainable for the future. As in 2011, Hudak targeted the ‘bureaucracy’ in healthcare and education management and promised to empower frontline professionals and local schools, hospitals, teachers and doctors. On healthcare, the PCs promised a new focus on chronic care, expand home care and allow choice and competition (allowing, for example, home care services to be received from the government or another provider). On education, the PCs specific focus was on raising standards and expectations for students, improving math skills and helping kids with special needs. The manifesto also included a verbose and very vague part about ‘protection core education’ which decried spending increases over the past decade and ‘making choices’. Not included in the manifesto, but announced by the party, the PCs planned to increase class sizes, eliminate 9,700 non-teaching positions, reduce the number of early childhood educators in KG. One union estimated, on the base of the PCs’ pledge to implement Drummond’s recommendations for cuts in education, that 19,000 positions in the education sector would be cut.

Obviously, Hudak’s ‘radical’ plan was strongly criticized by both Liberals and New Democrats. The Liberals doubled-down on Hudak’s daring ‘pink-slip pledge’ to lay off 100,000 public servants (and many others wondered how the Tories would create jobs by gutting 100,000 of them to begin with) and attacked the PC platform for its ‘bad math’.

The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP or ONDP) has been a successful third party in Ontarian politics, forming the official opposition on four occasion and forming a majority government once (some may also count Ernest Drury’s 1919-1923 United Farmer-Labour government, as a predecessor of the CCF/NDP). Ontario has been one of the few Canadian provinces which has had a genuine, lasting three-party system (since the 1970s in Ontario’s case), and it has been the NDP’s strongest province outside the West due to the strength of organized labour (the Ontario Federation of Labour, OFL) in the province. The CCF came very close to winning the most seats in 1943 (34 seats to the PCs’ 38), but Drew’s anti-communist, anti-union red baiting campaign in 1945 (or, given the popular vote results, the whims of FPTP) decimated the CCF in 1945 although they regained second in 1948. The CCF/NDP went through a prolonged trough with the early Cold War between 1951 and 1967; in the 1967 election, the NDP finally broke through in 1967 – going from 7 to 20 seats and 16% to 26% – thanks to greater urbanization and concern for social issues. The NDP was very successful under Stephen Lewis’ leadership, becoming the official opposition to a Tory minority government in 1975, after Lewis’ successful campaign targeted sensitive rent issues – which pushed the PC government to adopt rent controls. Despite a strong performance in opposition, the NDP slid back into third in 1977 (in 1975, the NDP won two more seats than the Liberals while in 1977 the NDP lost five seats and was one seat behind the OLP). The NDP did poorly under the more left-wing leadership of Michael Cassidy, but the election of federal MP and urban moderate Bob Rae led the NDP to success in 1985 (25 seats). Rae’s NDP allied with the Liberals for a two-year period, which saw the Liberal government adopt a number of policies advocated by the NDP (pay equity, no extra billing, pollution control, job security, social justice) and the NDP still managed to hold its own in 1987 despite the Liberal sweep (it lost 6 MPPs but its vote actually edged up to 26% as the PCs lost 12% and 36 MPPs).

Bob Rae famously led the NDP to an unexpectedly massive victory in 1990, winning 38% and a 74-seat majority government. Unfortunately for the NDP, Rae took office in the midst of a major recession which saw significant manufacturing job loses and a ballooning provincial debt and deficit ($12.7 billion deficit in 1993-4) and the NDP was quickly forced to swallow its principles and respond with austerity measures (tax increases and spending cuts) which alienated the NDP’s working-class supporters and organized labour. The Rae government’s 1993 Social Contract forced 900,000 public employees to take up to 12 days of unpaid leave (‘Rae days’), which the NDP claimed was a better alternative than mass layoffs as the federal government did and the PCs later did. The NDP’s allies in organized labour, particularly the main public sector union (CUPE) broke with the NDP over the Social Contract, which reopened collective bargaining agreements. The NDP was forced to renege on its landmark promise to nationalize the auto insurance industry. While Rae’s government is largely remembered, fairly or unfairly, for its austerity policies, broken promises and cabinet inexperience; the NDP did also introduce some more left-leaning pieces of legislation: a new labour law made it easier to form a union, gave public servants the right to strike, banned the use of replacement workers in a strike or lockout and increased the minimum wage; it brought in affirmative action; unsuccessfully tried to introduce same-sex civil unions (but it was defeated by 12 NDP rebels and the Liberal’s reversal on the issue after a shock by-election loss to the PCs who had made it an issue) and the government intervened to keep several plants from closing. Nevertheless, none of this was enough to change the negative perception of the government in 1995, and the NDP collapsed to 21% and 17 seats. Rae was succeded by Howard Hampton, a well-meaning but ineffectual leader who steered the NDP back to the left. But the Hampton NDP suffered from the negative perception of the NDP post-Rae, strategic voting for the Liberals against the Tories (in 1999 and 2003, the NDP fell to only 9 and 7 MPPs respectively) and the NDP only began recovering in 2007, which was Hampton’s last election as leader.

Horwath did quite well in 2011, and she became the most popular party leader of the three after the election. Teacher’s unions anger over the Liberals’ Bill 115 mobilized union support for the NDP, which picked up four seats – 3 from the Liberals and one from the PCs – in by-elections in 2012 and 2013. Three of these seats, furthermore, were ridings in which the NDP had not usually been strong in (1990 excluded), so they were considered major successes for the NDP.

The Ontario NDP has stuck to a moderate, pragmatic social democratic agenda for decades. In the 1970s, Stephen Lewis successfully disbanded the radical left minority (The Waffle) in the NDP. Horwath has been widely perceived as being more ‘populist’ – as opposed to urban, progressive and environmentalist (à la Jack Layton or modern federal NDP). She pulled the plug on Wynne’s government, but the Liberals attacked the NDP for opposing a ‘left-wing budget’ and some of the NDP’s allies in organized labour and some Dippers criticized Horwath for not supporting the budget. Liberal commentators claimed that Horwath was ‘moving the party to the right’.

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NDP, Liberal and PC signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

The Horwath NDP’s 2014 platform was certainly nothing radical and retained the gritty, populist tone of the 2011 manifesto. The NDP even talked of ‘rewarding job creators’ – which is often a kind of phrasing associated with the right – although by that Horwath meant offering tax credits to employers who create jobs (equal to 10% of an employee’s salary up to $5,000), cutting the small business tax from 4.5% to 3% by 2016, giving tax credits to companies investing in machinery/buildings/equipment and investing in re-training programs for seniors. The NDP also promised substantial investments in public transit ($29 billion) and infrastructure (highways, and the new mining region in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire). In the bread-and-butter issues which the Horwath NDP has focused on, it promised to take the HST off home hydro bills, reduce auto insurance by 15% (claiming the Liberal concession to the NDP in 2013 on the issue had no effect), provide homeowners with loans to make energy efficient home retrofits (or install solar panels), free undergrad tuition fees (at 2014 levels), make provincial student loans interest-free, invest in childcare spaces and prevent ‘unfair’ increases in natural gas prices. On healthcare questions, the NDP promised to invest money on frontline services and pointed out the Liberals’ waste on Ornge and eHealth. The party pledged to open 50 new 24-hr family health clinics to provide more Ontarians with access to primary care, hire more nurse practitioners to treat and discharge patients in ERs, increase the number of long-term care beds, support families caring for the ill or elderly with a tax credit, attract doctors to under-serviced communities by forgiving student debts and eliminate wait times for seniors. The NDP promised to keep schools open with an ‘open schools fund’, launch a student achievement program, expand dental benefits for low-income children, protect tenants by enforcing building standards and maintenance rules and promote healthy eating and physical activity in schools.

The NDP also made a big issue out of government accountability and ethics – in the debate, Horwath repeated that voters had an alternative to ‘bad math’ (the PCs) and ‘bad ethics’ (the Liberals). The Dippers promised to cap the salaries of public sector CEOs, stop corporate tax ‘giveaways’ by increasing it by 1% (from 11.5% to 12.5%), toughen oversight on government advertising, appoint a Financial Accountability Office, cut hydro bills by merge four hydro agencies and promised $600 million savings thanks to a Minister of Savings and Accountability (no comment!). Like the Liberals, the NDP envisioned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8.

The Green Party of Ontario (GPO) has seen its support oscillate in recent years, pulling a small but not insignificant percentage of the vote. Although the Ontario Greens are one of the more successful provincial Green parties in Canada (along with BC; but that’s largely because many other provincial Green parties are disorganized jokes), having won 8% in 2007, they have never won a seat (they came ‘close’ in 2007, winning 33% and second in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound against 47% for the PCs). Support for the Greens collapsed to 2.9% in 2011. The current leader is Mike Schreiner, who replaced longtime leader Frank de Jong (1993-2009). Ideologically, de Jong was an eco-capitalist and the GPO have been seen as a more centrist/centre-right green liberal party. They have traditionally backed lowering taxes on small businesses and individuals, shifting the burden to polluters and big corporations with new green taxes.

The Greens sold themselves as a fresh alternative with new ideas, depicting the three parties as old, stuck in gimmicks and politicking and in bed with big corporations. The Greens’ manifesto promised to lower payroll taxes on small businesses (by increasing corporate taxes by 1%), greatly expand transit infrastructure, grants to homeowners to invest in energy conservation, save $1.2 to $1.6 billion each year by merging the school boards into a single public system, push for a guaranteed annual income for all citizens (in the meantime, they’d tackle child poverty), protect farmland and clean water, fight to increase royalties for natural resources, close legislative loopholes which threaten communities and create something called a ‘Social Innovation Foundation’ for young adults.

The Greens also ran a full slate of candidates.

Results

Turnout was 52.1%, up from an historic sub-50 low of 49.2% in 2011. Turnout had been steadily declining from 1990 (64%), so this marks the first increase in turnout in over 20 years. However, 52% – barely below 2007 – is now the second-lowest turnout in Ontario history, after 2011. Ontarians have generally not voted in droves in provincial elections, being more interested by federal politics (and thus voting more in federal elections).

Liberal 38.65% (+1%) winning 58 seats (+5)
PC 31.25% (-4.2%) winning 28 seats (-9)
NDP 23.75% (+1.01%) winning 21 seats (+4)
Green 4.84% (+1.92%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.53% (+0.33%) winning 0 seats (nc)

ON 2014

The Liberals were reelected to a fourth term in office and regained their majority in the provincial parliament, which they had lost in 2011. The result was not a total surprise, but the ease with which the Liberals ultimately won a majority was unexpected. The PCs did not do as well as expected, winning only 28 seats and 31.3% of the vote, actually losing over 4 points off of their 2011 result. The NDP did well, winning 23.8% and 21 seats, which is the NDP’s result since 1990. That the gap between first and second in terms of seats (20) was much wider than the gap between second and third (7) was, however, rather unexpected.

All opinion polls from all pollsters (eligible voters) during the Ontario 2014 election campaign (own graph)

All opinion polls from all pollsters (eligible voters) during the Ontario 2014 election campaign (own graph)

The campaign, as noted above, was a wild ride – mostly because pollsters disagreed on where the race stood, and pollsters’ attempts to alter their methodologies in bid to more accurately predict the outcome of the vote on June 12 only added to the confusion. The graph to the right, which looks at all polls from all pollsters during the duration of the campaign, shows how confusing it all was. Who led during the different parts of the campaign depended heavily on the pollster you asked. Ipsos-Reid showed the PCs leading the Liberals in their first four polls, until the Liberals and PCs tied at 36% on June 6. In their final poll, on June 11, the Liberals led the PCs by 2 and the PCs led by the NDP by 1. EKOS, which had daily trackers in June, showed the Liberals leading the PCs until June 5, when the PCs suddenly jumped 4% from the previous day’s rolling sample (30.9% to 34.9%) but then lost another 4 points from June 9 to June 10 (falling from 34.5% to 30.2%), giving the Liberals a solid 6-point lead over the PCs in their last poll. EKOS consistently showed the NDP weak, with no more than 21.5% support in June while they always showed the Greens above 5%. Forum Research, an increasingly reliable pollster in Canada, showed a close race, but the Liberals broke a tie on May 27 and regained a solid lead, leading 41 to 35 in the final poll from the organization on June 11. Like EKOS, Forum showed the NDP weak, and dropping from 22% on May 3 (when the PCs led 38 to 33) to 17% on June 5 before edging back up to 20% on June 11. Abacus showed the Liberals ahead in all but one of their 5 polls during the campaign, with a 35-32 lead on June 10 (and the NDP strong at 26%).

To make matters worse, EKOS, Ipsos-Reid and Abacus actively promoted their new ‘likely voter’ model polls during the campaign. LV polls are common in the US during election season, and they are typically seen as more accurate than registered voters (RV) samples in the last 2 months of the campaign. But they’re new in Canada. The pollsters wanted to use LV models to more accurately capture voters’ enthusiasm for parties and to account for the likelihood of low, 50%-ish turnout. However, EKOS and Ipsos-Reid’s LV models ended up giving two vastly different pictures. EKOS’ LV model awarded ‘points’ to segments based on their likelihood to vote – more points for those who voted federally and provincially in 2011, more points for those who said they were angry or hopeful about Wynne’s government, more points for those who rate their likelihood to vote as 7 (out of 7), more points for those who said they knew the location of their polling station and more points for older voters. Ipsos’ LV details are no longer (if they ever were) available online for free. EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals leading throughout, almost always by large margins.  On June 11, EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals at 42.2% (37.3% in the main sample), the PCs at 35.9% (31.3%) and the NDP at 16.9% (19.2%), while the Greens and ‘others’ were much lower than in the main sample (EKOS tends to overstate Green support). Ipsos-Reid’s LV model, however, showed consistent PC leads throughout – although the size of the PC lead dropped from 14% on May 9 to 6% in their last poll on June 11. Ipsos-Reid’s June 11 LV model showed the PCs at 36% (31% in the main sample) and the Liberals and NDP tied at 30% (33% and 30% in the main sample). Abacus’ last two LV polls showed the Liberals and PCs tied.

While most pollsters agreed that the Liberals were leading, they disagreed about the size of its lead. The pollsters differed wildly on the NDP’s numbers – four final polls on June 11 showed the NDP at 19.2% (EKOS), 20% (Forum), 26% (Abacus) and 30% (Ipsos-Reid)! The PC numbers ranged from 31% to 35% while the Grits’ numbers ranged from 33% to 41% (another wide gap). Most predicted that the Liberals would win a fourth term, and most believed it would be majority. There was clearly some sense that the Liberals could, if lucky, win a majority. At the same time, most people did not want to rule out a Tory surprise entirely. The NDP’s numbers in polls made it unclear whether the NDP would do very well or poorly.

The Liberals ‘led’ – or we have the sense that they did – for most of the campaign, although it remained a very close race with the Tories and many predicted strong results for the Dippers too. The leader’s debate on June 3 did not, in the end, matter much. Wynne struggled in the debate, especially in the beginning as Hudak and Horwath pounded on her for the Liberals’ ethics scandals. Later on, however, Wynne proved much more feisty, in heated exchanges with Hudak. Hudak held his ground well, being able to sell his plan quite well and landing several good blows on Wynne. Horwath also did well. Wynne attacked Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan, particularly the big cuts and public sector layoffs he was calling for. Hudak criticized the Liberals’ plan as unrealistic, insisting that Wynne tell him what she would cut in order to balance the budget. Wynne’s poor performance may explain the short-lived PC surge in EKOS and other polls, but it was inconsistent and died off quickly.

Overall, LV models were junk. EKOS overestimated Liberal and PC support, while they badly underestimated the NDP. Ipsos-Reid overestimated the PCs and NDP, and the Liberals did much better than they predicted. The traditional polls did much better – in fact, all pollsters which also had a LV model saw their main sample perform better than the LV model. Angus-Reid was the most accurate – their main model had the Liberals leading the PCs 36 to 32, with the NDP at 26%. Abacus’ eligible and LV models placed second and third, despite the LV model indicating a 36-36 ties between the OLP and PCs. Ipsos-Reid’s eligible and LV models were two of the worst performers, and EKOS’ LV was also worthless.

So, the Liberals won a fourth term. It’s an unprecedented success for the modern Ontario Liberal Party – the last time the Liberals were so successful was between 1871 and 1902, when the Liberals won 9 elections in a row (Oliver Mowat was the early OLP’s most famous Premier, from 1872 to 1896). It is, more significantly, another major comeback for the Liberals. Since 2003, the Liberals have never been wildly popular, and their electoral victories in 2007, 2011 and now 2014 have owed a lot to the weakness of the Conservative opposition. In 2007, John Tory’s incompetence allowed the Liberals to win a huge majority again. In 2011, Hudak’s poor campaign and style allowed the Liberals to stage a comeback, although it was only good enough for a much reduced minority mandate. Nevertheless, the Ontario Liberals have also proven themselves to be good campaigners and tough fighters – regardless of what people think of them or their governing abilities, they’re a strong electoral machine and they know how to win elections (which is something which the PCs seem to have forgotten about).

The 2014 victory – and the majority – is made all the more impressive given the amount of anger for the Liberal government which existed out there. It is, granted, quite possible that much of this anger came from voters who hadn’t voted Liberal in the past elections to begin with. On the basis of the 2013 and 2014 by-elections, the Liberals seemed to be in big trouble. What came out of those results was that the Liberals were practically dead in the water outside of central Toronto, Ottawa and the inner GTA – in southwestern Ontario, the real contest would be between the NDP and PCs, even in Liberal-held seats (see: London West and Niagara Falls by-elections). While the results certainly did show that the Liberal performance was much stronger in the GTA than in, say, southwestern Ontario, the Liberal results province-wide were nowhere near as catastrophic as those of the by-elections. I had already warned, at the time, against taking the by-election results too seriously – history shows that by-elections are fairly poor predictors of general election results. Turnout was lower, and voters drawn to vote in the by-elections between 2011 and 2014 were likely anti-government, anti-Liberal voters. The NDP had the chance to focus and target its resources and manpower on specific ridings in these by-elections, which they did extremely well, but a general election requires a broader strategy and less micro-focus from a major party. The Liberals certainly did not pull all they had in the by-elections, but they went all-out in the general election and their machine worked.

An interesting result, though: all but one of the nine ridings which saw by-elections between 2011 and 2014 ended up sticking with the MPP they had elected in those by-elections.

Kathleen Wynne, in the end, proved many naysayers wrong and ended up as a rather good leader and candidate. Despite Hudak’s attempts to tie Wynne to McGuinty’s tainted legacy, a strategy which seemed to be working in the by-elections, that ‘Wynne-McGuinty Liberals’ failed to stick to the Liberals during the campaign and Wynne was generally good (except in the debate) at avoiding the issue of McGuinty or letting the Liberals’ McGuinty-era scandals hurt her or even the party. Wynne made a good impression on a lot of voters, who saw her as somewhat fresh, reasonable and a decent enough leader. Hudak, critically, failed to make a good impression or, more accurately, improve on his existing unpopularity.

Hudak was the clear loser. The PCs, again, more or less blew their chances at what could have been an easy victory. The ‘Million Jobs Plan’ scared voters away – it was badly crafted policy, which had several holes in it, left many questions unanswered and had all the ingredients in it to mobilize voters against the PCs or to turn swing voters away from them. Granted, Mike Harris won in 1995 on a similarly right-wing platform – but since then, the traumatic Harris era continues to evoke strong feelings with a lot of voters. Additionally, Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan lacked a lot of the elements which made the Common Sense Revolution successful: he did not promise any tax cuts for individuals (but promised major tax cuts for corporations) and he did not really allay fears that healthcare and education would not be cut (although Harris ended up cutting both, the Common Sense Revolution manifesto had pledged not to touch them). Additionally, Hudak was a mediocre communicator who had difficulty selling himself and his plan to voters.

While Tories can say whatever about them being the only ones who told ‘the truth’ about Ontario’s current state, the reality is that campaigning on a platform which focuses heavily on unpopular austerity policies – such as reducing the public sector by 10%, cutting spending and government programs – is a bad idea (even if it is ‘honest’). The austerity must be counterbalanced by appealing promises – like tax cuts for individuals – even if those can later be broken. Hudak’s plan promised job creation (although he never really indicated a target for job creation or a timeline for it), but that proved far too vague to capture voters’ imagination. Hudak, again, let his opponents define him. What stuck were the controversial pledges to cut public sector jobs or the attacks on his platform’s ‘bad math’. There are now indications that PC MPPs and candidates were frustrated with Hudak’s pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, and talk that they found the effect of that controversial promise to be ‘brutal’ and devastating locally. Other Tories, however, said that voters were misled on the issue by the Liberals and the unions.

The result was that, as will be explained in full detail later, the PCs failed to make any gains – in fact, they suffered significant loses – in the province’s key electoral battleground: Toronto and its suburbs. The 905 area code (outside Toronto) is where Ontarian elections are won – the federal Conservatives’ sweep of the 905 region in 2011, aided by the division of the anti-Harper vote between Dippers and Grits led them to a big win in Ontario and by extension a majority government; the provincial Liberals’ success in the 905 since 2003 provided the main base of their governments while Mike Harris’ own success in the 905 in 1995 and 1999 were key to the Tory victories in those two elections. While the 905 is a huge, sprawling and increasingly diverse and heterogeneous area, voters there can be said to broadly favour stability – they endorse parties and politicians who embody (either real or perceived) stability, good economic management and some degree of moderation. Harper, for those voters, more or less ticked off those three issues. The provincial Liberals ticked off those three issues for a lot of suburban 905 voters. As the results of the CBC’s Vote Compass questions show, suburban voters in the 905 are not necessarily opposed to right-wing economics or some of the Hudak PCs’ core tenets, but they still support strong public services and they distrusted Hudak. At the end of the day, they preferred to stick with the devil they know. Hudak failed to convey a feeling of relative security, stability, moderation and he was not perceived as somebody who would be a competent economic manager.

Of course, Hudak’s image problems date from the 2011 election. Since then, he failed to improve his image and he give little indication that he even had interest in improving his image. He carried well to the Conservatives’ solid core electorate, who are very angry with the Liberals, but alienated swing voters. In the 2014 campaign, Hudak’s image failed to improve.

Liberal, NDP and... Communist signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

Liberal, NDP and… Communist signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

The Ontario NDP did quite well – 23.8% and 21 seats mark the NDP’s best result in a post-1990 era. However, the results were still a mix of good and bad news for the NDP and highlighted the issues faced by the provincial NDP as a result of the ‘populist’ path on which Horwath has taken them. The NDP did very well in southwestern Ontario and the province’s old manufacturing, blue-collar cities – places such as Windsor, Hamilton but also Oshawa and London are now thoroughly dominated by the NDP. However, the NDP lost three seats to the Liberals in downtown Toronto and the NDP suffered significant loses, mostly to the benefit of the Liberals, in all of central and ‘core’ Toronto and in demographically similar ridings in central Ottawa, Guelph and even Hamilton. Horwath’s noted ‘populist shift’ and her focus on bread-and-butter issues alienated a lot of the NDP’s urban, well-educated professional bobo clientele. They were concerned about the NDP’s platform talking of stuff like tax cuts for employers and by the little attention paid to issues dear to them such as poverty, urban housing or the environment. The Liberals’ shift to the left – a more progressive and left-wing budget and platform, the Grits’ attacks on the NDP from the left and perhaps even the personality of Wynne (a Toronto progressive – and her sexuality might have helped Liberals with LGBT voters) – helped them pick up dissatisfied NDP voters. In 2011, the Liberals had also made significant inroads in the Dippers’ central Toronto seats – a result of heavy anti-Hudak strategic voting for the Liberals in the 416 – but the Dippers had still held their own.

It is certainly not impossible to bridge the NDP’s unionized working-class support with its bobo urban support. Jack Layton, despite very much fitting the profile of the ‘urban environmentalist bobo left’ and with a very moderate, Third Way-ish platform, had no trouble appealing to the NDP’s working-class supporters in poorer regions of Ontario and Canada all the while performing tremendously well in inner cities. Horwath largely failed to do that because she gave the impression of focusing entirely on a certain specific type of voter while doing little to market herself to the NDP’s urban supporters.

Some of the initial comments on the NDP’s result were pretty gloomy and negative. Objectively, the NDP did well but not tremendously well; it appealed to some voters at the expense of losing other types of voters. Some of the negative reactions likely stemmed from expectations people had of Horwath and the NDP. After the NDP’s by-election successes across the board in 2012-2014, and Horwath’s strong personal ratings in the polls, many felt that Horwath would finally take the NDP to the ‘big leagues’ and given the Liberals’ performance in the by-elections in 2012-2014, there certainly was reason to believe that the NDP might be on the cusp of displacing the Liberals. That did not materialize – the NDP gained votes and seats, but not ‘enough’ and their mixed results were a cold shower.

The Greens were up a bit – to 4.8% – but that’s still a fairly mediocre result for them, and far from their 2007 highs. Unsurprisingly, the Greens failed to win any seat. While the Ontario Greens do not seem to have completely followed the federal and BC Greens on running ‘micro-targeting’ electoral campaigns which focus heavily on a single riding to elect a Green legislator there, Green leader Mike Schreiner did run in a more Green-friendly riding than last time: the socially liberal progressive university town of Guelph. Schreiner won third place in Guelph with 19.2%, against 21.1% for the PCs and 41.3% for the Liberals – that’s up from 6.9% in 2011 and similar to the GPO’s 19.6% result there back in 2007. It was the party’s second best result – their top result came, unexpectedly, from Parry Sound-Muskoka, where they won 19.3% – up 10 points from 2011 but also up on 2007.

The Liberals will remain in power until 2018, with a majority government. The reelected government quickly passed its 2014 budget in the new legislature. The province’s economic situation remains rather difficult, with a record-high debt and a large deficit which will still take a few years to eliminate (assuming the Liberals do meet their 2017-8 target), but the government is very optimistic that the recovery is only going to get stronger and that Ontario’s most severe economic woes are behind it – it projects that the debt should start dropping after 2015, as the province edges closer to budgetary balance. The four-year term gives the government time to breathe and implement more unpopular decisions if need be, and hope to benefit from a stronger economy in 2018. But can the Liberals really win a fifth term at this point? By 2018, the Liberals will have been in power for 15 years – 11 years is already a pretty surprisingly remarkable longevity for the Liberals.

Tim Hudak announced his intention to step down after a successor is chosen, but he was later forced to anticipate his decision and quit immediately as the PC caucus told him that it was time to go. The PCs have an interim leader until they can choose a permanent leader in 2015. The only declared candidate thus far is Christine Elliott, the PC MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died earlier this year shortly after retiring from politics. Flaherty had previously been a senior cabinet minister provincially under Harris and Eves, and was the main Harrisite right-wing candidate in the 2002 and 2004 PC leadership elections, in which he placed second both times. Elliott ran for the PC leadership herself in 2009, placing third on the second ballot. Elliott, in 2009, had ran on a platform proposing a 8% flat tax, a minimum wage freeze for 4 years and tough-on-crime policies but she was more liberal on social/moral issues. Since 2009, she has served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition and, after the PCs were murdered in the GTA this election, she’s one of the few (only?) remaining senior Tories from that seat-rich swing region.

There’s been a bit of speculation that some federal Tory cabinet ministers from Ontario might return to provincial politics – John Baird (the foreign minister) and Tony Clement (the President of the Treasury Board), who were both PC MPPs and cabinet ministers under Harris-Eves, have been cited. Other names include Lisa MacLeod, a senior PC MPP for Nepean-Carleton; and Lisa Raitt, a federal Tory MP and transport minister.

The PCs will need to find a new direction or a new, more appealing way of selling themselves. The shift to the centre and the old Red Tory history failed with John Tory, a return to the 1995 Common Sense Revolution basics on the right failed with Tim Hudak – although neither leaders were predestined to fail because of their ideologies, and rather failed because of their own weaknesses as leaders. However, the 2011 and 2014 campaigns and results should make it clear that few voters fancy a return to Mike Harris-style politics and policies, and that the Tories can’t win through right-wing populism and ‘tough talk’/’brutal honesty’ about austerity. The Tories can remain on the right and win, however – it just requires much better framing and marketing than the disastrous PR it got with Hudak. However, if the Tories don’t change, it’s worth noting that the NDP have only seven seats less than the Tories…

Andrea Horwath will remain NDP leader. That seems fair and reasonable based on the NDP’s results – I found the overly negative tone of the post-election analysis of the NDP and the questions about Horwath’s future to be a bit silly. However, she will need to do a much better job at marketing the NDP to its entire traditional base – it isn’t impossible, but two successive election campaigns have shown that Horwath has failed to appeal to a large and important segment of the NDP’s traditional electorate.

Geographic analysis

I said it above – the Liberals won the election and their majority in Toronto and its suburbs, a region known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Golden Horseshoe (which covers the whole extended urban megalopolis from Niagara to Oshawa) or the 905 (the area code for GTA/Golden Horseshoe regions outside the city of Toronto, which is known as the 416).

In Toronto, it was a near total Liberal sweep. The Liberals won about 49% of the vote and 21 out of 23 seats, against about 22% for the NDP and 2 seats. The PCs, interestingly, placed second and improved on their (admittedly terrible) 2011 result, winning about 23%, but they were shut out. The city of Toronto has been the Ontario Liberal stronghold since 1993 (federally) and 2003 (provincially), and the PCs have not won a seat in a general election in the city since 1999 – the PC gain in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in last year’s by-election marked the first PC victory in the 416 in over 10 years. The Liberals were expected to do very well in Toronto, and the NDP expected to do poorly; likewise, Toronto was not a must-win for Hudak: he could have formed government without any seats in Toronto, just like Harper’s Tories carried a plurality of seats in Ontario in the 2008 federal election despite not returning a single MP from the 416. The Liberals remain a near-perfect fit for most of the city of Toronto, especially now with a Torontonian at the helm: demographically, the city’s highly diverse mix of low-income visible minorities, old white ethnic European communities (Italians) and well-educated affluent professionals (the ‘too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP’ demographic) are all solidly Liberal groups. However, as the 2011 federal election showed, the Liberals are certainly not invincible. That year, the Liberals fell from 21 MPs to only 6, with the Tories breaking through (9 seats) and the NDP making gains (8 seats).

Poll-by-poll results in downtown Toronto (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

Andrea Horwath’s campaign style was a very poor fit for Toronto, which is where the NDP suffered its most significant loses (losing 3 seats and about 4% of the vote). As explained above, the traditional NDP base in the city tends to be young, well-educated professionals (generally not particularly high income) with cosmopolitan, green and progressive worldviews, living in gentrified downtown areas (such as the present-day riding of Trinity-Spadina, which once upon a time in the 1940s elected Communist MPPs!); these voters were turned off by Horwath’s campaign, which targeted working-class Rust Belt voters with a populist campaign focused on what critics would call ‘gimmicks’ (tax cuts, HST off hydro etc). On the other hand, the Wynne Liberals have moved to the left since the McGuinty days, and their cosmopolitan, progressive urban centre-left image was very appealing to a lot of voters who had backed the NDP in previous elections. As a result of Liberal gains, directly from the NDP and because of higher turnout, the Liberals gained the ridings of Beaches-East York, Trinity-Spadina and Davenport. The riding of Trinity-Spadina attracted most attention, because a federal by-election was held in that same seat a few weeks later, on June 30. In the federal contest, Liberal star candidate Adam Vaughan, a left-wing Toronto city councillor, easily gained the seat from the NDP, which had held the riding since 2006 with Olivia Chow (the widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton, who resigned to run for mayor of Toronto in October 2014).

The NDP vote fell from 46.8% to 39% in Beaches-East York, 42.4% to 30.5% in Trinity-Spadina, 45.9% to 39.8% in Davenport; in all these seats, the Liberals made significant gains, allowing them to win a 15.8% majority (!) in Trinity-Spadina. The NDP only retained Toronto-Danforth (44.5% vs 37% for the Liberals) and saved Parkdale-High Park by a hair (40.7% to 39.6%). The NDP also suffered loses to the Liberals in ridings where they were not the incumbents: for instance, in the fourth straight rematch between Liberal MPP Laura Albanese and former NDP MPP Paul Ferreira in York South-Weston, a seat which the NDP won in a February 2007 by-election (but then lost to the Liberals in October), the Liberal majority grew from 2.4% to 10.9%. In Toronto Centre, the NDP fell back into third place, losing about 10% from the 2011 election.

In 2011, the Liberals came dangerously close to the NDP in Trinity-Spadina. The general wisdom for that riding holds that the huge condo boom on the waterfront (bred from the redevelopment of old industrial lands on the harbourfront) will benefit the Liberals, as the NDP does poorly with affluent, high-end condo dwellers (although that didn’t stop Olivia Chow from doing very well in May 2011). The Liberals made major inroads all across the diverse riding: in they did well in low-income Chinatown, because of their Chinese-born candidate Han Dong; they swept most neighborhoods (including student and academic neighborhoods around UofT and the gentrified bobo Kensington Market), except for parts of the northwestern end and Palmertson-Little Italy which remained with the NDP (as did, of course, the uber-leftist Toronto Island with its small population of highly activist and engaged left-wing voters) and the Liberals thoroughly dominated their original bases: the waterfront condo boomtown (Entertainment District, Fashion District, Harbourfront) and the affluent Annex – although, interestingly, the PCs seem to have improved marginally at the Liberals’ expense in the most affluent polls. In Beaches-East York, the Grits won by about 1%, with the map showing a north-south divide between Grit dominance in The Beaches – an increasingly affluent area, while the NDP MPP Michael Prue carried East York, which is poorer and historically working-class (but has definitely seen gentrification, which helps the NDP); the NDP was killed by its loses in the more socioeconomically mixed areas of the Beaches, which they had won in 2011.

Davenport, which includes the bulk of Toronto’s Portuguese areas but also increasingly gentrified bobo areas catering to young, well-educated but not very affluent professionals, the NDP lost by 5.7% after gaining the seat from the Liberals in 2011 with a 4.5% majority. The NDP carried Dufferin Grove and Dovercourt Park – i.e. the gentrified bobo spillover from Trinity-Spadina’s last standing Dipper base, while the Liberals generally carried the Portuguese areas. Long-term gentrification in Davenport and Parkdale-High Park’s old working-class areas should theoretically help the NDP, but the Dippers were unable to withstand the anti-Horwath swings. However, the NDP did narrowly save Parkdale-High Park, thanks to decent enough resistance in Parkdale and The Junction, traditionally working-class neighborhoods which have seen gentrification or at least an influx of bobos (but the area is still low-income); the Liberals largely swept the more affluent (and suburban) High Park area and the Polish/Eastern European neighborhoods.

As mentioned, the NDP fell back in low-income and multiethnic York South-Weston, where former MPP Paul Ferreira was in his fourth successive battle against Liberal MPP Laura Albanese. He only carried a few clusters of polls in the western half of the riding, generally areas with a Portuguese population or a low-income black or Hispanic population; the Liberals dominated, as usual, in the Italian half of the riding.

The Liberals won some of their strongest results in the central part of the old city of Toronto and parts of the old city of North York. The Liberals’ best province-wide result came from St. Paul’s – an upper middle-class central riding with the highest levels of education in the province – where the Liberals won 59.7% against 24% for the PCs (the PCs gained from the Liberals in the very affluent and secular Jewish Forest Hills, a Tory bastion); they also did very well in Toronto Centre (58.2%, refer to my posts on last year’s federal by-election there for an explanation of this very diverse and socioeconomically polarized downtown riding, where the Liberals once again bridged the two extremes – although, again, I pick out Liberal loses to the PCs in very affluent Rosedale) and Wynne’s own riding of Don Valley West (57%, another socioeconomically polarized riding including some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of the city, where the Liberal vote is actually down from 2011 due to loses in the very affluent Bridle Path, Lawrence Parks and York Mills areas – but the PCs failed to match their federal cousins’ results in the [non-1%er] upper middle-class areas).

The Liberals held on with a big margin in Eglinton-Lawrence (21%), held by the federal Tories by a handsome margin since 2011 thanks to the very pronounced right-wards swing of Jewish voters in the Bathurst corridor (a swing which has thrown suburban Thornhill to the Tories since 2007 and placed York Centre in contention). The PCs did dominate the Jewish corridor, as in 2011, but again they failed to make inroads in the upper middle-class (non-Jewish) eastern half while the predominantly Italian western half remained rock-ribbed Liberal country.

The Liberals swept Etobicoke (‘Ford Nation’) – the most interesting contest was middle-class Etobicoke-Lakeshore, which featured a rematch of last year’s by-election between PC MPP Doug Holyday and right-wing Liberal candidate Peter Milczyn (both allies of everybody’s favourite mayor Rob Ford) – this time, the contest went firmly in the Grits’ favour, with the Liberals defeating the Tories 47.1% to 34.3%. In Etobs, the Tories largely shrunk back to their core bases – the affluent neighborhoods, such as the Kingsway in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Humber Valley Village in Etobicoke Centre.

Poll-by-poll results in Scarborough (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

Interestingly, the Liberal majorities in low-income, multicultural Etobicoke North and York West (which are both about 70% non-white and low-income) shrunk somewhat: the Grits came down from 48.5% to 44.8% in Etobicoke North and from 50.5% to 46.6% in York West, while the NDP from 21.8% to 26.3% in the former riding and 34.8% to 39.3% in the latter. In York Centre, the NDP remained in third, but improved from 14.1% to 16.5%, with gains in Downsview – a lower middle-class and ethnically diverse (Hispanic, Caribbean, Italian etc) neighborhood, usually solidly Liberal; the Liberals retained the seat with an expanded majority over the Tories, who remained confined to the Jewish enclaves.

The Liberals held all seats in immigrant-heavy Scarborough; however, with both the NDP and PCs making real inroads with some previously quasi-unanimously Liberal visible minority voters in two ridings, the Liberals’ dominance is nowhere near as secure or impressive (although it would still require a May 2011-like perfect storm to actually topple the Liberals). In Scarborough-Rouge River – at 90% non-white, it has the largest population of visible minorities in Canada – the Liberal vote fell to 38.9% (from 41.9% in 2011 and 65.1% in 2007), but still withstood strong challenges from the NDP (31%) – which has made impressive gains with suburban Tamil voters, federally and provincially, since 2011 thanks to strong locally-based Tamil candidates (provincial NDP candidate Neethan Shan, the president of the ONDP and federal NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan); and the PCs (27.7%), who had a star candidate in Raymond Cho, a well-known local city councillor (who ran federally in 1998 and 2004), and made gains in Chinese neighborhoods. In next-door Scarborough-Agincourt, which is 47% Chinese, the PCs also did well – 34.8% (32.1% in 2011), against 49.7% for the Liberals (who also increased their vote, from 47% in 2011). The federal Liberals held Scarborough-Agincourt in the June 30 federal by-elections with a huge majority (30.1%) despite Conservative efforts, although the comically low turnout (29.6%) makes it silly to extrapolate much. The Grits, however, won over 50% of the vote in the four other Scarborough ridings, where both the Tories and NDP suffered loses.

The region of Durham in the eastern GTA produced two of the election’s most surprising results: an unexpected Liberal gain in Durham, said to be a Tory citadel (it had been held by the PCs since its creation in 1999 and last elected a Liberal in 1937 – with Mitch Hepburn’s last majority); and a comfortable NDP gain from the PCs in the industrial auto city of Oshawa, which hadn’t voted for the federal or provincial NDP in decades. Tory backbencher John O’Toole, who held Durham since 1995, did not seek reelection this year, leaving an open seat – but considering the riding’s history and past results at the provincial and federal level (a 19.7% majority in 2011 and a 24.4% majority for the federal Tories in a 2012 by-election, won by O’Toole’s son), few expected that the Tories would be at risk here. The Liberals, however, took everyone by surprise by taking the seat with a 2.3% (1,236 votes) majority, 36.4% to 34.1%. The NDP, with 24%, also did very well (up from 17.6% in 2011). Geographically, the Grits and Dippers made huge inroads in traditionally Tory-voting exurban towns (Courtice, Bowmanville, Port Perry, Uxbridge), with the PCs only holding their own in the rural polls.

