The Weekly Writ for May 4
Ontario election starts, 1st quarter fundraising data is out and who will be on the Conservative leadership ballot?
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.
It’s a big week with the official start of the Ontario provincial election campaign, but in this edition of the Weekly Writ there’s also plenty to discuss in the Conservative leadership race and where the federal parties stand in their fundraising.
I also have some updates on provincial politics in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, name this week’s tipping point riding in the Ontario campaign and tell the tale of the last time the Ontario PCs headed into an election as the favourites while the possibility of a Liberal-NDP post-election deal loomed.
Let’s get right to it.
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IN THE NEWS
And we’re off!
Doug Ford met the lieutenant-governor yesterday to ask for the dissolution of the Ontario legislature and set the election date for June 2, as scheduled by the fixed-election-date rules.
You can, of course, expect full coverage of the campaign here at The Writ as Ford’s PCs try to secure re-election and avoid being only the second single-term government in Ontario in the last century.
I’ll have some analyses on the site throughout the campaign. The Weekly Writ isn’t going to delve into the day-to-day, but it will include a weekly update on the the “tipping point” ridings and I’ll be dedicating the #EveryElectionProject section to Ontario’s electoral history. Finally, The Writ Podcast will also have plenty of Ontario content (though not necessarily only Ontario content) and I’ll have weekly bonus podcast episodes for subscribers as well.
It should be fun! Thanks for coming along for the ride!
And then there were six
The Conservative leadership race is probably going to be taking a back seat now that the Ontario election campaign is off and running, particularly since a lot of the party’s membership base in the province will be out volunteering for their local PC candidate (or, perhaps, their local New Blue or Ontario Party candidate).
The leadership hopefuls will have to head out to the rest of the country — foreign territory to almost all of them.
We have our final list of candidates, and there were no new additions over the final weekend. They are Ontario MPs Pierre Poilievre, Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison, former Ontario MPP Roman Baber, Brampton mayor and former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown and former Quebec premier Jean Charest.
Yes, with the exception of Charest all of these candidates are from Ontario. Poilievre is the closest thing to a Western candidate, as he grew up in Alberta. But he has been an Ontario MP since he was first elected at the ripe young age of 24 back in 2004. He’s as much an Albertan as Harper was an Ontarian.
It’s a little odd, when you think of it. Not a single one of the 10 contestants in the 2020 and 2022 leadership races was based out of Western Canada. There have been eight Ontarians, one Quebecer and one Nova Scotian in these two contests, yet the party has 64 MPs in Western Canada, representing just over half of the Conservative caucus.
In any case, it’s probably a good thing that the race has been limited to six. Having multiple no-hope candidates taking up time and energy in the campaign wasn’t going to help anything but their own careers. Think back to 2017 — was there really much value in having 14 candidates, half of whom couldn’t manage 4% of the vote on the first ballot?
And, in case you missed it, I launched The Writ’s Conservative Leadership Index yesterday. I’ll be posting regular updates to the Index in the Weekly Writ going forward (with a few stand-alone longer-form analyses, too).
Conservatives lead in Q1 fundraising
The Conservatives are back on top in fundraising over the first three months of 2022 after losing the money race to the Liberals in the last three months of 2021.
The Conservatives raised $5 million in the first quarter, an impressive feat considering that the Conservative leadership candidates also tapped donors to the tune of $1.5 million. Still, that’s way down from the $8.5 million the party raised in Q1 2021, though it does beat the last post-election first quarter in 2020, when the Conservatives raised just $3.8 million.
The Liberals were second with $3.2 million, down from $3.5 million in Q1 2021.
The NDP raised $1.4 million, down from Q1 2021 but otherwise the party’s best first quarter since 2015. With $419,000 raised, the Greens posted their worst first quarter since 2013, while the Bloc Québécois raised $353,000 which, with the exception of last year, is their best quarter on record.
Finally, since the People’s Party hit a threshold in the last election which requires it to file quarterly, we have data for the PPC: $409,000 raised. This is their first Q1, so we don’t have another first quarter to compare it to. In Q4 2021 the party raised $704,000.
The data also revealed the early fundraising figures in the Conservative leadership race, though only for the first few weeks since the quarter ended on March 31. It had the following amounts:
It’s worth noting that Poilievre’s average donation is $163 compared to Charest’s $815, so there is definitely more of a grassroots element to Poilievre’s fundraising than Charest. Nevertheless, money, as they say, is the currency of politics.
Also raising money? Peter MacKay. He raised $227,000 in the first quarter as he continues to pay off his 2020 leadership debts.
Kevin Falcon wins B.C. byelection
As expected, B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon won the Vancouver-Quilchena byelection over the weekend, taking 59% of the vote. The party hasn’t failed to capture a majority of ballots cast in Vancouver-Quilchena in nearly 30 years.
The NDP’s Jeanette Ashe finished second with 24%, followed by the B.C. Greens’ Wendy Hayko at 10% and Dallas Brodie of the B.C. Conservatives with 7%.
