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Conservative Software Project Went Into Production in 2013, Financial Statements Show

July 3rd, 2014 | 7 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

The Conservative Party's mysterious software project was no longer listed as an "asset under development", but rather full-fledged "computer software", in financial statements the party recently filed with Elections Canada for the 2013 calendar year.

This is one of several storylines to emerge from the 2013 annual financial statements just filed by Canada's federal political parties with Elections Canada.

At a total cost of $7.1 million into over the previous three years – $2.17M in 2010, $3.4M in 2011, and $1.74 in 2012, the custom software application – code-named "C-Vote" – ending up costing the Conservatives almost double what the NDP paid for its downtown Ottawa office building in 2004.

The CBC's Laura Payton reported on its precarious lifespan in October of last year, noting that C-Vote's existence as a replacement for CIMS was terminated on Monday, October 21, 2013. Other Conservative sources told John Ivison that it had gone 100% over-budget and still didn't work, though party officials later maintained in an internal email that in fact C-Vote would simply not be deployed to ridings, but would continue to be used centrally. The database's future was also part of former Executive Director Dimitri Soudas' presentation to the party's national council in February of 2014, a digital copy of which found its way to the Toronto Star's Tonda MacCharles.

The presentation makes clear the party has not yet given up on an effort to replace its famed computer-based “constituency information management system” or (CIMS) with a new system known as CVote. Now, it appears the party will try to upgrade the old system, and redeploy it while overlapping it and syncing it with the new one, CVote.

While the Conservative Party invested in software, the NDP retired nearly all of its 2011 election debt in 2013 (paying the remainder off in the first quarter of 2014), and the Liberal Party invested in new donor acquisition, boosting their number of donors to a record (for them) of 71,655, though obviously their average donation size dropped in concert.

This was done in large part through a seemingly endless firehose of email requests for $3 donations from the Liberals with clever, A-B tested email subject lines, which earned the party the derision of several otherwise friendly columnists. On the other hand, it worked. Note to self: do not ever put a political columnist in charge of anything at a political party.

The political parties all ended the year in the black, and with healthy balance sheets. Notably, the NDP which has most of its assets tied up in its building, is liquid for the first time since 2010. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have socked away an additional $5.87M in short-term savings certificates, on top of the $7.1M sitting in short- and longer-term vehicles since last year. The Liberals socked away $4.5M in short-term savings certificates in 2013, the Greens bought a $400K GIC, and the Bloc made a second annual transfer of $347K from out of its riding associations into their newly established "Election Fund". A $2M long-term savings certificate the Bloc purchased with its election rebate from 2011 also matured last month, giving new BQ leader Mario Beaulieu a good-sized war-chest for either election readiness or the promotion of sovereignty (given that his new caucus seems less inclined to contribute from their salaries to this purpose than he bargained for).

Time is ticking down to the next election, however, and ticking down on the public per-vote subsidy political parties will receive only until the first quarter of 2015. The parties just received the first of their final four payments today, which will amount to a final $2.98M for the Conservatives, $2.3M for the NDP, $1.42M for the Liberals, $455K for the Bloc Quebecois, and $292K for the Green Party over the next year.

Figuring that the national spending limit for the next election could be as much as $24 million, half of which is covered by rebates for parties who get 2% of the vote or more, parties will need to raise or finance $12M + pre-election expenses + funds to transfer to riding associations and/or candidates who need the help, in order to run a fully-funded campaign. So, the opposition parties better get hopping, because the Conservatives already have over $13M in the bank and ready to go.

Below I've taken (and updated and added to) last year's time series of financial metrics, and put the 2013 comparison table at the bottom.

Selected Financial Metrics, by Party, 2010-13 Fiscal Years

Party 2010 2011 2012 2013 2010-to-13
Net Assets
Cons $7.31M $5.80M $12.0M $16.31M + $9.00M
Lib $4.59M $5.05M $7.96M $9.43M + $4.84M
NDP $5.67M $958K $2.88M $5.88M + $210K
Grn $164K $469K $1.25M $2.62M + $2.46M
BQ $2.09M $1.53M $2.14M $2.42M + $330K
Working Capital
Cons $4.50M -$128K -$1.44M $6.83M + $2.33M
Lib $3.83M $4.33M $7.33M $8.81M + $4.98M
NDP $711K -$5.09M -$2.31M $1.34M + $629K
Grn $137K $453K $1.24M $2.21M + $2.07M
BQ $2.09M $1.53M $2.14M $2.42M + $330K
Total Revenue
Cons $29.22M $46.90M $28.31M $26.45M - $2.77M
Lib $15.76M $31.46M $15.87M $19.5M + $3.74M
NDP $9.73M $29.13M $16.8M $13.8M + $4.07M
Grn $3.25M $4.26M $2.70M $3.04M - $210K
BQ $3.61M $4.18M $2.00M $1.55M - $2.06M
Annual Budget
Cons $22.35M $48.41M $22.08M $22.17M - $199K
Lib $14.18M $31.0M $12.96M $18.04M + $3.86M
NDP $7.48M $34.03M $15.1M $11.0M + $3.52M
Grn $2.52M $3.96M $1.92M $1.67M - $850K
BQ $1.74M $4.74M $1.28M $1.16M - $580K
Operating Surplus
Cons $6.87M -$1.51M $6.22M $4.29M - $2.58M
Lib $1.58M $460K $2.92M $1.46M - $120K
NDP $2.43M -$4.89M $1.93M $2.99M + $560K
Grn $723K $305K $782K $1.37K + $647K
BQ $1.11M -$557K $605K $281K - $829K
Debt Outstanding
Lib $3.78M
NDP $696K $5.12M $3.09M $490K - $206K
Grn $23K - $23K
Net Transfers Out
Cons $2.23M $3.39M $1.82M -$2.33M - $4.56M
Lib $315K $3.34M $1.68M $561K + $246K
NDP $791K $2.02M $859K $1.34M + $549K
Grn $315K $587K $364K $140K - $175K
BQ $620K $1.53M $5.6K -$36.9K - $657K
Cons $17.42M $22.74M $17.26M $18.1M + $68K
Lib $6.40M $10.12M $8.17M $11.29M + $4.89M
NDP $4.36M $7.43M $7.67M $8.16M + $3.80M
Grn $1.29M $1.71M $1.70M $2.21M + $1.02M
BQ $642K $789K $434K $417K - $225K
# of Donors
Cons 95,010 110,267 87,306 80,135 - 14,875
Lib 32,448 49,650 44,466 71,655 + 39,207
NDP 22,807 37,778 43,537 39,218 + 16,411
Grn 8,961 12,590 9,532 14,500 + 5,539
BQ 5,685 7,056 4,292 4,146 - 1,539
Avg Contrib
Cons $183.32 $206.21 $197.67 $225.88 + $42.56
Lib $197.31 $203.82 $183.66 $157.60 - $39.71
NDP $191.3 $196.6 $176.19 $208.13 - $16.83
Grn $144.15 $136.17 $178.09 $152.55 + $8.40
BQ $112.86 $111.89 $101.18 $100.59 - $12.27

Selected Financial Metrics, by Party, 2013 Fiscal Year

Metric Lib NDP Grn BQ Cons
Net Assets $9.43M $5.88M $2.62M $2.42M $16.31M
Working Capital $8.81M $1.34M $2.21M $2.42M $6.83M
Total Revenue $19.5M $13.8M $3.04M $1.55M $26.45M
Annual Budget $18.04M $11.0M $1.67M $1.16M $22.17M
Operating Surplus $1.46M $2.99M $1.37K $281K $4.29M
Debt Outstanding $490K
Net Transfers Out $561K $1.34M $140K -$36.9K -$2.33M
Contribs $11.29M $8.16M $2.21M $417K $18.1M
# of Donors 71,655 39,218 14,500 4,146 80,135
Avg Contrib $157.60 $208.13 $152.55 $100.59 $225.88


June By-election Turnout: How low could we go? (You don’t want to know)

July 1st, 2014 | 19 Comments

Until Monday, Canada had never had a federal by-election with turnout under 20%. As of today – Canada Day – we've had two of them.

Whether by accident or design, the decision by the Prime Minister to hold four federal by-elections on the Monday between a summer weekend and a statuatory holiday led to the lowest turnout ever posted in a by-election riding – 15.2% in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, AB – along with the second-lowest – 19.6% in Macleod, AB. This sets a new low for Canadian politics in more ways than one.

Jun 2014 By-Election Results

By-Election Metrics – 2014 By (Jun)

Metric Macleod, AB Fort McMurray-Athabasca, AB Trinity-Spadina, ON Scarborough-Agincourt, ON
Winner BARLOW,
John (M)
David (M)
Adam (M)
Arnold (M)
Contest Cons-Lib Cons-Lib Lib-NDP Lib-Cons
Polls 253/256 202/203 349/349 200/200
%TO 19.6% 15.2% 31.6% 29.4%
Raw Margin 9,332 1,454 6,611 6,485
Votes/Poll 36.5 7.2 18.9 32.4
% Margin 51.8% 11.4% 19.2% 30.0%
% Marg 1-3 63.0% 35.4% 47.6% 50.8%
% Marg 1-4 64.5% 43.2% 47.9% 57.8%

Not only did the Liberals win the night in terms of vote-share overall, and pick up Trinity-Spadina, ON from the NDP, they actually increased their raw vote in three of the four seats – all but Scarborough-Agincourt, ON. The Conservatives hung onto their two seats in Alberta, and the NDP hung on to its rebate in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, AB but that will be small comfort.

Party Scorecard – 2014 By (Jun)

2014 By Lib NDP Grn Cons Rest
Seats 2
2nds 2

The win in Trinity-Spadina probably belongs to veteran Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan more than party leader Justin Trudeau, given that we know from published polls and other research that the NDP's Joe Cressy beat generic Liberals and their former candidate Christine Innes (whose ouster was long-since forgotten by E-Day and seemingly had very little effect on the by-election's outcome). Trudeau and his team did secure the riding for their party when they secured Vaughan's candidacy for the nomination, however, so they can certainly claim credit to that effect.

The NDP will have to take a close look at how it lost this seat to a stronger Liberal candidate, and some of that introspection will have to start with party luminaries in Toronto, whose early endorsements for a young un-tested candidate with the inside track, really forestalled and eventually precluded any of the vigourous and necessary competition for such a prized nomination. This is not to trivialize Cressy's own work ethic, but this was perhaps not his time to run. Nevertheless, having taken the leap, he gave everything he had to the campaign, and emerged the stronger for it

Should he decide to run again, Cressy and Vaughan would likely not face a rematch, given the former lives in University-Rosedale, and Vaughan has only Spadina-Fort York available to run in after the University-Rosedale and Toronto Centre Liberal nominations were completed.

Also looking ahead to the new boundaries, first-time Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha – while he fell short of the unnecessarily inflated expectations for Fort McMurray-Athabasca some of his fellow Liberals accidentally spun themselves into – can nevertheless look ahead to a much more competitive race in the newer, smaller, more urban riding of Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, while Monday's Conservative victor David Yurdiga will more likely find himself in the neighbouring Lakeland seat.

