The Weekly Writ for Mar. 15
The troubled Liberal brand; PEI PCs approaching sweep territory; Canadians unhappy with King Charles.
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.
Considering how badly things have been going for provincial Liberal parties lately, the resilience of the federal Liberal brand is really something to behold.
Not that things are going terribly well for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals these days. But as my seat estimates below suggest, only two Liberal parties would have decent odds of winning an election if one were held today: the federal Liberals and Andrew Furey’s Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Both parties, coincidentally, have been in office since 2015 — a comparative heyday of Liberalism in the country, when the party was in power everywhere east of Manitoba.
The result in Monday’s byelection in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne (full analysis below) is only the latest example of a Liberal brand in serious trouble.
It has to be pointed out that federal and provincial parties are, in most cases, very different beasts. At least officially. But they often share the same staffers, volunteers, donors and voters. Links between provincial and federal parties might not be as strong everywhere as they once were — it used to be common for influential federal cabinet ministers or MPs to be dispatched to the provinces to pitch-in to help or even run provincial campaigns — but they are a lot stronger than I think we sometimes suggest they are.
Let’s survey the situation as it stands. Once the B.C. Liberals change their moniker to B.C. United, there will be no provincial Liberal MLAs west of Winnipeg, where the Manitoba Liberals hold just three seats and have been solidly in third-party status since the 1990s.
In Ontario, the Liberals don’t have enough seats to qualify to be a recognized party at Queen’s Park and while the leadership contest has garnered some interest, none of the likely candidates rise to the level of household names.
The Liberals form the official opposition in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, while they are in danger of being wiped out entirely in Prince Edward Island. With another loss in the Montreal riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne this week, the Quebec Liberals are being further reduced to their non-francophone seats on the West Island and in the Outaouais. Interest in that party’s leadership contest is virtually non-existent.
By comparison, the Trudeau Liberals are doing pretty good. They have retained most of their support from their victorious 2021 campaign in most polls. They are roughly tied with Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives in Ontario and, depending on the survey, are still capable of beating the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. The party’s support in British Columbia might be softening a little, but Atlantic Canada is still a region of significant strength for the federal Liberals, despite Tories holding sway in three of four provinces.
In December, the Liberals were able to actually get people to cast real ballots for them when they handily won the byelection in the Ontario riding of Mississauga–Lakeshore, the kind of seat the Conservatives need to win to form a government.
Of course, as we’ve seen with the government’s handling of the Chinese election interference issue over the last few weeks, the Liberals’ resilience might be built on pillars of sand. The weakness of the provincial brand could be the canary in the coalmine that is foreshadowing a hollowing-out of the federal Liberal Party.
But these things can be cyclical. When Brian Mulroney’s PCs won their landslide victory in 1984, the Liberals hadn’t won a provincial election anywhere since 1978. When Stephen Harper won his majority government in 2011, smashing Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals in the process, provincial Liberal governments in Ontario and Quebec were trailing badly in the polls. Only in British Columbia, where the Liberals weren’t really Liberals, and in Prince Edward Island, a rather small province in case you didn’t know, was the Liberal brand doing well.
Eventually, things came full circle again when the Liberals returned to power in Ottawa and provincial capitals. But the bottom of the cycle can be a painful one, and the loss this week in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne is just a (small) symptom of a bigger problem.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News of the results of the byelection in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne and resignations from the House of Commons and the Saskatchewan legislature.
Polls on the PCs’ dominant position in PEI, a potential tightening for the Liberals at the federal level, what Canadians think about Chinese interference in our elections and what impact recent controversies have had on Doug Ford’s support.
The Conservatives inch ahead if the election were held today, plus updates in Ontario, Quebec and PEI.
Leader vs. leader in this week’s riding profile.
Nova Scotia, ca. 1894 in the #EveryElectionProject.
Let’s get to it!