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The Weekly Writ for Feb. 1
Conservatives raise a heap of cash; NDP leads in Calgary; and the unlucky heir to Brian Tobin.
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.
So, let me address that speculation here — and be blunt about it: aside from the fact that it is technically possible, there’s really no reason to believe an election is even a serious possibility.
Yes, minority governments generally only last about 18 or 19 months on average, which puts us on track for an election in March or April. But the lifespans of minority governments are cut short for a reason — they don’t have a literal best-by date. Someone has to think its a good idea to call an election (or enough parties need to stumble themselves into one).
There are two ways an election would happen in 2023: either the Liberals dissolve parliament themselves or the opposition defeats the government on a confidence measure.
The first possibility should be easy to dismiss. The polls do not show the Liberals would be likely to improve their current position if an election were held today. In fact, they would be more likely to be in a worse position. And since the Liberals lost their shot at a majority in 2021 partly because their snap election call was seen as political cynical, they would be nuts to try the gambit again.
That doesn’t rule out the possibility that the Liberals would engineer their own defeat, but I again go back to the polls. Why risk it?
That leaves the opposition to force an election. The Conservatives might not blink if it comes to down to a showdown in the House of Commons, but the Bloc Québécois could if the federal government is doing something the party can argue is for the benefit of Quebec. The New Democrats aren’t happy with the government’s health care plan? Maybe the Bloc will satisfy itself with whatever François Legault has deemed good enough.
But it is the NDP that are the biggest players here. The confidence-and-supply agreement could be ripped up at any time, but the New Democrats would risk losing the influence they currently have in exchange for the possibility of … having the same amount of influence in a future parliament. Apart from, again, it being technically possible, there’s no reason to believe the NDP would gain a significant number of seats in a new election. But there is plenty of reason to believe they would lose their influence.
Add to that the fact that New Democrats are well-positioned to take power in Alberta in the spring and in Manitoba in the fall. Does the federal party really want to risk upsetting that timeline?
Put me down on Team No Election. Though, really, I’d rather not play this game of will-they-or-won’t-they in the first place.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News on how much money federal parties raised in 2022 and whether Mike Schreiner will be the future leader of the Ontario Liberals
Polls suggest a national tie, a UCP lead in Alberta and a “Canadian First” attitude in Saskatchewan
The seat estimates shift federally and in Alberta if the election were held today
We go rural in our riding profile
A workhouse beats a warhorse in Newfoundland and Labrador in the #EveryElectionProject
Kevin Falcon enters Year 2 in this week’s milestone
Let’s get to it!
(Due to a travel-induced time crunch, I wasn’t able to record a voiceover for this edition of the Weekly Writ. If you’ve been listening to the voiceovers, I’d love to hear what you think about them and if you find them useful.)
IN THE NEWS
Conservatives raised most money last year — again
The Conservative Party is once again the king of fundraising, having raised $23 million in 2022. The Conservatives have never been beaten in annual fundraising since the new fundraising rules were put in place nearly 20 years ago.
The Conservatives raised $9,668,000 in the fourth quarter of 2022, their best non-election-year quarter on record and their fourth-best quarter ever. Those dollars were raised from just over 60,000 individual contributions. While the annual take wasn’t particularly noteworthy — the Conservatives raised more in 2018, also a non-election year — it doesn’t include the $18,650,000 raised by Conservative Party leadership contestants. Altogether, nearly $42 million entered the Conservative orbit in 2022.
Of course, some of those donations were made in opposition to the direction Pierre Poilievre was going to take the party. But not a huge chunk of it. The Elections Canada filings show Jean Charest raised $3.4 million during 2022, which pales in comparison to Poilievre’s $9.4 million. Leslyn Lewis, with $2.3 million raised, was the only other candidate to hit seven figures.
The Liberals raised $5,792,000 in the fourth quarter, up $2 million from the fourth quarter of 2021 but otherwise an average fourth quarter for the party under Justin Trudeau. The annual take at $15 million, however, is its lowest since 2017.
The Q4 filing for the New Democrats had not been posted to the Elections Canada website by Tuesday morning, when I had to fish or cut bait due to some travel. I will update the NDP’s figures in next Wednesday’s Weekly Writ.
The Greens raised $821,000 in the fourth quarter, their worst Q4 since 2012. The party raised $2 million for the entire year, again its worst in a decade. While the Greens did have a leadership contest in 2022, only $184,000 in contributions were directed towards that race. Even if we add that total to the Greens’ fundraising, the year is still their worst since 2012.
The People’s Party raised $725,000 in the fourth quarter from nearly 6,000 individual contributions. That narrowly beating the PPC’s fourth quarter in 2021, the first for which the party has had to report every three months. For 2022 as a whole, the PPC raised just over $1.6 million.