Meanwhile – sorry Cory Hann – the Conservative Party's early spin on Scarborough-Agincourt that it was a Liberal-NDP race where they could not expect to exceed 10% of the vote belied the effort their party put into that seat, and their eventual results. Perhaps other seats in Scarborough would have seen the NDP in the hunt, but Agincourt has the highest income of the bunch and was therefore a more natural Liberal-Conservative seat. Conservative Trevor Ellis matched his party's 2008 vote-share – to that point a record for them in the riding – and fell 5 points shy of its 2011 high watermark, leaving Liberal Arnold Chan the clear victor.



This website is starting to show its age. The site was designed when monitors were still mostly 800 pixels wide, there was no jQuery library, were no iPads, nor the proliferation of mobile browing devices, and Don Newman was hosting Power and Politics. The charting library – the only one I could find at the time that would allow me to actually set the party colours I needed to – has just stopped working with the latest upgrade of PHP. And it's just as well, because there is no more room on the Quarterly Finance charts to fit the 2015 quarterly reports data.

So, I apologize for the ugliness of the chart above, and the missing lines on the riding charts. This summer I will be working to complete a tip-to-toe upgrade of the entire website, in time for the next election. Wish me luck!

Three Strategic Lessons and Seven Kinds of Ridings from the Ontario Election

June 16th, 2014 | 14 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

As always, the real data story is found in the cross-tabs. The Ontario Liberals and Ontario NDP each gained a percentage point in popular support in Thursday's election, but they did not do so evenly, nor in the same places. Unfortunately for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, they lost nearly everywhere.

The table below is a slightly updated version from the one I published on Twitter Saturday. Like Saturday's version it shows changes in turnout, raw vote counts, and vote shares from the 2011 to 2014 provincial general elections, broken down by sub-region of the province; but it also now shows seat changes at the side, and totals at the bottom, as well.

[Click on image to open full-sized version]

Regional Vote Shifts, 2014 Ontario provincial general election

These vote shifts demonstrate that while the NDP lost votes in well-educated downtown ridings in Toronto and Ottawa, the Liberals tanked in working and middle class southwestern Ontario, including Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham, London and the Niagara region – more or less as could have been predicted from last year's Liberal leadership race that saw Toronto's Kathleen Wynne defeat Sandra Pupatello the doyenne of Windsor.

At the same time, the starkness of the commitments in Tim Hudak's Million Jobs Plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs appears to have cost his party vote-share across the three 905 regions of Durham, York and Peel, and into Central Ontario – and even cost raw vote-counts in some of them – as primarily Liberal voters stampeded to the polls to stop him. Even the NDP reinforced and grew its claim to parts of Brampton in the 905 West, as the Liberal vote also grew, leaving the Ontario PCs trailing in third place across the northern half of Peel Region.

The Ontario Conservatives also tanked in southwestern Ontario, coming within 5 points of losing Sarnia-Lambton to the NDP, and only hanging on in Chatham-Kent–Essex and Elgin-Middlesex-London thanks to the splits in three-way races where "a vote for the Liberals was a vote for Hudak", contrary to the motto being peddled by the red team in downtown Toronto and Ottawa. A bit further north, the PCs' drop benefitted both the NDP and the Liberals, as the blue team lost ground in Brant, lost their seat in Cambridge, and fell to third place in their former seat of Kitchener-Waterloo.

Downtown pundits and university professors scoffed at the NDP's strategy of appealing to small-town and working class soft conservative voters, but they shouldn't have, as it worked in Oshawa and Brampton, across the southwest of the province from Sarnia to the Niagara, and in northern (but not northwestern) Ontario.

The bad news for the Conservatives is that they can be beaten by Liberals in wealthier areas and by New Democrats in less-well-off areas of the province. Meanwhile the Liberals will be emboldened to fight both the NDP and the Conservatives in the big cities and suburbs.

Three Strategic Lessons

  1. The Conservatives can be beaten. Their strategy of playing to a small but loyal core base vote can be cannot survive forever, especially with an unforgiving hard-right platform. It's possible to win over some Conservative votes to other parties, and to also outnumber them by bringing previous non-voters to the polls. Indeed a hard-right platform can demotivate non-ideological low-information conservative voters and motivate progressive ones.
  2. The assumptions behind the Ontario NDP's strategy – however well or poorly that strategy might have been executed – did prove accurate in the intended parts of the province. We political-science-trained observers may think of politics in a left-right spectrum, but voters don't. Conservatives have spent a lot of time thinking about how to get working class voters to vote against their economic interest, but there is a way to win those voters back with the right message (and ideally a far-better-funded campaign next time!).
  3. The assumptions behind so-called "Strategic Voting" did not prove accurate. "A vote for the NDP is a vote for Hudak" read Liberal leaflets dumped in NDP-Liberal ridings which had no chance of electing a Conservative, but did dump some of the most progressive NDP MPPs in return for a three blue Liberals. But it wasn't NDP-to-Liberal switching that defeated Conservatives, contrary to what some very good pre-election opinion research from Innovative Research suggested might be the case. Indeed in every region where the Ontario PCs lost seats, both the Liberal and NDP vote-counts increased. Perhaps the only seat where an explicit strategic voting campaign helped defeat a PC MPP was in Oshawa, where the Elementary Teachers went to bat for one of their members running for the NDP in concert with other groups, to persuade people that the strategic vote in that case was NOT for the Liberals.

Seven Kinds of Ontario Ridings

Another lesson we can learn from the Ontario election is that the province's electoral map – federally and provincially – is changing. Gone are the days of just blue seats, red seats, and red-blue swing seats. Today different parties are engaged in quite different contests with each other in different parts of the province, and the three traditional categories account for only half the seats in Ontario.

The next table shows the complete federal and provincial electoral history of Ontario's 107 ridings, from the 2004 federal general election through to the 2014 provincial election we just finished (with the 2000 federal transposition added in for context, although with the split between the PCs and Canadian Alliance, the Liberals show up as the winner in all but 2 seats). It then classifies then by historic contest, and whether safe, swing or changing, and shows which seats are now held by different parties at the federal and provincial levels.

[Click on image to open up 2-page PDF]

Ontario's 107 Ridings, by federal and provincial electoral history, 2004-2014<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

  • There are 14 ridings which have returned a federal or provincial Conservative in every election from 2004 to 2014, four of them with the Liberals always in second place, and 10 with varying competitors over the years
  • There are 11 ridings where a Liberal has always been elected, in six of which the Conservatives always came second, with the other 5 seeing various different competitors
  • There are 3 ridings in which the NDP has always won from 2004 onwards, Toronto-Danforth where the Liberals were always number 2, and Hamilton Centre and Timmins-James Bay where they faced various competitors
  • 17 ridings have mostly featured an NDP-Liberal contest over the years, but in four of which the Conservatives displaced the Liberals federally in 2008 and 2011, and in another seven where they did so in 2011. Eight of the 17 ridings elected a Liberal MPP last Thursday where a New Democrat MP won the last federal election. This will be troubling for the NDP federally.
  • 45 ridings have mostly featured a Conservative-Liberal contest since 2004, but in 13 of them the NDP replaced the Liberals in second place federally in 2011. The Liberals won 6 of those 13 seats provincially last Thursday, and 30/32 of the straight-up blue-red swing seats. This has got to be very worrisome for the federal Conservatives.
  • 1 riding has been a Conservative-NDP contest since 2004: Oshawa.
  • Perhaps the 16 most interesting seats in the province not only defy categorization, but appear to be changing in their allegiances over time — perhaps due to changing demographics, solid candidate search and/or local organization, or some combination of all three. Half of them are held by the NDP provincially, while three-quarters are held by the Conservatives federally.

What's clear is that Conservatives now look beatable in the very parts of Ontario that granted the Prime Minister his majority government in 2011, and even in seats his party won before then. If the Liberals can knock the Conservatives back in the well-educated ridings around Toronto, and the NDP cut further into their seat count in the working class ridings southwest and north, that's the pincer action the Conservatives don't want to face. Not even the new riding boundaries would save them in that situation, so they'll have to run a much more adroit campaign than Tim Hudak did to forestall that possibility in 2015.


For full Ontario provincial election results, you can consult the Ontario Pundits' Guide database, located at Unfortunately, a system "upgrade" at my web-host messed up the charting, but I'm working on a more permanent fix for that.

UPDATED: GUEST POST – The Morning After: Valid Minority Government Options in Ontario

June 12th, 2014 | 11 Comments

Late last month I attended some of the Canadian Political Science Association's annual meeting sessions and live-tweeted them. One session that was very interesting, but was in part too fast to live-tweet, was on the issue of constitutional conventions in the case of a minority government. The panel included Professor Peter Russell, former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, Professor Hugo Cyr of UQAM, and Professor Johannes Wheeldon.

I found Wheeldon's paper interesting, because it showed that not even constitutional and political science scholars agree on what our unwritten constitutional conventions are. This is why Professor Russell is now advocating that the rules for forming a government in minority situations be codified (he uses the example of "cabinet manuels" in New Zealand). Professor Cyr noted that the media's obsession with covering the horse-race during election campaigns, and their race to be the first to declare an outcome on election night ("it's a Liberal minority", "it's a Conservative majority", etc) glosses over the role that Parliament plays in selecting a government, and Mr. Rae agreed that the media needed to be much better informed on these issues. (Rae also wrote about the session at his own blog.)

In addition to supplying a copy of his research paper (linked to below), Professor Wheeldon has written a handy primer for Pundits' Guide readers on how a government could be formed in each of four theoretically possible outcomes of Thursday's Ontario provincial election.

UPDATE: Professor Wheeldon asked that the phrase "(on the advice of the Premier)" be added in two places to clarify that the Lieutenant-Governor cannot actually "call" an election, though in fairness to Wheeldon he didn't actually write that the LG would "call an election", but rather "call for an election".


The Morning After: Valid Minority Government Options in Ontario

By Johannes Wheeldon (Assistant Professor, Norwich University, Vermont)

Johannes WheeldonOntario’s election is too close to call, raising the urgent question of what constitutional options exist in the case of a minority government. A survey of 65 constitutional and political science scholars, presented to the Canadian Political Science Association annual meeting late last month, shows the options for each possible outcome.

Q1. What if Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals win an outright majority of seats after the election?

Kathleen Wynne is the incumbent Premier and her Ontario Liberal Party is the incumbent party.

When an incumbent’s party wins an election, the government of the day continues as before. Wynne would adjust her Cabinet based on the electoral outcomes and develop a new legislative program. Following the election, the Lieutenant Governor would read the Speech from the Throne, which opens a new legislative session and summarizes what the government expects to achieve during the legislative session.

Q2. What if Wynne’s Liberals win the most – but not a majority of – seats following an election?

When an incumbent’s party does not win a majority of seats, there is a convention that its leader has the right to meet the Legislative Assembly to test its support. This is because the incumbent was the last person to hold the confidence of the Legislative Assembly.

In this case, if the Liberals were able to obtain enough support of others in the Legislative Assembly (individual MPPs or parties), they could continue to govern as a Minority Government or perhaps through a Coalition or Legislative Accord.

