Wednesday, February 07, 2007

By-election box scores

These four by-election's (you can take them as one set of four even though the elections are actually on 2 different days) provide an interesting opportunity for the electorate to evaluate the performance of the government.

It's a truism that by-elections are notoriously hard to predict because it's a great opportunity for the voters to express their thoughts or otherwise vote on different priorities without actually taking down a government. See Signal-Hill-Quidi-Vidi as an example of how local factors, conditions and personalities can trump provincial trends.

So the natural assumption that provincial polls showing apparent stratospheric government support necessarily indicates a sweep by the PC's is a generous over-interpretation of the landscape.

Although one would expect the apparently weak and disorganized Liberals to be at internal odds, the reality is that it looks like the PC's are the one at internal odds. Reports indicate that some of the failed nomination candidates are unhappy for a variety of reasons. Part of the problem is that while there might have been 2000+ votes for 6 or 7+ hopeful candidates in each district, in the end you have just one happy candidate and a bunch of unhappy ones who call the process unfair.

Another interesting about the PC nominations is that each one had a candidate designated and anointed by the Premier (in one case the candidate ran in two different districts) and they failed to take the nomination in each case. This might point to organizational weakness or loss of party control on the Premier's part - it's hard to tell.

It's not unusual for a Premier to try and muscle their way into nominations. Tobin tried to designate Liberal candidates in at least 3 federal by-elections and also failed each time.

The Liberals, on the other hand, have had no divisive nomination battles and in some cases were lucky to get candidates at all. In spite of that, some sensible and competent candidates emerged. More on that below.

The best that can be said about the NDP, meanwhile, is that they worked hard to get 4 candidates and did. It's just too bad that the energetic and shrewd talents of Rick Boland had to be wasted this way.

There are four seats in play: on the Avalon they are Kilbride and Ferryland. Both have been long-time PC seats and, frankly, there is little reason to expect that to change although I suspect the counts will be closer than previously.

Too bad because I have to say that Bob Clark (Lib-Kilbride) is putting up a spirited fight including media buys, and would likely to make a good MHA. Still he faces just an outside chance against John Dinn, former Goulds mayor and St. John's councilor.

While much better known, Dinn seems to be running his provincial race the same way he ran his municipal ones - with just $200, lots of good will, little door-knocking and no media. Meanwhile, reports indicate the Goulds 8 and other groups and individuals whom Dinn has previously annoyed, including some workers from camps of the failed nomination challengers, are vigorously working against him.

The west coast has the real interesting races: Port au Port and Humber Valley. These are the seats where it's a real competition. Most pundits and observers are saying the PC's are in real fear of losing one (Humber Valley) and an outside chance at losing the second (Port au Port).

Certainly the PC''s seem to think so because they have been marching the premier and other ministers all up and down the coast. But all things are not smooth for the PCs; this morning a long-time PC worker has cut the party loose and was willing to say so to a CBC radio reporter.

On the Liberal side, the one to watch is Dwight Ball in Humber Valley. Of all the candidates of all the parties in all the seats, he is the real deal - successful, sensible, articulate, fearless and smart. And the last time he ran he lost to his sister-in-law, the infamous Kathy Goudie, in a squeaker.

The strategies of the parties have been fairly predictable in the main. The PC's are putting provincial issues ("vote for us for a strong hand against Ottawa", or as one wag put it "give us a mandate to negotiate") and the personality of the Premier first and foremost. The Liberals, while generally running against the government, are running mainly on platforms of local issues claiming that the PC's are ignoring the local for the provincial.

The main exception seem to be on constituency allowances. It looks likes whoever wins these seats all the MHA's will be releasing constituency allowance records in the future.

It's hard escape the question of who will win what seats and what it will mean; each party there are different definitions of success and failure.
  • 4-0 for the PCs is success for the PCs (they kept them all) and a push for the Liberals (they lost nothing)
  • 3-1 for the PCs is loss for the PCs (they set a high bar for success) and a win for the Liberals (they gained one against a 70% current the other way)
  • 2-2 is a serious failure for the PCs and glorious victory for the Liberals
  • Losing more than 2 is catastrophic failure for the PC machine and a towering achievement for the Liberals representing a monumental sea change in the political landscape.
We'll see what happens.

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