In politics, timing is everything. And, if you support Alberta’s “Fair Deal” initiatives, the timing for the province’s equalization referendum is close to a worst-case scenario.
The vote, which will be held on Oct. 18 in conjunction with municipal elections, was scheduled way back in the 2019 United Conservative Party platform. It was confirmed earlier this year, when vaccine optimism reigned and the province believed the worst of COVID-19 would be behind us by now. The UCP government thought Albertans would be focused on high oil and gas prices, or long-standing federal-provincial grievances.
But instead, the province is in the throes of a Delta-driven fourth wave – one many blame on the UCP’s premature push to remove health restrictions and COVID-19 measures this summer. Albertans are about to be subject to the surreal experience of voting on a question that seeks to end equalization – to unwind one of the key ties that binds Canada – at the same moment intensive-care unit staff from the Canadian Armed Forces, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Red Cross are here to shore up the province’s overwhelmed hospitals.
Alberta’s battle on equalization has also become so intertwined with Premier Jason Kenney’s political persona that the question will be seen by some as an unofficial referendum on his leadership. Mr. Kenney’s pandemic-era polling numbers are approaching those of Donald Trump in Mexico (circa 2017). Supporters of the referendum are worried that provincial distaste for Mr. Kenney will taint the outcome by dampening enthusiasm even among those who would back the measure in more normal times.
The UCP is still putting up yard signs and handing out bumper stickers. But there haven’t been major public appeals from the Premier and his cabinet, as envisioned months ago. On Thursday, Mr. Kenney said his government is focused on the “task at hand,” meaningthe COVID-19 emergency. But it’s doubtful anyone in favour of the vote would want him to be leading the parade, anyway.
The exact wording of the question is: “Should section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 – Parliament and the government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments – be removed from the constitution?”
Those who back thevote are trying to emphasize that the referendum question goes beyond one man.
“A ‘No’ vote on the referendum will compromise the negotiating position of any Alberta Premier for a generation.”
Because the Alberta government has decided to put this issue to a vote – turning national attention toward the province – the stakes are high. Although the question explicitly asks whether equalization should exist, proponents of the referendum (including the Premier) argue that no one should take it that literally.
It’s not really about opening up a series of painful constitutional discussions about the existence of a program designed to make sure every Canadian gets roughly comparable public services, Mr. Kenney and others say. It’s about provincial leverage in negotiations with Ottawa. Have no doubt, the referendum is a high-priced, attention-grabbing political stunt.
But even if it’s gimmicky, Alberta could arguably use some leverage. The province is no longer an economic powerhouse that draws people and investment with ease. It has little representation within the governing federal Liberal ranks. Federal seat distributions aren’t equitable, and Alberta would have more MPs if the country’s electoral system more closely followed the principle of representation by population. Many Albertans feel that while other provinces and Ottawa have no trouble taking fossil fuel money, those other governments are detached from – and sometimes hostile to – the reality that Canada’s (highly regional) industry makes it one of the world’s biggest oil producers.
Bill Bewick, a political consultant who heads another “yes” group, Fairness Alberta, says anything but an affirmative vote is accepting the status quo in Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa. Ignoring resentments in Alberta could lead to greater national unity issues, he argues. That’s a sentiment I first heard from Mr. Bewick’s former boss, longtime Kenney rival Brian Jean, who in 2017 told me that such referendums are a necessary release valve for Alberta frustrations.
But these referendums can also reinforce political divisions. Many Albertans might believe the province has some power to remove equalization from the Constitution, and could be frustrated to find out it does not. Many other Canadians, including federal Conservatives from other parts of the country, find the fact the question is being asked in an economically troubled-but-still-rich province distasteful.
The question of equalization in Alberta is about much more than a single federal program. It’s an issue inextricably linked to the oil-rich province’s anxieties in a rapidly changing world of energy. In a debate about equalization hosted by a group called New West this week, University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe noted that voting “yes” on this question means many different things to different people. “There’s not a lot of consistency about what Alberta even wants,” he said.
