The Weekly Writ for Jan. 12
The year in politics to come, more pandemic fallout and a 19th-century wedge issue.
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.
Happy New Year everyone! Granted, it isn’t the happiest start to a new year one could imagine, but it is a new year nonetheless. And while the world might be a little bleak these days, 2022 does hold promise for lots of fascinating political drama.
On the election-news front, the holidays have been a little light. But in this instalment of the Weekly Writ, I’m going to give you a preview of the political year to come, update you on the latest leadership news out of Nova Scotia, tally your predictions for 2022, see how the premiers are doing on the pandemic, and more!
Then, we visit an Ontario riding that won’t have an incumbent on the ballot in June, harken back to a turn-of-the-century Manitoba election and mark a milestone for one of the leaders in the House of Commons. Let’s get to it!
IN THE NEWS
New year, new elections
It’s always hard to top a federal election year, but 2022 is setting up to be a good one.
The headliners are the two provincial elections scheduled to be held in Ontario on June 2 and Quebec on October 3 — meaning that a majority of Canadians will be casting a ballot this year.
Ontario will be the focus. Not only is it, you know, the biggest province in Canada, it is also the province run by one Doug Ford. His first years as premier were a little rocky, but he (mostly) found his footing during the pandemic. His approval ratings hit new highs and his party moved ahead in the polls.
All good things come to an end, and that has also been the case for Ford. His approval ratings aren’t nearly as glowing and his Progressive Conservatives have lost the large lead they built up in some polls during the height of the pandemic. But Ford and the PCs are still the favourites — his approval ratings are just high enough to make re-election a possibility, and his party has just enough support that another majority government is still a plausible outcome.
It all depends in large part on the opposition forces. Can Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats, elevated from third-party status in 2018 for the first time since Bob Rae’s defeat in 1995, be the vehicle of the anti-PC forces? Or will the largely-unknown Steven Del Duca be able to lead the Liberals back from the wilderness? Stay tuned.
The election in Quebec is not expected to be nearly as competitive, as François Legault is one of the country’s most popular premiers and his Coalition Avenir Québec holds gargantuan leads over the feckless opposition parties. But the pandemic has gone badly again in Quebec and it’s possible that it could finally put a real dent in the CAQ’s popularity.
What works in the CAQ’s favour, though, is its opponents. The Liberals under Dominique Anglade seem to be grasping for a new identity as their last francophone supporters abandon them. The Parti Québécois under Paul St-Pierre Plamondon is desperate for relevance and to turn around a downward trend that has been decades in the making. And while Québec Solidaire under Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois has a little swagger, can it really expand beyond its core in trendy, progressive Montreal in any meaningful way?
There’s still plenty to make this election one worth watching.
There will be lots more to keep an eye on as well. The Green Party may schedule its leadership race for this year, while provincial leadership races will either come to a close or get kicked-off to fill Liberal vacancies in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, PC vacancies in Newfoundland and Labrador and NDP vacancies in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. And, who knows, maybe Alberta’s UCP and parties defeated in the provincial elections will be plunged into leadership campaigns that have yet to be forced.
There will also be municipal elections in a number of provinces, including Ontario and B.C., and provincial by-elections that will have to be called to fill vacancies in Alberta (Fort McMurray–Lac La Biche), Saskatchewan (Athabasca), Manitoba (Fort Whyte and Thompson), Quebec (Marie-Victorin), and New Brunswick (Miramichi Bay–Neguac and Southwest Miramichi–Bay du Vin).
So stick with The Writ for coverage of all this political drama — and the drama we haven’t yet imagined.
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Rankin to step down, NDP contender (tentatively) steps up
There was some leadership news out of Nova Scotia over the last few weeks.
First, Iain Rankin has announced that he will step down as leader of the Liberals once his replacement is named. Rankin says he’ll stay on as an MLA. He was facing a leadership review in the next few months.