The Bloc Québécois also ended the year with $1.6 million and a second-best fourth quarter ever with $867,000 raised.
Some Ontario Liberals Green with envy
In a bizarre story that is getting weirder, a group of Ontario Liberals have published an open letter pleading with Ontario Green leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner to jump ship and run for the leadership of the currently-leaderless Ontario Liberals.
If this is where the story ended, it would simply be a puzzling move by some Ontario Liberals that makes little sense. While the results of the 2022 provincial election did not meet the party’s expectations, the Ontario Liberals nevertheless won eight seats and 24% of the vote. The Ontario Greens won a single seat and just 6% of the vote. By the rules of mathematics, the Greens did a lot worse than the Liberals.
Campaign polling did not show Schreiner to be particularly popular, so it escapes me why these letter-writing Ontario Liberals would believe Schreiner is the answer rather than one of the candidates (MPPs Mitzie Hunter and Ted Hsu and MPs Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Yasir Naqvi) currently mulling a run. That’s not to say Schreiner wouldn’t or couldn’t be a good candidate — but it is quite unprecedented to try to draft a leadership candidate already leading a rival party for no obvious reason.
But then on Monday Schreiner tweeted that he was going to think about it.
Perhaps for him it makes sense — remember, eight seats and 24% of the vote > one seat and 6% of the vote — but it just seems so strange. Schreiner has no pre-existing base of supporters in the Ontario Liberal Party. If he decided to run, I don’t think I’d put him as one of the front runners.
So, as some Ontario Liberals are thinking Green, you can colour me confused.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Liberals and Conservatives tied
While most other polls have shown a modest lead for the Conservatives nationwide, the latest Léger survey puts the party in a tie with the Liberals.
The poll awarded 34% support to both parties, representing a gain of four points for the Liberals since Léger’s mid-December poll and a drop of one point for the Conservatives.
The New Democrats were down two points to 19%, followed by the Bloc Québécois at 7%, the Greens at 3% and the People’s Party at just 1%.
Some of the regional results are worth picking over, though. The poll gave the Liberals a seven-point lead in Ontario, which seems a bit much compared to other surveys we’ve seen that have a much tighter race or a Conservative lead. But that is compensated by the Atlantic Canada results, which gave the Conservatives 49% to the Liberals’ 25%. That seems even more unlikely, so if we assume that Ontario is closer and the Liberals’ big lead in Atlantic Canada has not flipped, the national number probably still ends up somewhere around that 34% to 34% national tie.
The Quebec results are promising for the Liberals, as has been the case in other surveys of late. Léger gives the Liberals 38% support in Quebec, followed by the Bloc Québécois at 30% and the Conservatives at 17%.
If you missed it, Philippe J. Fournier and Marie Vastel joined me on the latest episode of The Writ Podcast to discuss Pierre Poilievre’s outreach to Quebec:
The Liberals have had an advantage when it comes to vote efficiency in past elections, and leads of seven or eight points in Ontario and Quebec mean that advantage would still be in place. A national tie is a Liberal seat plurality.
Still, we have to go back to last summer to find the Liberals regularly leading or tying with the Conservatives in national polls. So, we need to wait and see if Léger just got a good result for the Liberals this time or if this is a new trend.
Alberta NDP leads in Calgary
The poll gave the UCP 46% support among decided voters, down one point from an early-December poll by Mainstreet. The NDP was second with 41%, down four points. The Alberta Party and Wildrose Independence Party followed with 6% and 4%, respectively. I’d be surprised if those two parties combined for 10% when the votes are actually counted.
On the face of it, this looks good for the UCP. But, as is spelled out in the iPolitics report, the regional results show some serious weaknesses for the party.
As has been undoubtedly drilled into you by now, the Alberta election will come down to Calgary. The NDP is dominant in Edmonton with a 21-point lead in this poll. The UCP is dominant outside of the two big cities with a 26-point lead. Since Alberta’s electoral map is nearly evenly divided between Edmonton, Calgary and the rest, the winner of two of three regions gets to form the government.
In Calgary, Mainstreet shows the NDP leading with 48% support to 40% for the UCP. That’s enough for the NDP to win upwards of 20 seats in Calgary. That’s the ball game.
The personal ratings for Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley add to the UCP’s problems. Across the province, 48% of Albertans have a favourable view of Smith and 44% have an unfavourable one. Notley is a net negative with 45% favourable to 47% unfavourable.
But in Calgary, 42% have a favourable view and 52% have an unfavourable view of Smith. That -10 rating is much worse than Notley’s +14, as 54% of Calgarians report a favourable view of the NDP leader vs. 40% who don’t. Rural voters don’t like Notley — but if a majority do in the two urban centres, then the NDP is heading into the spring election in a strong position.
