Saturday, October 18, 2008

Strategic evaluations

As a follow-up to the federal election, let's take a quick look at just how effective the Vote for Environment strategic voting site was in worked out both in predicting seat results and in assessing voters' strategic options. And it shouldn't come as much surprise that that the projections used to instruct voters how to cast their ballots often varied wildly from the actual election results.

Let's start with its seat chart of projected Con ridings, which was released to much fanfare just in time for the vote.

Vote for Environment's top-ranked riding for strategic voting intended to stop the Cons was Richmond. There, the Cons took 49.8% of the vote for a 19-point margin of victory - and would have won even if all actual Lib, NDP and Green votes had lined up behind one party (as two independents won some votes as well).

#2 was Ottawa South, where the Libs won 49.8% of the vote for a 16-point victory.

#3 was Newton-North Delta, where the combined Lib/NDP vote more than doubled the Cons' vote - making strategic voting unnecessary to beat the Cons.

In #4 West Vancouver – Sunshine Coast – Sea to Sky Country, the Cons took more than 44% of the vote for an 18-point win.

Which means that #5 Mississauga-Erindale was the first riding on Vote for Environment's list where a strategic vote would actually have had the potential to tip a tight race.

#s 6 through 10 look better based on the site's intention, including only one relatively comfortable Lib win in Vancouver-Quadra to go with Saanich-Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island North, Edmonton-Strathcona and Oshawa where strategic voting could have made a difference (and may actually have in the case of Edmonton-Strathcona).

From there on, the results are likewise a mixed bag at best, featuring a range of ridings from ones like Parry Sound-Muskoka and Blackstrap where the Cons won an outright majority of the votes, to St. John's South - Mount Pearl where the Cons finished a distant third at 12.6% of the vote behind a tight two-way Lib/NDP race.

But what if one looks from the other side to see whether Vote for Environment's main recommendations actually anticipated which ridings would be the closest ones? (See Election Pundit Queries on this page.)

There, one has to go all the way to #2 on the list of the closest actual results to find Kitchener-Waterloo - which Vote for Environment pegged as a safe Liberal seat which wouldn't require a strategic vote. While it's a little ways down the list before another riding completely escaped Vote for Environment's attention, Brampton-Springdale and Vancouver South both ranked among the top 20 closest ridings in the country after being listed as safe seats. And perhaps most damningly, another top-20 closest race in South Shore - St. Margaret's actually included a Vote for Environment recommendation to vote for the Lib who finished a distant third behind the tight Con/NDP battle at the top.

Now, the above isn't to say that Vote for Environment didn't mostly have some basis for its recommendations or non-recommendations (however sketchy South Shore - St. Margaret's may have been all along). But it does provide inescapable evidence that even a relatively sophisticated attempt to direct voters strategically simply can't be expected to anticipate how an election will actually play out. And the lesson is one that voters should keep in mind in deciding whether or not to put aside their actual party preferences when they go to the polls.

Expanding the map

David Akin writes about some interesting numbers from Alice at Pundits' Guide which highlight the "seats-plus-seconds" results for the federal parties. And notably, it's the New Democrats alone out of the national parties in Parliament that can point to gains in that department: took a look at the number of seats each party won and added in the number of races in which that party came second. Looking at this "seats-plus-seconds" statistic can provide some insight about a party's staying power and its ability to compete.

The Liberal seats-plus-seconds has now declined precipitously over the last four elections and is an indicator of the weakening of the overall brand.

In 1997, when Jean Chretien was winning his second majority, Liberals won 155 seats and finished second in 106 races, for a total "seats-plus-seconds" of 261. The Liberal "seats-plus-seconds" stayed strong through the elections of 2000 and 2004, at 279 and 280 respectively.

But in 2006, when Paul Martin's Liberals lost, the seats-plus-seconds total plunged to 219. Last week, it stood at just 200...

(T)he Conservatives won or finished second in just 238 seats, a slight decrease from 2006 when their seats-plus-seconds total was 241. Nonetheless, both those results are a marked improvement from 2004 when the newly minted Conservative party managed to finish first or second in just 189 ridings...