The other surprise came from Oshawa, a predominantly industrial (automobile industry) working-class riding which was usually strong territory for the NDP but where the provincial or federal NDP haven’t won a local contest since 1990 (the PCs gained the riding from the ONDP in 1995, leading many to talk of ‘Harris Dippers’ – old working-class NDP voters who switched to the PCs in 1995), although they’ve consistently posted strong second place showings in the last three provincial and last four federal elections. However, a lot of the riding’s right-wards shift also owes to middle-class suburban growth in the north of the riding, which has usually leaned towards the Tories, and concurrent economic transformations (the new dynamics of industrial employment in the Western world, the diminished role of GM in Oshawa’s economy). The NDP has retained a substantial base of support, however, concentrated in Oshawa’s working-class neighborhoods in the older southern and central parts of the city. In 2011, the PCs won 42.3% against 36.2% for the NDP (the Liberals, a non-factor both federally and provincially, won only 17.5%). This year, the NDP won Oshawa with a very unexpectedly large majority of 16.2% (46.7% to 30.5%) on the Tories; they swept nearly all parts of the riding, including middle-class suburban polls where the NDP was weak in the past. The NDP’s surprise victory has been assigned, by some, to strong union mobilization against Hudak’s agenda in this old bastion of organized labour; turnout increased from 44.3% to 51%, in line with most of the 905.

The Liberals had no trouble holding Ajax-Pickering, a well-off middle-class suburban seat with a large visible minority population (45.5%), growing their majority from 11.8% to 21.7% (thanks to a dip in the PC vote from 35.5% to 29.2%). The PCs were only left with the affluent riding of Whitby-Oshawa, where potential future PC leader Christine Elliott was reelected with a reduced 9.4% majority.

Poll-by-poll results in York Region (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In York region (northern 905 suburbs), the Liberals gained one seat from the PCs to hold 5 seats against only one for the Tories. The Liberals had no trouble whatsoever in Vaughan (a heavily Italian suburban riding and a Grit citadel) and Markham-Unionville (44% Chinese and 81% visible minority, another Liberal fortress), and they held tight in Richmond Hill and Oak Ridges-Markham – very affluent, white-collar ridings with large visible minority populations (Markham is only 27.5% white and Richmond Hill is 47% white) in the GTA’s booming northern suburbs. They won by 28 points in Vaughan (taking 56% of the vote), 17 points in Markham-Unionville, 13 points in Richmond Hill and by 8 in Oak Ridges-Markham. However, the PCs did quite well in some affluent Chinese subdivisions in Markham and Richmond Hill, cutting down the Liberal majority in Markham-Unionville by 4% (by building their vote from 31.5% to 34%. Some have speculated that this may portend a slow shift of Chinese-Canadian voters in Ontario towards the Tories, like in BC; probable causes may include affluence or an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.

There was a major swing against the Tories in Newmarket-Aurora, because of the retirement of senior PC MPP Frank Klees, the runner-up in the final ballot in the 2009 PC leadership election who had a rocky relationship with Hudak. The PC vote fell by 10% to 37%, while the Grit vote increased from 35.6% to 43.8% in this affluent, predominantly white outer suburban riding of Toronto.

The PCs saved the affluent and plurality Jewish riding of Thornhill by a whisker in a rematch of the by-election in February 2014 (in which the PCs had narrowly retained the seat, which they gained in 2007 due to the swing of Jewish-Canadian voters towards Tories at both levels of government). The Liberals won the election day vote, but lost to the PCs in advance voting (the PCs did better and the NDP worse in the advance voting); on election night, the riding was erroneously placed in the Liberal column, but the results were switched a day later (apparently due to a tabulation error) to show an 85-vote victory for the PCs (0.17%, down from a 6.3% majority in February and 5.8% in 2011). The election was, again, the usual battle between the strongly Tory Jewish areas and Liberal-voting Italians and visible minorities.

The Liberals remained dominant in the Peel region (Mississauga and Brampton), although the NDP had some strong results in Brampton. The rapidly-growing region has a very large immigrant population – 46% and 33% of Mississauga and Brampton’s respective populations are white – and has been a Liberal stronghold for the past decade (provincially) or so, but the Tories made major gains federally in Peel in 2011 (due, in good part, to inroads with upwardly-mobile ‘aspirational’ visible minority voters, who had previously been loyal Liberals) while the NDP has also shown capacity for growth in a region where it was usually very weak, thanks to visible minority candidates. This year, however, the PCs fell back in Peel region, allowing the Liberals to remain hegemonic – although the NDP had some good showings.

In Mississauga, the Liberals held their five seats without any issues, improving on their 2011 results at the Tories and NDP’s expenses. The Grits won over 50% of the vote in Mississauga South, Mississauga East-Cooksville and Mississauga-Streetsville.

In 2011, the NDP gained the hitherto reliably Liberal seat of Bramalea-Gore-Malton, which has the largest South Asian (45.3%) and Sikh populations (22.2%) in the province (overall, visible minorities now make up 72.7% of the population). The NDP scored major gains with Sikh voters thanks to their local candidate, Jagmeet Singh, who had come within 539 votes of winning the federal riding in May 2011 and then defeated Liberal MPP Kuldip Kular by a 5.2% margin in October 2011 (in 2007, the Liberals had won 47% against 29.4% for the PCs and only 12.3% for the NDP’s white candidate). This year, in a rematch against Kular, Singh increased his vote share from 38.2% to 44.2%.

Poll-by-poll results in Brampton (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In Brampton-Springdale, where South Asians make up about 38% of the population, the NDP made significant gains in the most heavily Punjabi neighborhoods – winning over 40% of the vote in most polls -which indicates that the Dippers may now be expanding their new base with Punjabi voters in Brampton, at the expense of the Liberals. In 2011, the Liberals had won Brampton-Springdale with a narrow 8.3% majority over the PCs (who had made gains in Punjabi areas thanks to a Punjabi candidate, Pam Hundal – although her second candidacy this year didn’t do them any favours) – with the NDP winning just 15.3%; this year, they held the seat with a 8% majority over the NDP – with the Dippers surging to 31.9% and the Liberals falling from 44.4% to 39.9% (the PCs lost 12%, winning 24%). The NDP won the most heavily Punjabi subdivisions, which had been solidly Liberal in 2007 and fought between Liberals and Tories in 2011. The NDP also made small, but less spectacular, gains in Brampton West, which the Grits held with an expanded majority over the Tories.

Outside the urbanized core of the GTA/Golden Horseshoe, the PCs held the riding of Dufferin-Caledon (Caledon is part of Peel region in the GTA, although Dufferin County is not in the GTA) with a significantly reduced majority of 9.2% (compared to 20% in 2011), with the PC vote falling from 47% to 39.9% (and the Liberal vote increasing from 26.8% to 30.7%). The Liberals made strong gains in most of the riding, but especially in suburban Bolton, which has a large Italian population. As in 2011, the riding was also one of the Greens’ best – they won 16.7%, up from 14.6% in 2011 and 16.3% in 2007. The Greens’ support, heavily concentrated in Dufferin County, owes to local environmental issues – local farmers and urban transplants/weekenders united to strongly oppose a proposed limestone quarry in rural Melancthon Township; the large mobilization against the mega-quarry forced its private promoters to toss the idea in late 2012, but it has helped the Greens. This year, the Greens won over 40% in the rural polls where the quarry would have been (in Melancthon Township), and also did very well in Mono, a rural area popular with Toronto weekenders and bobo-types.

The Liberals scored major gains on the Tories in the Halton region in the GTA gaining the ridings of Burlington and Halton (which has the highest median HH income in the province) and holding Oakville by over 10 points. The riding of Halton, which is one of the most overpopulated ridings in the province, has seen very rapid growth around the affluent suburban town of Milton, attractive to young families and visible minorities (the town is 30% non-white); the Liberals performed best in Milton’s new subdivisions as well as new subdivisions north of Oakville and Burlington. The Liberals defeated PC MPP Ted Chudleigh, who has held Halton since 1995, with a decisive 7.6% majority (over 5,700 votes). The Grits scored an historic victory over the Tories in middle-class suburban Burlington, winning a riding which had been held by the PCs since 1943 – although Tory majorities over the Liberals had been quite thin in every election since 2003 (4.3% and a bit over 2,100 votes in 2011). Liberal candidate Eleanor McMahon defeated one-term PC MPP Jane McKenna with a solid 6.3% majority. The Liberals retained Oakville, another affluent suburban riding, with a 11.6% majority (with numbers close to 2011). In all ridings, the PCs found themselves relegated to the wealthiest neighborhoods, while the Liberals topped the poll throughout most middle-class subdivisions (which conforms to the general GTA 2014 pattern of the PCs doing quite well in the wealthiest places while suffering substantial loses to the Liberals in other types of areas). The PCs did retain the more exurban-rural riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, albeit with a significantly reduced majority of 17.6% (compared to a nearly 29-point landslide margin in 2011) thanks to a major tumble in PC support (from 55.6% to 46.7%) and Liberal gains in growing exurban Georgetown.

The NDP held its three seats in the industrial (steel, manufacturing) city of Hamilton, while the Liberals held the mixed suburban-rural seat of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. The provincial NDP has held all three ‘core’ urban ridings in Hamilton since 2011, when they toppled Liberal MPP Sophia Aggelonitis in Hamilton Mountain, an inner suburban riding (within the pre-amalgamation municipal borders of Hamilton) with older working-class suburban neighborhoods and newer middle-class suburbs. Andrea Horwath was reelected with 52.1% and a 28.6% majority in Hamilton Centre, a predominantly low-income working-class/working-poor riding in central Hamilton, although she suffered a substantial swing against her compared to 2011, when she had been reelected with a phenomenal 61.3% of the vote. The Liberals and Greens both increased their vote shares by a nice amount in the riding (17.5% to 23.5% a nd 3.7% to 8.6% respectively), perhaps due to well-educated left-wing bobo voters (Hamilton Centre is the poorest riding in the city, but also has a higher proportion of university grads than the other two NDP-held ridings) swinging against the NDP. Of course, one might say that it’s also a matter of winning with 52% rather than 61% (by all standards, the NDP polled ridiculously and unusually well there in 2011). The NDP’s majority in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek (a mix of urban poverty with post-war middle-class suburban Stoney Creek, which has a large Eastern European and Italian population) was also reduced, from 25.4% to 17.7%. However, in Hamilton Mountain, where the NDP were now the incumbents, their majority increased from 12.8% in 2011 (against the Liberal incumbent) to 17.3% (against a new Liberal candidate). The Liberals handily retained Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, a mix of Hamilton’s affluent suburbs, academia (McMaster University) and incorporated rural areas, with a 10.7% majority over the PCs (up from 9% in 2011). This is another suburban riding held federally by the Tories (since 2006, with a large majority in 2011) and was a must-win for a PC majority government, but the PCs were once again crushed by the Liberals in the middle-class suburbs.

Poll-by-poll results in Halton Region and Hamilton (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

There was no change from the pre-election situation in the Niagara region, with all three parties reelecting their incumbents. In Niagara Falls, won by the Liberals in 2011 but gained by the NDP with a 2.6% majority over the PCs in a February 2014 by-election, the new NDP MPP Wayne Gates was reelected with a much wider majority than in February, taking 47.4% against 32.8% for the PCs by coalescing the anti-Hudak vote around him (as a result, the Liberals won only 14.4% in the riding, their second-worst result in the province. The NDP nearly swept the riding’s three main urban centres, even doing well in trendy Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the Liberals had retained some support in the by-election. The NDP also solidified their hold on Welland, which includes a number of old working-class industrial communities along the Welland Canal (Welland, Thorold, Port Colborne), going from a 12.6% majority in 2011 (the NDP’s majority had been reduced to the retirement of long-time popular MPP Peter Kormos) to a 18.3% victory. The provincial NDP has held Welland since 1977.

On the other hand, Liberal MPP Jim Bradley – the longest-serving member of the legislature, having served since 1977, was reelected to an eleventh term in office in his riding of St. Catharines, in a much easier contest than in 2011, when Bradley had won by only 4% (and 1,700 votes) against the PCs in his closest contest since 1995. While the Liberal vote held steady, at 40.9%, the PC vote collapsed from 36.2% to 29.7% and the NDP increased its backing from 20.2% to 24.5%. St. Catharines is an old auto manufacturing city which remains rather poor, but it lacks Oshawa’s tradition of organized labour activism and strong NDP support. Nevertheless, the NDP won old working-class neighborhoods in the south of the city and placed ahead of the Tories in most of downtown and southern St. Catharines, including most low-income areas.

PC leader Tim Hudak was reelected in the conservative riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook, a largely rural and outer suburban riding straddling the city of Hamilton and Niagara region. However, his vote fell by about 9 points from 51% to 42%, with both the Liberals and NDP making gains, especially thanks to inroads in suburban neighborhoods adjacent to Hamilton and new subdivisions.

The Tories also suffered loses in the Waterloo region. The Liberals gained Cambridge from the PCs, which had never voted for the Liberals since its creation in 1975; freshman PC MPP Rob Leone was defeated by a 6.3% margin (he won by a bit less than 5 points in 2011). The riding includes the old industrial towns of Preston, Galt and Hesperer, now amalgamated in the city of Cambridge, which has become more affluent and suburban although manufacturing retains a large presence due to a Toyota plant. The Liberals held Kitchener Centre by a much more comfortable margin than in 2011, winning by 16.1% compared to just 0.8% in 2011. The PC vote collapsed from 38.4% to 27%; the Grits and Dippers both increased their support, to 43.1% and 22.8% respectively. The urban riding is centered around Kitchener (formerly Berlin, a sign of the very strong German heritage in the Waterloo region), an old manufacturing-oriented industrial centre which has diversified and revitalized itself – although the riding itself includes the city’s more low-income neighborhoods, with some middle-class residential suburbs.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, NDP MPP Catherine Fife, who gained the seat from the PCs in a memorable and high-stakes by-election in 2012, was reelected with a 7.2% majority over the Liberals (37.4% to 30.2%), while the PCs – who had held the riding between 1990 and 2012 (with Elizabeth Witmer, a popular moderate Tory MPP) – fell into third with 26.3%. The riding, which includes two universities (University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University), financial companies and a high-tech sector (RIM), is the most highly educated and white-collar constituency in the Waterloo region (it is also more affluent than its neighbour to the south, although it still includes poorer areas). The NDP’s victory in 2012 was a major win for Horwath’s party at the time, and a major defeat for the Liberals, who had traditionally been the PCs’ main competitors for the riding provincially and federally (a victory in the by-election, at the time, would also have secured McGuinty’s government its elusive majority) and the PCs (although the riding is by no means a Tory stronghold, it has been held by the federal Tories since 2008). This year, Fife was reelected with a slightly narrower margin than in 2012, suffering some loses to the Liberals while gaining suburban votes from the PCs.

Poll-by-poll results in Kitchener and Waterloo (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

The PCs saved Kitchener-Conestoga by a tight margin, 36.5% to 33.3% for the Liberals (and a solid 21.1% for the NDP), whereas in 2011 the Tories had gained the seat from the Liberals with a solid 8.7% majority (but the Liberals won a higher share of the vote in 2011, suggesting the PCs mostly lost to the NDP). The quasi-doughnut rurban riding takes in rural areas (where the Liberals have really fallen off since 2007) and suburban neighborhoods, both working-class and affluent, of Kitchener proper; this year, the PCs won solid margins in the rural and village polls, while the Liberals and NDP won most suburban polls in Kitchener.

Outside the Waterloo region, the Liberals easily held the very left-liberal ‘college town’ riding of Guelph with a slightly expanded 20-point majority on the Tories (41.3% to 21.1%), but the most noteworthy result in the riding was that of Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, who placed a strong third with 19.2% (although he still fell far short of winning the seat, as his party had hoped). Guelph has tended to be one of the Greens’ strongest riding, thanks to its well-educated bobo-ish population of students and academics; the party won 21.2% in the 2008 federal election and 19.6% in the 2007 provincial election, although Green support dropped to 6-7% in the 2011 federal and provincial elections. This year, Schreiner won a number of polls in downtown Guelph’s Old Town, a young, student and cosmopolitan area; the Greens also placed second, ahead of the PCs and NDP, in other neighborhoods close to the university or downtown.

Southwestern Ontario was a very interesting contrast to the results in the GTA – put together, the results from these two electoral battleground regions make this election highly interesting and give the new Liberal majority government a rather unusual form when compared to past Liberal majorities, including Dalton McGuinty’s back-to-back majorities in 2003 and 2007. Southwestern Ontario, while highly diverse in its own right, is a largely ‘Rust Belt’-type blue-collar region with a number of industrial centres (Windsor, Brantford, London, Sarnia, Ingersoll, Woodstock – in addition to Kitchener and Cambridge, which are also formally in SW Ontario), some of which – notably the famous auto manufacturing city of Windsor – have struggled in recent years, with high unemployment and general economic decline. Politically, southwestern Ontario has been the Liberal Party’s main rural base, dating back to the nineteenth century when the region’s Methodist English settlers or German Catholic immigrants supported the Liberals in the tradition of George Brown’s radical Clear Grits of the pre-Confederation days; that tradition remained strong and visible until quite recently – in 2003 and 2007, when the Ontario Liberals won majority mandates, they won most rural and small town ridings in SW Ontario. Federally, as recently as 2004, the Liberals won a few rural seats in SW Ontario, including Huron-Bruce, which was only lost to the Tories in 2008. Provincially and federally, however, the Liberals have really suffered in recent years – all rural ridings in the region are now held at both levels by Tories, leaving the Liberals only with a urban base (it is even worse, after 2011, federally). Liberal loses in traditionally Liberal rural areas across Canada have come, in part, as a result of ideological shifts which have seen the Liberals defined more as a urban (in Ontario, Torontonian) party catering to a urban base which is demographically quite different from the old Liberal base in rural regions. Provincially, the poor economy may have hurt the provincial Liberals too. In the by-elections following the 2011 provincial election, the Liberals lost two seats to the NDP, and polls regularly showed the NDP polling very well and the Liberals very poorly in SW Ontario. In the election, the Liberals did indeed do poorly in SW Ontario – they lost Windsor West to the NDP, one of two seats in the province which the Liberals lost; the Liberal vote also receded even further in rural ridings which they lost in 2011 and in a number of ridings – such as Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent-Essex, Oxford or Elgin-Middlesex-London – the Liberals fell into third, behind the PCs and NDP. The NDP was the only party which truly did well in SW Ontario, scoring significant gains in a number of ridings. The PCs lost no seats, but their vote fell back in nearly every single seat, even where they were the incumbents.

The Liberal Speaker, Dave Levac, was reelected in Brant with a more comfortable 6.3% majority over former PC MPP Phil Gillies (he had held on by only 2.7% in 2011), although it was mostly due to the PC vote falling from 34.7% to 30.8%. The NDP came in a very strong third with 26.9%, up from an already strong result of 24.2% three years ago. The NDP expanded its support in Brantford, an old blue collar industrial town which remains relatively poor, dominating the city’s old working-class and lower-income neighborhoods; the NDP had already made very significant gains in Brantford in 2011. The NDP represented the region federally between 1971 and 1993. The Grits owed their victory to support in Brantford’s newer middle-income suburban neighborhoods, the small industrial centre of Paris and (to a much lesser extent) to the Six Nations Reserve (where turnout is always very low, although votes heavily favour the Liberals and/or NDP).

The Conservatives confirmed their domination of rural SW Ontario – although the PC vote actually fell back a bit in these ridings, most of which were gained from the Liberals in 2011. Nevertheless, the Liberals lost even more, ensuring some more comfortable PC majorities. In Perth-Wellington, which the PCs had gained from the Liberals with a tiny 0.6% or 210 vote lead, the PC majority grew to 6.1% as the Grit vote fell from about 39% to 32.9%. The Liberals have lost rural areas to the PCs, but they retain strong support in Stratford, an old industrial centre which now has a somewhat famous arts/cultural scene. In Huron-Bruce, another traditionally Liberal riding lost to the PCs (by a decisive 10-point margin), the Liberal vote declined further from 32.8% to 30.9%, benefiting the NDP and the Greens because the Tory vote also fell.

The NDP won some quite impressive numbers in small town ridings in SW Ontario, numbers oftentimes even better than those won by the federal NDP in May 2011. In Sarnia-Lambton, in PC hands since 2007, the NDP won 35.7% of the vote, coming within 5.4% of the PCs in the riding and trouncing the Tories in most of Sarnia itself, a predominantly industrial (petrochemicals) town on the shores of Lake Huron. In Oxford, a solidly Tory seat with a large blue-collar manufacturing presence, the NDP boosted its support by over 10 points to win 25.8% (although that was still far behind the PCs’ 46.2%), making impressive gains in the auto manufacturing town of Ingersoll and also in Woodstock. In Chatham-Kent-Essex, a Liberal seat until 2011, the Liberals fell to third place (24.1%) while the NDP won an impressive 31.1%, against 37.8% for the PCs. The NDP had strong support in the small industrial town of Tilbury, the regional centre of Chatham and the agro-industrial town of Leamington. The NDP also placed second, ahead of the Liberals, in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex and Elgin-Middlesex-London, two seats which were in Liberal hands until 2011.

Poll-by-poll results in London, ON (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In London, the NDP won two of the city’s three seats while the Liberals retained one. The NDP had little problem retaining London West, a seat which they gained from the Liberals in last summer’s by-election. At the time, the riding, which is the city’s most affluent riding – it is a predominantly middle-class suburban riding, although it include more urban neighborhoods such as trendy and hip South London and some low-income areas – should have been low-hanging fruit for the PCs, whose federal counterparts have held the seat since 2008 and the NDP’s victory by 9.2% over the PCs (while the Liberals collapsed by nearly 30% to 16%) was a big surprise. Freshman NDP MPP Peggy Sattler was reelected with a 10.8% majority over the PCs, although the NDP’s vote share is down slightly from the by-election because the Liberals improved slightly to 23.7% (although that’s still a very mediocre third compared to 45.7% in 2011). The NDP was also reelected easily in London Fanshawe, with a 27.5% majority over the PCs (the Liberal vote fell from 28.3% to 19.9%); the riding – the most blue-collar in the city – includes working-class low-income and low-education neighborhoods on the city’s east ends and some newer lower middle-class suburbs. The NDP had gained the seat from the Liberals in 2011, with a 12.5% majority over the Liberal incumbent. The Liberals were victorious in London North Centre, the city’s ‘college town’ riding (it includes Western U), although the NDP also made major gains – from 22.7% and third to 30.4% and second, coming within 5.7% of the Liberal incumbent, whose vote fell from 43.9% in 2011 to 36.1%. The riding map showed a split between the southeastern half of the riding, an old working-class and low-income area which the NDP thoroughly dominated; and the downtown and northwestern half of the riding, a mix of urban and more leafy suburban highly-educated and more middle-class areas (including Western and surrounding academia-influenced neighborhoods), where the Liberals won most polls with a handful of PC polls in the more affluent parts. The Tories were the other major losers in the city (remember that, federally, they hold two of the city’s three seats, except London Fanshawe which is Dipper), given that their share of the vote declined compared to the last election/by-election in all three ridings.

The NDP swept the Windsor region. In 2011, they had failed to defeat the Liberals in the two Windsor urban seats, losing by about ten in both of them. They had, however, managed to score a gain in the more rural riding of Essex, which had been expected to be a PC gain from the Liberals rather than a NDP gain at the time. The NDP’s Taras Natyshak won the seat with a 3 point edge on the Tories. This year, Natyshak was reelected with an incredible 60.3% of the vote (compared to 38% in 2011) and a massive 38% majority over the PCs, while the Liberals won their worst provincial result (14.2%) in a riding which used to be strongly Liberal in the past.

In last summer’s by-election, the NDP also gained Windsor-Tecumseh with a massive margin – 61.1% against 20% for the PCs, their closest rivals. It had little trouble holding that seat this year either – NDP MPP Percy Hatfield was reelected with a 46.8% majority over the Liberals, or 62.1% of the vote. The only close contest, therefore, was Windsor West, the only seat still in Liberal hands with Teresa Piruzza, the Minister of Children and Youth Services, who had defeated the NDP by about 10% in 2011. She was the only sitting Liberal MPP to be defeated in the election, losing 38.5% to 41.3% to the NDP. Windsor, the leading auto manufacturing capital of Canada, has suffered a lot from the recession – resulting in a loss of manufacturing jobs and a significant decline in household incomes since 2006.

In central Ontario, the Liberals regained the seat of Northumberland-Quinte West, lost in 2011, from the PCs, with former Liberal MPP Lou Rinaldi winning his rematch against the PC candidate who had defeated him in 2011. The Liberals won with a comfortable 43% and 7% majority in the riding, which borders Lake Ontario and includes the towns of Cobourg, Port Hope and Trenton. The Liberals also regained the urban riding of Barrie, lost in 2011, taking a narrow 4.6% against the PCs. Finally, the Liberals retained Peterborough with a solid 16.4% majority, up from a much thinner 8.4% majority.

The PCs held their other seats. The Liberals came within 5.9% in York-Simcoe, a largely exurban which includes the northern end of the GTA in York region, and increased their vote by 10 points from 24% to 34%. The Liberals also made major gains in Simcoe North, gaining 10 points (from 22% to 32%) as the PCs fell over 10 points from 55% to 43%, allowing the Liberals to regain the upper hand in the Franco-Ontarian Penetanguishene area. Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, a large rural and solidly Tory riding had gained attention for the hilarious 2009 by-election which saw the Liberals unexpectedly defeat then-PC leader John Tory, who was seeking to enter the legislature from a PC stronghold after losing his riding in the 2007 election. Obviously, the Liberal incumbent was defeated by a large margin (nearly 12 points) in 2011, but in a rematch of the 2011 contest, he came within 5.8% of regaining his old seat – certainly much too close for comfort for the Tories.

The PCs were also reelected in Parry Sound-Muskoka, although their vote share fell from 54% to 40.7% because of a strong showing from the Liberals (18% to 26%) and especially the Greens, who, with 19.3%, won their best provincial result in the riding – which, in ‘cottage country’, has a large tourism industry which may boost Green support.

There was no change in eastern Ontario, with the Liberals and PCs holding their seats without too much trouble. Rural eastern Ontario is one of the most solidly and ancestrally Tory regions in the province, because of its early settlement by United Empire Loyalists. In the past decade, the very right-wing and anti-government Ontario Landowners Association (OLA), which defends landowners’ property rights, has gained much influence in the region’s rural regions and over the PCs. Former OLA leaders Randy Hillier and Jack MacLaren have been PC MPPs from eastern Ontario since 2007 and 2011 respectively, and Randy Hillier won

The Liberals failed to regain Prince Edward-Hastings, lost to the PCs in 2011, going down by 9 points against the Tories this year in a riding which includes the town of Belleville and the touristy region of Prince Edward County. The PCs held their rural WASP strongholds. Randy Hillier, a controversial MPP on the PCs’ right-wing, was reelected to a third term in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington with a 13.9% majority. The PCs won some of their best provincial results in Leeds-Grenville, which is an old Tory bastion, but also in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, which was in Liberal hands as recently as 2007 (the area is much less WASPy with a very significant French component). The PCs’ best result in the province came from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, where they won no less than 61.1% and savaged the Liberals by a 42 point margin. Ironically, the riding – now one of the safest Tory seats in Ontario at either level of government – was actually a Liberal stronghold (it has a less WASPy-population, with more significant Catholic, notably Polish and Irish, population) in a not-so-distant past: the provincial Liberals held it through the Harris PC elections (1995 and 1999) and only lost it in 2003.

The NDP, usually quite weak in rural eastern ON, had a number of good results – as in 2011. It won 21.6% in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, with a few poll victories in the town of Cornwall; and 20.3% in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington.

The Liberals held Kingston and the Islands, centered on the lovely and quaint university town of Kingston. However, a retiring Liberal member and a strong NDP candidate meant that the Liberals’ support fell from 48.8% to 41.6% while the NDP, in second place, increased its vote from 23.8% to 29.6%, winning its strongest numbers in Kingston’s poorest neighborhoods north of the historic core.

The Liberals also held the ancestrally Liberal and heavily Franco-Ontarian riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, which they had narrowly retained in 2011 in the face of the strongest PC challenge in years by only 3.4%. This year, the freshman Liberal incumbent was reelected with an 18% majority and cracked 50%. Held by the Conservatives federally since 2006 (a gain which was historic, given how it had more or less been held by the Liberals since the 19th century), the PCs have been unable to make similar gains in rural Franco-Ontarian communities,

Poll-by-poll results in Ottawa (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

There was no change in Ottawa, but the Liberals performed very strongly. The PCs had two must-win seats in the city, which are held by their federal counterparts since 2006: the suburban ridings of Ottawa West-Nepean and Ottawa-Orléans. In 2011, the Liberals had saved both, but with a very small 2.2% majority in Ottawa West-Nepean and a slightly healthier 6% majority in Ottawa-Orléans (your dear blogger’s riding). In Ottawa West-Nepean, Liberal incumbent Bob Chiarelli – a former Ottawa mayor and a cabinet minister – was reelected in a rematch with his 2011 PC rival with a strong 12.4% majority, as the PC vote fell to about 33% from 39% in 2011. The riding, in Ottawa’s west end, is a socioeconomically mixed suburban area including some lower-income neighborhoods and middle-class suburbs. Despite a strong candidate in Alex Cullen, a former MPP and city councillor, the NDP only won 14.3%. The east end suburban riding of Ottawa-Orléans, where the three-term Liberal incumbent retired (which may have been a positive for them, actually), the Liberals retained the seat by an unexpectedly large margin – 20.5% – with 53.6% of the vote for the Liberals, against only 33.1% for the PCs (46.4% and 40.4% in 2011). The very affluent suburban riding has the largest Francophone population of the Ottawa ridings (30%) and has a large population of public servants. The PCs’ failures (and worse, their loses) in both ridings, which have been held by the federal party since 2006, show their failure to make the required breakthroughs in suburban neighborhoods. In a government city like Ottawa in particular, Hudak’s pledge to cut public sector jobs likely hurt the Tories badly – although the cuts wouldn’t have affected federal public servants, the federal public sector has seen its share of cuts since 2011 by the Harper government.

The Liberals reelected their three other incumbents in Ottawa Centre, Ottawa-Vanier and Ottawa South. In Ottawa Centre, which includes the city’s downtown core (and has the demographics associated with such areas – high levels of education – 50% of residents have a university diploma or degree, likely one of the highest in Ontario; young single renters, white-collar professionals and the large presence of sectors such as education, public administration and culture/arts; with the social mix of low-income areas, upper middle-class urban progressive areas such as The Glebe, gentrified areas, social housing etc.), popular Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi won with a 31% majority over the NDP (which holds the federal riding since 2006). As in downtown Toronto, the NDP did quite poorly in Ottawa Centre, its support falling from 29% in 2011 (which had already been a very mediocre result, as the NDP in 2011 had also struggled in downtown ridings) to only 20.4%. Certainly the local Liberal MPP’s popularity, like in 2011, helped the Liberals and hurt the NDP but the Horwath NDP’s poor appeal to urban progressive voters played a big part too (the NDP did particularly poorly in The Glebe and Old Ottawa South, NDP-friendly upper middle-class progressive left-leaning neighborhoods). The NDP also did poorly in Ottawa-Vanier (a very diverse and socioeconomically polarized area, which includes some of the wealthiest and poorest areas in Ottawa), an old Liberal stronghold which does have some NDP-‘compatible’ areas (the central areas of Sandy Hill and Lower Town, and, increasingly, the poor Francophone Vanier area). Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur was handily reelected with 55.7% of the vote and a 33% majority over the PCs, with the NDP winning just 13.2% compared to 19.6% in 2011 and a high-water mark of 29.4% in the 2011 federal election.

Finally, the Liberals easily held Ottawa South by 18 points, McGuinty’s old riding which it had successfully defended against a tough PC challenge in last summer’s by-election (winning by 3.6%, after polls had predicted a PC gain). The riding, which has the highest visible minority populations (Arab, Somali mostly) outside the GTA, is predominantly middle-class suburban with pockets of deprivation.

The Conservatives only managed to win their two ridings in the outer suburban/exurban/rural parts of the city – Carleton-Mississippi Mills and Nepean-Carleton, with reduced majorities of 15.6% and 13.3% respectively – although the Liberals posted some decent results in the high-growth outer suburban neighborhoods of Kanata and Barrhaven.

There was only one close contest in northern Ontario; otherwise, all incumbents retained their seats and in all but one case, they grew their majorities nicely. Geographically humongous but sparsely populated Northern Ontario has a distinctive regional political culture, which clearly sets it apart from southern Ontario. The region’s economy has traditionally been centered on primary industries – namely mining and lumber – and, outside the major cities, most settlements grew as single-resource towns; this economic base, combined with the region’s isolation has bred a distinctive political culture with strong feelings of alienation and frustration towards dominant southern Ontario and provincial governments accused of ignoring northern Ontario’s special economic concerns and socioeconomic problems. Nowadays, in addition to primary industries, the wider public sector/government has become a key employer while larger cities (Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie) have diversified their economies with a large tertiary sector. Demographically, the region has a highly diverse population – a large First Nations population (about 13% of the regional population), a significant Franco-Ontarian minority (17% of the region has French as its mother tongue) and other immigrants group from Europe including, among others, Finns (Thunder Bay has the largest population of Finnish-Canadians per capita). Politically, the region has typically been a stronghold of the Liberals and New Democrats, with limited support for Conservatives – although Mike Harris represented Nipissing, at the southern end of the region, for decades. Since 2011, the NDP holds a majority of seats in the region – 5 against 4 Liberals and one Tory, compared to 7 Liberals in 2003 and 2007. Federally, the NDP has also replaced the Liberals as the region’s dominant party; in fact, the Liberals lost their last northern riding (Nipissing-Timiskaming) in 2011.

The close contest in the region was the urban riding of Sudbury, an open seat with a retiring Liberal incumbent which the Liberals had won by only 1.7% and 531 votes in the last election. The NDP gained the seat from the Liberals 42.2% to 39.3%, a narrow 2.9% majority – representing a slight dip in the Liberal vote and small uptick in the NDP vote, respectively; with Windsor West, it is the only Liberal-held seat (pre-election) which the Liberals lost. Historically dominated by nickel mining, the largest city in northern Ontario has diversified its economy and isn’t too badly off. The NDP dominated in the city’s working-class areas and old mining towns, while the Liberals dominated the affluent areas and generally narrowly beat the NDP in more suburban neighborhoods.

The PCs retained their only seat, Nipissing. Former North Bay mayor Vic Fedeli gained the open seat – Mike Harris’ old turf – from the Liberals by a very large (21.5%) margin in 2011; this year, he was reelected with a reduced majority (15%). The benefactor of the PC loses in the riding was the NDP, which increased its support to a very strong 25.7% – the NDP made sizable gains with traditionally Liberal Franco-Ontarian voters. At the border between north and south (with some arable agricultural land), the rural Anglophone areas in Nipissing District still vote heavily Tory, like other rural regions in the south.

The NDP held its five other ridings  and all with increased majorities – oftentimes landslide margins. In Timiskaming-Cochrane, the NDP increased its majority from 24.2% to 31.9%, winning 55% of the vote. In Algoma-Manitoulin, it increased its majority from 16.1% to 28.9%, winning 53.4%. Both of these ridings had been gained from the Liberals in the last election. In remote and gigantic Timmins-James Bay, longtime NDP MPP Gilles Bisson was returned with a 27% majority over the Liberals (51.2% to 24.2%), whereas in 2011 he had won by only 12.8% against the PCs, who had put up a strong challenge with Al Spacek, the mayor of the heavily Francophone lumber town of Kapuskasing (he won 36.7%, in a riding where the PCs have struggled to break 15%). Without him, the PCs fell to a very decent 22.6%, while the Liberals moved up from a catastrophic 12.4% to a slightly-less horrendous 24.2%. In Kenora-Rainy River, one-term NDP MPP Sarah Thompson won a second term with a much larger 30% majority over the PCs, compared to a much closer 12-point win in 2011 – the riding is the seat of former NDP leader Howard Hampton, who did not seek reelection in 2011; creating a much more competitive race, given the strength of the Conservatives in the white Anglo towns of Kenora, Dryden and rural tourist towns. In Nickel Belt, the NDP won by no less than 40.8%, taking 62.7% of the vote. All of these predominantly ‘rural’ and small town ridings are a mix of single-industry mining or lumber communities, Franco-Ontarian towns and First Nations reserves.

The Liberals did very poorly in the NDP-held seats, suffering loses vis-a-vis the 2011 election and falling far below past levels of support (all of these areas elected Liberal MPs or MPPs at one time or another). However, the Liberals did very well in the three ridings where they had incumbents – namely Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North and Sault Ste. Marie. In all three seats, there was a significant swing to the Liberal incumbents and against the NDP. For example, in Thunder Bay-Atikokan, which the Liberals had held against the NDP by only very tight margins in the last two elections (a 1.7% majority in 2011), the Liberal majority surged to 24.7% (it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 53%, while the NDP fell from 37% to 28%). The Liberals held Thunder Bay-Superior North with a 26.6% majority on the NDP and Sault Ste. Marie with a 33% majority on the NDP; in both cases, the Liberals won over 55% of the vote and significantly increased its support at the NDP’s expense.

Conclusion

The Liberals were returned with a majority government, and a fourth straight term in office. The geographic structure of the Liberal majority made this election highly interesting.

The Liberals won the election in the GTA/905 – which was, as always, the main swing region which all parties were required to do well. The Liberals did very well throughout the GTA – both in the 416 (Toronto) and the 905 – unlike the NDP and the PCs, who had mixed results in the region. Compared to the 2011 election, the Liberals made significant gains with left-wing urban progressive voters in downtown Toronto, at the NDP’s expense; it held the visible minority vote, despite some limited and concentrated NDP or PC inroads with some communities; and it retained and even made further gains with the middle-class suburban vote in the GTA. In Ottawa, Ontario’s second largest metro area, the trends were very similar: NDP underperformance in the urban core, PC failure in the swing inner suburbs.

In ‘Rust Belt’-ish SW Ontario, however, the Liberals did uniformly poorly, falling below 2011 levels and even further below 2007 levels. In a number of seats, which were won by the Liberals as recently as 2007, the NDP replaced the Liberals as the main challenger to the PCs. The contrast between the GTA and SW Ontario is very striking in this election.

There was a strong urban-rural divide in this election, which is increasingly common in Canadian politics but was less common historically, when the Liberals had strong support in some rural regions. In this election, the Liberals and NDP dominated in urban centres and most suburban areas – not only the big cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, London, Kitchener and Windsor but also smaller regional centres such as Oshawa, St. Catharines, Barrie, Cambridge, Kingston, Guelph, Niagara Falls, Brantford, Sarnia, Welland and Belleville; in May 2011, the federal Tories had won most of these smaller towns (except for the college towns of Kingston and Guelph, and Welland). It appears as if the largest towns to have gone PC in June 2014 were suburban Whitby and the weird single-tier municipality of Chatham-Kent (see the borders of this ‘municipality’ here) Even in ridings won by the PCs – such as Perth-Wellington, Huron-Bruce and Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington – the Liberals and/or NDP still won most polls in those ridings’ main towns – Stratford, Goderich, Kincardine and Napanee in this case. It is also noteworthy that, for all the talk of the Liberals being an increasingly Torontonian party (led by a Toronto leader on the party’s left), they still did well in more historically industrial towns such as Cambridge, Kitchener, St. Catharines or regional centres such as Barrie. That being said, the NDP won some very strong results in SW Ontario’s old industrial centres: Windsor and London obviously, but also Sarnia, Brantford and Ingersoll for example. The PCs, in contrast, did poorly throughout the board in urban and suburban areas.

