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Posts Tagged ‘Hill Times’

How the new federal electoral map will create new political realities

January 28th, 2015 | 5 Comments

It’s on: The Danforth in Toronto, Ont. Three competing trends will play out in the fight for the redrawn electoral map in the next federal election, and they’ll make it one for the ages: new ridings in high-growth areas, lack of incumbency, and ripple effects on other ridings.

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

by Alice Funke, for the Hill Times Power & Influence Magazine, Winter 2015; Reprinted with kind permission

[Note: This article was penned for a November 14 deadline. The analysis holds up pretty well, though a few of the metrics have changed, as noted below.]


How will the 30 new ridings change the game in Canadian politics? Three competing trends will play out in the fight for the redrawn electoral map in the next federal election—and they’ll make it one for the ages.

Lack of incumbency: Between 66 and 75 of the 338 House of Commons seats that will be up for grabs in 2015 will not have an incumbent Member of Parliament on the ballot. At press time, 38 MPs had announced their retirement, with two vacant seats and eight others yet to declare their intentions. [UPDATE: that figure has since risen to 41, with several more retirements not unlikely]

Add those to the 30 new federal ridings created through electoral redistribution, and you have a lot of wide-open races.

New ridings in high-growth areas: Many of the seats that have been added are found in areas of rapid population growth, with new housing developments and an underdeveloped sense of community and belonging. Voters in these areas will be reached as individuals rather than as members of an established community. Incumbency and name recognition will be of little value, even in the few new seats that will have an elected MP on the ballot. They are the “air war” seats.

Ripple effects on other ridings: The addition of new seats in Ontario has also caused a drop in the average population of the remaining ridings, making some previously urban-rural seats more urban and therefore changing the nature of those contests.

In Saskatchewan, the end of the eight socalled “rurban,” pie-shaped ridings that joined four quarters of Regina and Saskatoon with their rural rings in favour of five urban and one rurban seat is expected to change the balance of representation in that province for the first time in 15 years.

A similar pattern could be repeated in Edmonton, whose ridings also became more urban, while the impact of in-migration on electoral contests in other parts of Alberta, such as Calgary and Fort McMurray, also Game changer: how the new federal electoral map will create new political realities remains an open question. These are the “ground war” seats.

Let’s consider each factor in greater detail.

Lack of incumbency

We call a riding with no incumbent MP on the ballot an “open seat.” 2015 will see a lot of open seats, though not a record high. [UPDATE: in fact, it will set a record, given the number of retirement announcements since press-time]

Two other elections stand out in recent history as having high open seat counts:

* 1993, when it became clear that the Mulroney government’s unpopularity would force many government MPs into opposition if they even survived the campaign (all but two did not), and;

* 2004, which saw the changing of the guard from Jean Chrétien to Paul Martin within the Liberal Party, a newly re-united Conservative Party, and an ambitious and energetic new NDP leader, all set to do battle on new riding boundaries, including seven new seats.

* Both of those elections heralded major changes in the federal political party system in Canada and had an outsized impact on the future of political debate in the country. This year can be expected to do no less.

It’s also worth noting the above-average number of first-term incumbents heading into their first attempt at re-election when the writ drops:

* The majority are wearing NDP colours in the province of Quebec. While they’ll face greater competition, particularly in anglo- and allophone Montreal and in Québec City ridings, one thing they won’t have to worry about is the residual strength that Bloc Québécois incumbents showed in 2011. Expect that residual Bloc vote to shrink in 2015, some to stay home, and some to bolster the NDP in their fight with the resurgent Liberals.

* Another group is the Conservatives who won seats around the ring of Toronto, and whose election gave the government its coveted majority, but whose provincial counterparts are mainly Liberals after last spring’s election.

New ridings in high-growth areas

Many of the new ridings around the outskirts of Ontario are a completely clean slate. Consider that what were two ridings in 1988 —York North and Markham-Whitchurch- Stouffville—became five seats in 1997, six seats in 2004, and stand at nine ridings today.

These commuter ridings around Toronto don’t have a long electoral track record, have brand new local riding associations, and will be heavily influenced by both the competing narratives of the national campaign and the very individualized targeting initiatives using the modern digital tools honed south of the border.

