Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taste of Victory on the Danforth

There's a lot of talk today about the eventual by election for Jack Layton's Toronto-Danforth seat. Many Liberals are salivating at the prospect of a victory there which would pull them within a mere 67 seats of official opposition status:

Liberals hope to paint Layton’s Toronto riding red again

Liberal Party president Alfred Apps is counting out Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, predicting a two-way fight with the NDP for Jack Layton’s Toronto seat.

Mr. Apps, a Bay Street lawyer who knows the Toronto political landscape well, told The Globe Wednesday that Mr. Layton won the seat because of his “terrific municipal background and powerful personality.”

He added: “Jack actually won it on the strength of his personal reputation and charisma.”

Given that by elections are all about expectations, I certainly wouldn't be advising Alf Apps, or anyone else, to raise expectations of a Liberal win on the Danforth. But it's still likely worth examining just how probable a Liberal pick-up actually is.

For starters, we need to accept that anything can happen in a by election. In Kevin Lamoureux's Winnipeg North by election upset last year, NDP support fell from 62% to 41% while Liberal support jumped from 12% to 46%. So at least in theory, Jack Layton's 43-point victory in May is not an insurmountable hill to climb.

But that's still a mighty tall hill, which only looks taller when you take a proper scan of the landscape. As the map at the top of this post shows, the two ridings to the East of it fell to the NDP in May. A relative no-name, Matthew Kellway, beat a 6-term incumbent in the Beaches by 11 points. That's nothing to sneeze at.

The riding has gone NDP provincially the previous four elections - most recently by 6,500 votes. Yes, Peter Tabuns is a popular incumbent, but there are a lot of people in the riding who are used to voting orange, even when Jack's name isn't on the ballot.

Finally, it's a riding that, demographically, "should" be an NDP seat. When I put the Census demographics into the regression meat grinder, it comes out as the 16th strongest NDP seat in the country.

Add it all up, and the odds of an upset on the Danforth are exceedingly small. Raising hopes to the contrary is only setting Liberals up for disappointment.

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ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Laurie 4 Leader

The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the fourth part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman, Hugh MacDonald)


Background: Like Hugh MacDonald, Blakeman has sat as a Liberal MLA since 1997, holding an impressive collection of portfolios. She has been a strong critic of the Tories, gaining prominence in 2004 when she asked Ralph Klein to provide travel receipts from recent trips and Ralph went off the rails, asking her over a dozen times if she was calling him a liar.

The former actress is still quite involved with arts and culture groups in Edmonton, and is married to city councillor Ben Henderson. She has been a strong proponent of encouraging women to get involved in politics.

Video: Clips from my interview with Laurie in May.

Online: Blakeman has gone as purple as can be on her website, trying to capitalize on Nenshi-mania. Although she only signed up for Twitter at the start of the contest (like most of the candidates), Blakeman has made an effort to engage Albertans online in the past, with a fairly active Facebook account and over 400 videos on her constituency YouTube channel.

Can she win? Blakeman has been around long enough to have a following inside the party, and she has no doubt been able to sign up a large number supporters from left-leaning organizations. However, I get the sense her support is concentrated in downtown Edmonton - the new rules giving ridings a maximum of 500 points in leadership contests will hurt her more than anyone else.

My Take: I do like Laurie - she's a great MLA, and she fights passionately for issues that myself, and all Liberals, care deeply about. She is experienced, having served as Deputy Leader under both Kevin Taft and David Swann, and is the most polished candidate in this field.

All that said, I probably wouldn't rank her above 3rd or 4th on my ballot if I were voting. Blakeman is just seen as too left-wing to appeal to voters outside Edmonton and the biggest opportunity for the Liberals right now is on their right, not their left.

For more on Laurie, you can read her answers to CalgaryLiberal's candidate questionnaire here.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Best News of the Week

I'll admit it. I was worried it would be difficult to find blog content in the new majority government reality. And then, this gift from the blogging gods:

Martin may run for NDP leadership in bid for Liberal merger

OTTAWA - Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin says he’ll run for the NDP leadership himself if no candidates step forward pledging to take the party into formal unity talks with the federal Liberals.

"I firmly believe we have the ability to stop the Harper agenda," said Martin. "I’m serving notice that that’s what I want to hear from a leadership candidate. And I’m not alone."

Martin said he knows of several people from both parties who believe the same thing. He isn’t seeking the leadership job yet but he says he will do it if it means members can vote for someone willing to lead the two parties to a united stand.

"If none of them throw it on the table, I’ll do it myself," he said.

