After all my railing against strategic voting, and after spanking Garth Turner once for even suggesting such a thing, I have found myself spending the past few days on blog after blog actually defending strategic voting. All the while I kept telling myself that this was only me staying open to the idea, or playing devil's advocate or some damned thing, but after at least half a dozen comments I am forced to admit that I've finally crossed the Rubicon.
My name is Jennifer, and I support strategic voting.
I'm still reeling from all this, but let me try to explain my reasoning by collating some of what I've said elsewhere this week. This is going to be long and somewhat disjointed, so bear with me.
First off, when I say 'strategic voting', I'm not talking about that vote-swapping site or candidates dropping out or suggesting that everyone vote Liberal because everything else is a wasted vote. In fact, what has always put me off of the whole notion is that in its crude form it tends towards a two-party system, and that is most definitely not what I want to see. Diversity is one of the great strengths of both our country and our democratic system, and Canada would not be what it is today without the influence of its third and fourth parties.
What has turned my thinking around is the approach - and the numbers - presented on the Vote for Environment website I spoke about in my previous post. Because by voting in the way they suggest - strategically only in close races, for the candidate with the best chance of beating the Conservative regardless of party - we could actually increase the representation by non-Liberal/Conservative MPs by 20%. The NDP alone would potentially pick up a dozen more seats than they would otherwise, and the Greens would have a much better chance of getting a seat for their leader.
Now, I understand there are a number of people out there who seem to think that the Liberal party is almost as bad as the Conservatives and that they could never in good conscience vote for them. My opinion of that assessment is a debate for another day, but all I can say is that if you really feel that way then by all means, don't vote Liberal. Just understand that not everybody feels that way.
Other than a revulsion for the Liberal Party, the principle argument against strategic voting I've been seeing a lot is that democracy only works when people vote for their first choice of representative. While that is true in theory, my first question would be, what factors do you take into account when you make that choice?
There's the party itself, but how do you judge a party? By their track record? What if they don't have one, or if they're going through some significant changes? By their policy platform? Are they actually equipped to enact that platform once in power? By their leader? How are you judging them? Then there's the local candidate to consider.
Personally, if I were to just go by party platform, the closest to my wishes and beliefs would probably be the NDP. But I've seen what happens when a party with no experience governing unexpectedly takes power, and it's ain't pretty - plus, I just don't believe the country could afford everything on Jack's wish list. The local candidates? Garth rocks, although he's still got some rather annoying conservative tendencies like his fondness for itty bitty governments. The NDP guy is sweet but slightly naive. And the Green candidate apparently thinks that greenhouse gases cause peanut allergies.
So, should I vote for my favourite candidate, leader or party?
My point is, nothing is simple, least of all democracy. There are a whole lot of factors that go into deciding who to vote for, and I see no reason why one of those factors shouldn't be a calculation of the likelihood of defeating the candidate of a party you despise.
Unlike previous elections where calls for strategic voting were coming almost entirely from the parties which stood to benefit (not that some Liberals aren't above capitalizing on that sort of thing even now), this time it really does appear to be a legitimate and growing grassroots movement. As soon as the Conservatives started edging into majority territory in the polls, it seemed like a dozen initiatives and websites sprang up overnight, from the vote-swapping Facebook page to Danny Williams' "ABC" website to the highly focused "Vote for Environment" strategy.
And it's not just the political wonks who are looking for a work-around:
The Star poll found that more than half of Liberal voters (54 per cent), and almost half of NDP (47 per cent), and Green (44 per cent) voters would seriously consider "strategically" switching their votes against their preferred candidate if it looks like another party has a better shot at winning, and could block a Conservative.
Many have suggested that we should be fighting for democratic reform instead of 'cheating' like this. The thing is, I have fought for democratic reform in the form of proportional representation and have watched in frustration as the people in my province responded with a resounding yawn. There are other types of reform, of course - Dion has suggested preferential balloting - but in the end, any type of democratic reform is likely to take years or even decades to bring about. Because there is one way in which Canadians are inherently conservative: we are rather stubbornly resistant to institutional change. And frankly, we just don't have that much time.
Which brings me to the one overriding reason why I am supporting this specific form of strategic voting in this election: Stephen Harper.
I have lived through nine Prime Ministers, including four Conservative ones. I lived through Brian Mulroney. I even lived through the Harris years here in Ontario. I've voted Liberal, NDP, Green, and even Progressive Conservative once. And out of all those Prime Ministers and Premiers, some of whom I profoundly disagreed with and even protested against, Stephen Harper is the first one who has actually made me fear for my country.
If Harper's Conservatives win a majority, I don't think I want to live here for the next four years. How's that for a reason?
UPDATE: Some people are claiming that Vote for Environment might be Liberally biased. I have seen no evidence of this myself, but in case you don't like their numbers, DemocraticSPACE also has riding-by-riding analysis and seat projections, as well as a Strategic Voting Guide. Perhaps you'll find their numbers more palatable.
And just to make you even happier, DemocraticSPACE is specifically NOT endorsing strategic voting for the vast majority of Canadians. It's only in those very close races where it could actually make a difference that they make recommendations, and just to be fair they also offer advise for Conservatives who want to keep the Liberals out (no, not that...).
The vast majority of ridings in Canada are NOT appropriate for strategic voting whatsoever (in that it will not impact the outcome). There are only 13 ridings where it is appropriate for Conservative supporters, 16 ridings for Liberal supporters, 30 ridings for NDP supporters and 37 ridings for Green supporters.
So unless your riding is listed below, DO NOT VOTE STRATEGICALLY.
Halton is listed. Saanich-Gulf Islands is not. Go figure.