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The Weekly Writ for May 3: Difficult math for the Alberta NDP
Plus, Conservative fundraising, Alberta polls and how a Liberal-NDP alliance might do.
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.
Elections are about much more than math.
And, of course, Rachel Notley knows a thing or two about math and elections.
But the math of the Alberta campaign is hard to escape. There are 87 seats at stake, with 44 needed to form a majority government and only two parties likely to win any of them. So let’s go through the math — and the path — to government for both the New Democrats and the United Conservatives.
Let’s start in Edmonton, where there are 20 seats within the city limits. The NDP won 19 of 20 last time and were only three points short in Edmonton-South West, which would have made a clean sweep. With the polls showing even more support for the NDP in Edmonton than in 2019, we can safely assume the NDP wins all 20.
That puts the count at 20 NDP and 0 UCP.
There are another seven seats in the so-called Edmonton donut, the ring of ridings just outside the city limits but well within the orbit of the provincial capital. The NDP won St. Albert and the UCP won the rest, but Sherwood Park, Morinville-St. Albert and Strathcona-Sherwood Park are on the bubble.
If we assume the NDP holds St. Albert, the other three are swing ridings and the remaining three stay with the UCP, that puts the count at 21-24 NDP and 3-6 UCP.
Before heading to Calgary, let’s head out to the rural areas and the small cities of the province. Outside of Edmonton and Calgary (and their surrounding suburbs and exurbs), there are 30 seats. The UCP won 29 of them in 2019, with the NDP taking only Lethbridge-West.
Target seats for the NDP would include Banff-Kananaskis, Lethbridge-East and Lesser Slave Lake. The rest are pretty safe for the UCP, though in an NDP wave one could imagine one or both of the Red Deer ridings falling to the New Democrats. But let’s stay within the realm of the plausible.
If we assume the NDP holds Lethbridge-West, the three mentioned above are swing ridings and the remaining 26 go to the UCP, the count is now 29-35 UCP and 22-28 NDP.
You can already see how the UCP has an advantage due to the sheer number of safe seats it has in the rural areas. Even in the best case scenario for the New Democrats, they are one seat short of the UCP before getting to Calgary. The UCP only needs 15 seats in and around Calgary even if things are going really well for the NDP everywhere else. If the swing seats aren’t falling to the NDP, then the UCP is just nine seats short.
There are 26 seats in Calgary and another four in the surrounding suburbs: Airdrie-Cochrane, Airdrie-East, Chestermere-Strathmore and Highwood. All four of those were won by the UCP by wide margins, so they are safe UCP seats.
That now puts the count at 33-39 UCP to 22-28 NDP. Danielle Smith is inching closer to that 44-seat mark.
The NDP won Calgary-Buffalo, Calgary-McCall and Calgary-Mountainview in 2019 and we can assume they’ll win them again. The UCP won four seats in Calgary by margins of eight points or less (Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Falconridge, Calgary-Klein and Calgary-Varsity), and we can assume those also go to the NDP. The UCP won five ridings by margins of 35 points or more (Calgary-Hays, Calgary-Lougheed, Calgary-Shaw, Calgary-South East and Calgary-West), so we can assume those stay with the UCP.
After assigning these easier calls, the count is 38-44 UCP to 29-35 NDP.
Now you see the limited path for the NDP. If at least some of the swing seats outside of Calgary don’t go their way, the UCP is almost certainly already at 44 seats before we get to the marginals in Calgary. If, on the other hand, most or all of those swing seats have fallen to the NDP, then it comes down to what’s left in Calgary.
That’s the 14 ridings that were won by the UCP by margins of between 14 and 33 points in the last election. The UCP needs to win between zero and six of them to hold on to government (or at least one seat to avoid a tie after the selection of a UCP speaker). The NDP needs to win at least nine of them, or more realistically 10 or 11. That won’t be easy, because that 10th riding, if we line them all up by the UCP’s margin of victory in 2019, was decided by just under 24 points in 2019.
If we assume these 14 ridings are all swing ridings, then we get a final count of 38-58 UCP to 29-49 NDP. That’s the field we’re playing in here — about 20 swing seats where the NDP has to win at least 15 of them whereas the UCP needs just six.
That’s a lot more margin for error for the United Conservatives and Danielle Smith. The math is difficult for Rachel Notley and the New Democrats, but it isn’t impossible.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News on the first quarter federal fundraising and who is in the running to fill the vacancies in the House of Commons.
