Weekly Writ for Oct. 25: Has Atlantic Canada moved on from 1993?
Marking 30 years since the epoch-making '93 election, plus the latest national and provincial polls.
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.
Today marks 30 years since the cataclysmic political event that shook Canadian politics to its core. It was on October 25, 1993 that the most transformative election in our modern history took place.
It’s the subject of this week’s instalment of the #EveryElectionProject. But the 1993 election isn’t just history. What happened in that campaign can still be felt in today’s political landscape and the damage it caused to the Conservative Party proved lasting in at least one region of the country.
That might be changing.
The Progressive Conservatives’ collapse to just two seats came about because two of the pillars of its electoral coalition had been completely undermined by new parties. Preston Manning and the Reform Party took away the PCs’ bulwark in Western Canada and rural Ontario, which had been reliably Tory for generations, while Lucien Bouchard and the Bloc Québécois gobbled up the Quebec nationalist vote that had propelled Brian Mulroney to his landslide victory in 1984 and kept him in majority territory in 1988.
But the PCs also lost significant support in Atlantic Canada, where there was no significant Reform presence in 1993. And, until now, it seemed that the Conservatives were still trying to play catch-up in this region.
It didn’t take long for the newly-merged Conservative Party to re-construct its electoral coalition in other parts of the country. As early as the 2004 election, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper were matching the kind of results the PCs were capable of under Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark and Mulroney in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
In 2006, the Conservatives had re-established themselves as a party that could win seats in Quebec, while in 2008 the party was back to the high-30s in Ontario and mid-40s in British Columbia that were the usual targets of the pre-1993 PCs.
But Atlantic Canada continued to resist the call of the Conservatives. The division on the right had pushed lots of Red Tories over to the Liberals — think of someone like floor-crosser Scott Brison, whose move was representative of many voters in the region. Neither the Reform Party nor the Canadian Alliance were ever able to catch fire in Atlantic Canada, where the PCs kept their last vestiges of support in 1997 and 2000. When the merger occurred, Atlantic Canadians were more reluctant than other Canadians to see the new Conservative Party as the natural successor of the old PC Party.
Harper’s best result in any Atlantic Canadian province — 44% in New Brunswick in 2011 — was still worse than Stanfield’s score there in 1968 and 1972 and Mulroney’s result in 1984. His best results in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. (37% and 41%, respectively, in 2011) were still worse than anything put up in those provinces during the Stanfield, Clark and Mulroney years. The party’s 43% in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2006 was still below Stanfield’s results and Mulroney’s in 1984 and proved to be the high watermark for the Conservatives in the province.
In every province, the average results for Harper over his five elections, as well as the two elections under Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, were worse than the average results that Stanfield, Clark or Mulroney scored in Atlantic Canada. The chart below shows how the Conservatives haven’t replicated their pre-1993 results in the region — in every other province there isn’t so much of a difference before and after the gap.
Under Pierre Poilievre, however, this could be changing — suggesting that it has taken 30 years for Atlantic Canadians to embrace the Conservative Party in the same way they embraced the old PCs.
Polling results for individual Atlantic provinces is rare, but if we assume a uniform gain since 2021 worth 10 points for the Conservatives in each province (the party is up 10 points in Atlantic Canada as a whole), then we’d peg the Conservatives to have about 39% in Nova Scotia, 42% in Prince Edward Island, 43% in Newfoundland and Labrador and 44% in New Brunswick.
Those scores would be roughly on par with the average results for the PCs between 1968 and 1988 in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. They are still a little below-average in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Nevertheless, these results would be more in line with the old PC results in the region, especially when compared with the poor showings of the Conservatives in Atlantic Canada between 2004 and 2021.
The “why” behind it all is complex and difficult to tease out — there’s the “culture of defeat” quote from Harper, the dynamics at play in provincial politics, the discontent with Justin Trudeau. Regardless, the “what” seems clear enough. If Poilievre’s Conservatives can keep these numbers going in Atlantic Canada, the party will no longer be haunted by the last ghost of 1993.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
Polls continue to look bad for the federal Liberals (and good for the Conservatives), while the provincial race is tightening in Saskatchewan. In B.C., the divided opposition keeps being divided.
A majority, but only just, for the Sask. Party if the election were held today, and a much safer majority for David Eby in B.C.
Saskatchewan Rivers, a potential distraction for Scott Moe, in this week’s riding profile.
Marking 30 years since the epoch-making 1993 campaign in the #EveryElectionProject.
A milestone for François Legault.