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The Weekly Writ for Jan. 11
Who would win if the election were held today; whether Trudeau or Poilievre (or both) should go; and a new premier is named.
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.
Happy New Year!
I hope you all had a happy and restful holidays and, like me, are set for what will be another fascinating year in Canadian politics. There’s what we know will happen — a highly competitive election in Alberta, for example — and what has yet to reveal itself.
Last January, we weren’t expecting a Conservative leadership race in 2022 or for new premiers to be named in British Columbia and Alberta. Things like the Freedom Convoy, the Alberta Sovereignty Act or the notwithstanding clause weren’t slated to be topics of conversation for the year ahead. Internationally, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States, the death of Queen Elizabeth II or the repercussions from elections in places like Brazil and Italy weren’t on anybody’s radar.
Of course, the last few years have been hard to look back on as good years, either here or abroad. And, perhaps, the prospects that good years are ahead aren’t terrific. But, we can certainly wish for better years. Let’s hope for that in 2023.
With a new feature I’m launching in the Weekly Writ, though, I’d say we’re already off to a good start!
Every Wednesday, the Weekly Writ will now include what I’m calling If The Election Were Held Today — estimates of how many seats each party would win if an election were held today, both at the federal level and in every province. These estimates are largely based on the latest polls, but also include a few tweaks and adjustments based on my own judgment.
When I initially launched The Writ in June 2021, I said I was moving away from the seat projection models I used to publish on ThreeHundredEight.com and then with CBC News, replacing that quantitative approach with a more qualitative one. The launch of The Grenier Political Report was one example of that. These seat estimates will be another.
I’m hoping this new feature will prove both useful and interesting to readers, providing some context about where things stand and how that might be influencing the decisions of our political leaders. Plus, there’s simply the fun of the horserace aspect of it — who’s up and who’s down, which will be updated in every Weekly Writ. These estimates in all but the first Weekly Writ of the month (such as this one) will be exclusive to paid subscribers.
So, let me know what you think of If The Election Were Held Today and what you’re hoping for from The Writ in 2023!
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News from the 2023 Prediction Contest, Ontario Liberals’ election post-mortem, a new premier incoming in Yukon and potential federal byelections in July.
Polls on Trudeau’s and Poilievre’s leaderships and which political leaders are the most popular in Quebec.
Which governments would lose if the election were held today.
Red Deer-North riding profile.
1962 Alberta Liberal leadership race in the #EveryElectionProject.
A milestone for Yves-François Blanchet.
Let’s get to it!
IN THE NEWS
Get your guesses in for the 2023 Prediction Contest!
It’s a new year, so it is time to kick-off the 2023 Prediction Contest! Last Wednesday, paid subscribers were notified about the results of the 2022 Prediction Contest and what we’re trying to predict in 2023. If you haven’t already, you have until next Wednesday to get your guesses in. Head here to fill out your ballot!
Congratulations to Ryan Vienneau, the winner of the inaugural Writ Cup. In addition to getting his name engraved on this one-of-a-kind JPEG trophy, Ryan won a free one-year paid subscription to The Writ for himself and a lucky friend. Ryan will try to defend his title, but he’ll face some stiff competition in 2023 as we already have more entries than last year!
Here’s what the entries show so far as of Tuesday morning:
82% believe the NDP will win the Alberta election, with an average of 45.6 seats to the UCP’s 41.4.
100% believe the NDP will win the Manitoba election, with an average of 31.6 seats. The PCs are averaging 21.6 and the Liberals 3.6. I don’t think I’d give the Manitoba NDP 100% odds so betting on the PCs might be a good way to win the pool!
100% believe the PCs will win the PEI election, with an average of 20 seats. The Greens are averaging 4.8 seats and the Liberals 2.2.
96% think there will be no federal election in 2023, while 79% of you think none of the big four leaders will resign. Of those who do think one of the leaders will resign, Justin Trudeau has been the top choice.
For the Ontario Liberal leadership race, the favourite to be the leader at year’s end is Nathaniel Erskine-Smith with 36% of guesses, followed by current interim leader John Fraser at 32%. The only other names to get more than one guess were Yasir Naqvi and Mike Schreiner (7% apiece).
