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

April 14th, 2014 | 14 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.

Spring forward to by-election season (it will come eventually)

March 13th, 2014 | 5 Comments

Wednesday's resignation from the House of Commons by Trinity-Spadina, ON NDP M.P. Olivia Chow to launch her mayoralty bid in Toronto filled in one of the last unknowns in the spring electoral calendar.

The first wheel was set into motion last November with the resignation of Macleod, AB Conservative M.P. Ted Menzies, followed by the surprise resignation of Fort McMurray-Athabaska, AB Conservative Brian Jean in January.

While Chow's resignation to run for mayor could hardly be called surprising, the exact timing had long been a source of speculation in Ottawa and elsewhere. But with all her serious known competitors in the race already, and with a Toronto mayoralty debate scheduled for the evening of March 27th at Ryerson University, Chow has decided to make it official.

Here's a rundown of the relevant dates:

  • Ted Menzies had said before the summer 2013 cabinet shuffle that he wouldn't be running again in 2015, but then announced on Wednesday November 6 that he planned to resign from the Commons immediately. He planned to resign on the Friday (November 8, the last sitting day before the Remembrance Day Commons break week), but the resignation was dated for Saturday November 9 and so notice of the vacancy was not sent by the Speaker's Office to the Chief Electoral Officer until Monday November 18 when the House got back.
  • Brian Jean announced his retirement on Friday, January 10, 2014, it took effect a week later on January 17, but again, the Chief Electoral Officer was not notified of the vacancy until January 30 — a full four days after the House returned from its Christmas break on Monday January 27.
  • Olivia Chow resigned from the House of Commons on Wednesday, March 12. As of late Wednesday evening, the resignation has not been posted onto the Parliamentary website. Although this might sound picayune, the difference between the CEO being notified on Wednesday vs Thursday is an extra week's delay in a possible E-Day. Should the Speaker not get around to notifying the CEO until the House gets back in two weeks, that's a further 2 weeks' delay still.

[As a sidebar here, I have to ask why all the daudling lately in the Speaker's Office about relaying resignations to the Chief Electoral Officer. The most I've seen in the past is a week or so's delay after an MP died, but never this long when one was resigning. Section 28(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act says that the Speaker is to advise the Chief Electoral Officer "without delay", but I guess timeliness is in the eye of the beholder. With all our modern technology nowadays, whether the Speaker is in Ottawa or not should not really make a difference here.]

2014 By-elections – Significant Dates (T-S early notification scenario)

    Macleod, AB Fort McMurray-Athabaska, AB Trinity-Spadina, ON
(A) Date of the vacancy: Sat Nov 9, 2013 Fri Jan 17, 2014 Wed Mar 12, 2014
(B) Date the Chief Electoral Officer was notified of the vacancy: Thu Nov 28, 2013 Thu Jan 30, 2014 Wed Mar 12, 2014
(C) First day the by-election could be called (11 days after (B)): Mon Dec 9, 2013 Mon Feb 10, 2014 Sun Mar 23, 2014
(D) 36 days after (C): Tue Jan 14, 2014 Tue Mar 18, 2014 Mon Apr 28, 2014
(E) Earliest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (D)): Mon Jan 20, 2014 Mon Mar 24, 2014 Mon Apr 28, 2014
(F) Last the by-election can be called (180 days after (B)): Tue May 27, 2014 Tue Jul 29, 2014 Mon Sep 8, 2014
(G) 36 days after (F): Wed Jul 2, 2014 Wed Sep 3, 2014 Tue Oct 14, 2014
(H) Latest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (G)): on or after Mon Jul 7, 2014 on or after Mon Sep 8, 2014 on or after Mon Oct 20, 2014

Trinity-Spadina late (more likely?) notification scenario

    Trinity-Spadina, ON
(A) Date of the vacancy: Wed Mar 12, 2014
(B) Date the Chief Electoral Officer was notified of the vacancy: Mon Mar 24, 2014
(C) First day the by-election could be called (11 days after (B)): Fri Apr 4, 2014
(D) 36 days after (C): Sat May 10, 2014
(E) Earliest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (D)): Mon May 12, 2014
(F) Last the by-election can be called (180 days after (B)): Sat Sep 20, 2014
(G) 36 days after (F): Sun Oct 26, 2014
(H) Latest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (G)): on or after Mon Oct 27, 2014

Assuming the PM would call all three by-elections together, the available E-Days meeting the criteria for all 3 vacant seats are Monday May 12, Tuesday May 20 (the day after Victoria Day), Monday May 26, or Monday June 2, 9, or 16. I doubt by-elections would be called for June 23 or 30, or even July 7, so that leaves six likely by-election dates. And if the new MPs were to be sworn in and presented to the Commons before it adjourned for the summer, it would have to be one of the earlier dates rather than the later ones (though they could still be sworn in after the House adjourned).

Chantal Hébert rightly notes that these by-elections will be called in the wake of the Québec provincial election, where voters go to the polls on Monday, April 7, and which might be expected to set at least some of the agenda for federal voters to consider in their by-election ballot questions.

But in a large media market the size of Toronto, which will already be dominated by the early mayoralty air-war and pre-election positioning on the Ontario provincial scene, a federal by-election in Trinity-Spadina could easily be lost in all the cacaphony. For all the sound and fury we political junkies observed during the Toronto Centre by-election last fall, it's worth remembering that the average voter in that riding was probably barely aware it was happening at all.