If the Liberals were unable to obtain such support and were defeated through a confidence vote, however, the Lieutenant Governor would make enquiries about whether another party leader could hold the confidence of the Legislative Assembly. If such a governing arrangement existed in the Legislative Assembly, Wynne would either resign as Premier or be dismissed by the Lieutenant Governor, and the leader of the other party who could hold confidence of the Legislative Assembly would be named Premier.

If no governing arrangement were possible, the Lieutenant Governor could call for another election (on the advice of the Premier).

Q3. What if either Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives or Andrea Horwarth’s NDP wins a majority of seats following an election?

When an opposition party wins a majority of seats following an election, the incumbent Premier usually resigns. However, there is no constitutional requirement to do so. The Premier might refuse to resign and carry on until the Assembly met to express its confidence (or lack thereof). If the incumbent government could find the votes in the Assembly to continue, it would be able to do so. If defeated however, the Lieutenant Governor would ask whether another party could win a confidence vote.

Usually, of course, the party that wins the most seats in the election would have the opportunity to try and form a government. In this case, Mr. Hudak or Ms. Horwarth would be named Premier and would develop a legislative program. The Lieutenant Governor would read the Speech from the Throne to open a new legislative session.

Q4. What if Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives or Horwarth’s NDP wins the most – but not a majority of – seats following an election?

When an opposition party wins the most seats (but not a majority), the convention still applies that the incumbent Premier has the right to meet the Legislative Assembly to test its support. In this case, if the Liberals were able to obtain enough support of others (individual MPPs or parties) in the Legislative Assembly, they could continue to govern as a Minority Government or perhaps through a Coalition or Legislative Accord.

Wynne herself has said that she would not take advantage of this option, but she would be within constitutional conventions to do so.

If the Liberals were unable to obtain such support though and were defeated in a confidence vote, the Lieutenant Governor would ask whether another party could hold the confidence of the Legislative Assembly. If such an alternative governing arrangement existed, Wynne would either resign as Premier or be dismissed by the Lieutenant Governor, who would then call on the leader of the party who could hold confidence of the Legislative Assembly.

Typically, the party with the most seats following the election would have the first chance to govern. In this case, either Mr. Hudak or Ms. Horwarth would be named Premier.

If no governing arrangement were possible, the Lieutenant Governor could call for another election (on the advice of the Premier).


My research is based on the results of a survey of political scientists and constitutional scholars who had published in relevant substantive areas in the Canadian Journal of Political Science, the Canadian Political Science Review or presented relevant papers at Canadian Political Science Association Meetings during the last five years. Sixty-five of the 120 contacted responded between February and April 2014. 

For more including the conference paper and CPSA presentation (opens PowerPoint) visit

- 30 -

Dr. Johannes P. Wheeldon is an Assistant Professor at the School of Justice Studies and Sociology at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He can be found on Twitter @JusticeLawDev.


Wheeldon’s survey revealed some significant differences of opinion amongst scholars on these questions, however:

On Elections:

Q1. How do survey participants view elections in Canada?

     33 (51%) – Governments selected based on who wins the most seats (the Flanagan view)
     30 (46%) – Parliaments are elected, then Governments are selected (the Forsey view)
     [2 (3%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]

Q2. Does PM/Premier resign if Opposition wins majority in an election?

     31 (48%) – PM/Premier has no duty to resign
     30 (46%) – PM/Premier has duty to resign
     [4 (6%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]

On Incumbency:

Q3. Can PM/Premier meet House following an election in which an announced coalition of parties wins combined majority in the House?

     51 (78%) – Yes
     12 (18%) – No
     [2 (3%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]

Q4. Can PM/Premier meet House following election when opposition wins most seats (not majority) and plans to govern through unannounced coalition?

     37 (57%) – Yes
     24 (37%) – No
     [4 (6%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]

Q5. Do benefits extend to the PM’s chosen successor who wants to test support in House following election in which Opposition wins a majority?

     36 (55%) – No
     20 (31%) – Yes
     [9 (14%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]

On the role of the Governor General:

Q6. How should GG resolve constitutional debates when called upon to do so?

     31 (48%) – Consider fundamental principles of parliamentary democracy
     17 (26%) – Defer to the government unless it has formally lost confidence
     [17 (26%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]

Q7. Correct course of action when PM/Premier wants successor to test support in House?

     24 (37%) – Commission leader of party who won most seats
     12 (18%) – Make enquiries to find person most likely to hold confidence
     [29 (45%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]

Q8. Correct course of action when PM/Premier loses confidence vote in House?

     35 (54%) – Make enquiries to find person most likely to hold confidence
     24 (37%) – Dismiss PM and call on leader of party that won most seats
     [6 (9%) – Other/NA/DK/WS/Unsure]


Summer By-elections to Challenge Party Organizations

May 12th, 2014 | 4 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

What if they called a by-election and nobody came … out to vote, that is.

That's the challenge now facing candidates and campaigners in the four federal by-elections called Sunday for Monday, June 30. The day before Canada Day. On what probably half the country will try to take off work as part of an extra-long weekend. Good luck with that!

Trinity-Spadina NDP candidate Joe Cressy installs his first election sign, with the assistance of Toronto city councillor Mike Layton and Davenport MP Andrew Cash, as the media looks on

The Prime Minister certainly had some unexpected scheduling challenges in calling the vacant Ontario seats. Although everyone had expected NDP MP Olivia Chow to resign her seat in Trinity-Spadina to seek the Toronto mayoralty, which she did on March 11, few expected long-time Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis to resign his Scarborough-Agincourt seat on April 1. Given that it would be a decent target seat for the Conservatives' ethnic outreach strategy without "Jimmy the K" as the incumbent, the governing party obviously took an interest in trying to seize the moment by including it with the other three vacant ridings. But that pushed the timetable back.

While everyone anticipated a spring provincial election in Ontario, in fact it had been expected for June 26. But then provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath signalled her loss of confidence in the Liberal government the day after the May 1 budget, and Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne seized the opportunity to dissolve the legislature later that Friday afternoon and move to an earlier election call. Wynne opted for an early dissolution, even though the theoretical election day of June 5 was already known to be unsuitable by reason of a Jewish religious holiday, thus pushing voting day out to June 12, and many observers believe she did so to avoid further potentially damaging testimony before the legislative committee considering the gas plants closure scandal.

But now Wynne's preferred timing landed on top of the next federal by-election window, leaving the PM with two remaining options: either a late June trip to the polls for four or five ridings, or a call now for the two Alberta seats, with the Ontario ridings called mid-August for mid-September, before the Ontario municipal elections got into high gear for an October 26 E-Day. And the Macleod by-election had to be called for May 17 at the latest, so tick tock.

Industry Minister James Moore campaigns with Macleod Conservative candidate John BarlowThe end result is that voters will go to the polls, in both Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca in Alberta, and Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt in Ontario, on June 30, while the late Jim Flaherty's seat of Whitby-Oshawa will wait for another round of by-elections probably in the very early or the late fall. The delay in Whitby-Oshawa seems to be a complete non-controversy locally where they're still mourning Flaherty's loss (although the usual suspects on Twitter still tried to ratchet up the predictable faux outrage).

Sunday's call also means that the federal writ period will be longer than the minimum of 36 days specified in the Elections Act. This means that the expense ceilings for the by-election candidates, and those for their parties, will have to last 51 days, or about 50% longer than usual.

So: a longer-than-usual Ontario provincial writ period, a longer-than-usual federal writ period, plus Ontario municipal pre-election preparations all going on at the same time. Toronto voters in those ridings are going to be campaigned-out and ready to get out of Dodge by the beginning of July. The question is whether or not they'll go vote first.

Naturally, a situation like this calls for an Advance Poll / advanced voting strategy, a domain that has without a doubt favoured the Conservatives in the past.

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha and his sign crew erect the first highway sign of the by-election

The governing party won't seriously contest Trinity-Spadina, just as the NDP won't in Macleod. The Liberals put out a news release Sunday afternoon claiming they are the only party that will contest all four seats. But it would be a cold day in July before Macleod returned anyone but a Conservative to Ottawa, and as a long-time Liberal said to me, "if we lost Agincourt things would have to be really bad". So, really, most of the battle will take place between the NDP and Liberals in Trinity-Spadina, with an honourable mention to Fort McMurray-Athabasca for the possibility of making inroads against the government's previous winning margin there, and bragging rights for a renewed fight on the new boundaries in 2015.

The by-election riding and candidate records have now been added to the Pundits' Guide database, viewable here. More on them in a future post.

The Rules Menu: Party Nomination Processes, Three Ways

May 1st, 2014 | 6 Comments

Canada's three major political parties are conducting candidate nominations in often very different ways from one another in the current election cycle, but those differences are getting lost in all the hand-waving from some pundits about how "they all do it, and they're all the same".

As we start into the process of tracking nominations for the 2015 elections then, it seems like a good first step to review the nomination processes actually being followed by the Conservatives, NDP and Liberals, all of whom have promised to conduct an open nominations regime, but each in their own way.

To party activists, an "open nomination" is one in which the leader does not appoint the candidate, and incumbent MPs are not protected from facing a contested nomination in their home riding. To the media and other outside observers, however, the phrase "open nominations" implies other qualities that are not always so realistic: for example, the idea that anyone should be able to run to become the nominee of a political party (regardless of their criminal record, personal philosophy or suitability, or personal financial rectitude), or the idea that the party leadership will never secretly or otherwise have a preference as to the outcome or try to influence it.

Often, aspiring nomination contestants who fall short in one of those attributes fall victim to paranoia about party rules being manipulated in their opponent's favour, and are very quick to push the media panic button against a party infrastructure that is unable for reasons of confidentiality to defend itself. Other times, those suspicions might be justified. Long-time political observer Keith Beardsley outlined some of the many tried-and-true ways parties and EDAs can put their thumb on the scale in favour or against a nomination candidate in a recent blogpost that's well-worth a read.

But what nominations processes have the parties actually agreed to follow this time? I've reviewed and compared the Nominations Rules of each of the three major parties on a number of key elements, and found three quite different takes on the process that reflect their different party cultures and electoral realities. The Conservative Party's latest nomination rules are found on their website, as are the Liberal Party's on theirs, while I've been able to see and review a copy of the NDP's as well for inclusion here.

[Click on image to open PDF document]A Comparison of the Nomination Processes Adopted by the Three Major Parties for the 42nd Federal General Election

The first difference is the length: the NDP's rules run to 9 pages, the Conservatives to 13 pages, while the Liberal rules take up 18 pages. The parties also expend different amounts of space elaborating detailed rules on different topics: the Liberals spend nearly a page on how to challenge the eligibility of a member to vote and three pages on the conduct of a meeting, the NDP devotes great length to its equity provisions and measures to ensure the physical accessibility of the nomination meeting location(s), while the Conservatives devote numerous sections to the composition and ensuring the neutrality of their EDAs' Candidate Search Committees (CSCs).

