Uphill battle for Selinger’s NDP

Manitoba’s election is well underway, and the polls are not looking good at all for the NDP government, which has served for nearly 20 years under Gary Doer and Greg Selinger.

While the NDP can take a lot of credit for progress on infrastructure, at least one major project, the third bipole, was subject to overly protracted debate, and rerouted at considerable cost, as the government struggled to balance its constituencies of clean energy and respect for aboriginal land rights.

Infrastructure was the main excuse NDP leader Greg Selinger used to raise the PST 1%, returning the overall sales tax in Manitoba to 13%, without a vote, as was previously required by law.  Changing the law to remove the plebiscite at the same time as you raise those taxes, is, at best, bad public policy.  It has proven to be the central flamethrower Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives have used in the runup to the campaign, and even cracked the unity of the NDP themselves, with a backbench revolt lead by Theresa Oswald.

Selinger narrowly avoided defeat in a major shakeup that required a leadership race to settle, and even then, it left the party looking fractured, with a governing core plagued with patronage.  The lack of turnover also prevented the party from presenting a fresh face to the province going into the hustings.  The NDP still has some star candidates, like former CBC broadcaster Wab Kinew, that generate excitement in core constituencies.

There’s still the X-factor of the provincial Liberal Party.  It’s been little more than a bit player in Manitoba for decades, but the recent surprise victory of Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals has generated momentum to send the MLP above the NDP in some recent polls.  Rana Bokhari is a definite dark horse to be the next premier, but will certainly spoil what little the NDP planned to hold onto.

RFO in cards for Aboriginal Affairs

As Justin Trudeau is set to divide the spoils around the 4th of November, Robert-Falcon Ouellette is being touted as a possibility for Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.  Trudeau is rumoured to be considering one of several native MPs for the role.  Ouellette is a rising star in the Liberal Party, having recently upset the NDP’s Pat Martin in Winnipeg Centre. RFO finished third in the race for mayor of Winnipeg last year, despite winning the j5mc endorsement.

The Green Party’s Elizabeth May likely will not appear in Cabinet as Environment Minister, though along with the provincial premiers, she has a guaranteed position with the Canadian delegation to the upcoming Paris Summit. The Green Party showing in the polls was down significantly, to 3.7% from its usual levels of 8 or more.

Also, Candice Bergen is running for interim leader of the Conservative Party. Bergen, who represents the Portage-Lisgar riding, was a junior cabinet member in Harper’s cabinet and a major force behind the end of national rifle registration. Bergen will face off against three others seeking to lead the party caucus. The scale of the race is already unusual, as interim leaders are often acclaimed.  Will the winner will end up staying on as permanent Leader of the Opposition?

NDP Leader needs some food for thought

In an interview with CBC’s As it Happens, Thomas Mulcair has continued to play-act as front runner, and refused to take responsibility for his party’s attack ads targeting the Liberals, even though it is clear that the NDP’s numbers aren’t just softening, but tanking.

The NDP has slid so far in Québec that the Bloc is now projected to win seats, and with the polls sliding toward the Liberals so quickly and dramatically, tactical voters and bandwagoners are not going to go orange. Unless Mulcair has some magically effective GOTV operation, it doesn’t look good for the New Democrats, who might end up where they’ve always been, third place with just 80 seats.

What’s worse is that Mulcair’s tone on a coalition has snapped back to a blame game with the Liberals over the 2008 fiasco, a far cry from where the debate was just two weeks ago, when Mulcair and Trudeau were converging on an informal deal.

Mid-campaign, Mulcair was charged with being heavy-handed as party caucus leader, something that only seems to echo as he avoids any compromise so late in the election. Now that Tom isn’t sure he’ll end up on top in a coalition, he’s not a fan of the idea any longer, apparently.

That’s not the result Canadians want.  Tom should spend his Thanksgiving weekend letting someone else carve the turkey, and eat some humble pie along with his tortière, or Steven Harper is still going to be pouring the gravy for the next five years.

Liberals surge with soft-serve coalition deal

Uncertain voters were reassured by Justin Trudeau’s pledge to participate in a don’t-call-it-a-coalition with the NDP, unlocking a wave of pent-up support for Trudeau, easily the most liked of the leadership candidates.

NDP boss Tom Mulcair has been struggling to play the front-runner as the Conservatives injected devastating xenophobia into the race in Québec.  Polls have shown some sobering softening to the NDP’s numbers in the province as Mulcair has stood up too quietly for tolerance in the face of racist backlash against a court ruling against a headscarf ban at citizenship ceremonies.

