There is an election coming up this October, and many Canadians think I should vote Liberal.
Common sense seems to dictate that I should vote Liberal. If I want to have the best representation in Ottawa for the next four years, if I want to oust a party that is anathema to almost everything I believe, if I want to cast the most immediately effective vote- and truly and honestly I want all those things- I have no choice but to vote Liberal.
As many people I know have dutifully pointed out- my choice has been all but made for me; I need to vote against my conscience in order to have a voice.
The question I need to ask myself, and the question I’d like to ask all of them, is whether those three things are all we should want. Should we myopically focus on the next four years and potentially just put ourselves back in the same position in October of 2019 or sooner? Should we elect a new government that continues the decades long tradition of under the radar governance so long as they whisper the right sweet nothings in our ear? These are the real consequences, to me, of voting against a Conservative government as opposed to voting for meaningful change.
There are many voters in this election that will find themselves in the enviable position of supporting their preferred candidate without worrying that their ideals might inadvertently elect a candidate who stands in opposition to those same ideals. Vote splitting seems to be a real problem, and strategic voting seems to be the simple solution.
Vote splitting isn’t always a bad thing. It has resulted in Universal Healthcare and the Canadian Pension Plan, as well as many other progressive policies. It has only been responsible for three Conservative majorities in 41 elections, and forced Conservative minorities to moderate their policies. Yet with the rise in fortunes of the NDP, we will increasingly see pressure to vote strategically to head off a Conservative victory in future elections.
The obvious answer to vote splitting is electoral reform, and the NDP has promised that, if elected, this will be the last election in Canada under a First Past The Post (FPTP) election system. In the meantime, Canadians have been pressured, as I have, to vote Anyone But Conservative (ABC) in an effort to have a more representative government.
Does voting ABC really give us a more representative government? I’d argue not. I’m not going to be happy with a Liberal government, for example. I would be happy with an NDP government, though not entirely satisfied. Yet I shouldn’t vote NDP, since they have no reasonable chance of winning my riding. There are many Liberal voters who would be dissatisfied with an NDP government- and for many of them, by this logic, they ought to vote for a party that they feel doesn’t represent their values in order to oust a party that doesn’t represent their values.
Here is what your vote should be doing:
- Shaping the policies of the parties to reflect the values of their base.
- Making candidates in your riding aware of the values they should represent.
- Helping to elect the candidate you think is best for your riding.
- Sending a message to the party that they are on the right track.
- Helping to grow the party’s base by expanding their organic vote.
- Signalling to other Canadians that the party has important ideas.
- Financially supporting the party (though the federal subsidy ends this year, parties still collect donations in some proportion to the votes they receive)
Here is the list of what your vote does with strategic voting:
- Possibly prevent a Conservative from winning a seat.
- Force parties to avoid sweeping and broad policies.
- Elect candidates who don’t represent your interests, and don’t know what your values are.
- Send a message that you agree with policies you don’t
- Perpetuate the impression that that party has broad support.
- Creating a false consensus around bad ideas.
- Financially supporting policies that go against your values.
For the record, you could achieve five of those things by voting Conservative.
My question is: Is it worth it? Is it worth convincing the three main parties that they can leave the environment on the back burner, that they all ought to continue the drive toward the center, that Canadians really want a government that is only marginally different from the one we have?
I think it’s clear that the Green vote is not the key to getting rid of Conservative minorities and majorities. It takes, in the majority of cases based on 2011 and the latest polls, Liberals admitting that they have no chance and throwing their support behind the NDP. If that happens, people will begin to question if the Liberal Party- the “Natural Governing Party” of the last 115 years in this country- even needs to exist. Strategic voting, if done right, would have us question the right to exist of a party that has spent more time governing this country than any other- even if that party has enjoyed polling numbers in the mid-30 percent range in the last year.
At the end of the day, strategic voting diminishes democracy. It takes our immediate distaste for a government that has estranged a majority of Canadians, and proposes to solve the problem by estranging voters from their ideals.
My vote still means something if it doesn’t elect a candidate.
My vote still means something if it isn’t cast for the government or the official opposition.
My vote is still important- it is especially important– if it is reflecting what I want my country to be.
My vote is my vision of Canada, and you are asking me to be a bit more myopic.
Strategic voting is an attempt to make a principled stand by abandoning your principles. Democracy is done no favours by transforming it into a referendum on what we don’t want, instead of what we do.
Thanks anyway, I’ll be voting for my principles this election- not against them.
Note: This post is a pared down version of a larger post entitled Abandoning Your Principles On Principle: The Dilemma of Strategic Voting. The original post includes more history on vote splitting, and a short analysis of how the Green vote affected the outcomes of swing ridings in 2011.