Importance of Geography in the NDP Leadership Election
Jan 3, 2012

Importance of Geography in the NDP Leadership Election

When choosing the next NDP leader, one question that can be raised is considerations for where the NDP leader is geographically based from. How much of a difference does this make, and, if it matters, where ought that region to be?

The list, found at the end of this post, shows the 50 most likely ridings needed to flip in order for the NDP to get a majority based on the May 2011 Federal Canadian Election results.  The intent is to give a geographic indication of where in Canada the NDP ought to prioritize in order to win a future election.

Geographic Analysis:
Unsurprisingly, the two most populous provinces of Quebec and Ontario provided by far the largest opportunities for growth. However, it is worth seeing that there is opportunity all across the country outside of Alberta and the unpopulous territories. A half dozen seats each could be reasonably picked up in in each of BC, the Prarries, and the Maritimes. In Quebec, the question is one of whether the NDP can manage to shore up the remain seats to become largely a one party province the way Alberta is for the Conservatives.

Ontario remains the largest potential region with 17 swingable ridings, with heavy competition between the Liberals, NDP, and Conservatives in areas that can give large and critical swaths of votes. Within Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area is particularly important with six of the ten medium and most likely ridings being in the GTA.

The GTA was long a Liberal stronghold. As the image shows, in 2011 that support collapsed in favour of the Conservatives and the NDP. Not only is it a region with a lot of seats, it is a symbollically important region that has traditionally run to the left of the rest of the country. Should the NDP be able to consolidate its gains and make the GTA the second NDP stronghold (outside of Quebec) this would be a very key plank in any path to NDP electoral victory.

Best regions to prioritize:
I believe we need to accept that for the NDP to win they need, at minimum, to maintain their success in Quebec if not to extend it. But the NDP will never win if they are just a Quebec party. They need to make gains, and can make gains, across Canada. But if there is one region to prioritize which provides an excellent path forward to a minority or even majority win for the NDP, it is Southern Ontario and the GTA.

The effect for the candidates:
When it comes to considering the advantages and disadvantages of geography on one of the NDP leadership contenders candidacy, Quebec based Thomas Mulcair is probably affected most by such a consideration. I suspect there are many Canadians outside of Quebec who do not want to vote for a party that is considered to be a party of Quebec. The NDP already is struggling with this perception that they are nothing but the new version of the Bloc. Conversely, Mulcair will very likely give a boost to the NDP in Quebec but it will be for the same reason that it will help convince Quebecors the NDP is the part to represent Quebec's interests in parliament. This puts a serious dent, in my opinion, towards Mulcair's candidacy based on this fact alone.

Likewise, there would seem not to be any benefit to having a praries candidate such as Niki Ashton - such a region is just too small. I think the best bump from a geographic standpoint (although I don't think it is a huge one) is for Peggy Nash. Like Jack Layton, who was acceptable to Quebecors, Peggy Nash is from Toronto which is a key area both in terms of gaining an important swath of ridings as mentioned above, but also in terms of larger fundraising issues, getting union support, and the like. As long as the candidate can speak fluent French, which Nash can, we simply have to hope the gains in Quebec stay and then expand elsewhere.  A candidate like Dewar, from Ottawa, is probably fairly neutral accross the board as a standard Ottawa (i.e., federal) perspective, opposed to a unique regional perspective.

Does the Leader's homebase matter?
This is the kind of question which is hard to provide any form of clear objective answer. Certainly geography is not irrelevent. For Quebec, it is critical. There has always been a strong East-West divide in the country which spawned much of the support for the modern versions of the Conservatives which largely beat out the old Eastern Progressive Conservative party. I tend to think that a leader being from a specific region gives a small bump to that region and a small relative decline to far away regions, but it depends on the leader and the political context.

