Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Winnipeg stadium: city boon or public bilk?






Photo: Montreal's Olympic Stadium








Quite interesting is the recently reported poll on whether Manitobans would support public funding for a new Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium.

The proposal, as it now stands, calls for the provincial and federal governments together to put up $40 million, which would match the $40 million being put up by private investors. According to the Probe/Jory Capital poll reported in today’s Free Press, 50% oppose (32% strongly, 18% somewhat) while 43% support (20% strongly, 23% somewhat) the use of government monies for the new stadium.

The poll comes only days after yet more evidence questioning the value that public funding of such projects have for the city in which they are built. Academics Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys report in their recent
article (kudos to Richard Florida for his blog's link and discussion) that, “in stark contrast to the results claimed by most prospective economic impact studies commissioned by teams or stadium advocates, the consensus in the academic literature has been that the overall sports environment has no measurable effect on the level of real income in metropolitan areas. Our own research suggests that professional sports may be a drain on local economies rather than an engine of economic growth.”

An economic impact study of the Winnipeg stadium project apparently projects $17 million dollars in tax revenue for the province from the construction alone. Being no stranger to economic impact studies, I find that figure to be suspiciously high for an $80 million project. Coates and Humphreys would probably agree: they note in their article that “the results of these studies invariably reflect the desires of those who commission them, and advocates of stadiums and franchises typically produce impact studies that find large economic impacts, translated as benefits, from building a stadium or enticing a team to enter the city.” They go on to describe a number of flaws typically associated with such studies.

The debate is similar to the one that followed the demise of the Winnipeg Jets team and the subsequent True North/MTS Centre arena construction. Some of this is chronicled in
Thin Ice, a book by Jim Silver, who took the position that no public money should go to fund luxuries such as professional sports when our society faces far more pressing needs. Personally, I think the MTS Centre is a beautiful, amazing and highly successful arena, though I wonder whether the economic and civic pride spin-offs of that project even come close to balancing against the $40.5 million contributed by taxpayers.

In the case of the current proposed stadium project, it will of course be incumbent upon the promoters of the stadium to prove that the project is worth the input of public funds. We should be open to an investment of public money into an asset that will be cherished and used by the province’s citizens, but certainly not to corporate welfare for the Asper clan. In other words, let’s not rely on a questionable economic impact study funded by the very folks who stand to gain from the development.

There should certainly also be a cap on the public’s contribution, a lesson learned most harshly by Montreal in the construction of their Olympic Stadium: built for the 1972 Olympics for a projected public contribution of $120 million, the project was finally only fully paid for in 2006, for a total tab of $1.47 billion.

The public debate over this project should be far more than just about the money invested, too. As our Premier noted in his response to the poll, a critical piece of the public debate is about whether the provincial government should enter into a public-private partnership with Asper, an issue the poll questions didn’t even touch upon. We certainly don’t want an arrangement whereby the private owners who run the stadium reap the bulk of the project’s rewards while the public sector bears the bulk of the project’s risks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Shades of McCarthyism?



Photo (two peas in a pod?): U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay




Today's Globe and Mail reports Defence Minister Peter MacKay calling MP Denis Coderre "un-Canadian" for accusing the Canadian government of allowing the transfer of juvenile prisoners in Afghanistan to local authorities known for torturing suspects.

Okay, let me see if I've got Peter MacKay right: allegations that Canadian military personnel are handing over Afghan children to apparent torturers shouldn't be an issue brought before the House of Commons? Worse, it's "un-Canadian" simply to report the occurrence and demand an explanation? Maybe the correct response on MacKay's part should have been that he had no such evidence, but that he'd investigate and make damn sure that Canadians weren't out there facilitating torture.

Those paying attention to MacKay's response might of course find his "un-Canadian" label vaguely familiar. It sounds rather like "un-American," a term widely used in the United States from the 1930s through the 1960s to discredit anyone considered by establishment types as subversive. Senator Joe McCarthy, the source of the term "McCarthyism," was the leading figure of the 1950s witch hunts that were successful in literally ruining many of the lives and careers of those even perceived to be sympathetic to the political left.

MacKay's use of the term "un-Canadian" is really a subtle un-democratic message to us all: try to debate what we think is the best military or foreign policy, no matter how brutal the outcome, and we will shut you up by branding you "un-Canadian" or, worse, "in league with the enemy."

If my Canada is one of healthy democracy and respect for human rights and liberties, MacKay's cold sanction of what might well be Canadian complicity in human rights violations, combined with his eagerness to shut down democratic debate in the House is about the most un-Canadian thing I can personally recall hearing in a long time.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Veiled intolerance?



Women wearing the niqab in Turkey, a longtime stable and democratic country. 99% of Turkey's population is Muslim.




Elections Canada has decided to allow women who wear the niqab or burqa to vote in federal elections without first showing their face to Elections Canada personnel. In response, politicians from the four major federal parties criticized the move and banded together to demand that the decision be reversed. In the end, a motion supported by all parties in the House was passed urging Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand to "adapt" the act to force all voters "to show their faces before being permitted to vote."

Does no one else see the double-standard inherent in our elected leaders' response?

First of all, forcing prospective voters to show their faces before being allowed to vote is only useful so far as a representative of Elections Canada is there to compare each person's facial features with those on their photo identification. Otherwise, of what use is looking at a person's face? Interestingly, of the many times I've voted in a federal election, never once did I have to present ID in order to vote.

The big hole in the critique of Election Canada's decision is that some voters vote by mail. Why are Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa being targeted for not showing their faces when mail-in voters are not? And are we to expect that prospective voters who show up at the polling booth wearing dark sunglasses, facial bandages, or concealing hats will also be subject to the same scrutiny? I certainly doubt it. Finally, if a prospective voter's appearance is somewhat different from that shown on their photo ID, will they be turned away? Are the politicians arguing that a process be established to outline the minimum degree of congruence between a person's appearance and their photo ID that is needed before a ballot is issued?

This isn't the first time that Canadians have had to consider what their increasingly multicultural make-up means for their traditonal practices -- in 1990, an often ugly debate occurred over whether the RCMP should
allow its Sikh officers to wear a turban. In the end, our Charter prevailed and the country moved on.

So, what about this case? The double-standard is glaring. Are our politicians simply pandering to intolerance or fear? Here's what I think:

First off, if you're Stephen Harper, inflaming the controversy provided a perfect opportunity to
distract Canadians from allegations of illegally exceeding election spending limits. So much for "Canada's new government."

Other than Harper, many of those on the right of the political spectrum fear facing security issues of the level seen in the U.S. and Israel and, furthermore, fear moving away from our largely Judeo-Christian-based traditions and institutions. Rules are rules and traditions are traditions and these should not be negotiable. For conservatives, then, a stand against voting by veiled Muslim women is really a knee-jerk proxy for their rejection of terrorism, Islamic orthodoxy and institutional change.

Meanwhile, many of those on the left of the political spectrum fear seeing more women in patriarchal, oppressive relationships and, related to that, fear seeing our largely secular society embrace the sort of religious orthodoxy that seems to conflict with open-mindedness, egalitarian and communitarian values, and acceptance of others. Progress has been achieved in our society through decades of hard-fought battles and defending many of these gains has dominated the left's efforts for the past twenty or so years. For the left, then, a stand against voting by veiled Muslim women is again a knee-jerk proxy, this time for the rejection of patriarchy and oppression and parochialism.

I'm making generalities of course, but I think they go to the heart of why people appear so quick to oppose voting by veiled women. Putting aside our fears and considering the practicality and fairness of the situation, however, means accepting that sky will not fall when burqa- and niqab-wearing citizens cast their ballots, as is their right.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Canada's shameful day at the UN


Canada's morally dubious accomplishment this week was to withdraw its support for the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples.

Largely prompted by Australia's right-wing, GOP-esque government, which opposes the declaration along with the United States, Canada did a flip-flop and withdrew its previous strong support for the declaration. This is despite two decades of negotiation that went into developing the document, the urging of organizations like Amnesty International and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to support it, and Canada's previous active role in encouraging other countries to sign on.

