12.07.2010 01:29 PM

Abacus? Who? Isn’t that a kid’s toy you count with, or something?

That was my initial reaction when I heard about the firm that came up with this doozy:

I was skeptical for a few reasons.  One, I hadn’t heard of Abacus before.  Two, it was a bit out of whack with what others have been reporting in recent months.  Three – if true – it means we are heading into a Spring election, but nobody’s body language (currently) suggests that is in any way possible.  Four, if the NDP is that close to the federal Liberals – and, frankly, after Bob Rae’s disastrous Afghanistan decision, I wouldn’t be surprised to see our left-flank vote collapse – we could be seeing the beginning of some truly historic changes at the federal level.  Five, the Liberal Party of Canada slipping below 25 per cent – the lowest of the low – is a full-on, five-alarm disaster.

However, as my Sun Media colleague David Akin has reported, Abacus is no bucket shop (despite the fact that they are seemingly fronted by Doogie Howser, Pollster).  Abacus is affiliated with Summa, which is one of the most reputable G.R. shops in the country (and, full disclosure, with which my own firm has happily worked in the past).  Messrs. Powers, Armour et al. are top-notch, and serious players, to boot.  So Abacus, by extension, needs to be taken seriously.

The numbers themselves are, as I say, a bit inconsistent with recent voter intention surveys.  But, as the brainy Calgary Grit points out in his regular poll round-up (in which he includes Abacus as the “new kid on the block,” and which I only noticed just now) they’re not so inconsistent as you might think.  Add a little to the blue side, trim a little off the red side, and: presto! Unmitigated disaster (from my perspective, anyway).

The fact that Nanos was postulating something similar on Monday does little to improve my now-gloomy holiday mood.  In his expert view (but for different reasons), a majority is indeed within Harper’s reach.


The solution?  Well, it’s not getting rid of the leader, for starters.  The moment such a move is made in earnest, the Reformatories will concoct a pretext for an immediate election.  Ignatieff has earned the right to lead the party in the next election, notwithstanding what I (and many others) think about his senior staff’s acumen, or the total absence of a ballot question.  Or policy.  Or, or.

So what to do? What dost thou thinkest, gentle readers?  Is there a ballot question – or a strategy – left that the federal Liberals can grasp onto?  Something that will forestall Armageddon, or even (somehow) carve out a minority government?

Comments are open.


  1. eattv says:

    When the Libs finally went down to defeat after Martin, I got the feeling that their spanking wasn’t severe enough. A minority for the other guys could be looked at as a slap on the wrist to the Red team. Even after the two leadership contests, I felt that the Liberals still clung onto an attitude that the problem was the electorate’s and not theirs. It seemed to me that most of the policy conferences and soul searching were just noodling around the edges to make voters comfortable that they’d done their mea culpas and were ready once again to assume the throne as the anointed Natural Governing Party. The arrogance that many have noted seems not to have been scrubbed away yet. So I hate (really, REALLY hate) to say this, but it may just be necessary for us to live under a regressive, petty, nasty, punishing Tory majority for 4 or 5 years in order for the Liberals and the electorate to realize what was missing, and take real steps to correct it.

    • Herta says:

      So, let me get this straight, the Liberals need to be further humbled and in the meantime we can put up with a government that is regressive, small minded and destructive? That’s a better alternative? Wow.

  2. Paul R Martin says:

    Keep a stiff upper lip Warren. I am not sure if many Conservatives believe this one either. Nobody wants to call an election when it is freezing outside. A lot can happen between now and spring.

  3. WesternGrit says:

    The Charter… Education (Martins’ First and Final year plan)… Pension crisis… There’s a lot of good stuff in their. The Professor would be a true champion for Post-Secondary education, if he felt it in his heart… It would be a plan on the scale of Pharmacare in the UK, but would resonate with the boomer generation who have kids lined up for University. How to pay for it? Don’t budget jet fighters and prisons. Instead go “cheap”: hire/recruit more soldiers (which combats unemployment) and more police. Real jobs – not the “virtual” ones that will supposedly come with a jet contract.

