Panel: Let's talk election

National Post columnists John Ivison and Michael Den Tandt discuss the imminent election on Friday, 1-2 p.m. EST.

Hello Everyone, welcome to our Election Panel. We’re trying out a new panel discussion tool here called Thinkwire. If you have questions, please send them to me via Twitter @jengerson
Joining us here today are National Post columnists John Ivison and Michael Den Tandt. Here’s Ivison’s latest looking at the possibility of a Liberal candidate winning in my hometown of Calgary.
Hello. Greetings from Lotusland
Hi John! Yay, this is working....almost....
While we’re waiting for Michael, let’s chat a bit about your latest. I see you were in my neck of the woods (and didn’t offer to buy me a beer. Terrible.)
For the past year, the Liberals have been talking about a breakthrough in Calgary -- particularly for Kent Hehr, but also for Matt Grant and Darshan Kang. What was your takeaway after visiting?
Can the Liberals actually pull off a win in Cowtown?
It was a whistle-stop, Jen, so I only spent time canvassing in Calgary Centre. Hehr is a credible, well-known candidate and I think he might win. Depends if he can get his vote out.
Add to that Trudeau’s plans to rally in Alberta this weekend -- in the dying days of the campaign, no less. Why would he be doing this? Hubris or confidence?
Hi Michael!
What’d I miss? Are we having fun yet?
They have a realistic shot at three seats or more in Calgary. But the real prize is gaining a foothold in Vancouver. He’s coming here on Sunday and they have a real shot at tripling or quadrupling their seat count in the city (albeit from two).
We’re done, Mike. You missed it.
Story of my life, John.
Why is Vancouver such a crucial city in this election?
OK so.. just to sum up where I see things going at the moment - curious to know if you agree or disagree. Looks to me like Gagnier, though obviously not the beat the Liberals wanted to hit in the final hours, is not going to make enough of a difference to change the outcome.
If you’re going to form government, you need to have a strong base here. Libs have flattered to deceive for years, mainly because of strong NDP. 42 seats now and they need to hold more than two of them.
A lot of chatter out here about how the West is holding more and more influence over elections, largely due to seat boots and demographic shifts. Is it possible we won’t know the results on Monday until after votes are counted in BC?
John - to what do you attribute recent Liberal strength in BC? Early in the campaign they were significantly behind out there, I recall.
On Gagnier, who knows? If it’s news to Canada, it’s news to me. But I suspect not. One in five have voted already and the depth of anti-Harper feeling I saw out there would be hard to turn.
(My family out there would be thrilled. They’ve always become so miffed by governments that declare before the ballot box closes.)
Jen, I guess it’s possible we won’t know for a few days who will be PM. Maybe longer than that, if it’s very close.
The ABH (Anybody But Harper) math stacks up like this, imo - the narrower the gap tomorrow, the greater the pressure on NDP voters to swing to LPC.
They have some really good candidates in BC, such as Harjit Sajjan, a decorated Afghan veteran in Van South. Plus Van is growing and changing. All the cool kids want to be here and Trudeau gels with that self-image.
Huh. Interesting. I’m curious also about what you heard in Alberta. Is there fatigue with CPC there? Or Harper personally?
@Michael Is that question directed to me, John or to both?
Jen - you wrote that great feature during the Alberta prov. campaign, which kind of foreshadowed the outcome. Have you touched base with any of those contacts about this one? Curious to know where they lean…
@michael I think it’s a pretty tricky thing at this point. The conditions the precipitated the Alberta election were so unique that I don’t think you can draw any broader conclusions about it federally. A few things stand out to me, however;
Firstly, that the potential breakthroughs are, with a few exceptions, all seem to be Liberal. And this goes back to work being done on the ground out here that started well before the last provincial election.
Secondly, I’ve been struck by Harper’s willingness to pick very public fights with Alberta premier Rachel Notley in his bid to put the ROC off the NDP. His portrayal of her tenure as a “disaster” is terribly premature.
Interesting. Reflects what I hear in Ontario, even ex-Toronto.
Additionally, during the Globe debates, he seemed pretty willing to make Alberta seem like an economic Mad Maxian hell scape under the NDP. That wasn’t for Albertans. Nobody here really bought that. He was playing to Ontarians.
But fundamentally, let’s look at Alberta’s other options. Mulcair, who I think is a non-starter out here for his positions on commodities, generally. And Trudeau.
You mean Alberta is *not* a Mad Maxian hell scape? :)
Among older Albertans, that patronymic is still a problem. And not a small one. But, increasingly, this is a young province and the NEP doesn’t have the emotional weight it once did.
Only parts of it.