Another driver of population growth in these ridings in Ontario and B.C. is immigration, so the ability of the parties to target and integrate these new cultural communities in their campaigns will be vital.

The uncertainty in these ridings has actually seen many incumbent Conservative MPs choose to run in safer adjacent ridings rather than test the new waters. In doing so, they’ve stripped whatever residual benefit there might have been from their name recognition and put into question many observers’ early assumptions that the new seats were a boon for the government’s majority re-election.

Ripple effects on other ridings

Outside the areas of rapid growth in Ontario, the rural seats will become more rural and the small-town urban seats will become more urban, particularly in the southwest. Seats like Oshawa, Brantford, Cambridge, Sarnia, and Essex will see the balance shift somewhat away from the Conservatives and become more competitive for the first time in several elections.

In Saskatchewan, expect to see a more competitive playing field in Regina-Lewvan, Saskatoon West, Saskatoon University and Saskatoon Grasswood—the urban seats—and Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River in the north, which has lost some of the agricultural areas in the south that vote Conservative.

Alberta will see a little more competition in open seats in the highly urban areas as well, including Edmonton Griesbach, Edmonton Centre, Calgary Centre and Calgary Confederation.

Vancouver Island in British Columbia is one area where the new seats are causing significant boundary changes that will increase competitiveness mainly between the Conservatives and NDP, while the addition of new seats in South Surrey and the lower Fraser Valley can be expected to merely up the Conservatives’ seat count. [UPDATE: the Green Party is also making a play for some south Vancouver Island seats, as well]

Other factors to consider

When the new electoral map was published, Elections Canada transposed the 2011 voting results onto the new boundaries and calculated how the parties would do in each seat.

This calculation is called the “2011 Transposition,” and while it’s an interesting starting point for any analysis of a new riding’s prospects, baked into the cake are a number of outdated factors that tell us more about where the puck was going four years ago than where it’s headed next time out.

Nominal winners: A transposition calculates the “nominal winner” of a seat, but one that doesn’t always make common sense given who the current incumbent is. For example, Winnipeg North Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux will be running for re-election as the incumbent MP in a newly-drawn riding with the same name that takes in most of his current seat, but for which the “nominal winner” is the NDP. Yet most observers expect him to be re-elected because of a second factor.

Assimilation effects: The portions of Kildonan-St. Paul, Man., which is a Liberal-Conservative contest, when added to Winnipeg North, which is a Liberal-NDP race, probably showed a higher Conservative vote for MP Joy Smith than they would do in a battle between Mr. Lamoureux and an NDP competitor. A similar example exists in suburban greater Vancouver, where incumbent NDP MP Fin Donnelly is running for re-election in a riding the Conservatives nominally win, but the margin would have been drawn from Conservative MP James Moore’s inordinate popularity, and he’s now running next door.

Campaign effects: The perception of winnability in a seat will affect the parties’ interest in targeting it for local organization support. Ridings such as the rurban Regina and Saskatoon seats, or some of the seats on northern Vancouver Island, are quite sensitive to boundary changes, and would not have been as heavily targeted by the opposition parties last time around as they will be this time.


Canadian federal elections have been classified as being either transformative or incremental in terms of the way they changed the number, strength and regional support for our national political parties. The year 1993 saw the rise of the Reform Party and Bloc Québécois. The year 2004 saw the right unite, and 2011 saw the end of the Bloc Québécois. Will 2015 prove the 2011 upheaval to have been transitory or permanent? You can’t answer that question without considering the new electoral map, and as we’ve seen, there are no straightforward answers, but a lot of very interesting questions.

Q and A with Allan Gregg

September 10th, 2012 | 41 Comments

Allan Gregg

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

After his stinging rebuke of the Conservative Government's "anti-science" policies at Carleton University last Wednesday, I had a chance to speak further with Harris-Decima Chair Allan Gregg the following morning about his views on science, politics, and the possibility of change.

You can read the prepared remarks for Gregg's speech here, and my story for today's Hill Times here. The full talk, which includes much more personal material than was included in Mr. Gregg's remarks, will be broadcast later this week on CPAC, I'm told.

Thanks to Mr. Gregg for being willing to spend so much time talking to a blogger.


