Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Turnout and the Ontario By-Elections

This evening while wracking my brain trying to figure out what I wanted to write about today I decided to go to the 308 Blog and see what Eric Grenier had written this week. His post from today was about modeling the upcoming by-elections and voter turnout out this, “A few weeks ago, I discussed how a simple turnout model was able to significantly increase the accuracy of polls in some recent elections. Depressingly so - the model requires ignoring the voting intentions of those under the age of 35. But nevertheless the model worked.”

The model had mixed results. The outcomes for by-elections were sometimes more accurate and sometimes less. It did seem to correct for those more inaccurate polls related to by-elections. By-election turnout is often in the 30-40% range. It is easy to imagine how those least likely to participate are the first to fall off when the electorate shrinks to such a small size. The handful of citizens willing to answer a poll is likely going to vote as opposed to those who hang up.

Polls have come out over the last month for all five of the by-election races in Ontario.

Windsor-Tecumseh looks to be very strong for the NDP. The federal party had held the seat for decades, but the provincially they have had little luck. City Councillor Percy Hatfield looks ready to overturn that. A July 24th poll showed Hatfield leading with 55% of the vote. His nearest contender is the Progressive Conservative candidate polling at 22%.

In London West, despite the Liberals attracting a star candidate, Ken Coran, they are in third 17%. The riding appears to be a race between the ONDP and PCs. The PCs, according to Forum, has the lead with 36% to the NDP’s 31%. Polls in Ontario have shown considerable strength for the NDP in southwestern Ontario and this may be the sign of it.

Ottawa South, the seat of former Premier Dalton McGuinty is at risk of being won by the Conservatives. Forum’s poll showed the PCs leading the Liberals 48-34 with the NDP at 12%. Grenier is not confident in Forum’s numbers in this riding.

Scarborough-Guildwood is the only riding Forum showed a Liberal lead with 38% to the Tories’ 32%. The NDP’s Adam Giambrone mustered 21% in the poll, disappointing for the star candidate.

Finally, Etobicoke-Lakeshore offers a surprise as Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday leads Councillor Peter Milczyn 47% to 40%. The federal Conservatives hold the seat, but Holyday’s potential win is surprising in this former Liberal stronghold.

Taken all in all it is a bad set of numbers for the Liberals, but I take them all with a grain of salt. Turnout will be critical and with a by-election being held in the summer it is impossible to know the potential outcome. In addition, polling disasters over the past few years should leave anyone shy of predicting the future on their backs. The PCs are leading provincially but it hasn’t materialized yet. Perhaps these by-elections could be a sign of things to come.

The final vote will be held on August 1st. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Worth Reading – July 25, 2013

Short list of reads this week. My efforts to get ready for my move is taking up A LOT of my mental and physical energy. I hope this satisfies.

The good folks at Spacing have been doing a great job at covering the debacle over the Scarborough subway/LRT. From this piece, my favourite line is, “When political scientists and other orders of government accuse municipalities of immaturity, this is precisely what they’re talking about.”  

Also from Spacing, Jon Lorinc discusses how the funding feud between the province and the city is a distraction because the federal government will not chip in at this stage

Streetfilms had this interesting little video about Charles Marohn and his initiative called Strong Towns. I’m working on learning more about this group.

The City of Detroit declared bankruptcy last week. The urbanist press has been abuzz about the implications. Aaron Renn offers his take

Steve Paikin of TVO attended a debate in Scarborough-Guildwood and the candidates left him wanting. 

From the Toronto Star, Mississauga Councillors want to know where the money for the Toronto Scarborough subway will come from, and are criticizing the neglect of 905 projects. It’s an excellent point, though I am obviously biased.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Riding Associations: Paupers and Princes

Riding associations are the building blocks of political parties. In recent months I have done a great deal of advocating on their importance. While they remain important the moral purity of riding associations can be rightfully impugned. The Toronto Star has reported that millions of dollars are spent by these associations with little to no accountability

The article is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it. However, one criticism I have is that the authors paint broadly and likely hits all riding associations with their brush. The journalists found that several riding associations have gigantic financial bases. Ridings of prominent MPs have hundreds of thousands in the bank and pull in substantial amounts annually. Unsurprisingly the wealthiest riding association in Canada is Stephen Harper’s riding of Calgary Southwest. Harper’s riding has a third of a million dollars in reserve. Other prominent parliamentarians had wealth riding associations.

The reason why is easy enough to understand. Whether or not it’s true, people believe donating money gives access to politicians. I admit that I have engaged in this line of thinking. By donating a little money, or giving at an important time, you feel like perhaps your name will go on a list and be remembered for a job or something. Or, perhaps by attending a fundraising event you’ll rub elbows and meet interesting people. After a year I realized a person of my means cannot play that game with any amount of success. Conservatives from across the country probably give to the Calgary Southwest Conservative Riding Association in hopes it will bring them closer to the leader of their party and the Prime Minister.

