Monday, September 17, 2007

The night before the morning after; a rum-fueled partisan analysis

It's just after 10:00 pm on Monday night as I type this, Eastern Standard Time. The great journalist, Mike Duffy, has called Outremont for the NDP. With 70 polls reporting its Muclair 43 per cent, Coulon 35.5 per cent. Oh, the humanity!

I'm getting sleepy. I really need to go to bed, but I'm afraid. Will I ever wake-up again? Will the Earth still be turning the morning after this apocalyptic result? Maybe I should go to church instead. I mean, I've never been religious, but at times like this!

OK, I'm sorry. That's enough of the sarcasm. Serious times call for serious analysis. Not necessarily sober analysis though (I'm not the Senate after all), so I'm going to go make a rum and coke. I'm going to need it for this one. Excuse me a moment....

I'm back, double rum and coke in hand. Thanks for your patience. Luckily I hit the duty free on the way back from San Francisco last week. Bacardi Lemon, good stuff, and only US$17. It's like $30 at the LCBO.

Alright, analysis time. A warning to all the trolls, whether you're Conservative trolls or Conservative trolls pretending to be lifelong Liberals: while I will give my honest opinion, you may feel free to just skip reading and scroll down to the “post a comment” link to call me a Dion/Liberal apologist. I won't mind. Not while I have my rum and coke. Although unfortunately, I'm almost out of Coke. Lots of rum still though.

OK, so 90 polls reporting now and its Muclair 48, Coulin 29. Mon dieu, tabernac and assorted other French profanities I can't spell! I mean, I figured the NDP would probably take it but I figured it'd be close. This is freaking insane.

Now, I had a number of I feel very valid counterarguments ready to go to explain a tight Liberal loss/NDP win. For example, this is a seat that Jean Lapierre (darling of the soft nationalist, anti-Dion (anti in the sense of polar opposite philosophy wise) movement) narrowly held onto last election. Also, Muclair is a wildly popular former Liberal cabinet minister,so he's not just another candidate, and is going to swing a lot of votes on his personal popularity alone.

All very good arguments in a tight race. But 49/29 now? Tougher case to make. Where's that rum and coke...

As has been said elsewhere, it can't be spun. It's bad for the Liberal Party. So is the result in the other two ridings. It can't be spun, but can it be explained?

I'm just a humble uninformed blogger watching this trainwreck from suburban Toronto, but allow me to wildly speculate without basis, as that's what blogging is all about after all, is it not?

So, as I've already said you've got a riding a nationalist Liberal narrowly kept in 2006. Add in a popular former cab min as the NDP candidate.

With vacant seats also in Ontario and B.C. (Saskatchewan wasn't quite officially vacant yet) too, Harper calls just the three Quebec by-elections because he knows Dion is iffy in Quebec, and without a strong BC/ONT result to counterbalance a bad Quebec showing the optics are double-plus bad. Great strategy by Harper, btw. Harper sent the word out to his people: we want an NDP win, so don't campaign too hard. Indeed, look at the Con result in Outremont: 8.3 per cent. In the other two ridings, they had 36.2 in SHB and won with an astounding 59.7 in Roberval. But just 8 in Outremont? Clearly, either the Cons ran a unilingual Albertan or they phoned this one in to boost the NDP.

Finally, a look a comparison of these results to the 2006 results show the Liberal vote largely held, the shift was a massive one from the BQ, whose vote collapsed to 10 per cent, and went to the NDP. That's the margin of difference. I'd attribute that shift partially to Muclair's personal popularity, and part of a desire of the separatists, who I'll freely admit hate Dion for making them look stupid over the years, to embarrass Dion and seeing the NDP as the best positioned to win here.

Now, none of that should be considered excuses for the Liberal result. Just an explanation. Sure, we may not have lost much of our vote, but we sure didn't build it either, and we need to start building our vote to win. For that, the fault is ours.