For the Quebec Liberal leadership race, interim leader Marc Tanguay is the runaway favourite to still be the leader by year’s end with 71%. In second with 18% is Denis Coderre. No other name got more than a single guess.
Get your picks in before the deadline of next Wednesday! The standings will be updated throughout the year as the results become known.
Ontario Liberals pick through the ashes
After winning only eight seats in the 2022 provincial election, the Ontario Liberals embarked on a post-mortem about what went wrong.
In short, mostly everything?
The post-mortem report details the feedback the authors received and lays out a few recommendations for the future. While the report is partially an airing of grievances on the part of members and local organizations, it paints the portrait of a party that did not have the resources or infrastructure to run a campaign that could compete on an even playing field with the PCs or NDP — but tried to anyway.
Most of the report is about issues relating to the party’s organization and the lack of a simple message to voters, but one section pinpoints what was, to me, the real problem with the Ontario Liberals’ 2022 campaign:
Through our membership survey, we learned that a strong majority of participants felt our Leader was unpopular and that the OLP campaign failed to address this issue. As the candidate debrief team so eloquently wrote in their report – “we could not turn our leader’s strengths into electoral assets.”
One person’s “eloquently” is another person’s “charitably”, I guess.
It really comes down to this, in my view: after the party was decimated in 2018, it lacked the resources to keep its infrastructure in the same shape it had been in before. With the organization weakened and the volunteer pool drying up, the ground game faltered — and it couldn’t prop up a dull leader with an unclear message about why the Liberals were the alternative to the PC government and the NDP opposition.
Had the ground game been on point, perhaps it would have helped get the Liberals to 12 seats and recognized party status. But lacking an appealing leader and/or message is pretty fatal, regardless of the state of the party’s organization.
One interesting recommendation is a review of the process the Ontario Liberals use to select leaders. They are one of the last parties in Canada to still use a delegated system. It sounds like they might make the error of going the one-vote-one-member route that, as I’ve explained before, has some serious flaws.
Other recommendations are largely in the “be better” or “make plans to be better” category, but some concrete ones include hiring more full-time staffers earlier and partnering new candidates with sitting MPPs who can act as mentors. That sounds like a neat idea.
Improving members’ engagement and strengthening the party’s infrastructure are important but, in the end, those are inward-looking solutions. The Liberals won’t win an election until they pick a leader voters like and settle on a message that will resonate — really the key to winning any election anywhere.
MEANWHILE, as the Ontario Liberals look back the NDP is moving forward with Marit Stiles, whose acclamation as leader of the Ontario NDP has been moved up and will take place on February 4.
New premier in Yukon
As he was the only candidate who was in the running when the deadline passed, Ranj Pillai was acclaimed as the new leader of the Yukon Liberal Party and will be sworn in as the territory’s next premier on January 14, replacing outgoing premier Sandy Silver.
After Justin Trudeau, Silver is currently the longest-serving first minister in Canada.
A former city councillor in Whitehorse, Pillai was elected as the MLA for Porter Creek South in 2016 when the Liberals first came to power and has served in a series of cabinet portfolios since.
Once he is sworn in, Pillai will takeover with the Liberals in a precarious position. They have governed the territory since the 2021 election thanks to a confidence and supply agreement with the Yukon NDP. That deal is about to expire, though, and so it isn’t a given that Pillai will be able to continue governing the territory of 44,000 people with the NDP’s support.
Though the next territorial election isn’t scheduled until 2025, if the deal and/or government collapses Yukon could be off to the polls much sooner than that.
Elections Canada announced an official vacancy in the Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage following the resignation of Conservative MP Bob Benzen. He was first elected in 2017 in the byelection to fill the seat vacated by Stephen Harper.
Benzen won this riding in southwestern Calgary by a margin of 40 percentage points over the NDP in 2021, taking 58% of the vote. So, the real contest will be for the party’s nomination.
The byelection has to be called by July 2, with the actual vote taking place 36 to 50 days after that.