The irony is that Canada's move to oppose the declaration comes just as First Nations people are organizing one of the largest national days of action (June 29, 2007) in recent history to draw attention to the continued injustices and poverty that face aboriginal people. That a nation of people within Canada continue to be faced with third world conditions in many of their own communities at a time of unprecedented economic prosperity should give us pause for thought.

From the
AFN's information site:

The NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION is an opportunity for First Nations and Canadians to stand together in a spirit of unity to support a better life for all First Nations peoples. Let us stand together to put an end to First Nations poverty as the greatest social injustice in Canada. Together, we can demonstrate that the relationship between First Nations and Canadians is based on principles of RESPECT, DIGNITY and FAIRNESS.

Our federal government should be condemned for the shameful way in which they've moved backward on social and economic development for First Nations: their opposition to the UN Declaration; the cancellation of the Kelowna Accord; the absence of any action on life-threatening drinking water issues; and no move on the recommendations of the
Report of the Ministerial Representative: Matrimonial Real Property Issues on Reserves.

Regardless of the opinions of the ministers that form the present government, every day of their inaction on First Nations economic development represents a wasted opportunity.

I look forward to June 29, when Canadians and First Nations people will join hand in hand to, first, rightfully condemn our federal government for their record to date and, second, make clear that positive change can and must begin now.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Coming soon to a province near you



Image: Ontario's Legislative Assembly, Queen's Park, Toronto, 1996


The longtime dream of many a political activist has been the movement away from our First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system to one based on Proportional Representation (PR).


Though it tends to be a non-starter as an issue in Manitoba, PR lust has taken off in other provinces. So far, BC and PEI have had province-wide public referendums -- albeit unsuccessful ones -- on changing their political systems. Ontario is next: its citizens' assembly recently released report recommending as new electoral system for Ontario. Ontarians will have a chance to vote on the proposal on October 10, 2007.

For those who aren't familiar with voting system acronyms like FPTP and PR, you can find a good discussion
here. In essence, FPTP tends to produce one-party majority governments with as little as 36% of the vote, while PR systems are designed to award each party a share of seats that corresponds to their share of the popular vote in an election.

I'm somewhat in favour of PR, though I don't see it as the panacea for all political ills that some do. In fact, I have some strong reservations about some aspects of PR systems.


Some PR systems, such as pure party list systems, remove or water down the relationship of a representative to one geographic area. With such systems, I worry about the fate of communities and ordinary citizens who often rely on their representatives for support, assistance, and funding for community services. Would rural, northern, and inner city regions be ignored upon finding themselves without advocates in our Legislature or House of Commons?


Other PR systems -- namely, the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system used in Ireland and recently proposed in BC -- require very large, multi-member constituencies with complex ranked ballot schemes to make them work. I have serious reservations about STV's ability to actually guarantee a more equitable distribution of seats. Furthermore, I have doubts about the ability of elected representatives to properly serve and represent constituencies that cover huge swaths of a city.


  • Can you reasonably serve a community in which you have little or no hope of knocking on a large percentage of the doors in a campaign? Does such a system not then force serious candidates to rely on slick TV ad campaigns to win? If so, what's the point of having such a PR system, which is supposedly about more equitable voting?


  • Can ya representative easily serve constituencies that are so large as to cover wealthy neighbourhoods as well as slums? Is there any question about whose needs would win out in such a constituency?


  • Is it reasonable to have constituencies so large that the only people that stand a reasonable chance of running and winning are well-heeled "star" candidates, as opposed to community activists who might only be known throughout a much smaller region?

  • Is it useful to create a ranked candidate system that will likely benefit centrist parties the most (it's likely that the second choice of both Conservatives and New Democrats will be Liberals), thereby electing a Liberal government from here to infinity? It seems that's what a FPTP system tends to do. One of the things that appeals to me about PR is the potential to create more diversity in Parliament, not less -- imagine the ideas that would flow through an assembly in which ten political parties were represented?

For these reasons, I thought the STV system proposed for BC several years ago was atrocious and I was frankly glad to see it defeated (though the formula required for the referendum to pass was more convoluted than the STV system being debated). I even ended my tentative membership in (Fair Vote Canada), a national organization founded to promote improvement in electoral systems, over the issue. Advocacy for fairer voting systems should not involve jumping blindly on any and every electoral reform bandwagon that carries with it a whiff of PR.

Ontario's proposal, by comparison, is a shining beacon of what's possible in electoral reform proposals. Here's the scoop: Ontario would move to a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system similar to the one used in New Zealand. Ontarians would get two votes in each provincial election: one for the local candidate and one for the party (click
here for a sample ballot, provided on Greg Morrow's superb Democratic Space blog, which also has a great ongoing discussion of the proposal).

Under the Ontario proposal, local riding candidates are elected the normal way. An additional group of seats are allotted to each party so as to bring their overall share of the seats closer to their share of the vote. For local riding representatives, there's an incentive to work well at representing your community, since you may not be able to simply rely on your party's colours to carry the day. For parties, who get additional representatives awarded based on party list system, there is an incentive to ensure that the pre-set list includes strong representation from women, minorities, and regions in which the party typically fares poorly.

It seems to me to be the best of both worlds and I hope it passes this fall in Ontario's referendum. Many respected political leaders from across the political spectrum have already lined up to offer their support. They include former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, former Preston Manning advisor Rick Anderson, Liberal Deputy Premier George Smitherman, and a good number of past and present MPs and MPPs.

---

Writing this reminded me of the Manitoba PC government's dirty escapade when they attempted in the early 90s to introduce a system of pie-shaped wards for City of Winnipeg municipal elections. The pie-shaped wards were to be shaped and sized so that each large constituency would include a narrow slice of inner city and a wide slice of suburb. This would dramatically reduce the chance of inner city voters ever electing progressive councillors to stand for their interests.

While the pie-shaped ward idea was ultimately abandoned, the Tories did reduce the number of city council seats from 29 to 15, making each city ward ridiculously large and more than twice the size of a provincial constituency. Then, as is often the case, the right called for fewer wards (read larger wards) on the pretext of improving efficiency. The real reason is to make elections won and lost not on local representation or door-to-door campaigning, but through media advertising, which requires considerable funding to sustain and, by extension, makes it more likely that well-off and pro-business candidates will get elected.

Watering down the electoral leanings of Winnipeg's Inner City and North End, which is famous for having elected labour activists, social democrats, communists, and radical preachers to various levels of government, has long been the dream of Manitoba's right-wing business establishment.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Forward, not back








Image: Nellie McClung, 1873-1951. A feminist, politician, and social activist, Nellie McClung was instrumental in securing for women the right to vote and to run for public office in Manitoba. This occurred in 1916, making Manitoba the first province to enfranchise women.







It was fabulous to see in this week's election an increase in the proportion of women MLAs. Obviously, at 32%, we're a long ways yet from seeing something close to gender parity in the chamber. Nevertheless, progress is progress: Manitoba now has a higher proportion of women sitting in its assembly than does any provincial legislature in Canada or the House of Commons.

Interestingly, the parties all ran similar proportions of female candidates: 33% of the NDP's and Liberal Party's candidates and 30% of the PC Party's candidates were women. However, the NDP elected a caucus with the greatest proportion of women: 13 of 36 (36%), compared to 5 of 19 (26%) for the Tories and 0 of 2 (0%) for the Liberals. This might suggest that the NDP runs more women in winnable constituencies (as opposed to running women only as "sacrificial lamb" candidates).

Across Canada, assemblies in PEI, Ontario, and Quebec have the next greatest share of women, with around 25%. Our three northern territories have the poorest rate of representation by women with only 11% in each of their assemblies. In the House of Commons, 21% of MPs are female.

In the last federal election, the NDP had the best record both of running and electing female candidates: 35% of its candidates were women, compared to 30% for the Bloc, 26% for the Liberals, 23% for the Greens, and a dismal 12% for the Conservatives. Among elected MPs, 41% of the NDP caucus is female, compared to 33% for the Bloc, 21% for the Liberals, and 11% for the Conservatives.

A free tip for Harper's Conservatives: Still looking to shed that public perception of your party as comprising mainly angry old white guys? How about not running only angry old white guys as candidates.