Well that hasn’t worked (wooing Ontario). It is where all the seats are and I saw them scraping seats like Waterloo and Mississauga Lakeshore, if it was a close race. But it looks like the Libs might sweep through 905.
What impact do you see Nenshi having in Calgary seats? Is he openly backing any opposition party or merely opposing Harper on the Niqab?
@Michael He’s opposing Harper on the niqab. I don’t see him at the hustings, generally. Nenshi does have connections with the Liberal party, but I’ve not seen him get involved beyond that point.
John, GTA gets, I think, the lion’s share of Ontario’s 15 new seats - 11 if memory serves. You see these going LPC?
I was in a couple of them, including Brampton East. There are 11 seats in Mississauga and Brampton - they tend to move in lockstep and I think, if the polls are accurate, they will go red. East was interesting - it’s the only one where the NDP are a factor.
I do want to talk about Gagnier. Personally, I’m a bit nonplussed about this scandal. The strategic advice he offered to TransCan seemed like a pretty basic civics overview. Why am I wrong here?
Grey County in Central ON is as blue as blue gets… Harper has family roots there in fact, on his mother’s side. LPC came third there in ’11. This time it’s too close to call.
Anything that allows Mulcair and Harper to say there’s moisture in the Liberal grain again, is pretty damning for the Libs. If there’d been more time, this could have really hurt them.
So is it just a matter of perception? Or is there actually something damning here?
Jen - it may have been fairly innocuous advice - perhaps somewhat obvious. The optics of it though were v bad, I think. Bonehead move in a race of inches.
As my old friend The Badger (Star’s Rick Brennan) once said, climbing on the campaign bus of a morning: “Is that coffee I smell, or Liberal arrogance.” There’s a reason why there are stereotypes about the Grits!
Michael - you had mentioned that you don’t think the scandal seems to be swaying people one way or the other, however. Did Justin handle this well enough?
If Grey County goes, there will be no furniture left to save. You’ll be telling me Larry Miller’s going down next, Mike.
Jen, I think he handled it as well as he could have. They waited 12 hours too long.. that wd be my only critique of response after story broke.
John - It’s Larry Miller’s riding I’m talking about. I have trouble believing the numbers, but they’re confirmed by local polling.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph. A good source of mine says it will be an “Ontario blood-bath”. And yet.....
Can we talk a bit about this campaign, generally? I’m writing a blog post on how I think it’s been the worst election ever. Did the Conservatives lose the plot on a terrible campaign? Or were they doomed from the writ drop?
Jen, interesting. I think it’s been kind of an amazingly good campaign. Though grotesquely long.
Most times, the party with the most incumbents; the party that has spent the most money; the party that can justifiably point to better economic times ahead, wins. But this does feel very different.
Michael - It has? Good God, maybe I’ve been spoiled by Alberta.
I say that because the contestants, particularly in debate, were so evenly matched, relatively speaking. There were no huge gaffes. No knock-outs either. V unlike, say, ’11 or ’08. Or ’06, for that matter.
Unlike in previous campaigns, we had reams of policy to pore over. Speeches and position papers up the wazoo. Endless repetions of same in stump speeches.
I agree with Mike. It’s been a marathon but people are more engaged and energized than most I’ve covered. The turn-out is going to be higher, judging by the advance polls - and that, at the end of the day, is the acid test on whether an election is “good” or “bad”.
Michael - BUT THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT FUN. Instead we’ve had an interminably long campaign filled with lame scandals (Duffy) petty social media gaffes (cup pisser et al.) Debates about recessions and the niqab.
Anyone who claims now they don’t know who represents what… is deliberately plugging ears with cotton or parsley and shouting Wawawa at the TV.
:) A fair point, Jen.
And is turnout higher because people are engaged -- or has the extended writ period just given parties more time to do voter ID.
I guess the one criticism I wd make - and it’s a systemic problem - is that huge issues have gone undiscussed, because they’re not winners with swing voters.
Do we really have to gauge the success of an election by turnout? Am I not allowed to impose some aesthetic criteria?
Yes, like the TPP!
The singular obsession with taxation and benefits.. it’s understandable of course, bread and butter and the kitchen table. But how do we pay for Medicare after 2017? What about assisted dying? Indian Act?
People are angry. The Cons were always, always aware that their worst enemy was voter anger. They could do anything - prorogation, defund their competition, fire critical voices - as long as the proverbial man or woman on the Oakville GO train didn’t get angry.
Defence issues didn’t come up at the door in any of the 22 ridings I visited. Very strange.
John, interesting. What made Oakville GO train person angry?
The democratic accountability issue has been hugely undiscussed. As has First Nations issues. Bellegarde’s attempts to put FN matters centre stage have not succeeded.