Yes, a Pat Martin leadership bid! Get ready for puppet shows, orgy and KY Jelly quotes, and Santa Claus cameos.

The only thing which could top that in terms of entertainment value would be a televised summit between Martin and Denis Coderre to draft a merger manifesto.


ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Hugh Can Do It

The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the third part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman)


Background: First elected in 1997, Hugh has been the Alberta Liberal Party's Ted Kennedy in recent years - unabashedly Liberal and unafraid to speak out. As Hugh's bio points out, he has a perfect legislature attendance record during this time period, something Jack Layton would no doubt be proud of.

Prior to entering politics, MacDonald worked in the oil and gas industry.

Video: My interview with Hugh from May.

Online: MacDonald's online presence is relatively modest, with around 140 Twitter followers, 60 Facebook likes (and 580 friends), and a bare bones website.

Can he win? Early on I discounted MacDonald as a 4th or 5th place finisher in this contest, feeling he didn't have the organization in place to sign up many new members. But people I've talked to have been impressed with his campaign, and I'd guess his supporters, the staunchest of Liberals, will be the most likely to vote.

He has establishment support from the likes of Nick Taylor, Ken Nicol, and Debby Carlson, and his fiercely Liberal reputation may appeal to members who are worried about an outsider coming in. I doubt he'll win, but I wouldn't be shocked to see him as high as second.

My Take: I've never really visualized MacDonald as a future ALP leader. I've always found him a bit too "scandal-obsessed" and he has a tendency to go off on weird tangents - at May's leadership forum, he made putting the constituency name on party membership forms his flagship leadership plank. Maybe it's a good idea, but it's not exactly "Yes We Can" stuff.

That said, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of MacDonald as the leader. He is, hands down, the best speaker in this field, and a bushy haired Maritimer from the oil industry would help break the party's "university professor" imagine. MacDonald would fire up party loyalists, and his soundbyte attack dog style could help the ALP earn back some of the headlines they've lost to the Wildrose.

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On This Date In History

It was 40 years ago today that Peter Lougheed's Progressive Conservatives swept to power, ending Alberta's third political dynasty, and starting its fourth. Lougheed's slogan was 3 letters long ("NOW") and his message was simple - as recounted in Rennie's Alberta Premiers of the 20th Century:

These times of turmoil - of protest - of change - of confrontation - require a government party NOW where members place people before party... We also look to the future convinced this province could be doing very much better... It needs a party of the future, not of the past... The Socreds convinced themselves that Alberta's development has been due to their efforts, not due to the fortunate presence of natural resources of the province.

The first half of that speech is mostly platitudes, but 1971 was certainly not the first nor the last time a young and charismatic leader got elected on platitudes. Lougheed showed energy, bouncing from door to door, racing children in the street, and drawing large enthusiastic crowds. Quite simply, he promised change at a time when the electorate wanted change.

Since then, the house Lougheed built has only come under siege once - in 1993, when Liberal Lawrence Decore would likely have won had he not been up against one of the most talented politicians in Alberta's history, Ralph Klein. Danielle Smith may give the PCs another scare next year, but the smart money has the dynasty Lougheed built living well into its 40s.

Of course, one wonders what Lougheed truly thinks of the state of his party today. After all, take one more look at that line of Lougheed's I posted above - "The Socreds convinced themselves that Alberta's development has been due to their efforts, not due to the fortunate presence of natural resources of the province".

That one likely hits a little close to home.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Where do they go from here?

After a week of tributes and mourning, the talk in Ottawa is sure to turn to "what now" this week, as the NDP begins the process of replacing Jack Layton.

Of course, some did not wait that long. Anonymous NDP insiders let it be known that Brian Topp was the "front runner" to replace Layton the day after he died, showing us that anonymous NDP insiders are as reliable and as politically astute as anonymous Liberal insiders. Seriously, it boggles my mind how anyone could think a move like that would help Topp.

Since leadership speculation is now in full swing, here's my run-down of the prospective field. Keep in mind, Layton was elected straight from City Council, so the NDP may very well opt for an outsider again.

Brian Topp

PROS: Played a key role in Layton's revival of the NDP. Very punable name (“Topp spins scandal”, “Topp on top”, “Topp falls to bottom of pack”...the possibilities are limitless for headline writers).

CONS: No elected experience.

Thomas Mulcair

PROS: The party's most respected MP in Quebec. Like Layton and most good socialists, has facial hair.

CONS: Unlike Layton, has never smiled in his life.

Gary Doer

PROS: Accomplished, moderate, well spoken

CONS: Has said he won't run. I believe we have found the NDP's very own Frank McKenna.

