Sunday, 26 October 2014

Crombie cruising to an easy win? Five reasons maybe not.

I speculated earlier in the week that Steve Mahoney might do great in southwest Mississauga, but Crombie could expect to do well in the other three quadrants. The last Forum Poll suggests that Mahoney may be trailing Bonnie Crombie even in his "home" quadrant in the southwest. Mahoney is also trailing with voters over age 65.

That is bad news for Mahoney.

Municipal elections are often decided by differential turnout. The big challenge for pollsters is not determining who citizens prefer, but rather who is likely to actually vote. Older voters who have lived in an area for a long time are one of the groups most likely to vote. In this election, I expect that is a big advantage for Mahoney, who last held elected office in 2004. People who have long supported Mahoney and his wife, City Councillor Katie Mahoney, in southwest Mississauga should be expected to be Mahoney's core base of support. And many of those who remember voting for Mahoney at the federal or provincial level are among the most likely to turn out to vote. Advantage Mahoney.

Surprisingly, the latest (and potentially last) poll, by Forum Research (see and full results here: show Mahoney behind in both his home "quadrant," 49% - 41% and trailing among older voters. Actually, to be blunt, Mahoney is trailing in pretty much in every demographic category: young voters, old voters, men, women, PCs, and Liberals. This does not portend well for Mahoney.

However, be cautious when reviewing these results. This poll may be an accurate gauge of public opinion in Mississauga, but much can be wrong about these results.

This Forum Research poll is an automated telephone call conducted on a Friday night. Only 308 respondents answered the call and told Forum Research who they intended to vote for (or had already voted for). Forum Research included 286 of these responses in a proprietary weighting scheme based on the demographic information the respondents provided to give estimates that should reflect the voting population in Mississauga. There are five reasons to be especially cautious when reviewing this polls' findings:

First, automated polls are good at sampling households or phone numbers, but not household members. If certain demographics are more likely to answer the phone in a house - like they are in my house- that could bias the results. For example, many young people assume that no one they know will be calling their parents' home phone, so many do not answer that line. This can be minimized by the pollster's weighting algorithm, but only if one assumes that those who answered the phone had similar views to those with similar demographics who did not. In other words, a 22 year old living with her parents who did not answer her phone would be expected to have similar political views to a 22 year old living in an apartment (with a number that identifies her as a Mississauga resident).

Second, the poll was completed over just one evening. A Friday. Were you home all evening on Friday? Many people go out on Friday nights. Especially if they are celebrating Diwali, or honoring a soldier on the Highway of Heroes, as many did on Friday night, October 24, 2014. They didn't answer their phones. Neither did some who were enjoying a family dinner. That could bias the sample. Most phone surveys go out in the field for more than one evening to avoid biases caused by certain demographic groups being out one night compared to other groups. I am not surprised that about 40% of the sample were older than 65.

Third, most surveys are larger than 300 people. I suspect that Forum intended this survey to be larger; a recent poll of Brampton voters was a more typical 1000 voters. This may have been intentional, as Forum may have been working with a small sample to mute criticism that their previous poll was biased by a robocall sent out shortly beforehand by the Crombie campaign. Or, it may reflect a paltry response rate (it was a Friday night!). Forum didn't disclose their response rate (unless I'm misreading the difference between 308 calls and 286 respondents with demographic info). Response rate biases are not covered in the published margin of error (6 percentage points in sample of this size), but can be minimized by Forum's weighting algorithm IF there is nothing remarkable about the people with similar demographics who did answer the phone.

Fourth, Forum Research did not disclose the number of undecided voters. Forum's reported figures include those who have decided whom they are voting for, and those who are leaning towards one candidate or the other. Since the percentages sum to 100, Forum Research must have excluded all those who said they were so undecided that they were not even leaning one way or another. Or, maybe that is the gap between 308 voters they said they sampled and the 286 voters whose demographics they report - 10% of the sample, a likely proportion. If many voters are undecided, or are leaners, we could potentially see a big shift between this poll and election day - if those people vote. Undecideds and leaners are less likely voters than those who have already decided whom they are supporting. If they turnout, and vote in ways different than many of their neighbors, the results could be very different than this poll.