Albertans are facing fraught municipal elections where respected mayoral incumbents in both of the province’s largest cities are departing. The province is still weeks or months away from any easing of pandemic dread.
“Society goes on. The economy has to function. And our democracy has to continue to work,” Mr. Kenney said on Thursday. But equalization is at the best of times a complicated and polarizing question. It’s even harder to stomach such a vote right now.
Given the COVID-19 circumstances, and the related dislike of the Premier and the UCP government, the timing could be a major assist to those who want Alberta’s equalization referendum to go down in flames.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.
(CNN)Let me tell you a little story. Nine years ago, Barack Obama won a second term in office, and there was talk of an emerging Democratic majority in presidential elections. Then came Donald Trump, the least liked major party nominee of all time, who won the 2016 election — albeit without winning the popular vote.
Now, there is talk of Democrats potentially being locked out of a Senate majority for a time to come because of trends in the electorate.
I am skeptical of this — at least over the long term. History tells us that parties adjust messaging and tend to find the best pathway to a majority, leaving this to be a 50/50 country on average.
Political scientist David Hopkins articulates the idea of this nation being a 50/50 one well. He notes that since the 1980 elections, Democrats and Republicans have won control of the House, Senate and presidency about the same number of times. They have controlled all three for about the same time, including for the Democrats at this point.
This shouldn’t be surprising. As political analyst Sean Trende posited in the book “The Lost Majority,” history is filled with examples of majorities falling apart and the parties coming in and out of power. The book was published before the 2012 elections and has held up quite well.
Obama won a second term with a decent economy in 2012. Despite Trump being unpopular as he was, we saw the presidency change hands after 2016 as it often does when one party has been in the White House for more than a term. Then we saw a president lose in 2020 with a weak, though not terrible, economy and a pandemic unlike anything the country had experienced in more than a century.
All of these election results were predicted to a fairly accurate degree by fundamentals based political science models.
So why would the future be any different when it comes to the Senate? Well it comes down to two pretty simple points.
First, Democratic power is more concentrated than Republican power in terms of geography. You can see this in the 2020 results with now-President Joe Biden reaching a clear majority in the Electoral College and popular vote, but only winning 25 states. Trump, on the other hand, took 30 states in 2016, despite losing the popular vote and winning with a similar number of electoral votes.
Second, and this is key, presidential and Senate voting patterns are more closely aligned than at any point in recent history. Just one state (Maine in 2020) voted differently in the Senate and presidential races that were on the ballot in the last two presidential elections.
And since each state has an equal number of senators, a nation that votes 50/50 in the popular vote on the presidential level will have more Republican senators over the long-term because that translates into winning more states.
To be clear, the idea of Republicans having a structural advantage in the Senate isn’t a new one. It’s one I made in 2013 when I was trying to rebuff the talk of an emerging Democratic majority, which is why I take the point so seriously.
But I’m not sure I was correct eight years ago. The thing I didn’t take into account is that this hasn’t been a 50/50 nation in the presidential popular vote over the last three decades.
Democrats have earned more votes nationwide in seven of the previous eight presidential races. That’s the most popular vote wins in eight presidential elections for either party since the Democratic Party was founded in the first half of the 19th century.
Republicans, of course, have still managed to win three of the last eight presidential elections. Recently, the party has adjusted to win elections with fewer votes by having their votes are concentrated in the right places. This is something some Republicans note openly.
Indeed, the nomination of Trump was a tacit acknowledgment of that strategy. You put someone on the presidential ticket whose support comes disproportionately from White voters without a college degree, which is a group that has a disproportionate amount of power in the Electoral College (in large part because of the Great Lake battleground states). In doing so, you’re losing more voters overall, but allowing you to win with fewer votes because they’re in the right places.
Over the long term this has come out to being close to a wash in states won. Since 1992, Democrats have won 25.5 states in the median election. Republicans have won 24.5. On average, Democrats have won 25 states to Republicans 25.