On the Ontario provincial side of things, the provincial Liberal convention is slated for the weekend of March 21-23 in Toronto, with a budget to follow anytime in the four to six weeks after that. A Robert Benzie story from January in the Toronto Star suggested the provincial Liberals were looking at an election date of Thursday, May 29, which under Ontario legislation would have to be called on Wednesday, April 30, the week the legislature returned from its Easter break week. The legislature also passed a series of interim supply motions on February 25, covering the period from April 1 to Sept 30, 2014, so should a budget be delayed or fail to pass, at least the government could continue to function. This seems to imply a later rather than earlier budget, but there's probably also a lot of minority government head-fakery going around too.

That leaves us with a strategic calendar looking something like this:

  • Mon Mar 17 – Ontario legislature returns from one-week March break
  • Fri-Sun Mar 21-23 – Ontario provincial Liberal convention in Toronto
  • Sun Mar 23 – First day Trinity-Spadina federal by-election could be called ("early notification scenario") for an E-Day on or after Mon Apr 28
  • Mon Mar 24 – House of Commons resumes sitting after two-week March break
  • Thurs Mar 27 – First Toronto mayoralty debate potentially including Ford, Soknacki, Tory, Stintz and Chow
  • Fri Apr 4 – First day Trinity-Spadina federal by-election could be called ("late notification scenario") for an E-Day on or after Mon May 12
  • Mon Apr 7 – Québec provincial election
  • Tue Apr 8 – all hell breaks loose (kidding! … though maybe not, eh …)
  • Fri Apr 11 – Commons adjourns for two-week Easter break
  • Thu Apr 17 – Ontario legislature adjourns for one-week Easter break
  • Fri Apr 18 – Easter Friday
  • Mon Apr 21 – Easter Monday
  • Tue Apr 22 – (assume a new Québec government is sworn in this week or next)
  • Mon Apr 28 – House of Commons and Ontario legislature return from Easter break; earliest possible federal by-election date assuming all 3 ridings called at once, and CEO was notified by Speaker of Chow vacancy on the day it happened
  • Wed Apr 30 – the day an Ontario provincial writ would have to be issued for a Thurs May 29 general election
  • Mon May 5 – possible federal by-election E-Day, if CEO notified by Speaker of Chow vacancy the day after it happened
  • Sun May 11 – last day to call the Macleod federal by-election for an E-Day of June 16
  • Mon May 12 – possible federal by-election E-Day, if CEO notified by Speaker of Chow vacancy when the Commons returns on March 24
  • Fri May 16 – Commons adjourns for one-week Victoria Day weekend break
  • Sun May 18 – last day to call the Macleod federal by-election for an E-Day of June 23
  • Mon May 19 – Victoria Day
  • Tues May 20 – possible federal by-election E-Day
  • Mon May 26 – Commons returns from one-week break; possible federal by-election E-Day
  • Tue May 27 – Last day to call the Macleod federal by-election, period. (for an E-Day of July 7)
  • Thurs May 29 – Ontario Liberals preferred election day, according to January Robert Benzie story
  • Mon June 2 – possible federal by-election E-Day
  • Fri June 6 – last regular sitting day of the House of Commons for the spring
  • Mon June 9 – possible federal by-election E-Day; extended sitting days of the House of Commons begin for a two-week period
  • Fri June 20 – last scheduled day of extended sitting days on the Commons calendar
  • Tues June 24 – the first Fête Nationale after the Québec election.

Not to ignore Alberta readers, but all these eastern considerations only apply to the Alberta federal by-elections if all three vacant seats are to be called at once.

If instead the Prime Minister decides not to spring forward with all three now, but to fall back to an autumn call in downtown Toronto, he could have the Alberta by-elections launched as soon as his party's candidates are in place. More on the by-election candidates and nomination races next time.

Math-challenged Transposition of Population not up to usual Elections Canada standards

February 4th, 2014 | 12 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

It's probably the last thing Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand needs to hear right now, but the Transposition of Population his office released last Friday as part of the 2013 Redistribution does not add up.

Election data geeks – officially known as "psephologists" – have been exchanging emails, comparing notes on the reliability of the data, and wondering if it can be fixed.

But approaches to Elections Canada so far have proved fruitless.

At issue is the population being transferred from each of the old ridings to each of the new ridings. The population counts add up by new riding, but not by old riding. So for example 102.9% of the old riding of Avalon's population is allocated to new ridings, while only 98.1% of the old Brampton-Springdale's population is accounted for.

The errors are all within plus or minus 5%, but previous transpositions have always added up in both directions. This is not just academic – political parties need to have those percentages accurately, so that EDAs from out-going ridings can transfer their assets in the proper proportions to the new ridings. But, here, the outgoing Avalon EDAs would have to come up with extra money or extra surplus sign stakes, while the outgoing Brampton-Springdale EDAs would have money left over. The ratios are also used by psephologists and political scientists more generally to project results backwards and forwards.