But the essential differences between the documents are found in the different nomination timetables they describe. For the NDP and Liberals, aspiring nomination contestants are encouraged to apply for their vetting / green-lighting early (after nominations open in that province, in the NDP's case) but before the nomination meeting is called; whereas for the Conservatives, nomination contenders may not submit their applications at all until after nominations have been opened in their own riding, and they then have only 14 days to complete and return the application. Having one or more qualified nomination contestants is one of the preconditions for Liberal or NDP riding associations to be allowed to go to a nomination meeting, whereas no qualified nomination contestants are even possible in the Conservatives' case until the nomination meeting process is launched in that riding.

For the Conservatives, the membership cut-off date is always 21 days after nominations open in a riding. For the NDP, the membership cut-off date is always 30 days before voting day. But for the Liberals, the membership cut-off date is between 2 and 7 days *before* a nomination meeting is called in a riding, meaning that nomination contestants in that riding will never know until afterwards when the cut-off was. This retroactive cut-off provision is always a sore point, as many participants believe meetings are called in such a way as to prevent their last batch of membership from being included. Honestly, I had thought this provision was being taken out of the new nomination rules, but there it still is in Rule 1.4.

That's in normal non-writ period nominations of course. All the parties make some provision for discretion to permit shortened timelines and abridged processes in the case of a snap election call or expected by-election, and the Liberals go so far as to formalize it in a declaration of "electoral urgency" (NOT "electoral *emergency*" as I sloppily mis-transcribed it in a tweet that unfortunately got far too wide an echo before the distinction was drawn to my attention).

In the current round of by-elections, for example, Liberal National Campaign Co-Chairs Katie Telford and Dan Gagnier declared a state of electoral urgency in regards to the vacant Ontario seats, though it's caused more public concern initially in Trinity-Spadina than Scarborough-Agincourt. In the former case, it allowed the membership cut-off date to be set *after* the nomination meeting date was set, and the membership list apparently to be provided to aspiring nomination contestants who had not yet been green-lit. These changes were cited by Trinity-Spadina nomination candidate Ryan Davey in his decision Wednesday to withdraw from this Saturday's vote to pick the Liberal candidate in a riding whose by-election could be called as early as Sunday. Only two of the original four nomination contestants remain in the race: entrepreneur Scott Bowman and Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan, lawyer Christine Tabbert having already withdrawn  to back Vaughan.

Davey must be assuming that, given former disallowed nominated contestant Christine Innes' presumed massive lead in membership sign-ups in the riding, Adam Vaughan would have needed extra time to sign up members, and an early look at the current membership to do so, even before he completed the green-lighting process. Whether that was the case, or the party was just trying to move smartly to a Saturday conclusion before a Sunday call, I leave to the reader to judge. Certainly there was an IVR poll of the party membership asking about all the nomination contestants but Christine Tabbert on Monday, April 28, as the nomination meeting was called that same night for Saturday May 3, with a cut-off set for still later Monday night at 11 PM. The next morning Tabbert withdrew from the race to co-chair Adam Vaughan's nomination campaign, and Davey concluded he should withdraw the following day.

The parties also differ in a few financial matters. For example, the Liberals demand a non-refundable $1,000 deposit from nomination contestants seeking to be vetted, the Conservatives ask for a repayable $1,000 "good behaviour bond", while the NDP has no deposit provisions, but requires its candidates to sign an undertaking of responsibilities that includes the stipulation that elected members are to give the annual maximum to both the national party and their local riding association. The Liberals and Conservatives both abide by the nomination contest expense ceiling specified in the Elections Act, whereas the NDP imposes a lower spending limit of $5,000, optionally hiked by another $2K in large ridings. The Conservatives demand 25 signatures from eligible party members in the riding, the Liberals want 100 or 15% of the membership whichever is less, while the NDP has no signature requirements but allows a mover and seconder at the meeting.

For the Conservatives, the nomination meeting date is set for 42-47 days after nominations are opened in that riding, while for the Liberals the meeting date must be set at the end of a 13-20 day notice period. In the NDP, the EDA requests a nomination date from the centre, but only after all approved candidates have been given notice of any EDA executive meeting discussing the nomination meeting date, and have been consulted on the proposed date.

The NDP is the only party to build in a service standard of vetting candidates within a maximum of 10 business days outside the writ period; but then they allow candidates to apply for vetting up till 15 days before the nomination meeting, and don't allow candidates to incur any nomination campaign expenses until they're vetted, so they need to be snappy.

The parties differ in their governance models for the nominations process, placing different emphasis on elected, appointed and staff positions at both the party and riding levels.

Various people over the years have called for the running of nomination contests to be brought under the aegis of the Elections Act, not simply the reporting of nomination contests and the regulation of nomination finances that we have now. If that were to happen, it would no doubt impose an expensive and bureaucratic process on a system that is now largely run by volunteers at the local level within riding organizations of widely varying size and sophistication.

A reasonable alternative to consider would be the mandating of certain principles or benchmarks for elements such as minimum period of time to open nominations, a minimum notice period before a nomination meeting, and a guaranteed membership cut-off deadline that would be known ahead of time, along with the usual standards for secret balloting, the right of appeal and right to scrutineers, etc.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of each process? What's been your experience in your party? Are there any ideas from other parties' systems you would like to see adopted in your own? Should nomination contests be any further governed by the Elections Act, and if so how? Leave your answer in the comment section.

RE-UPDATED: Fifteen MP Retirements and Their Impact in 2015

April 22nd, 2014 | 19 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

Thirty new ridings, plus now fourteen fifteen retiring MPs and counting, adds up to a lot of open seats in the next election. And without the incumbency advantage, open seats always come with a higher risk of turnover. That means a lot of competitive races to watch in 2015.

[UPDATE: Mike Allen also announced his retirement this past March, so that's fifteen, now. Thanks to a reader for pointing this out, though I would have gotten the post updated earlier had not our power gone out at nearly the same time.]

[RE-UPDATE: Now that our power is back on, I've added a bullet point on Allen's New Brunswick riding, and also added the missing retirement details for Barry Devolin and Irwin Cotler as well.]

In addition to the 12 MPs who have resigned from the House of Commons since the 2011 general election plus the two who died in office (9 of whom have already been replaced in by-elections), a further 14 15 MPs (10 11 Conservatives and 2 each NDP and Liberals) have already announced they won't be running for re-election in 2015.

According to the Conservative Party strategy documents obtained by the Toronto Star in February, 11 caucus members did not intend to re-offer in 2015, and 16 others were "unsure". Given that document would have been written after the Ted Menzies and Brian Jean resignations, but before Jim Flaherty's sudden passing, the 10 11 Conservatives listed below plus Jim Flaherty would [UPDATE: more than] account for the 11. I take this to mean that if any of the unsure 16 are to announce their retirements, it may not come until closer to the expected election date in October, 2015.

The five vacant seats awaiting by-elections (remember they are currently vacant, and so are 2003 Representation Order ridings) are:

  • Macleod, AB – after Conservative M.P. Ted Menzies resigned to pursue private sector opportunities and help his community of High River recover from last year's floods. The Conservatives and Liberals both have nominated candidates in place, and the last day for the PM to call the by-election (May 17) is fast approaching.
  • Fort McMurray-Athabasca, AB – after Conservative M.P. Brian Jean resigned suddenly to pursue other opportunities. The NDP and Liberals both have nominated candidates in place, with the Conservatives set to nomination over a three-day period this coming Thursday to Saturday, laying the groundwork for a call as soon as Sunday.
  • Trinity-Spadina, ON – after NDP M.P. Olivia Chow resigned to run for Mayor of Toronto. The NDP has a nominated candidate in place, while the Liberals need a whole separate blogpost to do their candidate situation justice.
  • Scarborough-Agincourt, ON – after Liberal M.P. Jim Karygiannis resigned to run for a municipal seat on Toronto City Council. No-one has yet nominated a candidate here, although I'm hearing that Liberal memberships are being signed up at the furious pace you'd expect in the former seat of "Jimmy the K".
  • Whitby-Oshawa, ON – after the late and lamented former Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty passed away suddenly of a heart attack the other week in his Ottawa condo. The unexpected timing of this vacancy might see this riding and Scarborough-Agincourt … and perhaps Trinity-Spadina … put off until the early fall before the Ontario municipals on October 28.

But since we're about to spend lots of time looking at the by-election ridings over the next few months, let's look at the retiring MPs' seats now instead, and see what impact their leaving could have, by looking at the new ridings that will wind up being open seats.

British Columbia (5 retiring MPs)

 * Conservative M.P. James LUNNEY – (currently Nanaimo-Alberni, BC; announced his retirement on Oct 11, 2013 because of the new riding boundaries) – Lunney's seat is to be split 60:40 between its primary descendant seat, the new more NDP-friendly Courtenay-Alberni riding, and the all-new seat of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. [Open seat is Courtenay-Alberni]

 * NDP M.P. Jean CROWDER – (currently Nanaimo-Cowichan, BC; announced her retirement on Jan 23, 2014 in order to spend more time with her family; Crowder has agreed to serve as co-chair of the 2015 NDP national campaign, however) – Her old riding splits almost exactly in half, with slightly more going to its primary descendant, the new Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, and slightly less going to the all-new Nanaimo-Ladysmith seat. [Open seat is Cowichan-Malahat-Langford]

 * Conservative M.P. Russ HIEBERT – (currently South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, BC; announced his retirement on Feb 20, 2014, saying he never intended to be a "career politician") – Three-quarter of Hiebert's current seat will live on as the new South Surrey-White Rock, while the Cloverdale portion goes to the all-new Cloverdale-Langley City riding, both of which would be expected based on demographics and historic voting patterns to remain strongly Conservative. [Open seat is South Surrey-White Rock]

 * Conservative M.P. Colin MAYES – (currently Okanagan-Shuswap, BC; announced his retirement on Apr 12, 2014, saying that after 10 years as an MP it was time to move on) – There will be very little change to Mayes' riding (certainly no population change) as a result of the redistribution, although it is being renamed *North* Okanagan-Shuswap. It would be expected to stay Conservative, barring some unusual shifts and vote-splits (the last time it didn't was during the free trade election of 1988). [Open seat is North Okanagan-Shuswap]

 * NDP M.P. Alex ATAMANENKO – (currently British Columbia-Southern Interior, BC; announced his retirement on October 29, 2013, citing his upcoming 70th birthday in 2015 and saying that was time to retire) – The primary descendent of Atamanenko's current seat is the new somewhat-less-NDP-friendly South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding, with the Nelson area going to the new now-more-NDP-friendly-than-it-was Kootenay-Columbia, and another less populous portion centering on Princeton going to the new Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola. Meanwhile the new west Kootenay seat gains the Penticton area from the old Okanagan-Coquihalla, along with Nakusp and the east side of Upper Arrow Lake from the old Kootenay-Columbia. The NDP has always held a strong core vote in the south interior of BC, but could not win many federal seats after the Liberal vote collapsed completely and folded into the Conservatives. The two Kootenay ridings come into play for the NDP when the old populist "Reform" vote is weak, and the Liberals regain enough strength to cut into the red tory side of the Conservative base. [Open seat is South Okanagan-West Kootenay]

BC Analysis: The net result in BC is five open seats, with two of them book-ending a brand-new seat on Vancouver Island, and another contributing a portion to the brand-new seat in Cloverdale. The fourth is almost unchanged, while the fifth is part of a significant realignment of boundaries in the province's southeast corner. At this stage, I don't expect the Liberals to be a factor in any of them. The upper Vancouver Island seats are not exactly historic Liberal territory, nor are the Kootenay ones. South Surrey and North Okanagan should stay Conservative (the former more strongly than the latter), the NDP would be expected to pick up Courtenay-Alberni (notwithstanding its status as a narrow nominal NDP loss in the 2011 transposition, this is the most ideal configuration of a central Vancouver Island seat for the dippers) and keep Cowichan-Malahat-Langford (close in the transposition, but I don't believe it will be as close with actual candidates when the times comes), while South Okanagan-West Kootenay will be a toss-up between the orange and blue teams, and depend on candidate recruitment and campaign effects. The Christy Clark government will be mid-term by the time the federal election comes around, which is the only NDP upside of not winning the last provincial election.

