Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's a litmus its not...if we win it means majority...if we lose it means nothing

That, in a nutshell, sums up the Conservative line on the Guelph by-election. They downplay it, but at the same time admit they’re pouring resources in and consider it a bellwether riding to their majority chances. You’d positively get whiplash from the differing messaging.

Why, take the messaging in this one story on the Globe this morning alone. A story, by the way, that took one and a half journalists to write, is ostensibly about how the Conservatives view Guelph, and only managed to get one person to speak on the record: a Liberal senator.

First, from the downplaying expectations side:

* even as they say publicly that they can't win

* The Tories are playing down expectations of a positive result in Guelph. The Liberals won the riding by nearly nine percentage points over the Tories in the 2006 election, which is a difficult margin to turn around.
And now the bellwether side:

* Harper Conservative strategists are privately looking for a breakthrough in the by-election in Guelph, Ont., a riding they consider one of the keys to forming a majority government

* "If we can win ridings like Guelph in the next election, this is almost majority territory," a senior strategist said. "It will be a wake-up call for us if we don't do that well in Guelph."

* it is one of the 30 ridings on the Tory's main target list

* It is considered a bellwether riding, said the Tory strategist, as it has a mix of urban and suburban and its constituents would be affected by issues such as Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion's proposal to put a tax on carbon fuels.

* the party is putting resources into the riding, where they have an attractive candidate in Gloria Kovach, a long-time Guelph city councillor. High-profile cabinet ministers will make many visits over the next few weeks

Here’s the line that I fine the most amusing from this story:

The Tories are playing down expectations of a positive result in Guelph…Privately, it's a different story.
Privately, it’s a different story? It’s a different story in the same story. And when you’re talking to the media, whether it’s unsourced or not, it’s not exactly privately. You’re still aware that it’s going to be printed in a newspaper, and read by people.

Nothing the Conservatives are saying here is wrong. Guelph is a bellwether riding for them. It’s the sort of riding they need to win if they’re going to have any hope at a majority. And if they don’t win, as the unnamed senior Conservative says, that should be a wake-up call for them.

My point is about expectations. If even the Conservatives are admitting that Guelph is a litmus test for them (and shouldn’t they be making showings in Westmount and St. Lambert as well?), even if it their admissions are coming “privately” in the pages of national newspapers, can we stop pretending please that the Liberals are the only ones with something to lose in these by-elections?

Guelph is on their list of 30 targeted ridings. They admit its a bellwether. They're pouring in resources to support their "star" candidate. If they lose, won't that then mean the Conservatives are in trouble? Can we start talking more about Harper's failure to move his party into majority territory, despite spending us into a deficit while showering tax dollars all over the country? Can we start questioning his leadership then? Will he have hit a wall?

Expectations. They're not just for Liberals.

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Antonio said...

You know Jeff,

telling people the Conservatives are spending us into a deficit is fear-mongering, since even Paul Martin ran a deficit in some months during the 8-year surplus-a-thon.

You dont want to raise expectation of the Conservatives running a deficit only to have them run a lower surplus at the end of the year.

After all expectations are expectations.

As for Guelph, this is one the ridings they need for a majority. No amount of bravado can deny this on their part.

Saint Lambert is also intriguing. The federalist vote split will be intereting to watch here. Michael Fortier is running in a very similar riding nearby. If the Tories cant shore up the anti-BQ vote, Fortier wont win either

Mushroom said...

Guelph is a nine percentage swing in Ontario. The Cons came much closer than they expected in Quadra, although the Greens stole votes from the Grits. This is why a greater concentration is focused there.

Guelph can also be a replay of London Centre. How will Harper and Doug Finley spin a third place finish there with the Greens second. Mike Nagy is not an unknown there. This means that Oakville and Brant are lost for the Cons and Kitchener-Conestoga would be in danger of switching to us!!!

Jason Hickman said...

*Sigh* There are degrees of "expectations". The Tories obviously want to win (duh) but they just-as-obviously don't want to lose ground.

However. As annoying as it is not to gain seats, it isn't as bad as *losing* the seats. Dion has already lost one, and came close to losing another (as did Duceppe). A loss by the Tories, assuming they stay roughly were they were in '06, is (arguably) a sign that they aren't growing in ON at large. Fine. Not good for the blue guys. But a loss by Dion here - or God forbid from his POV, Westmount - well, that's even bigger, no?

(Which is why the Libs will be doing at least as much as the Tories in Guelph, as well as in Westmount, unless they've taken complete leave of their senses.)

Focusing on the parties who have more to lose isn't exactly new for the media or punditry. If Harper was defending & dropping seats, I think you'd see just as much focus on him.

ottlib said...

