Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gun regristry, the god gays and gun crowd and Liberal Electoral fortunes

James Travers Toronto Star “With the possible exception of same-sex marriage, nothing alienated more Western, centre-right and rural voters (Gun registry) Once safe Liberal seats swung Conservative and haven't budged.”

The evidence that the gun registry hurt the Liberals is just not there. West of Ontario there were no safe rural Liberal seats to loose (see below), and seat and popular vote totals there did not vary much between 1997 and 2004. The same goes for the Maritimes. As for Ontario, the Liberals share of the popular vote was stable between 1993 and 2000 and when the Liberal vote did drop significantly in 2004, it was not to the Conservatives’ benefit when it came to the popular vote. Indeed, the combined PC and Reform vote in each of the three subsequent elections was 37%. In 2004 the Conservatives took only 31% of popular vote. If I am not mistaken, this represents the lowest share of the popular vote by a united Conservative party ever. Even in 2006 the Conservative share of the province’s popular vote was below the combined right wing vote between 1993 and 2000. Moving from the Liberals to the NDP is a strange way to protest your displeasure with the gun registry and that is what happened in Ontario in 2004.

The numbers are more consistent with SSM having hurt the Liberals in Manitoba, Alberta, Eastern Ontario and outside of the Lowermainland in BC in 2006. However, the Liberal share of the popular vote dropped 6% nationally and the party was in the midst of scandal; so I would be hesitant before offering an opinion. One thing that should be noted is that even as the Liberal vote contracted nationally, the Liberal share of popular vote went up in ridings such as Vancouver South, North Vancouver, Vancouver Center, West Vancouver, Vancouver Kingsway, Burnaby Douglas, Burnaby New Westminister, and Newton-North Delta. I do not know of any other region of the country in 2006 where the Liberal share of popular vote held yet alone strengthened, albeit slightly. It is my opinion that the SSM issue helped the Liberals out in 2006 in Vancouver. Certainly with regard to my riding of North Vancouver, it is generally accepted by the local media and lay pundits alike that the SSM issue doomed Conservative candidate Cindy Silver.

The Liberals and rural Western Canada 1993 to 2006

The Liberals were shut out in Alberta in 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988. As for those seats that went Liberal in 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004, they were not rural seats --- they were in Edmonton -- nor where they safe. “Landslide” Anne McLellan was good case in point.

The situation in Saskatchewan was similar. The Liberals were shut out there in 1979, 1980, 1984, and 1988. As for seats the Liberals won there in 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008, there has proven to be but one safe seat and Ralph Goodale still holds it. Moreover, the Wascana is not a rural seat.

The situation is not nearly as bleak for the Liberals in Manitoba. However, the Liberals took only one rural seat in 1993, and 1997 and Provencher (MP Vic Toews) could never be described as a safe Liberal seat. It was not a Liberal stronghold prior to 1993 and the Liberals owed their success there more to a spilt in the conservative vote than anything else. Combined the PC and Reform was much greater than Liberals in both 1993 and 1997 elections. The Liberal popular support in Manitoba is concentrated in Winnipeg.

Going back all the way to world war two you can on one hand the number of seats the Liberals have won outside of Winnipeg Edmonton, and Ralph Goodale’s seat in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The Liberals faired just as poorly in rural BC during this time, but again Liberal troubles in rural BC long predated the gun registry. The Liberals won but 1 seat in 1979, 1984 and 1988 and were shut out in 1980.

Now, the success the Liberals enjoyed in Vancouver 2004 and 2006 was not unheard of. Thanks to a strong NDP vote and presence of strong Social credit party, between 1962 and 1974, the Liberals actually took more seats in BC then the Progressive Conservatives, 46 to 34 to be precise. Compare this to situation in the other 3 western provinces during this time. PCs took 97 to the Liberals 5 in Alberta, in Saskatchewan PCs took 70 to the Liberals 7 and in Manitoba the PCs took 53 to the Liberals 13. 1968 was particularly bad year of the Tories in BC. They were shut out and took 19% of vote. Together with the Social Credit the right took only 25% of vote. 75% of the vote and all 23 seats went to the Liberals and NDP. Trudeau’s Omnibus Bill did not sink the party’s fortunes. Social liberalism sells here, just do not pander to Quebec or you will face electoral oblivion.