Q. When you left the “At Issue” panel, you said that you wanted to be able to speak more freely, and more long-form, and have the latittude to get involved in certain issues and causes. Is this an issue and cause that we’re going to be hearing more about from you?

A. Yeah, I think that’s exactly what I wanted to do. That was my intent and that’s what I’m doing now.

Q. Are you writing a book?

A. I’ve got a couple of proposals in the works, but there’s kind of a getting ready to get ready phase that you have to go through, to see is there really enough here to constitute a book. I’m at that stage right now in a couple of different fronts.

Q. You didn’t mince words really last night. You were pretty hard on the Canadian government, and some other politicians like Jean Charest, Mitt Romney, and even Barack Obama. And it seems you’re gravely concerned about what you’re calling this “blatant attempt to obliterate the use of research and science in policy-making” and also to eliminate any evidence-based opposition to the government, and so …

A. It gets in the way of ideology, doesn’t it? Because as I said in the remarks, invariably, the evidence either supports or refutes the ideology, so at the end of the day, evidence and reason should rule. And people who want to advance an agenda irrespective of that, know that, so they have to kind of remove it. This has gone on for all of history.

Q. So, you says it’s gone on for all of history, so are things getting markedly worse, or is this only in Canada, or …

A. No, no, I think they got markedly better for a long, long time, especially since the period of the Enlightenment in the 16th century. And I think there is a remarkable progress that is undeniable. So I think you’re just seeing it in the last three decades, where you’re starting to see a culture of fear and a politics of division taking over, and I think it is reflective of a trend in the western world. Arguably the rest of the world arguably never got to the same point we did.

Q. Is this something that Canada imported from the States, or is it a function of the changing media landscape or maybe even the economy of the media, or is it something that sort of emerged with the “decline of deference” following Meech Lake and Charlottetown?

A. I think that has a lot to do with it. I didn’t talk about that much in the remarks, but I think part of the problem, and this is North American-wide, is that there is kind of an “anti-elite” sentiment out there right now. And it really is a shift from a culture of deference, where we look to our leaders to solve all our problems, to one of defiance where we think our leaders are bums. In public opinion data it’s overwhelming, and it’s not just related to politics, it’s bankers, it’s priests … right across the board. So, someone who goes out there and advocates “anti-elitist” positions – you know, “we don’t need scientists to tell us what should be happening in our parks, you know, campers always know what to do in our parks” – that’s the kind of sentiment that’s there, and it actually finds a very very rich soil.

Q. I agree with you, but I guess I have to ask whether science, and knowledge and reason are themselves neutral, and this is some of perhaps what they were getting at, one of your commenters last night, about “conviction” versus “knowledge”, and does it matter who funds the research, and in what interest?

A. Of course it does. And I completely accept that science has been used for bad purposes historically as well as good, but then on balance, if you put the good and the bad on a balance sheet, you see that the good wildly outweighs the bad. Part of my concern right now is that you have “pseudo-science” that is rampant out there, and it’s fairly hard for the layman to parse between. So it undermines the legitimacy of the real science that is being directed for the public good.

Q. Just to be devil’s advocate for a second, don’t some of the policy wonks sometimes make themselves, or keep themselves, or seem a little detached from the citizens whose taxes have funded their work? Do you think that’s …

A. Absolutely. And it is. Even in my discipline of public opinion research, what we often do is we look at computer output. You know, these are people talking to us, and we treat them as just numbers, and we assume that it’s just really one person – it’s an aggregated Canadian. So, if 55% of Canadians think this, then the majority of Canadians think this, then Canadians think this ….So, I think there always is that problem, and I think that empathy has to be part of the equation. And we know that the best scientists are the ones that are in the field, and the best researchers are the ones who are on the street.

Q. Well…

A. So let me just finish there, because you know if you are detached, you never ever generate the right hypotheses to test. Because you’re not close enough … to observe what actually might be going on there.

Q. The key to polling then, is to ask the right question.

A. Absolutely.

Q. So, one of your early mentors, [US pollster] Richard Wirthlin, he’s arguing that values trumped issues in the work that he did for Ronald Reagan. He told George Lakoff that this was how Reagan managed to get elected: that people wanted to vote for him based on an appeal to values, in spite of most voters at the time disagreeing with his policies.