    Just some ideas…

  4. Trevor says:

    Dear Warren,

    I have long believed that the following article is the solution to the question you pose. However, Iggy needs to realize that he can’t take down Harper without some sort of formal agreement with the NDP. The Liberals and Conservatives need to realize that the first-past-the-post single seat constituency model is both archaic and very undemocratic. Furthermore, why should a sparely populated rural riding such as Nunavut (electoral district), which is represented by Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq have exactly the same representation
    in the House of Commons as a densely populated urban riding such as Scarborough-Agincourt (electoral district), which is represented by Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis?. Nunavut (electoral district) has a total population of 29,474 people and is a very ethno-culturally homogenous riding with very little prospect
    for significant population growth in the future. Contrast that with Scarborough-Agincourt (electoral district) which has a total population of 111,867 people and is a very ethno-culturally heterogeneous riding with massive population growth guaranteed in the future owing to immigration. Are the NDP and Greens the only ones who understand that a system of proportional representation, or at least a mixed member system, is by far the most democratic and representative electoral system?. The German, New Zealand, Scottish, and Welsh parliaments have had a great deal of success with the mixed member system.


  5. nic coivert says:

    The Liberals have to run against the Conservative agenda: multi-billion dollar stealth bombers, massive american style prisons with the intentions of increased incarceration to fill them, big spending expensive government, corporate tax cuts, environmental record… etcetera

    A Stephen Harper majority would be disastrous for Canada, and not only because of his fascist tendencies, and I dare say that many voters will agree with that.

    The Liberals must present themselves as the party to stop Harper.

    • George says:

      The NDP’s Layton is polling better than Iggy is. There is not way the NDP would agree to a coalition with the weaken Liberals. Not now.

    • The Other Jim says:

      Please present some examples of Stephen Harper’s “fascist tendencies”.

      The Liberals must present themselves as viable alternatives to Harper, not hysterical loons who throw around terms like “fascist” at every opportunity.

      • Steve T says:

        Well said, Jim. The “Harper Is Evil” line will just put the Libs back down the path to producing more commercials like the “Soldiers. With Guns. In Our Streets” fiasco. The Libs need to stop being the anti-Harper party, and be something unique and distinct themselves.

  6. J. Coates says:

    Polling always interests me. I took every Poli Sci and Geography quantitative methods course available at the U. of C. One cautionary warning from a Prof was “figures lie and liars figure.” It was originally attributed to Ann Landers. Whenever a person/organization starts throwing numbers around, turn on your bullshit meter. They lay public seems to be swayed by stats and other numbers, regardless whether they were obtained via scientific polling or off a Rob Anders newsletter.

  7. Namesake says:

    Don’t Panic …and Carry A Towel.

    Nothing’s changed…. we’re still in Groundhog mode, and the best advice for the Libs is for them to remind the Cons. of their “No one wants another expensive, needless election now” & “An election would be harmful to the precarious economy” remarks & encourage them to actually, you know, honour their own fixed-date election law.

    Their spread may be on the high side — which could be attributable to its strictly being an online affair — but the Acumen folks themselves find no reason to go to the polls over this:

    “Analysis: Since early November 2010, voter preference has changed very little [PCP up 2, Libs AND NDP both down 1; Greens same]. In fact, no change is outside of the margin of error for our surveys.

    …With the BQ dominating Quebec and the Liberals and NDP splitting the anti-Tory vote, there is little reason in the data to suggest anyone (except perhaps Gilles Duceppe) wants an election at the moment. If anything, Canadians are in a holding pattern and the results of an election today would look very much like that in 2008.” http://abacusdata.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Vote-Choice-December-2010.pdf

  8. Ted H. says:

    Well I don’t understand it. The Conservatives have proven incompetent at running the Canadian economy (Flaherty will get you nowhere), embarassing on the international stage, medacious on their tough on crime stance – they talk the talk but they don’t really ever do anything effective in that regard, and other than trying to permanently sink the Liberal ship and garner a majority, they really don’t have any policy on anything. Yet, they continue to stay at a consistent level in the polls. What do supporters see in them? They really offer nothing that will improve the lot of average Canadian or position our country for a promising future. I hope the Liberal caucus is seriously considering these matters and trying to figure out an approach that will break the stasis.

