The Weekly Writ for Mar. 1
Status quo in new federal polls; a contender drops out of the OLP race; the 1898 'swing of victory'.
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.
Yesterday, I joined The Big Story Podcast to discuss the ongoing federal riding redistribution process. You can listen to the podcast here.
I’m hoping to get back to my series of analyses of the proposed changes as soon as possible, but I’ve been under the weather for the last week so my energy reserves have been low. I had been hoping to get something up this past Monday, but my frail human form had other plans.
You can catch up on where things stand in that series here. I’ll try to get the next instalment up in the next week or two.
But the Weekly Writ takes no sick days, so let’s get right into what’s on deck in this week’s instalment:
News from two provincial leadership races and a new vacancy in British Columbia.
A couple of federal polls suggest not much has changed since 2021.
And that means the Liberals would probably be re-elected with another minority government if the election were held today.
We’re back to Calgary in our riding profile in what’s a big week in Alberta politics.
We go back to 19th-century Ontario in the #EveryElectionProject.
Let’s get right to it!
IN THE NEWS
Mitzie Hunter out of OLP race
Mitzie Hunter, the Liberal MPP for the Toronto-riding of Scarborough–Guildwood, announced this week that she would not be running for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party. Along with caucus-mate Ted Hsu and Liberal MPs Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Yasir Naqvi, Hunter had been considered one of the likely contestants in the race.
Instead, Hunter is mulling a bid for the mayor’s office in Toronto. That election will be held on June 26 and nominations will open in early April.
Hunter has been the MPP for Scarborough–Guildwood since winning a 2013 byelection and she was re-elected in 2014, 2018 and 2022 — making her one of the rare Ontario Liberals to have survived the cull of the last two provincial elections. She ran for the leadership of the party in 2020, finishing fourth with 6% of the vote.
One of the reasons she says she made this announcement before the Liberal convention this coming weekend is that she will be defending the proposal to change the party’s leadership rules from a delegated system to a weighted one-member-one-vote system, and she didn’t want to give the impression that her advocacy was self-interested.
Hunter won Scarborough–Guildwood by a margin of 14 percentage points last year but only managed to survive in 2018 by a margin of 74 votes. So, if she does resign to run for the mayor’s office the Ontario Liberals can’t take this seat for granted. But it could provide a winnable riding for Naqvi or Erskine-Smith should 1) they win the Ontario Liberal leadership contest and 2) the byelection is held late enough to allow them to run in it. If the date of the leadership is set for later this year, that might be possible. If it is set for after this year, it won’t.
Eugene Manning running for NL PC leadership
A third candidate has put his name forward for the leadership of the Newfoundland and Labrador Progressive Conservative Party. That name is Eugene Manning, a former president of the party.
He joins PC MHAs Tony Wakeham and Lloyd Parrott as declared candidates in the contest to fill the vacancy left by Ches Crosbie after his resignation in 2021.
Manning’s campaign slogan is “time to lead” and “leader for a change”, suggesting in his campaign launch video that “it’s time to move past complaining about what is being done wrong and start showing what we would do right.” Not hard to see in this a rebuke of the kind of opposition the PCs have been conducting since they were defeated in 2015. Without a seat in the House of Assembly, with his two opponents being sitting caucus members and the previous leader being a scion of the Crosbie political family, Manning seems to be trying to position himself as the change option on the ballot.
But, it is Newfoundland and Labrador after all — family ties run pretty deep. Fabian Manning, Eugene’s uncle, is a former PC MHA and Conservative MP and current Conservative senator.
The next leader of the party will be named in October.
B.C. NDP MLA resigns
Melanie Mark, the B.C. NDP MLA for the riding of Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, announced last week that she was resigning her seat.
Her resignation came with a scathing indictment of partisan politics and the personal toll it takes.
Mark was the first First Nations person to serve as an MLA and in cabinet in British Columbia. She was elected in a 2016 byelection and was re-elected in 2017 and 2020.
The riding of Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, which includes the troubled Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver, is a very safe NDP seat that the party has held (either in its current form or in previous iterations) since 1972. It was one of two ridings the NDP managed to hold in their disastrous 2001 campaign. Mike Harcourt, a former leader and premier, represented this area in the 1980s and 1990s.