Fifth, all the usual problems with telephone polls in the early 21st Century still apply: many citizens do not have land line phones, some are not comfortable with speaking English on the phone, many simply do not respond to polls.

Remember this poll does not substitute for voting on election day. There is little or nothing promising in this poll for Steve Mahoney, but this poll is even more suspect than many other polls conducted by Forum Research. Treat these results with caution.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Watching for the geography of the voting results

I'll be looking at the geographic distribution of the vote on Monday to see if the winner carries the entire city or just portions of it. I don't know of anyone who talks of two Mississaugas, since so much of Mississauga is relatively new.

However, there is a rough divide between an older and wealthier south and a newer, poorer (and less white) north. Except for Meadowvale and Malton, much of the north has been built up in the last 20 years. Many voters are new Canadians. Few are born and raised in Mississauga. City services like community centres are relatively scarce in the north and spread widely apart. Even public transit on arteries like Dundas and Burnhamthorpe in the south is better than transit in the north, on streets like Britannia or Derry.

In my previous post, I noted the geographic distribution of the endorsements Steve Mahoney has lined up. His elite-level support in council, Queen's Park and Ottawa tend to come from west Mississauga, and especially south-west Mississauga. These are areas in, or near, where Steve Mahoney and his wife, have held office. Mahoney have emphasized his long connection to the city and his experience in different levels of politics.

Bonnie Crombie, on the other hand, represented a portion of northwest Mississauga as a MP, and currently represents the entire northeast corner of the city. Much of the northeast is non-residential, but Ward 5 includes Malton and some high- and medium- density areas near along Hurontario, north of Eglinton Avenue. These are diverse neighborhoods, both financially and ethnically. Crombie enjoys the endorsement of Amrit Mangat, MPP for a riding that includes some of Ward 5 (where her husband is running for election) and part of Ward 11 (where George Carlson is neutral). Even though Crombie has not held office for very long, and could not easily claim a strong base of support in these areas, I do not expect that those demographics will favor an older candidate like Mahoney, who stresses a record of experience that predates many of these residents.

Will Crombie's vote totals on Monday reflect what appears to be her strengths in the north- and east- part of the city? The few existing polls have not broken down support by geographic area. Its possible that the two candidates enjoy similar levels of support in every neighborhood, especially after Mayor McCallion endorsed Crombie.

However, if Crombie does well in the north of Mississauga, and Mahoney polls strongly in the southwest, the big battleground between Crombie and Mahoney could become in the southeast corner of Mississauga, including the densely populated area around Square One. I expect Crombie's Polish and Ukrainian background helps her in some of those areas, but perhaps not with younger voters around Square One.  Win or lose, a geographic split could foretell a looming political divide in the city.


Since I last blogged about the mayoral election in Mississauga in 2014, Steve Mahoney apologized for the advertisements that suggested incumbent Mayor Hazel McCallion endorsed him. McCallion then surprised Mahoney and many others by explicitly backing Bonnie Crombie. In an unlikely coincidence, Crombie surged in the polls, turning a close race into one where she leads by a wide margin.

Hazel's endorsement matters. Studies show that in non-partisan local elections, endorsements matter, largely because voters look for signals about whom to support. In partisan races, one easy signal is the party label, but in the absence of that short-cut towards political understanding, trusted political leaders can substitute. For voters struggling to decide between Crombie and Mahoney, McCallion's endorsement of Crombie, especially after McCallion long promised to stay neutral, is such a signal.

Up until now, there was not much that gave voters a reliable signal over which candidate to support. Not much differentiates the platforms of two former Liberal MPs. Neither candidate easily can be categorized as being on the left or as being on the right since both promise to expand government services like transit, government supervision on matters like development and planning, but both promise to keep tax rates in check.