    • Ted H. says:

      Sorry, I meant “mendacious”

    • The Other Jim says:

      Although I disagree with the “embarrassing on the international stage” opinion, your comment is otherwise a fantastic thumbnail sketch of our current government. Seriously, just a great description of the mediocrities currently steering the ship.

    • curt says:

      I hate to tell it to you but you nailed the situation right on.
      The Canadian people don’t see a risk with the Conservatives.
      They see a big risk with the Liberals especially promising benefits in the future.
      The recession knocked every one for a loop and taking risks on some future social experiment/benefit is not in the cards.

  9. Cath says:

    Is there a ballot question – or a strategy – left that the federal Liberals can grasp onto? Nope. because “On balance, the Conservatives are closer to the Canadian centre now than the Michael Ignatieff Liberals.” (Den Tandt – QMI – Dec. 6)

    The option left to Ignatieff is to take the party into NDP territory or further right of centre. Neither choice likely not very appealing to the Liberal grass root base – where ever they have gone.

    Den Tandt also suggests that by extending infrastructure funding until next October (after the Ontario provincial election I think), paves a way to an election in the Spring of ’11.

    That sounds about right to me, and lots of time to replace Ignatieff. I doubt very much that the CPC would jump in and force and election. Not with the provincial election being ramped up in Ontario. To unless they want to tick Ontario voters off royally.

  10. Still Anonymous says:

    Harper was polling in the low-to-mid 20s before the Martin juggernaut crashed. Abacus was just a pimple on Powers’ face back then.

  11. Baba says:

    I agree with your post-“notwithstanding” comments, but I don’t think Iggy “earned” any right to lead the party. I guess, techically, maybe… but not in the eyes of a lot of the electorate who are normally inclined to vote Liberal. The word “coronation” wasn’t bandied about only by non-Libs. Iggy damn sure hasn’t stoked the any grassroots movement or unveiled one single inspiring idea.

    People just aren’t into this guy and the Liberal party needs to wake up to this, pronto, or else we’ll be stuck with Harper again.

  12. H Holmes says:

    sometimes it isn’t a matter of change course, its understanding voters.

    Te biggest voting block is the over 40 suburban mom and dad.

    Address their issues. Which really is mostly about taxation, spending,retirement amd safety.

    Not so much about childcare. or large spending ideas, that we (liberals) seem to be hung up with.

    Come up with 3 big points directly related to this group and drop the social issues.

    We will do fine.
    Include social issues and large national programs and it will be a long election night.

  13. Cow says:

    A few things:
    * Keep on about wasteful spending, and remind people which party created the deficit last time, which party cleaned it up the last time, and which party created it this time.
    * Find some policies that a good chunk of caucus, plus the leader, believe in, and *stick with them*. I know I’m not the only lowercase-l liberal who is sick of being disappointed that another policy flank gets thrown out the window. (I know that the current government does this on a daily basis. This is actually advantageous. Whatever my own feelings on the Afghanistan decision, Ignatieff should have been complimenting the government for coming around to his viewpoint.)
    * Ignatieff needs to get a sense of humour. Stop whining, seriously. Recent example: Fantino’s comments were ludicrous, and deserved mockery, not yelling to Harper as a schoolchild waving down the teacher.
    * Related to #2, but: Ignatieff needs to answer, in a Liberal government, what would be different from right now? And, again, stick with it for more than a day at a time.

    This is kind of a dodge on your question of what policies would matter. But I really think that he needs to have *some* policies, and actually truly believe in them, and the electorate will then have an actual decision to make. Right now it’s just a zero-sum game for most voters, and I think they’ll stick with the devil they know until they’re given a reason not to.

    • Eric says:

      Good post Cow, but point 1 might be a tough sell. A lot of people believe that Trudeau created the deficit, Chretien only eliminated by enacting Mulroney’s policies against which he campaigned and Ignatief forced (or was at least complicit in) the stimulus orgy

  14. Lance says:

    Look at the last two by-elections and how the Greens preformed. 10%. No. Same with the NDP at 20%.

    I understand the trend is looking bad, but this is a little out there.