The result are broadly in line with what happened in the riding in 2020, when the Liberals’ former leader (Andrew Wilkinson) took 56% of the vote, followed by the NDP at 29% and the Greens at 15%.
These results will likely change, though, as Elections BC has to do a final count on Wednesday. That Falcon got himself a seat won’t be changing.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Ontario Poll Tracker launched!
Just when I thought I was out…
Yes, the Poll Tracker is back! After the success of the 2021 federal election, I thought that it might have been time to retire the Poll Tracker for good. But old habits die hard, and so I’ll be running a Poll Tracker one more time for the CBC during the Ontario election campaign. You can check it out here.
There will be too many Ontario polls to keep track of in this section of the Weekly Writ, so keep an eye on the Poll Tracker for all the latest. I’ll also have bonus poll-focused episodes of The Writ Podcast out every week, exclusive to subscribers to TheWrit.ca.
Houston, we don’t have a problem — yet
In-depth surveys of the smaller provinces are few and far between, so it is great to see this survey from Abacus Data checking in on the mood of Nova Scotians.
They seem largely upbeat, with 43% thinking the province is heading in the right direction against 35% who think it is going in the wrong direction, and approval of Tim Houston’s government sitting at 46%, against just 25% disapproval.
It isn’t all roses for the governing PCs, though, as they are not getting great marks on the top issue: health care. Their ownership of the issue won them the 2021 election, but just 18% of Nova Scotians think the government has made great progress.
Maybe it’s a little early to expect results, but a potential vulnerability is obvious. If you win on a promise to improve health care, you will very likely lose if you fail to deliver.
For the time-being, though, Houston’s PCs lead with 39% support against the leaderless Liberals (31%) and New Democrats (23%).
RIDING OF THE WEEK
Ontario’s tipping point on Day 1
I’ve been profiling ridings in Ontario in the Weekly Writ for months. But for the next five weeks I’m going to be profiling the tipping point riding of the week — the riding that ranks 63rd on the list of Ontario PC seats.
To explain what a tipping point is, imagine you ranked all 124 ridings in Ontario according to how likely the PCs are to win them. The first on the list would be the safest PC riding in Ontario. The 124th would be the worst PC riding in Ontario. The one sitting at 63rd, then, is the riding that tips the PCs into majority territory. Every riding past #63 is gravy.
In short, this means the tipping point riding is the one that will decide whether the PCs get a majority government or not.
This week, the riding that currently ranks 63rd on the list for the PCs (according to the seat projection model powering the Ontario Poll Tracker) is Peterborough–Kawartha.
What are the odds!
Peterborough–Kawartha, which I’ve already profiled, is a bellwether — it has voted with the party that won the most seats in every election since 1977, and in every election save two since 1937.
So, perhaps it is fitting that this campaign starts out hinging on the results in Peterborough–Kawartha, the electoral microcosm of Ontario.
If the PCs win Peterborough–Kawartha, they are likely winning at least 63 seats and a majority government. If they lose Peterborough–Kawartha, they are likely falling short of the majority mark.
They are currently projected to win it over the Liberals by 4.9 percentage points, despite being ahead of the Liberals province wide by 8.3 points.
This implies that the PCs could theoretically lose the province wide vote by about 3.4 points to the Liberals and still emerge with a majority. That’s some stellar vote efficiency.
Correction: I had my numbers reversed on this one, sorry. This implies that the PCs need to be ahead by at least 3.4 points province wide to win a majority, not that they can be behind by 3.4 points and still win.
I’ll keep an eye on that number — and the tipping point seat — as this campaign unfolds.
(ALMOST) ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
The Big Blue Machine breaks down
May 2, 1985
With the Ontario election campaign now on, the #EveryElectionProject will be focusing on the province’s electoral history for the next few weeks.
In 1985, the Progressive Conservative hold on Ontario looked as safe and secure as it always had been. The party had governed without interruption since 1943 and still held a big lead in the polls.
There had been a change at the top, though, after Bill Davis announced his resignation at the end of 1984. His replacement, named in January, was Frank Miller. He had won the 1985 PC leadership as a right-winger, beating several moderate candidates.
It was a risky choice by PC party delegates. While Miller tried to present a more centrist face than he had shown as a cabinet minister, he was still going to take the party away from the middle ground that had worked so well for the PCs under premiers George Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis.
With polls showing PC support at 55% and the opposition Liberals and New Democrats tied in second with just 21%, Miller waited less than two months after his swearing in to call an election.
On the surface, things looked good for the PCs. Brian Mulroney’s federal PCs had won a landslide majority government just a few months earlier and nowhere in Canada did the Liberals run a provincial government.
The Ontario Liberals would be heading into the campaign under David Peterson, who had taken over as Liberal leader in 1982. A 41-year-old lawyer, Peterson hadn’t impressed during his short time as opposition leader at Queen’s Park but he would prove to be an effective campaigner, moving his party into the centrist territory that had been abandoned by Miller’s shift to the right.