Bill Blaikie

PROS: Meets facial hair requirement. Well respected. Experienced.

CONS: Retired.

Paul Dewar

PROS: Comes from deep NDP roots, and has shown himself to be a strong performer in Ottawa.

CONS: Less name recognition than Brian Topp.

Anne McGrath

PROS: Close to Jack Layton. Comes across well on TV.

CONS: Fun fact about Anne McGrath - she once ran for the Communist Party. Didn't know that? Well, you will after the 200th CPC attack ad on the subject airs.

Megan Leslie

PROS: Young, articulate, and seen as a rising star on Parliament Hill

CONS: Fun fact about Megan Leslie - there are no fun facts about Megan Leslie.

Ruth-Ellen Brosseau

PROS: Name recognition, and media enjoy writing about her. Given her complete lack of interest in politics before being elected, odds are she has never been a member of the Bloc Quebecois. Luckiest person on the face of the earth.

CONS: Weak french.

Rocco Rossi

PROS: Described by Rocco Rossi as a star candidate. Will be looking for work come October. A Forum poll shows him as the frontrunner in the NDP race.

CONS: Hasn’t switched to the NDP – yet.

For a more serious look from someone inside the NDP, Greg Fingas has the run-down on 20 possible candidates.

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Friday, August 26, 2011


It's hardly the kind of decisive victory the anti-HST movement would have expected a year ago, but 55% of British Columbian have voted to replace the HST with the GST and PST.

One immediate consequence of this is that Christy Clark and Jim Flaherty will need to come to some kind of deal over how much federal HST compensation the province keeps. Given their respective political situations, one imagines Flaherty holds the better bargaining position.

The more interesting fallout will be what impact this has on the next BC election. Even though the Liberals "lost" today, this takes a big issue off the table for the NDP.

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This Week in Alberta: 27,000 Alberta Grits

The membership cut-off in the Alberta Liberal leadership race has passed, with the party registering over 27,000 voters as part of its new primary leadership system. As I've said before, this race makes for a fascinating case-study for the federal Liberals, who will most likely be debating a similar system at their January convention.

The vast majority on the ALP list (85%+) are registered as supporters rather than members, and there are basically two ways of looking at this:

1. If you don't like the primary system, you'd argue the party left $200,000 in fees on the table.
2. If you're a fan, you'll tout that the party now has an extra 20,000+ names they can contact for signs, to volunteer, and to donate money.

The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle - some of the new supporters would have paid their fee and some wouldn't have signed up under the old system. The party had 5500 votes cast during its 2008 leadership campaign - I can't remember how many memberships were sold, but it likely wasn't much over 10,000. Sure, it was a different race with fewer candidates, but it's hard to argue the primary system hasn't opened the party up and led to more supporters.

Daveberta lists the riding-by-riding numbers, commenting that it's largely an urban affair. True enough, but the ALP still has over 100 names in virtually every riding in the province. Take a riding like Bonnyville for example - 3 members and 98 supporters. Yeah, 100 Liberals isn't great, but the party has gone from being completely non-existent to at least having a base they can work with. Even if they turn 9 of those 98 supporters into active volunteers, that's a step in the right direction.

Of course, whether or not these new supporters actually vote won't be known until the winner is crowned on September 10th. For those among the 27,000 still wanting to know more about the contenders, I'll be finishing off my candidate profile series on Monday (MacDonald), Wednesday (Blakeman), and Friday (Harvey) next week.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Unsinkable Jean Charest

Seriously, this is just getting ridiculous. Has there ever been a politician who has come back from the brink more often than Jean Charest?

A poll released Monday suggests support for the sovereignty movement in Quebec is fading, with only about one-third of Quebecers who answered the Leger Marketing poll saying they would vote to separate if there was a referendum.

That's down five points since May. The poll, conducted online, also shows a drop in support for the Parti Québécois, from about 40 per cent last September, to 24 per cent.

That puts the separatist party 10 points behind Premier Jean Charest's front-running Liberals.

Charest may still get swept away next year by one of the half-dozen new parties that have sprung up in Quebec, but at this time last year everyone assumed he was toast. Most felt he was foolish to stay on and, if he did, it would only be to go down with the ship.

Now, he has a 10-point lead in the polls. This guy is either one of the most talented politicians of his generation, or one of the luckiest. Or both.


Jack Layton, in Pictures

Although most of the tributes to Layton have focused on his role on Parliament Hill, he will be missed from coast to coast - cycling with Olivia, attending local festivals, marching in Pride parades and, yes, attending Star Trek conventions.