Categories for Musings

In Tuesday’s Sun: the alternation theory and Justin Trudeau

Liberal governments back in power, somewhat unexpectedly, in Quebec City and Toronto: does that help Justin Trudeau, or does it hurt him?

Depends who you ask. Conservatives are less preoccupied with what political scientists airily refer to as “alternation.” Liberals believe in it, as an article of faith. That’s why so many federal Grits are (publicly) claiming to be happy about the election of Premiers Couillard and Wynne – but are (privately) a bit apprehensive.

Alternation, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, is uniquely Canadian. It asserts that Canadian voters are (a) aware of the dualities that run through our politics, and (b) wisely offset said dualities to provide balance and harmony. So, for example, Liberals believe in alternating between French and English leaders. Conservatives don’t, although they seem to pay some heed to East-West leadership duality.

Alternation means that, whenever the Liberals have been in power in Ottawa, Conservatives have generally held sway in Toronto. The same holds true, more or less, for the Quebec City-Ottawa teeter-totter: whenever federalist Liberals have been ascendant in the nation’s capital, they have been moving in the opposite direction at Quebec’s National Assembly.

If alternation sounds like a lot of political hocus-pocus to you, you are not alone. There are clear exceptions to the alternation rule. For example, Liberal Dalton McGuinty first won power while Liberals Jean Chretien and Paul Martin ruled federally, an alternation aberration that went on for two years. And Grits haven’t always adhered to the alternating French-English leader rule, either: recently, and fleetingy, they had two back-to-back anglos as leader (Ignatieff and Rae).

That all said, Team Trudeau may admit that alternation causes them some indigestion. For the next four years, Premiers Couillard and Wynne will govern and, one hopes, be obliged to make difficult decisions. For the next four years, then, much of the Liberal action – fundraising, media attention and the better political staffers – will gravitate toward the provincial capitals.

Trudeau may argue that he is responsible for some of Wynne’s big win. He helped her out at a big mid-campaign rally, true, and he stumped for some Ontario Liberal candidates. But Trudeau could not stem the anti-Grit tide in February by-elections in Toronto or Niagara Falls, nor before that in Windsor or London in August. The Ontario Liberals were humbled in those places, Trudeau’s beneficence notwithstanding.

As he surveys the Ontario-Quebec results, however, Trudeau is certainly entitled to form the opinion that the Liberal brand is back. After 2011’s federal rout, many pundits were claiming that Liberal parties were doomed. But now Liberals rule the roost in B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I., and big “L” liberalism looks anything but dead. Canadians seem to be migrating back to the political centre.

Three things stand in the way if Trudeau’s journey back to 24 Sussex, however. One, Stephen Harper is no Tim Hudak or Pauline Marois – he knows how to win, and Grits underestimate him at their peril. Two, Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats have not withered on the vine in Quebec – there, the NDP remain as popular as the Liberals, or more so. Three, Wynne and Couillard have revealed themselves to be disciplined, capable campaigners – and neither are guilty of verbal gaffes about abortion, the Ukraine, Chinese dictatorships or balanced budgets.

Alternation: it may simply be debate fodder for political scientists, sure.

Or, it could be the main thing that keeps Justin Trudeau from power in 2015.


Thank you

I’ve been getting some amazing notes from you guys this morning – offers to stay with a family in PEI, advice about real help from a former colleague on the Hill, a long letter from a fellow Bishop Carroll alumnus. Lots of others.

Going to get on the right track – I promise. And, apropos of nothing, here’s the only portrait ever done of me – by my Mom, in what I always wear up at the cabin. Felt time to post it.

Thank you again, all.




In Sunday’s Sun: As The Au Pairs sang, it’s obvious

The first duty of intelligent people, said George Orwell, is to restate the obvious.

In politics, it isn’t done nearly enough.  So, let us state the obvious: Kathleen Wynne won a huge, impressive, astounding victory.  But she didn’t win so much as Tim Hudak lost.

Political reality (an oxymoron if there ever was one) is usually right out there in the open.  You don’t have to go looking for it. 

Now, sure: the tendency of the commentariat – the pollsters, the pundits, the progonosticators – is to pore through columns of data and election entrails, and ascribe some murky cause to unambiguous events.  But those in the punditocracy who got Ontario election 2014 decidedly wrong (and I was decidedly one, for again believing the pollsters), just need to pay closer attention to what is obvious. The big picture stuff.

The big picture stuff: poll after poll after poll, discredited as they so often are, showed the Ontario Liberal leader to be the most popular political leader around.  And those selfsame polls showed the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader to be the least popular.  It never really changed.

It certainly didn’t change when the interminable election campaign got going: it got more pronounced.  Ontario voters weren’t at all happy about serial Liberal controversies, of course.  But they liked Kathleen Wynne – female, gay, inheritor of said controversies – and her economic ideas didn’t worry them overmuch.

