In three previous posts I looked at three points of comparison for Maxime Bernier’s new Conservative party, UKIP, the Reform party, and former MP André Arthur. In this post I look at where Bernier’s party is likely to be most competitive. Watching how his party does in these areas of the country will be important to gauging his chances of success. I find that Bernier’s highest chances of success lie in Alberta, particularly in rural Alberta. In Quebec, Bernier is likely to have mixed results, with most of his support coming in Quebec City.
To estimate the areas in which Bernier is likely to be successful I looked at two things. First, I considered the level of support the Conservatives had in a particular riding. Bernier is likely to draw most of his support from the Conservatives so it stands to reason that he will do better in ridings where the Conservatives did well. Second, I looked at the share of support for Bernier in the Conservative leadership race following the 2015 election. Defections to Bernier are not likely to be evenly spread across Conservative ridings, but rather should be higher in ridings where Bernier is more popular. Bernier’s leadership vote totals provide a sense of which ridings those might be. To calculate what I refer to as a Bernier score, I multiply the percentage of the vote Bernier won in the leadership race (divided by 100) by the percentage points that the Conservatives won in 2015. I do this for both Bernier’s vote share on the first leadership ballot and his vote share on the final ballot to create two different scores. In this post I will discuss the averages for different provinces and regions in the country. Bernier scores by riding can be found in the spreadsheet linked to below.
It is important to note that the Bernier scores are not estimates of how many votes Bernier will win in 2019. The Conservative party’s vote share is likely to change for the 2019 election, and Bernier is not likely to take all of voters that supported him in the leadership race into his new party. I intend these scores to measure the relative strength of Bernier’s support across different ridings, not his absolute support as compared to other parties. They should give observers hints as to where to look to see if Bernier successful.
The graph below shows the average Bernier score for both calculations using first and final ballot support across the different provinces. In this graph Alberta stands out as the province in which Bernier has the most amount support. First ballot Bernier scores for Alberta are double the next closest province, Manitoba. Final ballot scores between the two provinces are a little closer, but still show a significant gap. Scores in the other large and medium sized provinces are all pretty close, though Bernier scores slightly higher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (on the first ballot) than the other provinces. A gap of just over 3 points on the first ballot between Manitoba is reasonably small, especially when compared to the difference between Manitoba and Alberta. Finally, Bernier’s support appears to be particularly weak in the Atlantic provinces, with the four lowest Bernier scores coming in that part of the country.
Some of what is driving the high Bernier scores in Alberta is the higher percentage of the vote that the Conservatives win in Alberta. This does not diminish the usefulness of the score. Because there are more Conservatives in Alberta, there are more people who would be receptive to Bernier’s message than in the other provinces. The sheer number of conservative voters in the province means that it should be central to the success of any conservative party. It is notable, however, that Saskatchewan (another one of Canada’s most Conservative provinces) has Bernier scores that are pretty close to the rest of the non-Atlantic provinces.
Looking at Bernier scores for smaller regions within the country shows some interesting findings. The two graphs below show Bernier scores for the first ballot in the Conservative leadership and the final ballot respectively. As suggested by the provincial break downs, ridings in Calgary and rural Alberta have higher scores than anywhere else in the country. Edmonton’s scores are substantially lower than the rest of Alberta’s, but still high relative to the rest of the country. Interestingly, Quebec City joins the three Alberta regions as having ridings with high Bernier scores. This suggests that the region is another area in which Bernier’s party might be competitive.
On the other end of the graph, the Atlantic provinces (which I consider single regions because of their small size) maintain some of the lowest Bernier scores in the country. Depending on which Bernier score one looks at, they are joined by South-West Quebec, Northern Quebec, Western Quebec, Regina, Gaspesie, and Montreal. The divide between the different Quebec regions is particularly stark. Bernier looks like he has a fair amount of potential to be competitive in Quebec City, but little potential to do well outside of it. This makes sense when one considers that Bernier’s opposition to supply management will hurt him in rural Quebec, while the smaller numbers of conservative voters will hurt him in Gatineau, Montreal, and Northern Quebec. It is also worth noting that Bernier does quite poorly in the region that his riding is in, Gaspesie. While Beauce has a reasonably high Bernier score none of the surrounding ridings do. This makes for some interesting intra-regional dynamics in the Gaspesie region.
It is finally worth noting that Bernier’s potential for success is relatively low in Canada’s major cities. The three largest cities in the country, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver all have fairly low Bernier scores. Ottawa’s, Saskatoon’s, and the 905 region’s are all middling, but each of those regions contains substantial numbers rural or suburban ridings. When looking to see where Bernier might be competitive one should look to the rural parts of the country as opposed to the major cities. Winnipeg and the two Albertan cities are the outliers, with relatively high Bernier scores.
Maxime Bernier has a long road ahead of him if he is going to build a competitive party. In addition to building national and local organizations, he will need to identify ridings in which he can be competitive. He will need to find ways of focusing his campaign on such ridings. Observers looking at whether Bernier can be successful in 2019 should pay particular attention to how he is doing in ridings in Alberta and Quebec City. If he is struggling in those regions, it is unlikely he will be able to do well in the rest of the country.