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The Weekly Writ for Feb. 2
O'Toole on the outs, Liberals raise the dough and McBride wants Better Terms.
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.
Lots to get to in today’s installment of the Weekly Writ, from Conservative leadership drama to new fundraising figures and candidates stepping up or being pushed out in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
Want polls? We got ‘em, along with a riding profile down St. Catharines way, an ugly B.C. election campaign and a milestone for a Prairie premier.
Let’s get right into it.
IN THE NEWS
Last call for Erin O’Toole?
Erin O’Toole’s days as leader of the Conservative Party could be numbered, and by numbered I mean “less than one”. The Conservative caucus is expected to vote today on O’Toole’s leadership, and if he loses that vote he will no longer be Conservative leader by day’s end.
This has all come about because 35 Conservative MPs signed a letter calling for a leadership vote, more than meeting the minimum threshold required by the Reform Act to force such a vote.
The dissident MPs appear to come primarily from the right flank of the Conservative Party, with O’Toole’s carbon-tax-in-all-but-name and move to fast track the Liberals’ anti-conversion therapy bill in December being highlighted as particular points of contention.
A testy caucus meeting in which a post-mortem review of the 2021 campaign went badly and O’Toole’s shifting stance on the trucker/vaccine mandate demonstrations in Ottawa have also been tough to swallow.
O’Toole says he won’t back down from the fight and is welcoming the vote, casting the choice as one between a road that is “angry, negative and extreme” and a road that is one of “inclusion, optimism, ideas and hope”. One assumes his road is the latter, though recent podcast guest and former Liberal pollster Dan Arnold was quick with a rejoinder:
These two roads diverging in a blue wood seem to represent the potential fracture within the party, as those who want to keep O’Toole around have also been speaking out (though, with some exceptions, are doing so under the shroud of anonymity, much like most of O’Toole’s detractors).
It’s hard to see a way out of this for O’Toole. The rebels say they have the votes, as do the loyalists. But even if O’Toole does squeak by, a significant portion of his caucus will have been in open rebellion. Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who endorsed O’Toole’s leadership campaign in 2020 but was one of the signatories calling for the vote, has said O’Toole should recognize his position is “untenable”.
I think he’s right. I’ve heard it said before that the Reform Act mechanism that triggers a leadership vote is unnecessary, because leaders would normally be expected to step aside if they’ve lost a big chunk of their caucus. Instead, it seems O’Toole wants this to go all the way. Win or lose today, it’s difficult to see a longer-term win in this.
Whether the leadership race is kicked off now or later on, it does seem the Conservatives will be in the midst of another leadership contest soon. Stick with The Writ for full coverage — I just may have to dust-off the ole Conservative Leadership Index…
Liberals out-fundraise the Conservatives
It was a rough year for fundraising, what with the pandemic and an election that might have been less than enthusiastically embraced.
But the final numbers are in for 2021, and the Conservatives came out on top for the year as a whole. They were, however, beaten by the Liberals in the fourth quarter.
The Conservatives raised $26.5 million throughout the year, less than the party raised in the election years of 2015 and 2019 (that will be a theme). The party’s Q4 haul, though, was just $3,091,247, ranking this quarter as the worst fourth quarter in the history of the Conservative Party, and the worst quarter in over 10 years.
To add insult to injury, the Liberals raised $3,741,080 in the fourth quarter, the first time they have beaten the Conservatives since the end of 2019. In fact, the Liberals have out-fundraised the Conservatives in post-election quarters in 2015, 2019 and 2021. This could be because everyone likes a winner, or it could be in part because the Conservatives tap their donors so much during an election that they have nothing left to give afterwards.
It still wasn’t a great quarter for the Liberals, though. It was their worst Q4 since 2012 and they raised less in this election year than they did in either 2015 or 2019.
The New Democrats also had their worst fourth quarter since 2011 — again, another theme — with $1,843,950 raised. But with just over $9 million for the year, 2021 actually represents the third-best year for the NDP ever, ranking only behind 2014 and 2015 when the party was vying for government.