Tim Hudak, meanwhile, did.  They thought his economic plan – creating a million jobs, while simultaneously cutting 100, 000 jobs, and then confusing “person years” with “jobs” – was just too radical.  It didn’t make sense to them.  And, in the equivalency in media coverage that an election campaign gives to opposition leaders, Hudak came up short.

There was something in his alchemy – something in his essence, his DNA – that voters just didn’t like.  They never warmed to him, not once.

Sure, Hudak won the single leader’s debate.  Sure, he won more newspaper endorsements than Wynne.  Sure, the pollsters were saying that he was the main beneficiary of a historically-high desire for change.

But they didn’t warm to him.  Wynne, they did.  So, when Hudak and his uncommonly insensible revolutionaries branded everything they did with Hudak’s face, they were courting disaster.  And disaster they got.

By placing an unpopular leader with an unpopular plan front and centre – by being more radical than Stephen Harper has ever, ever been on the hustings – Hudak’s party created the ideal circumstances for Kathleen Wynne to win big.

It’s that obvious.

Take a look at some of the numbers, if all that sounds too simplistic.  Wynne won eight more seats than Dalton McGuinty did in 2011 – but she did so with almost exactly the same popular vote, 38 per cent.  That is, she and McGuinty both won 38 per cent of a shrinking pool of votes – but she got a majority, and he didn’t.


Because the PC vote collapsed, that’s why.  They captured about 36 per cent of the popular vote in 2011.  On Thursday night, they got 31 per cent.  That drop, alone, accounted for Wynne’s big win.  That, alone – unpopular PC leader, unpopular PC economic plan – allowed the Ontario Liberals to do better than many folks ever expected they would.

Now, in political campaigns, it’s never one thing that determines outcomes, of course.

Other factors contributed to Wynne’s win, and Hudak’s loss.  Among them: Wynne’s war room – led by Bob Lopinski, Brian Clow, Rebecca Mackenzie and Fahim Kaderdina – were better than their PC and NDP equivalents.  Her lead campaign strategists – David Herle, Peter Donolo, Pat Sorbara, Tom Teahen and Andrew Bevan – kept a laser-like focus on the obvious realities: Wynne and her plan popular, Hudak and his plan unpopular.

(And, yes, Virginia, this writer did indeed write that sentence. Clip and save.)

Joe and Jane Frontporch, in their wisdom, always had the same perspective: they didn’t like Tim Hudak.  So, when Hudak turned the election into a referendum on himself, Joe and Jane voted accordingly.

It all may sound simple, and it may be restating the obvious: but after the shambolic mess that was Ontario election 2014, it is – as no less than Orwell said – our first duty, right?



Ipsos just now: Ontario Liberals behind in every region

…with those most likely to vote. Holy shit la merde!

They’ve got a huge sample – two thousand people. And look at what’s happened to the NDP vote! If this is a trend, and not a blip, who is going to be leader of the Opposition?

And, continuing with the breathless questions, what does it all mean, Virginia? It means GOTV tomorrow determines who wins. Full stop.

Ipsos, with my emphasis added:

“Examining the regional vote by those most likely to vote:

· In the 905, the PCs (43%) pull ahead of the Liberals (30%) and NDP (23%).

· In the 416, the NDP (38%) are in a statistical tie with the Liberals (35%),while the Tories (24%) trail.

· In Southwestern Ontario, the NDP (39%) are also ahead of the PCs (32%) and Liberals (25%).

· In Eastern Ontario, the Tories (43%) do well against the Liberals (29%) and NDP (24%).

· In Central Ontario (based on a small sample size), the PCs (45%) pull ahead of the Liberals (35%) and NDP (17%).

· In Northern Ontario, the results (based on a small sample size), the PCs (37%), Liberals (34%) and NDP (28%) remain competitive.”


Warren’s witty, wacky, wonky weather wizardry

Good morning, Ontario! This rainy morn, we have two Ekos and Forum meteorological predictions wreaking havoc with PC governing plans – but, remember, Forum and Ekos have previously promised one thing, and decidedly done another. Ipsos is rolling into our area at 6 p.m. tonight, and they tend to be more accurate that the other weather-predicting folks.

The Forum and Ekos prognostications – along with the actual weather, which looks super-crummy (and even scary) today and tomorrow – may have the unhelpful effect of persuading progressives they don’t need to leave the comfort of their couches.  Conservative voters, meanwhile, have a long-standing, well-documented tendency to come out in all kinds of weather.

Get ready for a crazy 48 hours, Ontario! The weather folks may be saying one thing – but the people on the ground may have other plans!


Big political graves are dug with little shovels

In a tight election race, like this one, you have to pay attention to the little things. It’s the little things that will kill you. Case in point: the Liberal government’s headlong rush to cram casino operations in every single corner of the province.

I’m amazed the Liberals have let this issue fester; I’m surprised, too, that the PCs and New Democrats haven’t been all over it. Out in the hinterland, folks are unhappy.

The party that wins this one is the party that says “enough is enough.”