Institutionally-speaking

Final results for the constituencies of Brandon West (the PC's Borotsik currently ahead by 56 votes) and River East (the PC's Mitchelson currently ahead by 50 votes) are still pending, as results for institutions have yet to be added. It's highly unlikely that these ballots will change the result, as there will probably be less than 50 to count for each race. However, recounts are likely in both constituencies.

What's going on in Morris, Manitoba?

The NDP candidate there finished with a little over 2,500 votes, or 33%. This is an astonishing result for the longtime die-hard Tory seat. In 2003, the NDP pulled 1,500 votes, or 23%.

Meanwhile, in Portage La Prairie, another smaller Manitoba city, the NDP's Kostuchuk came closer than in 2003, finishing only 400 votes behind Tory candidate Faurschou. And in Tuxedo and Charleswood, suburban Tory seats not at all targeted by the NDP, NDP numbers crept upward despite no visible NDP campaigns.

These results are a sign of a growing urban-rural voting cleavage, in which urban voters gravitate away from the Conservatives and rural voters gravitate to them. It's not a good trend for the Tories given that Manitoba's population is increasingly urbanized. In Winnipeg, the Tories only hold 4 of 31 seats, only 2 more than the struggling, nearly fringe-status Liberals.

Fort Rouge's closer race must've driven the voter turnout up considerably. Only 7,145 electors voted in 2003, compared to about 8,100 this time. Compared to 2003, the NDP and PC each lost 300 votes, while Liberal candidate Paul Hesse more than doubled the Liberals' 2003 total of 1,200 votes. His will be a name to watch in Manitoba politics.

Bordering on frantic

The next election campaign will be fought under different constituency boundaries. The Manitoba Boundaries Commission meets once every ten years to readjust the electoral boundaries based on changes in population. The Commission will next meet in 2008 to begin the lengthy process of readjusting constituency boundaries using 2006 census data.

My guess is that we'll see Winnipeg's share of seats rise from 31 to 32, with non-Winnipeg's share dropping from 26 to 25. In the city, I imagine we'll see one new seat in each of southeast and southwest Winnipeg, with one disappearing from the inner city somewhere. Outside Winnipeg, expect seats like Gimli, Selkirk, and Springfield to shrink in size due to population increases while northern and rural seats increase in size due to population decline.

These changes always set off debates over what constitutes adequate representation. Should remote populations in northern Manitoba, with huge geographies and transportation challenges, lose representation when their share of the population declines? Should rural Manitoba see their share decline as their population slips?

And when boundaries are finalized and a seat has vanished, incumbents are left to scrap over who gets to run where. It's sort of like an ugly game of musical chairs or, to be more current, a season of Survivor: Manitoba. In 1999, after one inner-city seat was eliminated, NDP incumbents had to battle over a reduced number of seats in which to run. Eventually, a deal was struck: Conrad Santos, whose downtown-area seat of Broadway was eliminated, would run in Becky Barrett's safe seat of Wellington, while Barrett would venture north and face off against Liberal Kevin Lamoureux in Inkster.

In other areas, incumbents can hand pick the safer of several of their old constituency's regions to run in. For example, in 1999, the old seat of Crescentwood was eliminated, with portions added to Fort Garry and the new seats of Lord Roberts and Fort Rouge. Crescentwood MLA Tim Sale opted to run in the safe seat of Fort Rouge rather than take his chances in the then-Tory area of Fort Garry while Osborne MLA Diane McGifford ran in Lord Roberts.

When the seat boundaries are finalized in 2008 or 2009, who will the inner-city NDP MLAs and the rural Tory MLAs vote off their respective islands when a seat is eliminated? Expect talk about "retirements" and jockeying for positions to start soon.

Meanwhile, Theresa Oswald in Seine River and Erin Selby in Southdale may have the luxury of seeing their two constituencies turn into three, with the option of cutting loose the most Tory of these theirs to make (and thereby making their own re-election much easier).

Four-peat? Five-peat? A Doer dozen?

I can't stress how devastating this loss must have been for the Tories, who despite pre-election forecasts, wound up worse off than before the election. They'll need to pick up a full ten seats next time in order to squeak in with a bare majority -- that's a swing of a magnitude rarely seen in Manitoba politics.

While the next election campaign will be fought under different constituency boundaries
, it might be a fun exercise to take a look and see where Tory hopes could lie following from their 2007 rout.

Based on seat pluralities and voting tradition, La Verendrye (1,040), Kirkfield Park (1,133), and Southdale (1,278) are obvious targets. Let's say the Tories take back all of those: that would give us 33 NDP to 22 PC.

That leaves them with their next most likely option, which is to win against suburban incumbents who all won relatively easily this time: Riel (2,274), Seine River (2,497), Assiniboia (2,478), St. James (1,880), Fort Garry (2,180), Radisson (1,815), and St. Norbert (1,590). Those are not small pluralities to overcome, especially when you're trying to upset established incumbents. They'd need a strong urban-focused strategy, well-known candidates, lots of cash, and big campaign momentum to do it, but let's say they can take four of those back: 29 NDP to 26 PC.

If they do well, they may also have a chance at taking back bellweather riding Gimli (lost by 2,500 this time) and Liberal leader Jon Gerrard's seat of River Heights (2,413): 28 NDP to 28 PC.

To surpass the NDP, that leaves only traditional NDP seats in non-Winnipeg to win in: Dauphin-Roblin (950), Brandon East (1,086), Interlake (1,601), and Swan River (1,581). These seats have all been NDP for more than 20 years.

While four years can be a long time in politics, there's no question the Tories will again go into a campaign as underdogs. When the NDP surpasses the Saskatchewan NDP's four terms in a row, we'll start to wonder if we've become the social democratic counterpart to Alberta, an almost one-party state (the Tories have held power uninterrupted for over 35 years).


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Triumphant!




There was no humble pie on my plate this morning, unlike after some past elections: I successfully predicted the result in 54 of Manitoba's 57 constituencies. I was wrong only in three cases:





  • Southdale, a seat I thought I'd never live to see the Tories lose;

  • La Verendrye, where I overestimated challenger Bob Stefaniuk's chances; and

  • Brandon West, where it appears Rick Borotsik narrowly defeated the NDP's Scott Smith.

My best prediction was to say that the Tories would win Minnedosa by 1,000 votes. It appears they won by 1,001 votes.


My predictions fared a lot better than those of some other political bloggers out there, who predicted all manner of wacky and bizarre results, including an NDP minority government, Liberal gains in Fort Rouge and Wellington, and another NDP minority government.


Congrats goes out to Gary Doer and the rest of the NDP folks for their third majority in a row and record-tying 36 seats. Frankly, they ran a far better campaign and had better candidates than did the opposition.


The increased majority for the NDP was a hard blow for Tories, who only had their narrow win in Brandon West to staunch the flow of tears. When they're down, Tories often turn inward and oust their leader. McFadyen's toughest fight could be yet to come.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Election oracle, part 4








Time is ticking: election day is here!

This is my last post before election night. Here are the remaining predictions for the five "nail-biters" I identified earlier.







Fort Garry

If the NDP and PC party were tied in the polls, I would definitely call Fort Garry for the Conservatives. Even if the NDP was 2% or 3% ahead, I'd predict a Tory victory. But the NDP are a lot more ahead. Add to that the greater name recognition of Kerri Irvin-Ross on the doorstep compared to four years ago, and you have a re-elected incumbent.

Prediction: NDP win

Inkster

"Big Mac" Kevin Lamoureux, or K-Lam as I've seen him called elsewhere, is a tough candidate to beat. His name is recognized through the constituency and, despite his strange behaviour, he's built a certain measure of rapport with some of the local community. For him to lose, both the Conservatives and the NDP need to drain votes from the 53% he had last time (to the NDP's 43%).

For the Conservatives, it shouldn't be hard -- they earned only 4% last time (I think a raccoon running for office could draw at least 5%), which is down from their traditional 10% to 15% level. I think they'll recover somewhat, stealing back maybe 5% of 6% of their vote that went to K-Lam last time. The NDP will gain a few points, putting them neck-and-neck with the Liberals. I have to predict this one on gut-feeling: I think K-Lam wins by a hair.