The agency, in conjunction with a contact at Statistics Canada, decided to reproject population counts from old ridings to new ridings using ratios derived from the redistribution of elector counts from old to new. The first problem is: they used the wrong ratios. Viz: if a part of your old riding makes up 50% of my new riding, it does not necessarily follow that I am inheriting 50% of your old riding. I might be getting 75% of your riding, and 25% of another one, even though both chunks represent 50% each of my new one.

However, even using the correct ratios, the old riding populations add up but now the new ones are off. Meaning that populations don't redistribute between ridings in the same proportions as electors, and so the entire assumption behind this Transposition is not exactly iron-clad. This makes sense when we consider that different ridings have differing numbers of non-elector residents (i.e., people who are not yet citizens, or have not yet attained voting age).

By contrast, an exercise that calculated riding population transfers based on summing the population of the 2011 Census Dissemination Blocks contained within them – which must have been the previous methodology used by Elections Canada – was far more precise. I do not know why it wasn't used this time, but I fear budget cuts and/or the reduced timelines resulting from last year's amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act may be the culprit. The populations counts generated in earlier transpositions were always accurate in both directions, but now they are merely estimates. It is as though the Transposition of Population has gone the way of the long-form census.

[click image to open full-sized PDF version]

Demonstration of the Distortions Introduced when Basing Population Transpositions on a Transposition of Elector Counts, 2003 to 2013 Representation Orders

I give a demonstration of the errors using Brampton ridings here, but for those who are interested in greater detail, I've also reproduced the exchange I had with Elections Canada to try and point out the problem and/or get clarification on why the numbers were off.

Here's what I wrote to my contact at the agency's media relations service:


For example:

–> Look at the old Avalon (2003-10001), which is split up between:
* the new Avalon (2013-10001)
* the new Bonavista-Burin-Trinity (2013-10002), and
* the new St. John's South-Mount Pearl (2013-10007) ridings

and therefore those 3 riding files.

The old population of Avalon is correctly listed in all three files as 78,908, but gets allocated between the 3 new ridings as follows:

* 61,048 to 2013-10001
* 17,123 to 2013-10002
* 2,521 to 2013-10007

This adds up to 80,692 – a difference in allocated population of 1,784 (or 2.9%) !!! I cannot believe that such a magnitude of over-allocation is a mere rounding error.

There are numerous other examples of either over- or under-allocations of the old riding's population to its descendant ridings:

* old Brossard-La Prairie (2003-24011) is under-allocated by 2,432
* old Hull-Aylmer is under-allocated by 2,924
* old Mississauga-Brampton South (2003-35047) is over-allocated by 5,137, while Mississauga-East Cooksville (2003-35048) is under-allocated by 6,988

… And it continues in much the same manner right across the country.

Now, these mis-allocations of population all zero out across the country, but the errors are bigger than I've ever seen in your earlier Transpositions (± 5%).

And – note – the only major errors I see are for the transpositions of Population. The transpositions of Electors and Valid Ballots are all within ±2 at worst (not 2%, but 2 voters), and most are bang on. The transpositions of votes also add up to within tolerable tiny errors.

Which is what makes this truly weird, because your Methodology section says that the transposed population percentages were calculated using the same ratio as transposed electors. Yet the electors match, while the populations don't.


And here's the answer my contact received from the subject matter experts in the agency:


As described in section 3.7 of the document, the population counts for the old FEDs [ed. FED=Federal Electoral District] were published by Statistics Canada. The population counts for the new FEDs were derived by independent commissions in consultation with Statistics Canada and are based on the 2011 Census of Population. These are official counts that require no calculation. These old and new FED's population counts are used to derive the population transferred to the new FED or population taken from the old FED.

The population transferred to the new FED or population taken from the FED is derived using the ratio calculated from transposed electors on lists. This ratio is then multiplied by the population count of the new FED to obtain the population transferred to the new FED or population taken from the old FED.

In the case of Avalon (new FED), the calculations were as follow:

1) Electors on lists from section 4.3 tables
a. 48192 electors are transposed from old Avalon
b. 16176 electors are transposed from old St. John's East

2) Ratios:
a. Ratio for old Avalon=48192/(48192+16176)=0.748671
b. Ratio for old St. John's East=16176/(48192+16176)=0.251329

3) New FED's Population for Avalon: 81540
a. For old Avalon=0.748671*81540=61048
b. For old St. John's East=0.251329*81540=20492


If you were going to use ratios of electors from old to new ridings, here's how those calculations should have been done in my view, in order to faithfully represent what a transposition is supposed to do.

1) Electors on lists from section 4.3 tables
a. 48192 electors are transposed from old Avalon to new Avalon
c. 14200 electors are transposed from old Avalon to new Bonavista–Burin–Trinity
d. 2032 electors are transposed from old Avalon to new St. John’s South–Mount Pearl

b. 16176 electors are transposed from old St. John's East to new Avalon
e. 60248 electors are transposed from old St. John's East to new St. John's East

2) Ratios:
a. Ratio for old Avalon=48192/(48192+14200+2032)=0.748044
b. Ratio for old St. John's East=16176/(16176+60248)=0.211661

3) New FED's Population for Avalon: 81540 || old FED population for Avalon: 78908, for St. John's East: 100,559
a. For old Avalon=0.748044*78908=59027
b. For old St. John's East=0.211661*100559=21284

But, even there, that only adds up to 80,311, which is 1,229 short of the 81,540 census population calculated for Avalon by the Boundary Commission. So, now we know that population doesn't move between old and new ridings in the same proportion as electors. Hence, the Census Dissemination Block population method should have been used.