Until the endorsement, Mahoney, his councillor wife Katie, and Crombie have long enjoyed close ties to Mayor McCallion. The close ties between McCallion and both Mahoneys helps explain Katie Mahoney's rather angry and bitter reaction to the news of Hazel's endorsement. So, losing McCallion's endorsement puts Mahoney at a severe disadvantage if he wants to claim the ability to continue a popular legacy from the incumbent. If Mahoney wanted to run as the voice of change against the establishment, he would have run a very different campaign. McCallion's endorsement takes away an important foundation of his appeal.

Mahoney is countering with several MP and MPP endorsements. Two, Brad Butt and Bob Dechert, are Conservatives, which is useful for a former Liberal MP and MPP, but at the same time Mahoney's [relative] fiscal conservatism makes such endorsements unsurprising. Furthermore, Butt defeated Crombie in the federal election. It would have been a surprise if he supported her now.

The ethnic background of endorsers may be used as signals if the endorser is seen as a leader of a particular community. Only one visible minority MPP, Harinder Takhar, endorsed Mahoney. Takhar represents a riding that overlaps with Ward 8, the ward Katie Mahoney represents. Vic Dhillon and Amrit Mangat have endorsed Crombie. The others have not publicly introduced either mayoral candidate.

Mahoney is highlighting the endorsements of five current members of council, including his wife. All represent western Mississauga. The only councillor in the west who has not endorsed Mahoney, George Carlson (Ward 11). Carlson says that the two candidates have such similar positions, he'll work with both. That is probably one-third of the story. There is surely a strategic element, as Carlson does not want to be caught taking the wrong side and alienating the winner or the winner's supporters. Carlson's last re-election bid was relatively close after Carlson was part of the coalition that favored the inquiry into McCallion's corruption scandal and McCallion tacitly backed his opponent, the co-chair of Bonnie Crombie's campaign!

The other councilors may have similar strategic concerns. In the absence of parties, these councilors find it expedient to allow Crombie supporters to think they support Crombie, and Mahoney supporters to think they support Mahoney. The absence of an endorsement from them does not mean that they do not think Crombie is qualified, it just means that they have little to gain by offering an endorsement, and a lot to lose in this election, or the next, if they endorse the loser. Long-time friends have less to fear, especially, like in the case of Pat Saito, they have been [re-] elected for decades without much competition.

The bottom line is that I don't think the absence of councillor endorsements of Crombie is all that indicative of their opinion of Crombie's competence (as Mahoney would lead you to believe), but may be more directly the result of strategic considerations.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Thank you, Hazel (and vote for me)

What to do if the wildly popular incumbent is retiring after 36 years in office? Compete over efforts to thank her for her service!

Both Bonnie Crombie and Steve Mahoney are using Hazel in their social media blitz, encouraging people to either sign an on-line petition (Mahoney) or come to the campaign office to sign a thank you poster (Crombie).

Here's what Mahoney sent out via twitter. Click the link and you can see a laudatory letter to Hazel from Steve and you can sign the thank you note yourself:
Here's Crombie's sponsored facebook post (which means her campaign paid for it to appear on my timeline; I think Mahoney did the same with a facebook post just like his tweet on September 10):

Thank you from Bonnie Facebook post

Both campaigns clearly think that associating with Hazel with attract voters. Mahoney's use of Hazel's image on a backdrop that matches his campaign's blue could be seen as a devious attempt to make it look like he enjoys Hazel's endorsement (she is officially neutral and has been close to both Crombie and Mahoney) or a brilliant way to connect Hazel with his campaign "brand." I wonder how many people scrolling through their news feed saw Hazel, the Mahoney blue and assumed that he enjoyed her support!

The question is, will it work? Or do people know that Hazel is neutral?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Guide for the Perplexed: Comparing Bonnie Crombie's and Steve Mahoney's Platforms

Many criticize the media for covering the horse-race aspect of elections rather than highlighting and discussing policy differences between the candidates. I wanted to fix that by creating a table that, as best as I could, compared and contrasted the platforms of Mississauga mayoral candidates, Bonnie Crombie and Steve Mahoney. My sources were each candidates websites ( and along with gleanings from recent news coverage of their campaigns, including their profiles in the Mississauga News.