However the dozens of very wealthy riding associations are merely outliers. My experience in the Brampton West NDP has been as a pauper riding association. Riding associations outside of areas of strengths, or with a strong activist base are basically penniless. When I discussed this article with a fellow activist I mentioned it must be nice to be in a riding with that kind of money, and it would be nice to work in a riding with tens of thousands in the bank. She laughed and countered that it would be nice to work for a riding with tens in the bank.

The current system and the practices of the very wealthy EDAs leaves much to be desired and there is a high risk that laws are being bent, if not broken. In the official filings ridings are mislabelling and misreporting their spending with no consequence. The trouble is that if regulations are tightened on riding associations it will make engagement and participation more difficult.

If the accounting practices become stricter and penalties harsher for misreporting the chances have it that the wealthy ridings who can hire professionals will continue to do well while small ridings with amateur staff will fall victim of careless mistakes. We put a great deal of our democratic system in the hands of volunteers. The simplest approach, I assume, would be to hire regional directors from the central party to make sure riding associations uphold the laws and help them with a stricter code. Obviously better accounting and accountability is required, but the best mechanism to carry it out is unclear at this time.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Worth Reading – July 18, 2013

Featured this week in my Tuesday piece, Andrew Coyne’s take on the cabinet shuffle

I’m a monarchist, and I enjoyed this defence of the Queen of Canada in the Ottawa Citizen. I particularly appreciated the part emphasizing patriotism over nationalism. 

From the Huffington Post, what it takes to start your own country

Toronto’s City Council has made the idea of a Scarborough subway a distraction from a more reasonable LRT proposal. Conservative members of City Council blasted the approach as irresponsible

From the Globe and Mail, the shuffle in the federal cabinet will only worsen relations between the government and the backbench Conservative MPs

Again, Martin Regg Cohn writes about how the Scarborough subway conversation is a mirror image of the gas plant issue. Parties are making irresponsible promises in the interests of winning by-elections

Andrew Coyne has a bit of fun with the revealed “enemies list” of the Conservative government

Though I’ve never been there, Singapore is one of my favourite countries in the world. From New Geography, Joel Kotkin writes about the challenges facing Singapore going into an uncertain future

This is an amazing piece from the Toronto Star. Some riding associations in Canada are incredibly cash-rich and Elections Canada has no way to audit these electoral riding associations. The Star reports that EDAs hold about $30 million in tax-payer subsidized funds. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shuffling a Bloated Cabinet

Getting ready to write today’s piece I read Andrew Coyne’s article on the federal cabinet shuffle. I found all of what I had to say said in a manner far superior than I could hope to duplicate. Coyne makes the simple argument that the cabinet shuffle that Canadian political media has obsessed over is meaningless.

Cabinets in Canadian politics are far too big, the federal government’s is embarrassingly so. None of our peers in the world have cabinets the size we do. Does anyone truly believe that governing Canada is more complicated and requires a greater number of ministers than the United States, the United Kingdom or Germany? This is also a problem in our dear Ontario where over half of the Liberal caucus is in cabinet. Cabinet posts in the modern era have transformed into an analog of the venal office. They are government slots for sale. However instead of paying in coin for social advancement the MPs pay in their dignity. The main group of Conservative promoted in the cabinet shuffle were the leads on talking points. Therefore those who have given misleading, incorrect or baffling statements on issues of the day have been rewarded with greater salaries and a modest boost in prestige.

Cabinet-building in Canada is not about matching experience and ability, but checking boxes and providing a certain image. More women have been brought in, but they hold virtually meaningless titles, aside from the new Health Minister. The most important and powerful cabinet positions have remained intact. In this government that means the economic portfolios. It is the lack of change in certain areas that is most telling. For example, Peter Van Loan (CPC – York-Simcoe, ON) remains as Government House Leader despite his failings in that position and disquiet among the backbench about him.

As I have written about before, these venal offices are carrots offered to MPs so that they behave themselves and tow the party line. The explosion in the size of cabinet, which is nearly double the size of our peers, is a symbol of the need for tighter control. I think a truly bold reform for a future Premier or Prime Minister would be to cut cabinet down to size. A leader who shrunk cabinet down to 20 or 30 ministers would be a sign that cabinet was going to exercise real influence and authority again.