What doomed the PCs was their inability – yet again – to breakthrough in the inner suburbs. As noted previously, suburban voters are a very swingy bunch: in May 2011, they swung to the Conservatives and allowed the Tories to win remarkable results in the 905 and even the 416 (although non-Tory vote splitting also helped a bunch), but in October 2011 they largely stuck with the provincial Liberals despite everything. As such, nothing in this election should be interpreted in the long-term: the PCs may very well sweep the board in the suburbs in 2018, or they might be destroyed again – nobody can really pretend to accurately predict that. The PCs were limited to their rural base – although even in rural areas, they fell far short of the federal Conservative results in those ridings and the provincial Liberals were still miles and miles ahead of the federal Liberals (May 2011, granted) there; in addition to an outer suburban/exurban base, although the Liberals did perform quite well in new housing subdivisions in the GTA. Interestingly, there seems to have been a small swing towards the PCs and against the Liberals in the province’s wealthiest urban neighborhoods, likely a reaction to the Liberals’ left-wards shift. Looking forward to 2018, the PCs need to fix their leadership problems above all – get a leader who, while not necessarily a moderate, can reassure voters and appeal to target PC demographics with a reasonable platform which showcases them as ‘good economic managers’; this would allow the PCs to regain suburban voters, like the Harper Tories did in 2011. The next step could be to copy Harper’s successful appeal to visible minority voters in the GTA; one silver lining from this election might be the PCs’ decent (but still not good enough) results with Chinese voters in Scarborough and Markham.

The NDP had largely positive, but also very mixed results; the strong results in SW Ontario contrasted with the poor numbers in downtown Toronto/Ottawa, showing Horwath’s inability to bridge the two components of the NDP electorate, something which Jack Layton had done very well in 2008-2011 for the federal NDP. Although much commentary on the ONDP’s showing has focused on the contrast between SW Ontario and the urban progressive downtowns, little attention was given to the NDP’s strong results with (historically Liberal) visible minorities in Brampton, northern Toronto (Etobicoke and York) and parts of Scarborough. If the Ontario NDP can continue to do very well in SW Ontario, reconquer downtown voters and make inroads with visible minorities in Toronto’s suburbs, they have the potential to build a winning coalition.

My apologies for the huge delay in publishing this report. Hope it was worth it!

Quebec 2014

Provincial general elections were held in Quebec on April 7, 2014. All 125 members of the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), elected by first-past-the-post in single-member constituencies (riding, or comtés/circonscriptions in French), were up for reelection. Right before the last provincial election in 2012, I posted an election preview which included a political history of Quebec and profiles of all the main parties; most of the information in there should naturally still be accurate and provides a useful backgrounder to the main issues in Quebec politics and the provincial parties.

Background

These elections came less than two years after the September 4, 2012 provincial elections, which returned a minority government led by the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) under Premier Pauline Marois. The PQ, which ostensibly seeks the independence of Quebec, won a minority government with 54 seats out of 125. Although he was personally defeated in his own riding of Sherbrooke, Premier Jean Charest’s governing Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), which had been in power since 2003, performed better than anyone could have expected. Although polls taken right before the election showed the PLQ lingering in third place between François Legault’s new centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the Liberals came within a hair of actually winning the election, and ended up very close behind the PQ both in terms of votes and seats – 31.2% of the vote, against 31.9% for the PQ, and 50 seats. The CAQ had a good result in the popular vote, taking 27.1%, but the nature of FPTP and their rather inefficient vote distribution meant that the party ended up with only 19 seats.

The Liberals’ third term in office had proven extremely difficult for them, and they entered the 2012 election at a net disadvantage. Although Quebec’s economic situation between 2008 and 2012 was comparatively strong given the global economic situation, the Liberals faced major corruption scandals, voter fatigue and student protests. Quebec politics at the municipal and provincial levels have been rocked by a series of corruption scandals, many of them in the construction industry, which is now being investigated by the Charbonneau Commission, a public inquiry launched by Charest’s government in October 2011. The bulk of the commission’s work thus far has focused on corruption at the municipal level, revealing the existence of cartels of construction contractors which monopolized public works projects in cities such as Montreal in return for kickbacks to the mafia, municipal employees and municipal politicians. The mayors of Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities, were forced to resign following some of the revelations at the commission directly involved them. It is also clear, however, that similar cartels and corrupt dealings exist(ed) at the provincial level, albeit under a slightly different system because most public works projects are designed and supervised by private engineering firms employed by the Ministry of Transportation. Developers and construction contractors, and ‘figurehead employees’ (to circumvent electoral laws), illegally contributed to political parties at the municipal and provincial level, with the PLQ and PQ receiving the lion’s share of illegal contributions. It has also been alleged that engineering firms and contractors used public funds to make their contributions to political parties (contractors were compensated by being granted fake cost overruns by engineering firms). In November 2012, an investigator for the commission found that several high-ranking provincial politicians, including senior cabinet ministers in then-Premier Charest’s government, were invited to exclusive dinners or events at a private club in Montreal by contractors. Notably, two Liberal cabinet ministers were found to have contractors tied to construction cartels and the Rizzuto mafia clan (a Sicilian clan which controlled the Montreal mafia underworld from the 1980s until 2006-2007). Charest refused to give in to mounting public pressure to call a public inquiry into the construction industry, weakening his personal and political credibility, before finally doing an about-turn in late 2011.

In spring 2012, the Liberal government’s decision to increase post-secondary tuition fees by 75% over five years (from $2,168 in 2012 to $3,793 in 2017, increasing by $325 every year) sparked major student protests, which earned the sobriquet printemps québécois or printemps érable (‘Quebecois spring’ or ‘maple spring’). The government claimed that the tuition increase was required to alleviate the underfinancing of the province’s universities, while student federations found it unacceptable given the rising burden of student debt. Some student leaders demanded free post-secondary education. Unable to resolve the growing crisis, the Liberal government, in May 2012, adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricted freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval.

Despite the PLQ’s countless challenges and voter fatigue after nine years in power, the PQ very much won by default. In 2011 and 2012, PQ leader Pauline Marois, who took the reins of the party after its third-place result in the 2007 election, faced a major challenge to her leadership within PQ ranks. In June 2011, four PQ MNAs quit the party to protest the party’s decision to support a government bill which immunized the controversial construction of a new hockey stadium in Quebec City from judicial proceedings. However, these resignations also symbolized the unease of certain of the PQ’s purs et durs (hardline supporters of sovereignty) with Marois’ decision to put the national question on the backburner for a while. The ranks of those who stepped down included Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe (the wife of former Premier Jacques Parizeau, himself a critic of Marois), two well-known hardline sovereigntists within the PQ. Jean-Martin Aussant, another of those who stepped down in June 2011, went on to create his own party – Option nationale (ON), a hardline sovereigntist party, in October 2011. Marois weathered the crisis, although at the cost of some concessions to the hardline nationalist opinion within the PQ (a “popular initiative referendum”, where voters themselves could spark a third referendum on sovereignty if they gathered signatures, which she personally opposed but which was inserted into the PQ’s platform; the extension of language legislation to post-secondary college education, or Cégep). As a result of a lackluster campaign heavily marred by kerfuffles over these and other issues (notably an ill-advised suggestion that Anglophones or allophones with poor French-language skills should be barred from running in elections), the PQ failed to win a majority government and it ended up with only 31.9% of the vote, which was actually down 3.2% on the 2008 election, in which the PLQ won a majority government.

Elected with an uncertain mandate and the support of only a minority of the National Assembly, Marois’ government needed to tread carefully as far as governing went but also to govern in a way which would allow the PQ to return to the voters seeking a majority mandate. Pauline Marois’ government had trouble finding its cruising altitude. Her government began with the immediate cancellation of the tuition fee increase, the repeal of most articles of Law 78 and the closing of the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant. The latter decision was met with significant local opposition in Bécancour, where Gentilly-2 was located. The new government also took action against corruption, passing integrity laws for construction contracts (contractors bidding will have to obtain a ‘certificate of good ethics’), limiting individual contributions to parties to $100 (down from $1,000, a 1977 law passed by René Lévesque’s first PQ government banned donations from corporations and unions) and passing a law allowing courts to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms.

The PQ government was rapidly forced to break a number of major campaign promises. In October 2012, finance minister Nicolas Marceau announced that the PQ would not, unlike it had promised in the election, abolish a controversial $200 health tax created by the PLQ government. Instead, the PQ government made the health tax progressive, with those earning less than $18,000 being exempted while those earning over $150,000 would pay $1,000, with intermediate levels in between. The government raised taxes on those earning over $100,000 to 25.75%, a 1.75% increase. The first PQ government budget, announced in November 2012, projected a return to a balanced budget in FY 2013-2014. Savings would be achieved by capping increases in government spending to 1.8% in 2013-14 and 2.4% in 2014-5, increased taxes on alcohol and the loss of 2,000 jobs through attrition at Hydro-Québec. In 2013, the government’s cuts and reforms in social welfare measures and programs was criticized by numerous social organizations.

In its 2014-2015 budget, the government did not achieve a balanced budget and delayed a return to ‘fiscal balance’ until FY 2015-2016. The budget included an increase in the fees of Quebec’s generous subsidized daycare system (from $7 to $8 a day).

The government held a post-secondary education summit with student federations in February 2013. While student federations wanted either free post-secondary education or a tuition fee freeze (as they had been between 1994 and 2007), the PQ decided on a “3% indexation of tuition fees”, or, in other terms, an increase of about $70 every year. The PQ had the chutzpah to portray it as “another kind of freeze” because increases will be offset by increases in income, even if that isn’t really the case (largely because it isn’t an actual indexation). Student organizations, including those (the FÉUQ and FÉUC) who had participated in the summit (the more leftist ASSÉ, which supports free tuition, demonstrated outside the summit and boycotted the event), criticized the government’s decision. Any goodwill for the PQ from the anti-fee hike students evaporated.

In 2012, the PQ opposition had roundly criticized the Charest government’s Plan Nord, a plan for over $80 billion in public and private investments over 25 years to promote economic development, sustainable development and growth in the province’s northern regions. The plan was criticized by environmentalists and others who decried the low royalties for mining companies and fears that the government was ‘selling off’ Quebec’s natural resources to foreign mining companies. In government, the PQ effectively readopted the PLQ’s plan, with minor changes. On mining royalties, the PQ announced in May 2013 a much lower set of expectations: under their new plan, the government would receive $690 million less than they originally projected.

The Liberals, in opposition, were called to chose a new permanent leader at a leadership convention in March 2013. Philippe Couillard, a neurosurgeon who served as health minister between 2003 and 2008 in Charest’s cabinet, and was, until his retirement in 2008, often suggested as a potential successor to Charest, took the somewhat surprising decision to reenter politics. As the candidate with the highest profile, Couillard easily won the PLQ leadership, winning 58.5% on the first ballot against 22% for Pierre Moreau, a former transportation minister under Charest and 19.5% for Raymond Bachand, Charest’s finance minister between 2005 and 2013.

In July 2013, a freight train carrying crude oil derailed in central Lac-Mégantic, a town in the Eastern Townships, killing 47 people and causing massive devastation to the town. The provincial government’s response, which included the announcement of a $60 million aid package for Lac-Mégantic, was positively received. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the PQ government seemed to have found its cruising altitude.

The issue of national identity and, closely connected to that, the status of the French language, has been a highly contentious matter in Quebec. In 1977, the first PQ government under René Lévesque passed Bill 101 (loi 101 or Charter of the French Language), which made French the official language of work in the public and private sectors, education, advertising and in courts. The new bill restricted access to English schools to those children whose father and/or mother had received most of their instruction in English. While Bill 101 is largely popular with Francophones in Quebec, it has been heavily criticized by Anglophones in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. In 1988, the PLQ government of Robert Bourassa adopted Bill 178, which used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to impose unilingual French advertising outside private businesses. In 2009, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down a clause of Bill 104 (which strengthened language of education rules, limiting access to English schools and closing loopholes used by some to send their children to English schools), passed by Bernard Landry’s PQ government with the support of all opposition parties in 2002. In the 2012 campaign, the PQ had proposed extending Bill 101’s provisions to the Cégeps, two-year post-secondary collegiate institutions, and to all businesses with over 11 employees (until then, it was applicable for businesses employing more than 50 people). In April 2013, the PQ government proposed Bill 14, which would have extended Bill 101 to businesses with 26-49 employees, removing the bilingual status granted to municipalities which now have less than 50% of Anglophones, removing the language of education exemption for military families and enforcing French as the language of communication in the public, para-public, healthcare and social sectors. Lacking support from the PLQ or the CAQ, the PQ was forced to withdraw the bill.

Far more controversial, however, was the PQ’s Charter of Values (Charte des valeurs québécoises). The PQ presented its project as a defense and affirmation of laïcité (secularism), and the Charter’s most notable proposal was to ban all public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols (veil, cross, turban, hijab, kippah) and public servants would need to be religiously neutral. Critics accused the PQ of inventing a problem which didn’t actually exist, or using laïcité  as a pretext to stigmatize minorities (particularly Muslims). Others felt that the PQ was proposing ‘two-speed laïcité‘ because the party supported keeping the crucifix (very much a visible and conspicuous religious symbol) in the National Assembly.

The federal NDP, federal Liberals and the federal Conservative government all expressed opposition to the Charter; the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, the Bar of Quebec, McGill University, the Université de Montréal, the Université de Sherbrooke and many academics have also opposed the Charter. Notably, both men behind the Bouchard-Taylor commission, came out against the Charter. Polls have shown a narrow plurality/majority of Quebecers, and a larger (but not overwhelming) majority of Francophones support the Charter.

The PQ’s Charter was the party’s response to a long-running debate on ‘reasonable accommodations’ in Quebec, which has been a hot-button issue in the province in the last 10 years. Between 2006 and 2007, several incidents of religious groups demanding special ‘accommodations’ incensed public opinion in Quebec – a court decision allowing a Sikh student to wear a kirpan to school, Hasidim Jews asking for tinted windows at a local YMCA in Montreal (so that children would not see women in athletic clothes), Muslims asking for a prayer room at work, a Muslim girl wearing a hijab in a soccer match and so forth. Responding to the controversy, the Charest government created a commission, the Bouchard-Taylor commission, to debate the issue of reasonable accommodations in 2007. In 2008, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s final report recommended that government employees with coercive powers (police offices, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens but not teachers) be barred from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, but also that the crucifix be removed from the National Assembly and to ban opening prayers at municipal councils. The Charest government rejected the commission’s proposals, and the PLQ government completed its terms without doing anything on the issue. In 2012, the PQ had announced that it would draft a Charter of Quebec values and secularism if elected. The issue of ‘reasonable accommodations’ has been used as a wedge issue by a good number of politicians, especially in the old Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), a conservative third party whose shocking second place showing in 2007 (ahead of the PQ) was often assigned to the debate on reasonable accommodations, or the PQ.

The PQ has been accused of using the Charter as an electoral wedge issue, catering to a conservative and suburban/rural Francophone Catholic electorate’s primal fear of multiculturalism or (Muslim) immigration. The PQ’s opponents have in turn compared the PQ to the far-right FN in France, which is a very unfair comparison, regardless of one’s view on the Charter. The PQ has, especially under René Lévesque, traditionally been a fairly progressive civic nationalist party; a far cry from the conservative, Catholic, inward-oriented nationalism of survivance which existed prior to the Quiet Revolution. Nevertheless, given history and persistent concerns (real or exaggerated or imagined) about the status of the French language, there has always been a dose of cultural nationalism in the PQ’s generally civic nationalist outlook. The Charter does represent a move away from civic nationalism towards cultural nationalism, although one which remains couched in ostensibly progressive and liberal nationalist rhetoric (secularism). It is, above all, however, an electoralist ploy and wedge issue designed by the PQ to please the base, mobilize the PQ’s traditional electorate and seize the advantage over the PLQ and the CAQ.

François Legault’s CAQ said that it supported some kind of charter of secularism, but denounced the PQ’s electoralist use of the Charter and felt that it went too far. The CAQ suggested that government employees with coercive or moral (school principals) authority be banned from wearing religious symbols.

The PLQ is uncomfortable on identity. The PLQ is the party of choice for Quebec’s Anglophone and allophone minorities, therefore, unlike the PQ/CAQ, it must be careful of not burning bridges with them by supporting linguistic legislation or identity projects which are strongly opposed by linguistic minorities. Although the Liberal Party’s hold on the minority vote is extremely solid, there remains the precedent of 1989, when the Equality Party won 4 seats (all Anglophone seats on Montreal’s West Island) in reaction to the Bourassa Liberals’ language legislation (Bill 178 etc). On the other hand, the PLQ has a sizable Francophone electorate to appeal to, which is susceptible to supporting some sort of soft nationalism. Indeed, the Charter badly hurt and divided the PLQ. For months, the Liberals lacked a clear position on the issue. In October 2013, Liberal leader Philippe Couillard stated that he would never work with the PQ in adopting the Charter, but he remained uncomfortable on the issues which the Charter rose, notably public servants wearing religious symbols. In November 2013, Liberal MNA Marc Tanguay said that the PLQ would, hypothetically, accept a candidate who wore an Iranian-style chador. His colleague, Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin, the only Muslim member, publicly criticized Tanguay’s comments. A longstanding opponent of political Islam and religious extremism, Houda-Pépin supported banning government employees with coercive authority from wearing religious symbols. Then, Couillard himself contradicted Tanguay, saying that, no, the Liberals wouldn’t accept a woman wearing a chador as a candidate.

In January 2014, Houda-Pépin quit the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent MNA. She could not bring herself to agree with the PLQ’s opposition to the Charter. The whole affair was terribly handled by Couillard and the PLQ leadership; hitherto a relatively little-known backbencher, Houda-Pépin was allowed to gain a significant presence in the media by opposing the party line and reinforcing views that the PLQ was badly divided over the Charter and lacked a coherent position on the issue.

Premier Pauline Marois called an election for April 7 on March 5. After opting against calling a snap election for December 2013, it looked very likely that the PQ government would fall on the budget, given the PLQ and CAQ’s opposition to Nicolas Marceau’s 2014-5 budget.

Parties, Issues and Campaigns

The PQ entered the campaign clearly seeking a majority government from voters. The PQ trailed the Liberals in polls between March and December 2013, with the PLQ leading the PQ by up to 10 points in poll. The PQ managed to close the gap beginning in the fall of 2013, reducing the PLQ’s advantage to single digits and finally stealing the lead from the PQ in the New Year. A CROP poll in mid-February 2014 showed the PQ leading the PLQ by 6 points, 40 to 34, which would have been enough for a PQ majority. The first polls during the campaign showed a close race in the popular vote, with a statistical tie or narrow PQ lead (up to 2 points). However, given that the PLQ’s vote is inefficiently distributed, a tied race in Quebec translates into a PQ lead in terms of seats. In 1998, the PQ narrowly lost the popular vote to the PLQ but it was reelected with a majority government.

The PQ remains committed, on paper, to the independence of Quebec. The PQ’s platform opened with the traditional commitment to ‘make Quebec a country’. In reality, however, the prospects of an independent Quebec are low: support for independence is stuck at around 40%, there is no public interest outside nationalist circles for a third referendum and a lot of ‘soft nationalist’ voters (who voted or would have voted oui in 1995) have lost interest in the cause and are more interested in daily life issues. The federal Bloc Québécois’ massive defeat at the hands of the NDP in the 2011 federal election was correctly interpreted by most as a sign that Quebec voters had lost interest in the ‘national question’. The NDP, historically a non-entity in Quebec, attracted a lot of ‘soft nationalists’ (and even not-so-soft nationalists) thanks to the appeal of Jack Layton’s energetic campaign but also the party’s progressive, centre-left politics which is generally a good fit for Quebec (which leans to the left of the rest of Canada on most issues except identity and immigration). The Bloc’s campaign, which doubled down on sovereignty, further alienated voters. To be sure, however, the NDP successfully pulled Tory and Liberal voters as well. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was entirely by default, and owed little to nothing to the PQ’s raison d’être. Pauline Marois, largely to placate the base, promised a vaguely-defined gouvernance souverainiste which, in reality (especially given the minority mandate), amounted to nothing out of the ordinary. The PQ government did disagree with the federal government on issues such as the fed’s reform of employment insurance, but beyond tougher words and pablum, it wasn’t of much importance.

The PQ’s platform clearly stated that it would not hold a referendum until it judged the population to be ready and the moment ‘appropriate’. To placate the base, the PQ promised to draft a ‘white book on the political future of Quebec’ and submit it to the people for ‘consultation’; to fight the fed’s interference and assuming all powers at its disposal. On the campaign trail, the PQ largely sought to downplay the referendum question. Instead, it emphasized the Charter, protecting the French language (likely adopting Bill 14) and affirming Quebec’s culture.

On economic issues, the PQ largely relied on the aborted budget, which focused on limiting growths in public spending, cutting spending in many ministries and some fee/tariff increases (daycares, from $7 to $9, electricity bills) to eliminate the deficit in 2015-2016. They promised 115,000 new jobs in 3 years, resource development (allowing oil exploration on Anticosti Island), assisting export-oriented companies and income and payroll tax cuts once the budget is balanced.

The PQ thought that it had recruited the top star candidate in Pierre Karl Péladeau, a media mogul who announced his candidacy for the PQ in Saint-Jérôme. Péladeau, colloquially known as PKP, was the president of Québecor Inc., a media and communications giant with a revenue of $4.28 billion in 2013. Québecor owns Vidéotron, one of Quebec’s main cable television, wireless internet and phone providers; TVA Group, centered around TVA, the single largest French-language TV channel in Quebec; Sun Media, the owner of many local tabloid newspapers across Canada including Le Journal de Montréal (a populist tabloid which is Quebec’s most popular newspaper), Le Journal de Québec (the third largest newspaper in Quebec) but also the Sun conservative tabloids (Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Ottawa Sun etc), local/regional dailies (The London Free Press, The Kingston Whig-Standard); Canoe.ca, a web portal; and Groupe Archambault, Quebec’s largest music (but also books, DVDs, magazines etc) retailer. Québecor also owns, through TVA Group and Sun Media, the Sun News Network, a conservative news channel launched in 2011 which self-describes as a ‘less politically correct’ and ‘straight talk’ channel (it is often referred to as ‘Fox News North’). Ironically, the Sun newspapers in English Canada are known for their strongly anti-separatist stances. Overall, Québecor’s newspapers account for about 31% of the average daily circulation of all newspapers in Canada (in 2012).

As part of an expansion into sports, Péladeau acquired naming and management rights for Quebec City’s new indoor arena (the city hopes to regain its NHL franchise). The city’s decision was contested in court by a former city manager, and in 2011, the National Assembly passed Bill 204, forbidding any judicial challenges. The PQ’s support of the bill, alongside the PLQ government, led to the 2011-2012 crisis in the PQ. Péladeau’s father, Pierre Péladeau, was openly nationalist, but PKP was fairly quiet about his own politics. Prior to the election, there were persistent rumours that PKP would run for the PQ, which he initially denied.

Péladeau was always a risky bet, since he public perceptions of the man in Quebec aren’t universally positive, especially on the left. In 2009, Québecor locked out over 200 unionized employees of Le Journal de Montréal, and employed strike-breakers to continue publishing the newspaper. As a powerful businessman and media mogul, his politics unsurprisingly lean towards the right. In recruiting Péladeau, the PQ knowingly took the risk of further alienating firmly left-wing nationalist voters away from the PQ, in exchange for attracting centrists and right-leaning nationalists/soft nationalists, primarily from the CAQ.

In his first speech as a PQ candidate, Péladeau enthusiastically declared, in the form of a fist pump, his ambition to ‘make Quebec a country’. Péladeau’s fist pump reignited the issue of a third referendum, which proved a clear liability for the PQ given that the majority of voters do not want a third referendum. The PQ’s campaign was badly hurt by Péladeau’s fist pumping, forcing the PQ to reiterate that there would no referendum and, in the first debate, Marois restated the PQ’s position that it would only hold a referendum when ‘the people is ready’ and took no commitment to hold a referendum during the next government’s term. Nevertheless, the can of worms had been opened. The PQ fell badly behind the PLQ in polls after PKP’s candidacy.

Instead, the PQ shifted focus back over to the Charter, hoping to successfully use it as a wedge issue to weaken the PLQ and take voters from the CAQ. But the PQ’s Charter focus was hit by three incidents. Firstly, at the end of March, Janette Bertrand, a popular feminist comedian and writer, spoke at a PQ event to promote the Charter. She stressed that the Charter was essential to ensuring gender equality and that there was a religious fundamentalist ‘danger’ if it was not adopted. Then she told a story about ‘two men’ (rich, presumably Arab, students from McGill) who obtain from the apartment building’s owner a special men’s-only day at the pool, and several months later, Bertrand said, they have the pool all the time. She used this largely invented story (which has only one fact: that Bertrand goes to the pool at her apartment building to do aqua-gymnastics) to describe ‘le grugeage‘ (process of ‘chewing’ or ‘nibbling’) and the dangers of the absence of the Charter. Besides, the Charter would not apply to private businesses like Bertrand’s apartment building. Her comments were widely criticized. Later, Marois stated that she would use, if necessary, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to protect her Charter, after months of PQ claims that the Charter was compatible with the federal Charter. Finally, Marois confirmed that public employees could be fired if they did not respect the Charter’s secular dress code.

Panicking, the PQ tried to latch on to stupid and irrelevant issues. It accused Couillard, who worked as a neurosurgeon in Saudi Arabia, of not sufficiently criticizing the Kingdom’s human rights record. It then played on ‘alleged electoral irregularities’, with reports of ‘abnormally high’ numbers of Anglophones and allophones seeking to register to vote, so obviously the PQ blew the issue out of proportion with concern trolling.

The PLQ focused its campaign on economic issues, under the slogan ensemble on s’occupe des vraies affaires (together, addressing of the real issues); the term ‘real issues’ was also a direct criticism of the PQ’s alleged focused on identity politics, the threat of a third referendum and nationalism – which the PLQ implicitly defined as less important issues.

In terms of actual proposals, the PLQ’s platform (or the equivalent thereof, there does not seem to be a single document acting as platform, but rather a financial breakdown of major promises and a series of commitments, some of them micro-targeted to certain regions) focused on rather populist economic proposals to help create jobs and oriented towards the ‘middle class’. Like the PQ, the PLQ supported a rigorous management of government spending (a $1.3 billion in cuts) to return to a balanced budget as soon as possible. But it accused the PQ of mismanaging the economy, of having a poor record on job creation and cutting infrastructure spending instead of cutting in government administration. It proposed creating over 250,000 jobs over 5 years, reestablishing funding for the maintenance and modernization of infrastructures (cut by the PQ), introduce a tax credit for home renovations, creating a property savings plan to help people purchase their first homes, relaunching the Plan Nord (which the PLQ accuses the PQ of having destroyed), an ‘aggressive export strategy’ (to take advantage of the new FTA with the EU, and NAFTA), tax cuts and debt reduction with a budget surplus, a gradual elimination of the health tax over 4 years beginning in 2016-17, an indexation of daycare daily fees, reducing the bureaucracy in education and healthcare to ‘invest in patients and students’ and opening 24/7 ‘super clinics’. The PLQ also made a big deal of their ‘Maritime Strategy‘, with investments of over $7 billion, 30,000 new jobs and profits of over $3.5 billion over 15 years in Gaspésie, the Magdalen Islands and the Côte-Nord. The PLQ’s landmark strategy talked about developing maritime transport, tourism and supporting the fisheries industry. The PQ and independent economists criticized the PLQ’s costings and platform, notably for relying on predictions of high economic growth and unfounded assumptions.

To reinforce the party’s economic focus, the PLQ recruited a number of candidates with economic or financial backgrounds.

In their commitments, the PLQ makes no specific mention of language and identity issues, besides the usual platitudes. There is also no mention of the Charter or the issues that it raised; the PLQ is against the PQ’s Charter, but it is vague on what it wants instead. It talked of ‘guidelines’ for religious accommodations, and leaving it up to police chiefs to determine whether their officers may wear religious headgear and other symbols. Because of the PLQ’s extremely vague positioning on language issues and Couillard’s statements about bilingualism being an asset, the PQ and CAQ said that Couillard was incapable of defending Quebec values and the French language.

The PLQ also talked little of corruption and integrity, besides vaguely assuring voters that things had changed. During the second televised leaders debate, Couillard was attacked for his one-time association with Arthur Porter, the former head of the McGill University Health Center, who faces criminal charges over an alleged $22 million fraud and kickback scheme. He was arrested by Interpol in Panama in May 2013 and is awaiting extradition to Canada. He was also criticized for keeping an offshore bank account in Jersey while he was a doctor in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, which, while not illegal, gives a bad reputation.

The CAQ began the electoral campaign in an unfavourable position. After the party won 27% (but only 19 seats) in 2012, the CAQ began its campaign with only 15 to 16% support in polls, and in polls in the early half of the campaign, its support fell further to lows of 12-14%. Given the party’s rather inefficient vote distribution, such a low result could see the CAQ win only 4-6 seats, and CAQ leader François Legault faced a tough challenge from the PQ in his riding of L’Assomption, an historically péquiste area. The CAQ was also hurt by the retirement of two of its first term MNAs: Hélène Daneault (Groulx) and, above all, Jacques Duchesneau (Saint-Jérôme). Duchesneau, a former Montreal police chief and later a leader in the fight against corruption in Quebec since 2009, had been one of Legault’s leading star candidates in 2012 (as part of a heavy focus on integrity and ethics). Legault also lost Gaétan Barrette, a former president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (federation of medical specialists), who had run and lost for the CAQ in Terrebonne in 2012. Barrette ran for the PLQ in La Pinière, against ex-PLQ independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin (who was supported by the PQ, which ran no candidate in the solidly Liberal seat).

The CAQ is a vaguely centre-right party, which largely consists of vacuous platitudes balancing out to a right-wing lean. It was founded in 2011 by François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister and CEO of Air Transat until 1997. Legault resigned his seat as PQ MNA in 2009 but returned to politics with speculation that he would create a new centre-right party, which sought to go beyond the old federalist/separatist debate, opposed a new referendum and focused on more ‘urgent issues’. The conservative Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), founded in 1994 by right-leaning but autonomist/soft nationalist Liberals and a minor party under the leadership of Mario Dumont (the ADQ’s only MNA between 1994 and 2003) until it surged to become the second largest party in 2007. The ADQ, which was totally unprepared for prime team, did horrendously in opposition and the ADQ collapsed to 7 seats (from 41); Mario Dumont quickly retired from the party leadership, leaving the party without its historic leader and badly divided in the wake of a jumbled leadership contest. The ADQ merged into the CAQ; the ADQ’s remaining MNAs, led by ADQ leader Gérard Deltell, became the parliamentary backbone of the CAQ prior to the 2012 election, although it also welcomed three PQ defectors.

In this election, the CAQ presented itself as the ‘party of taxpayers’ and defended a conservative populist platform promising austerity, spending cuts, tax cuts, reducing the size of the bureaucracy but also a large project to make the St. Lawrence Valley into a new Silicon Valley. The CAQ’s platform decried Quebec’s high taxes and economic stagnation. It promised to return to a balanced budget as early as 2014-15, with major spending cuts in government expenditures, abolishing school boards and health agencies, reducing the size of the civil service through a 4-year hiring freeze, adopting a ‘taxpayers charter’ banning tax and utility price increases beyond the rate of inflation, abolishing the health and school taxes (projected to give ‘families’ $1,000), cutting the recent increase in electricity rates by half, limiting future increases in electricity rates and daycare prices to the rate of inflation, ending partisan nominations and exorbitant severance pays and fighting corruption. By cutting bureaucracy, the CAQ says it wants to improve services, notably in healthcare and education.

The CAQ’s landmark project, which headlined its platform, was the St. Lawrence Project, a major plan to turn the St. Lawrence into a ‘valley of innovation’ like the Silicon Valley, focusing on the high-tech and knowledge economy, with the promise of creating 100,000 ‘high quality’ jobs. The platform talked of stimulating investment and innovation, increasing the number of university graduates and a lot of vague statements about plans and policies. The costings for the project and the government’s role therein seemed extremely vague.

The CAQ has a mildly autonomist stance on the national question, which it styled as ‘Quebec first’ (as opposed to the PLQ’s ‘Canada first’ and the PQ’s ‘Quebec only’, in the CAQ’s words). It still opposes a referendum on independence. The CAQ supported the idea of a Charter, guaranteeing the religious neutrality of the province and gender equality, and banning judges, police officers, prison wardens but also school teachers and principals from wearing religious symbols. It also vaguely supported ‘respect for Quebec’s heritage’, which meant opposition to removing the crucifix from the National Assembly and protecting symbols associated with Christian religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. The CAQ’s platform also wished to limit federal spending power, seek a single tax return for Quebec (Quebec is the only province where taxpayers need to fill out two separate tax returns, for the federal and provincial governments) and eliminating costly duplication of services between the provincial government and Ottawa. While Legault attacked Couillard for his allegedly weak stance on the French language and has stated that French is ‘in danger’ in Montreal, the CAQ’s platform made no specific mention of linguistic legislation.

The CAQ had 122 candidates, failing to put up candidates in Soulanges, Saint-Laurent and Westmount-Saint-Louis.

Québec solidaire (QS), a left-wing nationalist party, was founded in 2006 by the merger of a political party, the Union of Progressive Forces (UFP, itself a coalition of three parties including the former Quebec NDP and the Communist Party of Quebec, PCQ), and a social movement, Option citoyenne. QS describes itself as a feminist, environmentalist, democratic and alter-globalist party supporting social justice, equality, pluralism and the independence of Quebec. QS claims to be the only left-wing party in Quebec, judging that the three major parties have become right-wing neoliberal parties. Since its foundation in 2006, QS has enjoyed significant success at the polls. In 2008, QS elected its first MNA, Amir Khadir, an Iranian-born doctor and one of QS’ two spokesperson at the time. In 2012, QS increased its vote share from 3.8% to 6% and elected its second MNA, Françoise David, a well-known feminist and QS spokesperson. The loss of much of the PQ’s left flank to QS has become a major electoral issue for the PQ, which has been split between strategies to attract left-wing votes from QS or by sacrificing a few left-wing votes to QS in exchange for attracting right-wing votes from the CAQ. The PQ often charges the QS of dividing the nationalist vote and QS voters of ‘wasting their votes’, but the idea that QS voters would just all vote PQ if QS wasn’t there is an extremely faulty one.

QS’ platform focused on three main themes: ‘a fair Quebec’, ‘a free Quebec’ and ‘a green Quebec’. Under the first theme, QS proposed to create additional tax brackets for high incomes, raise corporate taxes, restore the capital tax on financial institutions, offer financial aid to low-income families, move towards free post-secondary education within 5 years, creating a universal public drug insurance program, investing $400 million in healthcare over 4 years, transfer all subsidies from private to public schools by 2020, fighting precarious work conditions, creating a guaranteed minimum income (initially to be set at $12,600), creating 50,000 new green housing units, reducing class sizes and increasing the number and length of paid holidays. QS was the only major party which did not set a balanced budget as a priority; its financial framework called for a 4% annual increase in government expenditures, higher than any of the three other parties, and it opposed the idea of ‘zero deficit at all costs’. On environmental issues, QS supported reducing GHG emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 through a plan to stop using fossil fuels, and QS strongly opposes oil exploration on Anticosti Island, nuclear power and shale oil and gas. On the issue of natural resources, QS’ platform supported nationalizing production of strategic resources, increase the royalties paid by mining companies, strengthen environmental oversight and approval of mining projects. QS has been very critical of the PQ’s record on economic and environmental issues, decrying cuts in social services and programs by the PQ’s austerity-minded budgets and some of the PQ’s environmental policies, notably with regards to Anticosti Island.

QS supports the independence of Quebec, but it calls for it through the election of a constituent assembly which would draft a constitution for Quebec, which would be ratified by voters in a referendum. QS’ platform called for improving First Nations’ rights, opposing current free trade agreements, opposition to ‘imperialism’ and militarism and adopting a MMP electoral system. QS seeks to strengthen Bill 101 by broadening its scope, but QS is pro-immigration and it opposed the PQ’s Charter. QS criticized the Charter for dividing Quebecers and for ‘two-speed’ secularism.

QS had no electoral agreement with Option nationale (ON), a more ‘hardline’ separatist party founded by ex-PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant in 2011. ON’s first priority is independence, and the party’s line is that a ON majority government would be understood as a mandate to break constitutional ties with Canada by repatriating powers over laws, treaties and taxes from Ottawa, before drafting a constitution confirming Quebec’s independence and ratifying said constitution in a referendum. Although ON says that independence is neither left nor right, the rest of ON’s platform leans to the left, similar to QS, supporting free education, the nationalization of natural resources, a public drug insurance program and opposition to private healthcare. In 2011, ON and QS had a non-aggression pact, with neither party opposing the other’s leader(s) in their constituencies. Aussant lost reelection in his riding of Nicolet-Bécancour and ON’s profile in the media declined significantly, and in June 2013 Aussant left ON’s leadership to accept a job at Morgan Stanley in London. The major differences between ON and QS is over the priority assigned to independence: QS supports independence, but it is much less of a priority, often featuring below goals of social justice. ON ran 116 candidates. QS ran candidates in every constituency except Nelligan.

The new Conservative Party of Quebec, founded in 2009, ran 59 candidates. The PCQ is led by Adrien Pouliot, a former ADQ member and conservative economist. It is federalist and right-wing.

The Green Party of Quebec (PVQ), which won 3.9% in 2007 and 2.2% in 2008, has been struggling for years with unstable leadership and poor electoral results. In 2012, the PVQ ran only 66 candidates and won 1% of the vote across the province. Under a new leader, Alex Tyrrell, the party now proclaims itself as an ecosocialist party. The PVQ claims to be the only party uniting federalists and separatists, who place a common emphasis on environmental issues. The PVQ ran only 44 candidates.

Results

Turnout was 71.43%, down from 74.6% in 2012 but still far higher than the 2008 record low, which saw only 57.4%. Compared to other provincial elections, turnout in Quebec’s provincial elections is significantly higher, with turnout in the 70% range since 2003, with the exception of 2008 (an ‘unwanted’ election called by the PLQ to regain a majority government, only a bit after a year from the last election, with no suspense or major issues in the campaign). The higher turnout indicates the greater interest of Quebecers in provincial politics compared to other provinces, which isn’t very surprising.

PLQ 41.52% (+10.32%) winning 70 seats (+20)
PQ 25.38% (-6.57%) winning 30 seats (-24)
CAQ 23.05% (-4%) winning 22 seats (+3)
QS 7.63% (+1.6%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ON 0.73% (-1.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green 0.55% (-0.44%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Conservative 0.39% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.36% (+0.09%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.39% (+0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)

qc 2014

 

The Quebec Liberals, only 18 months after losing power, were returned to government with a wide majority government. What the PQ expected to be an election which would return them to power with a majority government ended up being a major rout for the PQ, which throws the PQ into disarray and forces péquiste leaders and supporters to ask themselves some tough questions.

