Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Progressive Talking Points: Winnipeg North

I didn't want to label this a "Progressive Talking Point", but I guess it is one. It's a starting point anyway, for the concept of 'vote splitting' is something that comes up again and again on the left. There's a certain madness to the concept that the Left is losing seats to vote-splitting, in that people are usually referring to the combined NDP-Liberal vote when they talk about it.

Gatineau in 2004: The Liberals take the seat with 42% to the Bloc's 40%, but if you combine the Bloc, the NDP and the Greens, you'd get 49% and a win for the Left. That's vote splitting.

The four by-elections held yesterday had absolutely no vote-splitting: they were about as bipartisan as they get. Scarily so, in fact. Some numbers:
  • Vaughan: 96% of the vote to the top two candidates (CPC & Libs)
  • Winnipeg North: 87% of the vote to the top two candidates (Libs & NDP)
  • Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette: 83% of the vote to the top two candidates (CPC & NDP)
  • Kamouraska-Témiscouata: 73% of the vote to the top two candidates: (PQ & PLQ)
The provincial by-election is the only exception, with the ADQ putting on a respectable showing as a third-party candidate. The federal elections were shocking. Look at Vaughan: 96%. Even American elections are more multipartisan than that. Interesting that the three ridings all featured two different players in the top-three, though for our purposes what that primarily shows is that the NDP is much more of a factor in Manitoba than in Ontario. The NDP should be deeply worried by Vaughan. Not like they had a chance at winning it, but to be a mere fringe... That hurts.

It hurts, but not as much as losing Winnipeg North. I found myself looking at the history of the riding, and I have to say I'm amazed. Winnipeg North might just be the most left-wing riding in the country. How left-wing is it? Well, if you want to talk 'vote splitting', have a look at these numbers from 1940:
  • Liberals: 40.9%
  • CCF: 35.3%
  • Communists: 16.7%
  • National Government (Conservatives): 7.1%
 The CCF (predecessor to the NDP) lost, but (a) because 17% of the vote went to a party to their left, and (b) to the Liberals, not the Tories, who could only muster 7% of the vote, even with their hubris-filled jingoistic wartime rename.

The CCF candidate, A. A. Heaps, was the incumbent. In the previous election, 1935, he won with 42.2%, but the Communist candidate took 25.4%. The Liberals served as the main party of the non-left (relatively speaking), with 29.3% of the vote, and the only actual party of the right, Social Credit, managed a mere 3.2%. the Conservatives didn't even bother to contest the riding.

In 1945, with A. A. Heaps having stood down, the CCF held the seat and the Communists came second. Consider that for a moment, as WWII was ending, Winnipeg North was a battleground between Socialists and Communists. The other parties were mere runners-up.

1945 is a long time ago. yet, excepting only four elections in the 26 previous general elections, going all the way back to 1925, Winnipeg North has been reliably CCF/NDP. Before even the CCF existed, they were CCF, electing Heaps as a "Labour Party" candidate. The closest the NDP have in this country to a 'safe riding', and they've lost it to a Liberal. How much does that matter? It's tough to tell. It was the NDP's to lose, but the Battle of the Kevins was pitted between a star Kevin for the Liberals and a relatively unknown Kevin for the NDP. Things could change once again, and remarkably soon perhaps if we're looking at a spring election. So this might be just an occassional blip in the trend. But if the NDP really have lost Winnipeg North, what hope do they truly have?

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