Canadians first, Saskatchewanians second
Asked how to rate the overall performance of the provincial government “over the past month”, only 37% said it was good or excellent, while 26% said it was poor. Another 27% said it was fair, which is somewhere in the middle. “Poor” ratings topped out at 33% in Regina and Saskatoon, but was just 17% in rural southern Saskatchewan.
Also asked was how people in Saskatchewan view themselves — particularly in the context of Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan First Act and musings about Saskatchewan being a ‘nation’.
The poll found that 49% of respondents said they thought of themselves as Canadian first, while only 24% said they were a Saskatchwanian first. Another 15% said they were a Western Canadian first and 12% said they ‘never really think about it’. Identification with Canada was highest in the cities, at 53% in Regina and 57% in Saskatoon.
So, while there is a base that could find Moe’s rhetoric appealing, it is largely confined to the rural areas of the province where his Saskatchewan Party already dominates.
IF THE ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY
Only a few changes this week, with the Liberals moving back in front in the federal seat estimates and the United Conservatives closing the gap (a little) on the New Democrats in Alberta.
The following seat estimates are derived from a uniform swing model that is based on trends in recent polls as well as minor tweaks and adjustments. Rather than the product of a statistical model, these estimates are my best guess of what an election held today would produce, based both on the data and my own experience observing dozens of elections since 2008.
Changes are compared to last week. Parties are ordered according to their finish in the previous election (with some exceptions for minor parties).
RIDING OF THE WEEK
Cypress-Medicine Hat (Alberta)
If you’re looking at a list of ridings to watch on election night in Alberta, Cypress-Medicine Hat is unlikely to be very high on it.
But it could still prove to be worth a look.
Last week, Drew Barnes announced he would not be running for the United Conservative Party nomination, and is considering his options — which could include running as an Independent.
Barnes was first elected in 2012 with the Wildrose Party. He was re-elected in 2015 and then again in 2019, this time as a United Conservative. But he was kicked out of caucus in 2021 over his opposition to Jason Kenney’s approach to the pandemic (he wanted fewer restrictions) and has been sitting as an Independent ever since.
If he runs as an Independent, suddenly Cypress-Medicine Hat becomes very interesting.
This riding, which occupies the southeastern corner of Alberta running to the U.S. and Saskatchewan borders, also includes the southern half of Medicine Hat. That’s where most voters in the riding live.
Barnes won this seat for the UCP with 67.1% of the vote in 2019. The New Democrats mustered just 26%. Normally, this would be a lock for the UCP.
In the last election, the United Conservatives took 68% of the vote outside of Calgary and Edmonton, so Cypress-Medicine Hat nearly matched the UCP’s rural support province wide.
A poll conducted in December by Abacus Data suggested that voting intentions among decided Albertans was 54% for the UCP against 41% for the NDP outside the two big cities. That’s a drop of about 14 points for the UCP and a big gain for the New Democrats. Applying that kind of swing to Cypress-Medicine Hat would give the UCP an edge of 53% to 46% for the NDP.
Assuming that’s where things could stand in the riding — a big hypothetical — the question then becomes whether or not Drew Barnes could draw away at least seven percentage points away from the UCP.
It isn’t unthinkable. We have a few examples to point to from the 2019 election.
In the riding of Strathmore-Brooks, former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt captured 7% of the vote as the leader of the Freedom Conservative Party.
In Drumheller-Stettler, former UCP MLA Rick Strankman attracted 8% of the vote as an Independent candidate.
And in Brooks-Medicine Hat, the riding just north of Cypress-Medicine Hat, Todd Beasley took 13% of the vote running as an Independent after he failed to win the UCP nomination.
As a three-term MLA, it is far from impossible that Barnes could take the 7-13% of the vote away from the UCP that these other candidates did last time. If he does that, the NDP’s threshold for victory gets a lot lower. Instead of needing nearly 50% of the vote, the NDP could theoretically win this riding with just a little more than 40%. Not easy, but not impossible. Tougher if the rural margins are more like the Mainstreet poll mentioned above.
Both the United Conservatives and New Democrats have yet to choose their candidates in this riding. The NDP has their nomination vote scheduled for the end of February.
(ALMOST) ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
The workhouse vs. the warhouse in Newfoundland & Labrador
February 3, 2001
In the first months of the 21st century, Brian Tobin and the Liberals seemed to be in a good spot in Newfoundland and Labrador. Tobin had led his party to another majority government in the election of 1999, marking a decade in power for his party. The Liberals took 32 seats in that vote, the Progressive Conservatives under Ed Byrne just 14.
But Ottawa had other plans.
