by elections

By Election Numbers II

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Even though everyone (myself included) loves to compare by election results to the last election, by elections are not general elections. As such, the more useful comparison is to other by elections.

With that in mind, let’s dive in to the numbers from this last round of by elections.


Turnout was 32.4% in Vaughan, 30.8% in Winnipeg North, and 26.9% in Dauphin, for an overall average of 30%. This is comparable to the 31.1% we saw in the last round of by elections and slughtly below the average of 34.2% we’ve seen since 1998 – 34.2% is also the average by election turnout in the Harper era so, despite lackluster excitement in the last two rounds of by elections, there’s not strong evidence of a long term decline in by election turnout.

Party Performances

Looking specifically at the 17 by elections during the Harper era, here’s how the parties have performed, on average, relative to the previous election:

CPC: +5.5% (+3.6% if you exlude the Bill Casey by election)
NDP: +0.6%
Lib: -0.1%
Bloc: -2.9%
Green: +1.1% (due almost exclusively to London North Centre)

So, the Bloc have had a rough ride, and the Tories have tended to over perform their previous election results. Feel free to toss out your own theory why that is.

I think a lot of it comes down to the Tories’ superior ground game but, above all else, it’s likely due to the fact that every by election, except Dauphin, has been in an opposition-held riding. Since 2004, the “incumbent” party has dropped an average of 5.3% in by elections. Which makes sense, given they’re the ones losing the incumbent…and quite often, a long serving or popular incumbent.

A good test to this theory will be in the next round of by elections, when Jim Prentice’s and Jay Hill’s seats open up. I’d expect the Tory vote to drop noticeably in both these ridings should they go to by election.

Vaughan & Winnipeg North

The Conservatives picked up 15 points in Vaughan – no small feat, but far from extra ordinary. It’s the 7th biggest jump in a Harper era by election…and we’re only talking about 17 in total.

Winnipeg North has been overshadowed by Vaughan in the post-election media reaction, despite it being a far more remarkable story. Kevin Lamoureux saw a 5-fold increase in his share of the popular vote, for an increase of over 37 percentage points. That breaks (by a fraction of a percentage) the Harper era record – but that was in Cumberland Colchester after Bill Casey resigned, hardly a fair comparison. The next highest gain had been 30 points, by Thomas Mulcair in Outremont.

So what does the future holds for Misters Fantino and Lamoureux? Well, as fun as last night was, they might want to hold off on calling an Ottawa-area real estate agent. In by elections held between the 2006 and 2008 elections, five candidate saw a double digit gain in their vote. In these 5 instances, the average by election gain was 20 points – but they lost an average of 10 points in the next election. Even Mulcair saw his vote share fall 8 points in the general election.

Lamoureux and Fantino both squeaked in by slim margins – if they wind up giving back half their gains the next time we go to the polls, they’ll both be out of work.

By Elections

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In case you missed it, a trio of by elections were called last weekend.

1. Vaughan: Mayor Maurizio has won this riding easily in recent years, and defeated Richard Lorello 49% to 34% in 2008.

My seat projection system gives the Liberals a 91.4% chance to hold Vaughan during a general election, but this is a by election – a by election featuring a legitimate star candidate in Julian Fantino. Yes, I know the term “star candidate” gets used to describe anyone who has ever run for student council, had an op ed published in their local paper, or appeared as an extra on Road to Avonlea, but Fantino is legit. He’s a former OPP Commissioner and Toronto Chief of Police, and is well respected in Vaughan. He’s someone Stephen Harper would dearly love to have at his side when talking about Conservative “tough on crime” policies.

Taking on Fantino will be Liberal candidate Tony Genco, the former CEO and President of Downsview Park (a site that hosted both the Pope and the Rolling Stones…sadly not at the same time).

This has the makings of a good fight, with the Tories likely the slight favourites.

Winnipeg North: This seat was formerly held by Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the name that everyone loves to say three times real fast.

Trying to fill Judy’s shoes for the orange will be educator Kevin Chief.

