The Weekly Writ for Dec. 1
The politics of the hybrid parliament, a troubled Atlantic government and an election that could drive anyone to drink.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political trivia that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
Today’s edition of the Weekly Writ is jam-packed, starting with my look at the curious messaging the Conservatives have adopted around the hybrid parliament. Then, I get into how a political re-alignment is happening in Quebec and that the Greens have a new interim leader.
There are lots of polls to cover this week, including a glimpse at both federal and Ontario provincial voting intentions, where the federal leaders stand and how governments in Atlantic Canada are faring (spoiler: all but one is fine).
Finally, in the recurring segments I profile an Ontario riding where highway politics could decide the outcome in next year’s election, tell the story of a campaign that pitted “drys” vs. “wets” and mark a milestone for a territorial premier — who nearly lost his job last week.
Let’s get to it.
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THIS WEEK’S HEADLINES
The politics of the hybrid parliament
Last week, the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens voted in favour of adopting a hybrid parliament, allowing some MPs to connect to the proceedings in the House of Commons remotely.
Both the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois voted against the motion. But the Conservatives adopted a line of attack that I found peculiar:
Millions of Canadians have worked from home during the pandemic, and many continue to do so. Polls have shown that many people want to continue working from home going forward and report that, rather than being shirkers, their productivity has actually improved.
Undoubtedly, many of them wouldn’t agree that they haven’t shown up to work during the pandemic just because they’ve been doing it remotely and, understandably, might not look too kindly on being judged.
The idea behind remote working during the pandemic is not just to protect those fortunate enough to work from home. It is to reduce the spread of transmission and so reduce the risk to those who don’t have the option to work from home. It isn’t a brave act of solidarity to end remote working if it means greater risk to those with whom you’re showing solidarity.
A potentially more effective line of attack the Conservatives have used has been to portray the move as an attempt by the Liberals to escape scrutiny and accountability, but going after the notion of remote work as “not showing up to work” seems needlessly antagonistic to a lot of Canadians.
So, I asked David Coletto of Abacus Data if he had any numbers on how remote workers and non-remote workers vote. He provided me the latest data he had from an October survey.
Among employed Canadians who have spent at least some time working remotely because of the pandemic, Coletto found that 43% supported the Liberals, compared to 30% for the Conservatives and 15% for the NDP. The high support from the Liberals among remote workers is probably due to the Liberals doing better among university graduates, who tend to fill the ranks of the professional office workers who have had the option to work remotely.
Among employed Canadians who did not work from home, the Conservatives were ahead with 33%, compared to 28% for the Liberals and 22% for the NDP.
So, we do see that the Conservatives have more support among non-remote workers than they do among remote workers (as does the NDP). But the Conservatives still have decent support among remote workers.
On the one hand, it’s clear that insulting remote workers is something the Conservatives can afford to do more than the Liberals. But they still risk putting off a significant portion of their own electorate.
With the arrival of the omicron variant in Canada, talk about “showing up to work” might be even riskier. But as recently as Monday night, O’Toole tweeted out a video in which he said Trudeau was “going back to being in his pyjamas and phoning it in”.
I just don’t see the upside to this. I personally know a number of remote workers who have suffered burnout or have been close to it during this pandemic (and they aren’t alone). Don’t tell them they’ve actually been in their pyjamas phoning it in.
Meanwhile, a new Abacus Data poll shows that the share of Canadians who say they are getting more worried about the pandemic has jumped 20 points since October and is the highest it’s been since April.
I think we could all use a little more empathy these days.
Parties re-aligning in Quebec?
Both Québec Solidaire and the Quebec Liberals held their party conventions in November, and both appear to be trying to re-position themselves ahead of the 2022 Quebec election.
Start with Québec Solidaire. A resolutely left-wing party, Québec Solidaire adopted a more pragmatic platform, voting down resolutions to nationalize oil companies or ban automobiles, and adopting a climate change target that, while ambitious, is still less than what some members had hoped.
Québec Solidaire is clearly trying to become a more viable alternative to the Coalition Avenir Québec — and why not? The Parti Québécois looks like a spent force and the Quebec Liberals are struggling to appeal to francophones. That potentially leads a big door open for Québec Solidaire to become the main option for progressive francophones who aren’t put-off (but not necessarily motivated) by the idea of Quebec independence.