Rankin’s tenure as leader of the Nova Scotia Liberals was short-lived. He replaced Stephen McNeil only last February and took over a party that enjoyed a lead in the polls. He dissolved the legislature over the summer and looked set for re-election, only to lose to Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservatives.
With 37% of the vote and 17 of the province’s 55 seats, it wasn’t a disastrous result for the Liberals. With the exception of the previous two elections under McNeil, the Liberals hadn’t taken that much of the vote since 1993. But the polls at the outset of the campaign gave him a lead of about 10 points over the PCs, so it was his election to lose — and he did. Hard to imagine he could’ve stayed on.
Last summer’s campaign turned out to also be the last one for Gary Burrill, who announced he would be stepping aside after the NDP made no progress.
One of his potential replacements has already come forward, as Dartmouth South MLA Claudia Chender says she is mulling a bid.
Chender won her seat by a margin of 36 points over the Liberals, picking up 16 percentage points over her performance in 2017 when she was first elected. Of the five seats won by the New Democrats in and around Halifax, Chender’s was the one that saw the biggest increase in support.
No Liberal candidate in byelection prompted by MLA death
Sadly, last month NDP MLA Danielle Adams passed away in a car accident. It means that a byelection will have to be held in the northern Manitoba riding of Thompson in the next few months.
A byelection forced by an untimely death is a tough one to turn into a partisan fight, and the Manitoba Liberals have decided, out of respect for Adams, they will not put forward a candidate.
The Liberals weren’t much of a factor in the riding in 2019, taking less than 4% of the vote.
Speaking of Manitoba byelections, Obby Khan, a former Blue Bomber is running for the PC nomination in Fort Whyte, the riding vacated by Brian Pallister. If he wins, he’ll have to tackle another former Blue Bomber, Liberal candidate Willard Reaves.
Perhaps a CFL fan could inform us in the comments about the local renown of these former players.
Another candidate named for Quebec byelection
Candidates for the upcoming byelection in Marie-Victorin continue to be named, the latest being Shophika Vaithyanathasarma for Québec Solidaire.
What’s notable about her candidacy is that she ran for the Bloc Québécois in last year’s federal election, and was being courted to run for the Parti Québécois in Rosemont (the same area she ran in federally). She’s jumping across the St. Lawrence, though, to run in the Longueuil-area riding.
Vaithyanathasarma finished third in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie behind the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice and the Liberals’ Nancy Drolet. At 21%, she did about two points worse in the riding than the Bloc did in 2019, roughly matching the performance of her Bloquiste colleagues in neighbouring ridings.
Of the major parties, only the CAQ has yet to name a candidate for the byelection.
Can you predict politics in 2022?
Last week, I opened up the floor to get your predictions for the political year that will be 2022. I set a deadline of today, but I’d like to get some more entries so I’ll extend the deadline to Jan. 19. There is a prize involved (two free subscriptions), but the biggest prize is the awed admiration of your fellow Writ subscribers.
It’s been interesting to see where peoples’ heads are at on some of these predictions. To wit:
Everyone thinks Jason Kenney will pass his leadership review in April, but no one has given him more than 78%. Average guess: 65%.
By a margin of 14-3, predictors think the Ontario PCs will win the provincial election in June rather than the Liberals. No one has predicted that the NDP will prevail.
Average seat projection for Ontario: 57 PC, 36 LIB, 29 NDP.
Nobody thinks the CAQ will lose in October.
Average seat projection for Quebec: 88 CAQ, 22 LIB, 10 QS, 5 PQ.
Expected winners of the midterms: Republicans 13, Democrats 4.
The favourite to be Green leader by year’s end is Amita Kuttner (still), followed by Paul Manly.