Using 2011 Census Dissemination Block populations, that we sum using GIS software and best guesses where the Dissemination Blocks crossed riding boundaries, we get the following counts:

 * 59591 in population from old Avalon to new Avalon
 * 16855 in population from old Avalon to new Bonavista–Burin–Trinity
 *   2462 in population from old Avalon to new St. John’s South–Mount Pearl

   (for an accurate old Avalon total population of 78,908)

 * 21992 in population from old St. John's East to new Avalon
 * 78567 in population from old St. John's East to new St. John's East

   (for an accurate old St. John's East total population of 100,559)

 *         5 in population from old St. John’s South–Mount Pearl to new Avalon
 *   3519 in population from old St. John’s South–Mount Pearl to new St. John's East
 * 79327 in population from old St. John’s South–Mount Pearl to new St. John’s South–Mount Pearl

   (for an accurate old St. John’s South–Mount Pearl total population of 82,851)

All of which also add up to:

 * new Avalon population of 81,583 (should be 81,540) +43
 * new St. John's East population of 82,086 (should be 81,936) +150
 * new St. John’s South–Mount Pearl population of 81,789 (should be 81,944) -155

And with the layers and lower-level Block-Face 2011 Census population information available from Statistics Canada, those totals could have been made perfectly accurate.

How Redistribution Information is shown on a Pundits' Guide riding profile page

I'm currently working on getting the Transposed results into the Pundits' Guide database, but that work ground to a halt when things stopped adding up. The section of a riding profile page that shows Redistribution Info for a riding (what percent of each riding it came from, and what percent of its own population went to what other subsequent riding) has always been calculated on the fly using an accurately cross-referenced table of transposed populations from old to new. Now those won't add up to the proper riding populations anymore for the new Representation Order.

Other psephologists have pointed out to me that the documentation of which polling divisions were transferred from old ridings to new ridings was not correct either, inasmuch as they show a minimum and maximum poll number for each section, regardless of whether the section includes polls that belong with a different riding, or overlaps a subsequent section. One of them (known as Krago at the US Election Atlas) provided me with this fictitious example to demonstrate:

Let's say the old riding of Ottawa-Duffy is split between the new ridings of Ottawa-Harb and Ottawa-Wallin as follows:

 * Polls 1-50: Ottawa-Wallin
 * Polls 51-100: Ottawa-Harb
 * Polls 101-150: Ottawa-Wallin
 * Polls 151-200: Ottawa-Harb

It would show on the Transposition of Votes as follows:

 * Ottawa-Wallin: 100% Start: 1 End: 150 Polls 100 Votes …
 * Ottawa-Harb: 100% Start: 51 End: 200 Polls 100 Votes …

It is frickin' useless to check if it is actually correct.

Something does not seem right when the bigger our data, and the better our software, the worse our public datasets are for accuracy. I really wish Elections Canada and Statistics Canada would go back to the drawing board and produce an accurate dataset for the Transposition of Votes and Population for this Representation Order.

Chong Bill Needs Some Sober First Thought

December 5th, 2013 | 9 Comments

[First appeared as a column for National Newswatch, on December 3, 2013]

Whoa. At this rate, the Michael Chong #ReformAct bill could be adopted unanimously before it’s even tabled in the House!

A commentariat gravely worried about party group-think has shown itself all-too-ironically-susceptible to the very same affliction, as one columnist after another trips over himself or herself to jump in front of the parade.

Things have deteriorated so badly in the last two days that I’ve been told it really doesn’t matter what’s actually in the bill, because in politics everything is appearances, and people have to be seen to be lining up behind democracy.

But it does matter what’s in a piece of legislation that seeks to amend the Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act, and we do need to debate it at length. What’s really wrong with our democratic system is that this is almost never done anymore. We’re all about Omnibus budget bills and Twitter fights being storify’ed now. Neither is a very good way to make laws. And the only way to change that is to say “stop”.

As for the bill (aka “the Bill that will single-handedly restore the Westminster tradition and fix Parliament”), it hasn’t been tabled in the House of Commons yet, but somehow we already know what’s supposed to be in it, so there goes another overlooked Westminster parliamentary tradition out the window.

If the reports are accurate though, the Bill would formalize in legislation a party caucus’ ability to call for and effect a leadership review. I say formalize, because there is nothing in the law currently preventing party caucuses from doing this very thing now, and indeed they have done so frequently in our current system: Joe Clark was pushed into a leadership review, Michel Gauthier was pushed out as leader by the Bloc Québécois caucus, a good part of Stockwell Day’s caucus left him and the Canadian Alliance and joined the remainder of the Tories instead. And a significant group of Paul Martin backers were hatching plots to oust Jean Chrétien as Liberal leader and Prime Minister.

At least two fairly current provincial examples also exist:

* the BC NDP where the “gang of twelve” faced off with leader Carole James, ultimately pushing her out and arguably setting in motion the events that led to the re-election of Christy Clark’s BC Liberals; and

* the Newfoundland & Labrador NDP where the entire caucus recently called for a leadership review of Lorraine Michael who promptly had her director of communications read their letter over the phone to the CBC instead of meeting with them, thereby losing half her caucus in the process, and more than half of her party’s standing in the public opinion polls.