The Quebec landscape

Before getting to that though, let me switch my uninformed and baseless speculation to the Quebec big picture. But first, let me mute Mike Duffy because even with a double rum and coke I can't stand that guy.

Ahh, that's better. Now then, Quebec at large. Speaking as a unilingual anglophone from B.C. living in Toronto, here's my view of Quebec. The days of Liberal sweeps of Quebec are over. The BQ, while hobbled, is never going to go away. The Conservatives are back again too, and they're not going to go away. Time will tell if Muclair has coattails – I have my doubts, unless Jack can recruit the rest of Jean Charest's cabinet --- but time will tell. But for many years, the Liberals were the default federalist option. That's not the case anymore, and it's not likely to be again. So, Liberals need to redefine their expectations in Quebec, and their strategy.

Speaking incredibly simplistically, I've always seen Quebec as divided into perhaps three groups: the staunch federalists, the staunch nationalists/separatists, and the soft nationalists. The BQ naturally has the separatists. The Liberals traditionally had the staunch federalists. And both sides would fight for the mushy soft nationalists. These are voters that, while not separatists, want more power for Quebec and wouldn't be above using the separatist threat to get it.

I'd argue this latter group, or at least the later strategy, has generally prevailed in the PLQ over the years. It's an approach Chretien shunned, part of the reason why the PLQ kept him out of the referendum campaign till the very end.

Fast-forward to the Martin Prime Ministership. He brings in a new Quebec team and a new approach, let's call it the Lapierre approach. They say we've got the federalist vote locked-up, let's go after that soft nationalist vote now. It doesn't work, although you can rightly attribute some blame to sponsorship. But in taking the soft nationalist strategy they start to bleed their federalist base away. Incidentally, this is the point in 2004 where they recall Dion from the backbenches to rally the federalist base.

Anyway, fast-forward to today. There's a third player in the Quebec scene, the Conservatives, and they're fighting the BQ on its home turf for those soft nationalist votes. And clearly having some success, after all, not all of these people are separtists, many are just nationalists that want more power for Quebec, that fits in well with Harper's weak federalism view of Canadian government, and the nation thing helped too.

The debate within the Liberal Party, as it has been for many years, is do we now join the Cons in fighting the BQ on that soft nationalist ground? That's the approach I'd say is favoured by the LPC(Q), and indeed by many of the Quebec delegation that was in Montreal. It's an approach that is the opposite of the one Dion has espoused throughout his career though, which was why most of the Quebec delegates that weren't with Dion at the start didn't go to him in the final ballot.

I've always argued that we should take the strong federalist strategy, because with the BQ and the Cons fighting for that soft nationalist vote we could have the federalist vote to ourselves, and if I'm casting a male lead for the Captain Canada role it's hard to do better for Dion.

After tonight though, I'm not sure if either approach is the way to go. Perhaps this thinking is out of date. What do modern Quebecers want from their federal government? What can the Liberal Party deliver that, and this is key here, is also palatable to the rest of Canada? I think this is a soul searching exercise that the LPC needs to do in Quebec, and I think Dion needs to lead it. And I think Dion and the LPC(Q) need to find some way of getting on the same page. Develop a new strategy, and get behind it.

The shorter term

I'm running low on coke zero, does rum mix with lemonade? Well, it is lemon-flavoured rum, so maybe. Let's find out. In the absence of kool-aid (which, I know Con trolls, would be so apropos) it'll have to do. Excuse me a moment.

I'm back and mmm, damm, I can report lemon rum mixes beautifully with lemonade. I now have the strength to carry-on.

Alright then, so as I says saying before you can explain what happened tonight but it's hard to view it as anything but a train wreck. A post morteum needs to be done immediately to determine just what the heck happened. Having already covered-off the strategy, the logistics need to be looked at pretty closely.

