This is the last of a three-part series appraising the support of the three major political parties at national and provincial levels. Today we look at the Conservatives.
By any objective measure, 2013 has been a very bad year for the federal Conservatives. They have lost the lead in voting intentions for the longest period of time since first forming government in 2006, and are showing little sign of an impending recovery. But some provincial conservative parties of various stripes are doing much better.
The federal Conservatives are now routinely polling below 30 per cent support, representing a drop of at least 10 points from their performance in the 2011 election. They have not held a national lead since Justin Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party, and their support is lower now than at any time since the party moved ahead of Paul Martin's Liberals in the 2005-2006 election campaign. Only in Alberta do they consistently poll ahead of their rivals.
But in contrast to the New Democrats and Liberals, who have some ties to the provincial parties who share their name, the federal Conservatives have no official affiliations with their provincial counterparts. The informal ties they have with these parties varies from province to province.
There are seat-holding Progressive Conservatives parties in seven of the 10 provinces, while the Saskatchewan Party is the equivalent political force in that province. The B.C. Liberals are more closely tied to the federal Conservatives than they are the federal Liberals, while in Alberta the presence of Wildrose complicates things. In Quebec, there is just a fringe Conservative Party and the closest thing to a right-of-centre option in the province, the Coalition Avenir Québec, would largely bristle at being grouped together with the federal Tories.
Nevertheless, there are conservative parties in every province and their voters tend to be the same people who vote for the federal Conservatives. And the strength of Stephen Harper's Conservatives is broadly – but not always – repeated at the provincial level.
Where conservatives are doing well
The bedrock of Canadian conservatism remains out west, and it is there that the Conservatives poll most strongly. Mr. Harper's party can still count on majority support from Albertans, just as the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties in the province draw support from over 60 per cent of residents in polls.
Brad Wall is easily the political leader in Canada with the widest support in his or her jurisdiction, and his re-election in the next provincial election in Saskatchewan is a virtual given. In neighbouring Manitoba, Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservatives have moved decisively in front of the governing NDP in the polls, with the New Democrats hobbled by the hiking of the sales tax. After 14 years under the New Democrats, Manitobans seem likely to go back to the Tories when the next election is held.
And in British Columbia, the B.C. Liberals were re-elected to a majority government in the surprising May vote. From the Pacific to the Manitoba-Ontario border, right-of-centre parties are strongly favoured.
Where the results are more mixed
But there are a few wrinkles in that support. The B.C. Conservatives performed poorly in the May election, and the B.C. Liberals draw support from both the federal Liberals and Tories. The divide between the PCs and Wildrose in Alberta splits conservatism in that province, and opens up more seats to the provincial Liberals and New Democrats than might otherwise be the case. The federal Conservatives, meanwhile, have dropped significantly in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and are in a neck-and-neck race with the Liberals in most polls in the region. The by-election results from November in particular demonstrated the fragility of Conservative support in Manitoba.
The Conservatives have also lost a lot of votes in Ontario, though they are still a potent electoral force thanks to their strength in rural areas and the GTA. The Ontario PCs are in a similar position, but should be doing far better against a Liberal government weighed down by Dalton McGuinty's decade in office. An election held today in Ontario would likely deliver a plurality of seats to the federal Liberals, and could return Kathleen Wynne to the premier's office. This is in large part due to Tim Hudak's woeful personal approval ratings.
The provincial election in Nova Scotia vaulted Jamie Baillie's Tories into official opposition status, but the party nevertheless placed third in the popular vote.
And where things have gone bad
Remarkably, that makes Mr. Baillie the Atlantic Canadian Tory leader in the most enviable position. The Conservative vote has tanked in the region, having not recovered from the changes made to employment insurance long before the Liberals surged under Mr. Trudeau. The PC governments of David Alward in New Brunswick and Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland and Labrador are trailing by a significant margin in the polls, while Ms. Dunderdale is one of the least popular premiers in Canada. Internal turmoil in Prince Edward Island has dropped the Tories there to third place, behind an NDP that was able to nominate only a half-slate of candidates in the 2011 provincial election.
The federal Conservatives have dropped to third in most polls in British Columbia, and are lucky to break double digits in Quebec. The tiny provincial Conservative Party of Quebec is not a serious player and François Legault's CAQ is struggling to break out of the traditional levels of support that Mario Dumont's ADQ used to manage. From the Ontario-Quebec border to the Atlantic, then, right-of-centre parties are floundering.
This makes the electoral calculations for another Conservative victory in the next federal election difficult to compute. Provincially and federally, a base remains for the movement in western Canada. With the Conservatives being squeezed out in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, however, Ontario is more important than ever to the party's fortunes but increasingly looking unreliable. Provincial conservatives from Ontario to Newfoundland could use a boost from their federal cousins, but it is the Prime Minister who may be in more dire need of some good news for the blue team in central and eastern Canada.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.