The New Democrats, on the other hand, may be most heartened by the trend in their seats-plus-seconds total as they try to muster enough votes and seats to perhaps one day form an Official Opposition.

For the first time ever, the NDP won or finished second in 104 or the 308 races they competed in, better than one-third. That's a big jump from 2000 when the NDP finished first or second in just 38 races across the country.
Now, it's worth noting that the "seats-plus-seconds" numbers are at best a very rough approximation of future growth potential. Indeed, there are at least a few seats where the NDP finished third or even fourth which look to be far more fertile ground than some of the more distant second-place finishes.

That said, the numbers are telling as to just what kind of map the federal parties are generally working with. And the comparison beteen the New Democrats and the Cons is particularly interesting. The Cons seem to have managed only to push a few more seats into the winning column within ridings which were already within the Cons' sights - making for what looks to be an unusually high ratio of seats won to top-2 finishes. In contrast, the NDP managed for the second consecutive campaign to make gains in both the "seats" and "seconds" parts of the equation.

Of course, there's still a ways to go for the NDP in reaching the raw number of competitive seats now held by the other two parties. But it surely has to be happy with having set a new high in the seats-plus-seconds department - particularly given the greater degree of difficulty compared to elections such as 1988 when there were effectively only two other competitors for those positions. And based on these numbers, there should be far less distance to travel to put more seats in the New Democrats' column next time out.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On renewal

Having mentioned my prescription for the federal New Democrats this morning, I'll note that one of the more interesting questions on the federal scene is whether a party can better build itself up through party-based planning under popular continued leadership as the NDP enjoys under Jack Layton, or whether the competitive drive of leadership candidates will do more to bring new faces and organization into the fold (which would seemingly favour the Libs if any contestants manage to move beyond the party's past supporters).

That said, it's worth noting that following Lorne Calvert's resignation, Saskatchewan's provincial NDP has to be hoping to make the latter process work. And while we'll see who emerges from a long list of contenders to run for the provincial leadership, the more important question for the party may not be who competes and wins so much as how they go about the job.

If the race is simply a matter of choosing a winner based on competition among the party's current supporters and volunteers, then what should be a great opportunity for renewal will have been entirely wasted, and the NDP figures to be in tough to challenge the Sask Party in 2011. In contrast, if the leadership contestants push for support outside the party's current base and build organizations with strong loyalties to both them and the party in the longer term, then there's a real possibility of helping to move Saskatchewan back in the right direction within the next few years.

Needless to say, I'll be hoping for the latter - and doing my best to encourage it among all the leadership candidates. And hopefully the different paths to renewal will work for both levels of the NDP.

Strategic planning

With most of the talk about post-election strategy centering on the Libs, let's take a few minutes to discuss what the New Democrats did well this year - and how they'll want to build on that going forward.

Despite the NDP's gains in seats and vote share, the party's most important victory may not have come at the polls. Instead, the most significant positive development likely lay in the media' general acknowledgment that it was the NDP which boasted the best-run campaign when considering advertising, event management, and the rest of the national air war. Having shown themselves capable of running the best national campaign organization, the New Democrats should hopefully find the media at least somewhat less likely to marginalize the party, encouraging both additional reporting on the party's activities and increased discussion of what the NDP is up to.

Which makes for an important opportunity - but also more pressure to make sure the party's message is as timely and well thought-out from here on in as it was during the campaign. Fortunately, though, the strategy to do that looks to be a gimme.

Particularly with the Libs apparently moving to the right, the NDP figures to be the lone national voice pushing progressive message in opposition to Harper. Which should result in both prominent placement of NDP responses to any controversial policies which figure to stay in the news, and a massive opening to take the lead in pushing for left-wing causes.

Of course, the 2008 campaign also signals that no matter how effective New Democrats are in front of the cameras, they also have plenty of work to do in order to continue building the party behind the scenes. And it's there more than in public messaging that the NDP should follow the lead of the Obama campaign. Rather than counting on top-down party messaging to bring voters into the NDP camp, the key now has to be to build a broad, well-trained, self-sustaining organizational base.