  15. Sean says:

    I honestly can’t understand why Liberals are scared of removing Ignatieff immediately. Who are we kidding here? If 10 – 20 M.P.s openly demanded his resignation at a press conference tomorrow, would anyone who is not on pay roll actually stand up for the guy? Really? I doubt it. He’d be done that day. The Leadership is fake, empty, stands for nothing, believes in nothing. Frankly, I’d defy any Liberal to tell us precisely what we would be losing if Ignatieff quit tomorrow. His resignation would be met with a sigh of relief among all party ranks coast to coast. Besides, everyone knows he’s going to quit on election night or shortly thereafter anyways, once Libs are pounded down to 40 seats. What is the point of waiting for that?

  16. JH says:

    I really think the Libs’ leadership in the H of C needs to stop the scandal a day stuff. Nobody pays any attention to it anyway and when it’s reported in the media by another glaring one day headline most of us out here in middle Canada just go huh? Familiarity does breed contempt you know and to see Mark Holland and his ilk outraged every day on a different topic on national TV is just wearying. I actually think when MI and Bob Rae are addressing serious national questions people do listen – but then it’s back to what Mr. Trudeau called the nobodies and their incessant screaming for attention.

    • JH says:

      Just to continue that thought above – I think what has happened to the NDP sort of illustrates my point. People listened to Jack Layton but now all the noise from the likes of Pat Martin, Paul Dewar and what’s his face from Montreal, have over run his message and buried it.

      • Namesake says:

        I’ve had the opposite rxn w/r/t the NDP. Before his illness, which has given him more gravitas & made him pick & pitch his battles more wisely I’d long since wearied of his Jackstanding on any all issues, & have warmed to those two lieutenants who are more earnest than slick.

    • The Doctor says:

      I think you’re on to something there. Something I’ve noticed lately is that the current LPC does a great job of appealing to die-hard, in-the-bag LPC supporters (e.g., many of the Liberal political junkies who visit this site), but not a very good job of appealing to the concerns of ordinary, non-partisan, non-aligned, non-political junkies. Look at the issues they pick: Afghan detainees. The census decision. Quite honestly, I haven’t heard a single one of my normal friends (i.e., those who are not political junkies) mention these issues. Ever.

      • Namesake says:

        I don’t disagree on the substantive point, Dr., but I disagree on the direction of the causality you’ve signalled here. It’s not the Lib. Party that’s coming up with those types of issues to unite its core around: it’s that the CPC Gov’t keeps doing numbingly bone-headed or unjust things which individual Liberals, even otherwise dormant ones, instinctually recoil from, such that it keeps reawakening us back to the political process & makes us willing to foregive & forget & even try to help the still very disunified Lib. Party get its act together to put a stop to these various stupid &/or harmful Gov’t decisions.

        • The Doctor says:

          And I don’t think I disagree with what you’ve said there either. But I do think that the LPC and its supporters can focus, or put more focus, on things that would resonate more with ordinary, apolitical Canadians and their concerns. I think the home care initiative was at least a baby step in that direction. Even the environment — that at least registers on voters’ lists of issues/concerns.

          And there’s a difference between objecting to things that the Harper govt does, and obsessing over issues that most voters don’t really care all that much about. Of course there is, e.g., good faith, genuine concern re the Afghan detainee file among right-thinking people. But consider the time and energy and ink, etc., that the LPC has expended on this issue. When it could have been spending at least some of that time on an issue or issues that would have had potentially much better political prospects (e.g., economy, environment, health care).

          I think you can still have your heart and head in the right place, while giving priority to allocating your time and energy to things that are more likely to pay political dividends. That’s what successful political parties and politicians do. But to me the LPC’s approach these days seems rather ad hoc and scattershot. People like Mark Holland are just chasing after whatever shiny object or scandal du jour happens to be right in front of their noses, rather than building any consistent, coherent narrative about what the LPC is really about and what it wants to do for this country.

  17. Stephen Reid says:

    Maybe the Liberals really need a good kick with a majority Tory government in order to reinvent themselves, and pass to a new generation. I am sick with the thought that the Tories could get a majority….but is it better to do it now, get it over with and reinvent for another day or to let this drag out?