The 2014 election will go down in history as an excellent example of an horribly run electoral campaign, which turned what could have been a comfortable victory into a terrible rout. The PQ called the election optimistic that it would be able to win a majority government. Since the summer of 2013, after a tough start, Marois’ government had finally found its cruising altitude and had steadily eaten into the Liberal opposition’s sizable lead over the PQ before finally stealing the lead themselves. Polls at election call favoured the PQ: even if the popular vote matchup between the PQ and PLQ was tight, the PQ’s net advantage over the Liberals in the Francophone vote, the historic inefficiency of the Liberal’s vote distribution and the CAQ’s loses allowed the PQ to be confident that it would win a majority. In late February, Marois also sought to take advantage of the PLQ’s disarray bred by the debate over the Charter. PLQ MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin had just left the Liberal caucus with a bang, seriously weakening Couillard’s leadership and giving the image of a party which was divided and incoherent over a major political issue.

In the first days of the campaign, the PQ’s recruitment of Pierre Karl Péladeau as a candidate made headlines and was a major coup for the PQ. In the second half of Marois’ government, the PQ had taken the decision to reorient more towards the centre/centre-right, targeting CAQ voters, at the expense of less important loses on the left to QS. With PKP’s candidacy, the PQ aimed to appeal to CAQ voters and to gain a clear advantage over the PLQ and CAQ on economic issues, strengthening the PQ’s ‘economic credibility’. However, perhaps to calm the queasiness of the PQ’s left-wing and QS, PKP’s entrée en scène came with a stirring declaration of attachment to sovereigntist values (the infamous PKP fist pump and ‘Dean Scream’-like moment of faire du Québec un pays!). To many voters, opposed to a referendum, it really appeared as if the PQ was running on a third referendum if it was reelected. Despite the PQ and Marois’ later reassurances that there was no commitment to a quick referendum within the government’s term and that there would be no referendum until the people were ready and the conditions assembled, the damage had already been done and the incident flash polarized the electorate. The CAQ, which included a lot of voters who had backed the Liberals in 2008 and a plurality of CAQ supporters, in polls, indicated that the Liberals were their second choice, bled towards the PLQ, although some soft nationalists likely shifted from the PQ to the CAQ at this point. At this point, Couillard and the Liberals’ slogan of taking care of les vraies affaires began to benefit the Liberals. The PLQ seized on the fear/threat of an unwanted third referendum, accusing the PQ of focusing on divisive issues and issues of lesser importance rather than the ‘real issues’ (like the economy, healthcare, education, jobs) which polls showed to be the top issues in voters’ minds. The Liberal federalist base was mobilized by the threat of a referendum, even if in reality the threat was no greater than it was pre-PKP fist pump.

Marois applying the brakes on the referendum idea failed to have an effect. The Liberal base was already strongly mobilized. The PQ’s hardcore nationalist base was now losing enthusiasm (again) for Marois and demobilizing. The CAQ regained some lost votes from the PQ, while QS consolidated gains it had made from the PQ’s left after PKP’s candidacy.

The Charter was, by the looks of how the PQ played it, designed to be an electoral wedge issue to benefit the PQ rather than an actual policy which the PQ genuinely wanted to see passed rapidly with a large consensus. If the PQ had wanted to pass the Charter rapidly, it could probably have done so, given that there was wide agreement between the parties on the major goals of the Charter – the secularism of the state, affirmation of gender equality, the ban on receiving public services if one’s face was veiled, covered or masked. Instead, the PQ began using the Charter as a wedge issue, hoping to mobilize a culturally nationalist and conservative electorate, with a primal fear of multiculturalism (defined by many as a threat to Quebec’s French Catholic character) and Muslim immigration. Initially, the PQ was fairly good at playing the Charter as a wedge issue, as evidenced by the major division in the PLQ. However, during the campaign, the PQ’s decision to refocus the rhetoric on the Charter in a hope to forget the referendum frenzy failed. As mentioned above, the Charter blew up in the PQ’s face. On the left, many left-nationalist and progressive voters, strongly opposed to the Charter, moved towards or stayed with QS, which consolidated its gains with the PQ’s urban left/progressive flank. The Janette Bertrand story, the announcement that the PQ might need to use the notwithstanding clause to protect the Charter (despite Bernard Drainville having previously stated that the Charter was in line with the federal Charter) and the confirmation that people would be fired for breaking the Charter’s dress code (an issue on which a lot of people, including Charter supporters, had reservations with). The Charter’s more moderate supporters moved towards the CAQ, and solidified the Liberal hold on its base.

The PQ failed to benefit from the issue of corruption, which had been a major factor in the PLQ’s defeat (of sorts) in 2012. The PQ could no longer exploit the issue because it too had been targeted by some allegations at the Charbonneau commission; Marois’ own husband, a businessman, had come up in allegations of a political deal between him and the FTQ, Quebec’s largest labour union and later in allegations that he had sought donations from engineering firms to Marois’ 2007 PQ leadership campaign. The election call came days before Marois and her husband were due to attend a parliamentary hearing. The Liberals were lucky that the election came before the press revealed that Charest’s former Deputy Premier (Nathalie Normandeau, who resigned in 2012) was at the heart of a criminal conspiracy (construction companies bought themselves favours by illegally funding the PLQ) and that one incumbent PLQ MNA and three ex-MNAs were being investigated by the anti-corruption unit (UPAC).

The result was a disaster for the PQ, which was largely of its own making. The PQ won only 25.4% of the vote, which is the PQ’s worst result since 1970, the PQ’s first election in which the party won 23.1%; it is the lowest amount of votes received by the PQ since 1973 and the lowest number of seats won by the party since 1989. After the shortest provincial government since Confederation in 1867, Marois’ PQ government also becomes the first government to lose reelection since the Union Nationale (UN) government of 1966-1970, which lost reelection to the PLQ in 1970. Marois, like Charest before her, was defeated in her own constituency. The defeat raises some pretty existential questions for the PQ and its cause. In an election which inadvertently became a ‘referendum on a referendum’, the PQ was soundly defeated on the opposition of a large portion of the electorate to a third referendum. The issue isn’t dead, given that a significant share of the electorate – about 30% – are still attached to the old cause of Quebec independence. The PQ’s base is largely made up of such faithfuls to the cause. Nevertheless, for the past couple of years, the PQ and broader nationalist movement (including the federal Bloc Québécois) have struggled to come to terms with the electorate’s diminishing appetite for talks of a referendum, independence and even linguistic/cultural identity issues. The Bloc’s thumping in 2011 was the first major blow to the nationalist movement, and a year out from the next federal election, nothing indicates that the BQ will perform significantly better in 2015 than it did in 2011. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was a victory by default, with a lower share of the vote than in the 2008 election despite a dreaded, unpopular and exhausted Liberal government. The PQ has been defined and held together by the issue of nationalism and independence; with clear signs that the PQ loses when it talks about independence and referendum, the PQ faces an existential question. With declining support for the cause, can the PQ survive as a major party without redefining itself?

The catastrophic sense of this defeat for the PQ and its cause stems from the generational challenges of the PQ. A blog post by UdeM public opinion specialist Claire Durand during the campaign showed the aging nature of the nationalist PQ base: in 1979, support for independence was strongest (63%) with voters aged 18 to 34, and weakest with older voters (36% with those 35 to 54, 22% with those over 55); in 2013, 41.5% of voters over 55 supported independence against 45% of those over 35 and 39% of those less than 35. Léger Marketing’s last poll, which was relatively accurate (38 PLQ, 29 PQ, 23 CAQ, 9 QS), showed that the PQ’s support tended to increase with age: with those between 18 to 24, the PQ registered only 19% of voting intentions, placing fourth behind the Liberals (37%), QS (22%) and CAQ (21%). The PQ’s strongest support, in that poll, came with those 55 to 64, the only age group where the PQ led the Liberals, with 37% against 31% for the Liberals and 24% for the CAQ. The PQ also polled 35% with those 45-54 and 31% with those over 65. With young adults and younger middle-aged voters – those between the ages of 25 and 44 – the PQ was a distant third behind the PLQ and PQ. There are, therefore, increasing indications that the PQ and its cause is supported by older voters, likely those young, dedicated and faithful nationalists of the 1970s who have grown older. The Charter debate didn’t do the PQ any favours on the left, with non-Francophones and with minorities. PKP’s candidacy, which ended up hurting the PQ, may have done serious damage to the PQ’s traditional identification as a social democratic party and ally of organized labour. With the rise of QS, which the PQ has failed to check since 2007, the PQ no longer has the monopoly on the nationalist vote.

Again, the PQ needs to ask itself what its future is. The problem is that it cannot totally abandon independence, because a large portion of the PQ’s militant base remains very attached to the cause and any PQ leader who once again tries to place independence on the backburner as Lévesque did in 1984 with the beau risque or Marois in 2011-12 will find himself faced with the wrath of a good part of the caucus and the base. However, because of this, the PQ is in a bit of a dead-end, because focus on independence doesn’t sell well right now (and hasn’t really sold well for about a decade now). The challenge for the PQ is to find a way to retain the nationalist base’s loyalty while also expanding the PQ’s appeal to middle-of-the-road voters who just don’t care about independence and don’t want a third referendum. That’s easier said than done.

With 70 seats, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals has won a solid majority government which will last until the fall of 2018. Despite being a rookie campaigner, Couillard ran a fairly successful campaign, even if a lot of the PLQ’s victory owes to the PQ’s disastrous campaign rather than a particularly good Liberal campaign. Couillard’s own campaign was assisted by the expertise of former Liberal Premier Daniel Johnson Jr., who played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the PLQ’s victorious campaign. Couillard faced several major challenges during the campaign, particularly in the debates where he was attacked for his links to Arthur Porter, the conditions in which he left politics for the private sector in 2008 and the PLQ’s weak stance on the French language. Nevertheless, none of those attacks really took their toll on the Liberal leader.

Couillard personally won his risky gamble by standing in Roberval, a traditionally péquiste seat in the Saguenay, known as one of the most nationalist regions of Quebec. Couillard had represented the Montreal-area riding of Mont-Royal between 2003 and 2007, before winning reelection in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon in 2008 and returning to the National Assembly late last year with a by-election in the Montreal riding of Outremont. Couillard wanted to be elected for Roberval because he lives in Saint-Félicien (where his wife is from) and really enjoys hunting in the region. Politically, it was a risky gamble for Couillard, who would likely not have won the seat if the PQ had won the election but may also have lost, like Robert Bourassa in 1985, despite winning the election. In that sense, some have speculated that it was an up-or-out decision: if he wins, that would mean that the PLQ has won the province and he becomes Premier; if he loses, that likely would have meant that the PLQ lost and Couillard would have had an easy exit. Ultimately, Couillard won handily, winning 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. In 2012, the PQ won 46.7% in Roberval against 28.4% for the Liberals.

The Liberals were hugely successful at mobilizing their base. The core, rock-solid Liberal vote – that is, ethnic minorities and the Anglos – were motivated and mobilized to vote by the threat of the referendum and the unpopularity of the PQ’s Charter with non-Francophones. Although turnout decreased province-wide, turnout increased significantly in solidly Liberal ridings on Montreal Island, Greater Montreal and the Outaouais with a significant Anglo and/or allophone majority/minority. In Robert-Baldwin, a seat in Montreal’s West Island, turnout increased from 69.1% to 77%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a plurality Jewish riding in Montreal and the safest Liberal seat in the province, turnout increased from 65.8% to 72.1%. Overall, all ridings where turnout increased, often quite significantly, have a significant Anglophone or allophone population. In Francophone ridings, turnout decreased, with the steepest decreases in traditionally PQ strongholds of the Laurentides, Lanaudière, Montérégie, Centre-du-Québec and Gaspésie. In their strongholds, the Liberals faced even weaker opposition than in 2012 or past years. For example, in D’Arcy-McGee, where the PLQ had won 84.7% in 2012, it won 92.1%. The CAQ, which had polled decently (comparatively) in Anglo ridings in 2012, suffered some particularly significant loses in those same places this year. The PQ, which was already at a floor, stayed at its usual lows. QS lost support in many of these ridings, while the Greens – in 2007 and 2008 they’d been distant seconds to the Liberals in a lot of Anglo ridings – had no presence.

The CAQ can be quite pleased with its performance. The party came in the campaign with low poll numbers and most predictions placing them with no more than a handful of seats, against 19 seats in 2012. It ended up winning 22 seats – that is, a net gain of 3 seats since 2012, although the CAQ’s popular vote did fall by 4% to 23.1%. The CAQ, as in 2012, benefited from a fairly good campaign. Support for the CAQ increased in the final days of the campaign, in the aftermath of a strong debate performance by Legault (pounding Couillard on language and Marois on referendums) in the second televised leaders’ debate, as the PQ campaign continued to falter. Standing at about 15% as late as March 23, the CAQ grew to 18-19% (March 31-April 1), 21% (EKOS, April 3), 23% (Léger and Forum, April 3) and 25% (Angus-Reid, April 4). The CAQ’s gains in the final stretch came primarily from the PQ, which definitely fell below the 28-30% range.

The CAQ saw loses to the Liberals compensated, partially, by gains from the PQ. According to Forum’s last poll, 15% of the PQ’s 2008 voters said they were going to vote for the CAQ, compensating for the 29% of the CAQ’s 2008 voters who said they were going to vote for the Liberals. The results confirmed this: in terms of seats lost, the CAQ lost five seats to the Liberals – all but four of them in the Quebec City area (the final one, La Prairie, is in Montreal’s suburban South Shore), and one seat to the PQ (Saint-Jérôme, where CAQ star candidate/MNA Jacques Duchesneau was retiring and PKP picked up the seat for the PQ; it was the only seat to be gained by the PQ). In the Quebec City area, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PLQ. In contrast, the CAQ gained 9 seats from the PQ – ridings located in the 450 suburbs of Montreal, in the North Shore, the South Shore and the more rural areas of Montérégie and Centre-du-Québec. The CAQ’s vote held up remarkably well in these seats (with the exception of the CAQ-held seats of Groulx and Blainville), and the party benefited from a significant decline in the PQ’s vote share to gain these seats. In almost all of these seats, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PQ rather than the PLQ. In his riding of L’Assomption, Legault was reelected with an expanded majority – he won 49.4% against 30.4% for PQ star candidate Pierre Paquette, a former senior Bloc MP for Joliette, defeated by the Orange Crush in 2011. In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained three seats for the PQ, so that the CAQ now holds a majority of the North Shore suburban seats.

The CAQ’s performance on election night was interesting: as the first results came in, the CAQ was performing very poorly and for most of the night, it seemed as if the CAQ would lose seats. There was a late surge, as later results streamed in, which saw the CAQ steadily climb in the seat count; an unusual event on an election night. This may indicate that the CAQ performed poorly in advance voting, which were likely the first ballots to be counted after polls closed; advance voting began on March 28, before the CAQ climbed in the polls. Votes cast on election day were likely significantly better for the CAQ than those cast beforehand. Perhaps if all votes had been cast on election day, the CAQ may have formed the official opposition…

QS once again improved its result, gaining over 1% in the popular vote since 2012 and gaining their third seat – the downtown Montreal riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, where perennial QS candidate Manon Massé, a fairly well-known feminist and social activist, was narrowly victorious with 30.6% against 30.3% for the PLQ and 27.6% for incumbent PQ MNA Daniel Breton, an environmentalist who briefly served as Minister of the Environment before being dumped over some petty ethics concern. Both QS incumbents – Amir Khadir in Mercier and Françoise David in Gouin – were reelected to their third and second terms respectively, with David winning 51% and Khadir taking 46.2%. QS also performed very well in Laurier-Dorion, where QS co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla won 27.7%, and the PQ stronghold of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where QS won 30.6%, coming threateningly close to the PQ (30.6%). QS placed a strong third with 18.7% in Rosemont. However, outside these Montreal ridings which now form QS’ strongest ridings, QS largely stagnated on Montreal Island and fell back in some of the Montreal PLQ strongholds. In the regions, QS’ support generally held up or gained marginally.

Regional results

There was some significant movement in Montreal (the island itself), traditionally extremely polarized between Liberals and PQ, with little change from election to election and only a tiny number of actual swing seats. This year, the PLQ won well over 50% of the vote on Montreal Island, and gained one seat from the PQ – Crémazie, traditionally the only consistent marginal riding disputed between the PQ and the PLQ. Crémazie, which largely covers the Ahuntsic neighborhood in northern Montreal (please note that I’m using Montreal’s demented and totally bizarre compass rather than the normal compass directions), had been held by the PQ since 2007, and in 2012, Diane De Courcy won the seat with a solid majority of 10% over former federal Liberal MP Elena Bakopanos. De Courcy was Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities in the PQ government. She won 31.6% against 39% for PLQ candidate Marie Montpetit. In Crémazie, the PQ has solid support in Ahuntsic, a Francophone middle-class neighborhood, but the PLQ has strong support in areas with a larger visible minority or Italian population (immigrants make up 28% of the riding’s population).

QS gained its third seat, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, with 30.6% for QS candidate Manon Massé, who was finally successful in her fifth candidacy in the riding. The Liberals increased their support by nearly 11 points, winning 30.3% of the vote, placing second ahead of PQ incumbent Daniel Breton, who won just 27.6%, down from 35.8% in 2012 and 46.6% in 2008. The riding is fairly demographically similar to QS’ two other seats in Montreal: Mercier (which borders the riding to the north) and Gouin – that is, largely gentrified, young adults, well-educated, professionals (with high percentages employed in the arts, culture, education, social assistance). QS is particularly strong in the riding’s part of the municipal borough of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal – the stereotypical gentrified bobo borough of Montreal, but finds strong support in the Gay Village and Sainte-Marie (an historically French working-class neighborhood). The riding, predominantly Francophone (67% mother tongue), had been held by the PQ since the riding’s creation in 1989. The Liberals having been traditionally a distant second behind the PQ (28.2% in 2008), it was a major surprise to see them come in a very close second ahead of the PQ. The Liberals are strong in the revitalized areas of the Old Port and Old Montreal, with high-end condos and apartments.

QS easily held both its seats, Gouin and Mercier, which cover the gentrified and bobo neighborhoods in the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie. QS’ other major target was Laurier-Dorion, where QS’ extraparliamentary co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla ran, having placed a solid third with over 24% of the vote in 2012. This year, QS increased its vote share to 27.7%, sending the PQ tumbling down from 26.4% to 15.9%. However, while QS finds strong support in Villeray, a newer gentrified bobo neighborhood with demographics similar to that of the QS strongholds, the riding is a much tougher nut to crack: the Liberals, who won 46.2% (up from 34.1% in 2012), have an extremely solid hold on Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant (traditionally Greek, nowadays more South Asian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan) neighborhood (46% of the entire riding’s population are allophones, and immigrants/visible minorities constitute a large majority in Parc-Extension itself). While the Liberals placed third in Villeray in 2012, they retained well over 70% of the vote in Parc-Extension.

With the loss of two seats in Montreal, the PQ is left with only four seats on the island – and three of them were won by less than ten points. QS came within 4 points of winning Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (30.6% vs 34.9% for the PQ), historically a low-income Francophone working-class neighborhood, although with gentrification and younger residents seeking affordable housing, it is more mixed socially now. In Rosemont, the PQ Minister of International Relations Jean-François Lisée, a former journalist first elected in 2012, was reelected with 34.3% against 30% for the Liberals and 18.7% for QS. In Bourget, PQ Minister of Culture Maka Kotto was reelected with 37.8% against 28.9% for the PLQ.

In 2012, the Liberals had narrowly held Verdun and Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the two generally Liberal-leaning seats on the Island in which the PQ usually has some potential. Both seats include a mix of old linguistically-diverse working-class neighborhoods (Irish, Francophone or blacks in Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri, Pointe-Saint-Charles and Verdun) which have all seen major gentrification in recent years, and affluent areas (especially Nun’s Island, high-end condos and mansions, in the riding of Verdun); the Liberals usually have the edge, thanks to solid margins in the affluent polls of Nun’s Islands or the allophone/Anglo areas of Griffintown and Little Burgundy. In 2012, the PQ had fallen short by 1.6% and 6.4% respectively. This year, the Liberals won both seats with huge majorities: 26.2% and 30.6% respectively, polling over 50% in both ridings. In Verdun, Liberal star candidate Jacques Daoust, the former president of Investissement Québec, won 50.6% against only 24.4% for PQ star candidate Lorraine Pintal, a former theater director. In 2012, Liberal MNA Henri-François Gautrin (a former provincial NDP leader, who was forced to retire by Couillard) won 35.4% against 33.8% for former Bloc MP Thierry St-Cyr. In Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the PQ won only 21.9%. The Liberals also expanded their majority in Anjou-Louis-Riel, a middle-class suburban riding in eastern Montreal: what was a 9-point lead for the PLQ in 2012 turned into a hefty 28% majority this year.

The Liberals had no trouble holding their other Montreal seats; which are predominantly affluent Anglophone ridings, allophone immigrant areas or ethnic suburbs – in other words, the safest Liberal ridings possible. In Outremont, a riding which includes the affluent town of Outremont (a rather mixed area; with bobo areas in the Mile End giving strong results to QS, some Hassidic Jewish areas and upper middle-class Francophones), the Francophone Université de Montréal and parts of the immigrant-heavy neighborhood of Côte-des-Neiges, the Liberal candidate, Hélène David (a former deputy minister and academic, who is the sister of QS MNA Françoise David), won 56.3% against 16.9% for QS and 14.6% for the PQ. In Robert-Baldwin, which mostly covers the affluent and predominantly Anglophone/allophone suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, PLQ star candidate Carlos Leitao, a renowned economist from the Laurentian Bank who is groomed to become finance minister, won 87.3%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a 43% Jewish riding centered around the affluent and majority-Jewish municipalities of Hampstead and Côte-Saint-Luc, the PLQ won 92.1% of the vote – the strongest Liberal result in years in what is the safest Liberal seat in the province (and probably one of the safest seats for any party in a Western democracy).

The CAQ remained weak on the Island, with sharp loses to the Liberals in the West Island but a stronger resistance in the péquiste-leaning areas in the east. The CAQ’s best result, 24%, came from Pointe-aux-Trembles, a heavily Francophone residential suburban area (it is also the only seat which we can still say is safe for the PQ) at the eastern extremity of the island which is demographically closer to off-island suburbs in the 450 than to other parts of Montreal.

The Liberals swept all six seats in Laval, holding four seats and gaining two from the PQ. In Laval-des-Rapides, a middle-class suburban area, PQ MNA Léo Bureau-Blouin, one of the main student leaders in the 2012 protests, was defeated after only one term in office. The Liberals won 44.2% against 31.2% for the PQ. In Sainte-Rose, a growing mishmash of older suburbs and new cookie-cutter subdivisions, the Liberals increased their support from 28.5% to 42.2%, going from third to first place. The PQ won 27.3% and the CAQ, which had placed second with 29.6% in 2012, won 24.1%. The Liberals held their four other seats, winning over 50% in all of them and peaking at 73% in Chomedey, a plurality allophone riding. In Mille-Îles, a seat at the eastern extremity of the island, PQ star candidate Djemila Benhabib, a writer known for her opposition to Muslim fundamentalism, was defeated by the PLQ incumbent, losing by about 25 points (25.5% to 50.5%). She has already been defeated in 2012, standing in Trois-Rivières.

On the South Shore suburbs of Montreal, the PQ faced serious challenges from both the CAQ and the Liberals. The PQ lost Chambly and Borduas, two upper middle-class Francophone outer suburbs/exurbs of Montreal. The CAQ won 34.2% and 33.5% respectively, their vote holding up compared to 2012; it was the collapse of the PQ, which lost 7% and 6% respectively, which allowed the CAQ to gain those seats. The CAQ held Montarville, the wealthiest riding in the province, surviving a close challenge from the PLQ, winning 35% to 31.3%. However, the CAQ lost La Prairie, another very affluent suburban riding; the riding is something of a three-way tossup, with the Liberals and CAQ holding a strong base in the new McMansion-type subdivisions in Candiac and La Prairie while older and slightly less affluent neighborhoods lean to the PQ. The CAQ, which had won the new riding by 0.2% over the PQ in 2012, lost by 1.4% although their vote remained stable. The PQ held the ridings of Vachon (Saint-Hubert), Taillon, Marie-Victorin (Longueuil) and Sanguinet (Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Constant). In Marie-Victorin, a low-income riding which covers the poorest parts of the older suburban city of Longueuil, Bernard Drainville, the PQ minister behind the Charter, was handily reelected with 38.2% against 26.1% for the PLQ. However, in Vachon, which covers the middle-class suburb of Saint-Hubert, PQ MNA Martine Ouellet held on by barely half a percentage point against the PLQ, winning 33.1% to 32.6%. In Taillon, which mixes poorer parts of Longueuil (leaning towards the the PQ) with some affluent subdivisions (closely divided, especially between PLQ and CAQ), the PQ won by only 3.8% over the Liberals – after having won it by 12 points in 2012, over the CAQ. In Sanguinet, the PQ won by a small margin of 3.3% over the CAQ. The Liberals faced no trouble in their ridings. Former cabinet minister and unsuccessful leadership contender Pierre Moreau was easily reelected in Châteauguay (a middle-class suburban riding with a significant Anglo population, at 22%), taking 49.6%. In Laporte, a riding which includes the affluent leafy Francophone suburb of Saint-Lambert and the historically Anglophone suburb of Greenfield Park, the PLQ won 47.7%. In La Pinière (Brossard), the safest Liberal seat on the South Shore (with over 50% of Anglophones and allophones and 38% of visible minorities, with a large middle-class Chinese immigrant community), PLQ star candidate Gaétan Barrette (who had ran for the CAQ in 2012), who will likely become health minister under Couillard, won 58.3%, soundly defeating PLQ-turned-independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin, who won only 23.5%. The PQ, which had won 17.9% in the riding two years ago, likely provided the bulk of her support. With PLQ support increasing by nearly 10 points, she seemingly won a totally different electorate than the one which had backed her in 2012.

The PQ held the exurban ridings of Beauharnois (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Beauharnois) and Verchères (Varennes, Sainte-Julie), with 38.8% and 42.6% respectively. The latter is a heavily Francophone affluent exurban area, extending into more rural areas outside Montreal’s CMA (metro area as defined by the census), while the former mostly lies outside the CMA and is a poorer, historically working-class area.

In the rest of Montérégie, the PQ lost two other seats to the CAQ – Iberville and Saint-Hyacinthe, both homogeneously Francophone ridings centered around small or medium-sized towns, historically nationalist and divided between the PQ and CAQ. The PQ held on against a tough challenge from the CAQ in Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), holding the seat by only 1%. The CAQ easily held Granby, with incumbent MNA François Bonnardel, first elected for the ADQ in 2007, winning 53% – the CAQ’s best result in any riding. The PQ held Richelieu, a riding centered around the old industrial steel town of Sorel-Tracy, with a 12 point majority. The Liberals easily held their own seats – Brome-Missisquoi (16.6% majority over the CAQ) and Huntingdon (24.9% majority over the CAQ) along the American border (both still have small but significant Anglophone minorities); Soulanges (23% majority over the PQ, with no CAQ candidate) and Vaudreuil (45% majority over the PQ) in suburban Montreal (Vaudreuil has a large Anglo minority, making up over a quarter of the population and a majority in Hudson, it also includes many new affluent subdivisions, Soulanges has a smaller Anglo minority, especially in Saint-Lazare).

In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained four seats from the PQ. Quasi-homogeneously Francophone and rather affluent middle-class suburbia, the North Shore has tended to be a strongly péquiste sovereigntist stronghold which gave very strong results to the oui in the 1995. However, in recent years, the North Shore has become a perfect example of a Francophone and historically nationalist region which has lost interest in the ‘national question’ and adopted apathetic attitudes towards the issue. In 2007, the ADQ swept the entire North Shore suburbs, taking out all PQ incumbents (as well as the sole PLQ incumbent, in Groulx), but the PQ regained the whole region one year later in the 2008 election. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP swept the region with some of its best results in the province – hovering around 50%. In 2012, the CAQ performed very well in the North Shore, with many gains at the expense of the Liberals (especially in the most affluent communities, such as Rosemère and Lorraine, which had voted PLQ in 2008 but shifted to the CAQ in 2012), but the PQ nevertheless held most of its seats – the CAQ only won Groulx, Blainville and L’Assomption (with François Legault), as well as Saint-Jérôme (with anti-corruption star candidate Jacques Duchesneau), which comes closer to being a regional town in its own right rather than just a suburb. This year, with the PQ’s collapse, the CAQ – with results very similar to 2012 (except in Blainville and Groulx, where the CAQ suffered major loses with retiring incumbents), was able to gain four seats. It only lost Saint-Jérôme, won by PKP for the PQ. In Groulx, the one-term CAQ incumbent was retiring, resulting in a real three-way race, which switched back-and-forth throughout the night. The CAQ won 30.9%, losing nearly 8 points from 2012, while the Liberals gained 10 points, surging from barely 20% to 30.2%. PQ star candidate Martine Desjardins, a former student leader (FÉUQ), placed third with 30%. In Blainville, which the CAQ had won by nearly 6 points in 2012 (with PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent Daniel Ratthé), the seat was left open by the retirement of Ratthé, who was expelled from the CAQ caucus in 2013 after allegations surrounding corruption and illegal financing of a mayoral campaign back in 2005. Former Bloc MP Mario Laframboise, who had previously run, unsuccesfully, for the CAQ in 2012 in Argenteuil, was elected with 33.9% against 29.5% for the Liberals and 29.4% for the PQ – compared to 2012, the CAQ lost over 7 points while the PLQ gained nearly 14 points. In L’Assomption, which Legault had won with a narrow 2.6% majority over the PQ in 2012, he was reelected with 49.4% and a 19% majority over the PQ, despite a very strong PQ candidate – former Bloc MP Pierre Paquette. The CAQ gained neighboring Repentigny, with a 3-point majority; Masson (Mascouche) with a 1.6% majority; Deux-Montagnes, with former MNA Benoit Charette (a PQ-turned-CAQ defector, defeated in 2012 by the PQ) regaining his old seat with a 2% majority and Mirabel, with a majority of nearly 5% over the PQ. The only seat which the PQ retained was Terrebonne, where young PQ MNA Mathieu Traversy narrowly survived, with a 1.8% majority.

The only seat in the province gained by the PQ was Saint-Jérôme, where Péladeau took 36.8% (a result slightly lower than that won by the PQ in 2012) against 31.5% for the CAQ.

In the rest of the Laurentians, the PQ held their strongholds of Labelle and Bertrand handily, with majorities over 10% in both and no less than 45% of the vote in Labelle. The Liberals regained Argenteuil, a traditionally Liberal seat (with a small Anglo minority) which the PQ gained in a 2012 by-election and held in the general elections. The PLQ regained the seat with a 6.5% majority. In the rest of Lanaudière, a traditional péquiste stronghold, the PQ held their three seats, but in Rousseau, finance minister Nicolas Marceau, who had narrowly won his seat against a surprisingly strong CAQ performance in 2012, was reelected with a bare 2 point majority. Similarly, major loses for the PQ in Berthier significantly reduced the PQ’s majority over the CAQ. Only in Joliette did the PQ retain a comfortable majority, with social services minister Véronique Hivon, who had become quite popular for piloting the consensual euthanasia bill, holding a 17 point majority and winning 44.3% of the vote.

Once again, the PLQ swept the Outaouais‘ five seats by large margins. In addition to a significant Anglophone minority (making up 35% of the population in the riding of Pontiac, concentrated in small towns along the Ottawa River), the Francophone population of the region is the least nationalist/péquiste of any region of Quebec (with an estimated Francophone yes vote of only 34% in 1995) because a lot of them are public servants employed by the federal government in Ottawa or Gatineau (and, for obvious reasons, strongly oppose Quebec independence). The provincial Liberals have swept every seat in the region since 1981, and they increased their majorities in all seats in 2014. The majorities in Papineau and Hull had been within 10 points in 2012 (in fact, the PLQ had held Papineau by only 167 votes against the PQ); this year, the PLQ won over 50% of the vote in every riding – from 50.4% in Papineau (with a 26% majority) to nearly 76% in Pontiac.

The Liberals gained two seats from the PQ in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The PLQ won Abitibi-Est and Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, two seats which it had lost to the PQ in 2012. It now holds majorities of 10.5% and 5.7% respectively. The PQ only held Abitibi-Ouest, where François Gendron, who has held the seat since 1976, was reelected with a 7.5% majority. He is now the longest-serving MNA in Quebec’s history.

In the Eastern Townships, it was a clean sweep for the Liberals, who gained two seats from the PQ and easily held their other seats. In Sherbrooke, Premier Charest’s old seat until his defeat by former Bloc MP Serge Cardin in 2012, the PLQ gained the seat with a 5.6% majority over the PQ. In 2012, there had been a lot of anti-Charest strategic voting for the PQ, which seriously dragged down the CAQ and QS, both of which made substantial gains this year at the PQ’s expense. In Saint-François, a riding which takes in some of Sherbrooke’s suburbs (Fleurimont, which was the PQ’s main base in 2012), the Anglophone borough of Lennoxville, the towns of Compton and Coaticook and some Anglo villages, PQ health minister Réjean Hébert, who had narrowly gained the seat from the PLQ in 2012, was defeated, taking 33% to the PLQ’s 38.5%. In the other PLQ-held ridings, all incumbents held on handily, despite PQ hopes in Mégantic and Richmond. In Mégantic, which includes Lac-Mégantic, the site of the train tragedy last year, the PQ ran Isabelle Hallé, the president of the regional chamber of commerce and a key player in reconstruction efforts. She won only 29.7% against 40.8% for the PLQ incumbent; although the PQ’s losses in the riding were significantly lesser than those in the rest of the province, perhaps signaling some positive impact for the PQ of the recovery efforts. In Richmond, Liberal MNA Karine Vallière (the daughter of former long-time PLQ MNA Yvon Vallières), who had won the seat by less than 300 votes over the PQ in 2012 (her victory owed a lot to strong margins in the asbestos mining town of Asbestos, where she is from and where the future of asbestos mining is a huge issue, which usually benefits the local PLQ), was reelected with a 13.6% majority in a rematch with the PQ. In Orford, finally, the Liberals won 44.1% against 26.2% for the PQ.

The CAQ had strong results in the Centre-du-Québec, with the party’s three incumbents winning reelection with expanded majorities and larger shares of the vote, and the CAQ gaining Johnson from the PQ. The CAQ held Nicolet-Bécancour (gained over ON leader Jean-Martin Aussant in 2012, his absence explains the PQ’s gains, although it only finished third with some 22%, miles away from the combined ON+PQ vote in 2012; the Marois government’s unpopular decision to close the Gentilly nuclear power plant likely hurt the PQ and helped the local CAQ MNA), Drummond-Bois-Francs and Arthabaska (popular CAQ, ex-ADQ, incumbent Sylvie Roy was reelected with 45.5% and the PLQ vote actually fell from 2012, because Roy had faced a PLQ MNA because of redistribution in 2012). The CAQ gained Johnson from the PQ, with a majority of nearly 5 points.

The Liberals swept Mauricie, taking all five seats – gaining two from the PQ and easily holding their own three seats. In Saint-Maurice (Shawinigan), the PLQ gained the seat with a 2.7% majority over the PQ while in Champlain (Cap-de-la-Madeleine, in suburban Trois-Rivières), former ADQ MNA Pierre-Michel Auger, running for the PLQ, won a three-way contest with 33.4% against 30.4% for the CAQ and 30.2% for the incumbent PQ MNA. The PLQ held Maskinongé and Trois-Rivières with expanded majorities despite retiring incumbents, while in Laviolette, popular Liberal MNA Julie Boulet, who has built a remarkable popular vote in a historically nationalist riding, was reelected with 52.6% against only 23% for the PQ.

In the Quebec City capital region, the Liberals gained four seats from the CAQ and one from the PQ. In 2012, the CAQ had gained four seats from the PLQ, in suburban and exurban areas of Quebec City. Although a very heavily Francophone city, Quebec City is not a nationalist stronghold – it gave only weak support to independence in the 1995 referendum, and the PQ/Bloc have struggled in the provincial capital for a number of years. In recent provincial elections, the main battles in most Quebec City ridings have been fought between the PLQ and the centre-right (ADQ, in 2007 and 2008, and now the CAQ) with limited support for the PQ. In Quebe City, the PLQ regained Vanier-Les Rivières, Charlesbourg and Montmorency – three suburban constituencies, which, while middle-class, are not extremely affluent or white-collar professional in nature. The CAQ had held the three of them with relatively thin majorities over the PLQ in 2012, and it stood no chance against a resurgent PLQ which ate into a good chunk of the CAQ’s 2012 vote. The Liberals won the three seats by margins slightly under 10% (with the former PLQ MNAs in Vanier-Les Rivières and Montmorency regaining their seats). The CAQ easily held Chauveau and La Peltrie, two large exurban ridings to the north of the city, held by the ADQ since 2007, with their incumbents (two ex-ADQ MNAs, Éric Caire and Gérard Deltell) winning over 50% of the vote. The Liberals also picked up Portneuf, a large and predominantly exurban/rural ridings on the western outskirts of Quebec City, with a 3.4% majority over the CAQ.

The Liberals had no trouble holding their three seats in Quebec City: Louis-Hébert (which covers the city’s most affluent suburbs, making it the third wealthiest riding in Quebec), Jean-Talon (which includes the traditionally bourgeois and affluent neighborhood of Sillery) and Jean-Lesage (a poorer riding, including the old working-class neighborhoods of Limoilou and some older suburbs).

The PQ held only one seat: Taschereau, which covers downtown Quebec City (the Vieux-Québec, among others); it stands out from the rest of the generally conservative city, as a rather poor but also well-educated downtown riding. The PQ’s Agnès Maltais was reelected with 31.7% against 30.4% for the PLQ; QS placed a strong fourth with 15.3%, QS (and, in 2012, ON) perform very well in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a young artsy/bobo neighborhood in central Quebec City.

However, Premier Pauline Marois lost reelection in her own seat of Charlevoix–Côte-de-Beaupré, a large riding which extends from the Quebec City exurbs (Ile d’Orléans) to the Charlevoix region. Marois, who won the seat in a 2007 by-election, was reelected with 40.7% in 2012, with a hefty majority over the PLQ (27.1%) and CAQ (26.8%). The map had shown a clear-cut division between areas closer to Quebec City, where the PLQ and CAQ placed first, and the more rural Charlevoix region up to the Saguenay estuary, which was solidly PQ. This year, Marois won 32.9% against 35% for the PLQ candidate.

In the Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas-Saint-Laurent, all parties held their seats. The CAQ held the South Shore suburban riding of Lévis, a 2012 gain from the PLQ, with 40.5% (a gain from 2012) for CAQ MNA Christian Dubé, the party’s finance critic. It held Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Beauce-Nord, two seats held by the ADQ since 2003, with large majorities, albeit reduced quite significantly from 2012. The Liberals held Lotbinière-Frontenac, Beauce-Sud, Bellechasse, Côte-du-Sud and Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata. These two regions stand out from the rest of Quebec in that while they are quasi-homogeneously white, Francophone and Catholic (and also predominantly rural or small-town), the PQ and sovereigntism in general has been very weak in the region (in 1995, the yes vote was significantly lower and the no won a number of ridings). Conservative parties of various shades, including the old Social Credit and Union Nationale, the ADQ in its heydays and the federal Conservatives after 2006, have been strong in the region, while the provincial Liberals remain powerful as well. Pierre Drouilly called this region, back in 2003, le Québec tranquille and described it as a largely poor, blue-collar (notably in primary and secondary sectors) region with an old and declining population, low levels of education, low incomes but also fairly low unemployment levels (which distinguishes it from poorer regions, with high unemployment, such as the Gaspé Peninsula). Voters exhibit a high degree of alienation from Montreal, and it is an ideologically conservative region (but with marked populist tendencies) with clear right-wing positions on issues such as taxes or government intervention, part of which comes from a strong entrepreneurial tradition, especially in Beauce (which is often noted for its entrepreneurial culture and its small businesses). Because of low levels of education and the fragility of the local economy, there has been little appetite for the uncertainty of independence.