As in Obama's case, this would involve some risk in temporarily directing attention away from the immediate priorities of fund-raising and direct voter contact - which may seem especially problematic within a minority Parliament. But this year's campaign serves to highlight to at least some extent the limitations of the NDP's current structure. And again with the Libs veering to the right, there may never be a better opportunity for the NDP to position itself as the hub of organization and support for progressive voters which it needs in order to form government.

You know the Cons have gone over the line when...

...even John Gormley slams their efforts made to make voting more difficult:
(A)s Elections Canada tried to address voting security, if the reports of dozens of people being turned away from polling stations for lack of identification are any indication, they might have gone too far. If someone is not on the voters' list, some tough standards may be needed. But for people already on the list who show up to vote with a voters' card, why not make one generic piece of ID suffice? It's highly improbable that a fraudulent voter could steal a voters' card from the mailbox and also happen to swipe an ID with a matching name.
Not that I agree entirely with Gormley when it comes to "tough standards" for voters not on a list, as that figures to make matters even worse for transient voters who are far too easily excluded. But it's certainly worth pointing out that the Cons' suppression efforts aren't even supported by their media base - and working to ensure that as many of them as possible are reversed by the next federal election.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


With the 2008 election results in the books, there can't be much doubt that left-wing Canadians need to take a close look at how best to advance their values. But for those still under the impression that the Libs offer any meaningful chance of doing so, there's a fairly instructive set of choices on tap within the party which claims to be the default option for progressives.

So far, the leading candidates to succeed Stephane Dion as the next Lib leader include:
- an Iraq war supporter and torture apologist who wants to define the Libs as a "party of the centre" rather than working with anybody to his left;
- Stephen Harper's choice for "bipartisan" cover to extend Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan, who criticized as too left-wing a platform which underfunded areas like First Nations development and child care in favour of massive corporate tax cuts; and
- a bank executive who only plans to run if he's on the receiving end of "lobbying from some of Canada's most senior businessmen".

Based on that starting point, it looks like the Libs are sending a strong message to progressive voters that they can count on being ignored even more than usual under a new leader. Which should offer an ideal wake-up call that it's time for left-wing Libs to turn to a party which will actually make sure their voice is heard.

Go time

It would certainly be tempting to join leftdog in encouraging Stephane Dion to stick around as the Libs' leader based on the continued opening it would offer the NDP. And I can understand the reasons why some Libs would support it - based largely on cost of another leadership race, and the fact that he's already past the worst the Cons figure to have to throw at him. But there are a couple of reasons why I don't see it happening.

First, as I mentioned last night, there's the fact that the Libs themselves apparently not trusting Dion with accurate information about his own campaign. After that, there's simply no way for Dion to trust that the party apparatus is giving him the full story about anything - making the Libs' already-glaring internal problems from the campaign look like a picnic compared to the distrust they'll have to deal with if Dion retains notional control.

And then there's the little matter of the Green Shift. All evidence seems to be that the Libs have no appetite to try to sell a carbon tax again, regardless of who's in charge.

Now, it's enough of an issue that Dion's signature policy has landed in the trash heap. But that's doubly problematic since to the extent the Libs managed to spread any positive story about Dion, it was that of a politician principled enough to try to sell an unpopular policy for the greater good. After all, if the Libs thought Dion was a difficult sell originally, how much tougher would it be to win over voters pitching him as having purged his only positive trait?

On sore losers

Others have pointed out Rahim Jaffer's refusal to accept defeat in Edmonton-Strathcona. But it's worth noting that he's not the only Con trying to kick and scream his way out of unfavourable election results, as the Cons' Manitoba president is trying to attack Jim Maloway's 1,700-vote victory in Elmwood-Transcona with a laundry list of complaints which wouldn't have any realistic chance of affecting a substantial number of votes.

From that starting point, I'll be curious to see how many more challenges emerge - and particularly how many of those originate with the party which would seem to have the least reason to want to undermine the election results.

