The Weekly Writ for Dec. 21
Lessons from the year's elections; dueling federal poll narratives; and 2022's Riding of the Year.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
I always enjoyed the last few weeks of December working in the newsroom. When the House of Commons adjourned for the holidays, it felt like school was out — no more desk TVs turned to whatever was happening in the House or in the scrums in the foyer. The news cycle quieted and it was just a fun place to be around. Also, there were so many snacks.
Newsrooms generally get reduced to a skeleton crew for the holidays to cover whatever happens, but the website and airwaves still need to be filled with something when nothing does. That’s where baggers came in.
I’m not really sure why they are called baggers — I assume it was because they were “in the bag”. My baggers were usually year-in-review or look-ahead analyses that could be published before and after New Years. They could be completed a week or two before being published and (usually) be unaffected by anything happening while I was off. One of my annual baggers was about the lessons learned from the year in elections.
So, here is the equivalent of that holiday bagger for the last Weekly Writ of 2022.
And, if there is a lesson to be drawn from the year in elections, it is that incumbency is a powerful force — especially when the challengers can’t get their acts together.
That was the common thread linking the provincial campaigns in Ontario and Quebec, as well as the midterm elections in the United States.
Even the byelections we’ve seen over the year have been good for the incumbents. The federal Liberals held on in Mississauga–Lakeshore, while the United Conservatives were re-elected in Fort McMurray–Lac La Biche and in Brooks–Medicine Hat. The B.C. Liberals won their seats again in Vancouver-Quilchena and Surrey South, as did the incumbents in three byelections in Manitoba.
Only in provincial byelections in Athabasca in February, Marie-Victorin in April and Miramichi Bay-Neguac in June were there upsets (which all went in favour of the sitting government, itself an incumbent of sorts). The record was 10-3 for incumbents in byelections this year.
But its the general elections that make the point more clearly.
In both Ontario and Quebec, the governing parties won big majorities with roughly 41% of the vote, a majority that was made all the larger by a divided opposition. François Legault was more personally popular than Doug Ford, but Legault ran a much worse campaign, getting distracted and tripping himself up throughout.
It didn’t matter, though. The anti-Ford vote couldn’t coalesce behind either the Liberals or the New Democrats because neither party was successful in convincing voters they were viable alternatives. Andrea Horwath had perhaps overstayed her welcome as leader of the Ontario NDP, while Steven Del Duca turned out to be a rather awkward campaigner.
In Quebec, no party could capitalize on Legault’s missteps because they were either led by an unpopular leader (the Liberals and Dominique Anglade) or were not mainstream enough to broaden their appeal beyond a relatively small segment of the population. Québec Solidaire couldn’t expand beyond its left-wing urban progressive base, the Parti Québécois was limited by the lack of enthusiasm for independence and the Conservatives were too far to the right for most Quebecers.
In both cases, the incumbents were given a second term in office. The desire for change just wasn’t there — and when it isn’t there, the opposition parties have to actually make the case for their kind of change rather than ride a wave. None of them could.
That brings us to the United States.
Midterms are historically punishing for the party in the White House. But the Democrats managed to increase their hold on the Senate and minimized their losses in the House of Representatives. All the Republicans needed to do was to be the recipient of the historical trend against the governing party. Instead, they gave voters reasons not to support them.
That’s the thing with the desire for change. An incumbent government can be unpopular, but if the alternatives are unappealing then voters will often stick with the status quo. You can disapprove of the government and think the province or country is heading in the wrong direction while at the same time believing that the other guys would be even worse.
Now, to the final Weekly Writ of the year.
We start with news of another vacancy coming in the House of Commons and how the next election in Prince Edward Island could be spicy.
We have new polls at the federal level and in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. I also name my Riding of the Year for 2022 and re-cap our tour through history courtesy of the #EveryElectionProject. Finally, we mark three upcoming milestones for Pierre Poilievre.
For one last time in 2022, let’s get to it.