The Québec tranquille region extends into the Centre-du-Québec, the more remote parts of the Eastern Townships, the Quebec City metro and parts of Mauricie – regions which have traditionally given low support to the nationalist option in referendums, and where the PQ performs poorly (with strong results for the PLQ and CAQ). But the Chaudière-Appalaches region, south of the St. Lawrence across from Quebec City, stands out as the archetype: the PQ is extremely weak, with third place showings in all ridings and single-digit results in the Beauce; it also appears to be more ideologically conservative than the rest of the region, whose ideological preferences are vaguer and eclectic. For example, in 2012, the federal Tories held their seats in the Chaudière-Appalaches, but the NDP swept Quebec City (which had swung to the Tories in 2006).

The PQ held Rimouski, with 40.6% against 30% for the PLQ. There had been some local controversy with the retirement of the PQ MNA and the choice of a PQ candidate imposed by the national leadership over a local candidate; the local candidate was excluded from the party, and former Bloc MP Suzanne Tremblay endorsed the QS candidate, who took a very strong third with 16.4%.

The Liberals gained two seats in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, traditionally the most nationalist region of Quebec. In Roberval, Philippe Couillard was easily elected, with 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. The seat had been held by the PQ since 2007, and the PQ had held the seat with an 18% majority in the last election. There was likely a strong personal vote for Couillard (drawn by the advantages of being represented by the Premier, given the likelihood of a PLQ victory by election day), in a region which has tended to vote for personality over party in both federal and provincial election. The PLQ also regained Dubuc, which it had gained in 2008 but lost to the PQ in 2012. Former Liberal MNA Serge Simard, who has a strong base in the arrondissement of La Baie (he was president of the arrondissement between 2002 and 2008), won the seat with a 9% majority over the PQ. The PQ held the three remaining seats by fairly comfortable margins.

One of the few regions where the PQ performed well was Gaspésie, where the party held the three seats on the Gaspé Peninsula – by solid margins. In Matane-Matapédia, popular local PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé actually increased his share of the vote from 59% to 61.2% (it may be the result of ‘normalization’ after 2012, when he was reelected in a larger redistributed riding with one part of the riding where he was not as well known). In Gaspé, gained from the PLQ on a huge swing in 2012, the PQ’s vote fell from 56.8% to 52% but it held the seat by a large majority. The most surprising result was perhaps Bonaventure, the Gaspé’s traditionally Liberal riding, which the PQ gained from the PLQ in 2012. The PQ held the seat with a 3.5% majority.

The PLQ regained the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, a predominantly Acadian archipelago in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The PQ had gained the seat from the Liberals, who had won it in 2008. Former Liberal MNA Germain Chevarie won 50.1% against 40.2% for the PQ incumbent.

On the Côte-Nord, the PQ held both seats but the margin in Duplessis, a geographically huge but sparsely populated riding, was surprisingly tight (a 1.6% majority for the PQ). In Duplessis, the PQ dominates the three main population centres, the northern industrial towns of Port-Cartier, Sept-Îles and Havre-Saint-Pierre, by wide margins, but there is a strong PLQ presence in small, extremely remote Anglophone fishing villages on the coast up to the Labrador border. In the far north of the province, the PLQ gained the seat of Ungava, Quebec’s largest riding (in terms of area). The seat had been held by the PQ since its creation in 1981, although by its demographics that may seem odd. Indeed, Ungava is 64% Native, split fairly equally between Cree and Inuit. However, turnout in the Inuit and Cree villages is extremely low (often below 20%) and while those who do vote generally vote Liberal, these Native villages net them relatively few vote; while the PQ usually dominates the white areas, notably the resource-based industrial town of Chibougamau, by huge margins (and turnout is much higher). In 2012, the PQ won 45.5% to 34.7% for the PLQ; this year, the PLQ won 42.4% to the PQ’s 33%.

Conclusion

The Quebec Liberals are back in power for four years, with Premier-elect Philippe Couillard leading a government with a strong majority in the National Assembly. He will likely enjoy a fairly easy first few months, given that attention will largely be on the PQ’s upcoming leadership contest. Defeated in her own riding, Pauline Marois announced her resignation as PQ leader on election night. What preceded her concession speech was fairly unusual (and, for some, rather unceremonious) and sets the scene for a leadership battle: before the defeated leader took to the stage, the three leading PQ politicians – Bernard Drainville (the minister of democratic institutions, who spearheaded the Charter), Jean-François Lisée (the minister of international relations) and Pierre-Karl Péladeau – each gave speeches, which largely consisted of traditional nationalist rhetoric to feed the crowd (who responded with slogans of on veut un pays – we want a country) and to prove their nationalist credentials. These three men also happen to be the three who come up most often in leadership speculation. Péladeau’s intentions are unclear, but I doubt his motivation to join politics was to sit as an opposition MNA (his intention was likely to serve as cabinet minister, perhaps later as Premier; in the absence of that, opposition leader might be the next best thing). The interim leader selected by the PQ, Stéphane Bédard, is seen as somebody close to PKP. It is unclear to what degree the PQ’s defeat can be attributed to PKP’s fist-pump, and whether, in the absence of that, he could have had a positive impact on the PQ or if he was going to be a net liability regardless. A PQ led by PKP would likely focus heavily on the core cause of sovereignty, while also signaling a shift to the right with the aim of appealing to CAQ supporters. Lisée would be a safe choice, close to the PQ’s social democratic roots, and may focus less heavily on sovereignty and nationalism but rather on progressive unity, aiming to reconquer votes lost on the left to QS. Drainville may be blamed for the Charter, but it is unclear to what extent the Charter hurt the PQ during the campaign; it would seem that the PQ’s desperate use of the Charter as a wedge issue hurt it, but the ideas of the Charter may remain popular with the Francophone electorate which the PQ needs to reconquer. Some other names have also come up: Véronique Hivon, the popular Joliette MNA who gained a province-wide profile and popularity with her handling of the euthanasia bill, a matter of consensus between all parties (which the new PLQ government will likely pass itself) or Alexandre Cloutier, a young MNA from the Saguenay.

Once again, the PQ faces the issue of how to reconcile its fundamental raison d’être (the independence of Quebec) with the political reality, which makes a referendum (let alone independence) very unlikely. The party is held together by the cause, and it has a militant base which remains strongly committed to independence; as such, the PQ often has a problem at responding to shifts in public opinion, at times appearing deaf to it. It has a tendency to double-down on rhetoric and preach to the converted; and it did so again on election night, when the PQ’s election night event showed no signs of abandoning the party’s core values and the cause.

In the meantime, the CAQ, with a surprisingly strong performance, comes out strengthened. The party is in a good position to benefit from the PQ’s troubles at reinventing itself, navigating a divisive leadership battle and re-adapting itself to being an opposition party; it is also in a good position to benefit from the gradual decline in the government’s popularity and the PLQ’s support. Many wonder if the CAQ could replace the PQ, and some even ask if the PQ may disappear entirely. Parties, even those which have held power, often disappear in Canadian federal and provincial politics – in Quebec, the most recent example is the slow death of the Union Nationale, which disappeared from provincial politics after 1976. The PQ still has a clear niche to fill (unlike the UN when it died), because there remains a significant minority of voters who still are dedicated nationalists; but even that niche is no longer the PQ’s sole preserve – it faces strong competition from QS (whose electorate is less homogeneously nationalist) and, to a much lesser extent, ON. Similarly, while the CAQ has the potential support to overtake the PQ to form the official opposition (as the ADQ had done in 2007, after all), it still has clear troubles breaking through on Montreal Island, which holds a large number of seats, and in regions such as the Gaspé, the Saguenay, Abitibi and Outaouais. The CAQ also has a fickle electorate, as it almost learned this year. A lot of their vote is a ‘NOTA’ vote, which does not necessarily express agreement with the CAQ’s policies but rather rejection of the other parties and the old nationalist/federalist divide.

Only time will tell if this election was an unremarkable anti-incumbent election or if it was the beginning of a realignment in provincial politics.

Niagara Falls and Thornhill (Ontario) provincial by-elections, 2014

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).

Context

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

Map of Niagara Falls (source: Elections Canada)

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%).

Niagara Falls (own picture)

Niagara Falls (own picture)

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).

Results of the 2011 provincial election in Niagara Falls by poll (source: election-atlas.ca)

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

Map of Thornhill (source: Elections Canada)

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.

Results of the 2011 provincial election in Thornhill by poll (source: election-atlas.ca)

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.

Conclusion

byon

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.

Canadian by-elections 2013

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.

Context

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, QC

Map of Bourassa (source: Elections Canada)

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%.

Poll-by-poll results of the 2011 federal election in Bourassa (source: election-atlas.ca)

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, MB

Map of Brandon-Souris (source: Elections Canada)

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.

Poll-by-poll results of the 2011 federal election in Brandon-Souris (source: election-atlas.ca)

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, MB

Map of Provencher (source: Elections Canada)

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.

Results of the 2011 federal election in Provencher (source: election-atlas.ca)

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

Map of Toronto Centre (source: Elections Canada)

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.

Individuals by income decile in Toronto Centre, Ontario and Toronto CMA (2011 NHS)

Individuals by income decile in Toronto Centre, Ontario and Toronto CMA (2011 NHS)

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.

Results of the 2011 federal election in Toronto Centre (source: election-atlas.ca)

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.

% vote for the NDP by poll in Toronto Centre, 2011 federal election (source: election-atlas.ca)

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).

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.

Conclusion

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.

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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.

Quebec (municipal) 2013

Map of Quebec (source: Atlas of Canada, Natural Resources Canada)

Municipal elections were held in the province of Quebec (Canada) on November 3, 2013.

The mayors and municipal councils of 1,111 local municipalities, directly elected for four year terms, were up for reelection. The mayor is directly and separately elected by FPTP, while municipal councillors (a minimum of 6 per municipality) are either elected in single-member wards/districts (in municipalities with a population over 20,000, electing at least 8 councillors) or at-large by the entire municipality (in such cases, the seats are numbered and candidates may only stand for one seat), again by FPTP. Some municipalities, such as Montreal, elected other offices (borough mayors, borough council etc) while 13 Regional County Municipalities (see below) directly elected their prefects.

Canadian local politics stand out from local politics in the United States or most European countries because of the absence of national or state/provincial political parties. Rather, local politics are either non-partisan or feature a number of municipal political parties (in the larger towns). In Quebec, unlike in Ontario, most large cities have municipal parties (often alongside independent candidates). However, these municipal parties are oftentimes little more than empty personal vehicles for a leading mayoral candidate or other local politician, and they come and go with their leaders. Furthermore, while ideology and federal/provincial partisan ties do play a role in Quebec local politics, they are not central to local politics – candidate quality and personality, personal ties, local issues and parochialism play larger roles.

Why care about all this? These elections were made all the more interesting and important by the recent developments in Quebec local politics with regards to high-level political corruption and collusion in the administration of major cities in Quebec. This blog post explains in thorough detail all the background to these elections and the corruption in Quebec local politics.

Municipal government

Quebec is divided into 1,111 local municipalities (municipalités locales) in addition to Indian reserves, northern (Inuit) villages, Cree and Naskapi villages/lands and unorganized territories administered by a supralocal body. Of these 1,111 local municipalities (map and list), 637 are designated as municipalities (municipalités), 223 as towns (villes), 161 as parishes (paroisses), 44 as villages, 44 as townships (cantons) and two as united cantons (cantons unis). These designations do not impact their powers, although the towns (and four municipalities and one village) are governed under the Law on Cities and Towns while the rest are governed under the Municipal Code.

Municipal governments are solely responsible for fire protection, water and water treatment and waste management. They share responsibility with the provincial government over housing, roads (the local level being responsible for streets and local roads), public transportation, policing, recreation and culture, parks and green spaces and land use/spatial planning policies.

Local government in Quebec also includes supralocal structures which share some powers with or have been delegated powers from municipalities. There are eleven agglomerations (agglomérations) grouping 41 municipalities, which have a council made up of delegates from the municipalities. Their powers may include real estate appraisal, policing, fire protection, public transit, water management, waste management, tourism and economic development. Most municipalities (1,067 municipalities and 94 territories) are covered by 87 Regional County Municipalities (Municipalités régionales de comtés, MRC) which have a council made up of the municipalities’ mayors and led by a prefect who is, in thirteen cases, elected directly by voters. The MRC has powers over land use, planning for waste management and fire protection, preparation of evaluation rolls, creation and funding of local development centres. There are fourteen structures holding powers of an MRC: four agglomerations and nine cities. The Greater Montreal and Greater Quebec City areas also form metropolitan communities, with a council responsible for planning and coordination on select issues.

Eight municipalities, including Montreal and Quebec City, are further subdivided into boroughs (arrondissements) aiming to provide localized services to citizens including (in Montreal) fire protection, parks and recreation, maintaining local roads, land use and waste management.

In Canada, like in other federal states, municipal governments are the creation of the provincial governments and while they have administrative autonomy, they are limited by provincial legislation and regulation in their behaviour. Municipal by-laws must be cleared by the provincial government, and the organization of municipalities (their powers, their structure and their boundaries) are determined by the provincial government.

For example, in 2002, the provincial Parti Québécois (PQ) government proceeded to the forced amalgamation of a large number of municipalities – most significantly, merging all municipalities on the island of Montreal into a single city and amalgamating the suburban municipalities of Quebec City, Gatineau, Lévis, Longueuil or Saguenay into a single city. The government was following in the footsteps of major municipal amalgamations in Ontario in the 90s. A number of former municipalities opposed these amalgamations. After 2003, a new provincial Liberal government carried out its promise of holding referendums on municipal de-amalgamations in those former municipalities where 10% of residents signed a petition asking for such a vote. 89 referendums were held in June 2004, resulting in the successful re-creation of 32 former municipalities in January 2006.

Background: Corruption and collusion in Quebec municipal politics

Municipal politics in Quebec have been shaken up in the past year by the Charbonneau Commission on the awarding and management of public construction contracts (at the municipal and provincial level), which has revealed deep and ingrained corruption in municipal politics – notably in Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities respectively. As a result of revelations and allegations, a number of mayors (including the mayors of Montreal and Laval) were forced to resign.

Corruption allegations had been swirling around the world of municipal politics, especially in Montreal, since 2009 with concerns over the high prices charged for construction contracts, rumours of illegal party financing by entrepreneurs and collusion between municipal politicians and shady entrepreneurs. Right before the 2009 elections, Benoit Labonté, the former leader of the main municipal opposition party in Montreal, was forced to admit his links with corrupt developer Tony Accurso from whom he had allegedly solicited and received money. In an interview which shook the political milieu, Labonté said that illegal financing of municipal and provincial parties was the norm and that a cartel in cahoots with the mafia ruled public works contracts in Montreal.

In late September and early October 2012, Lino Zambito, a former construction contractor, testified before the commission and spilled the beans about an organized system of collusion in the construction industry which controlled access to public construction contracts, and the role played by engineering firms and the mafia in the illegal financing of political parties/candidates at the municipal level.

Zambito claimed that his (bankrupt) construction company was one of ten companies in Montreal (all or most of which were formed by natives of the Sicilian village of Cattolica Eraclea) which formed a cartel controlling and dividing (amongst themselves) public contracts in Montreal. The cost of contracts were inflated by up to 25-30%, and the cartel – in tandem with the mafia – used intimidation to prevent other construction firms from bidding for or obtaining a contract from city hall. It was clear that the tendering process for public works contracts was rigged in favour of the cartel, and those companies which tried to ‘enter’ the closed world were unceremoniously told off by the cartel’s members – or their allies in the mafia.

In return for membership in this cartel, Zambito said that he needed to pay 2.5% of the contracts’ values to Nicolo Milioto, a middleman who gave the funds to the Rizzuto mafia clan (the Sicilian-led clan which controlled the Montreal underworld from the 1980s to 2006-2007). Video footage from a social club run by the Rizzuto family showed Zambito and other contractors handing over money, in cash, to Milioto.

In Montreal, unlike at the provincial level or in suburban municipalities, engineers employed by the city were responsible for designing plans, specifications and tenders for contracts and, later, for supervising the work. Zambito claimed that several engineers employed by the city were involved in this close cartel, being corrupted by developers (through bribes, hockey tickets, paid trips to Mexico, dinners etc) to approve fake cost overruns (faux extras) which further inflated costs. Zambito revealed that he paid 1% of the value of his contracts to Gilles Suprenant, a city engineer responsible for designing projects.

Other municipal employees also received their ‘share’ of money from contracts. He later claimed that two high ranking members in Tremblay’s administration – the former director general of the city of Montreal and the former president of the executive council, Frank Zampino – intervened in the awarding of contracts for personal gain or to favour certain firms. Elio Pagliarulo, a businessman who was once business partner with Paolo Catania, the boss of a major construction firm (with ties to the mafia), claimed that Zampino – Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay’s erstwhile right-hand man (and perhaps éminence grise) – had received $550,000 in bribes from Catania during the construction-ridden Faubourg Contrecoeur housing project. Zampino had intervened to ensure that Catania would receive the contract for the Faubourg Contrecoeur project.

Surprenant, in his own testimony, admitted that he collaborated with the cartel to inflate contract costs and received $700,000 in bribes. He also admitted to having played golf with Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal Sicilian mafia, at the invitation of Tony Conte, a construction contractor. Luc Leclerc him to admitted to having received bribes, totaling $500,000. Both men said that they were able to partake in the cartel’s games through the ‘tactic complicity’ of site supervisors and their superiors. These men denied these allegations.

Beginning in 2005-2006, Zambito claimed that he also paid out 3% to Union Montréal (UM), the municipal party of then-mayor Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012). Other entrepreneurs confirmed these claims, and said that it was understood that payment of these ‘contributions’ to the mayoral party was the sine qua non to participate in the construction industry in Montreal.

Zambito also commented on the system in place in Laval and Montreal’s North Shore suburbs. Concerning Laval, Zambito claimed that a similar sum of 2.5% of the contracts’ value was to be paid to mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. A similar closed cartel of entrepreneurs ruled supreme in Laval when it came to awarding contracts; furthermore, the mayor was quite aware of this state of things – Zambito said that Vaillancourt had told him that ‘his turn’ would come and that he would get ‘his job’ soon. In November, an anonymous contractor claimed that he paid $15,000 a year to Vaillancourt, twice directly to the mayor himself. Vaillancourt was forced to resign one day later. A police raid later found $110,000 in the mayor’s safety deposit boxes.

On the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, private engineering firms were in charge of preparing plans, tenders and subsequently supervising works. Zambito talked of a complex system of collusion and corruption where engineering and law firms associated to ‘find’ potential mayoral candidates, run and finance their campaigns using cost overruns paid out by cities to construction contractors. Construction firms which wanted to obtain contracts in these municipalities needed to have connections to private engineering firms which had ties to the municipal councils, and partake in the financing of candidates and parties. These existence of these so-called ‘élections clés en main’ were confirmed by other witnesses.

Zambito’s shocking testimony was followed, in late October 2012, by the bizarre (and somewhat discredited) testimony of Martin Dumont, a former political organizer for UM and aide to mayor Tremblay. Dumont claimed that Milioto threatened his life in 2007 when he questioned the nature of the inflated costs. His most shocking claims, however, was that Tremblay himself had closed his eyes on an unofficial, parallel campaign budget funded with dirty money during a 2004 by-election campaign. Dumont had been told that there were two campaign budgets: an official budget, and a much larger unofficial budget fed with illegal money. His second extraordinary revelation was that he had seen Bernard Trépanier, UM’s financing guru, unable to close a safe stuffed with cash. Dumont also claimed that, during a fundraising event for UM, he received a brown enveloppe with $10,000 in cash from Milioto – in the bathroom! The veracity of Dumont’s testimony was later called into question when he was cross-investigated and information about the conditions in which he lost his job at city hall (and stories involving him looking at porn on his work computer).

In late November, Érick Roy, an investigator for the commission, exposed the results of his research into the clients of the ‘357c’ private club in Montreal. Lists of clients and guests at the private club between 2005 and 2012 showed that several high-ranking municipal and provincial politicians and businessmen had been invited to exclusive events or dinners at the club. Two former cabinet minister in then-Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government were found to have met entrepreneurs tied to the cartels, having been invited by Frank and Paolo Catania, whose company is linked to the Rizzuto mafia clan. Other municipal politicians including Frank Zampino, Tremblay’s former chief of staff Martial Fillion, Bernard Trépanier or other city councillors and borough mayors were among the guests. The private club apparently served as a meeting place for politicians, city employees, construction contractors and engineering firms.

In January 2013, Michel Lalonde, the president of an engineering firm, confirmed the deep entrenchment of corruption and collusion in Montreal and the North Shore suburbs. Lalonde said that, in 2004, Trépanier had sought $100,000 or $200,000 in contributions from engineering firms to finance the 2005 electoral campaign. The 2009 campaign, instead, was financed by the aforementioned 3% ‘contribution’ by contractors from the cost of the contracts. Lalonde said that engineering firms made these payments thanks to the faux extras which were granted to the construction contractors – who paid a sum, in cash, equivalent to 20-25% of these faux extras to engineering firms. Clearly, obtaining contracts and jobs in Montreal was conditioned to generous illegal contributions to the ruling party. Successive witnesses confirmed this state of fact, most of them naming Trépanier as the guy behind the whole scheme.

Construction contractors contributed generously to all provincial and municipal parties. To circumvent the electoral law, a number of firms have made (illegal) use of ‘figureheads’ – employees who contribute financially to political parties, and are reimbursed by their employer. At the municipal level in Montreal, both UM and the main opposition party, Vision Montréal (VM), received illegal campaign contributions of this type. Provincially, developers (and their ‘figurehead’ employees) gave to both the Liberals and the PQ (and the former ADQ in lesser amounts).

In a bizarre and outlandish testimony (March 2013) filled with holes, Trépanier admitted that he knew of and participated in a system of collusion; he was informed of the results of tenders in advanced and used this information to solicit contributions from the firms which had been awarded the contract. Trépanier, however, had trouble explaining the the origin of some $900,000 he or his company (‘Bermax’) received from engineering-construction firm Dessau between 2002 and 2010, allegedly in return for lobbying work Trépanier had done to allow Dessau to obtain contracts from Montreal airports. The commission, through phone records, proved Trépanier’s strong personal ties with Zampino and major construction contractors including Paolo Catania and Tony Accurso (whose yacht hosted numerous politicians).

Trépanier worked as UM’s chief financier between 2004 and 2006, when he was fired by mayor Tremblay, but other witnesses all confirmed that Trépanier continued his activities for UM until 2009 in full sight of all, the mayor included.

Appearing before the commission in mid-April, Frank Zampino categorically denied all accusations against him and said that he had been unaware of collusion. However, the commission was able to prove Zampino’s close ties to contractors such as Catania and Accurso – having been on trips with both of them, often paid by the contractors themselves, while contracts were being awarded. Zampino, the commission also showed, had attended the marriage of Frank Cotroni’s son with the daughter of another notorious mafia lord. Frank Cotroni’s brother, Vic Cotroni, had been one of the godfathers of the Calabrian mafia in Montreal, dominant in the 1970s until the Sicilians took over.

In May 2013, after the shocking arrest of the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, the commission shifted attention to Laval. Witnesses confirmed the existence of a large system of collusion in the suburban city. The city decided who would be awarded contracts before the period for bidding was over. In return, the lucky contractor would ‘pay back’ with cash contributions to the mayor’s party, the PRO des Lavallois. Once again, contributing to the mayoral party was necessary for any contractor wishing to do business in Laval.

A construction engineer collected, between 2003 and 2009, the equivalent of 2% of each contract’s value and gave the money to the PRO – over the years, he collected $2.7 million. Unlike in Montreal, where it may appear that the mayor was not directly involved in the dirty financing of his party, Vaillancourt was at the centre of the whole scheme in Laval – which he coordinated himself.

In June 2013, Jean Bertrand, the official agent for the PRO between 1984 and 2013, declared before the commission that the quasi-entirety of PRO municipal councillors had served as ‘figureheads’ for engineering consulting firms which were contributing to the party. Bertrand said that he gave the illegal money he received to the municipal councillors, who provided him with an official cheque in return. Therefore, municipal councillors participated in money laundering – and also claimed their tax credits for their ‘clean official’ donation. Bertrand said that he told the councillors that the money was illegal, an allegation denied by the councillors later called to testify (although they confirmed Bertrand’s other revelations).

The Charbonneau Commission continues to reveal high-level corruption in municipal politics, provincial politics and major trade unions.

Political fallout

Many of the witnesses’ allegations directly mentioned high-ranking municipal (and provincial) politicians and political parties.

Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, in office since 2001, was not cited in name by many witnesses – the real power in city hall and at UM, it appears, laid with Frank Zampino (mayor of Saint-Léonard from 1990 to 2008, president of the executive council until 2008) and Bernard Trépanier (for the financial aspects). However, what is unclear is to what extent Tremblay was aware of the corruption which surrounded him and what he did (if anything) to address that issue. Tremblay, to the point of ridicule, has constantly denied all accusations and insisted that he was not informed of the situation.

However, several witnesses and investigators confirmed that city hall had been aware of collusion and corruption – perhaps as early as 1997 (it is clear that corruption predated Tremblay’s election). Two reports drafted by city hall employees in 2004 and 2006 attempted to draw attention to the situation, but it appears that Zampino and his allies successfully covered up these reports and shut down any attempts to change the system. The 2004 report had found that, for the same type of works, the city of Montreal was paying 35-50% more than other cities in the province. The 2006 report showed that four construction groups had obtained 56% of public contracts in 2006 and that 96% of the contracts were awarded to local firms.

Tremblay’s defense that he was unaware of the corrupt games at city hall found itself shot to pieces when Martin Dumont, the former UM organizer, alleged that Tremblay was in the room when illegal money was being discussed (to which he closed his eyes). That day, Tremblay announced that he was taking a few days off. When he returned on November 5, he announced his resignation as mayor. However, in his speech, he posed as the wronged victim and the lone foot-soldier in the fight against corruption.

While Tremblay was probably not personally corrupt, it is likely that he was aware of the corruption and deliberately decided that he did not want to know (rather than not knowing altogether, as he claims). If indeed he did not know anything, wouldn’t that by extension mean that the city was governed by a gullible fool?

UM began collapsing in mid to late October 2012, when councillors started leaving the party to sit as independents – first a small trickle, quickly transformed into an avalanche after the Dumont allegations and Tremblay’s resignation. UM quickly lost its majority on city council.

On November 9, Michael Applebaum, the president of the executive council and borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, resigned from the presidency of the executive council – infuriated that UM was, he said, trying to cover up the 2004 report. Applebaum was passed over by the UM’s caucus in an internal vote to nominate the collapsing party’s candidate for interim mayor, which would be elected by city hall. He left UM to stand as an independent, arguing that the city needed an independent interim mayor who would not run in 2013 and promised to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ with independent councillors and the three parties. On November 16, Applebaum narrowly defeated UM candidate Richard Deschamps (the UM nominee) by 31 votes to 29. He became Montreal’s first Jewish mayor and the first Anglophone mayor since 1912 (an anonymous Deschamps supporter had previously said that Applebaum’s French skills were not good enough).

Applebaum presented himself as some kind of anti-corruption outsider who would fix the city, despite having been at the core of municipal politics as borough mayor since 2002 and president of the executive council since 2011. As it turns out, Applebaum’s image was an act. He was arrested by the anti-corruption unit UPAC on June 17, 2013 and charged on 14 counts, including fraud, breach of trust and corruption. Having spent a day in detention, the “anti-corruption” mayor resigned the next day. Court documents released last month show that Applebaum is suspected of having been a key player in a real estate and zoning-linked system of corruption in his borough. The UPAC believes that Applebaum asked real estate developers for cash in return for zoning changing.

He was replaced by Laurent Blanchard, the president of the executive committee under Applebaum and a former member of the opposition party, VM.

Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, the strongman of Laval politics and incumbent mayor since 1989, saw his unshakable hegemony collapse in a matter of days with the Charbonneau Commission. Vaillancourt had previously been accused of corruption, most notably in 2010 when Bloc Québécois MP Serge Ménard claimed that the mayor had offered him $10,000 in cash in 1993, when Ménard first ran for office for the PQ. A provincial Liberal MNA also claimed to have been offered cash by Vaillancourt. But none of those cases really stuck to him. In October 2012, the UPAC searched the mayor’s house, city hall and other administrative buildings. The next day, police searched a condo which belonged to his family. During this raid, it was later revealed, Vaillancourt’s cousin threw stacks of banknotes into the toilet (but the new polymer notes floated and blocked the toilet).

Vaillancourt was forced to resign on November 9, but he too claimed he was innocent and attempted to draw attention to his record as mayor of the city, the third most populous in Quebec. He was replaced by Alexandre Duplessis, a PRO councillor.

On May 9, 2013, Vaillancourt was arrested by the UPAC following a massive raid which led to the arrest of the former mayor, the former city manager and 35 other people including Tony Accurso (arrested thrice in 2013 alone). They were charged on various counts including fraud, breach of trust, corruption, conspiracy and – most importantly – the rare charge of ‘gangsterism’. Vaillancourt and others were released on bail the next day.

Laval’s interim mayor Duplessis saw his office searched by UPAC and police in December 2012. In June 2013, he was hit by Bertrand’s accusations that, as city councillor, he partook in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO; in addition to allegations that he had solicited prostitutes (after he himself filed a complaint claiming that two women, including a prostitute, had attempted to extort money from him). He resigned on June 28. Martine Beaugrand, a former PRO councillor (the party dissolved on November 19, 2012) who had been one of two councillor not alleged to have been involved in the corruption scandal, replaced him. The city was placed under trusteeship by the provincial government.

The mayor of the North Shore suburban municipality of Mascouche, Richard Marcotte, was targetted by an arrest warrant in April 2012 while vacationing in Cuba; he was alleged to have vacationed on Tony Accurso’s yacht in exchange for giving Accurso’s companies favourable business dealings with the city and local water treatment agencies. Arrested upon his return to Canada, he was charged with corruption, fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. He did not resign until November 30, 2012. Altough Marcotte said his resignation was due to family issues, many felt it was linked to a new bill introduced by the PQ provincial government which allows court to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms. Marcotte had previously criticized the law.

Montreal

Montreal, Quebec’s largest city (and Canada’s second largest city), is a diverse metropolis: a mix of rich and poor; Anglophone, Francophone and allophone; urban and suburban.

Montreal City Council is composed of 64 councillors and the mayor (a fairly large body for a local council in Canada). The makeup of the city council is rather confusing to understand at first. 18 of 19 boroughs (arrondissements) have a directly elected mayor who sits on the city council and their borough council; the downtown borough of Ville-Marie has no directly elected mayor, rather the mayor of Montreal is ex officio borough mayor. All but two of the 19 boroughs (Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève) additionally elect one or more city councillors in single-member districts (Anjou and Lachine elect only one, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce elects the most, 5). The borough mayors of Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève serve as members of the city council. Some borough councils have additional members (city councillors and the borough mayor already serve on borough councils as well), who do not serve on city council.

Montreal, since 1914, has generally been ruled by a small number of long-serving mayors: Médéric Martin (1914-1924, 1926-1928), Camillien Houde (1928-1932, 1934-1936, 1938-1940, 1944-1954), Jean Drapeau (1954-1957, 1960-1986), Jean Doré (1986-1994), Pierre Bourque (1994-2001) and finally Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012).

Of the pre-war era mayors, Houde is the most famous. He was a Canadien nationalist (as opposed to a French Canadian nationalist) and populist, he led the provincial Conservatives between 1929 and 1932, before Maurice Duplessis – who would become his enemy – ousted him. As a Canadien nationalist, he was strongly anti-militarist and opposed national registration/conscription in World War II. His call to oppose compulsory national registration in 1940 led to his arrest and internment (without trial) in concentration camps (in Ontario and New Brunswick) until 1944. His internment by the federal government for his opposition to conscription in controversial circumstances made him an hero in Quebec, but he was widely despised in English Canada. As mayor, in the pre-war era, he supported government intervention to help low-income families and homebuyers, oppose large corporations (notably in electricity) and protect the urban environment.

Reelected in 1944, the post-war era saw a moralizing campaign, backed by the Catholic Church, which sought to crack down on organized crime and ‘immorality’ (gambling, prostitution). Houde retired in 1954, and was succeeded by Jean Drapeau, a lawyer very active in the moralizing campaigns (and, prior to that, in the anti-conscription movement and the Asbestos Strikes of 1949) whose Civic Action League campaigned for good government, integrity and public morality.

Opposed by unions and Duplessis, Drapeau was defeated in the 1957 election by Sarto Fournier, a federal Liberal senator backed by Duplessis’ conservative machine. However, a reenergized and reorganized Drapeau, at the helm of the Civic Party, won the 1960 election and would remain in office until his retirement in 1986. Drapeau remains one of Montreal’s most memorable mayors, for his visionary vision – which some would say was perhaps a bit megalomaniac. Under his rule, which coincided with the rapid modernization and secularization of the province as a whole, Montreal developed and gained international notoriety. He spearheaded the construction of the Montreal subway, the Place des Arts and managed the extremely successful Expo 67. However, the 1976 Olympic Games were a disastrous flub, marred by embarassing delays and huge cost overruns which indebted the city for decades after his rule.

Drapeau’s Civic Party ruled with little opposition until 1974 – Drapeau won reelection with over 90% in 1966 and 1970. However, in the waning days of his rule, Drapeau began facing criticism for his authoritarianism, his costly projects, his little interest in environmental issues and his alleged biased in favour of ‘previleged classes’ and homeowners. A centre-left party, the Rassemblement des citoyens de Montréal (RCM), emerged in the 1970s and became Drapeau’s main opposition. In 1982, following the 1980 report of a commission of inquiry into the 1976 Olympics which blamed the Drapeau administration for cost overruns, Drapeau was reelected over the RCM’s Jean Doré with 48% against 36%. Drapeau’s retirement in 1986, with no apparent successor, led to Doré’s landslide victory with 68% of the vote. The Civic Party collapsed quickly thereafter, in 1994.

Doré’s administration saw the redevelopment of the Old Port as well as parks and beaches on Île Sainte-Hélène. However, Doré’s popularity was eroded from the right by criticisms of ineffective management and laxness towards city employees, while the left broke with him in the wake of the Overdale fiasco (the expulsion of low-income tenants to clear land for a condo project which was never built). He was reelected with a reduced majority in 1990 over a divided centre-right opposition and weak left-wing/green opposition.

Doré lost reelection to Vision Montréal (VM) candidate Pierre Bourque in 1994. Bourque won 47.6% against 32.3% for Doré, with Jérôme Choquette (a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister) winning 13.1% on a centre-right pro-cars platform. Bourque became known for his pro-environment and greenspace policies, supporting the creation of parks, tree-planting initiatives, recycling and the reopening of the Lachine Canal. However, his passionate support for municipal mergers – under the slogan of ‘Une île, une ville‘ or one island, one city – proved to be his undoing. Backed by PQ provincial cabinet minister Louise Harel, the mergers were through for January 1, 2002. The forced mergers proved to be unpopular in many suburban municipalities of the island of Montreal, particularly the affluent and English-speaking municipalities of the West Island.

The merger controversy was the major issue in the 2001 campaign. Gérald Tremblay, a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister in Premier Robert Bourassa’s government, founded the Montreal Island Citizens Union (MICU/UCIM), which ran on a platform promising to reevaluate the mergers (which was done by Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government after 2003) and decentralize power to the boroughs. Tremblay was elected with a narrow margin over Bourque, 50.4% to 45.1%. Tremblay’s MICU won by crushing margins in the former municipalities of the West Island, a protest vote against the Bourque-led merger.

Tremblay won reelection in a low-key and boring race in 2005, once again defeating Bourque – 53.7% to 36.3%, with environmentalist candidate Richard Bergeron (candidate of Projet Montréal, PM) winning 8.5%. The MICU won a massive majority on City Council. Going into the 2009 election, however, Tremblay was weakened by the first rumours of corruption (water meters scandal) and was expected to lose reelection. He went up against Louise Harel (VM), a former PQ MNA and cabinet minister (known for her hardline separatist views), who was criticized for her poor English skills. Richard Bergeron, the leader of the left-wing environmentalist PM party, surged during the campaign, benefiting from dissatisfaction with both major candidates (especially after Harel’s lieutenant, Labonté, was forced to resign for his corrupt ties) and anti-corruption image. Tremblay was reelected with 37.9% against 32.7% for Harel and 25.5% for Bergeron. Tremblay’s UM held its absolute majority on City Council.

We all know by now what ensued.

For quite some time – before Tremblay’s resignation, the open secret was that federal Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who had represented the northern Montreal riding of Bourassa in the House of Commons since 1997, would resign from Parliament and throw his hat into the race. Coderre served as Minister of Immigration and Citizenship between 2002 and 2003 and as President of the Privy Council between 2003 and 2004, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, but was forced to resign from cabinet when his name was cited in the sponsorship scandal. Reelected in 2006, when the Liberals lost, he nevertheless remained a prominent figure in the reduced Quebec Liberal caucus and was briefly touted as leadership material. Known for his straight-talking and rather flamboyant style, Coderre resigned as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s Quebec lieutenant in September 2009, criticizing the control of the party apparatus by the Liberal Party elites in Toronto. The cause of the dispute was Ignatieff’s decision to appoint former justice minister Martin Cauchon as the Liberal star candidate in the NDP-held riding of Outremont, over Coderre’s objections. Having broken all bridges with the Liberal leadership, Coderre was marginalized within the Liberal Party, even if he remained as one of the party’s most senior MPs after the 2011 rout. Coderre announced his candidacy for mayor on May 17, and resigned from the House shortly thereafter.

Coderre founded his own personal machine, Équipe Denis Coderre (EDC), to run in the election. Simplistically, the EDC – like UM before it – could be considered as centrist parties close (but not tied) to the provincial/federal Liberal parties, often winning over the same kind of voters (Anglophones, ethnic minorities, more affluent voters and homeowners). There are, of course, no formal ties between any municipal parties and provincial or federal parties, but provincial politics and parties have influenced Montreal politics in the past. Camillien Houde was opposed by Liberal-backed candidates in the 1930s and by Duplessis-backed conservatives until 1947. Pierre Bourque was seen as close to the PQ, although he ran for the centre-right autonomist ADQ in the 2003 provincial elections. Gérald Tremblay was a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister. His main opponent in 2009, Harel, was, of course, a longtime supporter of the PQ.

Coderre had been joined by 17 incumbent city councillors prior to the election. Most of them came from UM, including Michel Bissonnet (borough mayor of Saint-Léonard), Helen Fotopulos (councillor, Côte-des-Neiges) and Alan DeSousa (borough mayor of Saint-Laurent). EDC also recruited Pierre Gagnier, the ex-PM borough mayor of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Anie Samson, the ex-VM borough mayor of  Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

Coderre’s platform was rather vague. His biggest policy proposal was to create an Inspector General at city hall with powers to investigate and fight corruption, including investigation of all events before, during and after the awarding of public contracts. He faced some criticism over allegations that the Bourassa Liberal association had received donations from individuals and companies cited by the commission, and in September 2013 two former union leaders revealed that Coderre had met Eddy Brandone, close to the Montreal mafia, to facilitate a meeting with a union leader (currently the subject of controversy and allegations at the commission). The rest of his platform was mostly vague pablum: more reserved bus lanes, increase safety on streets and bike paths, invest in infrastructure upkeep, true pay equity for city employees, ‘state-of-the-art’ communication systems (WiFi in public spaces, GPS on buses, 3G in the subway), stimulate public housing construction or a program to buy abandoned land and buildings to use for community housing projects.

Coderre very much played on his notoriety, wit and populist demeanor – and to maintain his early lead, he laid low and avoided getting caught in the crossfire.

