Monday, March 17, 2008

Expectations: They're not just for Liberals

Well, at long last it's by-election day and, while I've been reading much in the media and the blogsphere about the expectations on the Liberals today, I've not heard much about the expectations on the other parties. Which must be nice for them, I suppose, it sets the bar pretty low. It shouldn't be though.

Now that's not to say there aren't heavy expectations on the Liberals. These were, after all, four Liberal seats and number of big names are running for the party. Which is why Stephen Harper waited as long as he could to call them. Myself, I think given the tight margin of victory in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River in the last election, for the Liberals taking three out of four (Quadra, Toronto-Centre and Willowdale) would be an expectations met, and four out of four a bonus.

There's been much written on the Liberal expectations though, so I don't want to belabour those points. Instead, I wanted to consider the expectations for the other parties. Because while these aren't held seats, even if they don't take any of these seats I still think the other parties have expectations they need to meet.

The Conservatives probably have their best shot in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, particularly if Liberal Joan Beatty and the NDP candidate split the vote. It will be interesting to see if the Conservative handing of the wheat board issue is a factor at all. However, I'll be more interested to see how the CPC fares in the three urban ridings.

Now the Conservatives will say they have 0 expectations in these ridings, these are urban ridings not inclined to vote Conservative. True enough. But if Stephen Harper is ever going to have a chance at a majority government he's going to have to start winning some seats in urban ridings. And not by appointing unelecting Senators or enticing people accross the floor with cabinet posts. He's had two years to woo urban voters, and Jason Kenney has spent a lot of time trying to bring multicultural voters onside. It's time to see if it's been working or not and the results in Willowdale, with a 56 per cent immigrant population, should be watched to see if Kenney has been making progress. The old byelection maxim is that they tend to be used to send a message to the government, but nevertheless I think the Conservatives are going to have to, at a bare minimum, show some forward momentum and build their vote in some of these ridings to meet expectations. If they can't start gaining ground in urban Canada they'll never get a majority, and some serious introspection by the CPC braintrust will be needed.

For the NDP, there are expectations to be met as well. Again, their best shot is probably Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, they have a lot of ground to make up from 2006 but it's possible and a win there could set them up as the default CPC alternative on the Praries in the general election, a region where there are CPC seats up for grabs. In the other three ridings though, particulrly Quadra and Toronto-Centre, they need to show some momentum as well. I'm not saying they need to win. But they should increase their vote. They've been running hard against the Liberals, both in these ridings and nationally, with the whole we'll stand-up to Harper and the Liberals won't theme. I'll be watching these results for indications of a verdict on this strategy, which should have a better chance of meeting a receptive audience in urban ridings like these. Even with the Bob Rae X factor, I think the NDP needs to show at least moderate vote gains in some of these ridings to meet expectations.

Particularly interesting, I think, at least from my centre of the universe perspective, will be the race for second and third in Toronto-Centre. The NDP was solidly in second in 2006, they'll need to replicate that finish to meet expectations. The Conservatives were third and they'll need to at least close the gap somewhat to meet expectations. The X factor here though will be the Green Party. Chris Tindal has run a very strong campaign and generated a lot of buzz. With all the contreversy around the Cons dumping Mark Warner and a weak campaign from Don Meredith, it's not inconvievable to see the Greens move past the Cons for third, which would be deeply embarassing for the Conservatives. If Tindal could pull of a miracle and overtake the Farouk El-Khaki for second, pulling votes from the Cons while Rae pulls from the NDP, the bodyblow to the NDP would be even deeper. That's much more of a longshot though, but it should be interesting to watch.

Anyway, the point is there are expectations to be met by all the parties Monday. Except for the Bloc Quebecois, they can take the day off. But while the pundits will be focused on the seat counts, which of course aren't unimportant, a deeper analysis of the numbers today will also be illuminating and telling as to where all the parties stand going forward.

If you live in one of the four ridings, make sure you get out and vote.

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northwestern_lad said...