The bottom line is that I don't find the sharp divisions between the policy stances of the two leading candidates here in Mississauga like the ones separating mayoral candidates in Toronto. Perhaps one should not be surprised that two former Liberal Party MPs share many of the same visions, or that both aim to earn the support of many who adore popular incumbent Mayor Hazel McCallion while pointing out a few areas where they hope to improve upon her leadership.

It is not surprising that so many citizens tell pollsters that they are undecided between Ms. Crombie and Mr. Mahoney. There are fourteen other candidates, some of whom like Stephen King, have sharply differing visions for transit, taxes, or public housing, but they do not seem to be gaining any traction among voters.

Please note that the published platforms are quite vague, but in a recent conversation with Mr. Mahoney and others, I understand that, in person, both candidates tend to be more specific about their recommendations. As a result, I will update this table or create new blog posts as I receive more information. If I have made any errors by omission or commission, please comment and I'll review and revise.

Finally, a disclaimer: although a resident of Mississauga and a political scientist, I am not a citizen. Therefore, I do not vote and I have not endorsed either candidate.

“Smart development based on family-friendly, mixed-use, higher density development around transit nodes and along major arterial roads” (especially along Hurontario and “downtown”); prioritizing waterfront parkland.
Appoint a Mississauga Community Development Facilitator focused on more liveable and active neighbourhoods.” Dedicated fund for parks and playgrounds; public-private partnerships to develop waterfront. Bond-like loans from pension funds or sales of public utilities for infrastructure.
Lots of buzzwords associated with two pro-development stances that are implicitly critical of the low-density development that has marked most of Mississauga’s residential and commercial development until recent years – when there are no longer many greenfield opportunities for growth.
Two-way frequent Go train service; electrification of Go lines to speed up service and enable new stations; real-time bus status tracking; study improvements along Dundas St.
Two-way frequent Go train service; Build Hurontario LRT and east-west rapid transit; timed, “intelligent” traffic lights.
Both candidates largely agree on transit, and both support more provincial and federal funding to improve transit. Both are silent on potential bottlenecks like needing to expand the rail corridor through Streetsville (over inevitable community opposition) to enable two-way, electrified GO service. I’m skeptical of Crombie’s claim that electrification will speed up service if so many passengers continue to board at a handful of stations like Cooksville.
Keep taxes within inflation rate.
Mahoney’s not making a read-my-lips-no-new-taxes pledge, but his emphasis on holding tax rates low differentiates his platform from Crombie.
Work with food banks; reduce wait times for public housing
Both candidates are pro-development to the extent to which they are implicitly anti-NIMBY. But surprising that neither say anything about building more public housing or rising housing costs for lower- and middle-class citizens.
Investigate off-peak fare reduction for seniors; senior community centres; culturally-specific affordable senior housing.

Youth employment initiative; sector-specific incentives; more funding for arts; new engineering school at Sheridan and UTM
Require more apprenticeships at city; start co-op and experiential learning program; recruit international universities to Mississauga; market villages as tourist destinations; encourage recognition of foreign credentials
Strikingly similar proposals that differ only in some small details.
Create a “Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee”;
      Participatory budgeting; improve coordination of newcomer services; enhanced digital services on-line; fair wage and safety policies for city projects; create "Office of the Mississauga Ambassador" for immigrant support, diversity programs and business growth.
Surprisingly, no discussion of increasing services in northwest Mississauga when there are no open community centres north of Brittania and west of Hurontario for the next two years. Also, surprising that crime prevention and policing is not mentioned by either.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Mayor Hazel scolded, but will remain in office. What does this say about the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act?

Today, Judge John Sproat issued his opinion in the case against Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, dismissing the complaint brought by Elias Hazineh that she violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA). The case was dismissed because Judge Sproat found that Hazineh did not commence his complaint within the six week deadline established by the MCIA and that the votes the complaint focused on would not have applied to Mayor McCallion's son Peter McCallion's hotel project. This raises questions about whether the MCIA provides a viable mechanism for anyone to bring forward charges that politicians violate conflict of interest concerns.