Polls show a deadlock in Alberta, a front runner in Toronto and what a Liberal-NDP alliance could do.
Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives would win the most seats if the election were held today.
Alberta’s tipping point riding as the campaign kicks off.
Tough Newfoundland love wins in the #EveryElectionProject.
A new milestone for newly re-elected Dennis King.
IN THE NEWS
Conservatives lap Liberals in fundraising
The Conservatives raised more than double the money the Liberals raised in the first three months of 2023, according to newly-published fundraising data from Elections Canada.
With $8.3 million in fundraising, the Conservatives had their second-best Q1 ever, only surpassed by the first three months of 2021. After raising over $9 million at the end of last year, this marks the first time the Conservatives have had two consecutive quarters with over $8 million in fundraising outside of an election year.
The Liberals raised $3.6 million, the party’s best Q1 since 2019 and better than all but the final of last year’s quarters.
But the margin between the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ fundraising is the biggest since the beginning of 2021, which was also the last time the Conservatives raised more than double what the Liberals did. Combined with the final quarter of last year, the Conservatives have now raised $8.5 million more than the Liberals since Pierre Poilievre became leader.
With just under $1.3 million raised, this was the worst Q1 for the NDP since 2020, when fundraising collapsed for all parties over the last weeks of March after the global pandemic was declared. While this is a bad number for the NDP, it is still roughly on par with how much money the NDP raised in the second and third quarters of 2022.
The Greens raised just $401,000, the party’s worst start to a year since 2013. The Bloc Québécois took in $323,000, their worst start since 2020 (but nevertheless better than the second and third quarters of 2022).
The People’s Party raised $297,000, far below the $409,000 raised in the first three months of last year. That’s the only other Q1 for the PPC we have on record, though my estimates of the PPC’s fundraising in prior years suggests this Q1 is worse than in 2019 and 2021. However, the PPC tied the NDP with the lowest average contribution at $81 per donation. The Conservatives had the highest at an average of $212 per donation.
Candidates for federal byelections being lined up
There are five vacancies in the House of Commons that will require byelections to be called in the next few months. Parties have begun to nominate their candidates but a lot of spots are left to fill.
The fullest ballot belongs to Winnipeg South Centre, where the date for a byelection must be set by June 11.
Ben Carr, the son of the late Liberal MP Jim Carr, will be the Liberal candidate. He’ll take on air traffic controller Damir Stipanovic of the Conservatives, psychologist Julia Riddell of the NDP and educator Doug Hemmerling of the Greens.
Jim Carr won this riding in the 2021 election by a margin of 17.8 points, so it looks likely that Winnipeg South Centre will stay in the family.
I had more difficulty finding news about candidate nominations in Calgary Heritage, a southern Calgary riding won by Conservative MP Bob Benzen by a margin of 40.3 points over the NDP in 2021. The date there has to be set by July 2, but the only candidate I could find was Ravenmoon Crocker of the Greens.
UPDATE: Thanks to eagle-eyed reader Benjamin for pointing out that the Conservatives have nominated Shuvaloy Majumder in Calgary Heritage.
For drama, look no further than Oxford, a riding in southwestern Ontario. Dave MacKenzie won this for the Conservatives by a margin of 26.5 points, but he will be backing the Liberals. That’s because of the nomination contest that chose Arpan Khanna, a lawyer from Mississauga who ran for the Conservatives as a candidate in Brampton in 2019.
Local Conservatives are reportedly unhappy with how the Conservative Party handled this nomination, as Khanna received the support of outsiders like Andrew Scheer. An anti-abortion candidate was disqualified and two riding association executives resigned. MacKenzie, whose daughter was among the nomination candidates that Khanna defeated, has decided to back David Hilderley of the Liberals over the whole affair. (Hilderley is a candidate for the Liberal nomination but hasn’t yet secured it.)
The NDP will be running Western University professor Cody Groat. This byelection needs be called by July 29.
In Portage–Lisgar, the Conservatives have nominated Branden Leslie to try to hold this southern Manitoba seat that Candice Bergen won in 2021 by 30.9 points over the People’s Party. Among those that Leslie defeated were former Manitoba PC cabinet minister Cameron Friesen and former Conservative MP Lawrence Toet.