They will have some competition on the left, however. The Quebec Liberals are also moving in that direction, hoping to become the progressive choice for federalists (or a Québec Solidaire without sovereignty, as some have put it).
When the fight was between sovereignists and federalists, the Liberals could sit pretty comfortably in the political centre while the PQ rallied more progressive forces. But now that the political system in Quebec is transforming into the right-vs-left divide we see in the rest of the country, the Liberals have found themselves without much of a place.
Federalist and centre/centre-right francophones have been gobbled up by the CAQ, leaving the Liberals with little more than their anglophone base. By moving to the left and focusing on issues like climate change and housing (they want to build more houses than Québec Solidaire), the Liberals are trying to make themselves the chief opponent to the CAQ on the left/right spectrum — and not just on identity issues.
It’s an interesting dance that is going on in Quebec as the other parties figure out how to position themselves relative to the CAQ juggernaut. For Québec Solidaire, it’s an optimistic view towards growth in the future. For the Liberals (and the Parti Québécois), it is just about working out a way to survive in this new world of Quebec politics.
And in other news in Quebec, the Liberals have named their candidate for the Marie-Victorin byelection: Émilie Nollet. The PQ has already announced that former NDP MP Pierre Nantel will carry their colours, while neither the CAQ nor QS has named a candidate yet.
Amita Kuttner appointed interim Green leader
Last week, the Greens appointed an interim leader: Amita Kuttner. The party says that Kuttner represents a number of firsts:
“At 30 years and 11 months, they are the youngest, the first trans person and the first person of east Asian descent to lead a national political party.”
Kuttner was a contestant in the 2020 Green leadership race, placing sixth (out of eight) and dropping off after the fourth ballot with 7.3% of members’ votes. Now that Kuttner has been appointed, the Greens have six months to start the leadership race to name Annamie Paul’s successor as permanent leader.
There’s speculation that former MP Paul Manly, who was defeated in his re-election bid in Nanaimo–Ladysmith, might run for the leadership after he withdrew himself from consideration for the interim title. We’ll see how this plays out over the next few months.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
EKOS shows little change from September election
A new poll from EKOS Research shows the Liberals ahead in national voting intentions with 30%, against 27% for the Conservatives and 19% for the New Democrats.
What caught the eye of many, though, was the number for the People’s Party: 11%. That support reached as high as 17% in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
A post-election bump for the PPC? Well, probably not.
The last survey conducted by EKOS before the election had the PPC at 10% support — so, if we compare apples to apples (rather than this poll to the PPC’s 4.9% election result) there has been no significant change for the People’s Party.
Compared to that final poll, this EKOS survey points to a drop of three points for the Liberals and one point for the Conservatives, while the New Democrats are up one point. As the EKOS write-up says, it points to a “frozen” landscape since the last election.
EKOS also released some numbers for the provincial scene in Ontario, giving Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives the support of 33% of voters. The Liberals and New Democrats followed with 28% and 23%, respectively. Again, an 11% score for “others” caught some attention, but considering the discrepancies between federal polling and results, it is unlikely the “others” are actually going to get 11% of the vote. Still, it does indicate that the various fringe parties — New Blue and Ontario First — could put up similar numbers to the PPC’s performance in Ontario back in September.
Trudeau continues to lead on preferred PM
The latest update on who Canadians prefer for their prime minister from Nanos Research shows little change over the last month.
The poll was conducted before Kuttner was named as the interim leader, so this survey combines responses for both Annamie Paul and an unnamed interim leader. As Nanos is a four-week rolling survey, it will be a few more weeks before the Paul data is dropped.
Atlantic Canadians, except New Brunswickers, happy with their governments
Polling from Narrative Research shows three of four Atlantic governments have high satisfaction ratings.
First, the good news. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 57% of respondents were either completely or mostly satisfied with Premier Andrew Furey’s government, down from 63% in May and August. His Liberals hold a wide lead over the opposition Progressive Conservatives, with 48% support to 27% for the PCs. The NDP trails in third with 23%.
Tim Houston’s PC government in Nova Scotia is off to a good start, with 67% mostly or completely satisfied. That is a little better than what his predecessor, Iain Rankin, was scoring in July and August.
The Nova Scotia PCs are in the midst of a post-election honeymoon, with 42% support among decided voters. They had 38% of the vote in the August election. The Liberals have dropped about 10 points since then to 26%, putting them in a near-tie with the NDP, which is at 24%.
