Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Liberal Platform

Today the Liberals released their fully costed platform.  Whether it was a good idea to release it so early is tough tell and I guess we will find out later.  The advantages are it is allows the idea to sink in with the public as it usually takes time before policies sink in and cause voter opinion to shift.  At the same time, it gives the Tories plenty of time to rip apart their platform and attack it.  Looking at the platform, nothing overly controversial that would likely cost them a lot of votes, but little that is attention grabbing either.  It does take a centre-left approach which should help them in their goal to pick up soft NDP and Green voters but will likely do little in picking up soft Tory voters and to win they need to knock about 5 points or more off the Tories which this alone probably won't do.  The one idea that did stick out was having a people's question period where average citizens could submit questions to the prime-minister and cabinet ministers.  This is an idea which I think could popular amongst both soft NDP and Green voters on the left and soft Tory ones on the right.  In fact the Liberals should do more to highlight this as this goes after Harper where he is weakest.  Many who support Harper don't like his arrogance, one man style of governing, or secrecy but vote for him because they feel he is the most competent manager.  This no doubt plays into appealing to this group.  The platform also calls to reduce the deficit, but no real hard numbers on how to do this which likely won't help them although the Tories haven't done this either so no real loss.  I suspect the kind of policies needed to balance the budget aren't going to be overly popular thus why no party wants to run on them as raising taxes or spending cuts, which is what the government will need to do will run into its share of opposition.  As for polling, with few paying attention, I doubt much will change until after the debates at which point we could see some major shifts.  If the Tories perform well, this could turn a majority into a likelihood rather than just a possibility.  While a strong performance by the Liberals or weak one by the Tories would kill the Tories chances at a majority and if the Tories flounder enough could even cause them to lose the election outright.  I will have more on the debates as we get closer and also the aftermath.  Usually it takes a few days to know the full impact as it is not just how well the parties perform, but also how well they can spin their performance as well as how the media reports on it.  I don't expect the NDP platform to come out later, while the Tories have sort of already released their platform as the budget in many ways was their election platform thus anything released will simply provide greater detail, not add much new and if it does contain any surprises it could backfire if they are controversial and also help them too if popular.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Week 1 of the Campaign wrap up

We've now finished the first week of the campaign with four more to go so below is a summary of what has happened and my take.  The Liberals promised to bring back the childcare program.  This has been a promise they have been making since 1993 so not is big a hit as their earlier promises, but considering this is something they have always wanted to do, it would be silly to not promise it.  I cannot see this is either helping or hurting them as most who oppose a national childcare program are probably voting Tory anyways and most who support one are probably already in their camp or the NDP.  This one offers greater flexibility to the provinces which some may pan, but actually makes some sense especially if some provinces swing to the right while their in power.  In particular, if the Wildrose Alliance wins in Alberta or the replacement of Ed Stelmach is more right wing, Alberta probably won't want anything to do with it and likwise if the Ontario PCs win a majority this fall, the same could happen there.  The Tories promised to provide loans to Newfoundland to help support the development of Churchill Falls.  After being shut out of Newfoundland & Labrador last election, this is definitely an issue they could help them regain seats on the Rock and considering that at best they will get a very weak majority every seat does matter.  The problem here is this was widely panned in Quebec so for every seat gain in Atlantic Canada they make over this, they could lose just as many if not more in Quebec.  At the same time the NDP and the Liberals both support this so this no doubt provides any opening to the Bloc Quebecois who are the only party to oppose it.  It also means in all practicality that regardless of the composition of the next parliament, it will go through.  Worried about the damage in Quebec, Harper promised to resolve the HST issue with Quebec so will see if that can offset the anger over Churchill Falls or not.  The NDP promised to scrap subsidies to the oil sands which although this might hurt their chances in Alberta, it probably will sell well elsewhere and ironically enough this is somewhat fiscally conservative as they are not promising to shut down or tax the oil sands as many on the left would advocate, but stop subsidies and tax credits which in the case of the former is not popular with the right no matter which industry it applies to.  They also promised more help to Veterans which seems like not a bad policy as this group tends to vote heavily Tory although considering the NDP is a distant third amongst this group, I am not sure if they have the ability to pick up many votes here, whereas the Liberals if they promised the same policy might.  Harper challenged Ignatieff to a one on one debate only to back out.  This won't look good on Harper and even if it was a mistake to make this challenge he is better to stick to it.  Besides I don't think either Harper or Ignatieff have to strong an edge here as Harper is a decent although not great debater while Ignatieff certainly seems fairly strong, but this is his first election campaign while it is Harper's fourth so I think either side could win or it could be a draw.  Besides I have been consistent that there should be two debates, one between the parties with seats in the House of Commons and one between the two leading parties.  Both would be bilingual debates with questions alternating between English and French.