This race needs to be called by August 27.
Finally, there is the nomination battle for the riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount in Montreal. No one nominated yet, but one interested candidate is Anna Gainey, former president of the Liberal Party. Marc Garneau won this riding by 34.6 points over the NDP in 2021. This race needs to be called by September 5.
If the plan is to hold all five byelections at the same time, Calgary Heritage is the complicating factor. If the Liberals want to avoid having a federal byelection campaign coinciding with the Alberta election, they will have to wait until a window of May 30 to June 11 to call the byelection. Writs are often drawn up on Sundays, which would put June 4 as the likely kick-off and July 10, 17 or 24 as the date of the five byelections, depending on the length of the campaign (36 to 50 days).
There’s also the possibility of a sixth byelection if Erin O’Toole vacates his riding of Durham early enough. If he doesn’t, that byelection might have to wait until the fall.
But if the call is indeed going to be made for all five byelections in less than five weeks, some of these nomination contests are going to have to be wrapped up soon.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Alberta campaign begins deadlocked
Polls conducted in the days before Monday’s writ drop in Alberta show a contest that is deadlocked between the UCP and NDP, with no poll awarding any party a lead greater than four points across the province.
In the chart above, I’ve combined all of the “other” parties into one bar. The support these parties are garnering in polls can differ greatly based on which parties are actually included in the polling question, and in the end I doubt that they will combine for as much of the vote as these polls indicate. As of yesterday, no small party was even close to running a full slate.
With the exception of the IRG poll, the combined support for the third parties is around 8% to 10%. But when you dive deeper into the numbers, it’s clear that Albertans supporting these parties are much less likely to actually cast a ballot than supporters of the UCP or NDP. In the IRG poll, for instance, the number saying they will support one of the smaller parties is nearly cut in half when only looking at Albertans who say they will definitely vote.
In Calgary, the numbers varied quite a bit. Abacus had the UCP ahead by seven points, while IRG had the NDP ahead by eight. Ipsos put the NDP’s lead at two points, while ThinkHQ put it at one point. On the whole, that looks like a tie with a small NDP edge — and with the regional sample sizes being smaller, we should expect variations like these to continue.
Elsewhere, it’s the usual: big NDP leads in Edmonton and big UCP leads everywhere else.
While on the topic of Calgary, ThinkHQ polled on the agreement to build a new arena in the city with the help of a lot of public money from both the municipal and provincial governments. Across the province, 50% disagreed and only 43% agreed with it, but in Calgary the results were 50% agreement to 45% disagreement. That’s a wash for Smith and the UCP — while it might not be a political loser, it doesn’t seem to be adding much to the UCP’s potential pool of voters.
We’ll see how that develops. Now that we have some baselines from some of the pollsters we can expect to see reporting throughout the campaign, we can focus on the trend lines next week.
Olivia Chow has the momentum
Speaking of trend lines, Olivia Chow seems to be the one with the positive momentum ahead of Toronto’s mayoral election on June 26.
Three polls over the last week have put her in the lead. But, as we saw last week, there isn’t much agreement beyond that.
Mainstreet Research has Chow leading with 26% among decided voters, up three points since a week earlier. In second is Ana Bailão with 22%, also up three points, following by Josh Matlow at 14% (-4), Mark Saunders at 11% (-3), Brad Bradford at 9% (+2) and Mitzie Hunter at 5% (-2).
Liaison Strategies also has Chow at 26% and up three points over last week. But Liaison finds Saunders in second with 20%, followed by Matlow at 19%, Bradford at 10%, Hunter at 10% and Bailão at just 7%.
Then there’s Forum Research, which has Chow ahead with 32% (up eight points since the end of March) but with no one else even close. Matlow is second with 14%, Saunders is third with 13%, Bailão has 10%, Bradford has 7% and Hunter has 7%.
A few things are consistent. Chow is leading and is gaining support. All three polls have her support on the rise. That support seems to be coming from Matlow, which suggests Chow is winning the progressive primary between the two.
The second tier of candidates is harder to pin down. It seems clear that Matlow and Saunders are in it, and Bailão probably is, too. But whether anyone from that pack is within spitting distance of Chow is an open question. The third tier seems very obviously to be Bradford and Hunter, though it is possible that any one of the candidates in the second tier could also be dipping that low.
Liberal-NDP alliance = majority?