While one would think a remotely competent government would have more important matters to deal with, I wouldn't be surprised if there are indeed more attacks on the election to come. After all, the Elmwood-Transcona challenge in particular seems to be aimed at developing a Republican-style culture of belief that the Cons are entitled to whatever seats they target, such that any loss makes for irrefutable proof of somebody else's wrongdoing. Which would in turn provide the Cons with both an excuse to clamp down even more on access to the polls to try to lower opposition turnout, and a way to motivate their base by claiming to have lost unfairly.

And if the cost is to undermine not only the perception of fairness in Canada's elections, but also the reality of it as Elections Canada is drawn into more and more political attacks - well, the Cons have shown over the past couple of years just how much concern they have for that.

In contrast, for those looking for an example of how to accept defeat graciously, here's Nettie Wiebe's reaction to her painfully close loss in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar:
"I'm afraid I won't have the great privilege of representing this great constituency in Ottawa," said Wiebe, who also ran a tight race in the 2006 election, but came up short to Conservative Carol Skelton.

"We ran a proud and vigorous campaign (but) it looks like it was not quite enough."

While NDP supporters nibbled on fingernails and cheered at every incoming poll that gave Wiebe the edge, the candidate herself said she calmly watched the numbers come across the television screen.

"I am a deeply committed democrat and on election day I give that decision over to the people," Wiebe said. "That doesn't mean I think it's the right result."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The consensus seems to be that Stephane Dion's stay as the Libs' leader is done with in the wake of the Libs' election losses. But it's worth noting just how little faith the Libs apparently had in their leader even before the results were in - and how their public message contrasted against their own concerns about Dion:
Dion rejected advice from some Liberals on election night to immediately announce his resignation as Paul Martin did in 2006, when his minority Liberal government was defeated by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who prevailed again this time with another minority government.

Dion was not prepared to make such a dramatic move because he was reeling from the election outcome, having been told only shortly before the polls closed that the Liberals were about to take a hit. He was protected from the bad news to keep him pumped during a final cross-Canada sprint on election eve to ridings where Liberal candidates were in big trouble.
Particularly in the context of the campaign which the Libs were actually running, the last paragraph should be a stunning one. For all the talk about Dion micromanaging the Libs' campaign, his handlers apparently kept him far out of the loop, insulating him from negative polling numbers on the assumption that he wasn't capable of dealing with them.

Now, if the Libs figured that were true of their leader, it would be a problematic situation at the best of times. But the 2008 campaign was something else entirely: even as the Libs were trying to shelter Dion from political reality for fear that he couldn't handle it, they were publicly trying to sell Dion as the leader best positioned to deal with an economic meltdown in progress.

It's worth noting that the problem may not be with Dion personally: given the judgment of the Libs generally, it's entirely possible that they were wrong in their assessment as to how he'd handle the information. But the fact that the Libs fought to put Canada and its struggling economy in the hands of a man who they didn't trust to deal competently with even a small dose of bad political news shows the degree to which they were willing to gamble Canada's future to serve their own interests. And that mindset offers reason to be relieved that the Libs didn't succeed in the effort.

Out in the open

After his election in 2006, it took Stephen Harper until his cabinet's swearing-in ceremony to start breaking promises. This time, he isn't waiting anywhere near that long, as Harper hasn't even needed a day after the election to start unveiling the Cons' real platform which is radically different from their positions during the campaign.

More arbitrary (and economically damaging) spending cuts which Harper considered a "ridiculous hypothetical scenario" way back in the dark ages of last week? Now, they're suddenly on the table.

Dozens of patronage appointments to the Senate in the name of better democratic representation? Harper is just looking for an excuse.

An economic pseudo-plan which combines elements he dismissed as "panicked" when they came from another party with statements of the glaringly obvious? Harper can't take credit for it fast enough.

Not that Harper has ever given Canadians reason to think he could be trusted. But the fact that he's managed to accumulate three strikes in a single day after winning an election has to serve as an awfully ominous sign of what's to come.