Judge Sproat was sharply critical of Mayor McCallion's court testimony and some of her actions as mayor. Judge Sproat found that McCallion had the same financial interest as her son according to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (making it necessary that she disclose such an interest on any relevant votes), was "willfully blind to the status" of her son's hotel development project and found that Mayor McCallion's "understanding of her legal obligations is contrary to common sense." (see pages 5, 9-10 of the judge's decision here:,_2013.pdf)

Notably, Judge Sproat in his thorough discussion of the evidence, also clearly explained that the votes in question did not apply to Peter McCallion's hotel development, so there was no likelihood that Mayor McCallion's actions would have been motivated by her financial conflict of interest (page 6). I was surprised by how extensively Judge Sproat discussed the evidence given that the the decision was ultimately based on a technicality that Mr. Hazineh did not commence his application within the six week deadline for such filings as prescribed by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

Mayor McCallion will remain in office, but promises to be in office only for another year. The important question citizens and taxpayers across Ontario must ask in light of the ruling is whether the MCIA must be revised before we could reasonably expect to have the effect on corruption and conflict of interest cases that it is designed to ensure. A six-week deadline to file a complaint may simply be too short of a time span for anyone to decide to challenge the actions of an official who may be acting in a corrupt fashion. This is especially true when a potential whistle-blower must consider the personal financial costs and risks of bring such a complaint. The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act must provide a viable mechanism to remove corrupt officeholders and I am not sure the six-week deadline provides such a viable mechanism. At the same time, seeing that Mayor McCallion reportedly spent $500,000 to defend herself from such charges, there clearly needs to be some barrier against frivolous suits. A six week deadline, though, is too high a barrier.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Respect democracy, respect Crombie

There are several election fraud lawsuits progressing across the GTA. Most involve violations that the candidates spent more than the limit for candidates in local elections.  The problem with these regulations is that violations are often quite small and arguably had little impact on the election outcome. Such campaigns are costly for both citizen and defendant and are little more than nuisance lawsuits that dangerously dilute the notion of election fraud.

Asking a judge to overrule the results of a democratic election is troubling and ought to require a mountain of evidence that the violations were egregious and may have made a difference to the election outcome. More often, these concerns should be raised when the elected official next seeks election.

Several opponents of Mississauga Ward 5 councillor +Bonnie Crombie have tried to overturn her narrow victory in the Ward 5 by-election to replace +Eve Adams. Crombie is right to ask these opponents to move on. Crombie is accused of illegally spending money on a poll before entering the race, and for failing to report the fair market value of products used during her campaign - specifically yard signs recycled from her previous candidacies as a Liberal MP. +Cecil Young and +Mark Cashin and their supporters argue that such signs should be valued like new signs or as illegal gifts from the Liberal Party. Crombie argues - correctly- that the value of old yard signs is virtually nil.

Ironically, Crombie was not the only candidate to recycle signs during the campaign. Most egregiously, Eve Adams' then-husband used her signs even if they said "re-elect."

Strategically, it was a wise move for Crombie to reuse her Liberal-red signs and those signs arguably played an important role in educating voters about their options. If her use of those signs was against the law, the law should be revised. She was a Liberal MP and that was part of her "brand" and her appeal. As a councillor, she is non-partisan, but reminding voters of her past record of public service and some of the stances she took as a MP would be vital tasks in any election campaign. Such information is necessary for voters to make educated decisions. Party labels play an important role in providing such information to voters who have little other knowledge about the candidates and the issues. Her past record as a center-left Liberal helps many voters fill in the gaps of their own knowledge!

If voters think that Ms. Crombie won her place on council through underhanded tactics, and I find that unlikely, they should wait until the next election to cast her out. In the meantime, they should find other reasons for voters to choose to elect someone else as Ward 5 Councillor or, perhaps soon, as Mayor!