Prediction: Liberal win

Kirkfield Park

First, I should correct an error I made in my earlier post when I implied that there wasn't a heated race for the Tory nomination. Candidate Chris Kozier did actually win the nomination against two other other candidates. Nevertheless, he is a rookie candidate and I would have expected to see someone with more established levels of support run to hold the seat for them.

The Tories still might pull it off, but with their chances down and with the full weight of the NDP's organizational machine in the constituency, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a close victory for NDP candidate Sharon Blady.

Prediction: NDP win

La Verendrye

If you read my earlier post on this constituency, you'll see my summary of the many challenges facing the NDP in this constituency. It's enough for me to think that the Tories have a slight -- very slight -- edge.

Prediction: PC win

Brandon West

Brandon West will be reasonably close, but I think Scott Smith's 2003 margin is too wide for even well-known Rick Borotsik to overcome.

Prediction: NDP win

Prediction summary

As you can see, I'm predicting an NDP win in 35 seats to 20 for the Tories and 2 for the Liberals. Though I'm predicting a loss for the NDP in La Verendrye and a gain in Kirkfield Park, the seat totals are a carbon copy of those we saw in 2003.

Winnipeg seats: 24 NDP, 5 PC, 2 Lib
Non-Winnipeg seats: 11 NDP, 15 PC, 0 Lib
Total: 35 NDP, 20 PC, 2 Lib

What if...

If I'm a little off and the NDP actually add to their 35 seats, it will be utter devastation for Hugh McFadyen and the Tories. To widen the gulf between the two parties could even be too much for the Tories to get themselves into shape as serious contenders in 2011. The knives would be sharpened in the darkness of the Tory back rooms and McFadyen would emerge facing a fight more brutal than the one he just lost. That gets me thinking - all of Hugh's talk about Doer not being likely to stick around if re-elected may just come back to haunt him.

If I was overly generous to the NDP and they lose several seats while the Tories gain, the opposition will come out with a small victory in the sense that they'll have established themselves as something of a government-in-waiting. That'll put them in a much better position to recruit decent candidates, get themselves properly organized, and stoke up a mood for change among the electorate, all things they struggled to do this time around. It will also give McFadyen some more experience, including some of those statesperson-like wrinkles and grey hairs that come all too quickly to those in political careers.

Possible election night shockers
(this content rated R for frightening scenes)

Regardless of which way Fort Garry, La Verendrye, Inkster or other highly-watched close races go, no one will really be too shocked at the outcome in those seats because they could go either way. There are several constituencies, however, in which a dark horse candidate could emerge to win, much to the shock of election night onlookers.

Radisson: I doubt that Linda West, the perennial PC candidate in this part of town, will take this one. However, maybe we'll all be shocked and she'll do better than expected, snatching the seat from Bidhu Jha.

Dauphin-Roblin: The Tory candidate here could coast to a stunning upset by defeating Conservation Minister Stan Struthers. I personally doubt it, but the numbers suggest it could be close.

Portage La Prairie: The Tories should hold this seat easily, and I'm predicting they will. However, the NDP's Kostuchuk could pull off a surprise victory.

Assiniboia: Rondeau should sail to an easy victory in Assiniboia, but the little voices in the back of my head keep saying "what if! what if!"

River Heights: Looking at the numbers and the Tory candidate running here, this should be an easy Liberal win. But Liberal support in the province is very very soft. If it collapses, we could all be shocked to see Jon Gerrard go.

Disclaimer

The author of this post accepts no responsibility for flus, colds, cancelled dates, or other unfortunate consequences resulting from excessive nail-biting and, in fact, strongly urges blog readers to refrain from biting their nails no matter what transpires on the evening of May 22.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Election oracle, part 3: non-Winnipeg























Image: The Oracle of Amon at Oasis Siwa in Egypt. Said to have been visited by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.

Here is my second series of seat-by-seat predictions, this one covering non-Winnipeg constituencies. For two very close "nail-biter" races, I'm reserving my prediction for the time being. These "nail-biters" will be called in my next post.

Stronghold seats

Again, I'm not going to talk about seats that are party strongholds. Here's a list of the wins I'm predicting right off the bat.

NDP strongholds (7): Flin Flon, Interlake, Rupertsland, Selkirk, Swan River, The Pas, Thompson

PC strongholds (10): Arthur-Virden, Carman, Emerson, Lakeside, Morris, Pembina, Springfield, Ste. Rose, Steinbach, Turtle Mountain

Brandon East and Brandon West

Some Tories are predicting that they'll win in both Brandon East with candidate Mike Waddell and Brandon West with former Mayor and ex-MP Rick Borotsik. Brandon West may be close, but Brandon East would be quite the upset victory for the Tories.

Brandon's longtime political tradition is to elect a New Democrat MLA in Brandon East and a Conservative MLA in Brandon West. The city comprised one traditionally Tory seat before 1969, when it was split into two constituencies. In that year, in which the province elected its first NDP government, New Democrat Len Evans took Brandon East, holding it until 1999, when he retired. Brandon West has voted NDP only in 1981, and then again in 1999 and 2003.

Since 1999, Brandon East has been held by the NDP's Drew Caldwell, while Brandon West has been held by the NDP's Scott Smith. On average, Brandon West is wealthier than Brandon East, which makes it a more natural Tory seat. Tories, in making claims that they can take Brandon East, like to say that it's more a traditional Len Evans seat than it is a traditional NDP seat.

Interestingly, in 2003, the once solid Tory seat of Brandon West became almost as strongly NDP as Brandon East. Smith pulled off a 61% to 35% victory, making that race almost as easily won as Caldwell's, which was a 62% to 33% victory. Chalk it up to hard work and to Smith's stature as a cabinet minister.

If any of the two Brandon seats goes Tory, it'll be Brandon West, with its Tory tradition and high-profile candidate Rick Borotsik. Some folks have pointed to polls showing the NDP's fortunes having dropped since 2003 outside of Winnipeg. If that's the case, the shift is probably less strong in urban Brandon than in rural seats like Minnedosa or Ste. Rose. Even in a worst-case scenario drop in support for the NDP in Brandon, longtime NDP seat Brandon East will be safe. Brandon West is probably also safe in this election, but I'm going to put that seat in the "nail-biter" category for now.

Brandon East prediction: NDP win
Brandon West prediction: "nail-biter"

Dauphin-Roblin

I've been watching this seat closely and, despite Dauphin's long association with New Democrat MLAs, it could be a very tight race. A lot of folks would be surprised that this could be the case, given that Dauphin has elected a Tory only once since 1969. Even in the painful NDP rout of 1988, Dauphin still went orange. However, today's Dauphin-Roblin isn't entirely yesterday's Dauphin.

In the last redistribution of electoral boundaries (just before 1999), the old Tory seat of Roblin-Russell was split in half, with the Roblin portion added to Dauphin. This created the new constituency of Dauphin-Roblin, which was much less traditionally NDP than the old seat of Dauphin. The next elections that followed saw NDP numbers go up throughout the province, so Dauphin-Roblin hardly seemed to be anything of a close race.

The 2003 numbers in the seat were 4,602 NDP to 2,979 PC, which is a good margin of 1,623 votes, though it's actually less than the NDP margins in more traditional non-Winnipeg Tory seats, like Brandon West (2,228) and Gimli (1,849). The closest NDP win outside of Winnipeg in number of votes was La Verendrye (1,571); at 1,623, Dauphin-Roblin was the second closest. If the NDP were to lose Gimli, Brandon West, and La Verendrye, it would likely lose Dauphin-Roblin too.

So the potential may be there for the Tories to win this seat. The question is whether the Tories have the organization, the candidate, and the momentum to actually pull it off. On these criteria, the Tories look to be 0 for 3. Unbelievably, the local Tory organization didn't even nominate a candidate until well into the election campaign. When they did, it was Roblin-area drug store manager Lloyd McKinney, hardly the sort of high-profile candidate you'd need to have to knock off a sitting Conservation Minister. Finally, it hardly needs to said that the Tories have had about as much momentum as a dead slug in this campaign.