On toeholds

Following up on yesterday's post, the New Democrats' campaign ended up reaching only the first level of historic results - featuring the party's first-ever general election wins in Quebec and Newfoundland to go with a broader seat base than ever, but unfortunately not matching the late-campaign polls when it came to the NDP's share of the popular vote. So what does that mean for the future?

The good news is that the results raise a strong opportunity to build off the party's new geographic base. From CBC's national map, the NDP's wins in Churchill and Northern Ontario have at least given the NDP responsibility for opposing Harper in a greater proportion of the country than any other party.

And that should be far from the limit for geographic growth. With seats now in NDP hands in Alberta and Newfoundland, the door should be wide open for the NDP to start building new regional bases there as well, to go with a work in progress in Quebec which nearly pushed more seats into the New Democrats' column.

On the downside, the results for southern Ontario in particularly look to be a significant disappointment. Instead of turning the region into a three-way race, the NDP largely remained at least a few points behind the second-place Libs in the country's richest area for seats. Which not only means that the New Democrats took less ridings than one would have hoped for this time out, but also that it'll take some more movement to start pushing races the NDP's way in future elections.

In addition, even the national share of the vote has to be something of a mixed blessing - particularly when even an increased share won't mean additional subsidy money due to a decline in absolute votes.

All in all, last night's results offer only some moderate gains on the NDP's road to power. And the success of the rest of the journey depends on how effective the party's new MPs are at gaining ground for fellow New Democrats from their newly-won strongholds.

On absent Liberals

Comparing the final 2008 vote totals to those from 2006, it's worth noting that the main theme for most of the parties was actually a remarkably stable number of voters. The Cons, New Democrats and Bloc each lost between 80,000 and 150,000 votes - making for some slight disappointment in turnout, but certainly not a major change from the last election.

Which brings us to what looks to be the largest factor in both the changes in the parties' share of the popular vote and voter turnout, as roughly 850,000 Lib voters stayed home this year compared to 2006. Now where could they have picked up the idea that it's fine not to show up to vote when it counts?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Timely questions

Does Josee Verner's failure to vote for her own party (and indeed herself) say more about the incompetence and disorganization of yet another Quebec cabinet minister, or about the sheer lack of enthusiasm for the Harper government? And doesn't either offer a strong reason not to reward the likes of Verner with the responsibility to run the country?

Strategic complications

For those relying on Vote for Environment's final riding projects as their basis for strategic voting, let's take a moment to note a prime example of how dangerous it may be to rely on third-party projections.

In the B.C. riding of Newton-North Delta, Vote for Environment projects a three-way photofinish, with the Cons, Libs and New Democrats all finishing within 700 votes of each other. Which surely has to make it a worthwhile effort to try to encourage either of the challengers to take down Con candidate Sandeep Pandher.

But by relying solely on the assumption that its projected third-place finisher is nothing more than a source of votes for the projected second-place finisher, Vote for Environment simply suggests throwing all votes toward the Libs - risking the possibility of undermining the position of the party which is actually best positioned to take down the Cons. And that danger is particularly obvious when one considers that Vote for Environment's projection may itself be off: for example, democraticSPACE projects the NDP to finish second with a 2-point advantage over the Libs.

Which means that voters who follow Vote for Environment's advice by voting Lib rather than NDP in Newton-North Delta may only wind up helping the Cons to sneak up the middle. And given the obvious opportunity for an NDP pickup as well, voters who have a real preference between the New Democrats and the Libs are surely best off voting for their actual preferred party - not blindly following what looks to be a potentially disastrious combination of an uncertain projection and unduly strong advice.

Correction: fixed Con candidate name.

Under the B, 14 (hundred jobs lost)

One would think that candidates for a party which built its main attack strategy around the dangers of gambling - and which surely had to expect at least some counterattack in similar terms - would have the sense not to locate key campaign offices in a bingo hall.

But not Rahim Jaffer's campaign. And with any luck, Jaffer's unwitting reinforcement of the gamble associated with more Con government will help ensure that he and other Cons will soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

History in the making

For all the talk about today's election results potentially changing nothing in Parliament, it's worth noting that for the New Democrats at least there's a strong chance of plenty of historic outcomes.

