Category: Nova Scotia Election

Yet another assault on the sanctity of the voting booth

Progressive Conservatives are voting in Halifax at this hour on whether to review Jamie Baillie’s leadership. Some of the delegates have cameras.

ToryBallot2

Contrarian isn’t saying who. Pete Seeger taught us not to name names.

MLA Eyking, in office 64 days, takes 28-day vacay – updated

[See Update in second to last paragraph.]

Just 64 days after taking her seat in the Nova Scotia Legislature, newly elected Liberal MLA Pam Eyking left Canada for a 28-day family trip to Australia and Taiwan.

Eyking and her husband Mark, MP for Sydney-Victoria, left Canada on Boxing Day. Her office said she is expected back in Nova Scotia Thursday, the 23rd. Contrarian learned about the trip from a prominent Cape Breton Liberal who asked not to be identified, but said party members are annoyed at her taking a long foreign vacation so early in her term as MLA. Elected October 8, Eyking was sworn in as MLA October 22.

Longtime Liberal MLA Manning MacDonald resigned his seat last May after his decision to take a month-long Florida vacation while the house was sitting came under fire. The house has not been in session during Eyking’s absence.

Eykings and McNeilLaurel Munroe, communications advisor to Premier Stephen McNeil, said the Eykings spent two weeks in Australia visiting “their son, who lives there,” then continued on to Taiwan where Mark Eyking is on “a Parliamentary trip.” She said did not have details on any Parliamentary business he was conducting, but said such trips are common for MPs.

Asked if McNeil had approved Eyking’s trip in advance, Munroe said, “she made him aware of it before leaving, but MLAs don’t require approval unless house is in session.”

Munroe said the premier, “told her to make sure her constituency office is ready to handle any constituent inquiries that come up while she is away.”

A staff member in Mark Eyking’s Ottawa office who did not know the nature of the MP’s business in Taiwan offered to have a staff member who did return Contrarian’s call, but the other staffer did not call back.

Facebook pages of Eykings’ two sons list both men as Ottawa residents, but photos show one of them at an Australian surf camp in late October.

In an email to Contrarian, Pam Eyking said she was, “currently in Taiwan doing business trade for the riding and area. Over the next several days I have meetings lined up for CBU, Cape Breton fishers, and the Cape Breton tourist association.”

She did not respond to questions in a follow-up email seeking details about the meetings and comment on the propriety of leaving the country for an extended trip so soon after her election. She did offer to meet after she returns to Cape Breton.

Cape Breton University President David Wheeler did not respond to emails seeking details on any meetings Eyking is attending for the university in Taiwan. confirmed Monday that university officials “did speak to Ms. Eyking about making links for CBU in Taiwan before her departure.” The Cape Breton Tourist Association ceased to exist in 2007. The island’s tourism industry has been represented since 2003 by Destination Cape Breton.

[Disclosure: I have been friendly with the Eykings for many years, but I have also been vocal in criticizing Pam Eyking's decision to run for the provincial legislature.]

Unintended consequences of making voting easier

Like me, Contrarian reader Stan Jones voted at one of the continuous advance polling stations his riding (though presumably he did so sans caméra).  These polls were among the innovations Elections Nova Scotia introduced to combat flagging turnout, by making it easier for people to vote. They proved popular, but as Jones points out, they had the unintended consequence of lessening the analytical usefulness of poll-by-poll returns:

[I]t does seem to complicate poll-by-poll analysis, since it looks to me as if all those votes are reported with the Returning Office as the poll, rather than some district poll.

For example, in Yarmouth, some 1,660 votes were recorded at the RO, about 19 percent of the total. Another 685 were recorded at the two scheduled advance polls. In all, 27 percent of the votes can’t be associated with a particular area poll.

This didn’t matter too much in Yarmouth, where Zach Churchill copped 82 percent of the votes cast—as Jones points out, he had more votes at the advance polls than the second place finisher, Tory John Cunningham had in the entire district—but it would make analysis more difficult in ridings where the vote was closer.

Jones thinks the relative compactness of the Yarmouth riding may have increased take-up at the continuous poll, aided by some special factors:

Lots (and lots) of people were on Main Street in downtown Yarmouth for the street hockey tournament during the election and the RO is just a block off Main Street. It was easy to drop in to the RO between games (that’s what I did). It might also have helped that the Yarmouth Corral (a very popular local mobile food truck) was parked right across of the RO during the tournament – I had a pulled pork sandwich right after I voted.

Truly, all politics is local, right down to the pulled pork sandwich. Turnout in Yarmouth was 65 percent, versus 59 percent province-wide.

In the ridings I checked, a significant portion of the ballots were cast at riding offices, continuous polls, or scheduled advance polls where they could not be tied to a geographic location. In Sydney-Whitney Pier, where the contest was thought to be close, 30 percent voted in non-geotagged polling stations.  In vast Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, 20 percent; equally far-flung Victoria the Lakes, also 20 percent; Antigonish, 37 percent; Argyle, 17 percent.; Glace Bay, 34 percent.