Alberta (2 retiring MPs)

 * Conservative M.P. Laurie HAWN – (currently Edmonton Centre, AB; announced his retirement on March 10, 2014, saying that reaching 68 years of age at the next election meant it was time to move on) – All but approximately one-sixth of Hawn's current riding will carry on as the new Edmonton Centre, with the remainder (reportedly more Conservative-friendly polls) being added to the new Edmonton West riding, while a smidgen of the old Edmonton-Spruce Grove gets added in. [Open seat is Edmonton Centre]

 * Conservative M.P. Diane ABLONCZY – (currently Calgary-Nose Hill, AB; announced her retirement on July 4, 2013 ahead of a cabinet shuffle, citing the changing boundaries and her 22 years of elected service by 2015) – Ablonczy's seat is almost exactly bisected into the new Calgary Rocky Ridge riding (its primary descendant by a hair) and the new Calgary Nose Hill, with a small surfeit going to the new Calgary Confederation. Current Conservative Calgary Centre-North M.P. Michelle Rempel has just been acclaimed in the new Nose Hill, while Rocky Ridge remains an open seat, though apparently at least under consideration by current Calgary West Conservative M.P. Rob Anders now that he's lost his bid for the Calgary Signal Hill nomination to Ron Liepert. [Open seat is Calgary Rocky Ridge]

AB Analysis: The net result in Alberta is two open seats: one each in Edmonton (which is being heavily targetted by the opposition, in spite of the early nomination and then sudden withdrawal of the NDP's star candidate Lewis Cardinal) and Calgary (which could still be back-filled by Conservative M.P. Rob Anders after losing his bid for Calgary Signal Hill). While the former riding could change hands in 2015, the latter is less likely than other Calgary seats to do so.

Saskatchewan (4 retiring MPs)

 * Conservative M.P. Ray BOUGHEN – (currently Palliser, SK; announced his retirement on Aug 27, 2013, saying a policy of two terms and out makes sense) – The primary successor of Boughen's seat is the new Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan riding where current Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre (RLLC) M.P. Tom Lukiwski plans to run in 2015, leaving the new much more NDP-friendly Regina-Lewvan riding as the open seat. Palliser split 60:40 between the new Moose Jaw seat and Lewvan in the redistribution, while RLLC split 25:75 between those same two seats. The NDP has just unfrozen nominations in Saskatchewan, and economist Erin Weir recently announced a bid to challenge Regina-based lawyer and 2011 Palliser candidate Noah Evanchuk for the Regina-Lewvan nomination. The meeting is expected to be held sometime in June, while the Liberals are expecting to nominate here over the summer. To date I have not seen a Conservative name in circulation for the Lewvan nomination. [Open seat (domino effect) is Regina-Lewvan]

 * Conservative M.P. Maurice VELLACOTT – (currently Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, SK; announced his retirement on Jun 25, 2013, citing a variety of reasons including a desire to spend more time at home with his family after 19 years of elected office) – Here again, with Vellacott out of the running, the primary descendant of his current seat is the new Humboldt-Warman-Martensville-Rosetown which circles Saskatoon, and that's where the current Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar Conservative MP Kelly Block has finally decided to run, leaving the new Saskatoon West as the open seat and a nominal NDP win. [Open seat (domino effect) is Saskatoon West]

 * Conservative M.P. Garry BREITKREUZ – (currently Yorkton-Melville, SK; announced his retirement on Apr 11, 2014, saying it was time to spend more time with his family) – This is one of the ridings least touched by the redistribution in Saskatchewan, and is considered a safe Conservative seat since Lorne Nystrom lost it for the NDP to then-Reform Party candidate Breitkreuz in 1993. Before then it was part of the pro-Canadian Wheat Board "red square" of rural ridings, but grain marketing and transportation seem to have taken a back seat to gun registration and natural resources as vote-determining issues in rural Saskatchewan. Until that changes, voting patterns are unlikely to change here. [Open seat is the new Yorkton-Melville]

 * Conservative M.P. Ed KOMARNICKI – (currently Souris-Moose Mountain, SK; announced his retirement early on Feb 28, 2013, as he anticipated heavy competition for the nomination to replace him) – Also largely untouched by the redistribution, and will be Conservative until the cows (and all other livestock) come home. Not surprisingly, a fifth candidate has just announced a bid for the Conservative nomination here, which is expected to come to a conclusion in the fall of this year. [Open seat is the new Souris-Moose Mountain]

SK Analysis: The net result in Saskatchewan is four open seats, two of which should easily stay with the governing Conservatives and two of which seem headed to the opposition NDP. A January 2014 story from CP's Jennifer Ditchburn, however, suggested Conservative insiders don't rule out future retirement announcements from (Saskatoon) Blackstrap MP Lynne Yelich and Battlefords-Lloydminster MP Gerry Ritz, although the latter was on Dimitri Soudas' list of MPs recommended for an early nomination meeting in February.

Ontario and Quebec (3 retiring MPs)

 * Conservative M.P. Barry DEVOLIN – (currently Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, ON; announced his retirement to his riding association on Nov 13, 2013, after serving three terms) – All but 6% of Devolin's current riding will live on under the same name (with the rest added to neighbouring Peterborough), and the new and old ridings are equally strong Conservative seats. [Open seat is the new Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock]

 * Liberal M.P. Irwin COTLER – (currently Mount Royal, QC; announced his retirement on Feb 5, 2014, citing a desire to spend more time with his family) – While the Conservatives have longed for a chances at this seat, given its significant Jewish profile, their candidate from the last election Saulie Zajdel was caught in the net of the Montreal corruption investigation last summer. The riding should remain a strong Liberal seat, given the resurgent support of Quebec anglophones and allophones for the Trudeau Liberal party, and the new version is virtually unchanged from the boundaries Cotler currently represents. [Open seat is the new Mont-Royal]

 * NDP-turned-Liberal M.P. Lise ST-DENIS – (currently Saint Maurice–Champlain, QC; a Liberal party official told the Daniel Leblanc of the Globe & Mail on Jan 24, 2014 that she "was not coming back") – The once-and-again seat of former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, this riding went Conservative for a term in 1988 after Chrétien resigned the first time, and then Bloc for three terms after he retired, before getting swept up in the orange wave of 2011. Even St-Denis herself seemed to credit Jack Layton for her win, when she crossed the floor to the Liberals after reportedly refusing the NDP's demands she move into the riding. Her treatments for non-Hodgkin lymphoma no doubt also played into her desire to stay in the Montreal area and leave politics. [Open seat is the new Saint Maurice--Champlain]

Central Canada Analysis: The net result in Ontario and Québec will likely be the status quo, with Devolin's seat staying Conservative, Cotler's seat staying Liberal, and Saint Maurice–Champlain seeming likely to return to the NDP based on the expectation of a further BQ-to-NDP vote shift.

[UPDATE: Mike Allen is a late edition to this post. Thanks to a reader for pointing out his retirement announcement to us.]

Atlantic (1 retiring MP)

 * Conservative MP Mike ALLEN – (currently Tobique – Mactaquac, NB; announced his retirement on Mar 19, 2013, saying it was time to pursue other opportunities that would allow him to be home more) – The riding is another one barely touched by redistribution, and has nearly always voted Conservative, save for the days when the party split into Reform and PC wings allowing the Liberals up the middle. It certainly would be expected to stay that way now. [Open seat is the new Tobique-Mactaquac]


In addition to the open seats created by the 30 new ridings and associated incumbent MP shifts that we looked at last time, the 14 15 ridings which will wind up as open seats as a result of MP retirements also offer some opportunities for opposition pick-ups at the governing Conservatives' expense, including 2 in Saskatchewan, 1 in Edmonton, 1 on Vancouver Island, and a couple of possible Conservative pickups from the opposition.

Remember, though, that to win a majority, the Conservatives have to keep every seat they currently have, and pick up at least another 8-10 of the 30 new seats being added to the Commons. This is looking like a harder and harder task.


In coming blogposts, we'll look at the by-election riding nominations, party nomination counts for the next general election, and then start to catch up on all the rest of the nomination news.

UPDATED: Conservative 2015 Majority At Risk As Incumbents Flee to Safer Ground

April 14th, 2014 | 16 Comments

The Conservatives risk conceding the majority supposed to have been their due when 30 new seats were added to the House of Commons. In many of the 30 new ridings, sitting MPs have taken their incumbency advantage with them and fled to safer ground, leaving the remaining open seats more — and sometimes far more — vulnerable to the NDP and Liberals.

And since their party can't win a majority without both keeping all their current seats and adding a third of the new ridings, the utility-maximizing actions of a group of individual Conservative MPs all add up to the collective weakening of their governing party. Clearly Adam Smith's maxim does not apply to electoral politics.

UPDATE: Thanks to a reader for some further information on the new Hastings-Lennox and Addington riding in Ontario, which suggests it might be another safe-flight seat as well. See below and also updated Table PDF as well.

Josh Wingrove was the first to identify this as a GTA trend in a piece for the Globe and Mail published a few weeks ago now. I didn't see the analysis until halfway through my own review of the 30 new ridings, but can confirm that Wingrove's trend applies nationally.

The principle here is that open seats (ridings with no incumbent MP running) are hardest to win – especially in areas with non-traditional demographics for the given party's base, next hardest are first-time incumbencies in swing seats, and next hardest are traditional swing seats with or without incumbents. Of course, seats with a classic demographic and ideological profile for a given party are the easiest holds for them, with or without incumbents.

When we make an assessment of the "winnability" of a riding after redistribution, it is tempting to treat the nominal results of the last election transposed onto the new boundaries as gospel. But that is only making the same old mistake amateur pundits make in every single election: previous results don't always predict future outcomes. They have to be read together with several other factors:

* The Incumbency Effect – or the absence thereof. As I've argued elsewhere, incumbency is not something one should weight over top of party vote. Rather the absence of incumbency should be factored as a discount to party vote, and the absence of a known, name candidate counts as a further discount. This becomes a real issue in open seats, especially where the retiring incumbent was first elected under very different circumstances and in a riding that does not fit the natural demographic and ideological base of his or her party (a good example is what happened to the Liberal vote in the open seat of Equimalt-Juan-de-Fuca, BC after Reform-turned-Liberal M.P. Keith Martin retired in 2011).