Mark and the New Democrats won Vancouver-Mount Pleasant with 67% of the vote in 2020, beating the B.C. Green candidate by a gaping margin of 47 points. The NDP has never failed to take more than 60% of ballots cast in every election since 2005. A byelection will have to be called in the next six months to fill the vacancy left by Mark, and the result will be a certain NDP victory.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Status quo in Léger, Ipsos polls
Two federal surveys published over the last week aren’t particularly flashy — showing the Conservatives either narrowly ahead of the Liberals or the two parties tied, with the kind of regional breakdown that isn’t particularly good for the Conservatives.
Léger puts the Conservatives at 35%, the Liberals at 32% and the New Democrats at 18%. The Bloc (7%), Greens (4%) and PPC (2%) follow.
So, these polls are nearly identical. The main regional difference is in British Columbia, where Léger has the Conservatives at 41% and 13 points up on the NDP and the Liberals in third, while Ipsos shows a two-point lead for the Conservatives over the Liberals, with the NDP further back.
In Ontario, Léger has the Conservatives up by just two points and Ipsos has the Liberals ahead by three. That suggests something closer to a tie, which would almost certainly produce a Liberal seat plurality due to their numbers in Quebec.
Last week, Abacus had some bad results for the Liberals and good numbers for the Bloc Québécois in that province. But these two polls show strong results for the Liberals at 35% to 37%, with the Bloc at 30% in both polls. That would point to seat gains for the Liberals in Quebec rather than losses.
Strong Conservative leads in Alberta and the Prairies and a big Liberal edge in Atlantic Canada round out these results, which would likely produce a House of Commons much like the one that currently exists if these numbers were reproduced at the ballot box.
I don’t think there are broad, sweeping conclusions that we should draw from these numbers. We continue to see polls that show either a tie, a modest Conservative lead or a big Conservative lead. This argues for something in between — that the Conservatives are probably ahead, but probably not ahead by enough to win an election if it were held today. Speaking of which…
IF THE ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY
The Liberals would win another minority government, though with a somewhat reduced caucus. But with better prospects in Ontario and Quebec than last week, their margin over the Conservatives has widened a little.
There were no changes made to any of the provincial seat estimates.
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
The results in Calgary-Acadia could decide the fate of a high-profile UCP cabinet minister as well as the complexion of Alberta’s next government.
Tyler Shandro won this seat for the United Conservatives in 2019 with 54.3% of the vote, beating the NDP’s Kate Andrews by nearly 20 points. She took 34.6% of the vote, while the Alberta Party candidate managed 7.4%.
It was a return to form for this riding. Though the boundaries have shifted over time, the New Democrats only narrowly won Calgary-Acadia in 2015 with 35% support. Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives finished just behind with 31% and 29%, respectively. Prior to that breakthrough for the NDP, this part of the city had been entirely held by the PCs without interruption since 1975.
As the riding is immediately to the south of Calgary-Buffalo, one of three Calgary ridings the NDP managed to hold in 2019, Calgary-Acadia might look like a natural next step for the New Democrats. But the bulk of the riding’s voters are geographically separated from Calgary-Buffalo by a large industrial and commercial park that occupies the northern half of Calgary-Acadia. It puts the riding firmly in the southern suburbs of Calgary, which is rough territory for the NDP.
The NDP has far better chances of expanding into the northeastern and northwestern suburbs, but it won’t be enough to win government. If the UCP can hold on in the southern suburbs, that will probably do the job of keeping Danielle Smith in office. A riding like Calgary-Acadia is certainly on the bubble — polls have generally shown a UCP-NDP swing in Calgary of more than the 20 points that gave Shandro the win in 2019, but not much more than 20 points.
Shandro is running again. He has held three cabinet portfolios since coming to office, most notably as minister of health from 2019 to 2021. That gave him prominence during the height of the pandemic, though it also made him a lightning rod for criticism at a time when Jason Kenney’s government was being pilloried from both sides over its handling of COVID-19.
Since the end of 2021, Shandro has served as labour and immigration minister and most recently as minister of justice.