    One thing that I really, really, really, really wish the Liberals would stop doing is calling the Tories…’bullies.’ By doing this they are forcing a contrast…wimps versus a bully. Please…can you imagine Harper, Baird, Van Loan or Pollivere walking around a school year with a leather jacket and a smoke in highschool. Doubt it. They were, and still are the wimps.

  18. Nasty Bob says:

    Might I suggest the ” Democracy Deficit” – shutting down the H of C ( twice), meddling in arms lengths bodies, dirty tricks to frustrate the works of committees, etc. ; and that’s with a minority!

    ” Harper thinks the H of C counts for nothing….. prove him wrong -make your vote count and restore democracy before it’s too late ! ”

    Course, as I said before, the” we don’t need a debate on extending the mission” presents a significant problem for that strategy,

    • Eric says:

      … and replacing Dion with Ignatief without a convention, or even a caucus vote, stretches the credibility of that argument as well.

      • Herta says:

        Well, I don’t know about that. I felt significantly more upset at prorogation etc. as a citizen than I did about the whole Dion/Ignatieff non-election, which I viewed as mere politics whereas the prorogation and issues surrounding the G8 and G20, especially police abuses have really upset me. But, hey, i’m only a lonely citizen and not a political pundit or expert.

        • The Doctor says:

          I don’t mean to come on like a Negative Nelly here, but I don’t think any of those issues are really going to garner the LPC votes from the centrist/non-aligned voters that it needs in order to substantially increase its vote. All of the issues cited above tend to appeal to the sort of people (call them progressive, centre-left, whatever) who would already be inclined to vote Liberal, NDP or Green. Fair enough, I suppose, for people who want to see the LPC tack left. But that does leave the centre to the CPC. And I’m not sure that’s a recipe for success.

    • The Other Jim says:

      If you honestly think that the inner-workings of parliamentary committees is the key to getting Jane and John Smith in Newmarket to vote Liberal in the next election, well, all I can say is “Good luck to you, Sir!”.

  19. michael hale says:

    Compromise when you’re in government. In opposition, oppose and put forward positions AND STICK WITH THEM.

    That’s the beauty of opposition. You don’t have to compromise for reality or budget or whatever. It’s the only stick you have. If you keep compromising OUT OF GOVERNMENT, how can anyone believe what you’ll do in government?

    Isn’t this basic stuff?

    • The Doctor says:

      I’m not sure I agree with you on that. In the good ole days of majority governments, I can see the merit in that approach. But it’s much more complicated than that now, IMO, because we have both the pizza parliament and minority governments. Plus, let’s face it, if the LPC adopts a purely belligerent, adversarial attitude tomorrow, then we’re having an election pronto. If you want that, well then, as the saying goes, fill yer pants.

      On the other hand, I’m all for the LPC articulating a clear, alternative set of policy positions and a plan for governing. I think it’s quite possible to do that AND play a constructive role within the context of a minority government.

  20. orval says:

    By unequivocally (and early) committing to opposing the human-smuggling bill, the LPC has given the CPC a chance to call an election without the blame. All CPC has to do, if the timing is propitious, is to put the bill to second reading and make it a confidence vote. If three opposition parties, the Coalition, vote against it, then we have an election caused by the opposition on an issue that helps the Government: action to stop people-smuggling and bogus refugees vs soft on illegal migrants.

    Ignatieff has ceded the initiative to Harper, and if an election is called early, Ignatieff is blamed. And if he caves at last minute, he is seen as weak.

  21. Dan F. says:

    I agree with Warren, that the Liberals have entirely ceded their left flank to the NDP, but not just on Afghanistan. On every issue that matters to Canadians; health care, education, child care, environment, Canadians are with the Liberal Party, or to the left of them. If they worked that angle, the Liberals could wipe out the NDP in the next election, leaving only enough of a rump to help prop up their minority for a few years until they could swing it to a majority. Ignatieff will be our Pearson: smart, not so charismatic, will only ever have a minority, but will do some great things.

    Remember, Liberals have always done best when they campaign to the centre-left, and govern from the centre-right. Big Tent; for all Canadians.