So, that being the case, that an appeal values will trump reason every time, how is it that you’re so sure we could use reason and knowledge to “fight back”, which was your closing call?

A. It’s the power, you know, it’s the power of 2 + 2 = 4. It’s irrefutable. It’s not very emotionally compelling; it’s not something that causes people to stand up and give you a standing ovation. But over time, it will prevail. Dick is right to the extent that people make their judgements using irrational criteria in a very rational way. I mean, choice – political choice, consumer choice, what have you – is a fairly rational intersection of self-interest and self-image. People ask themselves these two things: (i) is it like me – self-image, and (ii) is it for me – self-interest. And if the answer to both those things is “yes”, they’re likely to be chosen. But the way you transmit “I am like you” could be “you and I love children, or puppy-dogs” as opposed to “you and I both believe that we have to have a guaranteed annual income program”. So, yeah, there always is the element of the irrational in the rational, I just think it’s something we have to keep our guard up for.

Q. But is it also maybe that “you and I both dislike that other person” or “both fear this phenomenon”?

A. [laughs] Well, there’s always that as well, yes.

Q. Because that’s the basis of wedge politics.

A. Well it is, but I’ve always feared those who try to keep the population ignorant, or try to misdirect them, or fool them. I’ve got no problem with right-wingers. I’ve got no problem with left-wingers. I just want them to be honest, and to base their ideology, and put it out there and have it challenged by facts and reason.

Q. So, what are the stakes if this trend can’t be reversed? You say that we’re not at 1984 yet, but how will we know if gotten there down the road?

A. Well, you know, I said it in my speech, and I’m surprised it didn’t get more reaction, but it’s something that you’re not even allowed to say. You look at what Barack Obama is doing. The killing of Osama Bin Laden – by any traditonal criteria – is an International crime. You know, I don’t care how bad the toad is, due process says that you’re innocent until proven guilty, that you have a trial that is out in the open, that you’re prepared to bring evidence, and that the evidence has to be brought against you in a public forum.  Murder is committed routinely all over the place. And you know, not only is it not the source of shame, it’s actually the source of great pride. The media, you know … “General Motors is working, and Osama Bin Laden is dead” … that is the most egregious example of the assault on reason; that we have actually got to the point as long as we disagree with the individuals, if we don’t like them, if we fear them, that killing them – just on a whim … What if Barack Obama decided that he didn’t like my speech last night, and just sent a drone over here …? [laughs]

Q. And even the television show that’s supposed to be the most trenchant criticism of all the trends you’re discussing, and the media and popular culture, itself did an episode that was a cheerleader for just that very US government action …

A. You mean “The Newsroom”. Yes, exactly. Even Aaron Sorkin finds himself falling victim to that.

You know, John Adams, who was a great President, he first defended the British officers at the Boston Massacre. And this was right before the American Revolution. When he introduced the “Aliens and Seditious Act”, that’s what he called it. It cost him one run at the presidency, but that’s what it was.

We’re going backwards from the Enlightenment thinkers and the Enlightenment leaders, who were really inspired by that sort of stuff.

Q. One more question. The clear implications of your criticism of the current government is that the trend can only be changed at the ballot box in 2015. So, I’m wondering where are the internal critics of the current government? The Liberal Party is often thought of as representing the knowledge class – do they need to come back in order to reverse this trend? Do you think the party system is undergoing transformation and that the split at the ballot box is a temporary phenomenon, or what’s your take on politics these days?

A. I think we’re in a period of transition. It would not surprise me if we end up with a two-party system with much clearer choice, as one of the professors was advocating last night. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. Probably the Liberal Party has become … you know they’ve gone from being the governing party, the natural party that most people identified with. If you asked people “which political party has values that best reflects your own”, overwhelmingly for all my adult life, the Liberals won that question. Today they’ve become a party that basically represents no-one and stands for nothing. And that’s how they’re viewed — I’m not being cruel or anything. I mean, I could see that [meaning a move to a two-party system].

But the other thing too, is that for all of their [now referring to the Conservative government] – and I do believe that that’s very genuine on their part; they think it’s wrong what has happened because this mythical Canadian Tire / Tim Hortons person has been not represented and their voice hasn’t been heard in the public discourse in Canada – they’re not irrational to the extent they’re prepared to commit political suicide. I mean, the extent to which scientists stood up to them and could actually put forward their case in a persuasive way, they will throttle it in; they will rein it in.