The Greens had their worst fourth quarter since 2012 at just $832,701 raised, and with $3.5 million raised for the whole year were still behind their tallies in 2015 and 2019.
The Bloc Québécois was another party with a worst fourth-quarter in a decade, but they did end up with their best year on record at just over $2 million.
New to the quarterly reports this time was one from the People’s Party. The PPC raised $704,226 in the fourth quarter of 2021. We don’t know how much the party raised earlier in the year — the PPC wasn’t required to file quarterly until now. But based on how much money the PPC raised in 2018, 2019 and 2020, this is likely a better quarter than they had in any of those years.
So, the overall trends are pretty clear.
Most parties struggled to raise as much money as they did in the past election years of 2015 and 2019.
The fourth quarter is usually the most lucrative but every party had its worst fourth quarter since at least 2012.
I imagine this is a combination of election fatigue and pandemic uncertainty, but Canadians have built up a huge amount of savings during this pandemic. They didn’t appear to want to part with those savings to donate to federal political parties.
Recall that Alberta represents just under 12% of the Canadian population.
DEBT WATCH - Peter MacKay raised about $187,000 in the fourth quarter to continue paying off his Conservative leadership debts. Among those giving him the maximum $1,650: Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton and former Ontario PC leader.
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Robert Gauvin to run for N.B. Liberal leadership
A new contender for the New Brunswick Liberal leadership has emerged in Robert Gauvin, who has had an interesting political career of late. The CBC’s Jacques Poitras lays it out in this thread:
In short, the Gauvin name has been a big one in PC Party politics for some time, as Robert’s father Jean was an MLA during the Richard Hatfield years. Robert Gauvin ran for the PCs in 2018 and was their lone francophone MLA, which made it all the more damaging when he left the PC caucus (over health reforms), crossed the floor to the Liberals and was elected as a Liberal in the 2020 election.
The history of renegades running for the leadership of their adopted parties is one that I think might need some investigating, but Gauvin has made the N.B. Liberal race a little more fascinating.
Slates set for Athabasca and Marie-Victorin byelections
Voters in the Saskatchewan riding of Athabasca are going to the polls on February 15, and they now know their slate of candidates.
The two main contenders are Georgina Jolibois for the New Democrats and Jim Lemaigre of the Saskatchewan Party, as I laid out in last week’s riding profile. Anything but an NDP win would be a big upset.
Still, I’ll be curious to see how the Buffalo Party’s Clint Arnason does. The pro-independence Buffalo Party did not run a candidate in Athabasca in the 2020 provincial election, but did run candidates in two of the three ridings to the south of Athabasca, averaging just under 5% of the vote in them.
Darwin Roy is the fourth candidate, running as an Independent. He lost the NDP nomination to Jolibois.
Meanwhile, voters in the Quebec riding of Marie-Victorin are still waiting to know when they will be going to the polls. But at least they finally know who the CAQ candidate will be: Shirley Dorismond.
A nurse and former vice-president of the FIQ, a labour organization representing nurses, Dorismond enters the race as a narrow favourite over the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire. The PQ is running former NDP MP Pierre Nantel in this seat that the party previously held.
Now that the CAQ has its candidate, a call can’t be far behind.
Ontario NDP candidate booted from Ajax
Speaking of candidates, the Ontario New Democrats will need a new one as they have booted Steve Parish, former mayor of Ajax, from their ticket.
Parish was seen as a star candidate in a riding that looked winnable for the NDP, particularly after PC cabinet minister Rod Phillips announced he would not be running for re-election. But Parish came under fire for something that happened during his tenure as mayor: the naming of an Ajax street after Hans Langsdorff, a German naval officer from the Second World War.
Langsdorff was a central character in the Battle of the River Plate, an early British victory when the Royal Navy cornered the damaged Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo. With no options, Langsdorff scuttled the German battleship, wrote a letter in which he stated his “firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Führer”, and shot himself.