Chief’s chief competition will come from Liberal nominee Kevin Lamoureux, a man who makes up 50% of the provincial Liberal caucus in Manitoba. Also in the mix is Tory candidate Ray Larkin who was defeated by Wasylycia-Leis 63% to 22% in the last general election Julie Javier.

The projection model gives the NDP a 96.4% chance at holding the seat, with the Tories at 3.5% and the Liberals 0.2% longshots. Again, that’s for a general election and anything can happen in a by election.

Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette: This has been Inky Mark territory since 1997. Like Judy, Mark gave up the glories of life on the back benches for municipal politics and, like Judy, he went down in defeat on Wednesday.

Mark won the last election by 45 percentage points and my seat projector has the Tories at a 100% chance of holding it in a general election. So, to put it mildly, the challengers have their work cut out for them. Especially since neither the Liberals nor the NDP have nominated a challenger as of yet.

The Tory candidate is Robert Sopuck, who “has earned a solid reputation as an outspoken advocate for Manitoba’s rural communities”. If elected, Sopuck would help the Tories cut into the NDP’s long standing facial hair dominance in parliament.

End of Summer News Bits

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1. Bloc MP Carole Lavallée is upset with Stephen Harper:

La députée bloquiste Carole Lavallée juge inacceptable que le premier ministre Stephen Harper ait écrit aux élèves du pays afin de les encourager à visiter les parcs nationaux.

Dans cette lettre expédiée en mai aux élèves de deuxième secondaire au Québec et de huitième année dans le reste du pays, M.Harper rappelle que le gouvernement fédéral offre un laissez-passer valide pour 12 mois permettant de visiter gratuitement les parcs nationaux et les lieux historiques gérés par Parcs Canada.

«Allez explorer nos montagnes, nos forêts, nos champs de bataille, nos forts, nos campings et plus encore», écrit M.Harper.

«En tant que Canadiens, nous avons la chance de vivre dans un pays qui a une riche histoire et une véritable beauté naturelle. Ce laissez-passer vous permet d’en apprendre plus sur l’histoire et la nature que partagent tous les Canadiens. En tant que futurs leaders, vous tenez le Canada entre vos mains. Le meilleur moyen de vous préparer à diriger est d’en savoir le plus possible sur ce grand pays qui est le nôtre. Profitez-en bien?!»

Of all the grievances I have with Stephen Harper, I must confess that encouraging High School students to visit National Parks is fairly low on my list…

2. Jack Layton’s decision to hold a free vote on Bill C-391 likely means the death of the long gun registry. Again, there are probably worse things to complain about than a leader letting his MPs vote their conscience, but Layton and his urban MPs will wear this one.

As they should.

Layton has taken delight in mocking the “Liberal-Conservative coalition” and exploiting divisions in the Liberal caucus at every opportunity. On social issues, on foreign policy – how many times have we seen an NDP bill designed to split the Liberal caucus down the middle?

Each time, Layton called it a lack of leadership on the part of the Liberal leader. So if Jack is going to let a program he supports die, a program which was just called “cost effective and efficient” in an RCMP report – well, he deserves to shoulder the blame.

3. We likely won’t have a fall election, but a 4 riding mini-election could give the political junkies out there their fix.

Turnout Last Night

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I hate to toss up yet another by election post because we shouldn’t read too much into them. So rather than look at the results, I’ll just add a final word on voter turn-out. Here’s where it was yesterday:

Montmagny 36.6%
Cumberland-Colchester 35.7%
New Westminster Coquitlam 29.9%
Hochelaga 22.3%

The average turnout of 31.1% isn’t much worse than the normal for by elections – since 1998, it’s been 34.5%. And last night was actually an improvement on the dismal 27.8% turnout in last year’s 4 by election.

The only number that really stands out is Hochelaga, where under 1 in 4 registered voters took the time to vote. I know it was a slam dunk election for the Bloc, but the riding was right around the national average in the last general election (58%), so it’s surprising that it would get so low.

