Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My early 2015 federal election prediction

I'm extremely proud that I was able to predict way back in the fall of 2013 that Kathleen Wynne would win re-election with a majority government in Ontario.  Good friends can attest to my accuracy.  At the time, the main elements that would decide the Ontario election were already in place: Kathleen Wynne, an impressive, spirited newcomer leading a scandal-plagued minority government, a mediocre Conservative leader in Tim Hudak who had blown the 2011 election, and a spunky NDP leader in Andrea Horwath who had already mostly turned her back on urban, progressive causes in a bid to win over conservative voters in the ROO (Rest of Ontario.)

My autumn 2013 prediction of an Ontario Liberal majority assumed two important elements coming to pass: 1) Wynne's campaign being run extremely well, taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by the flaws of the opposition, and 2) Tim Hudak continuing to perform badly.  

Hudak did not disappoint.  His atrocious campaign this year - including his, "Let's cut 100,000 jobs to stimulate the economy" promise - couldn't have been worse.  In the end, I overestimated him.  At the same time, Wynne's progressive 2014 budget and subsequent campaign perfectly undercut Horwath's rightward tilt, giving progressive voters in Toronto many reasons to abandon the NDP and elect Liberals.

One day before the Ontario election in June, I was the only person who correctly guessed a "Liberal majority" in Hill and Knowlton's Twitter election result contest.  I even guessed 59 seats, which was the Liberal total on election night (before a recount in Thornhill made it 58.)  I won a $200 gift card of my choice (I picked Cineplex movies and enjoyed dozens of films this year - I'll post later this week my 2014 Favourite films list.)  Once the final result was called, most mainstream commentators called Wynne's Liberal majority "shocking."  But I wasn't shocked. 

I've learned to trust my analysis and instincts and ignore most of the noise that masquerades as political commentary these days.  Some of it can be intelligent and relatively agenda-free, like this piece by Paul Wells laying out the challenges all 3 federal leaders face next year.

But I've generally learned that collectively the "political commentariat" in Canada has zero impact on election results.  It can be dizzying following their day-to-day descriptions of what's allegedly happening on the hustings.  You'll recall the atrocious Toronto Sun cartoon which depicted a viciously beaten Kathleen Wynne after she allegedly got "crushed" by Tim Hudak in the Ontario election debate.  Many commentators including Robin Sears and Warren Kinsella declared Wynne finished after that 90 minutes and began to guess at the size of the Hudak majority.  Meanwhile, the only sensible pollster, Nanos, had produced poll numbers before the debate - Libs 38%, PCs 31%, NDP 24% - which ended up almost completely in line with the final vote totals two and a half weeks later.  The big debate and all that bullshit commentary had zero impact on the results.  

Most of all, I've learned to ignore the many crappy pollsters out there - especially Forum, Ipsos Reid and, just yesterday, Angus Reid.  I only give credence to Nanos nowadays.  While I enjoy following ThreeHundredEight.com and his analysis, averaging out bad poll numbers can still tell us little about the final results.  Eric Grenier too was predicting a Liberal minority government in Ontario based on what pollsters were telling him. 

All this being said, I now look ahead to a federal election in 2015.

If Stephen Harper runs again as Conservative leader (which I think he will), I'm predicting he'll at best be reduced to a minority government. But there is an excellent chance Harper will lose outright to a Liberal minority government.  If Justin Trudeau performs near perfectly and coalesces the anti-Conservative vote behind the Liberals, including in Quebec, he'll win a majority. 

We've already seen the polls change a bit in Harper's favour this fall.  He's been in full re-election mode, doing everything he can to get his numbers up, acting the conservative statesman on the international scene, the tough guy taking on ISIS and standing up to Vladimir Putin, while also stepping up against homegrown terrorists and in favour of working parents.  It's a cunning, toxic caricature that Harper has perfected after years in power.  He's come a long way from his days as head of the National Citizens Coalition.

By re-taking a narrow lead in the polls of late, making the 2015 election a real race, the dynamics of the pre-campaign will change.   Instead of focusing on Justin Trudeau, voters will instead contemplate the question: "Do we really want another four years of Stephen Harper?" 

This is actually good for Trudeau's Liberals, in my mind.  They'll continue to unveil their own compare-and-contrast campaign, focusing on Harper's considerable weak spots, which have been glaring ever since he cleared out the truly talented people from the PMO thanks to the Mike Duffy scandal.   If the Liberals are smart, they'll also soon start describing themselves as the "underdogs" in this federal election, reminding everyone that they are the humbled third party, that they've done their time in the penalty box, that they've learned the hard lessons of defeat and have developed a fresh new team with a clear, progressive vision for the country courtesy of a lot of "hope and hard work." 


Trudeau has succeeded on numerous crucial fronts since winning the Liberal leadership in the spring of 2013.  He's managed to replace Tom Mulcair's NDP as the unofficial opposition in the minds of Canadians, despite the fact the Libs have only one third the seats.  Repeated by-election results have confirmed that trend and most of the media now believe only Trudeau's Liberals can knock out Harper's Cons.  And they're right.