My original intention was to put this seat in the election night "nail-biters" column, and it still might be closer than a lot of people expect. However, with the Tories seemingly unable to get their act together, I'm putting it in the NDP column.

Prediction: NDP win

Gimli

Gimli is a seat that's traditionally see-sawed between the two parties: Tory in the 60s, then NDP in '69 and '73, back to Tory in '77, then NDP in '81 and '86, then Tory from '88 until '03 when Peter Bjornson finally snatched it back for the NDP.

Interestingly, if you look at those years, you can't help but conclude that Gimli is a bellweather constituency that tends to elect an MLA on the government side of the chamber. In fact, 1999's election was the only one since 1941 that Gimli didn't elect a government-side MLA.

The Tories actually might have had some chance here if they were organized and pulled a big name candidate, but they aren't and they haven't, and Bjornson's competent and popular. Expect Gimli to continue to be represented by an MLA in the governing party.

Prediction: NDP win

La Verendrye

This constituency is a mix of largely NDP-supportive francophone communities in the west and largely PC-supportive non-francophone communities in the east. NDP efforts will focus on maximizing support and turnout in their strong areas, while Tory efforts will be to do the same in their strong areas.

In 1999, Ron Lemieux, who is now our Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, narrowly defeated sitting Tory Ben Sveinson by 3,418 to 3,307 votes. By 2003, NDP support had increased and Lemieux took the seat by 3,881 NDP to 2,310 PC, which made it the tightest NDP win outside Winnipeg. With slippage in NDP support outside Winnipeg, the Tories have put this seat in their sights.

Lemieux's strengths include his profile as Minister and his strong support in the francophone communities of his riding. His weaknesses are the very flipside: being the Minister responsible for highways in an area of the province where many highways could use some work, and strong support for the Tories in the eastern half of the riding.

Lemieux's Tory opponent, Bob Stefaniuk, will do well in the Tory areas, and he's also very well-known in the francophone communites, having served as the Mayor of the RM of Ritchot since 1995. To add to the NDP's challenges, new developments in the area immediately surrounding Winnipeg are bringing in more voters who tend to favour the Tories. All of this makes Lemieux perhaps the NDP's most at-risk sitting MLA.

Prediction: "nail-biter"

Lac du Bonnet

This constituency was once a pretty strong NDP seat: the party took it in every election from 1969 to 1986. Since 1988, however, it's been Tory, first with Darren Praznik and now with Gerald Hawranik. Results for 2003 depict a close race in the constituency (51% PC to 45% NDP), though the race was actually less close than in 1999. Every indication is that the Tories will hold this seat in 2007.

Prediction: PC win

Minnedosa

Everyone remembers the drama here in 2003: Tory Leanne Rowat squeaked ahead of New Democrat Harvey Paterson by a mere 12 votes. In 2007, the re-match is on as both candidates are running again. I'd like to say it's going to be as close a race as last time but, with slipping NDP support outside Winnipeg and Rowat's new profile as the incumbent MLA, the Tories will likely win by 1,000 votes.

Prediction: PC win

Portage La Prairie

Portage La Prairie has a long history of not voting NDP. It's been Tory since 1977 and was a Liberal seat before that. However, things look to be slowly changing to the point that I think it will elect a New Democrat sometime within the next several provincial elections. Part of it has to do with the changing character of Canadian politics, namely the strengthening of an urban-rural voting cleavage.

It used to be that Tories could get elected in the cities, but that seems to be less and less the case both federally, where the Tories last year couldn't elect a single MP in any of Canada's three largest cities, and provincially, where the Tories last time barely hung on in the City of Winnipeg, with 6 seats to the NDP's 23. And, as we know, the NDP generally has a tough time in rural areas: where they once elected an MLA in Emerson, they now can only dream of surpassing 20%. Portage La Prairie, Manitoba's fourth largest city with close to 13,000 people, is starting to join the urban non-Tory bandwagon.

In 2003, the NDP came 501 votes away from winning, which was about 200 votes closer than in 1999. If the NDP goes upward in any non-Winnipeg seat, this may be the one. Running for the party against the Tories' David Faurschou is popular local teacher James Kostuchuk. I predict the NDP won't manage to scoop this seat from the Tories, at least not this time, but I could be surprised on election night.

Prediction: PC win

Russell

Russell is another seat where the NDP actually fared worse in 2003 than in 1999, though this is likely because the Liberals couldn't even come up with a candidate in 1999. That year, the Tories won it with 53% to the NDP's 47%. In 2003, the Tories took it with 52% to the NDP's 41%. Len Derkach, who's been the Tory MLA there since 1986, will likely increase this margin once again.

Prediction: PC win

Summary

In 2003, of the 26 seats outside of Winnipeg, 12 were taken by the NDP and 14 were taken by the Tories. So far, I'm predicting 10 NDP, 14 PC, and 2 "nail-biters."

This brings my province-wide prediction to the following:

Winnipeg: 22 NDP, 5 PC, 1 Lib, 3 "nail-biters"
Non-Winnipeg: 10 NDP, 14 PC, 0 Lib, 2 "nail-biters"
Total: 32 NDP, 19 PC, 1 Lib, 5 "nail-biters"

The "nail-biters" I'll predict later this evening. They are Fort Garry, Inkster, Kirkfield Park, La Verendrye, and Brandon West. Four of these are NDP-PC races and one is an NDP-Liberal race, meaning that the NDP could win up to 36 on election night. At worst, they might end up with 32 seats, to 23 for the Tories and 2 for Liberals. Either way, another NDP majority looks certain at this point.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Election oracle, part 2: Winnipeg


















Image: Temple of Apollo located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus near Delphi, Greece. The original location of the Delphic Oracle.


Here are the first of my seat-by-seat predictions for Tuesday's provincial election. This first series covers all Winnipeg constituencies. The next will cover non-Winnipeg constituencies, while my last series of predictions will cover any of the close "nail-biters" I've identified.

Winnipeg stronghold seats

I'm not going to spend time talking about seats that are party strongholds. It's a foregone conclusion that the NDP will dominate in the inner city, while the Tories will coast to victory in areas like Tuxedo. So, to make things short, here's a list of the "stronghold" wins I'm predicting right off the bat:

NDP strongholds (13): Burrows, Concordia, Elmwood, Kildonan, Lord Roberts, Minto, Point Douglas, Rossmere, St. Boniface, St. Johns, St. Vital, Transcona, Wolseley

PC strongholds (3): Charleswood, Fort Whyte, Tuxedo

Other seats are profiled in more detail below.

Southdale

From what I understand, Jack Reimer is a decent MLA and a super-nice guy. Apparently, he was well-respected in the 90s by members of both sides of the house. A couple of Southdale people I know have sung his praises.

While this doesn't have much to do with the current race in Southdale, I think Reimer's biggest shortcoming stems from his myopic tenure as Urban Affairs Minister in the Filmon government. The department was completely unable to accept what I'd consider to be basic urban planning tenets regarding growth, sprawl, transportation, and inner-city development. Beholden to the big developers and sprawl-friendly RMs, the department stalled in the face of public demands for a capital region planning vision by creating the Capital Region Review, an exercise with a whole lot of dialogue but structurally designed to provide very little value in way of planning recommendations. The NDP hasn't exactly been great in articulating its vision for the capital region, but at least there's some understanding of the issues as well as progress in areas like water stewardship.

In this race, Erin Selby seems like a great, dynamic candidate and I hope she wins. Unfortunately, I think Southdale is far too conservative a constituency for the NDP to pull it off. The NDP's fortunes will certainly rise there (over the 36% they won in 2003) as a result of her high profile and the weight of the party's organizational machine, but I'll be the most shocked of all if the NDP actually wins.

Prediction: 'A' for NDP effort, but a PC win.

Assiniboia

I think Jim Rondeau must be the hardest working MLA in the province. It's certainly paid off: his margin of 3 votes in 1999 turned into a margin of close to 3,000 in 2003. That's a steep hill to climb for former city council candidate Kelly DeGroot, the Tories' candidate there.

