Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Expectations met, smidgen of breathing room gained

I’m just getting the chance this evening to sit down and read some of the blog and media coverage of last night’s by-elections. It’s been interesting, to say the least. I suspect the Liberals could have taken four out of four with 90 per cent pluralities and I’d still be reading from some Con trolls how it was a massive Liberal failure. It’s as predictable as the sun setting in the West.


Speaking of the West, let’s start there. Liberal Joyce Murray pulled-out a win, but it was a squeaker. The first factor to be considered is that this is a riding the Conservatives should have been competitive in, so it’s no surprise they were. Go back into the not too distant past and they held this seat. It’s wealthy, its in the West, very establishment, the kind of seat that should be able to make a strong showing in. Former Liberal MP Stephen Owen was very personally popular here, Murray didn’t have the same roots in the riding so its unsurprising she didn’t hang on to his healthy margin.

I hear the Cons mobilized a big get out the vote push in Quadra, all hands on deck. Given this push from central office, and with how close they came, one wonders why they didn’t send in Harper to do some campaigning with their candidate, Deborah Meredith. I mean I don’t like the guy, but some people seem to and it may have made the difference here. Were they afraid of Cadman questions? I dunno, but its puzzling.

As has been said the big story here is the strong showing of the Green Party, and their candidate Dan Grice, who finished just a few hundred votes behind the NDP. It appears he pulled some votes off the Liberals too. Also noteworthy is the NDP totals, only they and the Liberals went down in vote share from 2006. In this riding, I think the undecideds turned to the Greens to oppose Harper, rejecting both Liberal abstentions and NDP obsession with attacking for the Liberals.

And for my Liberals, what to make of it? Well, as they say it only takes one vote to win, the rest is just ego. So we’ll take to win, and Joyce’s ego will stay in check. I think as she gets into the house and the people get to know here better, she’ll have a stronger margin in the general election. By-election dynamics are different, there tends to be less message-sending.

That said, we should look carefully at the low result in B.C. What went wrong? Was it GOTV? Did the message not sell? Is Dion a drag in B.C.? How will that impact our B.C. strategy? The fact is, we need to hold our seats in B.C., and we need to gain a few in the general. We have a strong team there that has built our seat total the last few times out, I trust they’ll examine these results and adjust the strategy as needed.

Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River

Given all that has happened in this riding, I was expecting a loss but I’d have hoped for a closer result. Remember, this was a squeaker last time for a very popular Liberal candidate.

First of all, the appointment factor. Joan Beatty is a strong candidate, deserving of an appointment, and doing so was consistent with Dion’s campaign promise to get more female candidates. That said, the party badly botched the handling of the appointment. It rubbed many in the riding the wrong way. Some didn’t vote, some just didn’t vote Liberal, many sat on their hands, and we didn’t get the vote out. Low turnout, the Cons got their vote out, and they got a healthy win.

Then there’s the David Orchard factor. I don’t like the way he was treated, as I’ve said before if he was good enough to be embraced by Dion in Montreal at the leadership, its hard to tag him undesirable less than two years later. That said, I can’t help but feel we dodged a bullet here. I’m not sure he would have done any better than Beatty, but there’s a way to rise above and be a person, and even though he was moved aside the way he and his followers handled it I think has finished him with the LPC. Advice to the NDP: stay away, stay far away if this guy comes knocking.

Anyway, this isn’t a crushing loss for the Liberals by any
means. We should take its lessons though. Such as if you’re going to do appointments, don’t be stupid about them, but show some diplomacy and some tact. And we should remember that grassroots organization counts, and if you alienate them they won’t get the vote out for you.


Bob Rae kicked some ass, not too much to analyze there. A bigger plurality than Bill Graham, so expectations exceeded there. I don’t agree with Bob on some key strategy issues but I’ll say this: he’s a helluva skilled politician. He’s experienced and he’s smooth, he’s going to be deadly in question period.

The real story is further down the ballot. First of all, the Conservatives just got creamed. A piddly 12.3 per cent of the vote, I’m sorry but that’s just embarrassing for a national party that forms the government and wants a majority. They got outpolled by the Green Party! They can spin all they want, it’s Toronto, Bob Rae, blah blah, but there’s no spinning away they lost big time here.

And the NDP only hung onto second by a mere 15 votes. As I’ve said Chris Tindal ran a helluva campaign for the Green Party, he and his team are to be commended. El-Farouk Khaki was a star NDP candidate though, they have a strong base in this riding, even running against a former NDP Premier they should have done much better.


