NDP solidifies lead in latest seat projections

Published on Aug. 25, 2015, in the Global News Toronto.

The NDP is solidifying its lead over the governing Conservatives according to the latest seat projections showing the party with an 18-seat lead.

Harper’s Conservatives have suffered a net loss of five seats over the last two weeks – one in Quebec, three in Ontario, and two in British Columbia (while picking up one in the prairies).

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A desire for change is in the air

Published on Aug. 24, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Everyone remembers the three big surprises of election night, May 2, 2011.

The first surprise: after three consecutive elections had produced minority governments (Liberal in 2004, Conservative in 2006 and 2008), voters in 2011 gave the Conservatives a majority with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. Second: propelled by their “orange surge” in Quebec, the NDP won an astonishing 103 seats (to the Conservatives’ 166) and became the official opposition in Parliament. Third: the Liberal vote collapsed and the once-mighty party dropped like a stone into third place with just 34 seats and a meager 19 per cent of the popular vote.

A smart person would not bet on anything in this 2015 election other than this: there will be more surprises on Oct. 19.

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We are already three weeks into the election with eight long weeks stretching ahead – plenty of time for multiple surprises. On the surface, nothing much has happened in the first three weeks, aside from the daily drip-drip of the Mike Duffy trial. But below the surface, out of the sight of the television cameras, something is going on.

Politicians will attest that the most potent force in an election is the desire for change. Last week, Forum Research published a national poll that reported that 71 per cent of respondents want a change of government.

Seventy-one per cent! That’s astonishing. Is the poll wrong? Maybe, but probably not by too much. A desire for change has been in the political air for many months.

How do the Harper Conservatives cope with a force like that? How do they turn it around, or throttle it back? So far, they have been campaigning against the current, presenting themselves as the party of the status quo, the party that stands against significant change in all important matters, especially their twin issues – the need for a steady hand on the economy and emphasis on law, order and public security. More of the same is the Harper mantra.

The mantra is not helping much. The latest polls put the Conservatives at, or just below, 30 per cent – in the other words, about 10 points below their 2011 vote, and perhaps four points behind the New Democrats in this campaign, with the Liberals right on the Tories’ heels.

What happens on Oct.19 if an irresistible force (the desire for change) meets an immovable object (the status quo)? I would put my money on the irresistible force, but we have eight weeks to go and anything can happen. The Tories may be able to persuade voters that change is not worth the risk, an international or domestic crisis may intervene, or one or both of the principal opposition parties may make a ghastly error.

On the same day last week as the Forum Research poll, the Montreal newspaper La Presse published a new CROP poll that put Thomas Mulcair’s NDP at 47 per cent in Quebec, which the pollsters said would enable the party to exceed its 2011 results when, under the late Jack Layton, it surged from nowhere to 59 seats in the province.

If this Quebec momentum continues and if some of it spills over into Ontario – which is possible – the NDP could pull off the biggest surprise of Oct.19 by winning the election.

As for the Conservatives, they are counting on desire-for-change voters to split roughly evenly between the NDP and the Liberals, and thereby enable the Tories to eke out at least a minority government. But that may not happen. Voters who are serious about change may flock to whichever opposition party they feel offers the best chance of getting rid of the Harper party.

It is also possible, if 71 per cent want change, that both opposition parties could attract enough voters to finish ahead of the decidedly unpopular Tories. Like the Liberals of 2011, they could slide into third place. They would be another surprise to remember!

Are Canada’s Liberals Doomed? A Guest Post from Dr. William Margulies

Not conclusively, but there’s a good chance 2015 will not go well for them.

The Liberal Party of Canada has not had a good 21st century. Once the natural party of government, it last had a parliamentary majority in 2004, last governed in 2006, and has been steadily losing votes and seats since then. In 2011, it suffered a catastrophic defeat at the polls, winning only 34 seats out of 308 – none of which belonged to party leader Michael Ignatieff – and fewer than 1 in 5 votes. The New Democratic Party (NDP), Canada’s social-democratic/labour option and long the country’s third party, became the official federal opposition for the first time.

The Liberals enjoyed a brief revival in the polls under their new leader, Justin Trudeau, the handsome scion of one of Canada’s most consequential prime ministers. But tactical errors, Trudeau’s perceived lack of gravitas and an NDP surge have left Canadians asking whether the Liberals will long survive the upcoming federal election, scheduled for this October.

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As a scholar of the liberal party family, I undertook a cross-national study of how liberal parties fare in competition with their rivals, especially conservative and social-democratic rivals. The purpose of this article is to apply these findings to the case of the Liberals, and try to answer two questions: 1) Will the Liberals do badly in October?, and; 2) Will they eventually go extinct? My research suggests that the answer to the first question is quite possibly yes, and the second is more likely no.