In addition to his performance during the pandemic, Shandro has attracted other controversies. Perhaps the strangest story surrounds a few incidents of angry confrontations with his constituents that have led to him being called before the Law Society of Alberta as it looks into his conduct.
Diana Batten, a registered nurse, will be running for the NDP — providing a good contrast as the New Democrats try to make the UCP’s handling of the health care system, including when Shandro was in charge of it, central to their campaign.
Coming up on Friday, The Writ Podcast will delve into the politics of the new Alberta budget. If you have questions you’d like to hear answered, you can drop me a line in The Writ’s Substack app Chat. I solicit questions and lines of discussion for the podcast from subscribers for most episodes!
ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
Prelude to a fall in Ontario
March 1, 1898
In early 1898, the Ontario Liberals tried to do something they hadn’t done in over 20 years: win an election without Oliver Mowat.
Mowat, Ontario’s bespectacled longest-serving premier, had resigned to take up a new post in Wilfrid Laurier’s federal government in 1896 after 24 years in office. His Liberals had governed the province without interruption since 1871, as dominant in Canada’s largest province in the last decades of the 19th century as John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives had been in Ottawa.
Trying to fill Mowat’s big shoes was his most senior minister, Arthur Sturgis Hardy, whose diabetes made him hesitate to take the position until he “concluded not to let it pass by. There were other good men who could have taken the place, and it would not have gone begging; but you know how very difficult it is in this wicked world to let high honors pass by.”
Hardy took over the redoubtable Liberal machine and seemed in a good position with a friendly federal Liberal government handing out patronage and favours. The Conservatives had never mounted much of a challenge, though their new leader, James Pliny Whitney, brought new energy and a tireless work ethic to the leadership of their party. Still, the Conservatives were short on money and organization and Whitney’s task would be a daunting one.
Some things, however, were starting to go Whitney’s way. The 1894 election had featured a number of parties on the ballot, including the Patrons of Industry, a farmers’ party, and the anti-Catholic Protestant Protective Association. The Conservatives’ own hostility to Catholics, particularly in terms of separate education rights, had limited their appeal among this important electorate and the presence of the PPA further reduced their base. The Patrons also cut into some of the Conservatives’ support.
But by 1898, the PPA was no longer a force and the Patrons had largely been subsumed into the Liberal Party. Whitney also wanted to put behind him and his party its anti-Catholic past. He had sent signals in that direction during the 1896 federal election when he kept his party out of the divisive Manitoba schools question. At a fraught nomination battle in the riding of Toronto South ahead of the provincial vote, he successfully backed a prominent Catholic candidate, much to the consternation of the old school within the party.
Hardy, meanwhile, was not getting the kind of support he had expected from the Laurier government to grease the palms of Catholics in Ontario and he hesitated to name an important Catholic Liberal politician to high office in his government. Together, this weakened the Liberals’ support among this key voter base that they had been able to count on in election after election at a time when the Conservatives had ruled themselves out as an option for Catholics.
The narrowing of the contest to a two-horse race between the Liberals and the Conservatives resulted in a far tighter outcome than the confident Liberals expected. Hardy and the Liberals held on to 51 seats, down eight from the combined totals of Liberals and Patron/PPA-affiliated Liberals in 1894. The Liberals roughly matched the Conservatives in the popular vote, but that represented a big increase for the Conservatives as much of the PPA as well as some of the Patron vote went their way.
The Conservatives, who seemed destined to opposition for eternity, had made serious inroads under Whitney. It was only the Liberals’ stronghold of southwestern Ontario that saved the party from defeat.
As was the style at the time, both sides accused the other of under-handed tactics. According to G.M. Grant, principal of Queen’s University, “on polling day in cities like Kingston, Toronto, London and Hamilton … a seedy-looking lot loafed round the booths, and it was evident to the most careless observer that they were waiting to get their two dollars apiece before entering. Hundreds got what they waited for. Both sides bought.”
As was also usually the case, the results in dozens of individual ridings were challenged in the courts, but Hardy’s government survived. Not the premier, though. His health made it impossible for him to continue and he resigned in 1899. He died two years later.
His successor, George William Ross, would win one more election for the Liberals — barely — before Whitney stormed into office in 1905, ending one of the longest political dynasties in Canada’s history.
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!