O’Toole’s fate at year’s end: 14 Conservative Leader, 3 Not Conservative Leader
Keep those entries coming! The thread is here (and for subscribers only). I’ll update the standings throughout the year as our predictions are put to the test.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Satisfaction with government handling of COVID-19 drops
One of the big questions I have going into 2022 is what the impact of Omicron will be on politics. Undoubtedly, many Canadians (all Canadians?) have had their patience pushed to the limit. After nearly two years, there might be little benefit of the doubt left for voters to give to their governments on overwhelmed hospitals or poorly executed vaccination and/or rapid test deployments.
I’d say this is particularly the case in Ontario and Quebec, where the incumbent governments were hoping they had escaped the last of what COVID-19 could do to their re-election chances.
That’s why this survey from the Innovative Research Group is so interesting. It was conducted over the holidays from December 30 to January 5 and it is this chart that caught my attention:
The long-term trend is certainly on the negative side for everyone, but look at how those lines have curved down over the last couple months in Quebec and Ontario. The trend in British Columbia is mixed and Alberta continues to be a dumpster fire for Jason Kenney, but those could turn out to be some worrisome numbers for Ford and Legault.
A more recent survey from Léger shows a similar slide in both Ontario and Quebec, though perhaps a less worrying one for Legault. You can find the Léger poll and lots of pandemic-related questions here.
I’ll be curious to see if there are any repercussions for the PCs and CAQ in voting intentions in the coming weeks. The PCs can’t afford to lose much. The CAQ can afford to lose a lot, but it may not be a good thing for them if they suddenly seem mortal.
Trudeau still tops best PM poll
Not much changing in the weekly rolling poll from Nanos Research:
RIDING OF THE WEEK
Scarborough Centre (Ontario)
It was a coup for the Progressive Conservatives to win 11 seats in Toronto in the 2018 election. It’ll be a coup if they can win even half of those again this year, but one of those seats has just become a little more difficult to hold for the PCs now that Scarborough Centre MPP Christina Mitas announced she will not be running again.
More broadly, the one-term MPP not being on the ballot might make things a little easier for the PCs on the campaign trail, as she was one of the few unvaccinated MPPs in the legislature (though with an undisclosed medical exemption). Unlike his federal counterpart the Ontario PC leader will likely be happy to say his candidates are vaccinated and be done with that debate.
Mitas won the seat in 2018 with 38.4% of the vote, beating the NDP’s Zeyd Bismilla by five percentage points. The Liberals, who had previously held the seat, took just 22.1%.
The Greens had 2.3% support, putting them not fourth but fifth behind the Libertarian candidate.
This was the third-tightest win for the PCs in Toronto and a pick-up for them. Brad Duguid of the Liberals, who did not run for re-election in 2018, had easily won the seat by a margin of 33 points back in 2014.
Scarborough Centre went Liberal in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014, but supported the PCs during the Mike Harris years and the NDP in 1990. So, it has a bit of a recent bellwether tendency.
While Scarborough Centre was a close contest in 2018 and will be targeted by the PCs, NDP and Liberals in 2022, the federal Liberals scored a huge victory in the seat in September, winning it by 33 points. Still, Scarborough Centre supported Stephen Harper’s Conservatives back in 2011, so even at the federal level it can go blue when the NDP and Liberal vote is split.
After York Centre, Scarborough Centre has the largest Filipino community in Ontario. According to the 2016 census, 12.5% of the population identified as such, while 70% identified as a member of a visible minority. Demonstrating the diversity of the Greater Toronto Area, that still only ranks Scarborough Centre as the 14th-most diverse riding in the GTA — and 5th out of the six Scarborough seats.
The PCs will have to find a new candidate now that Mitas isn’t running. The New Democrats will be putting forward former Toronto city councillor Neethan Shan, while Mazhar Shafiq will be running for the Liberals again.
(ALMOST) ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
Thomas Greenway sends a message to Ottawa
January 15, 1896
(No general elections have been held on January 12)
Elections in the late 19th century in Canada were often decided over the things that defined the country’s divisions at the time: language and religion.