Attention #NSPoli geeks: those tardy poll-by-poll results are finally in

Elections Nova Scotia quietly posted the poll-by-poll results of  the October 8 Nova Scotia election on its website last Thursday

6-PhuddPreliminary poll-by-poll results are normally released immediately after the vote, but this year, for the first time in living memory, elections bureaucrats decided to keep the detailed results to themselves for three weeks. The only explanation offered was that the Chronicle-Herald wasn’t interested in publishing them (as it had traditionally), so Chief Electoral Officer Richard P. Temporale decided no one else could have them either.

Aside from this inexcusable delay, the agency did a good job of presenting the tallies, making them available in both PDF format, with accompanying maps of the polling districts, and as a zip file* of 51 Excel spreadsheets, plus a riding-by-riding summary.

(In the past, Elections Nova Scotia has sometimes deliberately degraded the electronic files it makes public, so as to make them all but impossible for researchers to use. This retrograde practice has eased somewhat since Temporale ascended to the throne.)

I look forward to seeing what map geeks can do with these spreadsheets. Elections Nova Scotia publishes mapping shapefiles on its website for the 51 electoral districts, but alas, not for individual polling districts. It’s possible these might be available on request, but Contrarian may not be the best person to ask.

[*Note: I have not linked directly to the zip file, because I expect doing so would trigger spam filters to reject the daily emailed version  of Contrarian (see "Subscribe to Contrarian" at right). To download the zip file, click here, and then on the words, "Excel format" in the third bullet point.]

Why do new governments get a honeymoon?

Because, for all our cynicism about politics, we want them to succeed.

We wanted Darrell Dexter to succeed, and our unrealistic expectations for his government never recovered from its series of early missteps.

Despite a majority of comparable magnitude, Stephen McNeil comes to office with far lower expectations than his predecessor. His deliberately bland campaign included a few platform whoppers he’ll be foolhardy to implement (one big health board, deregulation of electricity markets, defunding energy Efficiency Nova Scotia), but for the most part, he is free from extravagant commitments. This lowers the risk of early disappointments, though not necessarily missteps.

McNeil has another advantage over Dexter. Whatever doubts we may harbour as to his own ability to handle the difficult job he has won, his cabinet includes a solid core of experienced and shrewd political veterans with at least the potential to manage complex departmental responsibilities.

Where Dexter had only Steele, MacDonald, and Estabrooks to inspire confidence, McNeil has Regan, Whelan, Samson, MacLellan, Glavine, and Casey.

They have a tough job. We wish them well because, it bears repeating, we all want them to succeed.

cabinet

 

 

Cabinetry

Our curmudgeonly friend sends along a Canadian Press dispatch about the process of assembling Stephen McNeil’s new cabinet.

However, experience is just one of several factors McNeil will be considering when handing out portfolios. The cabinet must also reflect a broad cross-section of the province’s geography and its ethnic, racial and linguistic mixture.

Our friend comments:

That’s right. That’s how we got Sterling Belliveau. What good would a cabinet be without a Sterling Belliveau in it?

Imagine what McNeil’s cabinet could look like if he had the cojones to ignore geography, gender, ethnicity, race, and language. What would happen if he just picked the very best people among the 33 members of his caucus?

Nah! Nova Scotia is far too committed to mediocrity.

Elections NS will hold back poll-by-poll results until month’s end

In a break with decades of past practice, Nova Scotia elections officials say they will withhold detailed results of the October 7 8 election for almost a month. In previous provincial elections, newspapers published poll-by-poll results a day or two after the vote.

At a time when the internet has encouraged governments of all shapes and sizes to be more forthcoming with useful data, Elections Nova Scotia is moving in the opposite direction.

Dana Phillip Doiron, director of policy and communications, declined to explain the policy change except to say the Chronicle-Herald “had no interest” in publishing this election’s poll-by-poll results, and Chief Electoral Officer Richard P. Temporale decided to wait until official results are ready at month’s end.

Differences between the preliminary and official results are usually small, and rarely affect the outcome in any riding.

Doiron declined to let Contrarian publish preliminary poll-by-poll results, and did not respond to a request for an interview with the Temporale.

For those who weren’t around, it’s hard to capture the degree to which this reversal of longstanding openness about election results represents a throwback to attitudes that prevailed in Nova Scotia’s bureaucracy 40 years ago. It’s like walking into government office and finding shag carpet on the floor, lava lamps on the desks, and Wayne Newton on the P.A.

To be sure, some government departments still work hard to avoid disclosing embarrassing information, exploiting loopholes in the Freedom of Information law and the near total breakdown of its enforcement in the province. It’s a standard damage control tactic.

But this is different. Nothing in the poll-by-poll results could conceivably embarrass Temporale or his agency. He is withholding the information because he can. He has decided, in his wisdom, that we don’t need to have it, notwithstanding keen interest among political geeks eager to dig into it.

Father knows best. Mere citizens can wait.

Forty years ago, Temporale’s instinctual proprietary impulse was nearly universal in Halifax. Bureaucrats regarded information in their custody as personal property, and citizens seeking access to it as unworthy supplicants.

Ironically, election results were always an exception to these attitudes of yore. Unlike Elections Nova Scotia of 2013, responsible officials in the ’50s and ’60s saw the prompt release of election results as their duty.

