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The Weekly Writ for Dec. 7
Alberta NDP leads; Ontario gets a new opposition leader; where Canadians stand after the PM's testimony on the Emergencies Act.
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.
We’re going to jump straight into the Weekly Writ this morning, starting with the news out of Queen’s Park that the Ontario New Democrats have a new leader.
We’ve got lots of poll numbers to get through, with provincial standings out of Alberta, Ontario and throughout Atlantic Canada, along with where Canadians stand on the Emergencies Act (post-testimonies).
Our Riding of the Week takes us to Lethbridge while the #EveryElectionProject goes back more than a century to Prince Edward Island. Finally, we mark a milestone for the premier of New Brunswick.
Let’s get to it!
IN THE NEWS
Marit Stiles to become Ontario NDP leader
When the deadline passed, Marit Stiles remained as the only contestant for the leadership of the Ontario NDP on Tuesday. The race was supposed to officially end in early March but it seems likely the New Democrats will make it official-official sooner than that.
Stiles, a former president of the federal NDP, has been the MPP for the riding of Davenport since 2018. With her ascension to the leadership of the Ontario New Democrats, Stiles will also become the leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park.
She’ll be the first permanent leader of the Ontario NDP representing a riding in Toronto since Bob Rae’s tenure from 1982 to 1996. This does raise some questions about her ability to retain the NDP’s support in other parts of the province, particularly in northern Ontario and in the industrial cities in the southwest — areas in which Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives made gains in the June 2022 provincial election.
Her predecessors came from these regions: Howard Hampton was from northern Ontario and Andrea Horwath was from Hamilton.
But if the NDP wants to keep itself ahead of the Ontario Liberals then Toronto is going to be key for them. Holding seats in the downtown core limits the Liberals from getting off the mat, as the party has been hollowed out in much of the province, particularly in southwestern Ontario. The Liberals’ last few victories were thanks primarily to eastern Ontario, Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. If the NDP keeps them out of Toronto proper, that narrows the Liberals’ options for moving forward.
Of course, part of the equation has yet to be filled in. The Liberals haven’t even announced when their leadership contest is getting started and whoever emerges as the leader will have a big impact on the NDP. Perhaps the next Liberal leader will be able to take Stiles on in her home turf — someone like Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. Or, the Liberals might instead look to the suburbs for their salvation if they opt for someone like Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie or former Mississauga Liberal MP Navdeep Bains. Until we get some official candidacies, though, that’s all speculative.
For now, the NDP has itself a good communicator (Stiles used to be a frequent pundit) with links to the labour movement through her time with ACTRA. Over the next few years, we’ll get a hint at how she might perform as a campaigner — and as an alternative to Doug Ford.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Smith’s UCP trailed NDP before Sovereignty Act
According to a new poll, Alberta’s United Conservatives were on the backfoot even before Premier Danielle Smith presented her controversial “Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act” — which she has since indicated she’ll walk back a little.
Léger conducted a survey for the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal between November 24 and 28, meaning it was in the field just after Smith’s televised “state of the province” address and just before the introduction of the Sovereignty Act.
Despite this relatively good window for the UCP — Smith’s address was favourably received, at least in comparison to the turmoil of the weeks that preceded it — the Alberta NDP was still ahead with 47% support, an increase of three points since Léger’s previous poll in October. The UCP was up two points to 44%, followed by the Liberals at 4% and both the Wildrose Independence Party and the Alberta Party at 2% apiece.
Worse for the UCP, the poll gave the NDP a lead of 22 points in Edmonton and 10 points in Calgary. Though the UCP was ahead by 27 points in the rest of the province, that 10-point gap in Calgary is an election-winning one for the New Democrats. Putting these numbers into a swing model would deliver 46 seats to the NDP (including 21 in Calgary) and 41 to the UCP.
On who Albertans think would make the best premier, Rachel Notley scored 37% against just 25% for Smith. When we compare that to the voting intentions results before the removal of undecideds (the premier question included 24% undecideds), Notley was only one point lower than her party. Smith was 11 points. She’s a drag on UCP support.