A big win for Martha Hall-Findlay too, improving on Jim Peterson’s plurality. It was clear early she was on good shape. The sign wars can be misleading, but while the Liberals and Conservatives looked even in signs on e-day morning, most of the Con signs were on public property. On lawns, where people had to give a yey or nay, Martha had the lead hands-down. Also interestingly, we door knocked in our polls Monday morning before heading to the polling place to scrutineer: I only saw one NDP lawn sign. Very little presence at all.

Very low turnout at the polls, a very quiet day of reading in an elementary school gymnasium. If volunteer support is any indicator of ballot support it may be telling that the Liberals had four of us for the five polls, open to close, the Conservatives two that came in late afternoon, and the NDP none. The count went quickly, and it was clear Martha had this thing by a healthy margin.

The strong margin for Martha was important to show that she could hold, and build on, Peterson’s numbers. The Cons were respectable at 30 per cent, comparable to their 2006 number. That has to be somewhat disappointing though. This isn’t a downtown riding, and it has a strong immigrant community, so this number would seem to argue that the Cons’ urban outreach, and their ethnic outreach, aren’t working.

The NDP numbers have to be troubling for them here though, finishing behind the Green Party candidate. Even more striking though is the fact there was no big green surge here form 2006. Instead, the NDP lost six per cent of its vote pulling in just 4.8 per cent. That’s not just a GOTV organization failure, that’s a rejection of the message.

Overall thoughts

Liberals: We did what we had to do, but barely. We won the two we were well assured of by convincing margins. We got a scare in a race that was expected to be tight in Quadra, and hopefully a wake-up call. And we got a deserved loss in Saskatchewan, an expected one but one we can hopefully build on. I’ll add there were votes we could have gained in Quadra, and I think we didn’t get them because our masterful abstention strategy hasn’t gone unnoticed. We can’t continue down this path much longer without the problem becoming more pronounced. Anyway, the dogs nipping at Dions heels have been leashed, but they’re still snarling. We’ve got a window now to digest these lessons, make corrections, pull together as a team and build towards an election. And let’s also note that two strong new female Liberals will be joining the Liberal caucus, that’s great news. I’ll call it expectations met, but just.

: Given the tightness of the vote in 2006 the Saskatchewan pick-up wouldn’t have been a major victory for them, but given the healthiness of the margin they have every reason to feel good about the results. They’ll have a hard fight on the Prairies, in other ridings mainly with the NDP, and they’re still fighting hard. Now Quadra would have been a major blow had they been able to pull it off. And it would have served to temper very bad results in the two Toronto ridings, particularly centre. As I wrote in my by-election preview, the Conservatives needed to show some forward momentum in these ridings, some payoff for their wooing of ethnic communities, for example. They’re never going to get a majority without urban pickups, and it looks like it’s back to the drawing-board on that front. Given the pick-up I’d call it a wash for the Cons overall, but the urban situation is going to hold them down if unaddressed.

: I’d be hard pressed to find any positives on the night for the NDP. Behind the Greens in Willowdale, barely ahead of the Greens in Toronto-Centre, non-factors in Saskatchewan and less than a per cent ahead of the Greens in Quadra. I’m not sure how they’ll respond to these results. My admittedly biased view is that the NDP strategy of running hard against the Liberals, and not focusing as much on the Cons, has been soundly rejected by the electorate. When people wanted to register their Harper displeasure but were turned off by the Liberal abstentions, instead of turning to the NDP as planned they went Green, turned off by the NDP strategy as much as the Liberal strategy. Smart NDPers will be re-evaluating, time will tell if they carry the day within the party or not.

: The unquestioned winners of the night, with strong showings in the two most urban ridings, and in Willowdale, at least compared to a weak NDP showing. The question, however, will be how much of it was a protest vote. The Green pitch was send a message, it’s a by-election. Next time it won’t be. Will they be able to hold their gains, or will the electorate re-polarize along pro/anti Harper lines? It’s tough to say. I don’t think the Greens are going away, depending on what the NDP do to adjust there may be more ground for them to gain. I think they’ll keep their gains, but how much more they’ll build is tough to say. While I think protest was a strong part of these results, they’ve also gained legitimacy, which will bring more media attention. That gives them more of a chance to be taken seriously, and take their message to Canadians. That offers, at least, a chance to convert protesters into supporters. Clearly, they’ll need to be taken seriously.

for all of the by-election sound and fury, as the low turnout shows the biggest winner Monday night was apathy. Most Canadians still don't give a crap, don't care for any of the parties, and aren't showing much sign of warming to anyone. Will anything ever come along to happen to change this status quo? Will one of the parties be able to make it happen? Time will tell.