Even on a relatively modest result based on the last week's polls, the NDP figures to win a Quebec seat in a general election for the first time, win seats in more provinces than ever before, and come closer to the Libs' share of the popular vote than it ever has.

Based on the latest numbers from Canada's most highly-regarded pollster, the NDP should top its previous highs in percentage of the popular vote.

And if the NDP holds its Nanos numbers in the popular vote and/or gets a reasonable strategic vote in its favour, it has a strong opportunity to top its best-ever federal seat total.

What's more, all this is possible in an election likely to produce another minority Parliament. Which means that incremental gains in vote and seat totals will meaningfully affect the balance of power in the House of Commons, and allow the New Democrats a stronger position both in the next Parliament and in elections to come.

All of which is to say that while the other parties may be doing little more than hoping to tread water, there's ample reason for New Democrats to be excited about the possibilities.

Note that comments are now moderated for election day. I'll close by joining in the chorus encouraging all readers to get out and vote - and hope that the NDP will be able to check off many or all of the historic markers from the above list by tonight.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Heck of a phony

Shorter Stephen Harper in the Cons' final attempt to make him seem even faintly sympathetic before the election:
If I can set a new world record for most platitudes crammed into a minute and a half, surely that'll convince Canadians of my sincerity and force them all to like me. Right?

Strategic choices

It's striking that in the midst of an election where strategic voting has received more attention than in recent memory, the main potential beneficiary of the false assumption that past performance will predict future results is distancing himself from the term. And that raises some interesting followup questions: is the problem that the Libs themselves don't think the term is one they want to be associated with? Or is it that people simply aren't buying the idea of Dion and company being linked to strategic thinking?

On bookends

Jack Layton started the election campaign by taking his challenge to the Cons into Stephen Harper's riding. And to highlight the fact that Layton's focus on Harper hasn't wavered, it's appropriate that one of Layton's closing moves is to take the campaign directly to Harper's finance minister:
Layton, in turn, took aim at one of Harper's chief cabinet members in his first appearance in Oshawa on Monday.

Speaking in the home riding of Conservative incumbent and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Layton insisted Harper has shown in the past five weeks he and his government are out of touch with the concerns of Canadians.

"Nobody knows that better than the people here in Oshawa as we've watched some of the best jobs in this country disappear because of a complete lack of policy, or strategy or even a sense of caring about the issue from our government, including from the Conservative member here," Layton told supporters.

The NDP leader said his party was best equipped to protect the interests of Canadian families in times of economic uncertainty.

"I think that's what this election's boiling down to — who's going to be on people's side? Who's going to be on your side?" he said.
As in the case of Layton's stop in Calgary, there's little indication that the effort to take the NDP's message to Whitby-Oshawa is based on an expectation that a New Democrat will take the actual seat. Though it's worth wondering whether anti-Con voters might find Brent Fullard to be a loopy enough alternative to send their votes the NDP's way.

Whether or not Flaherty's seat is in play, though, Layton is once again making clear that he won't let the Cons go unchallenged in putting the interests of corporate Canada ahead of those of working Canadians. And the fact that Layton has made sure that even Harper and Flaherty had to face that message on their home turf can only confirm that he's the best choice to keep up the fight beyond the election campaign.

Hear, hear

Dr. Dawg puts together what looks to be pretty much the ideal editorial endorsement for the New Democrats. Go read - and even more importantly, compare the positive reasons for voting NDP to the negative ones on tap in most of the corporate media's grudging endorsements so far.

Tout le monde en parle...parfois

By all indications, Jack Layton's appearance on Tout le monde en parle seems to have gone extremely well. See Charles' comments on a previous post, as well as French coverage from Carl at democraticSPACE and one entertainment source.

But it's certainly worth noting the difference in coverage between Layton's appearance and that of Stephane Dion earlier this campaign. While the reviews weren't positive for the most part, Dion's time on the show received at least some mention in media ranging from Macleans blogs to the Globe and Mail to the Star to Canoe.