Q. And, are you going to be playing a role in that election, or in politics in the future?

A. No, no. I’m finished partisan politics. I will certainly weigh in on issues, but not on one [party] side or the other.

UPDATED: Progressives urged to be less “think tank” and more “do tank”

November 22nd, 2010 | 13 Comments

The following article from this morning's edition is reprinted with the kind permission of the Hill Times.

Because it talks about the political strategies of the conservative movement, and covers attempts to understand the emergence of populism in a different way, I thought readers of various political persuasions might find it interesting here.

[UPDATE:  The video of the full day's conference proceedings is now available through the Rabble TV channel at, including other talks in the morning panel by Alex Neve of Amnesty International, and Kate Rexe of the Native Women's Association of Canada, and remarks by the panel Chair Gerry Caplan. The afternoon session focused on the economy. Unfortunately there were audio problems initially, but you can hear if you turn it up.]


Progressives urged to move from ‘think tank’ to ‘do tank’ to counter erosion of democracy

Massive growth in conservative ‘ideological persuasion industry,’ funds narrative tools targeted at the grassroots.


Progressive groups must learn from the strategies adopted by the conservative movement in Canada, and spend less time being “think tanks” and more “do tanks” if they want to fight the erosion of democracy in Canada, delegates to the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives’ 30th Anniversary conference were told Thursday.

“Yes, research is important, but it can’t be such a large focus,” University of Ottawa professor Paul Saurette urged the audience, arguing that their opponents in the conservative movement, such as the Fraser Institute and more recently the Manning Centre, “understand that they’re in the persuasion business, not the research business,” and that progressive groups will need to develop new ways to advocate.

Prof. Saurette, whose academic work has studied the development of conservative think tanks and organizations in both Canada and the United States, said that unlike the think tanks of 30 years ago, which used to follow a “tree-tops strategy” of influencing policy, there has been a massive growth in the conservative “ideological persuasion industry,” which funds a variety of narrative tools targeted at the grassroots.

The past 30 years has also seen enormous change in the media landscape, Prof. Saurette argued, citing Tony Blair’s observation that after the war in Iraq, he had to spend the next biggest amount of time responding to the media. Not only has the media adopted a “highly pro-market fundamentalist orientation,” he said, but they “have very limited content capacity now, and journalists are scared of being labelled as biased, which is the result of a campaign by right-wing bloggers, making them even more susceptible.”

Conservative organizations spend a lot of effort “both influencing the influencers and to train journalists,” he added, saying that they have been effective in redefining equality to mean “equal access to the market,” and promoting the concept of choice as “a kinder, gentler way to convey the libertarian view of freedom” and translating that to the consumer market.

“The last 30 years of attacks on government have had an effect,” Prof. Saurette said, “making people believe they can do it themselves,” something he argued the Obama campaign was able to build on effectively.

“We, the professional class, have contributed to this problem,” argued the new executive director of the Atkinson Foundation, Olivia Nuamah, who said that amongst progressive groups she felt “blessed but isolated.”

“There is a big disconnect between the way we talk about the problem, and the way they live their lives,” she said, talking about her family and growing up in Regent Park in Toronto. “My family’s income never goes up, no matter what.” No matter who is in government, she said “they see no relationship between themselves and the state, except for taxation.”

“It is my family that votes for Rob Ford. We always bear the brunt, but never see ourselves reflected in the opposition,” she said.

“We need to broaden the types of people we have dialogue with,” Ms. Nuamah said in an interview, “to really represent that working class under-class who are the base of the service-sector economy, and find out from them how taxation affects their working lives, and their lack of access.”

“I don’t know if the progressive groups are working in a bubble, but I think we may have been too selective about who we let in, and we need to let more people in,” Ms. Nuamah said.

“The Tea Party was a perfect example. They watched the Obama campaign build up, and said we need to do that too. It works,” she said, adding that once he took office, a break occurred between the Obama administration and his organizational base, which might cost U.S. President Barack Obama another term in office.