* The Assimilation Effect – Chunks of a riding with a certain contest profile, when transferred to another riding with a different contest profile, will tend – all other things being equal – to vote more along the lines of the contest in the new riding. For example, my guess right now is that the level of Green vote we see in the transposed results for the new Saanich–Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca, BC will not continue into 2015: those were Elizabeth May votes from the old Saanich–Gulf Islands, most of which will revert to the NDP's Randall Garrison, thereby enhancing his effective 2011 margin above the 1.8% the transposition calculates. One could expect the same thing to happen to the Liberal vote from the north shore when it joins the Conservative-NDP contest in the new Burnaby North-Seymour, BC.

* The Demographic Effect – A lot of the lost Liberal ridings in 2004 were in rural Ontario, untraditional Liberal turf where let's be honest, they only won them in the first place in 1993 thanks to a divided opposition to the right, and a particularly weakened NDP to the left. Incumbency then carried some of those seats past 2004, but as we've seen, that benchmark was rarely achieved again once such a seat was lost, especially in ridings more demographically fitting the newly-united Conservative Party's core vote. Fast forward to the 2011 election, and we realize that the Conservatives similarly won a number of ridings around the outskirts of Toronto that were not their usual demographic preserve, based on a strong central campaign and historically weakened Liberal Party and/or some Liberal incumbents who took their "safe" seats for granted. 2015 is a make or break election for these first-time Conservative incumbents, and it's many of them who are heading for demographically safer ground thanks to the opportunity provided by the new seats.

* The Campaign Effect – Parties will decide not to contest seats they think they can't win, even when part of the unwinnable seat is a traditional area of support and a good demographic and ideological fit. Without the attention of a fully-funded campaign, the party's vote fades even in that strong area. Should the area later get remixed with other strong areas of party support under new boundaries, however, and the new riding get treated as a priority seat, the party's vote-share could be expected to rise back up to historic levels. This is the effect that's made all the redrawn Regina and Saskatoon seats far more attractive to the NDP than previously (not just Regina-Lewvan and Saskatoon West), in spite of what the transposed results might indicate. It will also make smaller now-more-urban seats in southwestern Ontario, such as Cambridge, more likely NDP targets, and the same goes in other Ontario seats for the Liberals.

These four effects combined explain why it's never a good idea to discuss the Transposed Results in the present tense, or to pretend that they "predict" in any way which way the new riding will go in the next election. 63 of 308 ridings changed hands party-wise between the 2000 Transposition and the 2004 General Election, in other words one in five. Psephologists use a quick shorthand to say things like "it's a nominal Liberal win", but they all understand the four effects and take them into account. We should avoid saying things like "Elections Canada predicts that party X will win the new riding", because that's not what the Transposition is telling us at all. What it does say is that IF every voter had voted the same way in 2011, but under the new boundaries, their votes would have been tallied in this way. That's a really big IF.

[So, unfortunately, a very good piece of work by the Edmonton Journal's data journalism department about the changing Edmonton boundaries was marred by the breathless analysis that "revers[ing] the Tory tide … won’t happen unless voting patterns change from 2011″. Well, duh.]

So with that in mind, let's take tour of the 30 new ridings, and then summarize the findings in a table and discuss them. I'm defining a "new riding" as one which is not the "primary descendant" of an old riding, in terms of the share of the population being passed from old to new. In English: the new riding that gets the biggest chunk of population from an old riding is its "primary descendant" riding; while the 30 leftover ridings are the "new" ones. I'm then defining the "open seat" as either the new or primary descendant riding with no incumbent running in it.

The *new* ridings are:

Ontario (15 new seats)

The very first riding we'll consider in Ontario exemplifies the national trend particularly well, so we'll spend a bit more time explaining the principle there, and then skip along the others a bit more quickly to confirm the breadth of its application.

* Rideau-Carleton: Population-wise, the majority of the old Carleton-Mississippi Mills goes to the new Kanata-Carleton, and the majority of the old Nepean-Carleton goes to the new Nepean, so the new riding is Rideau-Carleton in the middle. The new Rideau-Carleton does take more of the old Nepean-Carleton than it takes from the old Carleton-Mississippi Mills though. Gordon O'Connor if he runs again will run in the new Kanata-Carleton, Pierre Poilievre will slide over to run in the new Rideau-Carleton, and John Baird recently announced that he will run in the new Nepean. So ironically this leaves the new Ottawa West-Nepean riding as the open seat the Conservatives would have to win. Now, most people in Ottawa are considering Nepean to be the new seat per se, as in: "John Baird is leaving Ottawa West-Nepean to run in the new riding of Nepean". But Ottawa West-Nepean is the area's traditional bellwether seat, it contains a lot of public servants, and the Liberals and NDP both have their eyes on it. [New seat adopted as safer ground (domino effect); open seat is the far less safe Ottawa West-Nepean.]

* Hastings-Lennox and Addington: While the new Lanark-Frontenac (where I believe Conservative MP Scott Reid has said he will run) gains the rural part of Carleton-Mississippi Mills along with some rural areas of the old Kingston & the Islands, the new Hastings-Lennox and Addington riding is otherwise composed almost 50:50 of the old Prince Edward-Hastings and the parts of Reid's current Lanark – Frontenac – Lennox and Addington riding that it will lose. The new riding should be safe Conservative turf, although the NDP came second last time, and the Liberals are organized here good and early. [New seat = open seat.] UPDATE: A December, 2013 clipping from the Belleville Intelligencer points out that current Prince Edward-Hastings Conservative MP Daryl Kramp (who lives in Madoc, ON) has not yet indicated where he'll run. Madoc is in the new Hastings-Lennox and Addington riding, which is also a safer Conservative prospect, so if Kramp were to run there (and he ran in a similar riding under the old 1996 boundaries so it's not out of the question), then the new less-Conservative friendly Bay of Quinte riding would become the open seat.

* Scarborough-Rouge Park: This new riding gains the Scarborough parts of the old Pickering-Scarborough East riding plus about a third of the old Scarborough-Rouge River. It transposes to a pure 3-way race last time: 35L-32C-31N. The current Pickering-Scarborough East Conservative MP Corneliu Chisu has announced a run in the new Pickering-Uxbridge next door, as reported by Wingrove in the Globe. I'm inclined to believe the Conservatives' maxed out their Scarborough support in the last election, and that they'll run third in an NDP-Liberal fight this time around. [New seat = open seat, and friendlier to the opposition than riding picked by the Conservative incumbent.]

* University-Rosedale: I'm sure everyone's familiar with the prospects for this new riding, given the recent Toronto Centre by-election where the Conservative vote in Rosedale completely collapsed to the Liberals' benefit, and given the ensuing unpleasantness required to secure newly-elected Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland's sinecure in the better side of the old riding for her. This is the first time we notice that Conservative incumbents are not the only ones fleeing for safer ground. [New seat adopted by Liberal incumbent as safer ground; open seat is Toronto Centre which is friendlier to the NDP, especially after the by-election results in both cases.]

* Don Valley North: The new Don Valley North riding is about 50:50 Willowdale and Don Valley East from the old boundaries, and the Liberals believe it's a good prospect (e.g., Rana Sarkar is running for the nomination here rather than in Scarborough-Rouge River where he ran in 2011). However, current Conservative Don Valley East MP Joe Daniel is also running in the new Don Valley North, so in fact it's the new Don Valley East that's the open seat, and that seat is even more favourable to the opposition in its demographics and 2011 voting trends, and both opposition parties have their eye on it. [New seat adopted as safer ground; open seat is Don Valley East.]

* Markham-Unionville: Ironically, this is the new riding in this area: current Oak Ridges-Markham MP Paul Calandra is running in the new Markham-Stouffville, which takes the largest chunk of his old riding; while current Markham-Unionville MP Liberal John McCallum has said he's running in the new Markham-Thornhill, which takes the bulk of his old riding. This leaves the *new* Markham-Unionville as the open seat. [New seat = open seat that was a nominal Conservative win by 12 points.]

* Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill: The current Richmond Hill Conservative MP Costas Menegakis plans to run in this new seat, and brace yourself for a Jason Cherniak candidacy for the Liberals against him. This leaves the new Richmond Hill as the open seat. [New seat adopted as safer ground; open seat is Richmond Hill that was a nominal Conservative win by 8 points.]

* King-Vaughan: A completely new seat. Julian Fantino if he runs again would be expected to run in the new Vaughan-Woodbridge. [New seat = open seat that's a nominal Conservative win by almost 30 points.]

* Brampton Centre: While the new Brampton East is the primary descendant of the old Bramalea-Gore-Malton, it became a nominal NDP win in the transposition, and so not surprisingly current Conservative B-G-M MP Bal Gosal was just acclaimed in the new Brampton Centre instead. The new seat's composition is around 50:50 from the old Brampton-Springdale and the old Bramalea-Gore-Malton, but current Brampton-Springdale MP Parm Gill is running in the new Brampton North, which is the primary successor of his old riding. [New seat adopted as safer ground; open seat is Brampton East, a nominal NDP win and currently held provincially by first-time Peel Region NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh who ran here federally in 2011.]

* Brampton South: Again, a new seat, but current Brampton West MP Kyle Seeback is running here, rather than in the new Brampton West, which becomes the open seat. The old Brampton West is divided between the new Brampton West and Brampton South, with slightly more going to the former. [New seat adopted as safer ground; open seat is Brampton West.]

* Mississauga Centre: A completely new seat. [New seat = open seat that's a nominal Conservative win by just 5 points.]

* Milton: The new Oakville North-Burlington gets more of the old Halton than the new Milton riding does, but current Halton MP Lisa Raitt lives in Milton, while Eve Adams as we all know is trying to win the Conservative nomination in Oakville North-Burlington, rather than Mississauga-Malton which is the primary descendant of the old Mississauga-Brampton South where she was elected. [Incumbent moving into new seat; different seat adopted by other incumbent as safer ground (if she can win the nomination). Open seat would then wind up being Mississauga-Malton where former MP Navdeep Bains has recently been nominated for the Liberals.]

[SIDEBAR: If I were advising Eve Adams, I would tell her that she has made herself such a liability to her party by pursuing the Oakville North-Burlington nomination that she's better off withdrawing from that race, and going back to Mississauga-Malton, where winning the riding against a strong Liberal would be her best chance of getting back in her blue team's good graces.]

* Flamborough-Glanbrook: Technically more of the old Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale goes to the new Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, but as the incumbent Conservative MP David Sweet prefers to run in Flamborough-Glanbrook, it's likely that the Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas is the seat that will be open. This is on the assumption that Dean Allison from the old Niagara West-Glanbrook doesn't prefer to run in Flamborough-Glanbrook rather than the new Niagara West. [New seat adopted as safer ground; open seat is Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas.]