A trouble-making survey from Léger for Le Journal de Montréal was published last week. Along with the usual voting intentions question, which awarded the Conservatives a lead of six points, 36% to 30%, over the Liberals, Léger asked how Canadians would vote if the Liberals and NDP teamed up to only run a single candidate in ridings across the country.
It’s a little like the non-aggression pact I recently mulled.
Léger found that this proposed alliance could work, with 41% of Canadians saying they would vote for it. That’s a lot less than the 49% the two parties combined for on the split ballot, but enough to win. The Conservatives only got a three-point bump to 39%, while the Bloc, Greens and PPC picked up a few points as well.
This would be a close race nationally but it wouldn’t be very close when it comes to the seats.
Using a simple regional swing model, the normal ballot results in the Léger poll would produce 148 seats for the Conservatives, 128 for the Liberals and 29 for the NDP. With only 157 seats between them, the Liberals and the NDP would fall well short of the 170 needed for a majority government.
On the theoretical ballot with a Liberal/NDP alliance, the two parties would together win 176 seats, with just 127 going to the Conservatives. The Liberal/NDP majority would include 22 seats in B.C., 11 in Alberta, seven in Manitoba, 78 in Ontario, 35 in Quebec and 20 in Atlantic Canada.
It’s notable that this combined force would only match what the Liberals took alone in Ontario and Quebec in the last election, meaning some Liberal or NDP incumbents would lose in these provinces. The Liberals and NDP would also lose some seats in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia and Manitoba. They would gain a few in Alberta, however, and be able to combine for a smaller majority in the House of Commons than they currently enjoy.
So, it isn’t exactly a juggernaut. But it is better than what the two could manage apart — at least in the perfect world of the hypothetical.
POLLING NEWS BRIEFS
People in the Quebec City area don’t like the CAQ’s about-face on the troisième lien, a tunnel connecting Quebec City and Lévis that would have had dedicated space for cars, but will now just be for public transit. A poll by SOM for Le Soleil found that 50% of people who voted for the CAQ in the area would not vote for them again.
Meanwhile, the four-week rolling poll from Nanos Research has Pierre Poilievre ahead on preferred prime minister, with 28% to Justin Trudeau’s 26% and Jagmeet Singh’s 18%. Four weeks ago, Poilievre was ahead by four points.
IF THE ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY
The Conservatives would win the most seats if an election were held today but would be well short of a majority.
Alberta remains neck and neck, with a slim advantage to the NDP. The party is estimated to win 22 seats in and around Edmonton, 18 in Calgary and four in the rest of the province — the bare minimum needed. The UCP would win 12 in Calgary, five in the Edmonton donut and 26 seats in the rest of the province. I’ll update these regional estimates each week.
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
Alberta’s Week 1 Tipping Point: Sherwood Park
If you line up all 87 ridings in Alberta according to how likely one party or the other is to win them, each party’s 44th seat would be the “tipping point”, the riding which decides which party gets to form government.
This week, that tipping point isn’t in Calgary, where most of the very close races will be located. It’s instead just outside Edmonton in the riding of Sherwood Park.
The UCP won this riding by 5.4 points in 2019, but the swing to the NDP that we’ve seen in the polls hasn’t been as dramatic in Edmonton as elsewhere in the province — perhaps only around nine points. And a lot of that will be taking place in Edmonton itself, rather than in the ring of ridings just outside the city limits. The ThinkHQ poll referenced above showed the NDP doing six points worse in the Edmonton CMA than within the city limits itself. As most of the ridings in the CMA are in the city limits, this suggests the NDP is doing significantly worse in the donut.
The NDP won Sherwood Park with 52% of the vote in 2015 — so it wasn’t the result of a vote split. It means there’s no reason the NDP can’t win this riding outright, but they need to make sure their high support in Edmonton is going to spillover into Sherwood Park.
Jordan Walker, elected for the UCP in 2019, is running again. Kyle Kasawski, an entrepreneur in the solar energy industry, is the NDP’s candidate. Sue Timanson, who captured 13% of the vote in 2019, is running again as the Alberta Party candidate, while Jacob Stacey is running for the Liberals.
ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
Tough love rewarded
May 3, 1993
When Clyde Wells ended a 17-year Tory dynasty in 1989, he appealed to the hearts of Newfoundlanders. For too long, their children had to leave Newfoundland to find work. He would end that, bring those jobs back home and begin the province’s economic recovery.