One would think that the show would be no less "wildly popular" - and thus relevant to the campaign - with Layton appearing rather than Dion. And indeed it would seem to make for a particularly important contrast if Layton put up a strong showing in a setting where Dion left the audience cold.

But for now, it looks far too doubtful that Layton's appearance will receive anything close to the attention given to Dion for doing exactly the same thing. And if not, then we'll have to hope that enough viewers saw the show and formed their own opinions to overcome the lack of followup in the press.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


If we needed a late-campaign reminder of just how little interest the Cons have in basing their politics on anything resembling reality, the story about Axel Kuhn's flier bashing Boris Wrzesnewskyj.

After a year of the Libs propping up the Cons' government through abstentions and absences, and in the middle of a campaign where the Absent Liberals theme has found its way into the public eye, it surely couldn't have been anything but the simplest of tasks to assemble examples of Wrzesnewskyj's non-appearances which would have been soundly based in fact. But that wasn't good enough for Kuhn's campaign, who apparently found the need to start inventing committee assignments (and in one case a committee which doesn't actually exist) in order to try to smear Wrzesnewskyj.

Needless to say, the fact that the Cons have no qualms about basing a campaign on obvious fictions even when the facts could have supported their argument offers yet another reason not to take them at face value at any other time. And perhaps more than anything else, that complete disdain for objective reality offers the strongest reason why it's long past time to make sure Harper and company are removed from any position to make decisions which will affect the lives of Canadians.

On firewalls

There's little doubt that the Nanos polling numbers over the last three days (all showing the New Democrats at 22% nationally) offer ample reason to figure the NDP is headed for significant gains. But Stockholm at Rabble raises an important point about just what role the New Democrats stand to play in Ontario based latest numbers placing the party at an impressive 26%:
It remains to be seen if the NDP actually does that well in Ontario - but I will say this - if the Nanos was right and Ontario split its vote C35, L33, NDP26 and G9 - it would be a very similar vote split to what we saw in the 1975 Ontario provincial election when the Ontario popular vote went PC36, L34, NDP 28 - and that produced 51 Tories, 36 Liberals and 38(!!)NDPers.

I think that if this scenario unfolded, it would mean that the NDP would go beyond winning the "low-hanging fruit" from '06 (ie: all those seats in the north, plus Oshawa, B-EY and Welland) and might have some surprise wins in places like Essex, Sarnia, Guelph, Davenport, York-South-West etc.
What's particularly worth noting is that in this scenario, it's the NDP's share of the vote and associated seat count that would serve as a definitive barrier against a Con majority. With Quebec substantially out of play, the Cons obviously need at least 20 or so additional seats in Ontario to have any hope of reaching 155. And any chance they have of pulling that off depends on the Libs reeling in NDP voters to limit the number of parties capable of holding back Harper, while bleeding support to the Cons on their right over the last couple of days.

But while that's entirely possible if the Libs manage to polarize the race, a three-way split in Ontario votes and seats would lead to an entirely different story. With the Libs likely to hang on to a number of their safe seats, a continued NDP surge would ensure that there simply aren't enough ridings for the taking to allow the Cons to get their majority in Ontario.

All of which means that with the polls where Nanos now places them, there's every reason for Ontario votes to stick with - or move to - the New Democrats as the best chance to keep Harper in check, as well as the strongest voice opposing his agenda. And if the end result is to send the Libs the message that they need to work with the NDP in a coalition in order to remove Harper from power, then all the better for progressive voters.

On work environments

Stephane Dion has picked up on the "quitter" label for Stephen Harper which the New Democrats have been applying since before the campaign began. And it's certainly a plus to see the Libs rightly taking aim at an obvious Harper weakness.

But it's also worth noting that the criticism carries an awful lot more force coming from somebody whose track record doesn't involve ordering his colleagues not to show up for work. And a focus on how the respective leaders have handled their jobs can only work to Layton's advantage as the campaign draws to a close.