My analysis of the first question relies directly on my own research. My PhD focused on how liberal parties fare when their rivals move towards or away from them on the left-right issue scale. Liberal parties are often near the centre of this scale, and sensitive to such movements. My work drew on an article by Jack Nagel and Christopher Wlezien, which found that, in the postwar United Kingdom, the Liberals/Liberal Democrats were almost always between Labour and the Conservatives. The Liberals gained votes when the Conservatives moved away from them to the right, and when Labour moved away from them to the left. My work found that this was true for liberal parties cross-nationally, across 26 advanced democracies – including Canada.

Historically, Canada’s party system has not precisely tracked those of European democracies. In Europe, liberal parties suffered a long decline throughout the 20th century. Prior to this, they often formed the political left in an arena dominated by middle- and upper-class voters that excluded non-taxpayers or working-class voters. As the working classes gained the vote, they flocked mainly to labour or social-democratic parties. These mass parties usually came to dominate the political left, and the liberals, seen as less effective, bled middle-class voters either to the right (on class grounds) or to the left (on ideological grounds). To quote Ralph Miliband, one of the greatest historians of the British Labour Party, by 1924, “for those who did not want to vote Conservative, there was now no serious alternative to the Labour Party, just as there was no longer any serious alternative to the Conservative Party for those who would not vote Labour.”

The Canadian Liberals, however, did not experience this secular decline. Why? Brian Tanguay, writing in the 1990s, pointed out that Canada, unlike Europe (but like its southern neighbor), never witnessed “the dawn of class politics.” Patronage politics and Canada’s deep linguistic divide were always more important, so the Liberals remained the chief centre-left party, and the labour-allied NDP was relegated to the third place. So the dynamic was similar – a liberal party between a conservative and a social democratic party – but the relationship between the Liberals and the NDP was the reverse of the dynamic found elsewhere.

But that is no longer true. In 2011, the NDP won a landslide victory in Quebec, while the Liberals suffered a historic collapse. As such, the Liberals are now the third party between much larger conservative and social democratic rivals, more closely resembling the dynamic found in the United Kingdom (which Nagel and Wlezien studied) and other European countries.

Of course, this is only bad for the Liberals if its rivals move to the centre. But the NDP is in fact doing that. Its leader since 2012, Thomas Mulcair, is frequently defined as a centrist, and a major Canadian magazine even reported that he was courted by the Conservatives themselves. In terms of policy, though the NDP has proposed increases in the minimum wage and corporation tax, it has ruled out increases in personal income tax rates, and promised tax relief for small-business owners, “some of the hardest-working job creators in our economy.” My data predict this will hurt the Liberals – not necessarily catastrophically, but measurably. And in a first-past-the-post system, this may have the effect of encouraging left-wing voters to abandon the Liberals for the NDP.

So, suppose the Liberals are in trouble this year. Does that mean that they are in danger of disappearing or entering a terminal decline? Not necessarily. Even the rise of the working classes failed to kill off middle-class liberal parties entirely. The last several decades have seen liberal parties encounter widely varying fates. On the one hand, some liberal parties have suffered spectacular collapses. The British Liberal Democrats, having slowly recovered since the 1970s, peaked in the early 21st century, winning more than 20 percent of the vote in 2005 and 2010 and entering government after the 2010 election. The experience was disastrous; in the 2015 election they scored less than 8 percent of the vote and eight seats. The German Free Democrats suffered a similarly precipitous collapse after a stint in government between 2009 and 2013. The Irish Progressive Democrats did so badly in the 2007 general elections that they dissolved themselves two years later.

But these cases of collapse more reflect badly managed stints in coalition governments than they do a secular decline of liberal parties. In fact, many European states are seeing entirely new liberal parties emerge, as I detail here. Ciudadanos in Spain is an excellent example of a new and highly successful liberal party, as is Neos in Austria. Unlike social democratic parties, tied to specific institutions and class structures that are in decline, liberal parties have no such legacy commitments, and may be better placed to adapt to a more individualistic and fragmented social structure.

The Liberal Party of Canada does not look well placed to win the October 19th elections. However, whether that means it will never win another election after that is probably as much up to the party’s leaders and activists as it is to long-term trends in political science. The one lesson they can take from their liberal fellows is probably to avoid a coalition government.

Dr. William Benjamin Margulies received his PhD from University of Essex, and is currently at the University of Warwick. He writes about political parties and elections in Europe and elsewhere.

Polling industry going through changes

Published on Aug. 22, 2015 in the Waterloo Region Record.

Election campaigns are notoriously unpredictable but one thing is certain: Canadians will be bombarded with public opinion polls until the federal vote on Oct. 19.