The net result of this is a surge for the Liberal Party in the polls, which counter-intuitively could mean victory for the Conservatives.  Where votes are split between Liberals and the NDP, the Tories come up the middle, and the projections now imply a 123-seat minority Conservative Caucus, the first time they have been in striking distance of governing during this campaign, but still well under the combined totals for the NDP and Liberals.

Stephen Harper’s rallying cry against a joint NDP/Liberal government is a lack of democratic legitimacy, claiming a coalition is unprecedented in Canadian politics, and short of overt campaigning for a coalition no NDP or Liberal leader can claim to be Prime Minister.  In order to agree with this view of history, you would need to overlook a number of minority governments tided over with third party support, and forget that the first job of the Prime Minister is to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons.

Harper has had no qualms governing against the wishes of the majority of voting Canadians before, but as it is today, the election is set to go down that worst possible road, where the Tories will finish behind in the votes but a weak first in the seats. Harper has pledged not to resign in such a case, but would be easily forced out, and more than prepared to sow the seeds of discontent over the next 10 years, hypocritically incensed that his party was defeated by parliamentary tricks.

Husting Nights in Canada

Campaign season has been on in Canada for three weeks, with a fixed election date in October.  The usual 34 days or so is instead a marathon 80+ day affair, which seems like nothing compared to the 24/7/365 of American politics, but is unprecedented in modern Canada.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s strategy appears to be damage control.  Scandals that are plaguing his party are wont to be forgotten over the long campaign season, and the Tory advantage with fundraising makes them far better equipped to weather a long-duration campaign.

As early polls have shown the New Democratic Party to be the favourite to replace the Conservative government, Thomas Mulcair’s impact has been muted, surfacing at appropriate moments to snipe at the embattled Harper record, but shying from the limelight.  By contrast, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have hit the trail with a similar sort of energy that Jack Layton had when the NDP was a third-place party.

Atlantic

The NDP trails the Grits 44 to 35% (at 20% the Conservatives are not a huge factor).  There is the occasional loud independent candidate in Newfoundland, but the leaders have mainly been visiting Nova Scotia.

Québec

The NDP/NPD’s chances at a government require them to hold their unprecedented return, making this the most important province for them.  In the months leading up to election season, the NPD was showing weakness, but a poll from CROP of likely voters in Québec indicates a huge lead in NPD support in the key province at 41%.

No more than a sixth of voters have given the Conservative Party their support in recent polls, making la Belle Province mainly a battleground for the left.  At the moment, les Liberaux are taking a nosedive, and the comeback envisioned by the Bloc Québecois has stalled as sovereignty is polling at just 37%.  Voters appear to be accepting the NDP as the most credible voice of social-democratic policy, and therefore, the likely winner in the vast majority of Québec.

Ontario

Seat-rich Ontario is a three-way race.  Ontario is huge and has unique constituencies, but by and large this is a fight in the Toronto suburbs, with the Conservatives nominally polling just ahead of the NDP and Liberals, 32-31-30%.

Prairies

The Conservatives have a hefty lead, but the region is not particularly seat-rich.  Out of the gate, there was significant interest in the race in Alberta, following on the heels of a surprise NDP win in the provincial arena.  However, the most recent polling shows that the Tories are gaining support on their home turf.

Winnipeg has seen all the party leaders already, though Mulcair has been around a lot less than Harper and Trudeau according to CBC’s mapping project.

BC

The wildcard in the race is the Green Party, and nowhere in Canada is that more of a factor than British Columbia.  The party has enough support on Vancouver Island and the southern Mainland.  Party leader Elizabeth May claims that the bulk of their supporters would otherwise not participate in the election at all, but supposing that Green supporters still voted, just not for Greens and with a 50-50 split between the NDP and Liberals, there’d be at least 3 fewer seats for the Conservatives.

National Outlook

At the moment, the analysis suggests an NDP minority government.  With so much time left in the campaign, there are still many twists and turns to come.  There is some thought that the Conservatives are under-reported in polling in recent years; the current majority government was a surprise, looking solely at pre-election polls it was about 30 seats ahead of where everyone thought the Tories were.

Probably the most difficult scenario would be the Tories holding on to a nominal seat lead, perhaps 130, followed closely by the NDP and Liberals.  Would Harper place his brand on compromise legislation to retain the role of PM, or would the left cooperate and force him out, despite their softer mandate?

Scotland vote due soon

scotlandOn the 18th, there’s kind of a big thing going on in Scotland.  If I were voting, I’d be voting “yes” — Yes for Scotland, Yes to Europe, Yes to Social Justice.