Winnipeg South Centre, vacated due to the death of Liberal MP Jim Carr late last year, has to have its byelection called by June 11. If the Liberals decide to hold both byelections on the same date but avoid an overlap with the Alberta provincial election being held on May 29, then we’re probably looking at an election call in early June (on the 4th or 11th, as byelections are normally called on Sundays). The alternative would be to call the byelection in mid-March to avoid the start of Alberta’s campaign, but that would be pretty short notice — and perhaps a little insensitive in the case of Winnipeg South Centre.
Put it all together, and that points to a pair of mid-July byelections, and possibly a trio of them if Dave MacKenzie vacates his Ontario riding of Oxford as planned.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Should I stay or should I go, Trudeau vs. Poilievre edition
If people who would never vote for you want you to resign, does it matter?
A survey by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail found that 51% of Canadians want someone other than Justin Trudeau to lead the Liberals into the next election. Just 25% think Trudeau should remain as leader.
Sounds bad — but it is hard to know what these kinds of numbers mean.
The Nanos poll did not include any partisan breakdowns, so we don’t know how many Liberal voters or voters accessible to the Liberals think Trudeau should resign. If the proportion of Canadians who would consider voting for the Trudeau Liberals was 49% and the other 51% were those Nanos captured in the “should resign” category, that wouldn’t really be very meaningful.
Partisanship is certainly at play here, as the numbers weren’t all that different for Pierre Poilievre. The poll found 45% of Canadians think someone other than Poilievre should lead the Conservatives into the next election, while 30% think Poilievre should stay in the job.
Those are better numbers than Trudeau. Beyond that, I’m not sure we can say all that much.
But let’s compare how the two leaders stack up by comparing their net scores on stay vs. resign. Nationally, Trudeau is at -26 and Poilievre is -15.
Regionally, Trudeau scores better than Poilievre in Ontario (-20 vs. -23) and Quebec (-22 vs. -30), but trails by a wide margin in the Prairies (-39 for Trudeau vs. +13 for Poilievre) and British Columbia (-27 vs. -4). Interestingly, Trudeau was -35 in Atlantic Canada, usually a region of strength for the Liberals, while Poilievre was just -7. That might be something to keep an eye on.
But I generally don’t find much use in these kinds of polls. We already know that roughly half of Canadians disapprove of the prime minister, so we should expect that roughly half would want him gone.
And these polls don’t get at motivation — do respondents want Trudeau to resign because they think another Liberal would be a better option (also, who would that be?) or because they simply dislike Trudeau and want to see him out of the picture? Do the respondents who want him to stay feel that way because they like him or want to see him beaten? Do the respondents who think Poilievre should go feel that way because they dislike Conservatives in general or because they like Conservatives and are worried he will lose the election for the party?
We don’t know, but those motivations matter.
Legault ends 2022 on top
It’s an impressive feat for a premier to be the most popular political figure in his or her province. That’s what François Legault is in Quebec, according to a recent poll.
The survey by Léger for Le Journal de Montréal/Québec, TVA and QUB Radio tested the popularity of an exhaustive list of Quebec politicians. Legault topped all of them, with 62% of Quebecers saying they hold a good opinion of him. That was more than any other figure. He beat out health minister Christian Dubé, who scored 59%, and deputy premier and transport minister Geneviève Guilbault, who had 53%.
Dubé and Guilbault had better net ratings at +39 and +36, respectively, as fewer Quebecers had a bad opinion of them than Legault. The premier was nevertheless still a +29.
The poll ran the gamut of political figures, from mayors to MNAs to MPs and party leaders.
Among the leaders, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon of the Parti Québécois tied the two Québec Solidaire co-spokespeople, Manon Massé and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, with 48% holding a good opinion, but his net rating was significantly better. Conservative leader Éric Duhaime was way down on the list with just a 22% positive rating and a 57% negative score, making him a net -35 overall — the worst of any figure tested. Interim Liberal leader Marc Tanguay was unknown to 68% of respondents.
Federally, Justin Trudeau was a net -2, but still ranked highly with a 47% positive rating. Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet had 41% approval (and a +21 net rating). They were the only two federal leaders tested.