On the polling this week, not a whole see of change.  The Tories have a solid lead and would either just barely get a majority or just miss it.  The Liberals trail well behind, but show some signs of recovery in the sense they would at least do better than Dion's dismal 26% while the NDP is in their usual 16-20% area.  In Atlantic Canada, there is a high margin of error so polls must be taken with caution but it appears the Liberals are still strong here although the Tories are certainly doing better than last time around.  I do though wonder whether the Tory gains are throughout Atlantic Canada or mostly in Newfoundland & Labrador where they are simply regaining traditional Tory supporters who sat out or voted for someone else due to Williams' ABC campaign.  In Quebec, the Bloc has a solid lead, but only at 40% while the federalist vote is pretty equally split amongst the Liberals, Tories, and NDP.  The Liberals at least have a strong base on the West Island of Montreal thus they will always win at least 8 seats if not more regardless of how poolry they do.  The Tories have held their support since 2008 but with a few regional polls show them declining in the Quebec City area where most of their seats are, I am not convinced they would hold all their seats.  In fact a gain amongst Anglophone and Allophone voters in Montreal countered by a loss in the Quebec City area would produce these numbers yet fewer seats as the Tories are so far behind in Montreal that they would need massive gains to even be competitive in any of the Montreal seats.  In Ontario, most polls show the Tories at over 40% and with a 5-15 point lead while the Liberals languishing in the low 30s.  If the Tories can hold these numbers and not lose seats elsewhere in the country this would be enough for a majority while the Liberals absolutely must do better in Ontario if they want to win nationally.  They need at least 40% in Ontario and have at least a 5 point lead over the Tories, preferably a 10 point lead if they want to win even a weak minority.  There is still four weeks to go, so this can change, but they certainly have their work cut out.  In the Prairies, the Tories still are well ahead but have fallen since last election while the Liberals have gone up.  While that may make the national numbers look more competitive, it has little impact in terms of seats as the Liberals were not competitive last time around in almost all Prairie seats and the Tories won most by massive margins.  In British Columbia, the Tories have consistently polled in the low 40s so slightly down over last election but still high enough to hold at least 20 of their 22 seats and with active targeting they could still easily pick up a few of the close seats they missed last time around.  The Liberals and NDP are battling it out for second place although it looks like the Liberals may have returned to their traditional 25-30% range which they got in every election since 1993 save the last one.  While the closeness may make some worry about vote splitting, most ridings are either safely Tory making strategic voting irrelevant or either the NDP or Liberals have a much better chance.  I don't advocate strategic voting myself, but for those who feel they must do it, best to look at the past three elections and in most ridings it is pretty clear which party one should go for. 

In terms of the campaign, here are my thoughts on each party.

Liberals:  Despite all the criticisms that they were ill prepared for this, they have had a rather strong first week.  Ignatieff looks to be enjoying himself and with a policy per day, they have definitely had a good start.  True it may not be showing in the polls yet, but if one looks back to 2006, the Tories had a very good start yet it took three weeks before they pulled ahead of the Liberals, thus best to keep on doing what they are doing.  If it doesn't work out, that probably means nothing would have.

Conservatives: Harper has been campaigning in the bubble which has been panned by many.  While not a good strategy for gaining votes, it makes it less likely he will make a strategic error and is a common strategy for the front runner to employ in elections.  Still the party would be best to have a plan B in case things do change as once the Liberals start to get momentum it will be tough to reverse it.  We saw this with the Liberals in 2006 what happened once the Tories gained a lot of momentum.  Off course there was the 1988 election where the PCs had a bad start and at one point looked like they might lose the election, yet managed to come back and win a majority so one can recovered if things go badly, but not always. 

NDP:  An okay week in terms of policies, but rather slow although considering Jack Layton's health this was to be expected.  Their main challenge is how to deal with a possible migration of their supporters to the Liberals to block Harper.  Most NDPers hate the Tories and thus the NDP has to give them a good reason not to vote strategically.  It is true in much of the West, the NDP not the Liberals is the best party to vote for if you want to stop the Tories, but in Ontario where they have the greatest number of seats, the opposite is generally true save perhaps a few ridings such as Oshawa.  The only good news in Ontario is most NDP held ridings, the Tories placed in a distant third while in the case of Sault Ste. Marie, they would be the most likely ones to prevent a Tory pickup while Welland is a three way race and could go for any of the parties so blaming vote splitting seems silly.  Even if the Tories do pick this up, there is no guarantee all Liberal supporters would vote NDP as their second choice since after all the Tories are strongest in the rural portions while in most of the urban polls they finish in third while win by a massive margins over both parties in the rural parts thus the division has more to do with divison of the riding if anything. 

Tomorrow the Liberals release their campaign book so I will comment on that.  Whether this is a smart or dumb move strategically to release it so early is tough to say.