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Blake Lee-Whiting: Why aren’t Ontario NDP candidates talking about Andrea Horwath?


In advance of today’s Ontario provincial election,There’s a chance the New Blue Party could cost Doug Ford a majority government: Pollster party leaders have been crisscrossing the province to make last-minute appeals to voters. Local candidates, similarly, have been knocking on doors, posting on social media, and doing interviews with radio, television, and print media in their own ridings.

As part of these efforts, party leaders are actively trying to boost incumbents in tight races or help star candidates get over the electoral line for the first time. In recent days, for instance, we’ve seen PC Leader Doug Ford travel to Ottawa to highlight the accomplishments of Jeremy Roberts, an incumbent PC candidate for Ottawa West – Nepean, who won in 2018 by less than 200 votes. Similarly, Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP, recently joined one of her party’s strongest candidates, Harvey Bischof, in Paris, Ontario, for her third visit to the riding during the campaign.

Yet there’s less attention paid to how local candidates may or may not leverage the profile and reputation of their respective party leader in their own election efforts. This can come in various forms such as posing for photos together, putting up campaign signs that include the leader’s name, posting about the leader on social media, or attending political debates.

The question, of course, is: what do local candidates do if they interpret their party leader to be something of a political drag? One window into how candidates interpret the political upside (or downside) of their respective party leader to their own political fortunes is by examining how often local candidates choose to incorporate party leadership in their local campaigns. 

Incumbent politicians in particular have a significant interest in judging the utility of drawing on their leaders’ brand. If they lose the election, after all, they’re out of a job. Incumbents, therefore, represent a useful test group by which to see how political candidates view the strengths and weaknesses of their party leaders.

To test this theory, and to determine which party leaders are most popular in the minds of their own candidates, I downloaded public tweets by incumbent politicians in the Ontario election to see how often they have referred to their party’s leader in the run-up to election day. I analyzed more than 5,000 tweets by incumbent politicians programmatically. I chose not to analyze retweets, replies, or likesAbout different types of Tweets because these interactions are relatively undemanding, rather than an original tweet that requires intentional interaction.

I also set a few guidelines for my analysis to avoid misleading data. Some politicians, like Natalia Kusendova, Doug Downey, or Greg Rickford have not been active on Twitter during this election, and so I excluded incumbent candidates with fewer than 10 tweets during the election period. I also only considered Tweets from the formal writ period, which began on May 3rd

The top five politicians who tweet most about their leader are all PC candidates. Monte McNaughton, for instance, the incumbent Minister from Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, tweets about Ford once every roughly 2.7 tweets on average. Rudy CuzzettoSam Oosterhoff, and Peter Bethlenfalvy are similarly enthusiastic about their leader. In total, incumbent PC politicians tweeted over 350 times about, or at, Ford. 

In terms of Ontario Liberal candidates, Stephen Blais, the incumbent in Orléans, tweets most about party leader Steven Del Duca, slightly more than Amanda Simard, the incumbent from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell. Considering the small caucus size of incumbent Liberal candidates who are seeking re-election, it is unsurprising that every single Liberal incumbent has, at some point, tweeted about, or at, Del Duca. 

The same level of enthusiasm is not exhibited by NDP candidates. The NDP incumbents who have tweeted most about Horwath, Terence Kernaghan from London North Centre and Joel Harden from Ottawa Centre, have tweeted each about Horwath fewer than 10 times, despite tweeting over 100, and over 200, times respectively during the election period. The second most supportive incumbent, Gurratan Singh, from Brampton East, likewise has sent fewer than five tweets about his leader in over 100 campaign tweets. 

There are several incumbents who, despite tweeting at least semi-regularly, have not tweeted about their leader during the campaign period. Until Horwath visited London this past Monday (May 30), Peggy Sattler, the incumbent in London West, had not tweeted about her party leader despite tweeting roughly 70 times. Wayne Gates, the incumbent from Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, and Niagara-on-the-Lake, has not tweeted about Horwath despite over 75 campaign-related tweets. Among the PCs, Laurie Scott, despite retweeting or liking posts, has not drafted a single original tweet about Ford during the campaign. 

When NDP incumbents do tweet about their leader, they do so sparingly; Chris Glover of Spadina-Fort-York,  Jill Andrew from Toronto-St Paul’s, and Marit Stiles in Davenport, each last tweeted about Horwath on May 3rd, the day of the election campaign commenced.

Some provincial NDP candidates have tweeted more about federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh than their own provincial leader, including Bhutila Karpoche (Parkdale-High-Park) and Sandy Shaw (Hamilton-West Ancaster & Dundas).

Clearly, there are some limitations to this approach. Firstly, most of these candidates have retweeted their leader or tweeted an article about their leader, which is not picked up by this analysis that only examines original tweets. Secondly, people use Twitter in different ways, and some of the politicians examined have probably tasked staffers with writing tweets for them, which could result in fewer tweets that explicitly mention party leadership because of technical or social-media-related preferences. 

These limitations aside, however, there is clearly a difference between Prabmeet Sarkaria, incumbent from Brampton South, sending over 20 out of roughly 50 tweets about Ford, and Jennie Stevens, incumbent from St. Catharines sending fewer than five of over 100 tweets about Horwath.  

So, what’s the point of all this? Why should we care about tweets (not) sent? I think this analysis suggests that Horwath is not viewed as much of a political asset by NDP incumbents as Ford is among his incumbents. 