I happened to sit with Ms. DeGroot at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon once and chatted with her for a bit. Moderate, intelligent, articulate and organized, she seems like a great catch for the Tories as a candidate. Nevertheless, there's no way she's going to be able to knock off Rondeau in this election.

Prediction: NDP win

Seine River

After Fort Garry, this was the NDP's narrowest victory in Winnipeg in 2003: about 700 votes or 9% of the electorate separated the NDP from the Conservatives. If anyone else other than Theresa Oswald were the NDP candidate, I'd expect a close race. But Ms. Oswald, the current Minister of Health and a swiftly rising star in the party, is the candidate. Expect her to win with an increased level of support.

Prediction: NDP win

Fort Garry

Fort Garry was the closest race in Winnipeg in 2003, with less than 100 votes separating winner Kerri Irvin-Ross of the NDP and defeated incumbent Joy Smith of the PCs. Given that Winnipeg voting intentions are somewhere around the same place as in the 2003 election, this is likely to be another very close race (for the third election in a row).

Prediction: "nail-biter"

St. James

With a 54% to 33% victory over her Tory challenger in 2003, the NDP's Bonnie Korzeniowski will not likely have a hard time being re-elected.

Prediction: NDP win

The Maples

Preceding this election campaign and the last, there have been ugly battles for the NDP nomination in The Maples. When the dust finally settled after the most recent and controversy-laden race, candidate Mohinder Saran had defeated sitting MLA Chris Aglugub to stand as the NDP candidate in the provincial election. Saran is one of the candidates who had nothing to do with any of the controversy and he inherits a pretty strong constituency for the NDP: in 2003, the party took 68% of the vote, to 16% for each of the Conservatives and Liberals.

Prediction: NDP win

Riel

There's a lot of talk in Tory camps about how they're planning to take this seat with former West End BIZ President Trudy Turner, who also gave City Councillor Harvey Smith a tough run for his money in last fall's municipal campaign. Based on a rough glance at the campaign signs that are up throughout the constituency, Ms. Turner's inner-city credentials are selling well in the poshest riverfront properties near St. Vital Park, but not as well in the rest of the constituency.

Of course, it's an old cliché that signs don't vote. The real problem with Tory hopes is that, based on the numbers, Riel is now a stronger NDP constituency than is Seine River, St. Norbert, Fort Garry, or Radisson. Chances are that Riel will go Tory only after those other seats do, and that doesn't appear likely. Of course, Tories are hoping for some sort of localized groundswell of protest to defeat the incumbent, Christine Melnick, but that would require a protest sufficient to close a 1,300 vote gap. Pretty unlikely.

Prediction: NDP win

Wellington

I've already talked about Wellington in earlier posts. When your 2003 base is 74% and your closest competitor was at 15%, vote-splitting isn't much of a concern. Expect NDP candidate Flor Marcelino to win easily.

Prediction: NDP

St. Norbert

The third closest NDP win in Winnipeg, this seat will be watched on election night. Current MLA Marilyn Brick ran here in 1999, but fell short of defeating Tory Marcel Laurendeau by about 700 votes. In 2003, she turned the tables, winning by 700 votes. It probably didn't help the Tories any that their sitting MLA had to be rescued from the trunk of his car after being put there by an unscrupulous associate. Talk about low points in one's political career!

As long as the NDP are polling the Winnipeg numbers they are, they should be able to hold on to south Winnipeg seats like this one. As a rule, Ms. Brick is staying away from her trunk.

Prediction: NDP win

River East

This seat represents the narrowest Tory win in Winnipeg in 2003. Longtime incumbent Bonnie Mitchelson hung on by 500 votes, which was a little closer than her 1999 victory of 700 votes. Electoral historians might note the NDP's 1981 victory in this seat -- its only win here ever -- but its then-boundaries included much of what is now Rossmere.

Given the lack of profile this race has had during the campaign, I suspect there's little hope of the NDP stealing it from the PCs. I fully expect Mitchelson to increase her margin of victory to something a little more comfortable.

Prediction: PC win

Fort Rouge

I'm actually talking about Fort Rouge (instead of simply chalking it up as an NDP stronghold) only to shatter Liberal pipe dreams about actually taking the seat. Liberals contend that with youthful candidate Paul Hesse, the lack of an incumbent MLA (Tim Sale, the former MLA for Fort Rouge isn't running again), and door-to-door canvassing challenges for NDP candidate Jennifer Howard, they have a shot at winning. They don't. Even if they were to double the 17% they were able to get in 2003, they'd still end up short.

Prediction: NDP win

Inkster

The Liberals' Kevin Lamoureux is quite a character, being known for his bizarre antics in the Legislature. He's represented the Inkster constituency in every election since 1988, with the exception of the 1999 to 2003 period, after he lost to the NDP's Becky Barrett.

The NDP are once again challenging, this time running impressive candidate Romy Magsino. My initial thoughts are that Lamoureux will hold on to this seat, but then again he did benefit in 2003 from the collapse of the local PC vote from 13% to 4% (while the Liberal vote climbed from 43% to 53%). A little bit of a Tory revival could steal those votes back from Lamoureux, putting him in a very close race against the NDP's Magsino. This one will be tight.

Prediction: "nail-biter"

River Heights

Jon Gerrard, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, is the MLA for River Heights. Of any area of the province, River Heights seems the most suited to voting Liberal. Made up of professional, well-educated, and upper middle class families, voters here are probably too well off to be entirely comfortable with the left-leaning character of the NDP, but yet too educated and cultured to have any affinity for the simplistic, sometimes angry, hard right ideology often voiced by Tories (including their current candidate). That leaves just enough room for Manitoba's highest-profile Liberal to run up the middle and eke out victory after victory.

Of course, Gerrard's victory isn't entirely in the bag. The Tories have won this seat before, most recently in 1995, and could do so again. In 1999, Gerrard took 45% of the vote to defeat incumbent Mike Radcliffe, who garnered 41%. In 2003, Gerrard won with 49% of the vote, compared to just 29% for the PCs and 20% for the NDP. Given that recent polls put Conservative support at around their 2003 level, they'll need to pull up their socks a little before mounting a more serious challenge for this seat.

Prediction: Liberal win

Kirkfield Park

The phrase "pulling a Kirkfield Park" might just become a new word in our political lexicon. I can just imagine picking up a copy of the next edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and finding the following among the new words the editors decided to include:

Kirkfield Park n. 1. a provincial constituency, first created in 1981, whose members elect a representative to the Manitoba legislature. 2. the act of an elected representative, especially a member of the Manitoba PC party, resigning part-way through the term they were elected to serve to the detriment of their party's political fortunes (after former MLAs Eric Stefanson and Stuart Murray, who resigned as representatives of Kirkfield Park before their terms were complete).

For a constituency that's never elected anyone but a Tory, it's surprising to see two Tory MLAs in a row resign, leaving the seat as vulnerable as it is to an NDP pick-up. And given that Kirkfield Park remains a Tory island in a sea of orange, I would have expected to see a heated nomination race between several high-profile candidates for the Tories. Not so, which is another bad omen for the PC's chances of governing in the near future.

Kirkfield Park remains highly vulnerable to the NDP. You wouldn't think so, based only on the 2003 results, when the PCs grabbed 47% to the NDP's 31%, and the Liberals' 22%. Of course, that was when PC leader Stu Murray held the seat. The advantage in terms of media exposure and organization that comes from being a party leader is immense and, barring some protest that seeks to make that leader a lightning rod for voter grievances, a party leader is hard to defeat. It's a lot of the reason that Jon Gerrard is able to win in River Heights.

What if, in 2003, the Tory candidate hadn't been Stu Murray? You can bet that the race would have been a lot closer. Add to that a great NDP candidate and an NDP machine that's working the riding hard, unlike in 2003, and you have yourself a battle. This will be one race to watch on election night.

Prediction: "nail-biter"

Radisson

I was originally going to call Radisson a "nail-biter," given the rising tide of PC vote in the area in the last ten or so years. A bizarre blend of Transcona, East Kildonan, St. Boniface, and Windsor Park, it is a traditional NDP seat.