But how accurate and representative are the data?

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Wynne defends campaigning for Trudeau

Published on Aug. 19, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has frequently waded into federal politics through clashes with Stephen Harper, but in the midst of a federal election campaign she isn’t easing off — she has jumped in with both feet.

“I’ve also been clear that I support Justin Trudeau, and I will continue to look for a partner at the federal level that is bringing forward polices that will make sense for the people of Ontario.”

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Ontario’s Wynne jumps into federal campaign

Published on Aug. 19, 2015, in The Chronicle Herald. 

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has frequently waded into federal politics through clashes with Stephen Harper, but in the midst of a federal election campaign she isn’t easing off — she has jumped in with both feet.

Wynne has been actively campaigning for federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, but nearly as often as she promotes her federal counterpart she slams the prime minister, which could be seen as payback for Stephen Harper’s attacks against her in last year’s provincial election.

“She certainly wants to score points with the federal Liberal party and have Justin Trudeau owe her, and he will (if the Liberals win).”

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Federal Election 2015: Kathleen Wynne Wading Into Campaign

Published on Aug. 20, 2015, in the Huffington Post Canada.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has frequently waded into federal politics through clashes with Stephen Harper, but in the midst of a federal election campaign she isn’t easing off — she has jumped in with both feet.

“Maybe the personal animosity between Wynne and Harper — whatever triggered it — is governing both their behaviours,” Kay said in an interview.

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Harper needs to change campaign narrative

Published on Aug.19, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

One of the surprises emerging from the federal election campaign’s early days has been Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s reluctance to shake up the status quo and introduce new ideas and themes to the electorate.

It is still early days in the election, of course, and the current period might be likened to “spring training” in this 11-week campaign where new approaches are being tried and test-marketed on a limited basis, to see what might work when the citizenry really starts paying attention later next month.

Still, so far the Conservatives seem to have been caught flat-footed, thinking they could successfully run again on the themes of fiscal competence and ethical accountability as they have in the past.

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Guelph NDP candidate target of another Conservative online ad

Published on Aug. 17, 2015, in the Guelph Mercury

The federal election campaign is not yet three weeks old but Guelph NDP candidate Andrew Seagram is already the target of two online attack ads by the national Conservatives, raising questions about the role a candidate’s digital past can play in their current campaign.

The first ad, posted on the official Conservative Facebook page on Aug. 10, lifts comments from Seagram’s personal Facebook page from 2007.

“This is all a consequence of the brave new social media world where everything is open,” he said, adding it’s interesting to see what gets a pass and what doesn’t.

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The Conservative tide turns and the election gets interesting

Published on Aug. 18, 2015 in the Waterloo Region Record.

Summer is no time for an election campaign.

People are busy doing more important things, like picnicking in the park. But while most of us are tuning politics out, a fascinating three-way race is shaping up across the country. The Liberals, New Democrats and Conservatives are in an unprecedented dead heat.

That’s what the latest polls show, and they haven’t changed much for the past two months, says Barry Kay, professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and one of Canada’s most widely respected election analysts.

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Risk Perception, Psychological Heuristics and the Water Fluoridation Controversy

Authors: Andrea M.L Perrella, Simon Kiss

Published in the 2015 May/June edition of the Canadian Journal of Public Health

Abstract:  Objectives: Increasingly, support for water fluoridation has come under attack. We seek an explanation, focusing on the case of Waterloo, Ontario, where a 2010 referendum overturned its water fluoridation program. In particular, we test whether individuals perceive the risks of water fluoridation based not on ‘hard’ scientific evidence but on heuristics and cultural norms.

Methods: A sample of 376 residents in Waterloo were surveyed in June 2012 using random digit dialing. We use factor analysis, OLS regression, as well as t-tests to evaluate a survey experiment to test the credibility hypothesis.

Results: Perceptions of fluoride as a risk are lower among those who perceive fluoride’s benefits (B = .473, p < 0.001) and those whose cultural view is ‘egalitarian’ (B = .156, p < 0.05). The experiment shows a lower level of perception of fluoride’s benefits among respondents who are told that water fluoridation is opposed by a national advocacy group (Group A) compared to those who are told that the government and the World Health Organization support fluoridation (Group B) (t = 1.6547, p < 0.05), as well as compared to the control group (t = 1.8913, p < 0.05). There is no difference between Group B and the control, possibly because people’s already general support for fluoridation is less prone to change when told that other public organizations also support fluoridation.

Conclusion: Public health officials should take into account cultural norms and perceptions when individuals in a community appear to rise up against water fluoridation, with implications for other public health controversies.

Harper not the only one eager to criticize Wynne and Ontario’s pension plan as a ‘payroll tax hike’

Published on Aug. 11, 2015 in the National Post.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was so eager to lambaste Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s pension plan announcement Tuesday, he asked himself the question.