Jeff... Good analysis. In Toronto Centre, I do expect the NDP to see their share of the vote rise (and possibly total too, depending on the voter turn out, which are notoriously low during by-elections) and expect to see the Greenies take third. The Greens haven't eaten into the NDP vote anywhere near the amount that they have the Conservatives, and that's something that they freely admit, admitting that their best polls are in areas where the Conservatives tend to do best. I expect to see the Conservatives crater here, and see their urban ethnic outreach plan fall flat on it's face.

ch said...

Tory Darynn Wolk suggests the Conservatives will be looking to see (1) if the NDP gain (because of the Liberal abstensions), (2) if the Green Party will split the left vote (he doesn't mention them taking away from the CPC vote) and (3) if the Tory's ethic outreaach (their amazing data base) will increase the CPC urban vote.

It is interesting to see the CPC perspective as they
1. have been trying to reinforce the NDP message on their website (although it is difficult to do an attack ad on the opposition for not opposing you, they did try this)
2. they set the date for St Patricks
3. this may explain the CPC urban candidates strange behaviour. Merideth openly stated she was not going to a form because she was having coffee with a group. Their urban strategy may be highly targetting to specific ethnic groups and they don't want the publicity as this will make them look overly opportunistic and create backlash. My guess is they have been working in the background.

Greg said...

If it does rise, I will be watching where the Green vote comes from, the Liberals or NDP.

John W said...

The Liberals have to get out the spin if they win 3 or 4, that voters have not swallowed Cons propaganda in the
TV ads and elsewhere, and given a clear opportunity to dump Stephane Dion from the national stage, have decided they can live with him French accent and all. He is a leader.

Steve V said...

Funniest headline I've read:

Even a Grit sweep could hurt Dion

Yes, winning all four by-elections would be a serious blow for Dion. Circle the wagons time.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Good boogin', Jeff.

I just seen a little Don Newman clip (Woman at Mile 0 has it). Their callin' it neck and neck between the Greens and Dippers for 2nd place in TO Centre.

I ain't so sure it would be such a crushin' blow to the Dips. I reckon both Greens and Dippers could raise their percentages. I agree Rae will win (who doesn't?) but I think his share will be less than Graham got in 2006.

There are only two anti-Harper choices now that the LPC has essentially created a coalition CPC-LPC government. There are a lot of anti-war, anti-dumbass-Afghan mission folks who voted Liberals before. They are moving to the anti-war parties, the Greens and NDP.

My own GPC riding association just had a massive influx of membership. Almost every one of them came from the Liberals. Only one, that I know of, came from the NDP. We've got our share of disgruntled Con's lookin' us over, too.


Mark Richard Francis said...

Keep in mind that Elizabeth May stole heavily from the NDP vote in London.

Chris is such a likable, intelligent person. During one of last days being a GPC member, I attended a fundraiser for him, and it was, by far, the best attended Green fundraiser I've ever seen. I joked to Chris that he could have doubled plate price. He agreed.

I expect Chris to be in 3rd place, but close to the NDP's heels. He's someone to keep an eye on.

I look forward to Rae being in the House, BTW. He's an excellent parliamentarian.

ch said...

I think the Green candidates have been running strong, positive campaigns and so I would expect them to do well.

However, JB, I don't buy your line about only two anti-Harper parties. Obviously the Liberals have not wanted an election (for whatever reason, but most likely because they feel it will return Harper) and one can criticize that. But it seems that should be combined with criticizing Harper's strategy of turning everything into a confidence motion. The NDP has been the main party to harp on the LPC's unwillingness to trigger an election, but they don't spend much time criticizing Harper for his behaviour, and have even engaged in some of it themselves. I don't see why Harper shouldn't be embarassed, rather than emulated, for this type of gamesmanship.

Mark Dowling said...

Anyone else think Jack Layton should have spent a bit more time knocking on doors and a bit less time chumming up with Lou Dobbs? As I write the Greens are beating the NDP in 3 out of 4.

Delighted by the hammering the CPC is taking in Toronto Centre - Mark Warner shows that purging dissent doesn't pay. Indeed some might say the same lesson is being learned in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River by the Liberals.

Mark Dowling said...

correction - the NDP are just ahead in V-Q, but not by much.