One of the ships at the battle was the HMS Ajax. So, some 15 years ago it was thought it would be a neat idea to name a street after one of the Ajax’s foes in the city of Ajax, which was named after the ship. This article has a good resumé of the naming ceremony.
But after some complaints about, you know, naming a street after a war hero of Nazi Germany, Langsdorff Drive was renamed Croker Drive, after two sailors who served at the battle, one on the Ajax.
The NDP might have thought that the context behind the naming mitigated any issues for Parish, but in the end the party seems to have decided to dump him and avoid going down with the ship.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Never too early for leadership polling
Or is it?
Anyway, according to Nanos Research the favourite to lead the Liberal Party into the next election is Chrystia Freeland — who is favoured even above the current guy!
Freeland got 25% when Nanos listed a number of potential candidates, followed by Justin Trudeau at 18% and Mark Carney at 12%. No one else did better than 3%. Only in Atlantic Canada did Trudeau out-poll Freeland.
Perhaps more relevantly, Erin O’Toole trails Pierre Poilievre on who should lead the Conservatives by a margin of 17% to 10%. These two were followed by Michael Chong (6%), Michelle Rempel Garner (5%) and Gérard Deltell (4%).
Poilievre was the favourite in every region except Quebec, where O’Toole was still on top (Deltell finished second).
Poilievre vs. Freeland in 2023, anyone?
Federal polls show not much change
Mainstreet shows a tie between the Liberals and Conservatives (at a lofty 29%), while Léger gives the Liberals a three-point lead (34% to 31%). On average, the two polls put support at 32% for the Liberals, 30% for the Conservatives and 17% for the New Democrats, really not that different from where things stood on election night.
The Bloc follows with 6% and the Greens with 3% on average, while the PPC remains un-pollable. Mainstreet has it at 13%, while Léger has it at 6%. Recall that the IVR polls from the 2021 campaign (Mainstreet and EKOS) significantly over-estimated PPC support, while Léger was nearly right on target.
PCs lead in Ontario polls (again?)
Remember the case of the disagreeing polls from last week?
Well, more data is in the field and it continues to back the notion that the Progressive Conservatives are ahead. Who is second, though, is still a bit of a mystery.
Counsel Public Affairs puts the PCs at 35%, followed by the NDP at 30.5% and the Liberals at 24%. Léger has the PCs at 37%, followed by the Liberals at 26% and the NDP at 25%. Mainstreet Research has the PCs at 35%, followed by the Liberals at 27% and the NDP at 22%.
These aren’t identical scores, but they are at least somewhat in the same ballpark — the one question being the state of the NDP’s support.
But think about it this way. Out of the seven polls published in the last few weeks that I’ve profiled in the last two Weekly Writs, the PCs have been between 33% and 37% in six of them. The NDP has been between 25% and 31% in five of them, and the Liberals have been between 24% and 28% in six of them.
Those seem like plausible consensus ranges for where things stand at the moment — and that means the PCs remain on top.
Mixed views on the protests: If you’ve watched any Canadian news or happen to live in Ottawa, you’ve heard a lot about the demonstrations taking place around Parliament Hill. A poll by the Innovative Research Group shows 31% support for the idea of the protest and 29% approval of its methods. The survey was in the field from Thursday to Monday. I’d like to see more recent data before coming to any conclusions, because a lot of what has happened (particularly later in that survey period) has been disgusting. Luckily, IRG says they are staying in the field and will report back.
Changing views on restrictions: The Angus Reid Institute reports that 54% now believe that “it’s time to end restrictions and let people self-isolate if they are at risk”, up from 40% earlier in the month. I’d like to see a question without the “let people self-isolate if they are at risk” since I’m not sure what that means.
RIDING OF THE WEEK
St. Catharines (Ontario)
We’re off to the Niagara Escarpment this week as we focus on the riding of St. Catharines — another seat that is likely to be hotly contested in the Ontario provincial election.