Ms. Nuamah said she thinks progressive movements have lost the argument on public-private partnerships, or P3s, for this reason. “In the U.K., almost every service is delivered that way now. And they created a lot of employment, broke the unions, yes, but also created a lot more access to services. The private sector provided access and employment that the state hadn’t,” she said, notwithstanding any other problems with the approach.

Prof. Saurette and Ms. Nuamah both advocated variations of progressive populism or economic populism as a narrative antidote. “We need a strong progressive retooling of the value of choice,” Prof. Saurette argued. “People are upset with the conditions of their lives.”

Ms. Nuamah agreed with Prof. Saurette’s advocacy of more narrative tools like the Alternative Federal Budget, saying that while “progressives’ messages are complex,” they need to emulate some of the success the Fraser Institute has had in popularizing their ideas through techniques such as Tax Freedom Day.

In an interview, Prof. Saurette said that he had a lot of respect for Preston Manning as someone who was a true populist and whose work was based on values, but “where we differ is that he thinks what’s missing is a bigger role for the free market. The market also has a lot of hidden costs.”

“Populism is identifying with the people, and what the people want, and then identifying the causes and creating the solutions,” he said, arguing that the market meltdown of 2008-2009 provided a good example of who created the problems and benefited from the chosen solutions.

“For me the question is not whether you raise taxes or lower taxes, the question is how do you help people understand the value, or not, of those taxes. If people believe that they’re not getting value, they’ll want them cut. That’s a huge challenge for progressives, because they haven’t answered that question very well,” Prof. Saurette said.

“Over the last 20 years, the NDP has used populist language like ‘working families,’ as have the Conservatives, for very different purposes. But probably because they’re on the ground, and looking at alternative narratives other parties are using and the people are using, the NDP is well aware that populism as a narrative and a story has importance,” said Prof. Saurette.

“Too many people view populism as an ignorant reaction against elites, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s often an expression of frustration and lack of control and that needs to be responded to,” said Prof. Saurette.

“The problem is that political parties can’t create these narratives alone, or create the intellectual property behind them. Preston Manning’s idea of ‘surfing the wave’ has been important to building the Conservative Party, but happened outside of it,” said Prof. Saurette.

“The progressive movement has to help recreate a narrative that allows politicians to tap into that.”

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Alice Funke is the publisher of

Chantal Hébert at Carleton University

November 1st, 2010 | 15 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

I covered national affairs columnist Chantal Hébert's lecture at Carleton University last week, the one Peter Mansbridge said he heard she was a "rock star" at, for the Hill Times, and a story appears there, which is reprinted here with kind permission.

However, readers may also be interested in the full transcript of her comments, and the Question and Answer period afterwards, in order to give context to some of her more controversial comments about such things as:

  • the media's coverage of the Toronto municipal election campaign
  • why the Liberals are "no longer a national party"
  • why she opposed the long gun registry, and
  • why she's finally become a support of proportional representation

There's a lot more as well.


Voters angry, engaged, and ahead of conventional parties: Hébert

Conventional political parties are ‘slow to catch the wave,’ or simply being cast away by a populace looking for something else, says Chantal Hébert.


The common thread between citizen backlashes over culture cuts, prorogation and the census, the HST in British Columbia, and new political forces in Calgary, Toronto and Quebec, is the emergence of an angry and therefore engaged electorate, Toronto Star syndicated national affairs columnist and leading political analyst Chantal Hébert told a packed audience of academics and students at Carleton University last Wednesday night.

Ms. Hébert also cited Canada’s “apparently open-ended minority cycle” as being perhaps ahead of the curve in the trend now seen internationally across the developed democracies, and she said it arose in part due to the presence of the Bloc Québécois but also from the fact that the Liberals “are no longer a national party.” Drawing a tentative line between the seven isolated political events in Canada, Ms. Hébert argued that no conventional politician was to be found leading those campaigns. Conventional political parties have been “slow to catch the wave,” she said, and if they’re lucky are able to join the parade on some of these issues, although in other cases they “are simply being cast away by a populace looking for something else.”

“Taken together though they suggest, I think, that faced with a non-responsive political system, voters are taking matters in their own hands, and they are finding ways to work right out of the box of the conventional politics to bring about change,” she said.