In closing, a few snaps from the Martha’s victory party Monday night in Willowdale:

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MississaugaJoan said...

I am hearing that the Conservative initially did not expect to do that well in Vancouver Quadra - thus no Harper.

The Conservatives were initially expecting/hoping a result similar to Outremont, with the Liberals losing to the NDP.

Conservative polling unexpectedly revealed that the NDP was not getting the support they expected (voters were going to the Greens rather than the NDP) and the Conservatives had a chance for a very respectable showing - thus the last minute, effective, get the vote out effort.

ch said...

I suspect the Conservatives will revisit their strategy of reinforcing certain NDP messaging in the hopes of the NDP gaining on the Liberals. Perhaps this will put an end to the very-right-wing blogs openly rooting for the NDP Official Opposition. The Conservatives may try to think of some way to move this strategy over to the Greens, but since the Greens really focus their attacks on the Conservatives (not the Liberals) I doubt there will be any similar strategy they can use.

Mike514 said...

I'd like to digress for a minute and say how much I prefer your blog over other Liblogs. This post, while still partisan, makes an effort at being fair for all parties (rather than merely cheerleading for the Liberals).

Your Liberal partisanship shines through, but you're not afraid to call it as it is, whether it's giving the Tories props once in a while, or chiding the Liberals for poor decisions.

Other Liberal partisan blogs would just rah-rah the Liberals and pooh-pooh the Tories. You've chosen to back away from that a bit, and make an effort to rah-rah where it's deserved, regardless of party.

Thanks for the fair-er (as Dion likes to say... does he still say that anymore? Or did his advisers finally tell him it's not a word and he sounds goofy saying it?) analysis than other partisan blogs.

Budd Campbell said...

Who is Martha Findlay and why is she considered a "star"? Do you think she'll be placed higher in the Liberal shadow cabinet than Joyce Murray, who is a close-in Dion supporter?

Jason Hickman said...

... I’d still be reading from some Con trolls how it was a massive Liberal failure.

Hey, like I've said before, if you're lookin' for an echo chamber, *say* so.

Anyway, I'm not best pleased by the pasting the Tories took in TO. But given that until recently I was in Trinity-Spadina, these sorts of results, unfortunately, don't come as a huge surprise (especially given the shenanigans involving the candidateS for the Tories) - even if they're not acceptable in the long run.

But a couple of things:

1. The Tories' "urban strategy" *did* do some good, one can only assume, in Vancouver Quadra.

2. You can say that the Tories put all hands on deck in VQ, and I'd be inclined to agree. But if the Libs *weren't* putting big-time effort into VQ instead ofwasting (in a sense) huge effort in yellow-dog Liberal ridings, then there's something wrong with their strategy. And I'm nobody's Liberal but I don't think the folks in campaign HQ are that dumb at all. (The SK riding was a "special case" situation for the Libs, in all sorts of negative ways; I don't think anyone was surprised by the final outcome there.)

3. Back to Tor-Centre - as much as it galls me, you're quite right to say that majority-seeking parties can't be satisfied with 12.5%, regardless of excuses. The Libs, of course, received similar results in the non-Outremont QC seats in the by-elections last fall; this suggests both contending parties have serious weak zones. But that leads to my final point...

4. At the risk of being a "Con troll" (yeesh), I'll point out that since the last federal election, the Tories have taken a seat away from the 2nd and 3rd-biggest parties in the House in by-elections, an environment where the governing party doesn't usually take away seats. And they came *very* close to taking another one away from each of those parties. Despite the harsh words about Harper et al, and despite the problems I readily admit exist with "my team's" strength in Toronto, I can't be too upset, so far - even if it aint enough.

(Oh, one more thing - if I *were* a Liberal, I'd be happier with MHF than with Bob, *especially* in the long term. You picked the right riding to be in, anyway!)

Koby said...

>>>>> The first factor to be considered is that this is a riding the Conservatives should have been competitive in, so it’s no surprise they were. Go back into the not too distant past and they held this seat. It’s wealthy, its in the West, very establishment, the kind of seat that should be able to make a strong showing in. Former Liberal MP Stephen Owen was very personally popular here, Murray didn’t have the same roots in the riding so its unsurprising she didn’t hang on to his healthy margin.

Fair enough. However one thing should be kept in mind. In 2004 PC vote moved over to the Liberals in NV, Burnaby and Quadra. Indeed, add the 2000 Liberal vote in these ridings to the 2000 PC vote and you get almost exactly the Liberal vote in 2004.