The responses to Smith’s speech were generally negative. Léger found that 54% agreed with the statement that “the affordability initiatives introduced are just an attempt by the Premier to ‘buy votes’ in the next provincial election”, with only 19% disagreeing. Even a third of UCP voters saw it as a cynical election ploy.
On the Sovereignty Act as it was understood at the time, only 31% agreed it was “necessary to stand-up for Alberta against the federal government”, compared to 42% who disagreed.
I’ll be curious to see what Albertans think of the Sovereignty Act now that they’ve gotten a better look at it.
PCs lead in P.E.I., Nova Scotia, trail in New Brunswick, N.L.
Every three months, Narrative Research publishes polling results for all four Atlantic Canadian provinces and the latest numbers for the region were out earlier this week.
We’ll start in Prince Edward Island, which is the next province in Atlantic Canada scheduled to go to the polls (in October 2023).
Satisfaction with Dennis King’s PC government has dropped by 11 points since August, perhaps due to how long it took for P.E.I. to get up and running again after Hurricane Fiona. Still, at 68%, that satisfaction remains sky-high.
The PCs still lead with 49% support, down six points from August. The Greens, who form the official opposition in P.E.I., were up three points to 25%, followed by the Liberals at 20% and the NDP at 4%. Considering the small sample size, however, none of these shifts appear statistically significant.
The poll gives the PCs double-digit leads in all three counties on the island and King holds a 22-point lead over Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker on who Islanders prefer to be premier, so King and the PCs have few vulnerabilities heading into an election year.
In neighbouring New Brunswick, however, the PCs should be happy there isn’t an election on the calendar in 2023.
The Progressive Conservatives under Blaine Higgs continue to be in some trouble. The poll shows the party trailing the Liberals by nine points, 39% to 30%, with significant leads for the Liberals in northern New Brunswick and in and around Moncton. The PCs, however, still have a solid lead in southern New Brunswick, which means this would still produce a close result in the seat count.
The Greens placed third with 18%, followed by the NDP at 10% and the People’s Alliance at 2%.
Susan Holt, who was named leader of the Liberals in August, is the preferred premier of 26% of New Brunswickers, up five points since the summer. David Coon, leader of the Greens, was second with 20%, also up five points, while Higgs was down two points to 17%. Satisfaction with the Higgs government is just 32%, down from 40% in August.
So, tough times for the PCs. But they don’t have to face the electorate again until 2024.
In Nova Scotia, satisfaction with Tim Houston’s PC government remains high at 61%, virtually unchanged from the summer. Voting intentions are also stable at 42% for the PCs, 27% for the Liberals and 25% for the NDP. The PCs hold leads in Cape Breton, Halifax and in the rest of Nova Scotia.
The new leaders of the opposition parties, Claudia Chender of the NDP and Zach Churchill of the Liberals, have not yet broken through. Houston remains the preferred premier at 35%, followed by Chender at 20% and Churchill at 17%.
Finally, in Newfoundland and Labrador satisfaction with Andrew Furey’s Liberal government is up 10 points to 57%, with the Liberals holding a 13-point lead over the PCs. The Liberals have gained seven points since August and now have 47% support, followed by the PCs at 34% (down eight points). Support for the NDP is unchanged at 16%.
The Liberals are 20 points ahead on the Avalon Peninsula, where St. John’s is located, though the margins are tighter in the rest of the province. Furey was the preferred choice for premier of 40% of respondents, 17 points ahead of interim PC leader David Brazil.
Support for Emergencies Act remains high
Polling by Nanos Research for the Globe and Mail, conducted after the testimonies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some of his cabinet ministers at the Public Order Emergency Commission, finds that two-thirds of Canadians agree with the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act back in February.
The poll finds 66% of Canadians either support or somewhat support the decision, compared to 30% who oppose or somewhat oppose the decision.
Nanos changed the wording from its past polling on this. Previous polls asked whether Canadians thought the invocation of the Emergencies Act was “necessary”. But compared to the last time that question was asked (before Trudeau’s testimony), support/necessary is up two points and oppose/unnecessary is down one point.