If reports like Justin's are accurate, and I have no reason to doubt that it's not, then this is a serious problem. There's lots of blame to go around here, from the campaign on the ground to the provincial organization to the leader himself. Some hard questions need to be asked, and houses need to be cleaned. All the factors working against the Liberals here aside, this sounds like it was an amateur effort, and for a modern (and historically relatively successful) political party that's just not acceptable.

Of course, there will be those that will call for Dion's head. Most of them will be Conservatives, Conservatives pretending to be Liberals, and a few Liberals hiding behind the veil of anonymity speaking to Jane Taber. They'll be in a minority however.

Dion does need to shoulder his share of the blame here though, along with the provincial organization. Make no mistake though, he's not going anywhere. I think even the minority know that. What needs to happen, as I said earlier, as the leader needs to reach-out to that Quebec organization, find some kind of common ground, and come out unified on a new Quebec strategy. That's a tough needle to thread though: while his federalism is why they dislike him in Quebec, it's also part of why we like him in the rest of Canada, or would if we'd remind him. So we need to balance that.


While we clearly have work to do in Quebec, in the rest of Canada we're in a competitive position. Work to do, but good position. A fall election call by Harper, undoubtedly more likely after tonight, would still be a gamble. We have so many issues the Cons are vulnerable on. So it's not all doom and gloom for the LPC, although the negative press and stalled momentum that will result from tonight can't be underestimated.

But what this by-election, and certainly this last week from hell with fake e-mails and anonymous-source filled news stories, has served to make abundantly clear is that the LPC is not as united as many of us had thought, or at least hoped, that it was. When the going got tough the fingers got pointing, and the conspiracy theories began to flow.

These things have a danger of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. I think on the ground, we're united. I think the caucus is united. But I think many of the organizers in all camps haven't totally put down their swords. I think some of the people that supported other candidates need to realize Dion is going to lead us into the next election and get on board, and I think some of the Dion people need to stop seeing conspirators behind every bush, give them the benefit of the doubt, and stop saying incredibly stupid crap to the media.

And I seem to have petered out here, after an hour and a half and some 2000+ words, without a natural conclusion. So, I'll end with some profanity. Fellow Liberals of all stripes and persuasions: smarten the fuck-up. We have a heckuva lotta work to do, and it begins tomorrow.

And seriously, try the lemon rum and lemonade. Delish. I leave this post to the trolls, and go to watch Jimmy Kimmel. And BTW, great for Jeremy Piven last night at the Emmys, and Katherine Hiegl.

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A View From The Left said...

Brilliantly stated Jeff. Much better then what I would have said had I been able to find the energy to do a long post.

Jeff said...

Have you tried drinking Miranda? Those who say it doesn't help are LIARS!


A View From The Left said...

Haven't tried drinking yet. I tried drowning myself in my shower, but that didn't work :P

Drew Adamick said...

You've hit it bang on Jeff.

petroom said...

Enjoyed your commentary BCer.

Mulclair kept pointing out that the ground was fertile, even at 20% in 2006, and their team played a strong ground game.

Andrew Coyne noted that a by-election is about testing election readiness. The Quebec Liberal team clearly isn't ready.

Dion proved he could win with a strong ground game, so he knows it works. Look at the huge majority he gets in his own riding each election.

It was too much too late in this by-election. Dion's dream team let the ball slip. Local organizations need a good shake-up after this wake-up.

Personally, Mulclair and Coulon seemed like great people; too bad we can't have both.

The Bloc woman was a bit odd, she mentioned phosphates in soap in her acceptance speech.

I thought it funny how Mulclair thanked Olivia Chow for speaking to "every Chinese person" in the riding.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Damn. When you're good, you're good. And funny, too. :-)

Bailey said...

Good post. Nice analysis. I'm with you on pretty much every point you made - except maybe Bacardi Lemon...

Glen said...

Have to agree with almost everything you said (have you ever tried cherry coke and vodka?).