Four years later, things were still going badly.
Unemployment stood at 20% and thousands more were out of work than when the Liberals came to power. Cuts had to be made to the public sector to try to keep the government’s deficit from ballooning too much.
Contrary to the usual practice of announcing a ‘good news’ budget ahead of an election, Wells’s government instead introduced another tough dose of fiscal medicine that included spending cuts, the postponement of construction projects to build new hospitals and schools and reductions in pension contributions to civil servants and teachers.
The economic headwinds were just too strong — a recession, the collapse of the fishing industry and the reduction in federal transfers had limited Newfoundland’s options.
For PC leader Len Simms, it was a depressing budget.
“It’s certainly gloom and doom,” he said, “and there is no message of hope.”
Simms, a former cabinet minister in Brian Peckford’s PC government, had replaced Tom Rideout in 1991 a few years after Rideout’s election defeat at the hands of Wells. But despite the pessimism from the premier, not even this affable, approachable PC leader could make a dent in the Liberals’ popularity.
The polls were giving the Liberals a huge lead over the PCs. Wells was popular in Newfoundland, some might even say revered. He was a hero, not only in Newfoundland but in other parts of Canada, when he played a hand in sinking the Meech Lake Accord. After coming to power, he let the accord that his predecessors had negotiated die without ratifying it before the deadline.
Buttressed with favourable polls, Wells launched the 1993 election campaign casting himself as the only leader willing to make the hard decisions that needed to be made. He directly challenged the Newfoundland Teachers Association that was opposing his cuts, arguing that the pain had to be spread around fairly. Would Newfoundlanders want budget decisions to be set by “their democratically elected government” or “the privately elected executive of the NTA”?
Other public sector unions would join the fight against the Liberal government, some of their leaders running for the NDP under Jack Harris. These unions would fund attack ads against the government and directly contribute to local candidates — both NDP and PC.
Simms and Harris put the emphasis not on cuts but on growth, though Simms also promised to reduce Newfoundlanders’ already heavy tax burden.
The PCs went after Wells’s constitutional distractions, too. Simms said the premier “became so obsessed with the Constitution that it took all his time and that is one of the reasons this economy has gone the way it has.”
“Clyde Wells’s biggest problem in governing Newfoundland is that it takes so long to fly to Calgary, Toronto and Winnipeg!”
But Wells used his experience as a sword. He demanded more provincial control over the fisheries, which he argued the federal government had mismanaged. That would take a constitutional amendment — and who else had more experience on this file than Clyde Wells?
Nevertheless, a strong campaign by Simms, the constant attacks by labour groups and a full slate of candidates for the NDP was taking its toll on the Liberals. Their lead at the beginning of the year had been more than 40 points. A late-campaign poll put the margin at less than half that. A big improvement for the PCs, but not quite enough to put the outcome in doubt. The PCs even ran ads claiming “a vote for the NDP is a vote for Clyde Wells”, as they were concerned the New Democrats would siphon off too much of the anti-government vote.
Perhaps Simms and the unions made this into a race that would have been a walk had it not been for their efforts, but the results nevertheless gave Wells and the Liberals a bigger mandate than in 1989.
The party captured 35 seats, up four from the previous election, and increased its vote share by two points to 49.1%. The PCs, who had narrowly won the province wide vote in 1989, dropped 5.5 points to just 42.1%. With only 16 seats, the party had lost five.
Jack Harris succeeded in being re-elected in the riding he had secured in a byelection, but otherwise the NDP had little to show for their jump to 7.4%.
The Liberals had won another big majority in the first election to take place in the context of the severe budget cuts that were happening across Canada, an apparent endorsement of the tough love Wells had pitched to voters. But it might have simply been a recognition that Newfoundlanders had no better options. They had voted with their hearts in 1989. Now they had to vote with their heads.
Dennis King rings Bell
Fresh off his majority victory in April, on Saturday Dennis King will surpass John Howatt Bell as the 16th longest serving premier of Prince Edward Island.
Bell, a Liberal, was premier from 1919 until 1923. Unlike King, Bell only served for one full term. He won the PEI election of 1919 but was defeated in 1923, the party going from 24 seats to just five. Notably, it was during Bell’s tenure that women were first given the vote on the Island — not that it helped him much.
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!