So, it’s not that a caucus CAN’T call for a leadership review or push a leader out, it’s that they apparently won’t, and/or they don’t. I fail to see how enacting legislation formalizing this authority gives them any more actual power to do so, or makes them any more accountable back home for not showing some backbone.

Power is defined as having the ability to influence an outcome, while Authority is defined as the legitimate right to exercise a power. If caucus members choose not to exercise the power they clearly have now courtesy of their numbers and bully pulpits back home, no amount of authority by legislation will make any difference.

Part of the reason it won’t is that people join political parties because they share certain views about how the country should operate and certain common ideas about public policy. Another part of the reason is that if you don’t hang together, you’ll usually hang separately. Sure the occasional lone wolf will be lavished with media attention for stepping outside the team, but that’s a last resort if you want to actually get things done in government, which as everywhere else is most often accomplished by being able to work well with others.

I also think the rationale for this provision of the Chong Bill mixes up the powers of party leadership with the more substantial powers entailed in being a Prime Minister. But, regardless, both are only exercised with the active or passive consent of backbenchers.

But, many commentators will assert, this Prime Minister and/or this government have exercised powers of discipline and control never-before-seen in the Canadian parliamentary system. If so, I maintain, it’s because they enjoy the consent (reluctant or otherwise) of a Conservative party caucus that displays a never-before-seen level of deference to authority and acquiescence in the government’s means of implementing its agenda.

The one bad thing formalizing this authority in law might accomplish is to exacerbate regional tensions further, given that until recently most Canadian political parties have had regional bases of support and regional wastelands. Taking control away from delegates to party conventions, or even from party members (and now party supporters), means taking authority away from nationally representative deliberative bodies, and putting it into the hands of a potentially regionally unbalanced caucus.

There is another option, however: one that’s more rooted in the tradition of collective action and solidarity, than in deference to authority and falling in line during battle. That is: if the caucus members disagree, then let them do so. Kind of like going on strike against the caucus and party leadership: “members of the caucus unite: you have nothing to lose but your priority office space, SO 31s, committee memberships, and parliamentary delegation travel!”

Should the Conservative caucus decide to withdraw its consent for the iron rule of its leadership, what about the remedies the Bill would impose to mitigate any consequences for mutiny and going all wild-cat? It proposes that a delegate from the local riding association be the one who signs the candidate’s party endorsement letter rather than the leader.

Big whoop, as they say. Because party headquarters can still deregister the riding association, and the leader appoint another candidate instead. Or the party can decide to de-prioritize the riding, refusing central services (including the provision of the party logo artwork, the leader’s tour, transfers of resources, staffing, opinion research, voter ID, telephone town-halls, regional ad buys and database access, and so on). Meanwhile, a rejected MP can always run as an independent in the same riding instead or run for another party. Either way, mutually assured destruction usually follows, whether the leader signs the endorsement letter or someone else does.

[The purpose of the endorsement letter is to signify which candidate can run with that party’s name on the ballot in a riding; and is also used to calculate the party’s national spending ceiling in that election, given it’s based on the number of ridings where that party endorses a candidate.]

For new candidates, parties will still need to vet them (or “green light” them, as one party calls it) before they run for the nomination. This is because a rogue candidate can cost the party’s members and donors a lot of money and lost time during an election campaign: every day lost to a candidate eruption costs a major party 1/36 th of its national ceiling, or just over half a million dollars. The only leader to try it the other way (nominate, then vet) was Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Then they ran into a candidate who mused about rape or something on Facebook in Newton-North Delta, and subsequently changed their procedures as well. After losing Georges Laraque and tens of thousands of dollars in the Bourassa by-election, you can be sure they’ll be vetting harder now, too. Their party members and donors will demand it.

As to the third reported provision: is it really only up to a party leader who sits in caucus? Perhaps in the Conservative caucus, perhaps in others, but only where the leader already enjoys the support of caucus. Caucus officer positions have been elected in the NDP in the past, though I believe Jack Layton moved to an appointment system after 2011 with the arrival of all the new MPs.

So, to summarize, all the legislative authority in the world can’t make the weak and powerless suddenly powerful, except in the most counterproductive ways possible, none of which are probably in the public interest. The bill is a solution in search of a problem, albeit born out of the noblest of intentions. It should be tabled, and then it should be thoroughly and non-partisanly debated, perhaps amended, and in the best traditions of private member’s business, it should be decided through a non-whipped vote.

I commend all the debate and discussion on how to strengthen our democracy, but what would really get me excited is a bill to end the use of Omnibus legislation and time allocation. Maybe then we could start properly debating some of the issues that really affect Canadians. The fact we’re not getting that kind of bill from a government backbench MP just shows how much they truly do consent to their government’s legislative strategy.

Justin Trudeau, Jack Layton and the Future of Cooperation

November 27th, 2013 | 45 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair looks skyward towards Jack Layton, November 27, 2013 ( Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on election night with MP-elect Emmanuel Dubourg, November 25, 2013 (

While Justin Trudeau's Liberals are trying to shape an economic policy that "builds from the middle out", the political challenge they face is to rebuild their party's vote-share from the centre out.