Though Legault sits in an enviable position, he has nevertheless been leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec for more than a decade. If he decides to retire before the next election, the front runners to replace him would likely be Dubé and Guilbault, as 88% and 79% of CAQ voters, respectively, hold them in high-esteem. I’d put my money on Guilbault.
Among Quebec Liberals, who will also be choosing a new leader, there isn’t nearly as much unanimity. Trudeau scored highest at 75%, but let’s just say he is unlikely to make a bid for the provincial party leadership. Mélanie Joly was second at 52%, which is perhaps a more interesting option but still an unlikely one.
The figures who rate highest after that aren’t even Liberals: Montreal mayor Valérie Plante, who has a history with the NDP, was third with 49%, followed by the CAQ’s Dubé at 44% and QS’s Massé at 41%. The best-scoring Quebec Liberal who was tested by Léger was current interim leader Tanguay at 39%.
IF THE ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY
This first instalment of If The Election Were Held Today shows incumbent governments in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island would be re-elected with a majority government if, well, the election were held today.
In Alberta and Manitoba, however, those incumbents would go down to defeat. Bad luck that it is an election year for them. And in New Brunswick, the PCs would be reduced to a minority that would have a tough time surviving.
At the federal level, the Conservatives narrowly edge out the Liberals, but it is tight. A House of Commons with this make-up could be chaotic.
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 the previous election. Going forward, they will show the week-to-week change. Parties are ordered according to their finish in the previous election (with some exceptions for minor parties).
From time to time in future editions, I’ll break up this long graphic above with some analysis of the latest seat estimates. But, for this maiden voyage, I just wanted to set the course.
RIDING OF THE WEEK
Red Deer-North (Alberta)
Whether or not we’ll be talking about Red Deer-North on election night in Alberta depends on whether the polls are right or way off when it comes to the NDP’s support outside of the province’s two major cities.
Some polls have suggested that the New Democrats are very competitive outside Calgary and Edmonton, but it is a huge region that encompasses everything from the remote north to the rural south and Alberta’s small cities like Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.
In 2019, the United Conservatives won this region by a margin of 47 percentage points. But polls have shown the gap at just a fraction of that — sometimes even in single digits.
And if that is actually the case, then we could indeed find ourselves talking about Red Deer-North on election night.
Red Deer-North occupies the half of the city that is north of the Red Deer River and 50 Street. Adriana LaGrange of the UCP won this seat in 2019 by 37 percentage points, beating the NDP’s incumbent, Kim Schreiner, by 60.6% to 23.2%. The Alberta Party candidate took another 13.2% of ballots cast.
It was a landslide, but Red Deer-North has been far tighter in the past.
Schreiner and the New Democrats narrowly won this riding in a close four-way contest in 2015. Schreiner took 29.4%, prevailing over a divided vote that awarded 24.7% to the Wildrose Party and 22.7% to the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals finished fourth with 19.3% of the vote, making Red Deer-North one of their best ridings in the province.
So, 2015 wasn’t necessarily a case of a split right-wing vote in this riding. While it’s just as imperfect to combine the NDP and Liberal vote from 2015 as it is to combine the Wildrose and PC vote, that combined right-of-the-PCs vote totaled 49% in 2015, with the PCs and Wildrose combining for 47%.
The riding, though, is normally conservative. The PCs won Red Deer in every election between 1971 and 1982 and then won Red Deer-North in every subsequent election until 2015. Federally, it is a safe Conservative seat. Even the urban polls in Red Deer were a deep blue in 2021.
But if the NDP can close the gap in a riding like this, it will take the pressure off of them as they seek gains in the suburbs of Calgary. Jaelene Tweedle, the NDP’s candidate, has her work cut out for her.
LaGrange is running for re-election after seeing off a nomination challenge last year. She has been the education minister since 2019, making her one of only three cabinet ministers to hold the same portfolio since the UCP came to power nearly four years ago.
(ALMOST) ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
Small-town mayor becomes Alberta Liberal leader
January 14, 1962
It’s been a long, long time since being an Alberta Liberal was easy.
The struggles of the Alberta Liberal Party are not just a recent phenomenon — and the blame can’t all be laid at the feet of one Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Take the 1959 Alberta election, for instance. In that vote, Ernest Manning’s Social Credit captured 61 of 65 seats on offer. The Liberals, then under Grant MacEwen, managed just 14% and a single seat. It wasn’t MacEwen’s.