RED ridings are most likely to flip NDP:         Total: 22
BLUE ridings are medium likely to flip NDP:   Total (blue+red): 33, enough for a strong minority
Black ridings are least likely to flip NDP:        Total (all colours): 50, enough for a majority
Maritimes (5):
Halifax West
South Shore--St. Margaret's
Quebec (11):
Haute-Gaspésie--La Mitis--Matane--Matapédia
Ontario (17):
Don Valley East
Etobicoke North
Kingston and the Islands
London North Centre
London West
St. Paul's
Sault Ste. Marie
Scarborough Centre
Toronto Centre
Manitoba (3):
Winnipeg North
Winnipeg South Centre
Saskatchewan (7):
Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River
Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre
Alberta (1):
Edmonton East
British Columbia (6):
Pitt Meadows--Maple Ridge--Mission
Fleetwood--Port Kells
Vancouver Centre
Vancouver Island North

The above ridings were determined based on making small changes to the May 2011 election results and seeing what the result was. In each riding, a percentage of the total vote was taken from the Liberals and Conservatives and given to the NDP. The 22 most likely red ridings were those that made the NDP win (where they previously lost) if 5% of the total vote was added to the NDP and 3% subtracted from the other parties. The 33 medium likely blue+red ridings were those that added 10% to the NDP and subtracted 5% from the other parties. The 50 least likely black+blue+red ridings were those that added 12% to the NDP and subtracted 7% from the other parties. The Bloc Quebecois was ignored, given our inability to make any reasonable predictions about the outcome of that party which means that four of the ridings in Quebec are suspect.

The goal was to give, at best, a very rough indications of where in the country the necessary ridings might come from where the NDP to form a minority or majority government. One could have done a better analysis by looking at historical data and not just the 2011 election, and by doing more riding specific calculations opposed to the brute force shifting of the same percentage of the vote in every riding. However, these errors are dominated by the difficulty in predicting given that the next election is four years away and will have a significantly different electoral map.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Skinny Dipper said...

Interesting analysis. I don't know if geography alone will matter when chosing a leader and in the next federal election. I will agree that the party will need a more pan-Canadian vision if it wishes to break the perception that it is just a Quebec-based party. I do think that the Conservatives will campaign as the pan-Canadian party vs. the parochial Quebec-supporting NDP. The Conservative campaign won't likely be overt. They will campaign that the NDP is just a party of special interests--Quebec-firsters, radical feminists, Islamists, supporters of union bosses, "lazy" Occupy protesters, and "corrupt" aboriginal chiefs. The new NDP leader will need to break this stereotype immediately.

bazie said...

Indeed. Countering those various attacks is going to be important and we know how much financial weaponry the Conservatives have to spend and how effectively they were able to dismantle the last two Liberal leaders with that arsenal. This is partly why I think having a leader who is just fundamentally likable, the way Layton was, is so critical because they will be able to weather the ensuing storm.

Dave said...

The Toronto region will be a very different electoral landscape in 2015. The ridings will be completely redrawn. Brampton will go from 3.5 to probably 5 seats. Trinity-Spadina and Toronto Centre will probably be completely different boundaries with the condo boom. Oshawa may have very different boundaries.

All this is to say that the GTA will probably have another dozen or so ridings. Most of these will be in the suburban 905 (and perhaps one more downtown). Regions like Brampton, Oshawa and Scarborough will need to be major priorities and are within reach for a well organized NDP.

bazie said...

Yes, I should have commented on this but I think you are right that the redistricting only helps give a slight increase to the importance of a GTA candidate. The other regions that get a lot of extra seats are in the west where it helps the Conservatives, but it is hard to see how a BC NDP candidate could help the NDP federally.

Part of the problem, however, is that the Toronto suburbs are anything but locks for the NDP. As we saw in the mayoral election for the GTA, the suburbs came out strong for the abrasive and overtly rightwing stance of Rob Ford. Granted, polling has retreated a lot of his support, but there is a worry that the expanded Toronto helps conservatives and will be a hard fought fight for the NDP to win outside of the core.

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