Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Election Ringside, May 2: Knowns and unknowns as Canadians vote

Election Ringside: A daily exchange for The Globe and Mail between strategists Tom Flanagan, left, and John Duffy

Election Ringside is a daily e-mail exchange for The Globe and Mail between strategists Tom Flanagan and John Duffy. Check in every weekday afternoon during the 2011 federal election campaign for their insights and opinions about the campaign as it unfolds.

From: John Duffy Sent: Monday, May 2, 8:29 a.m. ET To: Tom Flanagan Subject: Election Ringside


Story continues below advertisement

There are so many threads and currents running on election day, it's almost impossible to know where to start. Monday night's results are unusually hard to predict, mainly because we have three moving parts behaving unpredictably in the NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. Outside of a few ridings, there's just not much of an empirical base on which to model probable outcomes. That means we don't know how the cards will be dealt out. Which means predicting the parliamentary endgame - everyone's favourite topic Monday - is even more reckless than usual. But let me try out one or two known unknowns (Mr. Rumsfeld is probably a little happier right now) anyway.

The biggest post-election variable is Jack Layton and the NDP. The New Democrats have broken through across the board, especially in Quebec. The dream of a national progressive movement bridging the language divide, the vision that inspired David Lewis and Claude Jodoin to found the party in 1961, is at last materializing. The only problem is, the crystalization is occurring at least 30 years after the retreat of the trade union movement in North America began.

The NDP's breakout in Quebec is also happening just at the moment when the province might be turning. At the precise moment when separatism goes into eclipse, nationalists flock to the NDP. And at the moment when it looks as though Quebec will be forced to confront the unsustainability of its social model in the face of globalization, demographics and financial realities, its voters turn en masse to a party that shows unfamiliarity, even contempt for these drivers of change. Visualize it: does a UQAM professor of labour studies who is switching his vote from Gilles to Jack intend for the NDP to act as a positive or negative interlocutor in Confederation? Does his partner, a nurse at le CHUM hospital see M. Layton as an agent of change, or a brake on it? And in the event of a Marois victory in the next provincial election, do M. et Mme. neo-Neo Democrat see their newly-minted NDP MPP as an apologist for a renewed drive for sovereignty, or an opponent of it?

A very heavy responsibility.

From: Tom Flanagan Sent: Monday, May 2, 2011, 9:50 a.m. ET To: John Duffy

Hi John,

Yes, I agree that Jack Layton will be challenged to manage his Quebec breakthrough. Basically, it seems to me that he is channelling Brian Mulroney. Just as Mr. Mulroney promised in 1984 to get Quebec to ratify the 1982 constitutional amendments "with honour and enthusiasm" (Lucien Bouchard's words), Mr. Layton (sort of) promised in the French leaders debate to create "winning conditions" (also Mr. Bouchard's words) for Quebec to endorse the Constitution. Nothing else can explain the NDP's sudden surge in Quebec after April 14.

Story continues below advertisement

Of course, other developments had set the table - years of NDP groundwork in Quebec; partisan attacks that largely exempted the NDP; the BQ's misconceived campaign. But it was the constitutional promise that finally sparked the sudden surge in the polls.

Quebec voters will learn that Jack Layton can't deliver on this promise, any more than Mr. Mulroney could. Will the failure lead to the collapse of the NDP, just as it did to the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives? Or will the NDP be able to build permanent support in Quebec on the basis of shared socialist values?

The words of socialism's father keep running through my mind: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

From: John Duffy Sent: Monday, May 2, 2011, 11:32 a.m. ET To: Tom Flanagan

One of the nicest things about doing "Ringside" with you, Tom, has been enjoying your erudition on the Marxist tradition. I will genuinely miss your Bolshevism gags, proletarian puns, and revolutionary rimshots.

Now, speaking of tragedy and farce, I will be spending the late part of the evening at the Liberal victory celebration in downtown Toronto. It seems everybody I know has a strong opinion about what the next moves of the Liberal Party should be. They will be much less forgiving of my attempts at deflection than you have been.

Story continues below advertisement

So, final final? My guess is that the Bloc hold onto enough seats to make stable governing elusive. In which case, we should all take a very deep breath. What's your prediction?

From: Tom Flanagan Sent: Monday, May 2, 2011, 3:22 p.m. ET To: John Duffy

I'm thinking a blue minority with an orange opposition, with the red team perhaps, but not necessarily, holding the balance of power. Have I covered all contingencies? I'm very nervous about the fact that the orange wave continued to grow over the weekend in reported polls. When that happens, people may still be changing their mind as they go to the ballot box.

Don't worry about the future of the Liberal Party. I will offer lots of helpful tips once I see the election results. Maintaining an equitable balance between red and orange will be Job 1 for Conservatives.

Tom Flanagan is professor of political science at the University of Calgary and a former Conservative campaign manager. John Duffy is founder of StrategyCorp and a former adviser to prime minister Paul Martin.

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at