* Kitchener South-Hespeler: gets just slightly less than half of the old Kitchener-Conestoga, along with a rural chunk of Cambridge. The old Kitchener-Conestoga Conservative MP Harold Albrecht will stay in the new Kitchener Conestoga, and Conservative Gary Goodyear will stay in the new Cambridge. The nominal results put Kitchener South-Hespeler as a slightly more vulnerable seat than the other two for the Conservatives; but in making Cambridge more urban, the new boundaries also make it a more desirable target especially for the NDP which is enjoying newfound provincial strength in southwestern Ontario at the moment. So, the new riding in fact might wind up being a safer Conservative seat than Cambridge where Goodyear is staying. [New seat = open seat.]

* Barrie–Springwater–Oro-Medonte: contains slightly less than half of the old Barrie riding, plus small chunks of Simcoe North and Simcoe-Grey; the current Barrie MP Conservative Patrick Brown plans to run in the new Barrie-Innisfill, which showed higher nominal Conservative support in the transposed results, but is also the primary descendant of his current seat. [New seat = open seat.]

Alberta (6 new seats):

* Peace River–Westlock: A new north-western riding that's carved out of the old Peace River, Yellowhead, Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Westlock-St. Paul. With a 78% transposed vote-share, the Conservatives will not be in any danger here, regardless of who's running. [New seat = open seat.]

* Edmonton Manning: This is a new riding in the city's northeast, taking in fairly equal portions of the old Edmonton-Sherwood Park and the old Edmonton East plus a bit of the old Edmonton-St. Albert. No incumbents appear to be running here, but reports that businessman and former Edmonton East riding president Ziad Aboultaif is running for the Conservative nomination. Current Edmonton-Sherwood Park Conservative MP Tim Uppal who was thought to be considering a bid here, has now declared a bid for Edmonton Mill Woods in the city's south end instead — which has no overlaps with his current seat at all. [New seat = open seat.]

* Edmonton Wetaskiwin: A new rurban seat assembled mainly from parts of the old Edmonton-Leduc, Wetaskiwin, and Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont; the current MP for Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont Mike Lake is running for the Conservative nomination here, even though the majority of his current riding is going into the new Edmonton Mill Woods, into which Tim Uppal is now jumping. This leaves the primary successor of Uppal's old Edmonton-Sherwood Park riding – the new Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan – as the open seat. [New seat adopted as safer ground (domino effect). Open seat is Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan]

* Calgary Shepard: A new riding composed mostly of the old Calgary Southeast and less so of the old Calgary East. No incumbents have declared here as yet, so for the moment we'll assume it to be an open seat. [New seat = open seat.]

* Calgary Nose Hill: a new seat that is NOT (by a hair) the primary descendant of the old riding with the same name, even though it draws the bulk of its population from portions of the old Calgary Nose Hill, along with parts of the old Calgary Centre-North, whose current MP Michelle Rempel has just been acclaimed here, leaving its primary successor, the new Calgary Confederation as the open seat. [New seat adopted as safer ground. Open seat is Calgary Confederation, which had the lowest transposed Conservative vote of any new Calgary seat from the 2011 election.]

* Bow River: composed of portions of the old Crowfoot and a bit less so of the old Medicine Hat; this is the riding where the country singer George Canyon had wanted to run for the Conservatives until he pulled out this past week citing health concerns. Genuinely open seat. [New seat = open seat.]

British Columbia (6 new seats):

* Nanaimo-Ladysmith: A new riding composed of fairly equal parts of the old Nanaimo-Cowichan and the old Nanaimo-Alberni. It's nominally NDP in the 2011 Transposition, but only by a 5% margin with a 45% vote-share; if the Conservatives are in an offensive posture by 2015, they would be targetting it for sure — particularly since the riding will be a completely open seat, with both Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP Jean Crowder and Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP James Lunney retiring at the next election. On the other hand, the "assimilation effect" and "campaign effect" could combine to put the NDP in a much stronger position with the new boundaries. [New seat = open seat.]

* Burnaby South: This is a new riding composed of the old Burnaby-New Westminster and Burnaby-Douglas ridings (more the former than the latter), though current Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Kennedy Stewart has announced a run in the new Burnaby South rather than take his chances with the new riding of Burnaby North-Seymour that is his riding's primary descendant. The now-open Seymour seat is a nominal Conservative-NDP contest by 9 points, with an above average Liberal vote share for the region given the previous contest in the old North Vancouver. For that reason, application of the so-called "assimilation effect" ought to make it an easier NDP seat than the nominals indicate, though the riding would be more difficult to service as an MP given it spans both sides of the bridge. Meanwhile Burnaby-New Westminster NDP MP Peter Julian intends run in the new New Westminster-Burnaby riding. [New seat adopted as safer ground. Open seat is Burnaby North-Seymour.]

* Vancouver Granville: A new urban riding carved out of the middle of (in order) the old Vancouver Centre, South, Quadra and Kingsway; it is nominally a Conservative win with a 5% margin and a low 35% winning vote share, with the NDP in a strong third (35C-30L-24N). With the right candidate the Conservatives could target it in an offensive posture, but assuming they'll likely be playing defence nationally by 2015, a Liberal-NDP contest is more likely. [New seat = open seat.]

* Delta: This is a new riding that takes the Delta city portions of Newton-North Delta and Delta-Richmond East to make a very strong Conservative riding, to which current Delta-Richmond East MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay intends to switch. This leaves the new riding of Steveston-Richmond East – the primary successor of Findlay's old seat – as the effective open seat, but it is if anything more strongly Conservative. [New seat adopted. Open seat is Steveston-Richmond East.]

* Cloverdale-Langley City: This new riding is constructed from portions of the old Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, Langley, and Fleetwood-Port Kells. It is traditionally a very strong Conservative seat, but so far no incumbents have declared here — perhaps surprisingly given that incumbent Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert is stepping down at the next election. [New seat = open seat.]

* Mission–Matsqui–Fraser Canyon: This new riding has been assembled from portions of (in order) the old Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon. It shows up as a strong Conservative riding based on the transposition, but in fact could have some very good potential for the right NDP'er. Candidate recruitment will be tricky though, given how disparate the riding is. The current Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp is staying in the new Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge. [New seat = open seat.]

Quebec (3 new seats)

* Mirabel: The population increase in the Outaouais made those three ridings more urban, and created space for a new rural seat here in western Quebec, carved mainly out of the old Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel riding, along with (in order) Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Terrebonne – Blainville, and Rivière-du-Nord. The NDP holds all the surrounding ridings, and that party has been playing its cards very close to its chest in terms of Quebec nominations and announcements for the most part, and probably wisely so for the time being. [New seat = open seat, probably.]

* Terrebonne: As the population of Laval increased enough for four full seats, rather than 3 1/2 with the other half stretching north, the north shore seats were also re-arranged, such that slightly more of the old Terrebonne-Blainville went to the new Blainville than to the new Terrebonne. Incumbent Terrebonne-Blainville NDP MP Charmaine Borg has yet to announce on which side she'll be running. [New seat = open seat???]

* La Prairie: A south shore seat, and given that the south shore has been home to a lot of 3- and 4-way races in the last few elections, here we do see some earlier announcements designed to entrench whatever incumbency effect can be cemented between now and 2015. Current NDP Brossard-La Prairie MP Hoang Mai is planning to run in the new Brossard–Saint-Lambert, probably leaving the new La Prairie as the open seat, depending on where current Châteauguay-Saint-Constant MP Sylvaine Chicoine chooses to announce. Sadia Groguhé (currently Saint-Lambert) has announced for the new LeMoyne riding, Pierre Nantel (currently Longueuil-Pierre Boucher) will run in the new Longueuil, and Djaouida Sellah (currently Saint-Bruno–Saint-Hubert) plans to run in the new Montarville. We can speculate on the impact of such announcements, but none of these seats are near the top of the Conservatives' short priority list in Quebec right now, I wouldn't think, though Quebec Federal Liberal section president and former MP Alexandra Mendès has declared for Brossard–Saint-Lambert as well as Mai, making that riding already the most interesting contest on the south shore.


In order to win even a bare majority of 170 / 338 seats in the next election, the Conservatives must keep every seat they currently have (160 after a vacancy is declared in the late Jim Flaherty's Whitby-Oshawa, ON seat), win at least 3 of the 5 upcoming by-elections, hold all those seats and then go on to win at least 7 more of the 30 new ridings.

[Click on image to open full-sized **updated** PDF table]

The 30 'new' 2013 Representation Order Federal Ridings, and their Effective Open Seats after Incumbent MP Nomination Shifts (

The 2011 results transposed onto the new boundaries put 23 of the 30 new ridings into the Conservatives' nominal win column, but in 9 of those seats, the incumbent from a neighbouring riding has fled to safer ground there, leaving behind more vulnerable open seats that jeopardize the first half of the majority formula. A further 9 Conservative MPs have already announced they don't plan to seek re-election, leaving still more open seats.

Moreover the proviso that the Conservatives keep every seat they currently hold is made more difficult by the redrawing of more urban boundaries in the western cities of Regina, Saskatoon, and Edmonton, and the changing boundaries on Vancouver Island, southwestern Ontario, and New Brunswick. To counter those losses, the governing party would have to try and look for potential gains in the Quebec City area and its south shore, and perhaps areas recently won by the CAQ in last week's provincial election.

But it would be trying to do so with public support over 10 points lower than its benchmark in the 2011 campaign, and facing two very determined opposition parties, each with different areas of strength. On the other hand, with so many open seats, the government would finally be able to do some much-needed rejuvenation of its caucus, and perhaps present a fresher face to the electorate.

The road to a 2015 majority now looks to be like a much steeper climb for Stephen Harper.

Re-UPDATED: Once again, nomination races take early by-election focus

March 18th, 2014 | 6 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

A progressive Conservative in Macleod and a strong Libertarian [UPDATE: and New Democrat] in Fort McMurray-Athabasca are the only two three by-election candidates finalized so far, but the coming weeks will see a number of interesting nomination contests unfold.

UPDATED: See below for Conservative nomination key dates in Fort McMurray-Athabasca.

While your guide has had her nose down doing some client work, and assembling an Ontario Pundits' Guide database (see for the end-result), some of by-election nominations races have already concluded, while others are just picking up steam. Let's take a look at where things stand today.

Macleod, AB

Western Wheel associate publisher John Barlow defeated three other nomination contestants – University of Calgary and Hill staff alumna Melissa Mathieson (whose High River home became the focus of the Prime Minister's Alberta flood cleanup photo op), Springbank businessman Scott Wagner and Blackie area rancher Phil Rowland – for the Conservative nomination on March 8. Originally from Saskatchewan, Barlow had previously run a close second for the provincial Progressive Conservatives against no less than Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, and was the only candidate in the nomination race not to be endorsed by the National Firearms' Association over his less than strident position on the RCMP's seizure of weapons during last year's Alberta floods. He won after 3 days of balloting spanning Pincher Creek, Claresholm, and ending in Barlow's hometown of Okotoks where 1,200 of the 1,500 ballots were cast.