Opposition parties and interest groups were as quick as Harper to criticize Wynne’s plans, but Barry Kay, a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, isn’t so sure the ORPP will matter much on election day.

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Campaign’s length may not make much difference

Published on Aug. 17, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when the world was innocent and young Mike Duffy was a humble reporter dreaming of the Senate, everyone agreed that federal election campaigns were too long, far too long.

The norm in those days was 60-61 days. Campaign managers argued then that voters did not start paying attention until the last two weeks. So the early weeks were largely empty – given over to photo ops, posturing and feeding the maw of the news media, which grew desperate to find something, anything, that would make the election more interesting than it really was.

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Sixty days! I covered a bunch of those eight-week affairs. I remember listening to Pierre Trudeau make the same little speech at, if memory serves, 34 stops in one campaign. That was torture!

Eventually, legislation was introduced to abbreviate campaigns. The big change was the elimination of the door-to-door enumeration of electors. That system, in which officials would visit every household, made the Canadian voters’ list the most accurate in the world.

According to experts of the day, its replacement by the current registration system may have disenfranchised up to 10 per cent of otherwise eligible voters, but that was deemed an acceptable price to pay to get campaigns down to today’s norm of 36-37 days.

The norm until now. Following the lead of British Columbia, Stephen Harper’s government in 2007 introduced a fixed election law that stipulated federal elections be held every four years on the third Monday in October. But (loophole alert!) it left the prime minister free to call the election later or earlier (as he did in 2011).

The so-called Fair Elections Act of 2014 introduced another loophole. It enabled the government to extend the writ period and to raise the spending ceiling for parties and candidates. In a 37-day campaign, each party would be allowed to spend about $24 million. By doubling this year’s campaign to 78 days, Harper made it possible for the parties to spend roughly $50 million, a move that theoretically benefits the party with the deepest pockets – to wit, Harper’s Conservatives.

So while the prime minister is off on his campaign jet, far away from the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright follies in Ottawa, his opponents are, figuratively, left rummaging for bus fare.

I’m not sure this imbalance will make much difference. Impertinent questions about the Senate scandal will follow Harper wherever he goes as long as the trial is in the news. His superior spending power is allowing him to recycle attacks on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau  (“He’s just not ready”), but my sense is they have lost their impact. These ads may help a bit to shore up the Tory base,  but there is no evidence they are winning back estranged soft Conservatives or attracting erstwhile Liberal or NDP voters.

The opinion polls paint a very close picture. The NDP may be one or two points ahead of the Conservatives in the popular vote, while seat projections put the Tories either ahead, or behind,  by a few seats out of  338 seats in the next Parliament. Either way, they are roughly 45 seats short of a majority government.

The Liberals are clearly the spoilers, especially in Ontario, where the electorate seems prepared to move. With redistribution, Ontario will have 121 seats (up from 106). The Liberals ran a very weak third in the province in the 2011 election. Now, pollsters agree, they have moved into second ahead of the NDP.

The projections indicate the Conservatives stand to lose 20 seats in Ontario, notwithstanding the addition of 15 new seats in the province. It is difficult to see where in the country the Conservatives could gain enough momentum to overcome their loss of seats in Ontario.

A minority government, Conservative, NDP or conceivably Liberal, seems inevitable. But these are very early days, only two weeks into an interminable 11-week election. At some point, the public will tune in.

Élections fédérales: les conservateurs pourraient perdre des plumes au N.-B

Published on Aug. 14, 2015, in the Acadie Nouvelle

Si les élections fédérales avaient lieu aujourd’hui, le Parti conservateur du Canada au Nouveau-Brunswick en prendrait probablement pour son rhume, selon la projection de sièges du Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy.

Les conservateurs de Stephen Harper ont presque tout raflé au Nouveau-Brunswick en 2011 en ne laissant au Parti libéral et au Nouveau Parti démocratique qu’une circonscription chacun parmi les dix que compte la province.

Même s’il fera probablement mieux au Nouveau-Brunswcik qu’ailleurs en Atlantique, le parti du gouvernement sortant risque de perdre une partie de ses sièges lors du scrutin du 19 octobre.

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NDP lead continues to hold across Canada, according to latest seat projections

Published Aug. 13, 2015, in the Global News Toronto

It’s been a little over a week since the start of Canada’s federal election campaign and the latest seat projections continue to show a tight race with the NDP, led by Tom Mulcair, holding a small lead over Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

“Public opinion isn’t always changing dramatically. Now we have had two months where things haven’t changed,” said Barry Kay, a politics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. “It’s really a pick in between the NDP and the Conservatives in terms of seats.”

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