Where conventional parties cannot take up the charge, “wild cards” like the Wildrose Alliance, the mayoral campaigns of Naheed Nenshi in Calgary and Rob Ford in Toronto, and Force Québec, a “hypothetical party” whose existence is not even a certainty, are emerging as “real contenders for power.”

The conventional parties haven’t figured out how to respond effectively, Ms. Hébert claimed, citing the case of Toronto where Mr. Ford was subjected to two months of a “highly critical microscope of the probably the most powerful media in the country,” which only succeeded in communicating to his supporters “ ‘Oh boy, this guy, he’s a buffoon, people want to vote for him, let’s insult their intelligence and tell them how stupid they are to want to vote for him,” she said.

“When you have an outsider candidate, a maverick candidate, that’s coming in and on a populist platform, the last thing you want to throw at that candidate is insider support for the opposition.”

Unlike Calgary, where Mr. Nenshi’s campaign was “certainly able” to effectively use social media and garner new voters moving him from one per cent in vote intentions to a competitive position, many internet pollsters in the Toronto race completely missed the older voters who were not using Facebook but were supporting Mr. Ford.

“A disengaged electorate doesn’t do 700,000 hits over culture cuts, and it does not go on Facebook and decide it wants a mayor that one per cent of people wanted to support at the beginning of the campaign. And it does not elect Rob Ford because it’s disengaged or it’s not angry,” Ms. Hébert argued. “Angry is engagement.”

She said she believes that the social media are allowing citizens to connect with each other better than the conventional  politicians are connecting with them, and believes that the political party that can awake this sleeping giant will be best positioned to succeed in the shifting political landscape.

Taking questions from the floor, Ms. Hébert also assessed the country’s prospects for electing a majority government, saying  that while she was not opposed to minority governments and said she believes they can work well, any majority that would be elected now would be a “mathematical majority,” but not a national one, owing to the “regional silos we are now working ourselves into,” which she argued was a worse outcome than any minority government.

She pointed to the paucity of Liberal votes in Western Canada during the last election as a demonstration of “how weak the Liberals are, and that there is a lot of rebuilding to be done,” noting that within Quebec, the Liberals have lost four of the five campaigns they’ve fought against a united Conservative Party since the patriation of the constitution when they lost that province, and that they are now “the Toronto Party with some seats in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.”

Answering a question on regional differences in attitudes towards justice issues, Ms. Hébert invoked the introduction of the gun registry, saying that some of the provinces like Saskatchewan and New Brunswick who asked the federal government to allow provinces to opt in to the Criminal Code provision at the time, were led by premiers who were hardly “hardcore Conservatives who want to have guns in their kitchen.” She said that at the time she had opposed the long gun registry, knowing people who had worked on the file who “thought that they had pushed the gun control file under Kim Campbell as far as it could be pushed, to be efficient for the money that we could put in it,” and she argued that perhaps an opportunity had been lost by insisting on a national application of that provision.

Ms. Hébert also admitted to becoming a supporter of proportional representation at the federal level after a recent trip to Europe, not for many of the panaceas its supporters now confer it with, but because it “would have some Liberals from Alberta in Michael Ignatieff’s caucus and some New Democrats from Montreal in Jack Layton’s caucus” and that would help prevent the dangers of regionalism. She said she doesn’t think there is any momentum towards it, however, and said that the NDP appear not to be pushing it very hard, perhaps since the growth of the Green Party on the federal scene.

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Alice Funke is editor of the Pundits' Guide to Canadian Federal Elections

Hill Times Article: Time to Modernize Election Process

June 14th, 2010 | 4 Comments

Following the tabling of the Chief Electoral Officer’s Report to Parliament on the 40th General Election last week, I filed a story for the Hill Times, which was published in this morning’s edition.  It is reprinted here with kind permission.

Time to modernize election process, urges Canada’s chief electoral officer

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand tells Parliament the Elections Act needs an overhaul.


The wave of legislative reforms to federal political financing and reporting rules in recent years has resulted in an increasingly complex system that needs more coherence, advises Chief Electoral Office Marc Mayrand in his comprehensive post-2008 general election report released last week.

Saying “we need to modernize the electoral process and make it more efficient,” Mr. Mayrand is recommending that Parliament enact a series of changes to make the rules more consistent between the five main political entities he regulates—parties, candidates, nomination contestants, riding associations, and leadership candidates—to strengthen his ability to ensure compliance, but also to reduce some of the unnecessary burden on largely volunteer bodies.