This was the case of the Manitoba provincial election of 1896.
Since 1888, the province had been governed by Thomas Greenway and his Liberals. The Conservatives were a defeated and depleted force in the legislature. Instead, Greenway’s chief opponents — or political punching bags — were the Conservatives in Ottawa.
Upon joining Confederation in 1870, Manitoba had two separate, publicly-funded school systems: one was Catholic and predominantly French, while the other was Protestant and English.
That made sense in 1870, but by the late 1880s the population of Manitoba was overwhelming English-speaking, thanks in large part to an influx of Ontarians who wanted Manitoba to be a lot more like Ontario.
Knowing a popular policy when he saw one, in 1890 Greenway abolished the separate school system and made the French language no longer an official language of government. The new non-sectarian (though still Christian) school system would effectively get rid of French-language education in Manitoba.
There was pressure on John A. Macdonald’s federal government to disallow the legislation, as Macdonald still counted on support from francophones in Quebec. Instead, Macdonald decided to let this issue be decided by the courts — and it went through the various stages of appeals for a few years.
But by the mid-1890s, a ruling came down saying that it was up to the federal government to act. The Conservatives, now under Mackenzie Bowell, dragged their feat until introducing remedial legislation (which split the party in two and eventually contributed to Bowell’s fall).
This was great news for Greenway, who needed an issue to focus a re-election campaign around. He refused to follow the remedial legislation and Bowell gave Greenway six months to figure out a solution. The Manitoba premier took that time to prepare for a campaign, and dissolved the legislature on December 20, 1895, setting an election for January 15, 1896.
Greenway denounced the “menacing attitude assumed by the Dominion Government” as an attack on provincial autonomy and went on the hustings with little to fear from the local opposition.
The 1896 Manitoba election was a one-issue election. The combination of a popular policy (minority rights weren’t exactly vote-getters) and an anti-Ottawa campaign delivered a big landslide to Greenway’s Liberals.
His party won 32 seats (nine of them by acclamation) and 50% of the vote, leaving just five seats and 40% to the Conservatives, two seats to the Patrons of Industry (a farmers’ group) and one Independent.
Political affiliations were fluid at the time, but this represented a gain of five seats for the governing party since the 1892 election.
Despite the rebuke from voters, Bowell still pressed ahead to find a way out. But Greenway and the federal Liberals did everything they could to delay action until a federal election would be forced later in the year.
That 1896 federal election, fought over the Manitoba Schools Question outside of the province (inside, the provincial election had decided things), brought Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberals to power. Shortly thereafter, Laurier and Greenway settled on a compromise which allowed some Catholic and French-language education where numbers warranted. The question wasn’t entirely settled for Manitoba’s francophones, who continued to fight for their rights, but it would no longer be the political football that it was in the 1890s.
Three years as Bloc leader for Blanchet
On Monday, Yves-François Blanchet will mark three years since he was acclaimed leader of the Bloc Québécois.
That might not sound like much, but due to the revolving-door nature of the Bloc leadership after the 2011 collapse, those three years actually make him the longest-serving leader of the party outside of Lucien Bouchard, who founded it, and Gilles Duceppe, who led it into seven separate campaigns.
Blanchet now has two elections of his own under his belt, and compared to how the previous two elections had gone his numbers look pretty good: 32 seats and just over 32% of the vote in Quebec in both 2019 and 2021. The Bloc won just four seats and 23% of the vote in 2011 and 10 seats and a 19% vote share in 2015.
Of course, Blanchet is still not matching the results of the Bloc during its heyday. In elections between 1993 and 2008, the party averaged about 43% of the vote and 48 of the 75 seats up for grabs in the province at the time. But, then again, things could be much worse for a sovereignist party in Quebec — just look at the latest poll numbers for the Parti Québécois.
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!
Disappointing not to see a single female leader across the six federal parties. Any party wishing to signal a new agenda should see that as an opportunity.