In the last three presidential elections, Democrats have won 25 states in the median election and 24 on average. I point out the last three because the strong correlation between presidential and Senate results really only started in the 2010s.
If you play out these Senate elections over and over again, you’d probably end up with pretty equal power in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans assuming straight ticket voting between Senate and presidential voting.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t end up winning the Senate more times than Democrats. If voters are prone to balancing power (which they usually do), Republicans will do well in midterms and that could carry over to more wins overall because only one-third of the Senate is up for election every presidential cycle. Republicans could easily take back control of the Senate in 2022, which I think is the most likely outcome.
It’s that the default isn’t as pro-Republican as one might assume.
I’ll end by saying we have no idea if the current degree of straight ticket voting will stay the same, pick up or even shrink in years to come. We don’t know what the coalitions will look like. Just like Trump came on the scene and exacerbated the educational divide, another candidate may change the electoral calculus in the future. Parties and their messages aren’t stagnant.
Just this past election, Biden actually performed better by a few points among White voters without a college degree than Hillary Clinton. At the same time, the gap between Whites and people of color (which used to be growing) shrunk, something I don’t think most thought would happen given Trump’s rhetoric.
First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.
British MP Sir David Amess was brutally stabbed to death Friday during a meeting with constituents in a Methodist church east of London . This is the second time in five years that a British MP has been murdered while in office, which surprisingly makes the current era one of the most dangerous in which to be a British parliamentarian . In 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in a West Yorkshire street by a far-right extremist. For context, in the 108 years from 1882 to 1990, only six U.K. MPs were killed by political violence – and every single one was due to targeting by Irish nationalists.
Don’t be surprised if the murder of Amess has a chilling effect on public life all across the G7. After a terrorist gunman attempted to storm Parliament Hill in 2014, the result was an immediate ramp-up of parliamentary security everywhere from Australia to the U.K. In the U.K., the Conservative Party has already ordered a stop to all campaigning until a security review can be completed. Here in Canada, news of the murder has been particularly haunting for MPs who just wrapped up an election campaign that was particularly heavy on threats and security worries. “This last campaign, for me, I have never felt so unsafe,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner told CBC .
You can add “laughter” to the list of things that the Royal Canadian Navy isn’t good at . Last year, the second-in-command of HMCS Calgary was dismissed for disabling the warship’s smoke detectors so he could have a cigarette. In response, some anonymous navy wag wrote up a parody song about the incident entitled Smoking in the Wardroom, based on the 1973 hit Smokin’ in the Boys Room. While sailors across Canada had a good laugh at a performance uploaded to YouTube, navy brass absolutely lost their minds and initiated a nationwide manhunt to root out the satirist . According to Postmedia’s David Pugliese, the singer – identified by some fans as an “ Esquimalt legend ” – remains undiscovered.
Meanwhile, the military arguably has much bigger problems to address. Earlier this year, the Canadian Armed Forces’ chief of military personnel was placed on leave while he was investigated regarding an allegation of sexual misconduct. And now his replacement is also under police investigation for sexual misconduct. This happened in the same week that the incoming commander of the Canadian Army also became subject to a police investigation involving an allegation of sexual misconduct.
It looks like Doug Ford might remain premier of Ontario for another term . The province is required to hold a vote by at least June of 2022, but as we all know, Canadian parliaments have a habit lately of getting dissolved early. Although Ford is one of the most unpopular premiers in Canada, polls show that he’s apparently still the best Ontario has. A new Leger survey has the Progressive Conservatives polling at 35 per cent, more than five points ahead of the second-place Liberals.
Only days after the release of the two Michaels from Chinese detention, B.C.’s Minister of State for Trade George Chow was a VIP guest at a Huawei-sponsored event in Vancouver celebrating the Chinese Communist Party. He even waved a tiny five-starred Chinese flag. Lest his appearance be seen as an official B.C. endorsement of Beijing, however, Chow’s spokespeople helpfully cleared up the matter this week. He wasn’t wearing his cabinet minister hat while at the pro-Beijing event , his office told Glacier Media . Rather, he was just attending the event as a regular civilian who may or may not have a senior position in the provincial government that directly deals with China on a regular basis.