To wit:

North Vancouver: 2000, Liberal 32.55, PC 7.09, 2004 Liberal 40.07.

Quadra: 2000, Liberal 43.81, PC 9.36, 2004 Liberal 52.38.

Burnaby: 2000, Liberals 24.71, PC 5.42, 2004 Liberals 32.55.

The reason the Liberals are in real trouble in Vancouver is that they have let the Conservatives off the social conservative hook. They were doing extremely well in wealthy, well educated communities such as Quadra and North Vancouver when the SSM issue was alive and well, but since then they have not bothered to take a position that would force Harper to play kissy face with Charles Mcvety. Charles McVety is literally a god sent. The Liberals should run McVety litmus test on their policies. If a policy would make McVety’s head explode, it’s a keeper. Seriously though, chances are if McVety hates it, it stands a good chance of being a winner in Canada’s three largest cities. Point Gray Red Tories, Shaughnessy professors, Kits yuppies and UBC dorm kids are not going stand by and watch the party Jerry Farwell cheering for win Quadra. It is just that simple.

I should mention something about the NDP. There strategy of attacking the Liberals first is not only daft, it is Ontariocentric. The combined support the two conservative parties dropped more than 21 points in that same 2004 election and the Liberals share of the popular vote went up only slightly (27.7 vs. 28.57). So, where did that support go? Most of it went to the NDP. At the same time as Alliance/new Conservative Party lost its status as a Western protest party the Federal NDP partly regained its status as one stopped being weighed down by its provincial brethren. As a result, for the first time since the 1988 election Federal voters returned to the NDP in droves. 9 ridings out of 10, the Grits and NDP are not battling for the same voter in BC. The Conservatives and NDP are.

Jeff said...

Joan, that's interesting. Their effort certaintly did seem rather half-assed from this side of the country, so that could make sense. Anyway, certaintly it points to Liberal work to do in BC.

Ch, as long as the Liberals aren't benefiting the Cons may not change strategies. Long-term the Cons and NDP do share the same strategic goal: eliminating the Liberals and carving its support up amongst themselves.

Thanks Mike. And he does still use the richer canada, fairer canada, greener canada line, he used it at the speech monday.

budd, a Dion cabinet? I wouldn't think you could even forsee such a possibility, I appreciate your confidence in Stephane. But seriously, given that it was Martha's moving to Dion for the second ballot that got the momentum of his win going, I think she's im his good books to be sure.

Jason, please, I think you know there's a difference between "no matter what Dion does I'm going to say its the end of the world" and reasoned debate, that's all I was saying. No echo chambers, but no talking points either.

The Tories' "urban strategy" *did* do some good, one can only assume, in Vancouver Quadra

It didn't hurt them, yes. Most analysis I've seen though indicates that it wasn't a surge in Con support that saw them nearly win in Quadra, it was a bleeding of Liberal support to the Greens narrowing the margin. So, while with a win you certaintly could have made that case, really the vote totals make that a weaker argument. The Con candidate also didn't have Gary Lunn running around saying BC sucks, I'd say that was one diferentiating factor between Quadra and the two Ontario ridings.

if the Libs *weren't* putting big-time effort into VQ...then there's something wrong with their strategy

I don't know what the Liberal GOTV strategy was like in Quadra, I'd like to think it was all hands on deck. I think there were other factors inhibiting the Liberal vote there, and as I said clearly we need to revisit our BC strategy.

The Libs, of course, received similar results in the non-Outremont QC seats in the by-elections last fall; this suggests both contending parties have serious weak zones

Oh, the Liberals have lots of weak zones, I'm the first to admit that. I wouldn't hang too much on Outremont though, it was a perfect storm of factors, including a Liberal appoitnment clusterf*** a la Saskatchewan and organizational hari kari. It's not indicative of much, and while I won't call a Liberal win I will go out on a strong limb and say Muclair won't keep his seat in the general. That said, outside of Montreal the Liberals do have issues. And if you look at it, outside of Quebec City the Cons have issues too. So neither of them is about to break out in Quebec. But I've digressed.

Anyway, as for Bob and Martha, lets just say Willowdale is where I wanted to be...

Koby, yes the Cons have been inconviently well-behaved on the social conservativism front. Your advice is good.

On the NDP, while the messaging may be different in the regions, nationally the messaging has been Liberals Bad and that filters into the region too. But in BC, I actually think the NDP may lose some of their recent gains back to the Cons. For example, Catherine Bell in Van Isle North. Also, Nathan Cullen is going to have an interesting fight in Skeena-BV.