Jason has a point to a certain extent.

My only problem with it is the media are still talking about the Conservatives winning a majority in the next election.

If the Conservatives lose Guelph, as expected, and if they actually repeat the London by-election and come in third, can be expect the media to finally stop talking about a Harper majority?

The same goes for the riding of St. Lambert. I riding that is now help by the Bloc but which was once held by a Federalist party.

As I have stated before I do not buy into by-elections being predictors of general elections.

But for those that do, which includes most of the MSM, can we not expect some consistancy from them in their assessments of the results?

Barcs said...

What are your expectations for the Tories in Guelph Jeff?

They lost by 9% in the election.

By-elections generally do not go well for the governing party (which is why the Vancouver seat was played up after the governing party improved.

Dion is fueling election speculation at least as much as the Tories are, and has declared that the byelections are a test for his policy and a good result would probably see an election.

So yeah, expectations are set pretty low for the tories.... it isn't their seat after all.

But given that by elections are usually sending a message to the governing party... and it being a liberal seat going in (not to mention called during the university year, a demographic that the liberals do well with)... you can see why it is being played up by the media as a test for the liberal policy and leader.

As for my opinion? Given the conditions going in I don't see how the liberals can call anything but a large increase in popular vote a win.

Whereas the conservatives really have nothing to lose in any of the 3 by elections unless their vote completely crumbles.

I am sorry, but that is just the problem you run into when it is seats you control that the by elections are running in.

If you don't like it, perhaps you shouldn't have had so many of your MP's resign so far before the end of the term of the job they applied for. Given the cost of byelections the taxpayers didn't even save money by not paying salary's. (not to mention having to go thorough several by-elections because the liberals refuse to vote with their principles and have a real election to decide the fate of the next parliament.... they might lose.... oh the humanity.

Jason Hickman said...

Ottlib, I'm not sure who is talking about the Tories winning a majority as if it were a lead-pipe cinch, or even close to that.

Right now, the pundits seem to be suggesting, by and large, either (a) status quo, or (b) that they have no freakin' clue who's going to win, b/c the parties are basically tied and who the hell knows what's going to happen until the election campaign gets rolling.

Sure, people are holding out the *possibility* of a Tory majority and I don't think that's out of line even if the Tories lose Guelph badly, simply b/c by-elections aren't always a sign of things to come.

Anyway, I think if the CPC does lose Guelph in a rout you *will* see people saying that it's going to be very hard for the Tories to get a majority. A status-quo loss (+/- a few points either way), and the rhetoric won't really change - barring an upset elsewhere (BQ losing Saint Lambert, Libs losing Westmount).

Jason Hickman said...

By the way, Jeff - who's the "half": Taber or Laghi??

Mike514 said...

Well, what did you expect? Media hype about by-elections has been perfected to an art.

I'll bet there's a standard by-election article, where newspapers simply fill in the blanks with party and candidate names.

And that stupid litmus-test analogy. Can't the media at least bother to come up with a new analogy? We're treated to the same articles before every by-election, and we can't even get fresh analogies.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Antonio, I'll go on the record now as saying I highly doubt Flaherty will ever present a deficit budget. If he can't hide it with one-time revenue gains and asset sell-offs, he'll fenangle the books to hide it otherwise. Look at his history in Ontario, wasn't until McGuinty got into government we learned the Ontario Tories hadn't left behind a balanced budget after all.

Jason, yes, everyone has expectations. I'm just annoyed at that fact being continually ignored.

Barcs, calling anything but a big Lib pop vote increase a loss isn't realistic. A popular, long-serving incumbent is leaving, a strong NDP candidate, Green growth, and the Con cabinet camping-out in the riding, so the Libs won't hold all the Chamberlian vote. And they shouldn't be expected to. A win is a win, I expect it will be tight but I think the Liberals should pull it off with a strong campaign.

As for the resignations, yeah, when they called me and asked for permission I really should have said no, just hang-on and collect the salary while phoning it in like all those retiring Conservative MPs. I blew that call, sorry.

Jason, you need to ask who the half-journalist is? That's not hot...

mike, you'll have to take up the no more litmus test analogies crusade yourself. I'm busy with my no more Neville Chamberlain/Munich as analogy for appeasement campaign. Good luck with it though.

Barcs said...

"Collect the salary while phoning it in like all those retiring Conservative MPs."

Speaking of which... has Paul Martin made it in to parliament to cast a vote as a regular MR yet??

Come to think of it... how many times did any liberal vote on a confidence motion in this session of parliament.

But it is the evil conservatives that are sticking around... mailing it in... right?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Paul Martin has attended a number of votes, check the record barcs. He also successfully introduced and passed private member's legislation. But keep trying.