From all accounts, it’s clear that Independence is not going down to a yawning defeat as suggested mere weeks ago.

Certainly, Scottish independence is not without pitfalls. The most troublesome problems Scotland faces are economic — forced by British intransigence to choose between sharing a currency and travel area with Britain or with wider Europe.

Scotland must also decide the fate of revenues from its oil production — production that won’t go on forever, but money that perhaps can if properly managed.  Like Alberta and North Dakota, Scotland is a subnational entity buoyed by a valuable but ultimately unlasting resource.

Before the Canadian Alliance put an end to western alienation, Alberta once talked of secession. Heck, there’s been a loon or two promoting independence for North Dakota. What makes Scotland different is that it had, and never lost, a sense of nationality. To be a Scot is to be someone unique and recognizable in the world. The United Kingdom, even after hundreds of years, is still a union of crowns, unlike the vague and impersonal ties that bind other federations.

The values dissonance between England and Scotland was perhaps best expressed in the most recent elections, where the victorious Conservative Party won exactly zero seats. The government interacts with Scotland through the coalition participation of the centre-left-centre Liberal Democrats, who despite breakthrough success in the campaign ended up forced to lackey an agenda they barely tolerate.

David Cameron’s government has had the distinct privilege of making its own coalition partner irrelevant, and soon, perhaps, of breaking up the country itself. Getting the UK into yet another messy war is probably exactly the excuse Scotland needs to say “No thanks” to the status quo.

You might ask, why do I support Scottish Independence when I would hardly be euphoric about, say, independence for Québec?  The simple answer is Europe.  The European Union is a place where nations can pursue individual identity and still participate in economic federalism.  One need only look at the slow breakup of Belgium to see that the EU has made small unions of dissimilar peoples in Europe obsolete.  Yeah, Europe has problems too.  Bigger problems.  Bigger solutions.

By contrast, une République Québecoise would look almost exactly like the province of Québec looks today, but tangibly worse for individual freedom and welfare.  In a best case scenario, Québec would lose its equalization payments and freedom of movement, to say nothing of the effect on the rest of Canada (say, losing French-language radio in cities like Regina).  Plus you can’t wear poutine like a kilt.

Winnipeg to extend Rapid Transit southward

Winnipeggers will see a huge extra investment in the Southwest Transitway project, with nearly $600 million to be spent extending dedicated busways from the current terminus at Jubilee and Pembina Highway, all the way down to the University of Manitoba.  Rapid Transit advocates have been in a pitched tug-of-war over the issue, and Winnipeg’s mayoral race recently heated up with incumbent Sam Katz stepping down, and Transit booster Judy Wasylycia-Leis is leading the pack to replace him.

Wynne’s Liberals quiet push to majority

Kathleen Wynne will remain premier of Ontario; the Liberal Party cashed out well north of polling predictions — holding 59 of 107 seats will be good enough for the Liberal Party to fly solo for the next few years.  308 had predicted a Liberal minority government, but the reality had the Liberals picking up 10 seats, almost entirely out of the hands of the Tories.

When polls are thrown for that big of a loop, it can indicate a scenario where voters have shaken confidence in the government — suppressing poll numbers — but are yet more skeptical of the opposition.  For his part, PC leader Tim Hudak accepted responsibility for a promising but failed campaign.

Nearby Kenora-Rainy River re-elected the NDP’s Sarah Campbell as MPP; the NDP neither gained nor lost seats, but have lost the balance of power in Canada’s largest province.

Kentucky fights for its hemp program, ND still waiting

It’s an historic year in American agriculture:  Industrial hemp crops are returning to the fields for the first time in decades.  Colorado’s program steamed forward without any second guesses. Kentucky had to sue and file for permits that it really shouldn’t have had to, but still managed to plant hemp this season.

North Dakota’s Agriculture Department and NDSU Plant Science haven’t been as aggressive, however, and seem to have acquiesced in the face of undue restrictions on importing hemp seed from Canada.  Maybe next year — or for sure next year?  North Dakota’s ag leaders need to stop slouching on this.

Ontario drifting toward renewed Liberal minority

It’s unclear if the election campaign in Ontario is actually going to change anything.  The current projection from 308 shows the Liberals hovering around even to +1 seat, the Tories even to +2, and the NDP lagging at -2 to even.

Barring a phenomenal surge for one of the camps in the last two weeks, the power balance in the Ontario Parliament isn’t moving, and the budget that the Liberals are planning to re-introduce won’t pass the new assembly, unless they decide to change it until one or both of the opposition parties see something they like.