Especially when you look at it historically. Elections Canada only has turn out rates going back to 1998, but Hochelaga marks the lowest by election turn out over that time period (36 by elections) – making it, quite possibly, one of the lowest vote turn outs ever in a federal by election. Here were the previous lows:

Saint-Léonard–Saint-Michel (2003) – 22.9%
Calgary Southwest (2003) – 23.1% (in fairness, there weren’t any good candidates to vote for in this one)
Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière (2003) – 23.5%
Willowdale (2008) – 24.4%
Denesthe-Missnipi-Churchill River (2008) – 25.0%

So what was the best by election turn out over that period, and the only time half the voters came out?

That would be the 2005 Labrador by election that sent Todd Russell to Ottawa in a rout, showing that it’s not just a close by election that gets people to the polls. On the flip side, everyone expected Denesthe to be close last year and it still made the list of worst shows.

It’s By Election Night In Canada!

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Can you feel the excitement!

Early twitter reports have the Tories winning back Bill Cassey’s old riding in Cumberland Colchester. I won’t post this until 10 because, well, Elections Canada seems to think BC by election voters (all 12 of them) will see this shocking win and change their votes accordingly. Since, you know, voters will want to deny the Tories that long sought after 145 seat benchmark.

Regardless, let’s play! Ba dum du da dum dum, ba dum da da da dadum!

10:00 pm– Tories handily take a plurality in Cumberland Colchester:

CPC 45.5%
NDP 26.2%
Lib 21.1%

Most exciting, the Christian Heritage Party are only 4 votes back of the Greens for 4th, with 10 polls left to report (UPDATE – Greens hold them off by 31 votes).

In Hochelaga, Daniel Paille is well on his way to becoming the next MP. Paille, you’ll remember, was the former separatist who Harper hired to embarrass the Liberals for their Earnscliffe dealings, but who ended up embarrassing the present government, before announcing that he actually wasn’t a former separatist but a Bloc candidate. Yeah, so he’s up 51% to 21% with 30 polls in.

Meanwhile in Montmagny-L’Islet-Yada-Yada, we’re got a dog fight between the Tories and Bloc.

10:11 pm – Looking at things a bit closer, Cumberland Colchester is about what you’d expect. In 2006, Casey got 52%, the Liberals got 24%, and the NDP got 21%. So the Tories drop a bit because they lose the popular incumbent in a gong show, while the NDP ride the Dexter wave to a few extra percentage points.

10:34 pm – The Tories are now ahead by 450 votes in Montmagny. Given they lost by 15% last time, this would be a big catch for them but, as the post below points out, the Tories did very well in the last run of Quebec by elections and it didn’t translate to general election success. We might be able to chalk some of this up to the Tories’ having a much better ground game than the Bloc in Quebec.

10:44 pm – OK, let’s look at voter turn out. Since 2004, the average by election turn out is 36.7%. Cumberland Colchester should be at 36% once the last poll comes in. Montmagny is on pace for 34%. Hochelaga, however, is only on pace for 20%. Now, the late polls are usually the bigger ones, so they may go a bit higher once all is said and done, but it’s questionable if they’ll match the post-2004 record low of 24.4% set in Willowdale last year. If anyone out there is really adventurous and wants to find out the lowest by election turnout from the last 10 or 20 years, by all means, start digging and let me know.

11:00 pm – The NDP are sitting pretty in BC, so the story tomorrow will likely be the Tory gains in Quebec (if they can hang on in Montmagny – now up by 620 votes). And that’s fair enough, given all of Harper’s problems in the province. If nothing else, Paille has put another riding in play for them next election.

But before the Blogging Tories get too excited, in Quebec by elections before the last election, the Tory vote changed -4.3%, -2.1%, +12.5%, and +22.5%, for an average gain of 7 points. And we all know what happened in Quebec come election day.

So far, the Tories are up 0.9% in Hochelaga and 11.6% in Montmagny, for an average gain of just over 6 points.

By Elections – Should we give a damn?

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With four by elections tonight, the party spin machines are in overdrive, playing the expectations game. The best example comes from this article where the parties trip over each other to lower expectations – “we expect to lose all four” says the Tory spokesman with a smile, “if we beat the Marijuana Party it’s a win” proclaim the NDP, “we don’t expect a single voter in any of the four ridings to vote for us – they’d be insane to” the Liberals proudly exclaim.