Michael - Loss of income splitting! KA CHING.
I have to say, I didn’t think infrastructure was a sexy election issue. But having spent time in Brampton, Laval and Surrey, you can see why. Our cities are choking to death and our commuters are slowly going round the twist.
Jen.. yeah.. except I think John is saying he’s hearing anger at the CPC. Am I right, John?
Income-splitting for couples - don’t get me started. That was a loser for CPC the day Flaherty called it a loser. Debate within party between him and Kenney, as I understand it, which Kenney won.
John - Fair point. 45-1.5 hour commutes creates a kind of slow burn rage that’s easily exploitable.
Mike - on anger, yes. I was in a mall “mainstreaming” with Andrew Saxton, Tory candidate in North Van. One woman came up and was literally in tears thanking him for his efforts. But many more went out of their way to be rude - very unCanadian.
Michael - Economically, and policy wise it’s a loser, sure. But will Oakville couples get angry at the thought of losing it?
I doubt it Jen. They never had it.
John, on that point, I don’t think Canadians are particularly Canadian. But I never have thought we are. Even in the 80s I found us to be frequently rude and pushy.
Ok, lightening round: What do you guys think the defining issue of this election has been?
Jen - according to CD Howe, about 15% of Oakville couples, if upper income earners are evenly distributed in Oakville. CPC capped the benefit at 2K in an effort to mitigate that, but…
On politeness - it is very rare to see candidates being berated on the doorstep. People might not agree with them but they generally appreciate they have put their name on the ballot and are asking for one of the most fundamental exchanges our democracy can offer - their vote.
(This is giving me another column idea. Canadians: We’re actually total assholes.)
Jen: Defining issue was niqab. Not because I think it should have been. I think the opposite. But it changed the game in Quebec. Stopped Mulcair’s rush. Causing strategic re-think elsewhere, and giving Trudeau his opening.
Defining issue - change. Three out of four people say they want to be governed in a different fashion. It remains to be seen whether those people go out and vote.
Michael: That’s depressing.
Fair enough John. I would agree - tradition of hospitality to visitors runs deep. People feel v passionate about politics this year.
I disagree with Mike here - the shift to the Liberals happened when the NDP said they would balance the budget and, within 24 hours, the Libs said they wouldn’t.
So does the change narrative actually hold into the ballot box? I have this suspicion that the polls will show a Liberal victory right up until the moment when people have to mark their ballots.
On the outcome - I think we should all hold our fire until Monday night before declaring a winner. I would say “save our breath to cool our porridge” but our profession demands we expend vast amounts of hot air, based on very little evidence.
John, I agree w you that shift to LPC began then. But gathered momentum after first French-language debate. The strategic vote is why they’re up 6 or 7, depending on which poll you look at.
John - I like to think of it as our art.
I’m with John on calling the outcome. No matter what the polls say. Ground game is everything. Vote efficiency for each party is everything.
We are merely filling space between the ads, let’s face it. And there aren’t as many of them as there used to be.
So, despite the polls, am I hearing that you guys are unwilling to discount the possibility of a Conservative win?
Good lord let’s not get morbid.
At least not until we have enough drinks at the table to excuse the morbidity the next day.
Remember the most recent British election. Who called it for Cameron? Let alone a majority?
I have gone coast to coast - the Cons, at least when I was there, were losing votes in Atlantic Canada, 905, 416, Winnipeg, downtown Calgary and metro Van. Based on that evidence, a majority looks unattainable. But a minority.... Stranger things have happened.
Lastly, where will each of you be on election night? What ridings are you watching as the results roll in?
I think the UK result was more predictable than a Con win here. There, Labour was going to be propped up by the Scots Nats and there wasn’t the same fatigue with Cameron.
I’ll be in Toronto on election night, watching the GTA. I think that is where this will be decided.
I’m in Calgary. I’m looking for Sarnia and Waterloo. Both almost always vote with the government.
How about you, Jen?
You’ll be out here with me, John. I’ll be feeding cheers of delight or tears of defeat back to the news desk as warranted.
So we shall catch up on the other side?
Is there anything else we think people should be aware of in the last weekend? Anybody want to talk about the Fords?
Bring a life vest. The ship may be going down.
I always stock Kleenex and wet wipes.
Ah, the Fords. That would take another hour, Jen.
Ok - I’m outta here. Have to go door-knocking with my 45th candidate.
Take care John. Have a good one.
Thanks so much for coming out, guys. And thanks for trying out our new panel tool. If any readers want to give feedback on it, I’m at jgerson@nationalpost.com
I’m off as well. Thanks to everyone who joined us and to John Ivison and Jen Gerson.