Vision Montréal (VM), a vaguely centre-left party which served as the main opposition to Tremblay since 2001, was led by Louise Harel since the 2009 election. She served as the leader of the official opposition to Tremblay, but given her failure to make inroads with ethnic minorities and English voters, she understood that she stood little chance of becoming mayor, especially against Coderre. In July 2013, Harel announced that she would not run and Marcel Côté, an economist and founding partner in a strategic management consulting firm. Politically, Côté ran for the conservative Union nationale (UN) in the 1973 election and later worked for provincial Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa and federal Tory Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Therefore, Côté had little political experience and his name recognition was very low.

VM rebranded itself as ‘Coalition Montréal’ (CM), expanded to independents and ex-UM members. On corruption, CM proposed to create an ethics commissioner which would report directly to the audit committee; it also proposed to make all members of the executive council subject to police screening, promote openness and transparency and reviewing the way in which contracts are awarded. Otherwise, again, it was a lot of fluff or local issues: more bike lanes, extending the blue line of the subway to Anjou, more funding for public transit, reduce layers of bureaucracy that have built up, modernize city manage, restructure the executive council, promote ecoroofs and urban agriculture, accelerate organic waste collection, help 5,000 families buy property and build 15,000 social and community housing units over five years.

Côté ran into trouble when he was forced to admit that he was behind anti-PM/Bergeron robocalls. This kerfuffle added to an already disastrous and chaotic campaign. He lagged far behind the other candidates because of his low name recognition, his lack of charisma and his difficulty to connect with voters like a ‘polished politician’ (which he is not). He was also a last minute choice by a makeshift party which had been unsuccessful in its attempts to recruit a star candidate. His campaign, in which he spoke of his work for the federalist campaigns in the 1980 and 1995 referendums, was thrown into chaos when Harel proposed to create a linguistic watchdog on Montreal executive council – something much feared by English-speaking Montrealers.

Richard Bergeron was the only candidate in the race who had already run for mayor in the past – in 2005 and 2009. Bergeron leads a left-wing and environmentalist party, Projet Montréal (PM), which has traditionally emphasized issues such as sustainable development, development of green spaces or promotion of cycling and high-end public transit. With the corruption scandals, in which both UM and VM have been involved, PM has also played a lot on ethics, integrity and presents itself as the only clean party. PM’s green policies are not out of the mainstream in Montreal, where municipal politics generally skew to the left, especially in comparison to Toronto. All other parties have fairly green policies as well, favouring bike paths, green spaces, noise/pollution reduction or recycling.

Bergeron, however, is a controversial character and might be a net drag on his party. His personality (autocratic) tends to be off-putting for some voters, worsened by his image as far-left, anti-car dogmatist. Bergeron also made controversial and strange comments in the past; he once said that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer (although he might have walked that one back) and, most famously, alleged that George W. Bush might have been behind 9/11 (specifically the plane which hit the Pentagon and UA93 which crashed in Pennsylvania). He recently said that his 9/11 comments in a book were made in a previous life outside politics and were meant to shock, although I don’t think he has publicly recanted his 9/11 truther stuff.

PM’s platform emphasized its traditional green issues: reduce car traffic downtown by 50% in 20 years, extend three subway lines, build an electric tramway, demolish Bonaventure Expressway to build affordable housing, urban noise reduction policies, reducing the use of concrete in construction, promoting artistic and cultural activities, creating new parks and playgrounds and emphasizing urban development in areas close to public transit hubs. On corruption issues, Bergeron wanted to reduce the powers of the executive committee and boost transparency/openness. Again, Bergeron played on PM’s integrity and cleanliness, but he did draw some flack for his alliance with Applebaum in return for executive committee seats and tax concessions. He also said that the corruption problem had mostly been resolved.

The surprise of the campaign was the outsider candidate, Mélanie Joly, a 34 year old lawyer and PR professional. Earlier this year, Joly worked on current federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s leadership campaign, and she was endorsed by Trudeau’s brother Sacha. Joly’s outsider campaign generally leaned left, with an emphasis on improved public transit and keeping the city’s cultural identity. Her main proposal was to build a 130km rapid service/express bus system with reserved lanes, which she said would be less expensive than subway expansion or a tramway. Other policy proposals included a Charter of Nightlife, extending weekend business hours on busy commercial arteries to 9pm, greening the city with 300k new trees, encouraging entrepreneurship by simplifying business creation and a fight against social exclusion.

Integrity and transparency were also highlights of her platform, with proposals for an ethics code or abandoning the practice of awarding contracts to lowest bidders. However, The Gazette, Montreal’s English daily, said that Joly had “the most soft-on-crime platform” of the main mayoral candidates. She proposed to offer an amnesty to contractors that have committed acts of corruption and collusion if they compensate Montreal for the amount their illegal acts cost the city. That proposal, however, did not outrage any of her opponents.

Joly saw her support increase rapidly in the polls. However, she was forced to dump one of her candidates, Bibiane Bovet, a former escort, who was under investigation by the financial market authority. One candidate in Saint-Léonard had a history of domestic violence. These candidate kerfuffles, by no means limited to Joly’s party, did however highlight her inexperience and perhaps unpreparedness. Her makeshift party, Vrai changement pour Montréal (Real change for Montreal, VCM), ran only 26 candidates for City Council against a full slate for CM and PM and all but one candidate for EDC.

Turnout was 43.3%, which is up from 39.4% in the last election.

Denis Coderre (EDC) 32.15% winning 27 seats
Mélanie Joly (VCM-GMJ) 26.47% winning 4 seats
Richard Bergeron (PM-EB) 25.52% winning 20 seats
Marcel Côté (CM-EC) 12.79% winning 6 seats
Michel Brûlé (Integrity Montreal) 1.36% winning 0 seats
All others under 1% winning 0 seats
Borough parties winning 7 seats
Independents winning 1 seat

Denis Coderre was elected mayor of Montreal, which was quite predictable given that he had been the runaway favourite for over a year and at times his victory was taken as a near-certainty, reducing the stakes (and probably turnout) and making for a rather stale and boring predetermined campaign. However, there was nothing spectacular about his victory, especially if you consider him to be the strongest in a fairly weak field and take into account how he had been running for mayor, at least unofficially, for so long. Coderre won only 32% of the vote, which is even less than Tremblay’s anemic 38% in 2009. If there had been a second round or if the race had been fought with a preferential voting IRV system, it is quite likely that Coderre could have lost if the other candidates’ supporters coalesced behind Joly.

There were only two polls conducted with the actual candidates: Coderre led both by wide margins, with 39% support on October 5 and 41% on October 15. Joly placed second, with 24%, on October 15, with Bergeron in third at 21% and Côté at 11%. Of course, polling a municipal campaign – where parties are empty shells, voters extremely fickle with little ties to candidates and races based heavily on personality and candidate quality – is very difficult. Nevertheless, the polls badly overestimated Coderre and slightly underestimated Bergeron and Joly. Why? Might the apparent certainty of Coderre’s victory have depressed turnout amongst his potential supporters?

Furthermore, while Coderre is a strong candidate, he is not a fantastic candidate. A lot of voters know him, but I doubt very many are all enthused about him (and others dislike him outright). His campaign, finally, was rather low-key and failed to excite voters (who had very little to be excited about on the whole). It was boring, un-innovative and stale. Voters were likely looking for big ideas, a candidate with stances on issues which mattered most (corruption and infrastructure degradation) and an ability to channel voters’ feelings (a mix of anger, despair, resignation, stress). However, no candidate really stood out – their positions on most issues, including the most important ones, were very similar and all offered pablum and fluff rather than actual coherent policies.

Mélanie Joly, the surprise of the race, was perhaps the real winner (although her showing at the polls was not, in the end, a surprise – many felt she would do well, with the slightly overblown talk of Jolymania in the waning days). She was a political outsider and rookie like Côté, but what did she offer that he didn’t? For starters, her youthfulness and relative charisma. Her inexperience may have been a bit of an asset given the disrepute of municipal politicians with corruption: she stood out in a field with a longtime parliamentarian (Coderre), an increasingly worn-out old municipal politician with political baggage (Bergeron) and a no-namer possibly perceived as too close to big business (Côté). To a certain extent, she was seemingly able to capitalize on voters’ mood for change and something ‘different’, even if it was ultimately with a tagline like “real change” and through a general image of young (and thus less corrupt/not in the old guard.

Bergeron performed well, like in 2009, but he was unable to breakthrough. The party has potential, because it can benefit from CM/VM’s collapse and the high likelihood that Joly’s empty party of no-namers may deflate quickly. However, Bergeron, again, might be a drag on his party, keeping PM from appealing to a wider electorate and breaking the image of leftist and green dogmatists. Bergeron has announced that he will retire within two years. Bergeron’s departure gives PM a chance to detach himself from his ideological baggage and controversial past. But beware – one of the frontrunners to succeed him is Luc Ferrandez, the borough mayor of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, a controversial figure with an image as leftist/green dogmatist (anti-car, ‘anti-business’).

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

The geography of Montreal municipal elections is interesting in that they show the interplay of candidate, parochialism, traditional demographic factors (language, wealth, tenure etc) and federal/provincial partisan affinities. In 2009, the latter two proved rather important; this year, the first two might have proved more important.

Denis Coderre’s support did not quite reflect traditional provincial or federal Liberal support. His best performances came from his home turf in particular and ethnic suburbs in general. He won 66.7% in the multicultural (largest Haitian population in Canada) and low-income borough of Montréal-Nord (which has a bad reputation for crime and drugs, known for riots in 2008 and sometimes referred to as ‘the Bronx’), which also happens to be entirely covered by his former federal riding of Bourassa. Coderre also did very well in neighbouring boroughs: 55.2% in Saint-Léonard, another multicultural (a large Italian population with more recent Haitian, Arab and Latin American immigrants) borough which is rock-ribbed Liberal country; and 48.9% in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, a suburban borough which includes Rivière-des-Prairies, a largely Italian suburban community (Pointe-aux-Trembles is heavily Francophone, I would think that Coderre did not do as well there). However, Coderre also did very well in Anjou (45.3%), a largely Francophone (71%) and 60s suburban borough. Anjou had voted in favour of demerger in 2004, but the vote did not meet turnout requirements; UM was dominant in the borough until 2013. All of these boroughs have a common trait: they’re all located in northeastern suburban Montreal, close to Coderre’s home turf.

Coderre also performed well in Saint-Laurent (41.3%) and LaSalle (39.1%); both are former suburban municipalities which vote to deamalgamate in 2004 but fell short on turnout. Saint-Laurent is majority-minority (50%), it is known for its very large Arab and Muslim population (17% Muslim) – the largest in Quebec and probably in the country. LaSalle is 34% Anglophone and 37% non-white. Coderre narrowly won Ahuntsic-Cartierville, with 32.9% against 25.6% for Bergeron; almost certainly due to heavy support in Bordeaux-Cartierville, a multicultural district (44% visible minorities).

With the exception of Anjou and the parts of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles which aren’t Rivière-des-Prairies, Coderre’s strongest areas are Liberal strongholds, federally and provincially (although LaSalle voted NDP in 2011).

Mélanie Joly drew supports from all parts of the city, giving a map which transcended partisan leanings and demographic factors. She did best, by far, in the western suburban borough of L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where Joly won no less than 45.6%. Demographically, the borough, which has a small population, is largely Francophone (55%) with an Anglophone minority (30%) and predominantly upper middle-class, although mansions on L’Île-Bizard contrast with trailer parks. But it would seem that the main reason behind Joly’s success is that her party recruited former mayor Normand Marinacci (mayor of the island between 1999 and 2002), who was elected borough mayor on the VCM banner with 42.1% against the ex-UM incumbent, Richard Bélanger.

Joly also did well in Pierrefonds-Roxboro, which was her second best borough with 35%. Located on the West Island, the middle-class suburban borough has an Anglophone plurality (42%) and sizable visible minority population (38%). Joly performed well in the southwestern boroughs of Lachine (33.4%), LaSalle (33.6%) and Le Sud-Ouest (30.3%). The first two are largely suburban, with Lachine being a largely Francophone (57%) lower middle-class/working-class area. The latter is a more central area, historically working-class and ethnically diverse (Francophone, black, Irish, European, English etc) area which has seen gentrification in recent years, with condos and cheaper housing attracting young professionals – although pockets of severe deprivation remain, notably in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

So, Joly did rather well in western and southwestern suburban bedroom communities, both French-speaking and English-speaking. Perhaps her proposal for an express bus system to reduce commute times was attractive to those voters? L’Île-Bizard complains that it is linked by only one bridge to the island of Montreal, while the long commute times in Lachine or LaSalle are major local issues.

However, Joly also did quite well in less suburban areas. She won 31.3% in Ville-Marie, which covers Montreal’s revitalized and bustling downtown core from the Gay Village to McGill University on the slopes of Mont Royal. She narrowly topped the poll in her home borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (28.8%), a large and contrasted borough which includes low-income and immigrant-heavy Côte-des-Neiges, young student areas around the Université de Montréal and the trendy gentrified neighborhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG, where Joly lives). On the other hand, Joly didn’t do so well in the Francophone trendy bobo areas of Le Plateau (23.8%) or Rosemont (22.9%).

Most of the areas where Joly did well tend to vote Liberal provincially and NDP or Liberal federally. This is rather unsurprising: Joly appealed to federal NDP and Liberal supporters, but had less appeal to left-wing souverainiste voters.

Richard Bergeron’s best results, very unsurprisingly, came from the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal (43.3%) and Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie (41.3%), in central Montreal. Le Plateau is Montreal’s stereotypical downtown artsy/trendy/bobo neighborhood, historically working-class (Jewish and Francophone), but today extensively gentrified. It has a large population of young adults (28% are 25-34, against 18% for the whole city), many singles (53.5% one-person households vs. 41% city-wide), very highly educated (50% with a university degree, against 28% in the whole city) and low religious practice (40% with no religious affiliation, against 18% for the city of Montreal). The borough of Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie is more diverse, but the western end of the borough (La Petite-Patrie) is very similar to the Plateau. Directly north of that, Bergeron won the very diverse borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension by a hair, 32% against 31.7% for Coderre. I would easily wager that Bergeron did best, by a mile, in Villeray, a predominantly white Francophone area which, through gentrification, has become the latest trendy/hip neighborhood for highly educated young professionals in Montreal. In contrast, Coderre probably did much better in Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant neighborhood (57.6% non-white, formerly Greek, now with a large South Asian population) and Saint-Michel, a similar minority-majority neighborhood at the other end of the borough (63% non-white).

Bergeron also won Outremont (28.7%), a predominantly Francophone upper middle-class neighborhood which attracts highly educated young families (53% have a university degree) because of the quality of life and vibrant cultural scene (theaters etc). At the other end of the income scale, Bergeron won Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve by a hair with 27.2% (the borough was split three ways). The borough was historically known as Montreal’s Francophone working-class ghetto, and the borough as a whole remains rather poor (only 20% have a university degree, 9% less than the city-wide average) and very much Francophone (81%) and white (17.6% visible minorities). However, the western end of the district – by its proximity to downtown Montreal – has seen gentrification, although the growth of condos and influx of wealthier young residents ‘pushing out’ poorer residents has not been without controversy. Indeed, Hochelaga still has numerous low-income areas, which now contrast with rapidly growing gentrified parts.

CM’s goal was to transcend the east-west (and municipally, old city vs. post-2002 city) divide in Montreal politics which had sunk VM in 2009 (Harel, like Bourque in 2001, would have won on the pre-amalgamation boundaries – ironic!). The distribution of Côté’s support shows that he was somewhat successful in doing this, but obviously with his disastrous result he didn’t even come close to putting together a winning coalition. Côté’s best result was 21.6% in Outremont, good enough for third place (behind Bergeron and Coderre, ahead of Joly). He also performed well in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (19.3%), Verdun (15.1%), Le Plateau (15.3%), Ville-Marie (14.9%) and the old VM stronghold of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (14.6%).

QC - Montreal council 2013

Results of the city council and borough mayor elections

On city council, Coderre’s EDC will not have an absolute majority (33 seats required), having only 27 seats. Although Coderre has spoken about the need for unity and working together, I have little doubt he will be able to patch together a solid working majority with some of the seven councillors representing borough parties, all of them led by ex-UM members. The proliferation of so many borough-specific parties, largely concerned with decentralizing powers to boroughs and lobbying for their borough’s interests, made these elections far more confusing than the 2009 election, which had almost everywhere featured only the three city-wide parties. A lot of the races were decided by tiny margins.

EDC won eight borough mayoral races, against two for PM, three for CM, one for VCM/Joly and the remaining four by borough-specific parties. Joly’s party, which did not have a full slate and few well-known candidates, did poorly in city council races – winning only 11-12% overall. Joly’s slate, VCM, won only four seats.

EDC’s support in city council races largely reflected Coderre’s results in the mayoral race, with the exception of those places where borough parties (notably in Anjou) were dominant. It did best in the northeastern suburban and ethnic boroughs where Coderre’s support was strongest.

In Montréal-Nord, incumbent borough mayor Gilles Deguire (EDC, ex-UM) was reelected with 65% of the vote. CM had hoped that their candidate, Guy Ryan, the son of Yves Ryan – the pre-merger mayor of the city for 38 years, would do well on some kind of dynastic vote but he only won 20.8%. In the district of Ovide-Clermont, Coderre’s ‘co-candidate’ (running mate whose victory in a city council race gives a defeated mayoral candidate a seat on council) and ex-UM incumbent Jean-Marc Gibeau won no less than 72.2% of the vote. In Saint-Léonard, the incumbent UM-turned-EDC borough mayor Michel Bissonnet, a former Liberal MNA and President of the National Assembly from 2003 to 2008, was easily reelected with 65.7% of the vote. However, in the race for city council in Saint-Léonard-Est, EDC incumbent (ex-UM) Robert Zambito was forced to withdraw from the race when he was accussed of having offered a bribe, in 2010, to another UM councillor to get a good price on land. In a CM-PM contest, CM candidate Domenico Moschella won with an 82 vote majority, although there were more invalid votes (3,039) than votes in his favour (2,468)! In the other seat in the borough, EDC (ex-UM) incumbent Dominic Perri, who has sat on city council since 1982 (in Saint-Léonard prior to 2001), was reelected with 67.8%.

Coderre’s party did extremely well in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, very much transcending that borough’s deep political divide between Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles. The incumbent borough mayor, Chantal Rouleau (who had denounced the system of collusion in 2011), elected in a 2010 by-election for VM before switching to Coderre’s party, was reelected with 65.9% of the vote. EDC candidates, including one incumbent (ex-VM), won the predominantly Francophones districts of La Pointe-aux-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles with over 50% of the vote; in the former, VM/CM incumbent Caroline Bourgeois was defeated by her EDC opponents 50.9% to 28.6%.

In Saint-Laurent, incumbent borough mayor Alan DeSousa, an important player in the Tremblay era for UM, was handily reelected with 53.5% of the vote against 28.6% for VCM candidate François Ghali, a pre-merger councillor.

The three other wins for EDC in the boroughs were far narrower. In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, incumbent borough mayor Pierre Gagnier, originally elected for PM in 2010, won reelection for Coderre’s team with 30.4% against 27% for the PM candidate. EDC won two races for city council in the borough; in immigrant-heavy Bordeaux-Cartierville, ex-UM EDC incumbent Harout Chitilian was easily reelected with 48.9%. In Saint-Sulpice district, the EDC candidate won by only 9 votes over PM. PM incumbent Émilie Thuillier was reelected in Ahuntsic, a middle-class and well educated neighborhood, with 39.8% of the vote. Mélanie Joly’s mother, Laurette Racine, placed third with 20.9%. In the district of Sault-au-Récollet, however, VCM’s ‘star candidate’, Lorraine Pagé (a former union leader), won by 8 votes against EDC.

In Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, borough mayor Anie Samson, originally elected for VM, was reelected for Coderre’s party with a 730 vote majority over PM, 35.6% to 33.5%. CM held a seat in Villeray, where incumbent councillor and former PQ MNA Elsie Lefebvre held her seat quite easily with 45.6% against 36.9% for PM. Two EDC ex-UM incumbents held their seats in Parc-Extension and Saint-Michel by wide margins, while PM narrowly won an open seat in François-Perrault by a margin of only 11 votes over EDC.

In the southern borough of Verdun, EDC real estate agent Jean-François Parenteau won an open seat for borough mayor with a tight 553 vote majority over PM, in a very contested race which featured two borough parties, each led by ex-UM incumbent borough councillors. Parenteau won 24.8% against 22.4% for PM. ex-UM city councillor Alain Tassé, running for CM, won fourth with 14%. André Savard, one of the ex-UM borough councillors running for ‘Équipe Savard – option Verdun / Montréal’ placed fifth with 12.9% while Andrée Champoux, running for ‘Équipe Andrée Champoux pour Verdun’ won 7.5%. For city council, EDC triumphed in Champlain–L’Île-des-Sœurs by 329 votes, or 26.3% in a 6-candidate race. In Desmarchais-Crawford, a PM candidate won by 211 votes (only 24.8%) against Sébastien Dhavernas (EDC), a comedian and federal Liberal candidate in Outremont in 2008.

In Pierrefonds-Roxboro, EDC borough councillor (ex-UM) Dimitrios ‘Jim’ Beis was elected mayor with a 557 vote majority, with a VCM candidate placing second. CM’s candidate, ex-UM city councillor Christian Dubois placed last with only 13.6%. Joly’s party won the city councillor and borough councillor races in the district of Bois-de-Liesse (eastern Pierrefonds and Roxboro). Catherine Clément-Talbot, an incumbent borough councillor, won the other city council race.

As aforementioned, Joly’s major success in the city council race was in L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where VCM candidate Normand Marinacci won with 42.1% against 34% for incumbent mayor Richard Bélanger, formerly UM running for his own thing, ‘Équipe Richard Bélanger’. Marinacci had been mayor of L’Île-Bizard between 1999 and 2002. VCM candidates won two of the three races for borough council, the last one being one by one of Bélanger’s candidates.

One of the most closely watched races was in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, where incumbent PM mayor Luc Ferrandez drew controversy and much ire from shopkeepers and business owners with his ‘anti-car’ policies (higher parking metre fees, more one-way streets, removed parking places, expanded bike lanes). It would appear his critics are only a minority in his borough and he has a strong following of silent supporters: Ferrandez was reelected in a landslide, with 51.3% against 30.7% for CM candidate Danièle Lorain, an actress. In 2009, Ferrandez had won 44.8%. PM held all city and borough council seats with wide majorities.

In Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie, PM mayor François Croteau, who switched from VM in 2011, won by an even larger margin: 59.5% and an 18.1k vote majority. Croteau implemented “green revolution” policies similar to Ferrandez, but they proved far less controversial. PM candidates swept all four city council seats.

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the most populous borough, had a number of closely watched races. In the race for borough mayor (held by the disgraced Michael Applebaum between 2002 and 2012), CM candidate Russell Copeman, the provincial Liberal MNA for NDG between 1994 and 2008, narrowly won the open seat with a 1,134 vote edge – or 29.4% of the vote (a fairly mediocre result considering Copeman was a ‘star candidate’ for CM) – against PM candidate Michael Simkin, who won 26.2%. Joly and Coderre’s candidate placed third and forth respectively, with about 22% each.

One very contested race for city council was in Côte-des-Neiges district, a district mixing university students, well-educated academics and a substantial number of ethnic minorities (40%). The incumbent councillor since 2009 was Helen Fotopoulos, a senior city councillor who was mayor of Le Plateau until 2009 and a close ally of former mayor Tremblay. Fotopoulos ran for reelection, this time under the EDC banner. She faced Magda Popeanu (PM), who had placed second in 2009, and Marcel Côté’s co-candidate, Albert Perez. Popeanu won by 77 votes, taking 30.9% against 29.7% for Fotopoulos. Côté/Perez placed fourth with only 18.7%.

In the district of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, held by PM’s Peter McQueen, a former provincial Green candidate, McQueen went up against Mélanie Joly’s co-candidate, Marie-Claude Johnson – the daughter of former Quebec Premier Pierre-Marc Johnson (PQ). However, McQueen was reelected by 649 votes, taking 38.3% against 31.4% for Joly/Johnson. Mélanie Joly has said that she would run in a by-election to win a seat on city council, although I’m not sure if she intends to get one of her four members to step down for her or wait for a genuine vacancy to arise.

In Loyola, a predominantly Anglophone and allophone district with a large immigrant population, an independent candidate, former councillor Jeremy Searle, won by 354 votes although with only 23.4% of the vote. The seat was open with the retirement of the independent ex-UM incumbent.

Marvin Rotrand, a member of city council since 1982 and UM-turned-CM councillor, was reelected for CM with 48.2% in Snowdon, a majority-minority district with a large Jewish population. In immigrant-heavy Darlington district, ex-UM incumbent Lionel Perez, who had been borough mayor since Applebaum’s election to the mayor’s chair in 2012, was reelected with 35.7% against 30% for a CM candidate.

Ville-Marie doesn’t elect a borough mayor, but all three races for city council were highly disputed. In Saint-Jacques district, a lively area which includes the Old Port, Old Montreal, the hip Quartier Latin, the Gay Village and the new entertainment district; Richard Bergeron ran, represented by his co-candidate Janine Krieber, who is former federal Liberal leader (and current MP) Stéphane Dion’s wife. He faced VM/CM incumbent François Robillard and a star candidate from EDC, former Radio-Canada journalist Philippe Schnobb. Bergeron/Krieber won by only 81 votes (36 votes after recount), taking 29.2% against 28.2% for Schnobb. The incumbent member placed fourth, behind VCM, with 16.7%.

In Sainte-Marie district, covering the poorer eastern extremity of Ville-Marie borough (old French working-class neighborhood), Louise Harel (VM/CM), elected in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in 2009, ran for a seat on city council – held by Pierre Mainville, elected for PM in 2009 but sitting as an independent since last year. Harel lost, effectively ending her long political career. PM’s Valérie Plante won by 263 votes, taking 33% against 29.5% for Harel and 21.2% for the indie incumbent.

VCM won Peter-McGill district, a multicultural and predominantly Anglophone district which includes McGill University and some of downtown Montreal’s skyscrapers.

Coalition Montréal was decimated in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the old VM stronghold. Only the incumbent borough mayor, former Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard (VM/CM) was reelected, with 36.3% against 31.1% for a PM candidate. In Hochelaga district, outgoing interim mayor Laurent Blanchard (CM) lost by 669 votes to a PM candidate. PM also won Harel’s old district, Maisonneuve–Longue-Pointe, while EDC won Tétrautville and Louis-Riel.

It was a similar story in Le Sud-Ouest, where CM held all but one seat (a borough councillor seat held by PM). Only the incumbent VM/CM borough mayor, Benoit Dorais, was victorious: by 115 votes over PM, taking 27.5% of the vote against 27% for PM. PM won all other races – the two city council districts and the two additional borough councillor races.

In the former municipalities of Anjou, Lachine, LaSalle and Outremont, borough parties were successful. In Anjou, the incumbent mayor, Luis Miranda, was reelected for his Équipe Anjou party with 56.5%. Miranda, a proponent of decentralization and, formerly, de-amalgamation (in 2004), has been mayor of Anjou since 1997. He was reelected for Tremblay’s MICU in 2001, but perceiving Tremblay’s administration as insufficiently bold on decentralization, he was reelected for  Équipe Anjou in 2005 – before switching back to UM for the 2009 election. He left the party to recreate Équipe Anjou in 2012, followed by the city councillor and the three borough councillors. Équipe Anjou candidates swept all other races with comfortable majorities.

In Lachine, Claude Dauphin, a former president of the executive committee under Tremblay and one of Paolo Catania’s guests at the ‘357c’ private club, was reelected with 54% as the candidate of the Équipe Dauphin Lachine. His party also won the borough’s one city council seat and all 3 borough councillor seats, although with much narrower majorities.

LaSalle borough mayor Manon Barbe, another ex-UM member who founded her own party, Pro action LaSalle, upon quitting UM, was reelected with 36.6% and a 2,901 vote majority. While EDC won one of the two districts for city council, Barbe’s party won all other races.

Outremont mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, a former UM member who now leads the ‘Équipe conservons Outremont’ whose main cause is keeping the small borough from being merged into an adjacent borough, won reelection with a small majority of 390 votes against PM – with 39.1%. There was a close race for borough council in Claude-Ryan district, which has a large Jewish community (45% of residents are Jewish). Mindy Pollak, a Hasidic Jewish woman running for PM, won by 168 votes (35.3%) against Pierre Lacerte, an independent candidate who is very critical of Hasidic Jews in the area. Pollak said that she wanted to bridge community divides.

Quebec City

Quebec City, the provincial capital, is Quebec’s second largest city. Since 2007, the city has been governed by the very popular Régis Labeaume.

Between 1989 and 2005, the capital was governed by mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier, a cabinet minister in Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s first government in the 1970s. L’Allier’s party, the Renouveau municipal de Québec (RMQ), leaned to the left. After presiding over the forced mergers which saw suburban municipalities such as Sainte-Foy, Beauport, Charlesbourg, Sillery or Vanier merged into a new Quebec City, he retired in 2005. He was suceeded by the very colourful Andrée Boucher, an anti-merger crusader who had been mayor of Sainte-Foy between 1985 and 2001. Boucher ran a shoestring campaign, almost invisible, but won handily with 46% against 33.5% for the RMQ candidate and 10.5% for Marc Bellemare, who had briefly been justice minister in Liberal Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet. Lacking a majority on city council as she was an independent, Boucher’s tenure was fairly unstable and her mercurial behaviour annoyed some who worried about how she would manage to successfully organize the huge celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City’s foundation in 2008.

Boucher died in 2007, precipitating a mayoral by-election. Régis Labeaume, a businessman running as an independent, surged from 5% in September to 59% on election day in December 2007. He handily defeated Ann Bourget, a RMQ city councillor, who placed second with 33%. The celebrations for Quebec City’s 400th anniversary were a huge success, bringing worldwide acclaim to the city. In 2009, Labeaume was reelected in a landslide with 80% of the vote, his only semi-relevant opposition coming from controversial (but popular) right-wing talk radio host Jeff Fillion (8.5%) and Yonnel Bonaventure, leader of a local Green party (8.1%). His party, Équipe Labeaume, won 25 out of 27 seats.

Régis Labeaume remains very popular. He is a rather populist right-leaning mayor, known for his ‘straight-talking’ style – often lashing out at ‘incompetents’ and criticizing municipal employees. The city has been doing well economically, and many credit Labeaume from injecting dynamism and pride to the provincial capital.

His populist, pro-business and entrepreneurial style is a good fit for Quebec City, which despite being a capital city with a large civil servant population, is known for being one of the most right-wing regions in the province. In his first full term in office, Labeaume’s landmark initiative has been the construction of a new amphitheatre/indoor arena, part of a popular bid to bring back the Québec Nordiques, the city’s old NHL (hockey) team which left for Colorado in 1995. Work has begun on the new arena, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. The construction of the amphitheatre stirred much controversy and political debate in the province in 2011 and 2012, after Labeaume announced that Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s media empire, Québecor, would have management rights over the arena. L’Allier’s former city manager, Denis de Belleval, took the decision to court, arguing the deal was illegal. Labeaume successfully lobbied the then-Liberal provincial government and the then-opposition PQ to pass a law, law 204, which banned judicial challenges to the Québecor deal, although de Belleval’s case continued. The passage of law 204 notably led to a crisis in the PQ, with a number of PQ MNAs quitting the party and throwing Pauline Marois’ leadership of the party into chaos for a while. In June 2012, the Superior Court found in favour of Quebec City in de Belleval’s case. In June 2013, a strike paralyzed work until the PQ government passed a back-to-work law in July 2013, ending the strike.

Labeaume faced more serious opposition this year, from a new centre-left party, Démocratie Québec, whose mayoral candidate was David Lemelin. DQ also included the two independents elected in 2009 and two dissident councillors from Labeaume’s team. David Lemelin was shaken when it was revealed that he had been convicted for domestic violence 20 years ago.

Labeaume’s crusade in this election was against municipal employees and public sector unions. With the municipal employees’ pension fund in deficit, he was to get municipal employees and their union – rather than taxpayers – to foot part of the bill. He also wants to increase their working hours to 37.5/week (currently 35) and cut employee costs by 5%. Labeaume spoke of the need for a “strong mandate” for him to do this, because he wants the provincial government to change collective bargaining laws to give the city additional powers against unions in negotiations, perhaps forcing them to accept the city’s conditions if there is no agreement after one year. DQ’s platform focused on direct democracy and sustainable democracy, but talked about the need for healthier and normal relations with city employees and limiting subcontracting.

Turnout was 54.9%, up from 49% in 2009.

Régis Labeaume (EL) 74.07% winning 19 seats
David Lemelin (DQ) 24.03% winning 3 seats
Others 1.90%

Labeaume obtained the “strong mandate” he was looking for from voters. With turnout well over 50% and up from 2009, and Labeaume himself winning nearly 75% of the vote (despite much stronger and organized opposition than in 2009), there’s no question that he has his mandate. In his victory speech, the reelected mayor pressed the provincial government to take heed of his landslide – saying that the population wanted ‘change’ – and called on the PQ government, notably labour minister and downtown Quebec City MNA Agnès Maltais to “make heard their opinions on our proposals” (on pension reform). He also called on the unions to negotiate, “in a calm and civilized manner” with his administration. However, the PQ minister of municipal affairs, Sylvain Gaudreault, has already commented that he does not feel that Labeaume’s mandate rests solely on this one issue.

In a reduced city council shrunk from 27 to 21 members, Labeaume’s candidates won 18 out of 21 districts (the additional seat always being the mayor’s seat) while the opposition DQ won three districts. DQ incumbents Yvon Bussières and Anne Guérette, the two independents elected in the Labeaume tsunami in 2009, were reelected in their districts in La Cité-Limoilou borough. Their districts, Montcalm-Saint-Sacrement and Cap-aux-Diamants respectively, cover downtown Quebec City – including the beautiful Vieux-Québec, which is the most left-wing part of the city. Both won over 55% of the vote. However, in Maizerets-Lairet, the ‘turncoat’ EL-turned-DQ incumbent was defeated, winning only 31.6% of the vote. In the district of Saint-Louis-Sillery, which includes the very affluent old suburb of Sillery, DQ candidate Paul Shoiry – a pre-merger mayor of Sillery – was elected by an even wider margin an EL-held open seat, winning 60.6% of the vote. However, in Cap-Rouge-Laurentien, DQ mayoral candidate David Lemelin (represented by his co-candidate) was defeating, taking only 27.1% against 53.1% for Laurent Proulx (EL), a 26-year old candidate known for his opposition to the 2012 student strikes in the province (he was a ‘carré vert’ – supporter of the tuition fee increases). In suburban and right-leaning boroughs like Les Rivières, Charlesbourg, Beauport and La Haute-Saint-Charles, EL candidates and incumbents won all seats, often with upwards of 70% of the vote.

Laval

Laval, a suburban island located north of the island of Montreal, is Quebec’s third largest city (pop. 401,553). Unlike the other large cities in Quebec, Laval was not concerned by the difficult forced mergers over ten years ago – fourteen municipalities (Chomedey, Duvernay, Laval-des-Rapides etc) were amalgamated to form the city of Laval, which covers the whole island, in 1965. Since amalgamation in the 1960s, Laval has been a growing suburban community, which has attracted new businesses (high-tech, services, pharmaceuticals) and new residents (including upwardly-mobile immigrants); suburban growth led to the expansion of the Montreal subway across the river to Laval, with three new stations opening (after massive cost overruns) in 2007. As in a lot of suburban municipalities, local politics have usually been dominated by pro-business politicians and/or businessmen keen on rapid development, but not as active on environmental or sustainability issues. Although the city’s economy has been diversified, it remains very much a suburban community, lacking a true downtown.

Laval has had few mayors since 1965, a lot of the city’s mayors staying in office for a long time. Lucien Paiement, who is said to have brought in the system of organized corruption which was blown up to pieces last year, served between 1973 and 1981. In 1989, Gilles Vaillancourt, the candidate of outgoing mayor Claude Ulysse Lefebvre’s party (the Parti du ralliement officiel des Lavallois, PRO), was first elected. Vaillancourt, as noted above, stayed in office until the revelations of the Charbonneau Commission and his frontline role in the corruption system forced him to resign in November 2012. Vaillancourt was reelected comfortably in every election thereafter, and after 2001, he ruled without opposition on city council – basically making Laval a single-party state.

The city’s rapid development under his rule, which saw – among others – the expansion of the Montreal subway to Laval and the inauguration of a new bridge linking Laval and Montreal on highway 25, was one of the factors in his political longevity. However, Vaillancourt and the PRO’s control of resources and access to illegal campaign funds from developers and engineering firms made the PRO a well-oiled electoral machine which would attract the strongest candidate and discourage opponents. In 2005, for example, Vaillancourt’s strongest opponent (who won 16% to the mayor’s 74.6%) was a 18-year old student! In 2009, Vaillancourt, facing slightly more serious but still badly disorganized, divided and underfunded opposition, was reelected with 61% against 22.6% for his closest opponent.

One witness at the Charbonneau Commission testified how Vaillancourt, in 1997, had intervened to neutralize a potentially strong rival (the son of his predecessor), a business partner of the witness. Vaillancourt allegedly told him that if he dissociated himself from his friend, he would get more contracts and tripling the engineering fees he was getting from the city. Refusing to do so, Vallée’s firm became persona non grata in Laval and the city apparently told North Shore municipalities to boycott his firm.

This election marked the beginning of a new era for the city. Only three incumbent municipal councillors ran for reelection, most of the councillors having been cited as accomplices in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. The PRO, the dominant party of Laval politics since 1980, dissolved last year and a number of its leaders are officials are under investigation.

There were four major candidates in the race, each running under their own party banners.

Marc Demers, a retired police officer and PQ candidate in Laval-des-Rapides in the 2007 and 2008 provincial elections, ran for the Mouvement lavallois, whose candidate had placed second with 22.6% in the last election. In 1982, Demers, as a police officer, had investigated Vaillancourt (then a PRO municipal councillor) and his family (his brother, arrested in May 2013, owned a furniture store) for fraud but he was transferred to another service quickly thereafter and that case was later closed. Corruption, ethics and integrity formed the cornerstones of his campaign: he proposed to review the rules for awarding contracts, more transparency (open data initiative) and taking judicial action to recovery money stolen by corruption and collusion. His platform also emphasized environmental issues (a moratorium on the destruction of wetlands until 2020, reducing greenhouse gas emissions), direct democracy and a property tax freeze in 2004.

The legality of Demers’ candidacy was questioned by his opponents because he did not live in Laval between July 2012 and January 2013, while the law requires a candidate to have lived in the municipality for at least one year before the election – but at the same time, the law is vague over whether this means one full year, uninterrupted, from the election or not. Demers’ lawyer argued that his client fulfilled this requirement given that he had resided for years in the city before summer 2012. His opponents, however, argued that his candidacy was not legal and they may still take the issue to court. They accused Demers of using his ties to the PQ to ask the provincial government to change the law to accommodate him, a claim which he denies.

