Monday, August 23, 2010

On tough climbs

Having earlier provided my own rebuttal in principle to the John Wright's idea that the national parties should give up on Quebec, I'll offer a brief observation as to why Chantal Hebert's column today seems to miss the mark slightly.
(I)f the Liberals, for one, were ever seriously going to think about giving up on Quebec, they would — in the same spirit — have to question whether to continue to put resources in any province west of Ontario.

In 2008, the first-place Conservatives won a bigger share of the popular vote in Manitoba (48.9 per cent), Saskatchewan (54 per cent), Alberta (65 per cent), and British Columbia (44.5 per cent) than the Bloc (38 per cent) did in Quebec.

The Liberals on the other hand earned 24 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec against only 19 per cent in Manitoba and British Columbia, 15 per cent in Saskatchewan and a measly 11 per cent in Alberta.

When all is said and done, the Liberals actually face a less steep electoral hill in Quebec than anywhere in Western Canada.

It has been a few decades since the Liberals have done well in Alberta and Saskatchewan but only ten years ago that Jean Chr├ętien won 44 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec, finishing the 2000 campaign five points ahead of the Bloc.
Now, there's probably room for argument as to exactly how steep the electoral hill is in any given region. But Hebert actually signals without acknowledging one of the reasons why the Libs (and to a lesser extent the Cons) might see other regions as potentially more fertile ground for improvement from their current base of support.

After all, the Libs' standing as the default federalist party in Quebec allowed them to build up both substantial riding-level war chests and incumbency advantages in dozens of seats. So their results from 2006 and 2008 can fairly easily be seen to reflect the most resources the party can possibly expect to put into the province - and the result was to come up somewhat short even at a time when less of the vote was being split with the NDP.

Which means that one can make a fairly strong argument that the Libs might have better luck directing their resources toward provinces where they might break new ground, rather than re-fighting the same battles they've lost over the past few election cycles.

And the same goes for the Cons, if perhaps to a lesser extent. In the absence of particularly strong riding-level operations, they poured in money from outside the province to support star candidates like Michael Fortier in Vaudreuil-Soulanges - only to see that effort fall flat as soon as the party became the Bloc's main target. And that largely explains their choice to direct efforts toward flipping Lib seats in B.C. and Ontario rather than launching another all-out attack on the Bloc.

All of which leaves the NDP as the only national party that can claim to be within striking distance of gains in Quebec without having yet tested the limits of its ability to win votes. But the combination of federalist vote splits and the Bloc's apparent ability to successfully take down any one national opponent would at least offer an argument against putting too much effort into the province - even if I wouldn't agree with it.

To sum up, then, any examination of how steep a climb any party faces toward winning a seat has to take into account the previous efforts that have fallen short. And there's at least some reason to think that the Libs and Cons may face diminishing returns in continuing to make Quebec a primary focus.

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