There has been a big swing in leadership numbers since the election. In July and August, Narrative gave Rankin 34% support on the preferred premier question, compared to 24% for Houston. Now, Houston is at 38% and Rankin has plummeted to just 19%. Incumbency has its perks.
And in Prince Edward Island, where Dennis King’s PCs recently won a big byelection victory, Narrative finds that 80% of Islanders are satisfied with the government, unchanged from where things were back in August. The PCs lead with 51% support, also steady over the last few months, while the Liberals have narrowly moved ahead of the Greens with 21% support to 19%. While that Liberal score is largely unchanged from where the party has been over the last year, the Green mark is a drop of nine points since August.
Now, the bad news for sitting governments: New Brunswick.
There, satisfaction with the government has plummeted to 31% from 57% back in August. Support for the governing Progressive Conservatives has dropped five points to 28% — the lowest it has been since before the 2020 election — while the Liberals are up nine points to 38%. The Greens, NDP and People’s Alliance trail with 14%, 13% and 5%, respectively.
What’s behind it?
Big problem for Blaine Higgs is that, at 19%, he now trails the Liberals’ interim leader Roger Melanson on preferred premier. The Liberal stand-in leads with 23%. We got a hint at this bad news for Higgs in an Angus Reid Institute survey in October.
Heavy is the head: As Barbados ditches the monarchy to become a republic, the Angus Reid Institute finds that 52% of Canadians think we shouldn’t remain a monarchy in the future. The Royalists come in with just 25% support.
Save the mandate: A majority of Canadians would keep vaccine mandates in place for the foreseeable future for air and rail travel, incoming travelers, public servants, workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities and members of parliament, according to Ipsos.
RIDING OF THE WEEK
Brampton West (Ontario)
We already know what one of the top issues of the 2022 Ontario provincial campaign will be: highways.
The Progressive Conservatives are proposing two in particular. The Bradford Bypass will connect highways 400 and 404 north of Newmarket, making it easier for commuters who have to cut across secondary roads. This project is the smaller of the two and seems more likely to go ahead, though there are some environmental concerns surrounding the project.
The other is the proposed Highway 413, a huge undertaking that would run from around Vaughan to Halton, skirting north of Brampton. It’s an attempt to lessen the gridlock on the 401, though many experts believe it will just become another traffic-clogged artery in the GTA soon after it is finished.
Is there politics at play in this? Of course. And that brings us to our riding of the week: Brampton West. You can see in the map below where the riding is located relative to the proposed route of the 413.
Commuting is a big issue in Brampton West. According to the 2016 census, 20% of commuters in the riding have a commute of at least 60 minutes. That ranks it 19th in the country (and in Ontario, as the longest commutes are all around the GTA) and is the highest for any of the five Brampton ridings.
Brampton West was the third-narrowest win for the PCs back in 2018. Amarjot Sandhu won it with 39.4% of the vote, narrowly beating the NDP’s Jagroop Singh, who had 38.1%. The Liberals finished well behind in third with 18.5%, while the Greens (at 2.6%) weren’t a factor.
The riding was a big gain for the PCs, as the Liberals had held it since 2003 and beat the PCs by 21 points in 2014. It’s a riding the PCs will desperately want to keep in the next election, and they know it will be a challenge. The federal Liberals have captured a majority of the vote in Brampton West twice since 2018.
The question will be whether the NDP vote will hold up in Brampton West. The New Democrats did very well in Brampton in 2018 as the Liberal vote collapsed, but the area hasn’t been very friendly to Jagmeet Singh’s NDP in the last two federal elections. If the Ontario Liberals perform better in 2022, will those votes come from the NDP — and so keep the PCs competitive in Brampton West?
Sandhu is running for the PCs again, while the NDP has turned to Navjit Kaur. Rimmy Jhajj is running for the Liberals.
ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
Howard Ferguson wins, Prohibition loses
December 1, 1926
Welcome to the 1920s, when prohibition (and ignoring prohibition) was all the rage. Ontario was no exception, but the province was divided on the issue. In the 1924 plebiscite on repealing the Ontario Temperance Act, brought into force during the First World War, the attempt failed by a narrow margin — 51.5% for continuation to 48.5% for repeal.
But by 1926 the Ontario government was ready to take on prohibition again.