In 2003, the NDP's Bidhu Jha beat the Tories' Linda West by 52% to 39%. That's a lot closer than in 1999 when the result was 55% to 33%, which is in turn closer than in 1995 when the result was 52% to 22%. The Tories are starting to think they're going to take the seat, and they just might do so one of these days.

Given that NDP and Tory support in the city is at about the same level as in 2003, the Tory tide still has to rise by a fair bit to put them over the top in Radisson. This is especially true now that Jha has the benefit of incumbency and voter recognition that he did not have in 2003. While voters here still have the potential to surprise on election night, my sense is that the outcome will look something like Gary Doer's recent joke, which paraphrases the party's 2003 slogan: "Much accomplished, more Bidhu."

Prediction: NDP win

Winnipeg prediction summary

In 2003, of 31 seats, the NDP took 23 seats, to 6 for the PCs, and 2 for the Liberals.

My 2007 prediction so far shows little change: 22 NDP, 5 PC, 1 Liberal, and 3 "nail-biters" (Fort Garry, Inkster, Kirkfield Park), which I'll call after I profile the non-Winnipeg seats.

Election oracle, part 1














Image: John William Waterhouse - Consulting The Oracle (oil on canvas; 1884)

This week's Free Press/Probe election poll included an interesting addition: a voter migration matrix. This is a matrix of voters by the party they supported in one election with the party they supported (or plan to support) in a second election.

The poll data showed 2007 provincial election voting intention by reported 2003 votes cast. The poll showed for example that 64% of 2003 NDP voters plan on voting NDP again, while 9% will vote PC, 4% will vote Liberal, and 22% are undecided. The Tories appear to be keeping a greater share of their 2003 voters (69%), while the Liberals are struggling to hold their own, with just 44% of their 2003 voters intending to vote the same way this time. Twenty-nine percent of 2003 Liberals remain undecided, which is higher than for any of the other parties.

For fun, I recalculated the poll numbers to exclude the undecided and entered them into UBC's voter migration matrix election forecaster. Developed by Professor Werner Antweiler, the forecaster projects the voter migration numbers you enter into overall and seat-by-seat results. In response to my entry, the forecaster spit out an election prediction of 44.5% NDP, 39.4% PC, 12.8% Liberal, and 3.3% other, which isn't unreasonable.

The forecasted seat-by-seat results showed 35 NDP, 22 Conservatives, and zero Liberals. Fort Garry is predicted to shift from NDP to PC, while the Liberals are predicted to lose Inkster and River Heights, the former to the NDP and the latter to the PCs. Tight holds for the NDP were shown in St. Norbert, Seine River, and Radisson, while Minnedosa remained a tight hold for the PC. Other expected tight races generally weren't.

The calculator's weakness is that it applies voter migrations universally across all constituencies: in reality, voters may swing in greater numbers or to different parties in some regions than in others. It also can't account for the effect of "star" candidates, the added name recognition that comes with incumbency, the degree of effort put into winning by a party or candidate, or local issues. The numbers I entered also didn't take into account the weakness of the Liberals, who are holding less than half of their 2003 vote and whose intended voters this time are by far the softest of any party's.

For years, I've played with how shifts in party support province-wide translate into shifts at the constituency level. I'm always surprised at how the shifts are generally parallel despite so many local factors that must also play a role. For example, if a party increases their province-wide support by one-fifth (say, from 20% to 24%), it's likely that the same proportional increase will materialize in each constituency (say, from 5% to 6% and from 40% to 48%). An Excel-based calculator I created that does this automatically provides a good baseline for making seat-by-seat predictions. A consideration of incumbency, the level of effort a party is putting into a seat, and regional trends or local issues has to be made as well, but amazingly, these usually account for less than 5% of the vote, according to some studies that try to weigh the impact of these variables.

Right now, I'm predicting province-wide totals of about 45% NDP, 40% PC, and 14% Liberal, with relatively little change in seats between the parties. The NDP could lose a non-Winnipeg seat or two to the Tories, but then make up for it by picking up Inkster or Kirkfield Park. I'll profile the seats I expect to change hands or be close races over the next couple of days.

Strategically-speaking, the Tories simply must close the seat gap between the NDP and themselves (a difference of 15 in 2003) to come out of the election looking at all credible and able to challenge in 2011. If the Tories fail to pick up any seats outside the Perimeter Highway from the NDP, who then pick up one or two inside the city, it'll be completely devastating for Manitoba's party of the right. Tories tend to be a lot harder on their leaders than do New Democrats, so I think Hugh will be in for a very rough ride if he doesn't pull off victories in at least a couple of seats they don't already hold.

Those are all my thoughts for a late Friday evening. There'll almost certainly be more to say tomorrow.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sweat on Hugh McFadyen's brow


















The big pre-election Free Press/Probe poll was released today, with good news for the NDP and bad news for the Conservatives: results are 44% NDP, 37% PC, 16% Liberals, and 3% Other. That leaves the Hugh McFadyen and the Conservatives only five days -- including one long weekend -- to make up the gap before Tuesday's election.

Liberal numbers

The first thing I looked at was the Liberal numbers, because they'll play a major role in whether the NDP picks up or loses seats. If the Liberal numbers are up, it likely means that soft NDP voters in the suburbs are leaning Liberal and, consequently, that Tories are likely to win seats there. If Liberal numbers are down, the NDP tends to benefit, and that makes Tories seats more likely to go NDP.

At 16%, the poll pegs the Liberals at higher than the 13% they received in the last two elections. In Winnipeg, where the Liberals' only hopes are, they are at 17%, just a hair ahead of where they were in 2003. That likely means good things for the NDP's chances in Winnipeg's suburbs. Liberal numbers are not high enough for them to win more than two seats.

Winnipeg vs. non-Winnipeg

In the last provincial election, the NDP gained 53% in Winnipeg, compared to the Tories' 30% and the Liberals' 16%. Polls for Winnipeg now put the NDP at 51%, compared to the Tories 29% and the Liberals' 17%. If these numbers hold, it probably means that NDP incumbents in close Winnipeg seats like Fort Garry and Radisson will be safe. As well, since the party is holding its 2003 base, the numbers should also be a shot in the arm to NDP efforts to pick up Kirkfield Park and Southdale from the Tories and Inkster from the Liberals.

Outside Winnipeg, numbers are not as positive for the NDP. The poll puts them at 34%, down from the 46% they took in 2003. This drop in NDP numbers appears to have benefited both the Conservatives, at 49% (up from 44% in 2003), and the Liberals, at 15% (up from 9%). If these numbers hold, it puts several non-Winnipeg NDP seats at risk of going Conservative. In particular, Brandon West, Dauphin-Roblin, and La Verendrye are likely to be close. Minnedosa and Portage, both seats the NDP would like to pick up, are now likely out of reach.

Other parties

Other parties sit at about 3%. Two-thirds of this is Green Party support. The problem with this is that the Greens are running only in about one-quarter of Manitoba's constituencies: if 3% walk off to the polls fully expecting to vote Green, 3/4 are going to be disappointed with a ballot that has no Green candidate. These voters are probably a lot more likely to vote NDP than Conservative, which may make all the difference in several close seats. After the votes are counted, others are likely to get only about 1%, the same percentage as in 1999 and 2003.

Seat-by-seat predictions

Coming in the next couple of days.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Another myth busted


Tories always like to go on about how they're the most fiscally responsible of the parties. A lot of Tories even identify this one issue as their reason for being Tory. It's not surprising then that Tories seem to always be convincing themselves that the NDP is secretly spending wads of money and driving us ever closer to bankruptcy and economic ruin. Popular culture even seems to support this: supposedly, if you're on the left, you're a do-good spender; if you're on the right, you're a prudent saver.

If the current election campaign is any indication, the idea of fiscally prudent Tories is a myth. With ten days to go in the campaign, the Tories are well ahead of the NDP in spending promises. According to
Michael Benarroch, chair of the department of economics at the University of Winnipeg, the value of Tory spending and tax cuts is now up to $888 million. Promised tax cuts and new spending by the NDP, in comparison, total $400 million. Even the Liberals, who have no hope of achieving official party status, much less of forming government, have promised less than the Tories.