That’s not much — and the change in wording could explain it — but it is interesting to note the shift in opinion among those who aren’t on the fence. Support/necessary, excluding “somewhat”, is unchanged from earlier in November (though up seven points from February), while oppose/unnecessary is down three points since earlier in November and nine points since February.
Also from Nanos, we got an update to their voting intentions tracking. It shows the Liberals narrowly ahead with 31%, followed by the Conservatives at 30%, the NDP at 22.5%, the Bloc Québécois at 7%, the Greens at 5% and the People’s Party at 3%. That all seems par for the course with most other polls we’ve seen recently.
Ford largely untouched by recent troubles
It’s been a tough few weeks for Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives after backing down in their labour dispute with education workers and the blowback they have received from their Greenbelt-development plans. But it doesn’t seem to have hurt the PCs all that much.
No matter: 37% of Ontarians would vote for his party again if an election were held today, while only 26% would vote for the NDP, 24% for the Liberals and 7% for the Greens.
RIDING OF THE WEEK
The Léger poll referenced above gives the Alberta New Democrats few prospects for gains outside of Edmonton and Calgary. While the numbers suggest the party has closed the gap with the UCP in the ‘rest of Alberta’, the margins were just too big in 2019 for the NDP to have hopes of flipping many seats even with a swing of some 20 points, as Léger suggests.
That leaves the NDP focused on Calgary. But Lethbridge-East might also play a minor part in the NDP’s push for a majority government.
The United Conservatives won this southern Alberta seat with 52.4% of the vote in 2019, sending Nathan Neudorf to the Legislative Assembly. The NDP’s Maria Fitzpatrick, who took 38.7% of the vote, was defeated. The Alberta Party and Liberals took 4.6% and 2.3%, respectively.
Fitzpatrick won Lethbridge-East with 47.5% of the vote in 2015, placing her more than 20 points ahead of the PC candidate.
But voting for a non-conservative party is the norm in Lethbridge-East — the PC victory here in 2012 and the UCP’s win in 2019 are the anomalies.
Though the riding voted for the PCs from 1975 to 1989, it swung to the Liberals in 1993 and stayed with that party until 2012, when Liberal MLA Bridget Pastoor crossed the floor to the PCs. For the last 30 years, then, the Liberals and NDP have secured six wins to the PCs and UCP’s two.
With a margin of only 13.7 points in 2019, the swing in the Léger survey suggests Lethbridge-East could return to its historical pattern.
Outside of Calgary and Edmonton, this riding would be No. 3 on the NDP’s target list after Lethbridge-West (which the NDP held in 2019) and Banff-Kananaskis. If the NDP is forced to focus on Calgary, as Léger’s numbers would indicate, the party probably still needs a seat like Lethbridge-East, which could prove to be the tipping point that wins them the 44 seats needed for a majority government.
That puts a lot of pressure on Nathan Neudorf to hold it for the United Conservatives. Perhaps reflecting the importance of retaining Lethbridge-East for the UCP, Danielle Smith named Neudorf (one of the few MLAs who endorsed her) as a deputy premier and minister for infrastructure.
Neudorf will be challenged by former Lethbridge city councillor Rob Miyashiro, who is running for the NDP.
ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
When the premier’s seat ended in a tie
December 7, 1904
At the turn of the 20th century, the Liberals were well-ensconced at the top of Prince Edward Island’s politics. By 1904, the party had been in power for 13 years and Arthur Peters, installed in 1901, was only the latest in a string of Liberal premiers.
A lawyer “born into what passed for an aristocracy in 19th-century Prince Edward Island”, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Peters also happened to be the brother of Frederick Peters, who had governed the province from 1891 to 1897.
That’s not to say that there weren’t challenges for the Liberals in Prince Edward Island. While the province’s economy had been booming in the 1880s, by the 1890s it was stagnating on the edges of a country that was increasingly looking westwards. As fortunes worsened, P.E.I.’s politics turned to how the Island could get a better deal from the federal government.