So, regardless of what happens tonight, the results will be spun, hyped, and downplayed by each and every party. Half the newspaper columns and blogs will try to read something into them (Green Party heading for Maritime breakthrough!), with the other half saying that by elections are absolutely meaningless, the modern day equivalent of examining entrails to predict the future.

So which is it?

Let’s take a look at what the numbers say.

There have been 10 by elections since the 2004 election – that’s when the ridings were redrawn, the Liberal monolith crumbled, and the conservatives merged, so it’s probably a good place to start, even if it makes for a small data set.

What I did was use the by election and previous election vote percentages as predictor variables and the ensuing election results as the response. Doing this for the four major parties gave 34 data points.

So what does the data say?

For starters, the entrails are actually telling us something. Election results for a riding are more closely correlated to the most recent by election (r = 0.926) than to the most recent general election (r = 0.870). The best model to predict election outcomes is based about two-thirds on the by election and one-third on the previous election. So, at least in recent years, by elections have been able to give us an idea of the way the winds are shifting in a given riding, but they’re certainly not the end all.

Here’s another way to think about it. The following graph shows the relationship between the by election change (i.e. Liberals get 30% in a 2007 by election after getting 35% in 2006 – a 5% drop) and the general election change (i.e. Liberals then get 37% in the 2008 election – a 2% gain). You can definitely see there’s a relationship.

If you’re curious, the top right hand corner points are Outremont (NDP up 30% in 2007 by election, up 22% in the general), Roberval Lac St. Jean (CPC up 23% in 2007 by election, 6% in general), and Labrador (CPC up 17% in by election, 24% in general). So of those “take notice” by elections that really surprised people, in at least 2 of the 3 cases the results somewhat transferred through to the next election.

Along with Roberval, the two other by elections that were most out to lunch were also in Quebec. In Repentigny (2006), the Bloc gained 6% in the by election, but dropped 10% in the general. In Saint Hyacinthe (2007), the Conservatives picked up 12% in the by election, but the breakthrough cooled come election time and they finished behind their 2006 total. But in all three of these cases, the by election may not have been a bad thermometer, since it’s generally agreed that Harper crashed and burned in Quebec during the 2008 campaign.

So there may be some use in using by elections to get a sense of how a riding will adjust to the loss of an incumbent or to shifting political winds locally. But using them to create a national or provincial narrative? That’s where it becomes fool hardy to read too much into things. The Bloc was heading for a wipe out in 2008 if you only looked at by elections. Even the now-mythic Outremont by election turned into a bit of a dud – the Liberals lost the seat, but gained both votes and seats across Quebec in an otherwise dismal 2008 election.

So, I guess the short of this would be that there’s nothing wrong with celebrating by election wins – doing well tonight is a sign the parties will do well in these ridings next election. But as far as reading something into the national results? I have doubts about how useful that will actually be.

Which is why, of course, I will be doing just that starting at 10 eastern tonight once the results roll in…

St. Paul’s vote a national battlefront?

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That was the Star headline this morning. Since they included a question mark at the end, I’ll answer them: no.

Putting aside that most of the “senior anonymous insiders” quoted in the story are simply trying to manage expectations, let’s assume for a second the Tories do win St. Paul’s. They won’t, but we did just see a 20 point margin of victory safe seat switch hands in a by election a few months ago, so it’s not ridiculous to speculate about this.

What is ridiculous is to assume this is some sort of Harper versus Ignatieff litmus test, that will impact when the next federal election happens. By elections, by their very nature, are pretty awful indicators of public opinion – trying to extrapolate out the results of a provincial by election to the federal political scene is about as useful as this.

Here’s the federal Liberal vote share over the last 40 years, plotted against the provincial Liberal vote share in the election that preceded it:

For the more numerically inclined among you, there’s a -0.583 correlation between the two variables – in normal speak, that means when the provincial Liberals do well, the federal Liberals don’t. And, even though I used 40 years of data, it’s been that way since the dawn of time (or, at least, the dawn of confederation).