There may be another important internal factor facing the Cons based on Stephen Harper's talk about stepping down, as it also figures to have loosened the reins on current party figures who can hope to avoid retribution if they can hang on longer than Harper. And Con MP Luc Harvey offered a classic example of why Harper has used his command over the party to keep Cons from doing anything in public:
A Conservative MP crashed a Bloc Québécois campaign event in Quebec City today, haranguing Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe who was shaking hands and meeting voters at a local market.

Conservative candidate Luc Harvey narrowly won by 231 votes in the riding of Louis-Hébert in 2006, and is fighting for his political life in the face of polls that predict a Bloc victory in his riding in Tuesday's election.

As Mr. Duceppe talked to farmers and clients at the Marché Public de Sainte-Foy, Mr. Harvey walked up from behind and asked Mr. Duceppe to say what he has accomplished since his election in 1990.

“Tell us about your record,” Mr. Harvey shouted.

Mr. Duceppe refused to enter into a discussion as Mr. Harvey continued to pester him. After a few seconds of loud exchanges, Mr. Duceppe called Mr. Harvey an “imbecile” and asked his RCMP detail to “move him over,” before exiting the scene and entering his campaign bus.

Visibly pumped after the brief encounter, Mr. Harvey told reporters said he saw the Bloc caravan at the market and decided to stop by.

“I'm in my riding here. This is the riding of Louis-Hébert, and this is Luc Harvey's riding,” he said. “Next time we ask him to defend his record, I hope he won't say that all Quebeckers are imbeciles.”
Now, it's understandable to a point why Harvey would feel the need to change the direction of the race by any means necessary. Having already had his likelihood of re-election already damaged - possibly irreparably - by the Cons' central command, Harvey almost certainly needed to try to shake things up somehow. And the possibility that Harper might be gone soon surely raised at least some possibility that Harvey wouldn't face retribution for doing so.

But it's telling about the Cons' attack-only mentality that Harvey's preferred means of trying to change the race's momentum involved crashing another party's event, relishing the fact that he'd done so, and then lying to the media about what happened. And there's no other way to read Hervey's attempt to pretend that Duceppe's comment about him personally was somehow aimed at "all Quebeckers".

With so little time left in the race, Harvey's stunt figures to wind up hurting not only his own hopes of holding his seat, but also the Cons' chances of salvaging other seats which are now slipping out of their hands. And the fact that he's stuck with a caucus made up of the likes of Harvey and so many other Cons who can't be let out without adult supervision might explain why Harper is so willing to gamble his leadership on the election result.


With the campaign winding down and the two other federal leaders imploding in different ways, it's worth noting that the New Democrats are peaking at just the right time judging from the results of Jack Layton's latest Quebec rally:
More than 600 NDP supporters repeatedly shouted "no more war" as party leader Jack Layton spoke yesterday at his largest Quebec rally yet.

In these final days of the campaign, Layton made a last-ditch push yesterday to sway voters to his team and in particular delivered a message not to waste ballots on the Bloc Québécois.

Layton's anti-war message and his call to bring Canadian soldiers home from Afghanistan has been well received in Montreal, which has a long history of opposing war.

"My first anti-Vietnam war protest was held right here in the streets of Montreal when I was at McGill (University) so there are long and deep (anti-war) roots here in Quebec," he said.
Now, it's noteworthy enough that Layton's campaign is reaching a high point in both numbers and energy just in time for Tuesday's vote - raising the likelihood that the New Democrats will similarly be able to hit highs in support at the polls.

But perhaps even more interesting is the contrast between the warm reception for Layton, and the protesters who greeted Harper as he tried to salvage seats in Quebec. And the difference in direction and supporter enthusiasm between the two parties raises a substantial possibility that by this time Wednesday, the New Democrats may hold more seats in Quebec than the party which once mapped out its road to a majority through the province.

Update: Here's another great point of comparison from Harper's Quebec City event today:
(T)he event had an odd flat air to it, as the crowd of about 350 was subdued, not revved up. And there was no wrap-up, no finale, no flourishing finish. Harper and his wife appeared somewhat at a loss as to where to turn next.
Your Harper campaign at the moment: flat, subdued and directionless.