So, the job of being the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party became vacant. And it stayed that way for more than two years.
By 1962, the Liberals decided it was time to fill that vacancy. The names of a few promising candidates were bandied about, but in the end it came down to just two.
One was Bryce Stringam, a former MLA who was elected as an Independent in 1955 and served for one term in the legislature.
The other was Dave Hunter. The mayor of the small northern community of Athabasca, Hunter was serving as president of the Union of Alberta Municipalities and was the odds-on favourite to win.
About 500 delegates gathered in Calgary in January 1962 for the convention, an event that was enlivened by a fiery performance by Ross Thatcher, leader of the Saskatchewan Liberals. Though himself only an opposition leader in Regina, he had reinvigorated the Liberal Party there and would eventually end the CCF’s long run of power in 1964.
For now, though, Thatcher’s job was to rally the Liberal troops in this neighbouring province. And it wasn’t his first time — in the previous fall, he had spoken at a rally in Edmonton where he “apparently inspired some members of the Alberta [Liberal] executive to the point where they were all set to go out and fight. Unfortunately,” wrote Andrew Snaddon, the Globe and Mail’s correspondent in Calgary, “they don’t seem to know what they are fighting about.”
The Liberals recognized that they were unlikely to defeat Social Credit. The party had governed Alberta for more than a quarter century and Manning looked (and, as it turned out, was) unbeatable. But the Liberals had more hope at the federal level, believing that John Diefenbaker’s unpopular Progressive Conservative government was vulnerable. The PCs had swept all of Alberta’s seats in Diefenbaker’s 1958 landslide, but both the Liberals and Socreds believed they could win a few federal seats back in the upcoming vote.
That test was in the future, though. In January 1962, the Liberals had to choose their local standard-bearer to give the brand some new energy. And they chose Hunter by a substantial (unreported) margin.
Snaddon thought Hunter had potential.
“Athabasca is in the northern part of the province,” he wrote, “good Liberal ground in days past. He also has an advantage in rural-dominated Alberta in that he does not come from Calgary or Edmonton, for city interests are conflicting with rural ones.”
However, the Liberals faced an uphill climb.
“Mr. Hunter is not a spectacular orator, nor is he likely to be an inspirational leader,” Snaddon opined. “But he is said to be a determined man and a hard worker.”
The Liberals failed in their first test in the 1962 federal election. While Diefenbaker’s PCs were reduced to a minority, they only lost two seats in Alberta — both to Social Credit.
In the next provincial election in 1963, Hunter would have only limited success. The Socreds won 60 of 63 seats and 55% of the vote, leaving the Liberals with just 20% support and two seats — neither of them Hunter’s.
His leadership would come to an end in 1964 when Hunter failed to win a seat in a byelection.
But Hunter’s short-lived leadership did get the Liberals back their official opposition status, even if it was with just two seats. It wouldn’t last for very long, however, and it would be another 30 years before the Liberals would be awarded that role again.
Four more years for Blanchet?
On Tuesday, Yves-François Blanchet will mark the fourth anniversary of his acclamation as leader of the Bloc Québécois.
His arrival at the head of the party ended what was nearly eight years of the Bloc’s revolving-door leadership after its catastrophic 2011 federal election defeat. Between 2011 and 2019, the Bloc had four permanent leaders — Daniel Paillé, Mario Beaulieu, Gilles Duceppe (again) and Martine Ouellet — and also had a series of interim leaders.
That tumultuous period in the wilderness means Blanchet is just one of three leaders to lead the Bloc Québécois through an election campaign. Only he and Duceppe have led the party through at least two. The Bloc won 32 seats and 32% of the vote in Quebec in both the 2019 and 2021 campaigns, making the party the second-most important one in Quebec and the third party in the House of Commons, ahead of the New Democrats.
Will he be able to maintain that position for the Bloc going forward? The party was on track for some losses in 2021 before the English-language debate gave Blanchet an issue that re-energized his campaign. But he can’t count on a deus ex machina to save him again.
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!