Jean-Claude Gobé, the candidate of a new party called Action Laval, a provincial Liberal MNA for LaFontaine (Rivière-des-Prairies in NE Montreal) between 1985 and 2003 (but he left the party to sit as an independent in 2003) and a federal Liberal candidate in 2006 (Alfred-Pellan riding in eastern Laval). His tenure as MNA must have been fairly unremarkable given the absence of a Wikipedia article on the guy! Naturally, Gobé’s campaign focused on change as well, and emphasized much of the same things: direct democracy, proximity to citizens, annual investments of $350 million in infrastructure, decontamination of industrial lands, security cameras, a property tax freeze for at least two years, spending increases under 2.5% a year and a symphony house. Gobé was very critical of the fact that the city is under the trusteeship of the provincial government

Claire Le Bel, an incumbent one-term city councillor elected for the PRO in 2009, ran for a new party called Option Laval. As one of the new councillors elected in 2009, Le Bel (along with the outgoing mayor) had not been involved in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. Her campaign received much attention after she accepted to meet with Vaillancourt. She smartly taped the whole meeting, in which the former mayor offered her his very discreet help. In the meeting, Vaillancourt said that he could gets “his guys” (sounds legit!) to help her out a bit. Le Bel, who found the whole thing disgusting, understood that the disgraced former mayor was offering her money (he also talked about other things in the taped meeting, and it’s rather interesting). However, any good press her actions in that episode that might have gotten her were eclipsed when her campaign manager, a Bloc Québécois candidate in the 2008 federal election, shortly thereafter alleged that he had been assaulted on the highway. It later turned out that he had made the story up, and he faces charges of public mischief under the Canadian Criminal Code. He stepped down as campaign manager. Many believe he made this story up to boost Le Bel’s campaign (but probably without her knowing he made it all up), but you kind of need to an idiot to do such a thing.

Robert Bordeleau, who had run for mayor in 2009 for the Parti au service du citoyen (PSC) and won 14.9% of the vote, ran again this year. I don’t know much about the guy or his campaign, but he apparently owes the provincial revenue agency $120,000 in taxes and Demers accused him of leading a mudslinging campaign.

Turnout was 41.1%, up from 35.7% in 2009.

Marc Demers (ML) 44.19% winning 18 seats
Jean-Claude Gobé (AL) 24.3% winning 2 seats
Claire Le Bel (OL) 12.4%
Robert Bordeleau (PSC) 10.86%
Jacques Foucher (Ind) 3.18%
Others 5.08%
Independents winning 2 seats

Marc Demers, who was kind of the favourite, won by a wide margin. Demers was likely helped by his strong campaign focus on integrity and probity, and his own image as a police officer, longstanding opponent of corruption (and Vaillancourt) and as a man of integrity; this probably made him the most credible and appealing candidate in a field without any ‘star candidates’ and generally low-calibre candidates. Demers’ priority will be getting the city back on track, by fighting corruption and ending the provincial government’s trusteeship of the city (he says he wants to keep the trustees as advisers for a few months).

Demers will have a strong majority on city council. His candidates won 17 out of 21 districts, with two seats going to Gobé’s Action Laval and two seats to independents (one of whom is an ex-PRO incumbent; the two other incumbents seeking reelection lost). Gobé’s party won the districts of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Chomedey; in the mayoral race, Chomedey, a very multicultural neighborhood.

Other cities

The election in Gatineau, Quebec’s fourth largest city located across the river from Ottawa, was quite a surprise. The incumbent mayor, Marc Bureau (independent), elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009, lost reelection by a wide margin to Buckingham city councillor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, the candidate of a new left-leaning party, Action Gatineau, which had three incumbents. Bureau won just 36.2% of the vote, against 52.6% for Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. Bureau had a solid lead in one poll taken, and was not considered as being endangered, making his defeat somewhat puzzling. But a lot of results in the smaller cities and towns in Quebec local elections often are just that – puzzling and surprising. Turnout was 41.9%, up from 2009.

Bureau never was a wildly popular mayor (he won reelection with only 44% over a divided field in 2009), but he did not face any major scandals or popular protest. On the other hand, his name was not attached with any big projects and a lot of campaign promises went unfulfilled. In his last term, he promoted ‘Destination Gatineau’, a new tourist project on the Ottawa River which is projected to cost $137 million (with federal and provincial funding and the private sector for most of it) and open in 2017 for the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Pedneaud-Jobin did not hide his lukewarm feelings for the project, which he says focuses too much on tourists (and besides, he says it’s the wrong way to attract tourists to stay in the region) and he wants to revitalize other ‘downtowns’ of the spread out and amalgamated city (Aylmer, Old Hull, Gatineau, Buckingham). Jacques Lemay, a former fire chief running as an independent, proposed to attract tourists with a rollercoaster and big wheel, a covered dome for year-round cross-country skiing and a large park with fountains.

Bureau received some criticism after the mid-October roll-out of Rapibus, a new bus rapid transit system (similar to Ottawa’s Transitway) ran into problems and users complained of longer daily commute times. The Rapibus project also had cost overruns. Pedneaud-Jobin cited the Rapibus ‘flop’ as one of the factors contributing to his victory.

A desire for change, the mayor’s unfulfilled promises and his mediocre record likely explain Bureau’s defeat. It was, however, an ambiguous result: Pedneaud-Jobin won by a large margin, but only four of Action Gatineau’s candidate for the 18 city council seats were elected – and two AG incumbents, in Aylmer and Lucerne, lost reelection.

In Longueuil, a South Shore suburb of Montreal which is Quebec’s fifth largest city, incumbent mayor Caroline St-Hilaire, a former Bloc MP, was reelected to a second term in office with 87.3% of the vote against 12.7% for a little-known independent candidate. St-Hilaire was first elected in 2009, ending 27 years of rule by the Municipal Party of Longueuil (PML). She won 52.9% against PML candidate Jacques Goyette, who took 47.1%. Goyette was backed by outgoing mayor Claude Gladu, the PML mayor between 1994 and 2001 and 2005 and 2009. Already in 2009, the PML candidate suffered from accusation of impropriety and talk of illegal financing of the party and cost inflation in public contracts. Since then, the PML, which had won 15 seats against 12 seats for the mayor-elect’s Action Longueuil party, has collapsed. Witnesses at the Charbonneau Commission confirmed that a similar system of collusion to that in Laval and Montreal existed in Longueuil, with firms obtaining contracts in returning for donations to the PML. PML councillors either switched to Action Longueuil or became independents. St-Hilaire’s campaign and party played a lot on the issue of integrity and transparency, and warned voters of not going back to the past. And they didn’t: St-Hilaire won reelection with only token opposition from a last-minute and little-known independent, Pardo Chiocchio, who apparently has ties to the old PML. For city council, St-Hilaire’s Action Longueuil won 13 out of 15 districts, giving then a large majority. 3 AL candidates had already been acclaimed. One independent incumbent (ex-PML) won reelection in the Laflèche district of Saint-Hubert borough, and another independent (ex-PML) incumbent in Greenfield Park, a borough with a substantial Anglophone minority, was reelected for a local party, Option Greenfield Park. However, two prominent figures of the old PML, Claude and Robert Gladu – the son and nephew of former mayor Claude Gladu – lost reelection in their Vieux-Longueuil districts to AL candidates.

Sherbrooke mayor Bernard Sévigny, elected for a first term in 2009, won reelection to a second term with 73.4% of the vote in a four-candidate field. His closest rival won 14.3%. It’s a much more comfortable victory than his initial win in 2009, when he had won by only 122 votes. However, Sévigny will still face trouble on the municipal council: his party won nine out of 19 districts, against 10 seats for independents.

The mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, won reelection to a fourth term with 63% of the vote – a disappointing result after he won 78% in 2009. Tremblay, first elected in 2001, something of a YouTube star for his folksy and wacky way of talking. But he is also a controversial character, for his Catholic traditionalist and conservative views. He was criticized for reciting a prayer at the start of every session of the municipal council, and despite a 2008 decision of the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission which found that the prayer infringed on freedom of conscience and religion, continued the practice. In 2011, the Tribunal des droits de la personne ordered the mayor and the city to stop reciting the prayer, remove religious symbols from public buildings and pay $30,000 in damages to the complainant. The city appealed the judgement to the Quebec Court of Appeals found in favour of the mayor in May 2013, but that decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In August 2012, during the provincial electoral campaign, Tremblay criticized PQ candidate Djemila Benhabib, a feminist and anti-fundamentalist writer of Algerian descent, who had criticized the presence of the crucifix in the National Assembly. Tremblay said that French Canadians were ‘soft’ and were being told how to behave by a person from Algeria, “and we aren’t even able to pronounce her name.” He said that he didn’t like that “those people” (immigrants) come to Quebec and establish “their rules.” His remarks were denounced as xenophobic and created an uproar, but a majority of his constituents sided with him.

Tremblay remains very popular, despite some accusations of mismanagement and mishandling of public contracts. He won 63% of the vote against 37% for Paul Grimard, who campaigned on the topic of integrity. Tremblay is an independent, and independents hold 17 of the city’s 19 districts. Grimard’s party won two seats.

Additional results for other cities are available here. Maps of the results in all cities explored above are available on the Canadian Election Atlas blog.

Nova Scotia (Canada) 2013

Provincial elections were held in Nova Scotia (Canada) on October 7, 2013. All 51 members of the unicameral provincial legislature, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, elected by FPTP in single-member districts, were up for reelection.

The electoral map was significantly redistributed last year, resulting in the net loss of one district: rural Nova Scotia lost three seats, while the Halifax Metro gained two seats. The abolition of four specially designated ‘minority’ ridings – three Acadian seats and one black seat (all of which had smaller populations than the provincial average) – caused a small uproar. The net political effect of the new map favoured the governing New Democrats (NDP), who would have won won two more seats than they actually did in the last election, while the Liberals would have won two fewer seats and the Progressive Conservative (PCs) would have won one seat fewer.

Presentation

Nova Scotia is Canada’s seventh most populous province, with a population just under one million (921,727) in 2011, and is the most populous province out of the four Atlantic provinces. In economic terms, Nova Scotia has the highest GDP of all four Atlantic provinces, although it only accounts for 2.1% of the country’s GDP.

Canada’s Atlantic provinces have tended to be significantly poorer and more economically depressed than the rest of Canada, and all of them were known as ‘have-not’ provinces until recently. Although Nova Scotia is by no means wealthy compared to the rest of Canada, it has historically been better off than other Atlantic provinces, although recent oil-fueled prosperity and growth in Newfoundland has very much altered that. For example, Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate (8.6%) is high compared to the rest of Canada, but it is still the lowest of the four Atlantic provinces. However, Nova Scotia’s GDP per capita is the second lowest of all provinces, and 17.4% of the population were low income after-tax (compared to 14.9% across Canada).

Nova Scotia’s economy is in good part reliant on federal equalization payments, to the amount of $1.458 billion in 2013-14.

The province’s contemporary economy is largely driven by the tertiary sector. The largest industries (NAICS classifications) in 2011 were retail trade (12.6% of the labour force), health care and social assistance (12.3%), public administration (9.7%), education (8%), manufacturing (7%) and construction (6.7%). Traditional industries such as agriculture, fishing and forestry employed only 3.8% of the labour force and mining an infinitely small share (0.8%).

Nova Scotia’s traditional primary and secondary sectors have declined in the last decades. Fisheries once formed an integral part of the provincial economy, due to the proximity of rich offshore (and inshore) stocks, but overfishing in the late 20th century led to the collapse of cod stocks and resulted in major jobs loses and drastic federal quotas on catches. Mining (largely coal) also played a considerable role in the province’s economy, especially on Cape Breton Island (Sydney) although there were fields in Pictou and Cumberland counties on the mainland. Mine closures, in addition to the loss of other major industries (a large steel mill in Sydney) have left Cape Breton Island significantly economically deprived.

Manufacturing and other industries include or have included steel (Sydney – closed down, Trenton), pulp and paper (Liverpool/Brooklyn – closed in 2012, Port Hawkesbury etc), frozen food/fish and agricultural processing (Lunenburg, Oxford, Canso), petroleum refining (Dartmouth), Michelin tires (Bridgewater, Granton, Cambridge) and power generation (Dartmouth, Trenton, Industrial Cape Breton). Shipbuilding in towns such as Pictou or Shelburne used to be major industries (the famous Bluenose schooner, which appears on the Canadian dime, was built in Lunenburg in the 1920s, but declined after the advent of steam and steel.

The Halifax metro has performed better than the rest of the province, benefiting from the concentration of more stable employment in the public sector (including defence – Halifax is home to the large HQs of the CF’s Maritime Command), finance, services, healthcare and education. Halifax’s unemployment rate in September 2013 was 6%, significantly below the provincial but also national average. Halifax is a ‘college town’ home to Dalhousie University, St. Mary’s and the University of King’s College. Antigonish (St. FX) and Wolfville (Acadia) are also major college towns.

Halifax saw the highest population growth between 2006 and 2011 (+4.7%), most other counties lost population. Cape Breton Island has been particularly afflicted by depopulation, having regularly lost population in almost all recent censuses.

Nova Scotia is more ethnically diverse than other Atlantic provinces, although by national standards it is heavily white and native-born. 95% of the population is white, three-quarters of the population was born in the province and 91.8% have English as their mother tongue (French: 3.4%). These statistics hide some interesting tidbits and greater ethnic diversity within the ‘white Anglo’ population.

Blacks constitute 2.3% (about 20,000 people) of the provincial population and form, by far, the largest visible minority in the province. While most black Canadians immigrated to Canada in the more recent past, Nova Scotia’s substantial black population has far deeper roots. Most came as free ‘black Loyalists’ after the American Revolution or as ‘black refugees’ during the War of 1812, and settled in the Halifax area. Many black Nova Scotians faced racism and discrimination, and lived in deplorable conditions. The town of Preston, outside Dartmouth, has a large black majority (69%).

39% of the population reported their ancestry (multiple response) as ‘Canadian’, a term which seems to indicate a long-time, settled Anglo-Protestant population which has lived in Canada for hundreds of years. Some 73% reported European ancestries, the largest being Scottish (31.2%), English (30.8%), Irish (22.3%), French (17%) and German (10.8%). This gives Nova Scotia the second highest proportion of persons claiming Scottish and Irish ancestries and the third highest proportion claiming English ancestry of all provinces or territories.

Like in New Brunswick, many English Nova Scotians are of United Empire Loyalist descent and settled in the province following the American Revolution. Cumberland County, Shelburne County and the Annapolis Valley have the largest English populations. Most Scots settled on Cape Breton Island or Pictou County; over 50% of the population in Pictou, Inverness and Victoria counties (the last two are on Cape Breton) and Gaelic was widely spoken in northern Nova Scotia and parts of PEI until the late 19th century. Most Irish are found in Antigonish County.

Nova Scotia remains a small French/Acadian minority, and an even smaller French-speaking minority. Those claiming French ancestry are concentrated in Yarmouth and Digby counties in southern NS or in Richmond County (Cape Breton Island), with some sizable numbers in Inverness and Antigonish counties. 30.5% of the population of Digby County claim French as their mother tongue, and Francophones constitute about three-fifths of the population in Clare municipal district. There are isolated French-speaking communities in Yarmouth County (20.3%), Richmond County (Isle Madame, 22.8%) and Inverness County (Chéticamp, 13.1%). Acadians in other parts of the province, notably Antigonish or Guysborough County, have been Anglicized.

Nova Scotia has the largest German (and Dutch, 3.6%) population of the Atlantic provinces. A significant German Protestant population settled in Nova Scotia, particularly Lunenburg County, during early British colonial rule – they were brought in as ‘Foreign Protestants’ by the British to counterbalance the Acadian and native (Mi’kmaq) populations after Britain acquired Nova Scotia from the French. Lunenburg County, by far, still has the largest German population in the province; 32.1% claimed German ancestry in 2011.

76% of the Nova Scotian population is Christian and 21.8% have no religious affiliation. In more detailed terms, 33% of the population is Catholic, 12.1% are adherents of the United Church of Canada, 11% are Anglican and 8.9% are Baptist. The relatively large Anglican population and the large Baptist population (second largest, proportionally, after New Brunswick) is a sign of the province’s large stock of descendants of the United Empire Loyalists. Catholics constitute a large majority of the population on Cape Breton Island, with the exception of Victoria County, which saw more English settlement; and also in Antigonish County. Pictou County, Guysborough County, Halifax County and the Acadian counties of Digby and Yarmouth also have sizable Catholic populations; in contrast, the Catholic population in the Anglo/German counties is quite small. The contentious issue of religious schools, which has been a hot topic of religious (and linguistic) strife in Canadian history, was settled prior to Confederation in Nova Scotia (in 1865) with the adoption of non-denominational schools and allowed after-school Catholic religious education in schools.

Political culture

Nova Scotian political culture is both similar to and dissimilar to the general political culture of the Atlantic provinces. As in other provinces, provincial politics have been highly influenced by parochialism, tradition, conservatism, pragmatism and a dose of cynicism and caution. However, unlike in the other provinces, the traditional Liberal/Conservative duopoly in provincial politics has been successfully challenged by the NDP.

Ideology and issues have played a relatively minor role in Nova Scotian politics, historically. Since pre-Confederation days, observers have pointed out that few if any meaningful issues or ideologies divided the Liberals and the Conservatives. Both parties reached their positions more on grounds of political expediency rather than principles; for example, the early Liberals opposed expanding the franchise and fought against abolishing the upper house. To this day, both the Liberal and Conservative (PC) parties are moderate, pragmatic and ideologically similar parties while the incumbent NDP government adapted itself to the terrain and governed in a similarly moderate and fairly non-ideological fashion.

No great ethnic, religious, class or ideological antagonisms have had a strong, lasting influence in Nova Scotian elections. Some ethnic and religious voting patterns have been evident, notably with Acadians in particular and Catholics in general tending to lean towards the Liberals. However, unlike in many other Canadian province, the religious cleavage in vote choice at the provincial level has been far less pronounced. Religion and religious conflict has played a role in Nova Scotian politics, notably in pre-Confederation days or in 1954, but the ‘schools question’ was never a major political issue in the province and both parties effectively catered to both Protestants and Catholics. The provincial Conservatives have been considerably less hostile towards Catholics than their counterparts in other provinces and, as a result, they have at times managed to appeal strongly to Catholic voters.

Class politics and the union movement (with industrial workers in steel mills and coal mines) have been more prominent in Nova Scotia than in the other Atlantic provinces, explaining the strength of the CCF/NDP compared to other Atlantic provinces. Class politics and unionization ran highest on Cape Breton Island, historically more influenced by post-Confederation immigration and the tenets of British trade unionism, and Cape Breton Island is where the labour movement found most of their support. However, with that exception, class consciousness has never been particularly high in the province.

Family ties, traditional loyalty, local caution and conservatism as well as patronage sustained the Liberal/Conservative duopoly for well over a hundred years. Patronage in the public sector subsisted well into the 1950s, and pork-and-barrel ‘highway politics’ or the granting of government contracts to party friends continued to be the rule well beyond that. Today, while partisan loyalties are much less solidly entrenched, personality and local party organization plays a large role.

Political history

Nova Scotia had a long and rich political history prior to it joining Canadian Confederation in 1848. The House of Assembly was the first legislature in Canada, created in 1758, and Nova Scotia was the first British colony to gain ‘responsible government’ (government responsible to the elected legislature) in 1848, under the leadership of Joseph Howe – who had already led to the creation of the Liberal/Conservative party system in 1836. When Nova Scotia joined Confederation, it did so under the leadership of the pro-Confederation Conservative Premier Charles Tupper (1864-1867).

However, the majority of Charles Tupper’s constituent did not follow him into embracing Confederation with the Canadas in 1867. When Nova Scotia joined Confederation, it was still experiencing a ‘golden age’ because of reciprocity, shipbuilding, lucrative custom duties and international trade; the conservative and cautious people of Nova Scotia, fearing the loss of self-government and the imposition of direct taxation (a major issue in early provincial politics), resisted Confederation.

You think that Quebec was the first Canadian province to elect an outright separatist government in 1976? Think again. Nova Scotia, in 1867, spearheaded by anti-Confederation leader Joseph Howe, elected an overwhelmingly anti-Confederate majority both to the House of Commons in Ottawa (17 of the province’s 18 seats) and to the House of Assembly in Halifax (36 anti-Confederation Liberals against 2 pro-Confederation Conservatives). Joseph Howe immediately went to London to attempt to “repeal” Confederation, but the British refused and Howe quietly accepted the resolution, as did most of his partisans (although the Liberal/anti-Confederation Premier of Nova Scotia, William Annand, proved more radical, but he was a non-entity and was pushed out in 1875). In a sign of the legendary pragmatism of Nova Scotia’s politicians, Howe and most of his followers decided to seek “better terms”for Nova Scotia within Canada – he went as far as joining Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s cabinet as President of the Privy Council (1869-1873) and Secretary of State for the Provinces (1869-1873). Likewise, 10 Anti-Confederation MPs in Ottawa joined Macdonald’s very pro-Confederation Conservatives. However, the anti-Confederation party in provincial politics evolved to become the provincial Liberal Party.

Between 1867 and 1956, Nova Scotia had a one-party (Liberal) dominant system – the NS Liberals governed between 1867 and 1878, between 1882 and 1925 and again between 1933 and 1956. The Liberals’ 43-year old on power between 1882 and 1925 remains, to date, the longest unbroken one-party hold on power in Canada, although the Alberta PCs will break that record in September 2014. The Conservatives won the 1878 election because of a recession, but the Liberals regained power in 1882 and entrenched themselves.

The long era of provincial Liberal dominance, not replicated in federal elections, owed a lot to strong organization (the Liberals built a strong, cohesive province-wide organization, while the Conservatives did not organize province-wide until 1896 and had weak local branches until the 1950s) and able leadership. Indeed, the provincial Conservatives lacked strong leaders: able Tory leaders made their mark in federal, not provincial, politics until the 1960s: Nova Scotians John Thompson, Charles Tupper and Robert Borden all served as federal Tory leaders and Prime Minister of Canada, years later Robert Stanfield took the leadership of the federal PCs during the Trudeau era. In contrast, provincial Tory leaders usually served short periods of times, many failed to win their seats and none of them left a mark on provincial politics unlike the succession of long-serving Liberal Premiers until 1954.

FPTP magnified and exaggerated the winning party’s majority in the legislature, but the popular vote was often far tighter than the seat count. Between 1871 and 1945, the Conservatives dropped below 40% of the vote only once (1920); the Liberals’ best PV result was 56.7% and dropped below 40% only once between 1867 and 1963.

William Stevens Fielding, the Liberal Premier between 1884 and 1896, was the province’s first major Premier. In the 1886 election, angered by Macdonald’s treatment of NS and opposing the Conservatives’ fiscal and tariff policies, Fielding ran on a separatist platform calling for repeal of Confederation. He handily won that election, but he was unable to do that and he quickly became a pragmatist in the line of Joseph Howe. Fielding was the first Premier who took a more active interest in the workings of government, with projects such as building roads and inducing outside interest in developing the province’s coal reserves. Along with Ontario Liberal Premier Oliver Mowat, he became a powerful advocate for provincial rights and in 1896, after helping Wilfrid Laurier’s federal Liberal electoral campaign in NS, resigned to join the federal cabinet where he had a long and illustrious career as Minister of Finance between 1896 and 1911 and again between 1921 and 1925.

His successor as Premier, George Murray, ruled the province for 27 years between 1896 and 1923. This is the longest unbroken tenure for a Canadian head of government, but Murray made no mark on Canadian history and is not as prominent in provincial history as his predecessor and some of his successor. Murray was an affable, moderate and pragmatic leader who was a master of patronage and brokerage politics, carefully balancing labour and capital interests. He was, however, not an innovator – he admitted as much himself, saying he did not want to be a vanguard of public opinion. He refused any initiative which had not proven successful in Ontario.

The 1920 election represented a short-lived deviation from the established political order. United Farmers and Labour candidates won 30.9% of the vote against 24.7% for the Conservatives, forming the Official Opposition with 11 members to the Tories’ 3. The industrial working-class had been hit by the post-war slump, increased freight rates, lower demand for steel, the steep rise in the cost of mining coal and the long, expensive haul to central and western Canadian markets. The Independent Labour Party was formed on Cape Breton in 1917 and on the mainland in 1917. Farmers had widely divergent interests but the economic difficulties, dissatisfaction with the political order and a wage-price squeeze briefly allowed them to federate as their brethren did, with even more success, in Ontario and the Prairies. The United Farmers of Nova Scotia were born in 1919. Murray aptly called an election before either new group could get organized and the press widely denounced them as socialists and Bolsheviks. Once elected, the Farmer-Labour group made a poor impression and the Conservatives quickly recovered.

Indeed, the Conservatives won the 1925 and 1928 elections by attaching themselves to the Maritime Rights movement, active in the 1920s, and effectively serving as the spokesman for discontented Nova Scotians prior to the Great Depression. The Conservatives won 40 out of 43 seats in 1925, and the new Premier, Edgar N. Rhodes, demanded genuine financial concessions from Ottawa in terms of trade, taxation, fisheries and freight rates. Other achievements included abolishing the upper house, administrative reform, teachers’ pensions and allowances for widowed mothers. However, having been reelected by a tight margin in 1928, the Conservatives were in office when the Great Depression struck and where thrown back out of office by the Liberals in 1933.

Angus L. Macdonald, the Liberal Premier between 1933 and 1940 and again between 1945 and 1954, became one of Nova Scotia’s most famous Premier. Macdonald was an impressive orator, a master of new means of communication, had an engaging personality and an attractive biography – a man who rose from humble Catholic Gaelic origins on Cape Breton Island to become a leading law professor. Macdonald perpetuated old Nova Scotian political traditions of patronage, pork-and-barrel road construction (highway politics) and rewarding party friends with jobs and contracts; but Macdonald favoured a more interventionist and activist government, both provincially and federally, than Murray had. His government introduced old age pensions, passed modern labour/union legislation, paved roads and promoted rural electrification. Macdonald, like many of his predecessors, was a vocal advocate of the province’s interests in federal-provincial relations. He argued in favour of federal aid to provinces based on province’s needs, and that Ottawa should assume full responsibility and exclusive jurisdiction over unemployment insurance, old-age pensions and mothers’ allowances.

With the outbreak of war and the 1940 federal election, Macdonald became Minister of Defence in Mackenzie King’s federal Liberal wartime government in Ottawa between 1940 and 1945. He was replaced as Premier by his Highway Minister, A.S. MacMillan, whose five-year tenure was relatively unremarkable but gave the Liberals a third term in office in the 1941 election, which was the first election in which the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), today’s NDP, won seats (it had won its first seat in a 1939 by-election), taking three seats – all from Cape Breton, where the CCF had been endorsed by District 26 of the UMW.

Macdonald returned home in 1945 and took his old job back. Less than two months later, he led the Liberals to a landslide victory in which the Conservative vote fell by 13% to 33.5% and were completely shut out of the legislature, leaving the CCF’s caucus of two (both from Cape Breton) to assume the role of Official Opposition. However, as in 1920, the Conservatives had a phoenix-like rising from the ashes, under a young Robert Stanfield, who became the PC leader in 1948.

Macdonald continued his advocacy for provincial rights in his second term and invested heavily in education, although his second term – from 1945 to his death in 1954 – was not as successful as his first term. The Liberals won reduced, albeit comfortable, majorities in 1949 and 1953. The PCs were reborn, while the CCF maintained a small and very regionalized (Cape Breton) presence in the legislature until they lost their last Cape Breton seat in 1963.

When Macdonald died in 1954, the Liberal Party split along confessional lines, with the Liberals ousting Macdonald’s successor as (interim) Premier, the Catholic Harold Connolly, in favour of the Protestant Henry Hicks. Hicks took the ill-advised decision of raising taxes to finance the provincial education system. This, combined with the loss of Catholic support due to the 1954 confessional split, led to the Liberals’ defeat against Stanfield’s PCs in the 1956 election. It was very close contest, one of the few which didn’t result in an awfully disproportional seat count, but 1956 – or perhaps Stanfield’s landslide third term reelection in 1963 (56% and 39/43 seats) – marked the definitive end of Nova Scotia’s one-party dominant era and the long period of Liberal rule broken by short-lived and forgettable Tory administrations.

Stanfield came from a rather different social milieu than Macdonald – part of a wealthy Truro WASP textile family, but he was a hard-working, honest, and humble man and gained the same slightly paternalistic, elitist ‘father figure’ image that Macdonald had. Stanfield, who was Premier of Nova Scotia until he won the federal PC leadership in 1967, was the quintessential Red Tory – centrist, pragmatic, supportive of government intervention, moderate if not progressive. Under his premiership, the provincial government played an active role in the province’s economic development. Some of his government’s policies included increased funding for education, comprehensive secondary schools, removing the worst aspects of party patronage (creating a professional bureaucracy and respecting the Civil Service Commission, set up in 1935 but used by the Liberals as a shield for their patronage) and setting up a hospital insurance scheme. More famously, he created a Crown corporation to attract private investment to the province – including a heavy water factory, a colour TV factory and auto assembly plants.

Stanfield was replaced by G.I. “Ike” Smith, whose term was plagued by economic problems. The owner of the Cape Breton coal mines and steel mills had announced in 1965 its intention to close its mines on the island within 15 years, which led the federal Liberal government, in 1967, to nationalize the mines in a new Crown corporation which would focus on operating and phasing out the mines and developing new economic opportunities. In 1967, that same company announced the closure of its Sydney steel plant, leading Smith’s government to nationalize Sydney Steel. The province was also forced to take ownership of the colour TV factory and a heavy water plant. Smith’s tenure was not without its achievements, but the PCs narrowly lost the 1970 election to Gerald Regan’s Liberals, with a minority government. The NDP won two seats, again on Cape Breton, the first seats in seven years.

During the campaign, Regan had said that he found Smith too socialistic, but that didn’t keep the Liberals from favouring government intervention just as much. To be sure, Regan’s election ushered in a more businesslike and technocratic style, but the government played a large role in promoting offshore oil and gas exploration on Sable Island and created a new publicly-owned power system (Nova Scotia Power) by taking over a privately-owned company. The Liberal government provided free drugs for pensioners, free dental care for schoolchildren, formulated Canada’s first freedom of information act and introduced collective bargaining for fishermen and public servants. Regan’s Liberals were reelected in 1974, defeating the PCs, led by the more populistic John Buchanan since 1971.

However, voters punished the Liberals for high utility prices, a poor economy and unfulfilled promises in the 1978 election, in which the PCs won 31 seats to the Grits’ 17 and a record 4 seats for the NDP (again, all from Cape Breton). The NDP’s difficulty to win seats on the mainland upset the party’s Haligonian party establishment and led to internal battles. The middle-class and ‘urban progressive’ Haligonian win won out, with Alexa McDonough, but a rogue Cape Breton MLA, Paul MacEwan, was expelled from the NDP in 1980 and founded the Cape Breton Labour Party in 1982, which emphasized working-class issues more than the new Haligonian NDP leadership.

Premier John Buchanan’s PCs were reelected in 1981, in which the Liberals won only 33% of vote and in which the NDP won its first seat on the mainland (MacEwan was reelected on Cape Breton). Buchanan’s government negotiated an offshore development agreement with Ottawa and reorganized the fisheries sector; on the other hand, he faced a number of economic and political problems. The man who would later become known as ‘Teflon John’, however, remained very popular with voters, who liked his ‘down-to-earth’ populist style. He was reelected with an increased majority in 1984, while the Liberals won only 31% and 6 seats – their leader not among them. The NDP, criticizing the government’s cuts in social services, won three seats – all on the mainland this time.

Buchanan’s third term proved difficult. Oil and gas exploration gradually stopped after an underwater gas well exploded and federal oil grants were phased out. The industrial town of Glace Bay (Cape Breton) was hit hard by a mine fire, a fisheries plant burning down and the closure of the two heavy water plants by Ottawa – while Sydney Steel continued to face a host of problems. Other parts of the province, however, saw greater economic success.

The PCs were plagued by a variety of scandals involving many cabinet ministers and PC MLAs. For example, the Deputy Premier was forced to resign after revelations that he had pressured banks to write off some $140,000 in personal loans in 1980 and the attorney general’s office had later interefered with an RCMP criminal investigation into the matter. The government was also hurt by a judicial inquiry into the case of a Mi’kmaq man convicted to 11 years in jail for a murder he did not commit; the investigation revealed incompetence, racism and coverups from police, the judicial system and attorney generals since 1970.

Despite these scandals, “Teflon John” managed to win a fourth term in office in 1988, although with a significantly reduced majority: the PCs won 28 seats to the Liberals’ 21 and the NDP’s 2 seats. The fourth term is a classic example of “one term too much” – it was a real trainwreck for the PCs, and led to a Liberal landslide in the 1993 election. Nova Scotia and most of Atlantic Canada’s economies suffered in the 1990s, and NS was badly hit by the fisheries crisis which meant a major decline in the fishing industry and job loses in the fish processing industries. If that was not bad enough, the wave of scandals which had begun hitting the PCs before 1988 became a tsunami which went up to the Premier himself. A former cabinet minister implicated Buchanan in cases of corruption and nepotism; it came out after he resigned from office that Buchanan had received about $1 million in PC party funds while he was Premier, including $40,000 annually to supplement his salary.

Buchanan resigned in September 1990 and was named to the Senate by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. His successor, after a PC convention, was Donald Cameron, who was left with the unenviable job of picking up the pieces. Cameron tried to clean up government and passed landmark conflict of interest, party financing and human rights legislation. The 1991 budget froze public sector wages and cut 300 jobs in the governments, and in 1992 he privatized Nova Scotia Power. His efforts to rebuild were hurt by the revelations of Buchanan’s finances, and by a 1992 mine disaster which killed 26.

John Savage’s Liberals won a landslide in the 1993 elections, taking 40 seats out of 52 and reducing the PCs to only 9 MLAs. Savage was confronted with a terrible economic situation, which forced the Liberals to introduce a string of unpopular austerity budgets. Savage raised the sales tax, imposed a surtax on high incomes, curbed public sector wages, cuts jobs in the public sector and made major spending cuts in education and healthcare. Influenced by New Public Management tenets including ‘efficiency’, ‘privatization’ and ‘downsizing’, Savage at first cut back on patronage appointments and reformed the public sector, but Liberal pressure forced him to loosen his stance on patronage appointments. Savage was compelled to resign in 1997, and was replaced by Russell MacLellan.

The 1998 election was a turning point in NS history. Although the Liberals won the most votes and 19 seats, the NDP made major gains and formed the Official Opposition, with 19 seats (up from 3), leaving the PCs with 14 seats. A year earlier, in the federal election, the NDP had won 6 seats in the province while the federal Liberals were shut out entirely due to Prime Minister Chrétien’s unpopular cuts to unemployment insurance and other programs. MacLellan remained in office for a bit over a year, forming a minority government with PC support. In July 1999, John Hamm’s PCs won a majority government with 30 seats against 11 apiece for the NDP and Liberals.

Under Hamm’s first term, Cape Breton Island’s remaining steel mills and coal mines shut down entirely (in 2001). The PC government sold off Sydney Still Corporation, the provincially-owned operator of the Sydney steel mill. The federal Crown corporation in charge of the coal mines, DEVCO, sold all surface assets in December 2001. Otherwise, the PC government balanced public finances and cut taxes. Hamm’s PC government was reduced to a minority in the 2003 election, winning 25 seats to the NDP’s 15 and the Liberals’ 12.

Hamm stepped down in late 2005 and was replaced by Rodney MacDonald, who sought a mandate of his own in June 2006. The PCs gained 3% in the popular vote, but suffered a net loss of 2 seats, being reduced to 23 seats against 20 for the NDP and a pitiful 9 for the Liberals, who, with only 23% of the vote, won their worst result ever.

MacDonald’s government, worn down by some scandals, lost a confidence vote and was defeated by Darrell Dexter’s NDP in the June 2009 election. The NDP made major gains in both the popular vote and seat count, winning 45% of the vote and a majority government with 31 seats. The Liberals made smaller gains, winning 27% of the vote and 11 seats, but this was enough to place them in second. The governing PCs fell to third place with only 24.5% of the vote and 10 seats.

Campaign and issues

Dexter, forming the first NDP government anywhere in the Atlantic provinces, governed in a very moderate fashion, going out of his way to appear as a centrist and ‘reasonable’ leader; something which has worked well for the NDP in Manitoba or Saskatchewan but didn’t prove successful for Dexter in NS. His government’s record was mixed, hardly a disaster but failing to live up to the high expectations voters had set in the NDP in 2009.

Dexter’s backers point to his government’s fairly solid economic record. The province is projected to post a $18.3 million surplus (0.04% of GDP) in FY 2013-14 – one of only four provinces to do (BC, SK, QC, NS) and real GDP growth for 2013 is expected to be 1.7%. It had balanced the budget in 2010-11 but posted a small deficit since then. Credit rating agencies gave the province high ratings.

His critics on the left, however, accuse him of doing so by embracing austerity (while the right criticized him for raising taxes). Dexter’s government made substantial funding cuts to education, health care and post-secondary education over a four-year period estimated at $772 million. It lifted the freeze on tuition fee increases, and undergrad tuition fees in the province have increased to an average of $5,934/student in 2012-13, one of the highest in the country. With unions, Dexter’s government proved only marginally more friendly than his predecessors’ governments, making some fairly limited changes to trade union legislation, although critics claimed that his changes were still too friendly to unions. The NDP was called out by left-leaning think-tanks such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) for doing little to improve labour standards. The left also criticized Dexter for abandoning rent control, a measure which was welcomed by landlords and business.

Above all, perhaps, Dexter got lots of flack from the left for ‘corporate welfare’, ostensibly to create jobs. The government gave millions of dollars in loans or tax breaks to business including shipyards, an aquaculture firm and Imperial Oil. Were these wise investments which will create jobs in the long-term? Time will tell, but the NDP’s left-wing base didn’t like the optics of it much.

By his first year in office, Dexter was hit by the MLAs expenses scandal, in which the Auditor General reported that many MLAs – from all parties, and incidents predating the 2009 election – had filled excessive or inappropriate expense claims. The scandal, again, hit all three parties – two Liberal, one PC and one ex-NDP MLAs were all forced to resign – and Dexter himself had questionable expense claims of his own. Dexter’s government did a poor job of handling the scandal, in the process voters – who a few months earlier had seen the NDP as something new and a breath of fresh air – got angry at the government and disillusion set in.

A major factor which has been cited to explain the NDP government’s unpopularity was that the party quickly lost touch with rural Nova Scotia, where the NDP had done tremendously well in 2009. The province’s economy has not been too shabby, but Halifax is one of the few regions which has actually prospered since the NDP came to power, while rural NS declined. To add to this perception of rural/urban disparities in growth, the NDP fumbled a number of rural issues, the most noteworthy of which was the December 2009 cancellation of the Yarmouth Ferry, which connected the southern municipality of Yarmouth with Maine; to make matters worse, the government announced and handled this decision in a aloof, disconnected manner which gave a strong impression that the NDP just “didn’t get” rural NS.

The government, as aforementioned, was far from being a total disaster. On healthcare, the NDP was able to find a strong middle ground between closing rural ERs and keeping them open, in the form of Collaborative Emergency Care Centres (miniature ERs in small communities with paramedics and nurses). Although the cuts to education were criticized by some, others welcomed Dexter’s trimming of the education budget, arguing that the government was challenging school boards to identify savings and tackle the decline in elementary and secondary school enrollment. On environmental issues, the NDP government took a fairly strong stance on climate change and especially wilderness protection. The government’s energy policy hasn’t been well received by voters (disliking an increase in power rates), the opposition) and some industries (natural gas and wind power), but Dexter’s ‘Maritime Link’ scheme to to receive electricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador has generated some positive responses. The project would diversify NS’s energy sources and reduce its historical dependence on fossil fuels.

The NDP platform’s main planks included continuing to deliver balanced budgets (and decrying the ‘financial recklessness’ of the Liberals and PCs), reducing the harmonized sales tax (HST) by 1% a year in 2014 and 2015 to reduce it to 13%, taking the HST off ‘family essentials’ (strollers, children’s car seats) and keeping it off home energy, capping elementary school class sizes at 25 students, defending the Maritime Link project, adding five new Collaborative Emergency Centres and open clinics staffed by nurse practitioners.