This week, Alberta’s top doctor announced that a 14-year-old had become one of the province’s latest COVID-19 fatalities. There’s just one problem: The 14-year-old did not die of COVID-19. After the announcement, family members of the deceased teen took to social media to say that the 14-year-old actually died of brain cancer. Although he had an 11 th hour COVID-19 diagnosis, it was ultimately immaterial to his demise . Health Canada stats show that since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has contributed to the deaths of only 17 Canadians under the age of 19 , far less than the same number who were killed by drowning.
In a pandemic that has seen an awful lot of politicized decisions from public health officials, there is one group that has consistently hewn very close to the evidence, even when it’s unpopular. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) was the one who recommended taking Pfizer instead of AstraZeneca – even as the entire political establishment yelled at them . And now, the National Post’s Sharon Kirkey notes that NACI has gone curiously dark : No press briefings and no interviews, even as Canada gears up for a mass-vaccination of children.
Setting aside the fact that people vote differently in elections held under proportional representation , if Election 44 had been conducted under a European-style PR system, it would have resulted in a dead tie between the Liberals and Conservatives , both of whom would have gone to Parliament with 109 MPs each (the locked-out People’s Party of Canada, meanwhile, would have scored a caucus of 21). According to a new Angus Reid Institute poll, 61 per cent of Canadians would have preferred the PR outcome .
The average price of a Canadian home rose by an incredible 21.4 per cent over the last 12 months , according to the latest Royal LePage House Price Survey . It’s a surge way beyond anything else seen in the G7. The only thing that comes close was a wacky few months in 1989 Italy when housing prices briefly spiked at a faster rate. As to why this is happening, Royal LePage has a very simple answer: Canada isn’t building nearly enough homes .
Ken Boessenkool is among the handful of former Stephen Harper hacks who can say whatever they want now that they’re out of politics. Writing for The Line , this former Reform Party stalwart had a piece of extremely controversial advice for the Conservative Party: Embrace a carbon tax or die . Of course, Boessenkool’s Tory carbon tax would be counted as a 100 per cent credit against the income tax, rather than its current role of being a convenient new revenue stream.
In the wake of Chinese-Canadians running screaming from the Tories last election , Rupa Subramanya noted that it’s not unprecedented for Canadian diaspora communities to decide elections based on foreign policy issues that are virtually invisible to the rest of the electorate. She pointed to the example of 1998, when thousands of Indo-Canadians lost favour with the Liberal government of Jean Chretien after he criticized a series of recent Indian government nuclear tests. “Most Indo-Canadians were supportive of India’s nuclear ambitions … for most other Canadians, however, it was a non-issue,” she wrote .
In recent months, several international outlets have begun referring to Vancouver as the North American epicentre of anti-Asian hate crime . Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd isn’t so sure . The moniker is based entirely on the fact that reported incidents of anti-Asian hate crime rose from 12 to 98 in 2020, but Todd highlights a few holes in the data – as well as some not tremendously ingenuous actors who are highly invested in the image of Vancouver as a racist backwater.
We bring this up a lot in this newsletter, but the Liberals remain hell-bent on a plan to usher in the most censorious internet in the free world . Chris Selley writes in a recent column that if the Conservatives can’t rally Canadians against a draconian crackdown on freedom of speech, it would be a pretty big black eye both for them and the country at large.
Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated from its original version to correct the description of the nature of the investigation into the recent appointee to the Canadian Forces’ chief of military personnel.
The United Nations Special Envoy said on Sunday that the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee agreed to start a drafting process for constitutional reform in the country.
Geir Pedersen, speaking to reporters in Geneva after meeting the Syrian co-chairs ahead of week-long talks, said they had agreed to “prepare and start drafting constitutional reform.”
The talks will be the sixth round in two years and the first since January.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet)
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.