These are big numbers, but what do they mean? Well, the 2007-8 Manitoba budget forecasts $11.8 billion in revenue (to $11.6 billion in spending). Tory promises add up to 7.5% of budgeted revenue, more than double the NDP's 3.4%.

The real question is how will the Tories pay for their promises? I'd like to know what programs they'll axe, what assets they'll sell, or what taxes they'll raise or user fees implement to make up for their 7.5% bite out of the provincial budget -- or do they even know? If the Tories aren't that serious about winning, it would explain how they feel they can promise the sun, the moon, and Winnipeg Jets stars to anyone and everyone in the hopes of picking up a few seats. So much for Tory prudence, fiscal or otherwise.

It's the sort of Tory campaigning that makes even Tories not want to vote Tory. Just ask the federal Conservative Party, whose apparent embrace of social spending, Quebec and the environment has some party loyalists mulling over whether to
refound the old Reform Party. No word on whether they've also approached Jean Chrétien to succeed Stephane Dion as Liberal leader.

No, the reality is that Tories don't mind spending our tax dollars at all. They don't even mind pouring those dollars right out the window, as long as they're going to pay for the right things. I'm still working out the Tory list of good and bad spending, but here's a summary of what I have so far:

Bad spending: social programs, housing, water stewardship, public education, poverty-reduction, pro-active solutions to crime

Good spending: tax cuts for Tuxedo-ites, selling off public telecoms at firesale prices, overpriced American health care consultants, new jails, bailouts for venture capital fund investors, $180 million private sports franchises

Ten days to go and the Tories are at $888 million. Will the Tories' promises surpass the $1 billion mark? In this election, just who should we worry about breaking the bank?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

And the race is on...





Lots of posting today!





Tories fail to run full slate of candidates

There are sure to be some red faces in the Tory backrooms today. Nominations have closed and, after falling short in Flin Flon, the party was unable to field a full slate of candidates in the election.

Rightly or wrongly, the ability to run a full slate of candidates is almost always taken as a key indicator of whether a party is organized and serious about winning or whether it's a fringe party. Even the struggling Liberal Party, which was unable to run a full slate in 1999, was able to secure a name on the ballot in all 57 constituencies this time around. This is a big blow to Tories, indeed.

The race in Flin Flon will now be fought between NDP incumbent Gerrard Jennissen and Liberal challenger Garry Zamzow. That's if you can really call it a race: Jennissen took 73% of the vote in the last election.

The failure to run a full slate will be especially hard for the Tories' reputation in northern Manitoba. In some election campaigns, the Tory leader doesn't even visit the north. Now, long accused of neglecting and ignoring the north, the Tories won't even be offering residents of part of that region the chance to to vote for them.

Adieu, Monsieur Rocan

Longtime former Tory MLA Denis Rocan didn't follow through with his threat to run in the provincial election. He had suggested possibly running as an independent against Hugh McFadyen in Fort Whyte. The other obvious option for him would have been to run as an independent in Carman, where he was challenged and defeated for the Tory nomination. Frankly, running in Carman (where the Conservatives got 52% of the vote in 2003) would've been his best shot at winning.

I have to say I think Denis Rocan is a pretty decent guy, having met him once in the 90s. I could probably never vote for him myself, but I've heard he was a solid representative and hard worker in Carman. It didn't seem to do him much good within the Tory ranks, however -- he was booted out first as the candidate when he lost the nomination race and then from the caucus after he broke ranks and supported the NDP's budget.

Wellington recap

The race in Wellington continues to attract a lot of media attention, especially now that former New Democrats Conrad Santos and Joe Chan are running as independents against their old party. Flor Marcelino, the NDP's candidate and editor of the Philippine Times, looks like a great candidate. She'll do well.

The little parties

In addition to the three most established parties, the Green Party and the Communist Party are running candidates. The Greens will be on the ballot in 15 constituencies, while the Communists will be an option in six. The voters in Fort Rouge will have the most choice in this election, with six candidates to choose from: a New Democrat, a Conservative, a Liberal, a Green, a Communist, and an Independent.

The Green Party leader, Andrew Basham, is running directly against Premier Gary Doer in his constituency of Concordia. Andrew Basham's mother, whose basement he apparently still lives in, is running in Wolseley, where the Greens captured about 19% of the vote in 2003. After the infighting that's plagued the Greens since then and the NDP's general dominance of the environment as an issue, there's little hope they'll be able to even come close to repeating their 2003 result.

Manitoba's Communist Party, a perennial competitor and probably the most active such party in Canada, is also running. Most of its candidates are the same names that appear on the ballot election after election.

I once spent a little while chatting with Darrell Rankin, the party's leader, after he happened to knock on my door in one election. As a candidate, he struck me as quite interesting, engaging and intelligent. I wasn't quite as impressed with the party pamphlet -- complete with a headline praising the regime in North Korea -- that he left behind.

A day at the races

I'll be posting some seat-by-seat predictions in the very near future. However, I may wait to see what the next provincial poll numbers are before weighing in on the really close races.

My guess is that, with the relatively sleepy pace of the campaign so far and the inability of the Tories to land any punches, the next poll will show an increase in NDP support over the last poll, with the Liberals and others down a couple points each, and the Tories holding steady. Then I expect the NDP to come out a few points below those numbers on the night of May 22. My assumption is that there are many fickle and wishy-washy voters who, once alone in the dim light of the polling booth, will vote for change regardless of who's in power or how well they've done.

The last poll before the campaign started showed the NDP and Tories neck-and-neck at 40%, with the Liberals at 15%, and others holding what's left. To compare, the NDP received 49% in the last election, with the Tories getting 36%, the Liberals 13%, and others 1%. If the poll numbers stay as they are when people vote, it's likely the NDP would be re-elected with a majority by winning a pile of Winnipeg seats by a small margin, while the Tories stack up giant majorites in places like Steinbach, Emerson, and Pembina.

In the next poll, the Liberal numbers will be the ones to watch: provincially, the Liberals almost always fall during the campaign, which tends to benefit the NDP. The Tories usually have the best chance of winning when centre-left voters are split between the NDP and the Liberals. If the Liberals buck the trend and creep upward, it may cut into NDP votes in southern Winnipeg and toss those seats to the Tories. In contrast, if the Liberals sink below the 13% they got in the past two elections, the NDP may be able to pick up Inkster from the Liberals as well as Southdale and Kirkfield Park from the Tories.

To compare with 2003, the pre-campaign polls then put the NDP ahead at 44%, with the Conservatives at just 30% and the Liberals at 21%. Mid-campaign polls showed the NDP surge to 51% and 55%, while the Liberal numbers dropped off and the Tory numbers stayed static. On election day, the Tories "pulled" their vote well and ended up with 36%, still well behind the NDP's 49%.

A second thing to watch in the next poll will be the Winnipeg/non-Winnipeg split in the numbers. The last study showed the NDP down 8 points in Winnipeg and down 15 points outside of Winnipeg compared to the last election. If the party picks up, will it be in one region or both?

Astonishing facts

Emerson and Springfield, now both staunchly Tory seats, were once NDP seats.

In 1973, Steve Derewianchuk, the NDP candidate in Emerson, took 2,374 votes, beating out the Tory with 1,937 votes and the Liberal with 1,768 votes. The victory was relatively short-lived, however: Albert Driedger regained the seat for the Tories in 1977. Driedger later went on to represent Steinbach in the legislature. In Emerson in 2003, the Tories took 59% of the vote to 21% for the Liberals and 19% for the NDP.

Rene Toupin won Springfield for the NDP in 1969 and 1973, but lost it in 1977. Andy Anstett narrowly regained the seat for the NDP in 1981, only to lose it to Tory Gilles Roch by 55 votes in 1986. Almost immediately after being re-elected as a Tory in 1988 (and being subsequently denied a cabinet post), Roch crossed the floor to join Sharon Carstairs's Liberals, which had just become the Official Opposition. The Tories easily regained the seat in 1990 and have held it ever since with ever-increasing majorities, which come largely due to an influx of wealthy Tory voters into new subdivisions in places like Oakbank. In 2003, the Tories won the seat with 61% of the vote, to the NDP's 31%.