Jean Chrétien, spying an opportunity to take advantage of an unsteady Canadian Alliance opposition under new leader Stockwell Day, called an early election for November 2000. Though Tobin had promised to see out his term in office in St. John’s, the siren song of federal politics was too much for him to ignore. The Liberals needed him to win back Atlantic Canada, where the party had suffered significant losses in 1997. And Chrétien needed an heir that wasn’t Paul Martin. Maybe Brian Tobin would be that man.
So, Tobin resigned. It was a move that shocked the province. Deputy premier Beaton Tulk was named to replace him while the Liberals searched for a new leader. They immediately had two candidates in Roger Grimes and John Efford.
Grimes, an MHA since 1989 for a riding on the north coast of Newfoundland, had been a cabinet minister in both Brian Tobin’s and Clyde Wells’s governments. He held tough portfolios like labour and education, but got through them without much difficulty. At the time of Tobin’s resignation, Grimes was heading up the health ministry — another challenging job.
Efford was also a veteran MHA and cabinet minister, first elected in 1985 in his riding on the Avalon Peninsula. Efford attracted more controversy in his ministries, including his strident and outspoken advocacy of the seal hunt and his defense of the fisheries against decisions made by the (Liberal) federal government. He was more charismatic and pugilistic than the mild-mannered Grimes, and a populist who, in the words of Michael MacDonald of the Toronto Star, was “often perceived as too colourful for his own good.”
A third candidate came forward in Paul Dicks, first elected in 1989 on the west coast of Newfoundland. Minister of mines and energy, Dicks had presided over deep spending cuts during his time as finance minister.
According to Kevin Cox, St. John’s correspondent for The Globe and Mail, “if Mr. Grimes is the workhouse and Mr. Efford is the warhorse, then Mr. Dicks is the dark horse.”
Nevertheless, though he had a “plodding speaking style”, Grimes was seen as the favourite as the convention approached. He had the backing of the establishment of the party and most of the caucus. Efford, on the other hand, had support among the grassroots membership. Dicks was a long shot, but if Grimes failed to win on the first ballot his supporters could decide the winner.
About 1,300 delegates braved a snow storm to attend the convention in Mount Pearl’s Glacier Arena on February 3, but their mood was grim. It wasn’t just the weather. On January 30, the Liberals had been defeated in two byelections held in traditionally safe Liberal strongholds. One of them was Tobin’s old seat.
The Progressive Conservatives were now on the upswing under their new leader, businessman Danny Williams (who would officially be acclaimed later in the year). The party was surging and Williams’s style seemed like a tough one for Grimes to stack up against — a fighter like Efford could have a better shot.
On the first ballot, Grimes emerged with the most support but was just short of a victory. He had 609 votes to 546 for Efford and 111 for Dicks, who crossed the convention floor to join Efford after he was eliminated. If Dicks could deliver 80% of his delegates, Efford would win.
Dicks nearly did it, as Efford gained 78 votes on the second ballot. But Grimes gained 29, just enough for him to finish with 638 to 624 for Efford. If eight more delegates had gone for Efford, he would have won.
Efford’s supporters booed when the results were announced. The party had been divided between the establishment and the grassroots. At first, Efford called for unity. In his victory speech, Grimes said “there's just one, great, strong, united Liberal party that can go forward with pride from today.”
The unity wasn’t real and it didn’t last. Within months, both Efford and Dicks would leave provincial politics rather than serve under Grimes. Efford followed Tobin to Ottawa, and served in Paul Martin’s cabinet.
Grimes struggled on as premier for the next two years, but his chances against Danny Williams were slim. When the next election was held in 2003, the Liberals went down to defeat with just 12 seats, the PCs winning 34. Worse, Williams and the PCs won the province wide vote by nearly 26 percentage points.
The long Liberal reign was over. The Danny Williams era was about to begin.
Kevin Falcon’s Year 2 kicks off
On Sunday, Kevin Falcon will mark one year as leader of the B.C. Liberal Party.
Falcon won the leadership contest that named him B.C.’s official opposition leader with 52% of the vote on the fifth ballot, with MLAs Ellis Ross and Michael Lee finishing with 34% and 14%, respectively.
Lots has changed for Falcon since then. Over the space of 12 months, John Horgan resigned as premier, David Eby was named his replacement and the Liberal membership approved a change of name for the party, which will soon officially be called B.C. United.
So far, Falcon has yet to make much of an impression — or, at least, not a good one. The most recent survey had the B.C. Liberals trailing the governing NDP by 15 points and found 48% of British Columbians holding an unfavourable view of Falcon, against 22% with a favourable one.
Luckily for Falcon he still has a second anniversary to get through before facing the electorate.
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!