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 Daveberta.ca 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 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.