WesternGrit said...

Excellent post Koby. I see it the way you do. There's always this move to make the West seem "alienated" by this group of Liberals, or a previous iteration (Trudeau, Chretien, etc.)... I would characterize the challenges in the West as more of an "urban/rural split", with the exception of Southern "Blue" Alberta (Calgary, in particular).

If you look closely at the "West", in EVERY province the Liberals with a bit of the NDP vote could dominate, or be the "main" force, or a "key player" in the major cities (Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Prince George, Kamloops, Greater Vancouver, Victoria, leaving out Calgary). The fact is, the Conservatives appeal more to an "agrarian", rural base (for the most part), while Liberals and New Democrats tend to appeal to the urban, cosmopolitan crowd. Higher education also tends to equate to a more centrist, or left of center vote...

A reader said...

A very comprehensive review, Koby.

Most of the seats the Libs won in 1993 in western Canada were the result of vote-splitting on the right. But the members they sent in 1993 did not have a lot of influence in policy or discourse in Ottawa, with the exception of McLellan and Goodale; and even there ... Goodale just could never get the (largely eastern) cabinet to understand or care about the depths of the western grain crisis in the late 1990s, for example.

The fewer the seats the Liberals won out west, the less of a feel their government had for the west. Plus, they would run against the west in Ontario and Quebec, compounding their problems.

I should probably separate out BC from the above analysis, however, along with urban Manitoba.

Anyways, I don't think it was so much the long-gun registry that hurt Liberals out west, it was the way they talked about it, and who they sent to do it (urbane Allan Rock from Toronto, who is a very impressive person in Toronto and Ottawa, but was completely tone deaf to discourse out west).

Same again on SSM ... it got all wrapped up in a legal discourse on charter rights, rather than talking about real life issues of medical consent, pension benefits, and their parents just wanting to attend their kids' weddings.

Talking differently about those issues probably wouldn't have made much of a difference in seats, once the right united, but it affected the depth of antipathy towards the Liberals, and of course things went from bad to worse with the (Quebec) sponsorship scandal, and then the carbon tax.

Koby said...

"Same again on SSM ... it got all wrapped up in a legal discourse on charter rights, rather than talking about real life issues of medical consent, pension benefits, and their parents just wanting to attend their kids' weddings."

I always thought the straight man’s burden talking point disingenuous. The Liberal argument was that you cannot cherry pick rights and whether SSM was a cherry is really beside the point. I was told this position focus grouped far better than anything else.

However given what happened with the promise to ban using the notwithstanding cause, I doubt it moved anyone. Indeed, the reason SSM worked for the Liberals in places such as Vancouver had very little to do with what the Liberals were saying and much more to with what the Conservatives were saying, ideolgical similarity with the Bush administration and Reform party sterotypes. In terms of likely voters the numbers may have been with the Conservatives, but the debate hurt them more than issue helped. The arguments the Conservatives offered up were pathetic and worse were down right silly. Paul Forseth’s flyer warning not only of ‘moral decay’ but economic decay as well was laughed at by the media. The same fate greeted Rob Anders ‘homosexual sex marriage’ flyer. If that was not enough, the SSM debate enabled Conservative opponents to draw a straight line from Harper to Rove and Bush.

By switching the debate from one about ‘homosexual sex marriage’, volumes of homophobic comments by Reform MPs, pictures of Stephen Harper dressed up to look like one of the Village People and prideful talk about Americans fleeing “Jesus Land” to something that was utterly abstract, the Liberals allowed the Conservatives to at once save themselves from themselves and to distance themselves from Bush.