Peterson also used his relative youth to his advantage, pegging Miller (57) and the PCs as part of the past.
“Frank Miller is fighting for Frank Miller’s Ontario,” he said in a stump speech, “a dusty dream of some 20 years ago.”
The leader of the NDP was even younger than Peterson and, like his two opponents, also heading into his first campaign. Bob Rae had even been named Ontario NDP leader the same month as Peterson in 1982 and there were hopes that Rae could take the New Democrats back to official opposition status, a role they had held in the 1970s.
However, Rae’s campaign would fail to take off. It revolved around issues, such as fighting pollution, and was unable to impose itself on the campaign when the Liberals got off to a good start. Peterson was talking about a lot of the same things as Rae, and so the NDP was crowded out of the centre-left field they had previously occupied by themselves.
While Peterson’s campaign was slick and open to the media, Miller largely avoided the press. He turned down a leaders debate. His campaign lacked energy and cohesiveness, as the leadership race had left scars within the PC Party that went unhealed.
Miller centred his campaign around a business-oriented plan called Enterprise Ontario, which contrasted with the campaigns being run by the Liberals and New Democrats that focused on social issues and unemployment. The PCs also stumbled over a promise to give Catholic high schools full funding — a controversial issue not because the other parties opposed it (they didn’t) but because it upset the PCs’ own rural and largely non-Catholic base.
(John Tory, who was involved in the Miller campaign, did not appear to learn the lesson when he ran a losing PC campaign promising funding to faith-based schools in 2007.)
As election day approached, the polls suggested that the PCs were falling back to the advantage of the Liberals, who were also buoyed by late campaign endorsements by not only the Toronto Star but the Globe and Mail as well.
The results showed the Liberals had closed the gap — but not by enough. The PCs still emerged with more seats at 52. But that was a drop of 18 seats from the previous election and cost the party a few cabinet ministers, including the likes of Morley Kells, Gordon Walker and John Williams, ministers who were “prominent members of the party’s right wing.”1
While the PCs won the most seats, they took less of the vote, finishing with 37.1%, a drop of seven percentage points from the 1981 Ontario election.
The Liberals were just four seats back, gaining 14 to end with 48. The party was also up four percentage points to 37.9% support.
The Liberals made gains in the urban areas that the PCs had previously dominated, picking up seven PC seats in Toronto and three in the Peel and York region, along with four in southwestern Ontario.
According to campaign manager Ross MacGregor, the PCs “left room for David Peterson and the Liberal party to occupy the centre — and it was that centre of the political spectrum that we had so desperately tried to occupy during the Davis years without success. Peterson has succeeded in putting an urban face on the party without abandoning the True Grit rural constituency.”
The New Democrats made gains of their own, but they were far from their goal of official opposition. The party picked up four seats and 2.5 percentage points, winning 25 seats and 23.6% of the vote.
It all meant a minority legislature — and the PCs were technically still in the driver’s seat. They had governed with minorities before, and Miller wanted to try again.
But the Liberals and NDP knew this was their chance, and the two parties came together to sign an agreement that would put David Peterson in the premier’s office and ensure no election would be called for another two years, in exchange for Liberal support for NDP policies.
A four-page document outlined the terms, which included introducing a freedom of information bill, a committee to investigate patronage, election-finance reforms, and television in the legislature; broadening the powers of the provincial auditor; allowing public servants to participate in political activity; and investigating the commercialization of health services.2
Miller tried to hang on, presenting a throne speech with some nods toward the Liberal and NDP platforms. But he had few kind words to say about his opponents, charging that the New Democrats were “prostituting themselves for power” and that Ontarians “deserve better than a puppet Liberal premier with the NDP pulling the strings.”
The 42-year dynasty of the Big Blue Machine came to an end when Rae presented a non-confidence motion and the government was defeated. Rather than send the province into another election, the lieutenant-governor handed the reins over to Peterson. He’d govern for five years that included a big majority victory in 1987, but his government would fall, too, though this time at the hands of Bob Rae’s New Democrats in 1990.
Eight years for John Horgan
Today marks the eight-year anniversary of John Horgan’s ascension to the leadership of the B.C. New Democrats on May 4, 2014.
It wasn’t a hard-fought leadership victory for Horgan, as he won by acclamation when Mike Farnworth, the only other candidate to step up to try to replace Adrian Dix, withdrew from the race. But leading the B.C. NDP was no plum position at the time — the party had been out of power for 13 years and was crushed by its defeat in the 2013 provincial election, an election the party was supposed to win.
Things have gone pretty well for the B.C. NDP since then, though, as Horgan led the New Democrats to within two seats of the B.C. Liberals in 2017 and, with the support of the B.C. Greens, replaced Christy Clark’s government. He then went on to win a big majority in the 2020 provincial election with a higher share of the vote than any previous B.C. NDP leader and, according to the Angus Reid Institute, he’s the second most popular premier in the country today.
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!
“The year the Tories’ ‘Big Blue Machine’ came sputtering to a stop”, Jamie Bradburn, TVO.