Representation in the House of Commons was one point of contention. The province’s declining population as a share of the country’s as a whole had decreased its allocation of seats from six to just four by 1903, and Peters was a vocal opponent of Prince Edward Island’s falling clout.
Peters also pushed for P.E.I. to get a bigger subsidy from the federal government. That government just happened to be run by a Liberal prime minister in Wilfrid Laurier, and when Peters called an election for December 7, 1904, he had no qualms arguing that voters would ensure a better deal for P.E.I. by electing a Liberal government in Charlottetown to match the one in Ottawa.
The Canadian Annual Review analyzed the situation facing both the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition.
“Against the Government was the increasing taxation and indebtedness, the prevailing lack of prosperity amongst the Island farmers and leadership of the Conservatives by a young and talented man. As to actual performance the Liberal party had to its credit the abolition of the Legislative Council, or rather its curious amalgamation with the Assembly; the obtaining of some important financial re-arrangements from the Dominion; and the passing of a fairly popular, though not always enforced, Prohibitory Liquor law.”
John A. Mathieson, the young man leading the Conservatives, had hopes for a breakthrough. In the federal election held in early November, the Conservatives had won three of P.E.I.’s four seats. Surely that ‘Dominion’ success would translate over to the provincial sphere, even if Robert Borden’s Conservatives were still on the opposition benches in the House of Commons.
In the words of The Globe’s correspondent in Halifax, “the election was one of the most exciting ever held in the Province, and both parties worked hard, fine weather and good roads bringing out large votes.”
The Liberals brought the most votes out.
Peters secured a result very similar to the one his predecessor had won in 1900. The Liberals were ahead in 21 seats with 54.1% of the vote, a small gain of 0.6 percentage points. The Liberals swept Prince County, gaining a seat from the Conservatives, but lost one seat in Queens County.
Kings County remained the region of strength for the Conservatives, as it was there that they won seven of their eight seats.
But the most interesting result was in 2nd Kings, where Peters faced a tough fight. When the special votes were counted — people were allowed to vote wherever they held property, even if they had also voted where their primary residence was located — Peters found himself in a tie with the Conservative candidate, Harvey David McEwen, at 515 votes apiece.
While the result kept the premier out of the legislature for a few months, he was eventually able to claim the seat in a byelection called in early 1905. By then, it was agreed that Peters would win by acclamation and McEwen, a prosperous businessman, would go back to his life outside of politics.
But Peters didn’t get to enjoy being premier for much longer — he died of Bright’s disease at the age of 53 in 1908. Mathieson, the “young and talented man”, would eventually get his turn as premier in 1911.
Still, Peters would leave at least one lasting legacy. By 1914, Prince Edward Island was at risk of losing yet another seat in the House of Commons. His campaign to maintain P.E.I.’s representation finally bore fruit when the government of the day decided it would not decrease the number of seats P.E.I. had, but instead stipulate that no province could have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it does in the Senate. That rule has survived for over a century and, today, Prince Edward Island’s seat allocation remains unchanged, and very generous, at four.
Blaine Higgs passes Brian Gallant
On Tuesday, Blaine Higgs will surpass Brian Gallant as the 13th longest-serving premier of New Brunswick.
That is quite a milestone for Higgs, as Gallant is the premier he narrowly defeated in the 2018 provincial election. It was a close-run thing — Gallant’s Liberals won the provincewide vote by about six percentage points, but was only able to win 21 seats to the PCs’ 22. Gallant nevertheless stayed on as premier until he was defeated in a confidence vote a little more than a month after the election.
Gallant served only one full term in office, but Higgs is already in his second. That’s because he turned his minority government into a majority government in the New Brunswick election of 2020. Because of that, Higgs can crack the Top 10 if he stays in office until the election scheduled for 2024.
With the polls looking bad for Higgs, though, will his own party agree to keep him around long enough?
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That’s it for the Weekly Writ this week. The next episode of The Writ Podcast will be dropping on Friday. As always, the episode will land in your inbox but you can also find it on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting apps. And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel, where I post videos, livestreams and interviews from the podcast!