That government was led by G. Howard Ferguson and the Conservatives, who had come into power in 1923 when they defeated the single-term government of the United Farmers of Ontario.
Ferguson wanted to institute government control of the liquor trade, in order to reap the tax revenues but also to do a way with a system that was being largely ignored. It was a thorny issue, though, as the Conservatives were split on whether to be “wet” or “dry” and in the 1924 plebiscite a majority of the ridings held by the Conservatives voted against repeal.
But Ferguson was a cunning, colourful and combative politician and wasn’t about to shy away from a fight, particularly when he saw the weakness on the opposition benches.
That opposition was divided. While there had been some speculation the Liberals and United Farmers could join together to fight the Conservatives, it never happened. Instead, the United Farmers dissolved to form the Progressive Party under Manning Doherty, but even that attempt at renewal faltered when some MLAs decided to keep sitting under the United Farmer label.
Things got worse when Doherty stepped aside to run for the federal Conservatives and was replaced by W.E. Raney, someone who was no better placed to keep the sputtering movement together.
The Liberals, under W.E.N. Sinclair, were similarly weak. Like the Progressives, Sinclair was a staunch prohibitionist and “a throwback to the dour Presbyterian Grits of nineteenth-century Ontario”, according to historian Peter Oliver.
Sinclair’s position on prohibition went against the views of one of the Liberals’ key constituencies: Franco-Ontarians. But the Liberals could have still kept these voters onside had they opposed Regulation 17, a law that limited French-language education in the province. Instead, Sinclair spurned them and gave Franco-Ontarians little reason to back the Liberals — and some of his MLAs decided to run as Independent Liberals in their eastern Ontario ridings to give themselves a better chance.
The Liberals weren’t the only ones being divided, though, as when Ferguson called the election he lost his attorney-general, W.F. Nickle, who resigned in protest. He would be joined by a number of Conservative party officers, workers and candidates. But the election was on, and set for December 1.
Ferguson also faced opposition from many corners: the Toronto Star, the Protestant churches and from both the Liberals and Progressives.
But he soon quelled the discontent within his party by putting a little water in his anti-prohibition wine. The proposal was always going to require liquor permits and allow dry counties to remain dry if they wanted to, but now “beer by the glass” would no longer be an option: there would be no return of the beer halls.
Though repeal would help fill the government’s coffers, Ferguson mostly argued for it due to the failure of the Ontario Temperance Act. Alcohol consumption was still high, based on the number of prescriptions doctors were handing out and the popularity of home brewing — and bootlegging.
Using the new-fangled radio, Ferguson took the case to the people, explaining that enforcing the OTA was costing more than the enforcement of all of Ontario’s other laws, to little effect. Government control of the liquor trade would be better for everyone.
Though prohibition was very popular in some quarters, the opposition parties were too weak and divided to make their case. Neither the Liberals nor the Progressives ran full slates, meaning no single party was running in enough ridings to provide a serious alternative to the Conservatives.
The result was a resounding victory for Ferguson. The Conservatives won 72 seats and over 55% of the vote, with the Liberals (of various hyphenated labels) taking 23 seats with 24% of ballots cast and the Progressives and United Farmers combining for 14 seats and 8.5% of the vote. Candidates running under a “Prohibitionist” banner also captured 8.5% of the vote.
Ferguson would have one more victorious election under his belt in 1929. The Conservatives (under his successor, George S. Henry) would be booted from office in 1934, along with many other Depression-era governments.
But the legacy of the 1926 Ontario election can still be seen throughout the province even today. With the repeal of the OTA, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, better known as the LCBO, was founded in 1927.
Five years as Yukon premier for Sandy Silver
On Friday, Sandy Silver will mark five years since he was sworn in as Yukon’s ninth premier. He’s only the second Liberal to hold the title after his party won a territorial election in 2016 with a majority of seats.
But since April, the Liberals have been governing in a minority legislature with the support of the New Democrats. The Liberals ended up with eight seats in the April 2021 election, the same number as the conservative Yukon Party, meaning the three NDP MLAs hold the balance of power.
The Liberals have a formal confidence and supply agreement with the NDP, which gives their government a little more stability. But that stability came into question last week when the Yukon Party moved a motion of non-confidence in Silver’s government. The NDP backed the Liberals, however, and so the government endures — and Silver now gets to celebrate five years in the job.
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