Sadly, it seems unlikely. I am not sure for what practical reasons cabinet can continue to grow. I cannot imagine a day with 50 cabinet ministers, but chances have it positions like Parliament Secretary will continue to proliferate in both their ineffectiveness and uselessness. A real cabinet shuffle would see half the cabinet shuffled off and a smaller body with real influence take its place.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

East Coast Hiatus

Hello readers, unfortunately I will not be able to post on July 4th, 8th or 11th. I am going on a vacation to Newfoundland to visit my family and take in the sights. I am sorry for the interruption, but it will be inconvenient to try to sit down and write and post while visiting family and touring. In addition, keeping up-to-date while packing and getting ready to move north has been difficult. Have a great rest of the week and weekend, at the latest I'll be back on July 18th. 

Take care,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

By-Election Pentathlon

Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP - Don Valley West) is expected to call a series of by-election for August 1st tomorrow. The by-election are exclusively in Liberal-held seats, and all the resigning MPPs were cabinet ministers in the McGuinty government, including Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) himself. Normally this would be viewed as a crisis for the Wynne government. The resignation of so many prominent MPPs, totalling over a tenth of her caucus, would be seen as a real blow. With the exception of perhaps one it is seen as mostly tired, senior hands resigning and retiring from public life. In this post I want to do a sort of breakdown on each contest.

London West was former Energy Minister Christ Bentley’s seat. He resigned months ago over the gas plant scandal. As a result all three parties have had time to get read. The NDP is running Peggy Sattler a school board trustee, the PCs are running Ali Chahbar, a local lawyer. Rumour has it that the Liberals are enticing former OSSTF president Ken Coran to run for them in London West. In October 2011 Bentley won London West with 45% of the vote, with the PCs winning 29% and the NDP 22%. This could be a three-way race, though the Liberals are favourites. The federal Conservatives hold London West, but it seems unlikely the PCs will match their success. The ONDP underperformed the federal NDP in 2011 by about 6,000 votes. If they were able to recapture some of those number they could win the riding.

Windsor-Tecumseh was Dwight Duncan’s seat. He was a long-time finance minister and staunch McGuinty ally. Windsor is a deep orange seat federally and fairly strong red provincially. This by-election offers a chance for the NDP to correct that. Duncan only beat his NDP challenger by 10% in 2011. The NDP is running Percy Hatfield, a city councillor. This, in my opinion, is a must-win for the NDP. Their base is strong there and they have a good candidate. Of the five seats this is the easiest pick-up for them.

Not long ago Dalton McGuinty announced he was retiring from public life entirely and leaving the legislature. Ottawa South went Liberal with 48% in 2011. The PCs were 12 points behind. Whether the PCs Matt Young, a businessman, can close that gap is anyone’s guess. Ottawa South was one of the few ridings the federal Liberals managed to hold on to, and perhaps with McGuinty gone their numbers will actually improve.

The final two by-elections were unexpected and somewhat sudden. Laurel Broten, a prominent Liberal cabinet minister holding many posts, resigned her seat for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Broten won Etobicoke-Lakeshore with a majority a few short months after Michael Ignatieff, then leader of the federal Liberals, lost his own seat. Toronto is supposed to be Kathleen Wynne’s base and has remained a Liberal stronghold, aside from the creeping NDP insurrection. Peter Milczyn, a Toronto city councillor, is seeking the Liberal nomination for the seat. This seems like a likely Liberal hold at this point.

Finally, Margarett Best resigned due to health reasons as MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood. This could be another tight three-way race. The NDP have shown growing strength in Scarborough both federally and provincially. It is easy to imagine volunteers flooding into the area from neighbouring ridings and boosting support. At the same time the seat was nearly won by the federal Conservatives in the last election. As with Etobicoke-Lakeshore this is a Toronto seat, and Kathleen Wynne should be able to maintain her base and win.

By-elections are awful to predict for two reasons. One, turnout is dismally low and so anything can happen, and two, the peculiarities of the local campaign make any broad generalizations impossible. What happens in Scarborough-Guildwood will have very little to do with what happens in Windsor-Tecumseh. However, I am inclined to be foolish and make a prediction or two. I believe the NDP will win in Windsor-Tecumseh, and had a good chance of winning either Scarborough-Guildwood (depending on the candidate) and London West. The Progressive Conservatives’ best hopes are probably also London West, and I suppose Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Scarborough-Guildwood, especially if strong NDP efforts split votes. The most likely outcome to my mind is four wins for the Liberals and one for the NDP.

This is a big opportunity for Kathleen Wynne. Wynne inherited Dalton McGuinty’s caucus. With this she can start building her own Liberal Party. The men and woman who may win will do so under her banner and will be loyal to her. It would boost Liberal morale and chasten the NDP and PCs thinking of an election. Regardless, as always, it should be fun to watch.