One of Trudeau's most senior advisors, Gerald Butts, previously worked wonders for Dalton McGuinty in 2003, helping to design a platform at the time that perfectly spoke to the concerns of Ontarians after 8 years of provincial PC rule.  It was an unabashedly progressive agenda and would set up the themes that would win power for the Ontario Liberals.  Those themes - ensuring quality public education, health care and other public services including infrastructure - continue to resonate and keep the Ontario Liberals in power today.  I'm seeing many echos of that successful strategy in many of Justin Trudeau's pronouncements, including on infrastructure, the middle class, tax fairness and even marijuana.  Trudeau's also talking about banning government advertising that is clearly partisan, which was another major plank in the 2003 Ontario Liberal platform.   And Trudeau lately has been criticizing Harper's penchant for secrecy and centralization of power and control.

Trudeau is setting himself up to be the great antidote to 9 years of Harper rule.   If his platform is convincingly progressive enough, he may be able to win more NDP votes than previously thought. 

Still, Trudeau is just 43.  To many, he will appear green on the hustings.  He may even spit out some uninspiring or worrying nonsense in a scrum or two.   The media will have a field day over such moments, of course. 

At the same time, I predict NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will largely unimpress outside of Quebec.  When most Canadians get to know Mulcair better, they'll find him to be what I've always thought of him: generally unlikeable, even occasionally irritating.   He's certainly no Jack Layton.   We'll know Mulcair is merely trying to save the NDP furniture should his platform continue to tilt far left.  Then, he'll be able to credibly say to progressives: vote NDP to ensure you get the government you actually want, instead of a mushy centre-right-left government under Justin Trudeau.   Mulcair will get in his blows.  He'll be aided by conservative media commentators who will declare him victorious in the debates just to try to undermine Trudeau.  But ultimately, none of that noise will matter.

Harper's campaign will be impressive, but will for the first time take several major hits from his opponents.  His support will sag and the Conservatives will run neck-and-neck with the Grits in the polls throughout most of the campaign.  If Trudeau performs as well as he wants, the Grits will surge ahead.  The NDP will vacillate between the high teens and the low-20s and back to the teens again.  Quebec will consider abandoning the NDP to vote Liberal to beat the Tories once and for all.  

A lot of what may happen depends on how well Trudeau can perform, how clearly and succinctly he lays out a realistic and progressive agenda, and how well he dispels worries about his readiness to lead the country.  For Trudeau, there are many variables yet to be defined which make predictions extremely difficult.  I, like most fair-minded, progressive Canadians, believe Trudeau will eventually get there and lead a federal government that again makes us proud to be Canadian.  I'd love it to happen in 2015.   It's certainly possible.  

Will Trudeau perform when it matters most?  Or will he fall on his face and force Canadians again to choose Harper as the allegedly safer option?  My gut tells me we'll see something like what we saw when Trudeau took on then-Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in the boxing ring in 2012 (pictured above).  Greatly underestimated, Trudeau will fight a disciplined battle and surprise everyone, especially the Conservatives. 

The end result: I think we'll be seeing a Liberal victory in 2015 in Canada, probably a minority government.  If Quebec swings hard behind the Liberals to stop the Conservatives, it will be a majority.  In answer to the ballot question, "Do you want another four years of Harper?," the answer will be, "No."   The country has had enough of the Harper show.  We're tired of him.   Efforts to soften his image and promise something slightly different will prove unconvincing.  After an inspiring campaign that hits all the right notes and, to the shock of the "commentariat," makes few mistakes, Canadians will give the younger Trudeau a chance to chart a path that actually reflects the realistic and progressive values of the majority of Canadians, not the conservative minority for whom Harper governs. 

That's what my gut is telling me.  I could be wrong.  We shall see. 


Kirbycairo said...

Interesting analysis. Though I myself don't support Trudeau or the Liberal Party, I actually believe that they will win a majority government in the end and will win it handily. I think, in the end, just too many people are tired of Harper and the negativism will alienate too many people. I think Quebec will shift to the Liberals in a big way at the last minute much in the way that they shifted Orange in the last election. The reasons for this victory are fairly straightforward - Mulcair is a big drag and has alienated traditional NDP voters while failing to win new centerist voters, many swing voters who voted Con in the last election (many in fear of the NDP) will shift back to the liberals, many traditional Con supporters will not come out to vote, people are overwhelming sick of Harper and his negativity, and Trudeau is just plain likeable regardless of one's political position.
The Liberals will win a 12 to 15 seat majority, Harper will finally retire, the NDP will be relegated once again to third party status. Whether a Liberal win will mean a different kind of government from Harper on substantive policy issues is a MUCH bigger question.

devoircitoyen said...

You're dreaming if you think Quebeckers will massively endorse Trudeau and the Liberals. A horrible performance by Trudeau on the Show <> did not help the liberals cause. Secondly, polls show that most of Trudeau's popularity in Quebec comes from New Canadians, allophones and Anglophones, polls show Francophones massively still support the NDP, and so does a growing number of Anglophones and new Canadians in quebec, especially the young. So even at high numbers the Liberal vote in quebec is highly concentrated not translating into much new numbers outside of montreal. And its not because the rest of the country goes liberal that quebec will too , as history shows quebec doesn't care much about following the rest of Canada trend.

Having said that, a minority liberal government is quite possible , as most of those Toronto conservative mps have a small margin of victory in ridings that are more likely to go back liberal than NDP. And the Liberal strength in polls in Atlantic Canada could also make the difference.

That's just my take on it :P

piranha said...

Great analysis! And just about right on the money.