However, I don't think you can really claim we're competitive in the entirety of the ROC (I hate that term). Try door knocking for a federal Liberal in Calgary. I can't wait to door knock for a Dion-led Liberal Party here...

Anonymous said...

Due to the concentration of the by-election, I have not paid any attention to the Eagles-Redskins game.

What's the score?

Greg said...

I was with you until your comment about the Tories phoning it in in Outremont. They had no chance there and continue to have no chance in urban Canada. They could have had Harper tap dance naked there and the result would have been the same.

The Liberals' main problem in Quebec and everywhere else except Toronto is, no one on the left sees the Liberals as a progressive party anymore. You can skate around it all you want, but it is the main reason for the Liberals' decline.

Jeff said...

except maybe Bacardi Lemon...

Is it the lemon part that you don't like, or just rum overall?

(have you ever tried cherry coke and vodka?).

I haven't. I've tried vodka and coke and didn't find they mixed well. Does the cherry make a difference? It's odd, because vodka mixes so well with nearly everything. Even, I swear, koolaid. It's quite tasty.

I don't think you can really claim we're competitive in the entirety of the ROC (I hate that term). Try door knocking for a federal Liberal in Calgary.

This is true. I did forget Alberta, just because we haven't been competitive their in my lifetime. Before I'm attacked I love Alberta, spent a great (mosquito-bitten) summer in Cold Lake once and have always enjoyed visiting Calgary. Anyway, someone has to please knock Anders off one of these days. And maybe we can take back an Edmonton seat if we're lucky.

I have not paid any attention to the Eagles-Redskins game.

The Eagles lost. Fire the coaching staff, I say!! They didn't get it done!

I was with you until your comment about the Tories phoning it in in Outremont.

You may have a point about the urban/rural split, but nonetheless, the difference in numbers is just too vast to be explained on that basis alone. I don't think there's any doubt the Cons low-keyed their effort in Outremont. Harper was hoping for an NDP win, and he got his wish.

The Liberals' main problem in Quebec and everywhere else except Toronto is, no one on the left sees the Liberals as a progressive party anymore.

I think you overstate it, but I will grant the thrust of the argument. I've been arguing for some time the Liberals, after the Martin years, need to return to the centre-left.

Bailey said...

The lemon part of the Bacardi. I'm definitely okay with the Bacardi part.

Although lately I've been drinking this rum from Nicaragua called Flor De Cana that is fantastic.

Jason Hickman said...


The notion that there was some conspiracy to "phone in" the Tory campaign in Outremont isn't credible. It's not as if the Tories ran some first-year university student or someone who lived in Esquimault. Gilles Duguay was a Rhodes Scholar and has worked for DFA for about 40 years, and was a university prof / lecturer. I was actually sorry not to see him do better, since he seemed like a good catch for my team.

But like Greg said, the Tories have had a problem getting seats in Montreal (and Toronto, and Vancouver).

I've little doubt that the Tories put more effort, etc into the other 2 QC seats last night - just as the Liberals (and NDP) put more effort into Outremont at the expense of the other 2 ridings (I didn't hear of a bunch of Liberal MPs door-knocking in Roberval over the weekend - did you?).

But that's not evidence of a conspiracy. It's simply the Tories - and the Libs, and the NDP - putting their resources into where they thought it would do the most good.

BW said...

Even loaded, you make a lot of sense Jeff.

Jeff said...

Jason, I'll leave it to the real conspiracy theorists to debate the degree that the Cons phoned it in. I'm going to wager somewhere inbetween not devoting any resources to the riding, and running a circus monkey. But it's impossible to deny the Cons wanted the NDP to take that riding, and to think more than a few Con supporters weren't encouraged to vote NDP is, I think, naive. Then again, maybe I've just been hanging around Machiavellian Liberals too long...

Even loaded, you make a lot of sense Jeff.

'Twas just two drinks Bob! Granted, two doubles, but I'd like to think I can hold my liquor somewhat. I am a journalist, after all...