The New Democrats captured St. Catharines by a margin of just three percentage points in 2018, with 36.6% support to 33.6% for the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals followed with 24.5%. The Greens were well back at 3.7%.
The federal Liberals won the riding in last September’s election by a margin of five points over the Conservatives, showing how St. Catharines is just another one of these ridings in which the progressive vote got behind whatever party has been best placed to defeat the Conservatives or PCs over the last few years.
Provincially, though, St. Catharines was a reliably Liberal seat since 1977. Or, to put it more accurately, it was a reliably Jim Bradley seat since 1977. The former Liberal MPP held the seat without interruption from 1977 to 2018, when he was finally displaced by the NDP.
So, we’ll see what happens in June. Jennie Stevens is running again for the New Democrats, while the Liberals will be without Jim Bradley for the first time in nearly half a century (presumably — no candidate has been named yet). The PCs will be running city councillor Sal Sorrento.
ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
Richard McBride wins again
February 2, 1907
Partisan politics (or, at least, officially partisan politics) was still a novelty in British Columbia when voters went to the polls on February 2, 1907. It was only the second campaign run along party lines after Richard McBride, who became premier in June 1903, announced his government would be a Conservative government, and promptly won an electoral mandate as a B.C. Conservative later that year.
By the end of 1906, McBride was ready to call another election, which he announced on Christmas Eve.
The campaign would be centred around the issue of “Better Terms” for British Columbians in Confederation, along with securing continued economic development for B.C. and increased immigration — white immigration, preferably from Great Britain. At the time, Chinese, Japanese and South Asian Canadians in B.C. could not vote, and both the Conservatives and Liberals were keen to keep it that way.
J. A. Macdonald, the Liberal leader, tried to make hay of the whiff of scandal that surrounded some members of the McBride government, but was unable to make headway.
McBride, touring the province during a notably chilly winter, kept the focus on getting Better Terms, claiming that if the Liberals were elected it would send the message to the provinces in the east that British Columbians weren’t serious about their demands.
The Liberals, of course, said they were for Better Terms, too, but that McBride had mishandled relations with the federal (Liberal) government.
It was an ugly campaign, with charges of dirty tricks coming from both sides, plenty of anti-French and anti-Catholic rhetoric along with fearmongering that either McBride would bring in more Asian labourers or Macdonald would enfranchise Japanese Canadians.
On election day (in which the Conservatives were offering voters the wonder of automobile rides to the polls in Vancouver), McBride won the solid victory he had failed to achieve in 1903.
His party won 49% of the vote and 26 seats, a gain of four seats since the last election. The Liberals dropped to 37% of the vote and 13 seats, while the Socialists and Labour combined for around 13% of the vote and three seats. In all, McBride’s government went from a slim majority of 22 seats in a 42-seat legislature, to a reliable majority of 26.
McBride would win a bigger landslide in 1909 (which would prompt some rumblings that the successful B.C. premier could make a great replacement for the twice-beaten Robert Borden as federal Conservative leader) and his greatest victory in 1912, before stepping down as premier in 1915.
Four years as premier for Scott Moe
Today marks the four-year anniversary of Scott Moe being sworn-in as premier of Saskatchewan.
Moe won the leadership of the Saskatchewan Party on January 27, 2018, defeating a field of five other candidates. Moe, who had been the environment minister in Brad Wall’s government, narrowly trailed Alanna Koch on the balloting for the first three rounds, before overtaking her on the fourth ballot and securing 54% of the vote on the final ballot. He was sworn-in a few days later.
The Saskatchewan Party was starting to struggle in the polls at the time of Wall’s resignation, but Moe successfully led the Sask. Party to a big victory in the 2020 provincial election, with 48 of 61 seats and 61% of ballots cast.
Four years might not seem like a long time in office, but of current first ministers only Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and B.C. Premier John Horgan have been in power longer.
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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 Spotify. And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel, where I post interviews from the podcast, election videos and livestreams!