The Liberal platform did not delve deep into specifics and was filled with flowery language and pablum. The main planks emphasized by the Liberals included “standing up to Nova Scotia Power” by breaking Nova Scotia Power’s private monopoly and creating a regulated, competitive energy market; job creation (focusing on small businesses); balanced budgets (and criticism of the NDP’s corporate ‘handouts’); reinvesting in education after NDP cuts; healthcare and seniors. Deregulation of the energy market is a fairly right-wing plank, and the Liberal platform used populist rhetoric on the matter (‘enough is enough’, ‘standing up to Nova Scotia Power’ etc). The Liberals pledged to reduce the HST, but only when the province reaches a sufficient budget surplus. On healthcare, the Liberals proposed to cut provincial health boards from 10 to 2 and use savings to pay for more family doctors and reduce hip/knee replacement time. On education, the Liberals platform called for capping KG-Grade 2 classes to 20 students and Grades 3-6 classes to 25 students. On issues such as education, the Yarmouth Ferry or community services it does seem like the Liberals took populistic stances challenging the NDP on issues where its performance was criticized.

In one of the ironies of Atlantic Canadian politics, the PCs might have been to the left of the Liberals in this campaign (although it’s a rather pointless point to argue), especially as the Liberals came to be defined with their ‘standing up to Nova Scotia Power’ stuff. On the issue of energy, for example, the PCs proposed to freeze electricity rates for five years (magically?) and lower renewable energy targets. Other PC platform planks included cutting the HST to 13%, creating 20k jobs (again critical of the NDP’s corporate welfare), reducing school boards from 10 to 4, cutting the number of district health authorities from 10 to 3 and a derided goal to increase the provincial population to 1 million by 2025.

The Greens, who ran a full slate in 2009, only nominated 16 (/51) candidates this year. Their platform, for what it’s worth, included funding public rail transit across the province, mandating Nova Scotia Power to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, introduce a guaranteed annual income and removing parental income as a factor in student loan system.

Results

Turnout was 59.08%, virtually unchanged from last time (58%). This is, by recent historical standards, very low. Changes compared to the 2009 election.

Liberal 45.71% (+18.51%) winning 33 seats (+22)
PC 26.31% (+1.77%) winning 10 seats (+1)
NDP 26.84% (-18.4%) winning 7 seats (-24)
Greens 0.85% (-1.49%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.3% (-0.38%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Canada - Nova Scotia 2013

For once, the pollsters were right. Canadian pollsters have had a tough time, for some reason, calling provincial elections; the most recent and memorable case being that of the BC provincial election in May; the BC NDP was widely expected to defeat the incumbent BC Liberal government, but the Liberals were reelected with a substantial margin of victory over the NDP. Some believed that the same thing could happen in Nova Scotia, although the NS Liberals’ lead in polls in the final stretch was far larger than any lead the BC NDP (or Alberta Wildrose in 2012) held in the final stretch; the NS Liberals led the NDP by about 20 points in all the final polls.

The pollsters generally correctly predicted the Liberals and NDP’s share of the vote, perhaps slightly overestimating the Liberals (but by 1-2% at most) and NDP (again by 1-2% at most). In turn, they underestimated the PCs by about 1-3%.

What was most surprising about the results was how poorly the NDP ended up doing: not only did they get trounced for reelection (unsurprisingly) but they placed third in the seat count, meaning that Jamie Baillie’s PCs will form the Official Opposition to the Liberal government; the first time the NDP has failed to place first or second since 1993 (which predates the emergence of the NDP as a potent force in NS politics) and the worst NDP result (in seat and % terms) since that same date. The NDP did place second ahead of the PCs on the popular vote by a few decimal points, but they won 3 seats less than the PCs did; mostly, I think, because the NDP got screwed over in Halifax, which was also rather surprising. Premier Darrell Dexter lost his own seat by 31 votes to the Liberals – one of those surprising Liberal gains in the HRM.

I haven’t analyzed the NDP’s vote distribution at all, but I have a hunch that its vote was more evenly distributed than the PC vote and, hence, ended up losing a number of tight races to the Liberals/PCs. What is also remarkable, by glancing at my map’s shading above, is how tight almost all of the NDP seats ended up being. The NDP did not win any seat with a margin over 10%; in fact their biggest victory was a 5.8% margin in Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River and a 5.6% margin in Sydney-Whitney Pier (a 573 vote majority). About 2,100 less votes for the NDP would have wiped them out and 2,100 votes extra would allow them to have 15 seats.

In any case, Stephen McNeil’s Liberals won a large majority government, basically as impressive as Dexter’s NDP majority government in 2009. Unlike Dexter, McNeil was not able to thoroughly sweep rural areas – but he won his majority government by nearly sweeping the HRM (Halifax metro) and performing fairly well in rural parts of the province outside the old Grit stronghold in the Annapolis Valley and the Acadian counties.

I explained some of the reasons for the NDP’s unpopularity above. A large part of the explanation can be summarized as being that the NDP failed to live up to the unreasonably high expectations that voters had placed in them in 2009, failed to create the “new politics” which everybody promises but which no politician actually delivers (of course) and forgot about its core electorate in going out of its way to appear as a centrist, fiscally responsible governing party. When you had these explanations to Nova Scotia’s contemporary political culture: low polarization, a very fickle electorate and three parties which run around in a circle ideologically; and the NDP’s defeat makes sense.

The NDP had a decent run in office, but it failed to cater to its base and its attempts to break old stereotypes of the NDP as ‘anti-business’, socialist or ‘pro-union’ did not help it maintain its exceptional 2009 levels of support. The NDP, likely out of cabinet inexperience, mishandled a number of important events or issues (HST hike, expenses scandal, energy, Yarmouth Ferry, the case surrounding the tragic suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, corporate welfare etc) and that hurt their credibility and support in voters’ eyes.

In contrast, the NS Liberals were reinvigorated after a tough stretch in the wilderness since 1999. At least part of that likely comes as a ‘trickle down effect’ of federal political trends (the NS Liberals are still officially tied to the federal Libs) – a look at the polls over the NDP’s government shows you, for example, that the Liberals fell back into third place in polling for a while after the federal Liberals were decimated in May 2011. Now, the new Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, is still rather popular across the country and the federal Liberals have posted massive leads over the NDP and Stephen Harper’s unpopular Conservative government in the Atlantic region since Trudeau won the Liberal leadership contest earlier this year. After all, Stephen McNeil tried to harness some of Trudeau’s support – Trudeau campaigned for McNeil at least once. Similarly, the PCs, held down by the unpopular MacDonald and Hamm governments, were likely further hurt by the unpopularity of Harper’s Tories in the region at the moment.

Electoral geography

The most surprising aspect of the result was the large swing against the NDP government in the HRM. Heavy swings were expected (and did materialize) in rural Nova Scotia, but most had expected that the NDP would manage to resist fairly well in the HRM, which is a traditionally Dipper region both provincially and federally. However, the heaviest swing against the NDP came in the HRM, the NDP’s vote share fell by about 23 points to 31%, a distant second behind the Liberals (49%). The NDP won only 2 seats against 18 for the Liberals in this seat-rich region of Nova Scotia. One of the seats which the NDP lost was Premier Dexter’s own seat, Cole Harbour-Portland Valley.

The NDP only managed to narrowly save two of its seats in the HRM: Halifax Needham (with a 3.5% majority) and Sackville-Cobequid (with a 1.1% majority). Halifax Needham covers the city’s North End, a traditionally deprived working-class neighborhood which is also popular with students and other urban progressives. Maureen MacDonald, the NDP MLA since 1998 and outgoing finance minister, won reelection. Sackville-Cobequid is centered around the working-class suburb of Lower Sackville, an area which has been represented by the provincial NDP since 1993. That was it, however, for the NDP.

The party was shut out of Dartmouth, even ridings like low-income Dartmouth North (lost by 14 – likely hurt by the stench of the former NDP MLA, forced to resign for the expense scandal) or blue-collar Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage (lost by 2). In Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, Premier Dexter likely lost because redistribution tacked on the Liberal/PC-leaning affluent neighborhood of Portland Valley to complement traditionally NDP blue-collar suburban neighborhoods such as Woodlawn and Forest Hills. The Liberals picked up Dartmouth South, a more middle-class seat which includes downtown Dartmouth, by 13 points. Liberal MLA Andrew Younger, a popular councillor who had gained Darthmouth East from the NDP in 2009, was reelected with 64% of the vote.

In Timberlea-Prospect, a suburban/exurban seat west of Halifax, the NDP was hurt by the retirement of their wildly popular MLA Bill Estabrooks (70% of the vote in 2009) and the Liberals won the seat with 51.9% to the NDP’s 26%. The Liberals picked up other NDP ridings in the HRM including Halifax Atlantic, Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, Halifax Armdale and Halifax Chebucto. Halifax Chebucto has been held by the NDP since 1981 for all but one term, including by former NDP leader Alexa McDonough, although it is probably more middle-class (= more Liberal) and has different boundaries than in the 80s. The Liberals held the rather affluent middle-class suburban ridings of Bedford and Clayton Park West by huge margins, and picked up other exurban/suburban ridings (Sackville-Beaver Bank, Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, Hammond Plains-Lucasville, Fairview-Clayton Park) from the NDP.

In rural Nova Scotia, candidate personality/quality still plays a large role. For example, Colchester North MLA Karen Casey, elected as a Tory in 2009, was reelected as a Liberal with 61% to the PCs’ 26.4%. Yarmouth Liberal MLA Zach Churchill, who had picked up the seat from the PCs in a 2010 by-election, was reelected with 82% of the vote (the NDP won only 2.6% in the riding hit hard by the cancellation of the ferry). In Glace Bay, the depressed post-industrial (mining) riding on Cape Breton, Liberal MLA Geoff MacLellan was reelected with 80.4%. The Liberals’ hold on the Annapolis Valley is also due in part to personality, popular incumbents Stephen McNeil and Leo Glavine both won reelection with about 75% of the vote. On the other hand, in the redistributed (partly) Acadian riding of Clary-Digby, the Liberal majority was sharply reduced by the retirement of both of the new seat’s incumbents and the presence of a Francophone PC candidate: the Liberals won 54.7% to the PCs 31.1%. Acadians lean heavily Liberal, but they can easily vote for an Acadian Tory – Acadian Tory MLA Chris d’Entremont was reelected in Argyle-Barrington with 54.6%.

A very disappointing results for the PCs was their failure to retake Cumberland North, a Tory stronghold which fell to the Dippers in 2009 on the back of a split in the Tory vote; the NDP lost the seat but the Liberals won with a majority of nearly 10% on the Tories. In Cumberland South, PC leader Jamie Baillie was reelected with 51%. On the other hand, the PCs retook all three of Pictou County’s ridings from the NDP, the Liberals are very weak (for some reason) in Pictou County and were not a factor; probably the only part of the province where the Liberals weren’t even in contention.

On Cape Breton Island, the PCs lost one seat – Victoria-The Lakes – to the Liberals; their candidate, Pam Eyking, was the wife of federal Liberal MP Mark Eyking. Another federal Liberal MP’s wife, Kelly Regan, was reelected in Bedford (her husband is Halifax West MP Geoff Regan, himself the son of former Liberal Premier Gerald Regan). The NDP held its two industrial Cape Breton ridings with significantly reduced majorities.

Conclusion

In good part, it seems that the government lost reelection more than the opposition won the election, although McNeil was a strong candidate in his own right and the Liberals ran a strong campaign. Regardless of the NDP’s successes in governing the province, their mistakes and gaffes hurt them badly and created a certain malaise within the electorate. Their defeat leaves them in a weak position, a third party in the legislature for the first time in over a decade, and leaderless for the time being. The Tories did not prove much stronger, despite placing second.

The Liberals now face the tough time of governing. Just like the Liberals successfully attacked the NDP on energy and electricity rates, the Liberal government will likely be defined by its handling of one of its cornerstone proposals – breaking Nova Scotia Power’s private monopoly and the effect thereof on utility prices (an issue which contributed to the defeat of a few NS Premiers in the past…). However, the Liberals likely come in with much lower (realistic) expectations than the NDP came in with in 2009.

Ontario (Canada) by-elections 2013

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.

Context

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

Etobicoke-Lakeshore (source: Elections Canada)

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

London West (source: Elections Canada)

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

Ottawa South (source: Elections Canada)

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

Scarborough-Guildwood (source: Elections Canada)

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

Windsor-Tecumseh (source: Elections Canada)

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.

Conclusions

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

byelections ON Aug 1 2013

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.

British Columbia (Canada) 2013

A provincial election was held in British Columbia (Canada) on May 14, 2013. The 85 seats in the provincial Legislative Assembly are elected to four-year terms (fixed election dates) by FPTP in single-member constituencies.

A distinct political culture

British Columbia is a Western province, but it is distinct from the other three ‘landlocked’ Western provinces and forms a fairly unique entity unto itself. The politics of the three other Western provinces were marked, in the early twentieth century, by agrarianism and Prairie populism in the form of the Progressive or United Farmers parties; years later, despite major political and social changes in these provinces, the political culture still bears the stamp of agrarianism and Prairie populism. British Columbia, however, was never marked by such agrarianism. Instead, BC has been defined as a “company province” by some, referring to the province’s historical dependence on the extraction of natural resources (forestry, fishing, farming, mining/minerals including coal). The fortunes of the different industries have risen and fallen (fishing and farming are much less important, while natural gas, mining, lumber or oil pipelines are more important), but the general structure of the economy – tied to the extraction of primary resources – has not changed much, notwithstanding the contemporary tertiarization of the economy (services, tourism, financial industry etc).

BC’s political culture has been shaped by its history as a company province. One particular element, tied to its economic structure, which has coloured BC’s political culture is a strong, militant and politically active organized labour movement. The British and American working-class immigrants who came to work in BC’s coal and metal mining industries at the turn of the last centuries brought with them ‘radical’ ideologies (such as socialism) and militant trade unionism. The outlook of the employers, the poor and harsh working conditions of the working-class, insecurities linked to Asian immigration and the nature of provincial politics post-Confederation create a strong class cleavage and led workers to organize politically to remedy problems which they felt could not be remedied by union activism alone. Farmers, however, never developed a class consciousness as in the other Western provinces. They were a fairly comfortable social group (hence more favourable to traditional conservative politics) which did not share the economic and political grievances of Albertan or Saskatchewan farmers. Secondly, BC’s physical characteristics (geographic features which long inhibited communication and promoted isolation) and the diversity of its agriculture (grain in the Peace River basin, fruits in the Okanagan, vegetables in the Lower Fraser Valley etc) hindered the formation of a farmers’ class consciousness and agrarian ideology.

As a result of these social conditions, socialism quickly became a potent political force in BC (unlike in the other provinces, despite the social radicalism of some Gingers in the Progressive or United Farmers parties) while agrarianism and rural populism never found significant support in the province. By way of example, BC elected Socialist MLAs as early as 1903 (Labour candidates had won seats since the 1890s) but the federal Progressive Party only won 12% and 3 seats in the 1921 federal election.

Class and regional antagonisms have defined BC politics for most of its history. The strong class cleavage has created (starting in the 1940s) a two-party system between the social democratic New Democrats (NDP) and a “free-market party” (currently the BC Liberals, formerly the BC Social Credit Party, SoCreds). Reinforcing the class cleavage is the fact that, historically, BC has also attracted entrepreneurial capitalists and rags-to-riches self-made capitalists. Corporate business has a long history of directly intervening in provincial politics, to guard off  “socialist collectivism” or to ensure favourable (preferential) treatment for businesses and individuals by the government.

Regional antagonisms have not created political parties, but they have played a large role in electoral behaviour and partisan strategies. About three-fifths of the province’s population lives in the Lower Mainland, an extensively urbanized metropolitan conglomeration driven by the city of Vancouver. There has always been a distinct divide between the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island (which includes the capital city, Victoria) and the BC Interior. In recent years, BC has seen a massive influx of immigration – 27% of the province’s population are visible minorities (non-white) – most either Chinese or South Asian (predominantly Punjabi).

Reinforcing this internal regional divide is a lingering sentiment of Western alienation shared with the Prairie provinces and Alberta.

Political history

Between 1871 (when BC joined Confederation) and 1903, provincial politics were non-partisan, with no officially recognized factions although candidates and MLAs tended to align with either the ‘government’ or ‘opposition’. Provincial governments busied themselves at extracting concessions from the federal government (such as railways) or distributing railway charters and timber/mining rights to friends. As such, they often sought to be on the good side of the federal government, and since the federal government during this era was almost away Conservative, most provincial cabinet ministers tended to be de facto Conservatives although this was by no means absolute – Tories and Liberals were to be found on both sides of the aisle. By the turn of the century, non-partisan government became an unstable mess of bickering parochial interests – this not only made stable government hard, it also inhibited economic growth and allowed organized labour to flourish in a context of a fluid legislature. Partisan politics, divided along traditional pan-Canadian lines of Liberal and Conservative, were adopted in 1903.

The Conservatives won the first election, beginning an era of Tory ascendancy which lasted until 1916. At the outset, the Conservative government encouraged railway development, resource extraction, Asian exclusion and ‘better terms’ for the province through a ‘Fight Ottawa’ agenda. The Tories were therefore rewarded with ever-larger majorities in the 1907, 1909 and 1912 elections – to the point where, in 1912, the Liberal Party won no seats and two Socialist MLAs formed the official opposition to the Conservative government. This era, however, was suddenly halted in the 1916 election. After Premier Richard McBride’s resignation, the Tory government was hurt by a wartime recession in the province and a resurgent Liberal Party which appealed to the new progressive reform movement (which supported women’s suffrage, prohibition, honest government). The Liberals struck back, taking 36 seats to the Conservatives’ 9 seats in the 1916 election.

The Liberals remained in power until 1928. Successive Liberal Premiers pursued a cautious pro-business agenda all the while trying to channel the new progressive wave, in the form of women’s suffrage, alcohol prohibition or attempts to fight patronage. Unlike the Tories before 1916, the Liberal majority in the legislature shrank in both the 1920 and 1924 elections. In 1924, the Liberals lost their majority in the face of an ephemeral ‘Provincial Party’, a curious alliance of dissident Tories (Alexander McRae) and elements of the weak local branch of the United Farmers. The Provincial Party, which denounced corruption and the existing party system, won 24% of the popular vote (but only three seats) while the left (Labour) took roughly 12%. Liberal Premier John Oliver, in office since 1918, lost his seat, as did Conservative leader (and former Premier) William J. Bowser. The high ‘protest’ vote in this election testified to the electoral strength of populism or cynicism in BC politics.

An appearance of normality was restored in 1928, when the Conservatives, now led by the inoffensive Simon Fraser Tolmie, swept to victory with 35 seats against only 12 for the incumbent Liberal government. The Conservative victory in 1928 was, ultimately, a godsend for the Liberals because the Tories were the ones in charge when the Depression hit. The Conservatives were both unwilling and unable to counter the Great Depression forcefully, as demanded by most voters, and the Conservatives disintegrated by the time of the 1933 election.

Indeed, things had gotten to the point where the Conservative association did not even bother nominating candidates in 1933, leaving incumbents – including Tolmie – to run as independents or under odd labels. In any case, the divided Tories were swept out and the Liberals, led by the reformist Thomas Dufferin Pattullo, returned to power with a large majority government. However, the 1933 election was a watershed because the socialist Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) became the official opposition, with over 30% of the vote – although only 7 out of 47 seats. With the exception of the 1937 election, the CCF and later the NDP have always formed either the government or the official opposition in the provincial legislature. The emergence of a ‘socialist’ party as the main opposition went on to structure BC politics along the contemporary NDP vs. ‘free-market party’ lines we know today.

Pattullo, elected on a platform of “practical idealism” which promised wide-ranging social reforms (new labour laws, welfare, health insurance etc), remained in office until 1941, although his reformist ardour cooled with years in office. He was returned in the 1937 election, which saw the Conservatives reclaim second place for one last time. In large part, this was due to a schism in CCF ranks between Robert Connell, the party’s first leader, and a more radical ‘Marxist’ faction which took control of the CCF in 1936. Robert Connell came from the League for Social Reconstruction, a middle-class group influenced by the social gospel and wary of socialist politics. However, he was toppled by ‘radicals’ with roots in the Socialist Party, which had been strong in BC (but in no other province). The CCF, now led by the more ‘radical’ Harold Winch, reclaimed Official Opposition in the 1941 election.

With Pattullo’s Liberal reformism dead on the side of the road (relief payments abandoned, failure to implement medical insurance) and the CCF ascendant, the idea of a Liberal-Conservative coalition to face the ‘socialist threat’ became popular. Pattullo opposed the idea, but he lost that fight to pro-coalitionist Liberals at a 1941 party convention and was replaced by John Hart, who quickly welcomed the Conservatives in his government. The impetus behind the formation of the Coalition was, naturally, the ‘CCF threat’, which was becoming ever more potent. In the 1941 election, the CCF had won the most votes (33.4%) and doubled its seat count from 7 to 14. The Liberals and Conservatives had ended almost evenly matched in the popular vote (32.9% and 30.9% respectively), although the Liberals won 21 seats to the Tories’ 12. However, if the anti-socialist vote remained split, an ever-stronger CCF might realistically be able to win the 1945 election.

The LibCon Coalition worked admirably in the 1945 and 1949 elections. In 1945, the CCF increased its support to 37.6%, but because of the coalition arrangement (which won 55.8%), it took only 10 seats against 37 for the coalition. In 1949, the coalition won an even larger majority (39-7) with 61.4% of the vote. Under Hart’s premiership, the province undertook an ambitious program of rural electrification, hydroelectric and highway construction. He was succeeded, in 1947, by Byron Johnson, who instituted a health insurance scheme which quickly fell apart.

However, the coalition was undermined by incessant bickering between Liberals and Conservatives after Hart’s retirement in 1947 (and, in 1946, the death of the pro-coalition Tory leader RJ Maitland). Conservative leader Herbert Anscomb favoured the coalition, but he insisted on becoming Premier after Hart’s retirement. The coalition question started dividing the Conservatives, and the Liberals had grown cocky after the success of the coalition in 1945 and 1949. To aggravate matters further, neither the federal Conservatives or Liberals were all that keen on the coalition between their two provincial branches. In early 1952, Johnson fired Anscomb from cabinet, effectively breaking up the coalition.

However, to counter the ‘CCF threat’ and ensure that the CCF remained out of power despite the division of the two ‘anti-socialist’ parties, the two parties agreed to a new electoral system – the alternative vote (AV/IRV) – whereby Liberal voters would, the idea held, give their second preferences to a Conservative (and vice-versa) to ensure that the CCF could not win a majority of seats. In a great episode of ‘electoral reform backfiring on the politicians’, the new system allowed a third party – the BC Social Credit League (SoCred) to sneak up the middle, rake up first or second preferences from anti-socialist voters and emerge as the winner. The CCF won the most vote (30.8%) and took 18 seats, while the SoCreds took 27.2% and 19 seats. The Liberals and Conservatives were crushed, with only 6 and 4 seats respectively (on 23.5% and 16.8% support respectively).

The BC SoCred, prior to 1952, was a tiny inconsequential movement effectively controlled by the Alberta’s SoCred government. Starting in 1950, the party elected a new leader who purged the troublemakers and cranks, and seized a golden opportunity as the LibCon coalition floundered. The party welcomed two dissident MLAs, including W.A.C. Bennett, a former Conservative MLA who had quit the party in 1951 after two unsuccessful runs for the party’s leadership. After the SoCred victory in 1952, W.A.C. Bennett – who had absolutely no interest (or even knowledge) of original social credit monetary theories – became Premier. The party’s victorious 1952 campaign, however, was controlled by the Alberta SoCred and led by a federal MP from Alberta, Ernest Hansell.

The Albertan SoCred movement (elected in 1935) was born out of the social dislocation bred by the Great Depression and represented a populist protest movement (in that it actually believed in the social credit theories it campaigned on in 1935), infused with Christian evangelical and moralistic values. In contrast, the BC SoCreds came to power in a time of relative economic prosperity and it did not promise a radical, Utopist renovation of the whole financial system. After all, the Alberta SoCreds had tried and failed to implement actual social credit policies. Finally, the Alberta SoCreds always retained a strong Christian evangelical/fundamentalist element. While the BC SoCreds had a similar evangelical strain and campaigned using Christian/moralistic rhetoric, it was much less accented than in the Alberta party. The party did, however, perform strongly in regions like Chilliwack, Langley and the Cariboo which have a high percentage of Christian evangelicals.

The BC SoCreds exploited widespread disillusionment and resentment with the existing party system, particularly the incessant bickering between Liberals and Conservatives, the corruption in both parties and the generally mediocre record of the coalition governments. In 1952, SoCred had even been able to gain votes from CCF voters, whose distaste of the LibCon coalition exceeded any mistrust of the new right-wing party.

Although the BC SoCreds claimed to be a broad, cross-class alliance which was equally as opposed to the “forces of monopoly” than to socialism, the SoCreds quickly became the right-wing ‘free-market’ and anti-CCF/NDP party, albeit one with a more rural and slightly populist electorate. Up until the 1970s, the SoCred received its strongest levels of support in rural areas, while being weaker in (under-represented) urban areas, notably Vancouver or Victoria.

After his tiny minority win in 1952, Bennett quickly dissolved the legislature and called an election to win a majority government. Campaigning on the need for a ‘strong government’ and promising only ‘good government’, Bennett’s gamble worked and the SoCreds won a majority with 28 (out of 48) seats and 37.8% support. The Liberals won only 4 seats, the Tories were reduced to a mere MLA. The AV system was quickly abandoned and replaced, again, by FPTP.

The realignment of BC politics, with the SoCreds replacing the Liberals and Conservatives as the ‘free-market’ (anti-CCF) party was complete. Bennett’s SoCreds won another five successive election, each time with a large majority in the legislature with the CCF, later NDP, as the official opposition. While the Liberals held on to a rump of support (20% and 2-5 seats in each election), the Conservatives won no seats after 1953 and were dead by the 1960s.

Bennett’s twenty-year reign saw a sustained economic boom in the forestry, mining, and energy sectors. The SoCred government maintained good relations with its base – farmers, ranchers, traders, small businessmen and sectors of the middle-classes. On the other hand, his government was an unwavering foe of the unions, and it passed strict labour laws which weakened the power of unions and curtailed union activism (banning secondary boycotts, compulsory arbitration in essential industries). The union movement moved even closer to the NDP and minced no words in denouncing the government’s labour policies, but for the most part, the SoCred government maintained relative social peace in the province, buoyed by prosperity.

Notwithstanding its free-market orientation, the SoCred government pursued a fairly interventionist economic agenda. Bennett created a number of important Crown corporations (BC Ferries, BC Hydro), finally finished the BC Rail network, invested significantly in infrastructure (highways, roads), launched major hydroelectric dam projects and advocated for universal healthcare. The government’s policies were popular throughout the BC Interior, where infrastructure development made good politics and created a loyal electoral clientele for the government. Many working-class voters, provided with jobs in a period of economic growth, turned away from the NDP and backed the SoCreds.

Meanwhile, the SoCreds did what was expected of them by big business: create a climate favourable to investment, and defend the province from the socialist bogey. Although the relations between business and the SoCreds were not as smooth and amiable as relations between the Liberals/Conservatives and business had been in the past, the anti-NDP business community saw in Bennett and his government the sole alternative to the NDP, and accordingly directed its funds to the SoCreds – in the process, draining both the Liberals and Conservatives of funds.

The Bennett government created a myth of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and a ‘debt-free province’, which appealed to right-wing voters. In reality, the ‘debt-free province’ claims were belied by the existence of “two sets of books” whereby the Premier classified the debts of government agencies as “contingent liabilities”.

The W.A.C. Bennett era ended in 1972, with the victory of Dave Barrett’s NDP. The NDP won 38 seats (out of 55) and 39.6%, while SoCred support fell over 15 points and left the government with only 10 seats. In large part, the SoCred defeat was due to a sudden resurgence in Conservative support – out of almost nowhere, the PCs took 12.7% and won 2 seats, while the Liberals held their 5 seats.

Barrett was an ambitious Premier, whose brief three-year premiership saw a spurt of legislative election unseen since the 1930s. The NDP government expanded the public sector, reformed the welfare system (Pharmacare, minimum income), established a provincial Labour Relations Board, implemented public auto insurance (ICBC, still in place today) and created a land commission to regulate the use and sale of farmland. Barrett’s government was hurt by an economic slump and he was criticized for taking the province from surplus to debt. The NDP’s policies antagonized powerful business groups (insurance, mining companies) and led to a re-polarization of the electorate when the government faced the people in 1975.

Although the NDP’s support held steady in the election, winning 39.2% of the vote, the government was defeated as the right-of-centre vote coalesced around the SoCreds, now led by W.A.C. Bennett’s son, Bill Bennett. The SoCreds had been able to attract Liberal and Conservative dissidents to the party, and in the election, the Liberals and Conservatives both saw their support collapse by about 9% each and they were both left with only a single seat. The SoCreds won 49.3% and 35 seats, against only 18 for the NDP. Hence began the second era of SoCred governance in BC.

In contrast to his father’s more interventionist policies, Bennett Jr began with a policy of “restraint” which slashed social services, reviewed labour laws, cut spending on education and privatized certain Crown assets. Nevertheless, near the end of his tenure (1986), Bennett oversaw the completion of several megaprojects meant to stimulate the economy – Vancouver Expo86, the Coquihalla Highway and the Vancouver SkyTrain. Bennett was reelected in 1979 and 1983. When he retired in 1986, he was replaced by Bill Vander Zalm, a charismatic but eccentric MLA from the party’s social conservative wing. After 1975, the BC SoCreds’ dominance rested on a tenuous alliance of social and fiscal conservatives, with fiscal conservatives like Bennett dominating the party. Bill Vander Zalm won another term in office for SoCred in the 1986 election, with 49% against 42.6% for the NDP (47 seats to 22).

Bill Vander Zalm’s government was quickly embroiled in a number of scandals which badly tarnished his party’s image and led to the collapse of the SoCreds. He was involved in a conflict of interest scandal after he sold his Fantasy Gardens theme park to Tan Yu, Filipino Chinese gambling kingpin. A Chinese-Canadian entrepreneur involved in the deal leaked lurid details of parties and bags of money from Yu to Vander Zalm. The scandal forced Vander Zalm to resign in disgrace in 1991. Unfortunately for the SoCreds’ fate, he was succeeded by Rita Johnston, who was closely associated with the scandal-plagued Premier.

The 1991 election marked another realignment in BC politics. The NDP, led by Mike Harcourt, won a large majority with 51 seats (40.7% of the vote). The SoCreds were decimated, losing half of their vote and falling into third place with a rump caucus of 7 MLAs. In the process, the BC Liberals – which had won all of 6.7% in 1986 and had not won a single seat since 1975 – soared to win 33.3% and 17 seats. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson received a major boost after a strong performance in a debate against Harcourt and Johnston. Unlike the Alberta SoCreds who had taken some time to die off completely after their electoral defeat, the BC SoCreds disintegrated and basically died right after the 1991 election.

A splutterign economy in the early 1990s forced Harcourt’s NDP government to move to the right, with the Premier lashing out at “welfare cheats” in a televised address and major cutbacks in welfare. The government also clashed with environmental groups, and, later, a rogue aboriginal group which occupied farmland in the Cariboo (Gustafsen Lake siege). Mike Harcourt was forced to resign in February 1996 after the “Bingogate” scandal, in which an NDP MLA had use charity bingo money for party funding. Harcourt was not implicated and later exonerated, but chose to take full political responsibility. Months before the June 1996 election, Glen Clark replaced Harcourt as Premier.

The Liberals, led by Gordon Wilson, proved fairly ineffective as the official opposition after the 1991 election. After revelations that he was having an affair with another Liberal MLA, Wilson was forced to call a leadership convention in 1993. Gordon Campbell, the mayor of Vancouver since 1986, easily won the party leadership while Wilson, who finished a distant third, later quit the Liberals to create the centrist Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA). Under Gordon Campbell, the party shifted to the right and established itself as the sole centre-right alternative to the NDP.

The BC Liberals (as they became known, to further distinguish them from the federal party) actually won the popular vote in the 1996 election, with 41.8% against 39.5% for the NDP. However, the Liberals performed poorly in metro Vancouver and lost some close races in the BC Interior (where they were hurt by Campbell’s promise to sell BC Rail), meaning that they ended up with 33 seats to the NDP’s 39. The Liberals were also hurt by the division of the non-NDP vote: to their right, the Reform Party won 9.3% and 2 seats, while Wilson’s PDA took 5.7% and one seat.

The NDP’s second term in office proved to be a disaster which continues to haunt the NDP to this day. Glen Clark’s premiership was marred by a number of major scandals or fiascos. Most prominent among them were the Fast Ferry Scandal and Casinogate.

In an effort to revitalize a shipbuilding industry, Clark’s NDP government undertook a fast ferry initiative to upgrade BC Ferries’ fleet with high-speed ferries which would be built locally. The whole affair quickly turned into a mismanaged fiasco, with massive cost overruns, delivery delays and many malfunctioning vessels. In 1999, the RCMP searched the Premier’s house (televised live) in what became ‘Casinogate’ – the Premier was later found guilty (in 2002) of accepting favours (free house renovations) in return for approving a casino application.

Following these allegations, Clark resigned in August 1999 and was succeeded, following an acrimonious three-way leadership race, by former Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh (who had generally been critical of Clark). Ujjal Dosanjh himself was personally popular and the province’s economy was doing well, but he was unable to save the NDP from oblivion (although he did increase its polling numbers from 15% to 21%).

In May 2001, the BC NDP suffered one of the worst defeats for any incumbent government in Canadian history, winning only two seats (not including Dosanjh’s seat) and a paltry 21.6% of the vote. Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals swept to power in a massive landslide, taking 77 seats and a massive 57.6% of the vote. The Green Party, previously marginal, took 12.4% of the vote but it failed to win any seats. Even the Marijuana Party managed to win 3.2% by running a full slate of candidates (cue the BC weed jokes).

Gordon Campbell generally governed from the right during his years in office. Upon taking office, he cut the personal income tax by 25% across the board, cut the corporate income tax and eliminated the NDP’s corporate capital tax. To finance tax cuts and balance the books, the Liberal government implemented austerity measures which included reductions in social services and welfare rolls, deregulation, the sale of government assets (the Fast Ferry fleet was auctioned off), reducing the size of the civil service and closing some government offices. One of his most controversial decisions came in 2003, when he reneged on an electoral promise not to sell BC Rail. BC Rail was eventually sold to Canadian National (CN) in November 2003. BC Rail would become a bit like the BC Liberals’ equivalent of Fast Ferry (though far less damaging). Law enforcement quickly uncovered evidence of illegal or improper conduct of various government officials, consultants and BC Liberal insiders. In 2009, it was revealed that a BC Liberal insider had received nearly $300,000 from BC Rail between 2002 and 2004.

During his first term, Gordon Campbell suffered a personal embarrassment and a stain on his image when he was arrested for DUI while on vacation in Hawaii. His mugshot was published by the Hawaiian police and he was fined US$913.

However, BC’s economy remained strong and the government could boast the best job creation record in Canada. In 2005, the BC Liberals won a second term with a reduced (more ‘normal’) majority, taking 45.8% and 46 seats against 41.5% and 33 seats for the NDP. The Green vote fell to 9.2%.

Although some of his environmental policies during his first term were criticized by environmental groups, Campbell’s Liberal government implemented a carbon tax, which is now set at a final price of $30 per tonne of CO2e emissions. Although some on the right opposed the new at the outset, a movement which contributed to the revitalization of the moribund BC Conservatives in the 2009 election, the carbon tax was generally well accepted as the government used revenues to lower corporate and income taxes.

Campbell’s Liberals won a third term in 2009, with basically the same results as in 2005: 49 seats to the NDP’s 35, 45.8% to the NDP’s 42.2%. The Greens won 8.2%, while the BC Conservatives put forward a slate of 24 candidates and won 2.1%, doing quite well in conservative ridings in the BC Interior (5-10%, 20.2% in Boundary-Similkameen).

Gordon Campbell’s popularity tanked shortly thereafter, when his government announced that it would introduce a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a 12% sales tax which would replace the 5% federal GST and the 7% Provincial Sales Tax. Three Atlantic provinces had already introduced the HST in the 1990s, and BC joined Ontario in moving towards the HST in 2010. While the introduction of the HST was met with strong popular opposition in both provinces (because it increased taxes on some items, including gas), BC showed its populist and contrarian streak by rallying behind a petition to repeal the tax, spearheaded by former SoCred Premier Bill Vander Zalm. In Ontario, meanwhile, voters bided their time when the tax was installed.

In November 2010, Campbell, facing an imminent caucus revolt over his style and the political backlash from the HST, announced his resignation. In a leadership contest in February 2011, he was succeeded by Christy Clark, a Deputy Premier under Campbell’s first term who became a radio talk show host in 2005. Clark ran as the outsider and populist “families first” candidate, and supported the initiative referendum on abolishing the HST. Clark’s victory was not met with great enthusiasm within her caucus – only one sitting Liberal MLA had supported her; most Liberal MLAs had backed either finance minister Kevin Falcon (the more right-wing candidate) or George Abbott (the more left-wing and rural candidate).

In a mail-in referendum in the summer of 2011, BC voters rejected the HST, with 54.7% of voters voting in favour of abolishing the HST and replacing it with the old GST/PST system.

Contending forces

BC Liberals

Christy Clark enjoyed a short-lived honeymoon with voters in the spring of 2011, leading to speculation that she might call an early election in the summer or fall of 2011 to win a mandate for herself. However, the defeat of the HST in the summer led her to scrap those plans and indefinitely postponed an election call. Liberal support collapsed to the mid-to-low 20s in late 2011 and 2012 as she became widely perceived as an ineffective, even downright incompetent Premier.

Clark has been dogged by continuing fallout from the BC Rail scandal, due to her cabinet position at the time and her family connections to people commonly mentioned in the investigations and search warrants at the time. She has suffered from allegations that she participated in the scandal by providing government information to a lobbyist (and Liberal strategist). Her brother was also the subject of one of the warrants, although no charges were laid against him.

Having won the Liberal leadership as the outsider against two incumbent cabinet ministers backed by the quasi-entirety of the Liberal caucus, she was never very popular with her caucus and she was constantly at risk of being toppled by a caucus revolt.

As it appeared that Christy Clark was a dead woman walking and the Liberals facing oblivion in the 2013 election, leadership rivals Kevin Falcon and George Abbott – respectively finance and education ministers in her cabinet – announced in the summer of 2012 that they would retire at the next election.

In March 2013, only a few months before the election, Christy Clark was nearly removed from office by a caucus revolt which followed an ‘ethnic vote’ scandal. Liberal strategy documents detailing the party’s attempts to woo visible minority (Chinese, South Asian) voters, notably by chasing down “historical wrongs” to apologize for (the Chinese head tax, for example), tailoring government policy to “resonate” with the target groups; and “developing a stable” of Liberal loyalists willing to write letters to the ethnic media to peddle the government line. The ‘ethnic vote’ scandal was widely criticized as being extremely insulting and patronizing to ethnic minorities.

Under Christy Clark, the BC Liberals have been slightly more centrist, while still continuing to be a coalition of federal Conservatives and some federal Liberals. Clark herself is a federal Liberal, but she has associated with several federal Conservatives and supporters of Stephen Harper. Former federal Tory MPs Chuck Strahl and Stockwell Day publicly endorsed the BC Liberals.

The BC Liberal platform said a vote for them was “choosing a balanced budget, a growing economy, small government and low taxes”. The Liberals emphasized ‘controlling spending, balancing the budget and a debt-free BC’, notably through capping spending increases, a debt paydown plan but also a small increase in the tax rate for those earning over $100,000 and raising the corporate ta