During the last general election, as John Ivision and others reported at the time, the Liberals' objective was to pursue a two-election strategy in which they would roll over the NDP in 2011, and then having consolidated the centre-left could turn rightwards and defeat a new Conservative leader in 2015. This was the strategy advocated by then-Ignatieff chief-of-staff Peter Donolo, the bulk of whose political experience came in the NDP-less era from 1993 forward, and who readily admits now that they underestimated the NDP in the lead up to the 2011 campaign.

Others have pointed to the lack of fit between the more blue-Liberal vibe of leader Michael Ignatieff and the nod-left tone of the party's "Family Pack" platform. If the party wanted to shift to the left to pick up NDP seats, undoubtedly they had the wrong leader to do so. But at the end of the day, it was exposing their flank to the right that was more costly to the party's seat count on May 2.

There was certainly more positioning than policy being considered during the Liberal leadership race of 2012-13, with the exception of Deborah Coyne who laid out extensive policy options, Joyce Murray who staked out clear policy positions and electoral strategy on the party's left, and Martha Hall Findlay who explicitly advocated a blue Liberal shift, having personally paid the price for lack of sufficient right-ward defences as her Willowdale seat fell along with sufficient others in north Toronto and the 905 to give the Conservatives their majority.

The approach of the Trudeau leadership campaign was for the most part to defer the left-vs-right decision as long as possible, by emphasizing values of Liberal pride, and "hope and hard work", rather than stake out policy positions that could constrain their options down the road. And what policy positions Trudeau did advocate were balanced off against one another. For a position against Northern Gateway, there was support for Keystone XL. For a strongly free trade orientation, there was opposition to ending supply management.

More recently, it has become clear to some observers (not only me) that the Liberals are orienting themselves economically more towards the right. This is a wise decision on their part, given the current weakness of the Conservative government, and also the availability of seats that should be low-hanging fruit for them that the NDP is unlikely to contest on a priority basis. Think Willowdale, but also Eglinton-Lawrence, York Centre, Thornhill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Oak Ridges, Halton, Oakville, Burlington, Wellington-Halton Hills … pretty much any seat with high average incomes and educational attainments, and no historic working class or social democratic voting traditions.

Even in Toronto Centre on Monday, the Liberal margin was bolstered generously from the Liberal-Conservative swing polls in Rosedale, while the NDP added to its strength south of Bloor and otherwise defended its base vote which should be sufficient to win the seat on its new boundaries in 2015.

To the extent that Justin Trudeau's election night remarks about Jack Layton were premeditated rather than ad-libbed, I'm guessing that this clear on-going effort to usurp the upbeat positioning of Barack Obama, personified by Jack Layton in Canada until his recent death, is a key part of the Liberals' play towards their left flank (along with the legalization of marijuana). Again, it's their best play, particularly given the sunny magnetism and youthful demeanour of their new leader, who is strong on the hustings if not in the House. But it did not prove sufficient to collapse the NDP vote in either of the central Canadian by-election seats.

Where Trudeau went too far on Monday night, was in explicitly trying to claim Jack Layton's mantle so soon after his death (and if you doubt the continued depth of feeling about this on the orange team, you haven't watched how your orange friends' Facebook feeds change every year on May 2, August 22 or any of the other meaningful anniversaries). First of all, it was an over-reach of Quayle-an proportions in the sense that if you have to say you're the next Layton instead of simply showing it, the proposition suddenly becomes ridiculous. Secondly, it showed Trudeau not to be a gracious winner (the way Layton had always been) and incapable of observing the gentleman's convention that election nights are for marking the temporary end of hostilities, to allow the parliamentary process to proceed.

But with more far-reaching consequences, Trudeau's comments touched a nerve within a party that has to this point maintained a disciplined public face of solidarity even as it grappled with its own changing of the guard. He at once thoroughly galvanized his competitors for the centre-left behind leader Tom Mulcair, and caused real damage to any future working relationship between the two opposition parties. These are mistakes the far more strategically adroit Layton would never have made, as he prized above-all his ability to work across party lines.

Looking ahead, there are seats the Liberals' growth at the expense of the Conservatives makes easier for them to win (such as the two-way races listed above), and others where it puts the NDP in a better position to win (Saskatchewan, southwest Ontario, and the interior of BC for example). The shadow cast by unpopular provincial governments mid-term will be felt more by the Liberals in 2015 (think Nova Scotia and BC) than by the NDP (as this past month in Manitoba). If the Liberals pursue their current path, and the government continues to suffer under the weight of its own scandals, they could see the Canadian political spectrum reshaped into a Liberal-vs-NDP contest with the Conservatives holding up the rear as a third party: arguably a better reflection of the range of Canadian political views that we have at present.

On the other hand, if they try to fight on two fronts simultaneously, any mistake could see them squeezed from both sides.

The Status Quo By-Elections That Supposedly Changed Everything

November 26th, 2013 | 13 Comments

Behold the status quo by-elections that supposedly changed everything. After months of the full pundit treatment, each party kept its seats in the face of stiff competition and shifting terrain.