The Liberal race so far features Husky Energy technician and former U Lethbridge student president from Okotoks, Dustin Fuller, who has been reassuring people that a Liberal government would not bring back the gun registry, and says the RCMP seized the High River weapons "without due process" and without being subject to any inquiry. I am not aware of an NDP candidate for the area as yet.

As Daveberta points out, the federal riding overlaps provincial seats mainly held by Wildrose MLAs. But given that the blue team has nominated someone from the Progressive Conservative wing of the party, I just don't see an opening for the Liberals here in the same way we saw with Brandon-Souris, particularly not with the candidates on offer from the opposition party to date, notwithstanding some well-attended events with Justin Trudeau in the riding last year.

Fort McMurray-Athabasca, AB

If we were going to see a Brandon redux anywhere in the current round of by-elections, it might well be in the more northern vacant Alberta seat – and even that would be stretch, though it could set the Liberals up for a more competitive race in the smaller seat next time around. And indeed, unlike Macleod, the party already has two nomination contestants in the field, and a nomination meeting date set. The membership cutoff was March 13, and the meeting will be held on March 29.

First into the race was the manager of a Métis local and former consultation manager for the joint industry-province oil sands reclamation organization CEMA, Kyle Harrietha. It was interesting to see Dimitri Soudas speculate in the leaked Conservative Party strategy documents that they might approach the Fort McMurray mayor Melissa Blake to run for them, because in fact it was Harrietha who ran her successful re-election campaign last fall, after running a provincial Progressive Conservative campaign in one of the Fort McMurray seats the previous year. That, and bringing numerous federal Liberal politicians (and me) to see the city and the industry it supports would already given him a good leg up on his competitor for the Liberal nomination – a business agent for an Operating Engineers local, Chris Flett – and a better start than most Liberal candidates on the prairies.

Now all that said, I know quite a bit more about Harrietha than his opponent for a very good reason – we have an extended, blended family connection, and the last two times I visited Fort McMurray I stayed at his place. So take that into account.

On the NDP front, it has identified a candidate from the house of labour, as you'd certainly expect in a resource extraction town like this, and NDP leader Tom Mulcair travelled to Fort McMurray to meet with her while the Liberals were convening in Montreal. No date has been set as yet, and it's not clear whether Suncor heavy truck driver and Unifor health and safety rep Lori McDaniel will have any competition. The NDP looks set to run on the issue of temporary foreign workers among others. UPDATE: Lori McDaniel was nominated on March 13.

[As an aside, I find some of David Akin's claims about where the NDP would and would not run fully funded by-election campaigns quite speculative, and not really consistent with any past history on their part. It defies common sense that a national political party could not run 3 fully funded by-election campaigns simultaneously if it felt that was warranted. And moreover, the way that *party* as opposed to *candidate* spending limits are set for by-elections - i.e., a global party limit is set for the entire round of by-elections to be spent in one or all of the ridings as they choose - gives a party more resources to allocate. The Trinity-Spadina by-election was hardly a surprise to any astute political watchers over the past year. If anything, the Fort McMurray-Athabasca vacancy was by far the bigger surprise. I'm sure David wouldn't write this unsourced, but I'm guessing his sources might be following the old maxim that those who don't know talk, while those who do know, don't.]

One interesting feature of this by-election will be a strong campaign from a Libertarian candidate – firefighter and film-maker Tom Moen – who says provocatively that he wants "gay married couples to be able to protect their marijuana plants with guns". He's running his campaign on a platform, and it's certainly the most professional Libertarian candidacy I've ever seen in a federal or provincial race in Canada. Also, he has an interesting, public, and controversial connection with Neil Young.

All of which implies that the Conservative Party had better get its candidate in place soon. Declared so far are Athabasca county municipal politician David Yurdiga, and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo lawyer Arlan Delisle. However, the party has also approached municipal councillor Guy Boutilier, who has yet to announce a decision, according to Fort McMurray Today. UPDATE: nominations close for the Conservatives on March 24, with a membership cutoff of March 31.

Trinity-Spadina, ON

Once NDP M.P. Olivia Chow resigned her downtown Toronto seat to run for mayor, the starting pistol fired in the Liberal nomination race … and promptly backfired on the first aspiring contestant, Christine Innes. The former two-time candidate launched a website Thursday morning in support of her bid, but was undercut by media calls placed by the Liberal Party outlining why it planned to deny her a greenlight for either the by-election or any riding in 2015. Innes responded to the ruling late in the day by suggesting the true motive was her unwillingness not to challenge Toronto Centre M.P. Chrystia Freeland for the nomination in University-Rosedale. Various proxies litigated the issues of bullying and designating ridings back and forth for several days on Twitter and in the mainstream media.

The takeaway is that many Liberals seemed happy to be rid of Innes, and to have her made an example of, in spite of the now-plainly-obvious damage it has done to the party's commitment to open nominations. Zach Paikin took the opportunity to hang his inevitable withdrawal from his now 5th or 6th riding nomination attempt on an issue of "principle", but while that will get you column inches and called a "star candidate" in the headlines, the truth is he probably would not have won the Hamilton West–Ancaster–Dundas nomination even in the most open nomination race ever organized.

Moving fairly quickly into the vacuum Innes' canning created was COPE labour lawyer and sometime Toronto Star columnist Glenn Wheeler, who was unable to attend his party's recent convention, he wrote, because it would have forced him to cross a picket line set up by a local of his own union. Wheeler's interest was telegraphed by a Star reporter that night, though he hasn't launched a campaign yet as far as I know. We can probably expect him to be challenged, but apparently the party did not have a star candidate lined up when it executed Innes' exit.

Monday morning also saw the show-of-force announcement by long-time-for-his-age NDP activist Joe Cressy in the race to replace Ms. Chow as the party's federal candidate. Cressy, who had to prove he had the moves and stature to contest such a prized nomination, rolled out not one but two profiles by national columnists, endorsements from federal, provincial and municipal politicians, and a number of key activists from the cultural communities within the riding and the party. While the national media all assume Cressy won't be challenged, he knew full well he might be and needed a strong launch, which you'd have to concede he pulled off. No nomination date has been set as yet, given that the party's candidate search policy requires that affirmative action candidates be sought out and asked to run before a meeting can be called.

No sign yet of the Conservatives in this riding, but I suspect we'll see a similar pattern to previous federal and provincial by-elections lately, where only the candidates truly seen to be "in the hunt" for victory will get substantial vote-shares, while the also-rans will underperform their typical general election benchmarks in each riding.

One interesting detail reported by David Akin is that the Speaker won't be signing the warrant notifying the Chief Electoral Officer of the vacancy in this riding until he returns after the Commons break next Monday. That being the case, the earliest call we would see is the first weekend of April for May 12, assuming all three by-elections were held on the same date.

Open Nominations Pledge Now an Open Question

March 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

[First published at, March 14, 2014]

I was a believer on this pledge of Justin Trudeau’s, I really was. He made a persuasive argument during the Liberal leadership race to party members and new supporters that to rebuild the Liberal Party, every nomination had to be open, and no MP could expect to be protected. And people agreed with him.

For one thing, it was smart. Incumbent MPs whose nominations are protected have the party over a barrel if they don’t want to be cooperative. For example, it was the worst kept secret in Vaughan and everywhere else that former MP Maurizio Bevilacqua planned to quit and run for mayor. But as his federal nomination was protected and he continued to insist he was running again, party officials had their hands tied behind their backs trying to recruit a candidate to run against Julian Fantino in the by-election everyone knew was coming. Bevilacqua quit at the last possible minute, leaving behind a nearly empty riding association bank account, and no local election preparation work done. The seat was lost, and no wonder.

For another thing, the Liberal Party needed elected people with a ground game to help rebuild its membership and local infrastructure. Too often, star candidates recruited in the past and offered safe seats with no nomination contest, turned out to have no political skills and be duds at the doorstep when it mattered, to help keep their seats against a wave. A nomination contest is where you learn those skills and prove to party members that you have them.

Finally, the party needed to remake its political culture into a rule-respecting, democratically competitive and yet cooperative team, as a matter of pure survival.

Now, all political parties encounter hiccups in their nominations process, and whenever they do, you can always count on a greek chorus of political virgins from the other teams proclaiming their shock, I tell you, and disbelief that such transgressions could ever occur.

And, while we’re pulling back the curtain a bit, it’s also true that the leader’s office and party leadership plays a big role in candidate recruitment, and so naturally they do have their favourites.


If you’re going to promise an open nominations process, and you meant what you said, then the leader’s favourite has to win the nomination fair and square. In fact, the leader has to prefer the democratic choice at the end of the day, so long as everyone has followed the rules.

There are arguments in favour of protecting incumbents’ nominations. Government backbenchers in a minority government would be at a distinct disadvantage if they had to be in Ottawa all the time to see the government didn’t fall while challengers were free to work the riding back home. That was the argument made to and accepted by the Conservatives prior to 2011, and perfectly understandable.

This time the Conservative Party has said that candidates who won a nomination for a by-election in the current Parliament won’t have to face a nomination challenge either in the next election. Again, those members wouldn’t have had a full term to establish themselves and their record against any potential challengers, so it’s a reasonable position for that party to take. At least they’re being honest about it.

In the Trinity-Spadina case, a Liberal candidate who was twice green-lit in the past formally announced her nomination bid when the seat became vacant, though admittedly before she’d been greenlit this time around. With reportedly hundreds if not thousands of signed-up members, Christine Innes clearly calculated that an early announcement would be the show of strength needed to guarantee her green-lighting and secure an open nomination, and that issues about post-redistribution nominations could be settled afterwards.

Instead, the party acting on the leader’s direction barred her candidacy and took the further surely unprecedented step of notifying the national media of their ruling, alleging unspecified incidents of bullying and intimidation by her “team” and husband Tony Ianno, though not the candidate herself. Innes alleges she was singled out for refusing to back away from a bid for the 2015 nomination in University-Rosedale, the seat apparently sought by newly-elected Toronto Centre M.P. Chrystia Freeland.

If that really is what happened, the Liberals would frankly have been better off and more honest just to protect their by-election MPs in their preferred seats, thereby sending the right signals to other prospective candidates. Pretending it’s an open system if it’s clearly not creates more problems, and doesn’t establish or reinforce the party culture they were looking to create.

Until now, it was possible to accept Justin Trudeau’s pledge of open nominations at face value. The Toronto Centre nomination? Well, it followed the wacky rules the Ontario section of the party had in place that permitted retroactive cut-off dates, but that’s why the party wanted to establish new national rules that would apply to everyone, which it did. The Ottawa-Orléans and Etobicoke-Lakeshore nominations? Well, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask former leadership contestants with huge debts to prove they can pay them off and that doing so won’t be a distraction to their election bid. The fact that long-time incumbents were being allowed to seek early nominations to avoid a challenge? Well, a lot of incumbents who are long-time get that way because they’re popular locally, and would not likely attract challengers.

But publicly disqualifying a former two-time candidate, whether for transgressions not directly tied to her or for refusing to accept the fiction that there would be an open nomination in University-Rosedale when apparently there won’t be?

That’s the moment you have to say the pledge of open nominations is now an open question. We certainly will be watching with a little bit more of a jaded perspective now.