  22. Brendan Kane says:

    Abacus has weighted the 18-29 year olds as 20% of the electorate. Is that what it was in the last election?

    • Eric says:

      Seems high off the top of the head, doesn’t it? At least contrary to the conventional wisdom. Wouldn’t weighing this segment too highly over-estimate the Lib-NDP-Green vote?

  23. crf says:

    Get a policy Ontarians can believe in and whack Harper with it. Considering a particular issue of import, show where you think Canada ought to be, as a country in the wider world, and then whack Harper as you illustrate how his policies in this area are making Canada as relevant to the rest of the world as, say, Bulgaria. Talk to people. And don’t just talk to “ordinary canadians”. Talk to the people who have the most to offer this country, but are not being heard in Ottawa: artists, leading scientific researchers, professionals, real economists (i.e. not fraser institute wannabes with second-times-a-charm master degrees). I bet real ordinary Canadians (well, certainly me) would rather people who are experts have some say in how our country is run, rather than always parternalistically appealing to some mythical Tim Horton’s stereotype all the bloody time on every bloody contrived issue. Leave that shtick to faux populists like Rob Ford and Don Cherry and Steve Harper, and skewer them when they do it.

    My pet policy: Harper making Ontario industry a branch plant of the oil sands. Ontario’s nuclear industry could grow larger than the Oil indsutry every could, and give Ontarians real independent economic clout. Ontario could also have a growing renewables industry (though I think it will be less important than Nuclear). Tying Ontario’s prosperity growth largely to Oil impels subservience to Alberta’s political interests. Who pays your bills and employs your people influences what party you’ll vote for: you want to keep them happy.

    It is important to realize that it would not harm Alberta much at all if Canada and Ontario had carbon taxes and a strong nuclear industry. Nuclear, Oil and Renewables are largely independent of one another in markets. But it would harm Conservative fortunes in Ontario if Ontario were independently economically strong. This also explains why the Conservative hate Carbon taxes or cap and trade (even when oil companies themselves say nice things about them), and scotch international solutions to limit carbon: any sane policy worldwide or in Canada to limit Carbon Dioxide would boost Ontario’s nuclear and renewables indsutry, diminishing the relative importance of Oil sands to Ontario’s prosperity, and diminish political power of Conservatives.

    Be populist. Harper has instituted a Stealth NEP under our noses for purely ugly partisan reasons. A lot of commentators see the hands of oil sands companies behind Harper’s climate and energy policies. I think this is not true: that is how things work in America, but not really so much in this country. Harper does not work to advance the interests of other people, not even apparent corporate supporters. Harper’s policies on energy and industry can best be explained the same way as nearly every other policy of his: Advance the interestes of the Conservative Party at all costs. Ontario be damned if necessary.

    Why do you think the Conservatives have tied AECL in knots by a goofy plan to crack it pieces and sell it, scotched plans for Nuclear research in the Country by cancelling an NRU replacement, not lifted a finger to overcome Ontario’s financing hesitancy for an ACR reactor project, given every sign to young people that nuclear research is dying, had caucus member spout anti-radiation hysteria about medical neutron reactors, and said nothing at Cancun about building new reactors with Canadian technology (see Steve Aplin’s latest on this)?

    We broke our bond when we decided to stop Isotope production for the world. But we’re an energy superpower now, apparently, so it’s all good. Lots of credibility behind that statement: that the world can rely on Canadian energy. But only the kind of energy that comes from Alberta I guess.

    Canada is getting so small under Harper. It’s being sucked into his navel.

    • The Doctor says:

      It doesn’t really help Canada build a nuclear industry when the BC Liberal government declares a moratorium on uranium mining and exploration (you know that uranium stuff — that’d be the stuff you need in order to run nuclear plants).

      Just sayin’.

      Oh, and by the way, I don’t recall that the federal Liberals objected to that moratorium.

  24. Paul says:

    Mark my words: Doogie Howser, Pollster is at the cutting edge of where Polling in Canada could go. If I had any money at all, I’d buy stock in Abacus, Summa and the whole lot of them. Canada could use a Pollster who isn’t looking at the world from beneath grey hair.

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