Nov 2013 By-Election Results

By-Election Metrics – 2013 By (Nov)

Metric Brandon-
, MB
Provencher, MB Toronto
, ON
Bourassa, QC
Larry (M)
Ted (M)
Chrystia (F)
Emmanuel (M)
Contest Cons-Lib Cons-Lib Lib-NDP Lib-NDP
Polls 210/210 195/195 268/268 204/204
%TO 44.7% 33.6% 38.0% 26.2%
Raw Margin 391 6,315 4,438 3,051
Votes/Poll 1.9 32.4 16.6 15.0
% Margin 1.4% 28.2% 12.8% 16.7%
% Marg 1-3 36.7% 49.9% 40.4% 35.0%
% Marg 1-4 39.2% 54.3% 46.2% 43.4%


Conservative candidate and former Arthur-Virden MLA Larry Maguire squeaked through for the government in Brandon-Souris, MB by a margin of 391 votes or 1.4% of the vote, obtaining a 44.1% vote share, over her nearest competitor Liberal Rolf Dinsdale (at 42.7%), while NDP candidate Cory Szczepanski took one for the team, coming in at just 7.4%, as voters punished the federal NDP for the provincial government's sales tax hike to pay for flood mitigation. Maguire saw the Conservative vote drop by some 10,000 votes since the 2011 general eletion, while Dinsdale picked up almost the same number. Lower turnout accounted for the NDP and Green drops.

Likewise in Provencher, MB, Conservative candidate Ted Falk was able to carry the day with a 58.1% vote-share, even as he shedded 14,800 votes since the 2011 GE. His nearest Liberal opponent picked up around 4,100 of them, while the NDP shedded 5,200.

But it's in the hotly contested riding of Toronto Centre, ON that we see the most interesting movements. The Conservatives lost some 14 percentage points in vote-share over 2011 GE, while the NDP picked up 6 and the Liberals gained 8. But did the NDP really gain 6 points from the Conservatives? Likely not, given that the Conservative vote dropped by some 9,600 votes, and the NDP dropped a further 4,200. It was the Liberals who actually gained 5,800 votes or so, even over Bob Rae's performance in 2011. Of course we'll need to see the poll-by-poll results to know who or where that came from for sure, but it seems likely more of it came from 2011 Conservative voters than NDP ones.

Finally, we now know that the low advance poll turnout in Bourassa, QC was simply presaging the low turnout on Election Day itself. Liberal Emmanual Dubourg handily won, increasing his vote share by 9 points, while the NDP held its ground, and the Bloc and Conservatives both fell back.

Taken together, the by-election results provide some evidence that the Liberal Party grew in this round of by-elections from out of its right flank. Given that the media winner of the last round of by-elections was Elizabeth May's Green Party — which is nowhere in the current round – it remains to be seen how long-lived the impact of this growth will be.

Party Scorecard – 2013 By (Nov)

2013 By Lib NDP Grn BQ Cons Rest
Seats 2
2nds 2

Bourassa sees biggest drop in Advanced Voting

November 20th, 2013 | 3 Comments

Advance Poll Turnout as a percent of Registered Electors, 2011 GE & 2013 By

The north Montréal riding of Bourassa saw the biggest drop in advanced voting of the four by-election ridings, when compared to the 2011 general election.

The percent of registered voters who cast a ballot at one of the Advance Polls, open this past Friday, Saturday and Monday, dropped by almost half in Bourassa, QC, from 4401 or 6.3% of registered voters in 2011, to 2210 or 3.2% of registered voters in the current by-election.

By comparison, advanced voting was down by roughly a third of the 2011 GE rate in both Toronto Centre, ON and Provencher, MB.

Only in Brandon-Souris, MB has advanced voting in the current round of by-elections come close to matching that observed in the last general election; an indicator of the strong interest in the contest, and either presaging a change in hands for the seat, or a robust effort by the better-organized Conservatives at getting some of their vote out early.

Machine- or incumbency-politics should have favoured the Liberals getting a strong start in Bourassa as well, but I expect that external factors explain the poor showing. The federal by-election there has suffered from a low profile in comparison with the municipal elections across Québec which ran until November 3, and a lack of vote-determining ballot questions, both of which factors would tend to favour long-standing voting patterns and promote complacency.

There was also a good deal of confusion amongst voters, the campaigns report, given that the former M.P. Denis Coderre was running for mayor, and high-profile Green Party candidate Georges Laraque stepped down as the race was starting, after a lengthy and visible pre-election campaign.

These factors also no doubt explain the NDP's decision to take some dramatic and visible steps with weeks to go before E-Day, such as offering a free concert by their rock-star candidate Stéphane Moraille at the Bar Lindberg, launching their "Club-Privilege-Libéral" sign-campaign and website, holding a rally (video here) in the same room as Justin Trudeau did the week before, and vigourously prosecuting the street sign war (and associated sign-war-crimes, one assumes). Elizabeth Thompson has a good round-up of the campaign in that's required reading for those trying to catch up on the Bourassa race (see also the by-election wrap in Tuesday's La Presse), but the bottom line is that Liberal candidate Emmanual Dubourg is sitting on a comfortable lead even as he's facing a determined challenger.