If you prefer, we can use the change in provincial vote to predict the change in federal vote…at least that should control some of the secondary factors, right?

Well, once again, we get a negative correlation (-0.259).

So even if by some miracle the PCs do win St. Paul’s, it won’t tell you a thing about the upcoming federal election. If it did, you’d have to conclude that after the John Tory by election fiasco, Michael Ignatieff is poised paint rural Ontario red this fall.

Je Me Souviens?

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If you want evidence of how quickly the media narrative can turn on you, look no further than Jack Layton. The man was praised far and wide for his historic Quebec breakthrough in Outremont last fall. It was only the second Quebec seat won in NDP history and was a sign that the party was on the road to great things.

But, that’s so 2007. Bad showings in two low turnout meaningless Toronto by elections and suddenly the house that Jack built is beginning to crumble.

Byelection Monday

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First of all, I’m somewhat disappointed in myself that I couldn’t think up a witty St. Patrick’s day themed post title related to tomorrow’s byelections.

Regardless, after the Outremont disaster in the fall, people will be playing close attention to these four byelections. The common media consensus is that the Liberals will coast to easy wins in the two Toronto seats and in BC – but, at the same time, I’ve been hearing rumblings that the Liberals might be in trouble in both Quadra and Willowdale. Losing either of those would certainly be a body blow on par with Outremont – maybe even bigger if you consider the previous margins of victory and the strong candidates the Liberals are running. On the flip side, if they can go four for four and get Joan Beatty in, there will be a massive infusion of talent into the Liberal front benches of the House of Commons.

While the focus in the media is sure to be on the Liberals, it will also be interesting to see how the other parties fare. The Conservatives shot themselves in Toronto Centre with the Marc Warner fiasco, but Willowdale will be a good test to see if a potential GTA breakthrough is on the horizon. For the NDP and greens, they aren’t in the hunt to win, but by focusing their volunteers on the byelection ridings, they’ll be hoping to see a rise in popular vote.

So check back in here tomorrow night for the results.

As the Orchard Army Prepares to Go Insane…

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Full marks to Stephane Dion on this, for reasons I don’t need to go into again. Hopefully Orchard will accept this and find a winnable riding to run in during the general election:

Liberal Party of Canada Announces Joan Beatty as Candidate

OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion today announced that Joan Beatty, former Saskatchewan NDP cabinet minister and Aboriginal activist, will be the Party’s candidate in the riding of DesnethéMissinippi-Churchill River in the upcoming federal by-election.“Joan Beatty brings to the Liberal Party of Canada a strong mix of local knowledge, Aboriginal expertise, political experience and a tradition of service to the people of Saskatchewan,” said Mr. Dion.

“I am confident that her passion for her home-riding of DesnethéMissinippi-Churchill River, coupled with her passion for her province and country, will make her a strong Member of Parliament and I am so pleased to welcome her to our Caucus.”

Ms. Beatty said her continued desire to make a positive change for the north, together with the best possible way to serve the people of northern Saskatchewan, has resulted in her accepting Mr. Dion’s invitation to join the Liberal Party of Canada.

“Under Mr. Dion’s leadership,I believe that I can best represent the constituency at this level, in particular, the First Nations communities where the need is so great. For me, at the end of the day, it’s about being practical. I am proud to announce my candidacy in the federal riding of DesnethéMissinippi-Churchill River and continuing to fight for a richer, fairer and greener Canada,” said Ms. Beatty, who is currently a Member of the
Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan.

“This is a diverse riding with significant First Nations, Métis, and farming communities. Having been born and raised in the riding, along with my professional and personal experience, I have had the opportunity to see first hand the issues faced by northerners, and I look forward to taking those concerns to Ottawa and pushing for solutions.”

In 2003, Ms. Beatty became the first Aboriginal woman and First Nations person to be elected to the Saskatchewan Legislature. Shortly thereafter, she became the first Aboriginal woman and First Nations person to be appointed to cabinet as Minister of Culture Youth and Recreation and Provincial Secretary.

In 2006, she became Minister of Northern Affairs and the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women. Until recently she served as the critic responsible for Women’s Issues and Northern Affairs.

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