Will Horwath’s level of perceived popularity among NDP incumbents impact today’s results? Unlikely, but it may suggest that her future as NDP leader could ultimately come into question. If it does, it will be interesting to see if the incumbents who have distanced themselves during the campaign lead the leadership review, and ultimately, seek to become her replacement.

Sean Speer: Canada’s embattled conservatives should remember that the winds of change originate in ideas


This week marks an important anniversary in the history of modern Canadian conservatism. Twenty-six years ago, regular Hub contributor David Frum hosted the Winds of Change conference in Calgary with the goal of “uniting the right” in order to better compete against the Liberal Party for national political power.The Winds of Right-wing Change in Canadian Journalism Although it would require another seven years for the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada, the conference had a major and lasting impact on the world of Canadian Conservative (and conservative) ideas and politics. 

The meeting occurred at a moment of political fragmentation on Canada’s Right. It was barely 12 months before the 1997 federal election in which the Liberals were re-elected due in large part to vote-splitting between the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservative Party. Their combined share of the popular vote (38.19 percent) in that election was only a fraction behind the Liberal Party which still won a four-seat majority as a result. 

But if the case for greater political cooperation on the divided Right was electorally self-evident, Frum and the other organizers also had ideological ambitions. They sought to push federal Conservatives (including Progressive Conservatives and Reformers) in the direction of a more assertive and self-confident conservatism. As the conference’s manifesto explained: 

Our country—which ought to be the richest and happiest in the world—is in trouble. Crushed under debt and taxes, demoralized by perverse social policies, its very existence in question, Canada needs new answers. In the provinces, visionary leaders are offering such answers. But our national politics remain a wasteland of reactionary liberalism: a doctrine without ideas and without principles. 

In the realm of ideas, the right has never exerted stronger force in Canada than it does now. However, with two political parties battling for the support of right-of-centre voters, the prospects of a conservative federal government have seldom looked worse.

Canada needs an alternative. We need a national government that cherishes our free-market economy instead of treating it as a goose to be plucked; that respect Canadians’ moral convictions, rather than seeing our convictions as superstitions to be remodelled by Ottawa social engineers. To elect such a national government, we first need unity on the right. To achieve that unity, we must begin by agreeing on the policies that the next federal government should implement.

Unification, in other words, had to be rooted in a common conservative vision for the country as opposed to a narrow exercise of partisan interests. The goal wasn’t just to defeat the Liberals after all. It was to push federal policymaking in a decidedly conservative direction. 

The manifesto, therefore, set out a series of ambitious conservative reforms including phasing out federal transfers to the provinces and territories, income splitting for families with children, a universal child benefit for children under age five, significant changes to the Indian Act, and a series of tough-on-crime laws (such as the restoration of the death penalty for the killing of police officers, contract killing or “other grave crimes”). Many of its ideas ultimately found expression in the Harper government in spirit or specifics. 

The focus on conservative ideas and policies reflected in large part the attendees of the Winds of Change conference itself. The roughly 100 attendees were mostly drawn from the world of think tanks, academia, and journalism. There was representation from every province including staff-level liaisons from the Harris government in Ontario and even the Bloc Québécois. Alberta’s then-provincial treasurer Stockwell Day chaired the proceedings. 

Neither Reform Party leader Preston Manning nor Progressive Conservative Party leader Jean Charest attended. One of the few elected officials at the conference was Stephen Harper, who gave the two-day conference’s most memorable speech which set out the case for building a national coalition rooted in conservative principles. With the benefit of hindsight, his remarks basically served as a “roadmap”The emerging Conservative coalition for the next decade and a half of Canadian Conservative politics. 

A major subtext of the conference was generational change. While Harper was in his early 40s and Frum in his mid-30s, a considerable number of the attendees were in their mid and late 20s. This group was generally more ideological than the older generation (including for instance former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed who criticizedA positive view of conservatism’s future the conference’s conservative underpinnings) and more prepared to move beyond the personal and partisan squabbles between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reformers. One political observer later described the conference as the moment when “a whole crop of 25-year-olds stepped forward to ease their elders aside and reunite divided conservatives.”Conservative movement in Quebec is rising

Although these early efforts to build a unified and self-confident conservatism to challenge the Liberal government and the establishment ideas that it represented didn’t bear immediate fruit, they were, by all accounts, a crucial step on the path to party merger, the creation of the Conservative Party, and the emergence of conservative ideas as a credible alternative to Laurentian liberalism. As Frum recently put it to me: “The Winds of Change conference showed that Ideas do change the world. They just don’t change it right away.”

The similarities to the present moment can be somewhat overstated. There’s probably not an immediate threat of serious centre-right fragmentation and the Conservative Party has won the national popular vote in successive elections. Conservatives (including the Coalition Avenir Québec) also currently govern eight of ten provinces.

There are however some commonalities in the current circumstances including new expressions of right-wing populism, a growing sense of conservative self-doubt, and something of a generational shift occurring in elected Conservative politics and the broader world of Canadian conservatism. As Canadian Conservatives grapple with these issues in the context of the Conservative Party’s ongoing leadership race, there’s wisdom in returning to the spirit of the Winds of Change conference for intellectual inspiration and political insights.

If its chief legacy was to help to lay an intellectual and political foundation for the Harper government’s near-decade in power, now is time for the next generation of Conservatives (and conservatives) to rebuild that foundation. The key lesson from just over a quarter-century ago is to start with ideas.