A little sidebar now on filling rooms, body counts, and the marketing of the two opposition leaders: the Costa Del Mar is the only hall in Bourassa riding having the size to hold nomination meetings, rallies, and other large events. I've been there 3 times during the by-election race, once each for the Liberal and NDP nomination races, and this past Monday for the NDP's rally. Blogger Justin Ling referred to it as kitsch-y, but I think it's charming, and has probably hosted many a happy big italian wedding. There is a smaller room (used by the NDP for their nomination meeting), and a larger room used by the Liberals for their nomination meeting, and by both Trudeau and Mulcair for their big rallies this past week. It's rated for 350 people, but there was a bit of a frucus about the claimed attendance at both events.

Here is what the room setup looked like for each one. First, Mr. Trudeau on November 12.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at a rally in Bourassa, November 12, 2013

Next, Mr. Mulcair on November 18.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair at a rally in Bourassa, November 18, 2013

Both approaches are leader-focused, but in one the leader stands in front of party branding and towers over the audience which watches passively and claps; while in the other one the leader is raised but surrounded with a more active audience that waves signs portraying party messaging.

Keystone XL, the new PC party, and the Nov 25 federal by-elections

November 17th, 2013 | 29 Comments

If Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is so willing to publicly state his support for the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, why won't his candidate in Toronto Centre, Chrystia Freeland state whether she agrees with it at home?

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Brandon-Souris Liberal candidate Rolf Dinsdale (source: Twitter)The answer lies in what's becoming evident about the Liberal Party's new strategic positioning: they are staking out turf as the new progressive conservative party of Canada.

In Brandon-Souris, they're running Rolf Dinsdale, the son of the long-time PC member of parliament, Walter Dinsdale, who has been endorsed by another former PC MP, Rick Borotsik, and the Liberals are clearly cutting into traditional Conservative Party support by embracing that tradition.

But that shift to the right – even with a fake left on marijuana policy – risks leaving the party's centre-left flank open in Toronto Centre. Hence the need to remain vague on the kinds of policy details that make it hard to straddle the middle of the political spectrum.

The week before the commentariat pounced on Trudeau's sexy fundraiser in next-door Trinity-Spadina or his speech days later in Bourassa, it was in fact his first trip to Washington as Liberal leader that started to register on the doorsteps in Toronto Centre, particularly the unequivocal support he expressed for Keystone XL.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau expresses support for Keystone XL pipeline, Washington DC, October 24, 2013 (Chip Somodevilla / GETTY IMAGES)

The issue figured so prominently, that the NDP used an opposition day motion in Parliament the Thursday before the break week to raise it further and get the Liberals on the record, a debate that Trudeau missed to attend the now-infamous "ladies night" fundraiser. The motion will be voted on this Tuesday evening, November 19.

NDP support is now trending upwards in Toronto Centre in Forum tracking, as canvassers report hearing from voters in swing polls that they don't recognize the current Liberal Party. And after ducking a debate specifically on climate change, Freeland then avoided answering direct questions on Keystone from NDP candidate Linda McQuaig in the Rogers Cable debate Wednesday night, and again twice in Saturday's abbreviated all-candidates meeting at the University of Toronto. [That meeting was interrupted by several screaming fits from frequent candidate Kevin Clarke, after an earlier disruption by John Turmel, and then cancelled altogether.]

[Click photo to view the debate on CPAC]

Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig in the Rogers TV all-candidates debate, November 13, 2013 (source: Facebook)

Freeland says that she doesn't envisage any disagreements with her leader and caucus, since she will be heavily involved in drafting their policies, though that only makes her reluctance to answer the Keystone question more noteworthy. Instead her campaign started to portray her as Toronto Centre's "transit advocate" late last week. The Liberals have also tried to highlight differences between McQuaig's writings on tax policy and NDP leader Tom Mulcair's preference for corporate tax hikes over personal tax increases.

With just a week to go in the four federal by-elections, Brandon-Souris will see a few more all-candidates meetings; Bourassa has no further meetings scheduled after a single meeting last weekend where Liberal candidate Emmanuel Dubourg had to leave after 30 minutes to attend another event outside the riding; and the Conservative front-runner in Provencher, Ted Falk, has been reluctant to debate much either.

But three significant all-candidates debates remain in Toronto Centre this week, in what's looking like a closer and closer race:

  • Wednesday November 20, 7 – 9 PM – hosted by the association of community associations, and moderated by John Tory (Jarvis Collegiate, 495 Jarvis St.)
  • Wednesday November 20, broadcast at 8 PM (repeated at 11 PM) – on TVO's The Agenda, hosted by Steve Paikin
  • Thursday November 21, 7 – 9 PM – Rosedale United Church Sanctuary, 159 Roxborough Drive

NDP leader Tom Mulcair greets supporters in Toronto Centre, November 12, 2013 (photo: Ian Campbell; source: Facebook)

The final week of the by-election campaign will demonstrate whether the Liberals can grow out their base, from their current squeezed position in the middle, on both sides equally; or whether by shifting right to try and pick off a Tory-Conservative seat like Brandon-Souris, they've allowed a resurgent Tom Mulcair and Linda McQuaig to occupy much of the centre-left in their old Toronto Centre stomping grounds for the NDP.

POSTSCRIPT: It does look like the Liberals are trying to change the terrain of debate for the final week to their old standby: national unity. It will be interesting to which of the two issues becomes the vote-determining question for Toronto.