Topping his list is a request for authority to ask for supporting documentation from political parties for the expenses reported on their national campaign returns, both to determine that the expenses were properly incurred before paying out their rebates, and to ensure that the national spending limit was adhered to.

Currently national parties file a one-page audited report summarizing their campaign expenditures under a set of nine categories, but unlike the case with candidates or riding associations [actually, it's only the case for candidates], the law does not allow Elections Canada to request receipts or other supporting documents in order to certify those expenses. Given that some $29-million in public funds were paid out as election expense rebates in the 2008 election, Mr. Mayrand said he believes that his power of oversight for parties should be at least equivalent to that for candidates, riding associations and leadership contestants in this regard, and be consistent with similar powers already granted to every one of his provincial counterparts under their governing statutes.

A second key area needing consistent rules is the area of contribution limits for leadership contestants, versus political parties, candidates and riding associations. Contributions to a leadership contestant are currently capped for the entire contest, while contributions to a candidate, riding or political party are capped on an annual basis, something Mr. Mayrand said he believes should be the case for leadership contestants as well.

The legislative regime for leadership contestants was put into place before later rule changes prohibiting corporate and union donations and further capping contributions came into effect, and should be reviewed to ensure that all the pieces work together, Mr. Mayrand explained.

“Often you’ll see the recommendations reflect issues that happen as a result of successive legislative changes, and no-one’s taking a step back and asking, ‘Are we still making sense,’ ” he said.

Mr. Mayrand is also suggesting the introduction of some administrative penalties when parties or candidates overspend their limits, as is the case in Ontario and Manitoba. Currently the commissioner of elections can send a warning letter or enter into compliance agreements with candidates, or prosecute them. Setting an administrative penalty, such as a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their election expense rebate, would offer a middle ground, and provide more timely consequences and better compliance, Mr. Mayrand said.

A total of 50 recommended changes to the Elections Act, covering the electoral process, political financing, governance and a variety of technical issues, will now be studied by the Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee.

Another key area needing attention is that both citizens and political parties want to do more business electronically with Elections Canada, Mr. Mayrand said. But in order to permit both e-registration on the voters’ list and the electronic filing of many party and candidate reports, an amendment to the Elections Act is required to authorize a secure non-signature means of authentication for electronic transactions.

E-registration is set to commence in the fall of 2011, but Mr. Mayrand said the act needs to be “modernized” in order to provide a “fuller range of e-services,” and to obtain Parliamentary authorization to commence pilot projects of i-voting for certain groups of voters during a by-election.

Alice Funke is the publisher of the Pundits’ Guide to Canadian Federal Elections (

Hill Times Articles

July 20th, 2009 | 5 Comments

This morning’s Hill Times has a lengthy piece by Harris MacLeod on the forthcoming election and ridings to watch at this early stage, including a list compiled in part by yours truly.

I appreciate the publicity and opportunity to provide information to the Hill Times, but just wanted to clarify that the list in the paper *includes* ridings provided by me, and that there was some editorializing going on by them in some of the list’s comments as well. Specifically:

  • While I might agree that Brampton – Springdale, ON should be on the list because the Conservatives nominated there very early, I did not write the comments about it or its incumbent M.P. (and in general I do not even like “xx-gate” terms).
  • Moreover, Oakville, ON is a riding to watch, but I would have described it as a 1993 Liberal pickup of a previously Conservative seat at a time when the conservative parties split, rather than a “long-time” Liberal riding. Former Liberal M.P. Bonnie Brown won the seat in 1993, but it was previously held for 4 terms by Conservative M.P. Otto Jelinek. On the other hand, this is just the kind of seat whose fate will be interesting to watch going forward.

The riding list only appears in the printed edition, but as before I will be asking for permission to reprint it here, along with a table I prepared for last week’s story on the battle in Québec, called “Québec by the Numbers (2008 General Election)”.

Sorry to be so picky, but I really try to take care about the kinds of remarks I make, in order to keep this site a neutral place that’s useful for everyone. Otherwise, keep up the great work, Hill Times, and from someone who read you from the beginning: Happy 20th Anniversary this October!