Here is Contrarian’s email exchange with Doiron:

From: Parker Donham
Sent: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 10:59 PM
To: Doiron, Dana P
Subject: poll-by-poll results

Hi Dana,

In almost 40 years of covering and following NS elections, I cannot ever recall it taking so long to see poll-by-poll returns. In years past, they were in the paper within two days of the election. What gives?

(I just checked the http://results.electionsnovascotia.ca/ website, and at this moment, it appears to be down. http://electionsnovascotia.ca/ is functioning normally.)

Cheers,
Parker

From: “Doiron, Dana P”
Subject: RE: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 11:56:40 AM ADT
To: ‘Parker Donham’

The poll by poll results will be published at the end of the month. The website is working fine for me. Unsure of source of your problem.

D.

From: Parker Donham
Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:44 PM
To: Doiron, Dana P
Subject: Re: poll-by-poll results

It was probably a momentary thing, and quite possibly at me end

Why on earth are you taking so long to publish the results?

Sent from my iPhone

From: “Doiron, Dana P”
Subject: RE: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 12:48:48 PM ADT
To: ‘Parker Donham’

The poll by poll results you may have seen in the past are the unofficial count before “official addition” and the return of the writ. The Herald customarily published them within a couple of days of election night. The Herald had no interest in doing that this election. The CEO decided to publish the official results, poll-by-poll, as quickly as possible, together with maps and other data.

D

From: Parker Donham
Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 1:38 PM
To: Doiron, Dana P
Subject: Re: poll-by-poll results

Dana,

Contrarian is interested in publishing them. Can I get them?

Cheers,
Parker

Sent from my iPhone

From: “Doiron, Dana P”
Subject: RE: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 2:25:04 PM ADT
To: ‘Parker Donham’

Not until we’ve published them.

d

From: Parker DonhamSubject:
Re: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 4:28:57 PM ADT
To: “Doiron, Dana P”

Hi Dana:

Can you offer any explanation why? This data has previously been available much sooner. I just find the change in policy mystifying. Most organizations are publishing their data quicker now that it is so easy to do so on the Internet. Elections NS seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

If the answer is that it’s what the Chief Electoral Officer decided, could you please arrange an interview with him for tomorrow?

Thanks very much,
Parker

[As of this posting, there was no response.]

Dear Elections NS: Where are the poll-by-poll results?

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 10.02.03 PMThe election took place a week ago, but Elections Nova Scotia has still not published the poll-by-poll results from each riding. This, despite a notice on the agency’s website (see right) promising to post them by last Friday.

In past elections, newspapers carried the poll-by-poll results two days after the vote, if not the very next day.

These were understood to be unofficial results. Minor adjustments inevitably followed before the final, official results were published in a booklet. But the preliminary totals have always been public information.

Elections Nova Scotia obviously has the numbers. Why is it withholding them?

I suspect we will hear some song and dance about waiting until they deem the results “final” or “official,” as if the nabobs of Elections Nova Scotia possess some special wisdom and maturity to handle preliminary data that would send ordinary Nova Scotians into paroxysms of… well, of what, exactly?

This attitude would be of a piece with the creeping authoritarianism that seems to have overtaken Elections Nova Scotia—illustrated by the kneecapping of its political donations reports  (a misstep it partially relented on this summer), and the bully boy hissy fit it threw in response to a small handful of ballot snapshots.

Interactive map shows the sweep

ESRI Canada, a Canadian supplier of geographic information system services, has produced an interactive map of the Nova Scotia Liberal election sweep. Slide the vertical bar back and forth to change from the 2009 election results to last Tuesday’s.

Unfortunately, I can’t embed the tool, but clicking on the screenshot below will take you to it.

With help from Dave MacLean of COGS, the image is now embedded. Find the source page here.

H/T: Dave MacLean. Credits: Elections Nova Scotia and ESRI.

Make that 1,049 votes from annihilation, theoretically

Sharp-penciled Contrarian reader Gus Reed points out that the Dips could have been wiped off Nova Scotia’s electoral map by as few as 1,049 votes, not 2,087 as I wrote Friday. For this to happen, all the defectors would have had to switch their votes to the second-place finisher in their respective ridings. 1,049 switchers would have done the trick under those highly theoretical circumstances.

But then the whole exercise was theoretical.

By the same token, Darrell Dexter would have needed only 11 Liberal voters switching to him to hold his seat.

These scenarios raise another question, likewise theoretical. In the 2000 Florida recount, we learned that the US election system is insufficiently accurate to determine the winner in extremely close races. No one knows who won that primary; the outcome was decided when five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court chose the candidate they liked best.

For all its apparent crudeness—paper ballots marked with a stubby wooden pencil—Canada’s election system is much better at deciding close contests. But can it reliably determine the outcome of races in which a single vote separates the top two finishers? Probably not. Party apparatchiks could always find reasonable doubt about the validity, eligibility, or probable intentions of at least one ballot, or at least one voter. My hunch is that a string of ridings decided by one vote would result in a string of judicially ordered by=elections.

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