Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What A Difference A Year Makes

There's a debate in the blogosphere about Elizabeth May's electoral prospects in the riding of Guelph, ON. A year ago, I would have advised May to run in Guelph. Today, I'd advise against it. Let me explain. Last year, Guelph was entering a by-election. The Liberal incumbent was retiring and the seat was up for grabs. The race attracted a lot of attention from all four parties for different reasons. For the Tories and the NDP, there was a chance to put another nail in Stephane Dion's coffin. If the former Liberal leader couldn't hold Guelph in a by-election with a good candidate like Frank Valeriote, he was doomed. The Tories threw a lot at Valeriote as a result and the NDP perhaps put in a stronger effort than they normally would for a marginally competitive riding like Guelph. The Greens had an opportunity to build on the momentum of a good by-election result for May in London North-Centre. While Guelph is not London, another riding in Southwestern Ontario would have made a lot of sense, particularly if she could have made it into a four way race where 25-30% of the vote would have been enough to win election. Guelph has a well-earned reputation as an environmentally conscious place and there is a base of green support. In short, a pretty target.

Today, the only thing left for Elizabeth May is that latent base of green support. The numbers from last time are a little inflated by the length of the campaign providing better name recognition to Green candidate Mike Nagy. Put simply, its easier for a small campaign to get their message out if they have more time; there should be a levelling effect in terms of campaign strength. Still, I have no doubt that May could get 20-25% in Guelph. I don't think that's enough to win. The Tories in a general election are not going to make Guelph the priority they did in the by-election. Even if they feel, that they are in a position to attack Liberal incumbents, there are ridings in the 905 (Brampton-Springdale, Brampton-West) that are better targets for them. Frankly, I think they're going to be playing defense in Ontario and their attentions in that part of the province should be in holding their two very close pick-ups in Kitchener-Waterloo and Kitchener-Centre. That puts Guelph as a less likely target for Conservative cabinet ministers and even the Prime Minister. Frank Valeriote will get a boost from the incumbency as most politicians do. May wouldn't have a significant name recognition advantage over a sitting MP. Valeriote should also benefit from a leader like Michael Ignatieff pulling back some of the centre and centre-right Liberal vote that Stephane Dion lost last time around. The NDP, particularly if Elizabeth May jumps in, have no incentive to target Guelph. The last thing the NDP wants is the Green Party leader in the house and splitting votes from the Liberals there would not be in their interests. Like the Tories, they have other fish to fry in Ontario and the NDP is known for directing their resources to a small number of ridings which I can't believe will include Guelph. In other words, anyone looking to knock off Valeriote is going to need closer to 40% of the vote than 30% of the vote. I think that's a bridge too far for Elizabeth May.

Dan's got a pretty good list in terms of other potential targets. I might add Dufferin-Caledon to that list. Even though the Tories won easily there in 2008(David Tilson got a majority of the vote), I think the best chance for May is to get herself in a two way race with a Tory incumbent where she becomes the anti-government vote. Central Nova was a bad choice to try do that in, but without the benefit of a non-compete agreement with the Grits, she needs to find a riding where the Liberals are weak and the NDP weaker. Dufferin-Caledon fits that bill. It's also in that swath of Central and Western Ontario that seems to like the Green Party for whatever reason.

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