Monday, September 29, 2008

By Any Means Necessary

It's come to this.

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.


  1. Murray Dobbin in his Torstar article Canadians more conservative? Evidence doesn't back it up today, ends with “You don’t have to change people’s values if you can convince them their values are impractical”.

    So essentially Jennifer you are buying into this same value impractically, as you say your values are reflected in and more a-line with New Democrats.

    Dobbin goes on to say that research by EKOS shows that when they “asked Canadians what goal they would pursue for Canada if they were prime minister. They responded as follows:

    * Best quality of life in the world: 66 per cent.
    * Best health-care system in the world: 64 per cent.
    * Lowest incidence of child poverty in the world: 62 per cent.
    * Best-educated population in the world: 57 per cent.

    The Layton New Democrat platform meets those values wholeheartedly, and yet, we are once again being told by supposed progressives, like on vote for the environment websites, and those other sites that we voters should vote “strategically” for liberals, because our natural yearning is “impractical”.

    For me this is the same old, same old strategic voting but more sophisticated wrapped this time. One should always check the owner of the site and his background for instance. And why stop there. Check out Alice Klein's rants about New Democrats this past year in her editorial articles - all liberal talking points.
    It might explain why liberals are pushing this site and well New Democrat leaners are not. We see it each campaign.
    We will never get the actual progressive government we yearn for if we once again, buy into the TINA mentality.
    I live in one of those swing-ridings, and I am strategically voting with what I passionately want - a Layton New Democrat government - the strong alternative - no TINA for me!

  2. Jennifer, your reason works for me. I don't know if it comes from being a mom, where pragmatism rules, but I think there's a time to be rigid and there's a time to be pragmatic. This is definitely a time for extreme pragmatism, IMHO. Ann

  3. We have been discussing a bit of this as you know....And some of the biggest freakouts have been from the dippers.

    No one is saying that voting strategically means voting liberal, except some party Liberals?

    To me it means looking at the political landscape in the riding, and voting for the person with the best overall shot at defeating a Harperbot
    Values? Lofty ideals? Maybe in the next election, when the cons have been dealt with. Jeebus. Small picture thinking.
    There wont be a Canada is there is a Harper majority.

  4. jan -

    If you feel that way, then you should most certainly vote NDP. I am explaining MY reasoning here, according to what I believe, as well as addressing some of the general arguments I've read.

    As for the supposed political motivations behind the Vote for Environment site, I could care less because it isn't the only one out there, and the numbers are easy enough to verify. And despite what you are suggesting, Liberals are not the only ones suggesting this. The CAW is leaning towards it. This editorial in Xtra is encouraging the gay community to do it. And over at 'A Creative Revolution', both pale and 900ft Jesus are pleading with people to put aside the partisan crap and recognize our common enemy.

    Even Murray Dobbin is acknowledging that limited strategic voting might be the best way to go in certain ridings, and goes on to point to the same sort of data that I'm talking about to help people decide.

    Best of all, the whole idea is apparently scaring the living shit out of Harper.

  5. Runesmith:

    I agree with your reasoning, indeed I am following it myself. Despite my own anger towards Layton and the NDP if it looks like they will be the better chance for winning over the Lib in my riding I'll vote for them. Last time out I didn't because I knew that the incumbent NDP PMP had a large enough margin that I could vote my conscience. She retired though and I am not sure that still holds so this time I will hold my nose (as will my wife, she is as opposed to Harper and Layton for the same reasons as I) and vote NDP if that is the way to stop a vote split in this riding allowing a CPC up the middle win.

    Harper is the first party leader let alone PM that I believe has the destruction of our fundamental principles and institutions at heart, making him the first true threat to the future of our nation. I cannot understand why this is so hard for any progressive to see, given how open he was about his goals from the late 80s through to 2004 when he finally realized that he could not win while campaigning on his true beliefs. His history as a devout Straussian is well known, the core precepts of the Calgary school are equally well known, so anyone that claims to be a progressive and an active political observer/actor that is unaware of this is so because of willful blindness IMHO. I am like Dana over at The Galloping Beaver, I blame everyone that places their partisanship ahead of stopping Harper as the overriding goal of Canadian progressives as equally culpable as Harper and his party for the destruction that they have wrought and will wreak if they stay in power let alone gain more power this time out.

    This is something I have very strong feelings about and have since Harper first formed his CPC. I've followed his career since he first came to my notice in the late 80s, and he has always worried me, and the idea of his gaining power was something that truly frightened me because of his clear contempt for all that Canada and Canadians have built. He is no Canadian Conservative in any shape or form, he is something alien to traditional Canadian political beliefs from the entire spectrum, and that makes him very dangerous, especially since he will say and do anything to gain/hold power, as his record has shown beyond any doubt.

    I congratulate you for coming around to the strategic voting POV, and while Harper and his ideology is a threat I think it is the only way to save this nation from destruction of the core progressive principles and institutions the majority of Canadians so clearly value. Once he and his ideology are removed from power and discredited then I am fine with the old partisanships and looking for electoral reform, but while the knife is at our throat to do anything other than place removing that knife first as the only true goal for progressives AND centrists of all stripes is to work for the knife wielder.


    The problem I have with you and those dippers like you is that you still act as if the old adage "Liberal Tory same old story" was operative. Well, it isn't, and has not been since the creation of the Harper CPC. There is a fundamental difference between the Harper CPC and ALL the other federal parties, INCLUDING THE LIBERALS, as all the other parties INCLUDING THE LIBERALS value Canada as she currently exists, whereas the Harper CPC has shown a fundamental contempt and hatred for that Canada and a willingness as well as a desire to do all they can to tear that Canada down AND to make it as difficult as possible for successor governments to rebuild that progressive Canada.

    This is why I have castigated Layton and company for being more concerned with knocking out the Libs while Harper is on the scene than doing all to defend the progressive principles Dippers claim to place the highest value on. If that were true then Harper would always have been enemy number one and the idea of working with the Libs to destroy him and his ideology would be the order of the day and would have been since its (CPC) creation. This is not how Layton and dippers like you have acted though; no you are more concerned with gaining power for your party than stopping the first true threat to the progressive Canada that the majority of Canadians clearly want and value.

    For over three years you and those like you have branded me a Liberal operative/member because I hold these opinions, despite the fact I am a partisan of no party and have always made clear that my goal was first and foremost the destruction of the Harper CPC and the Straussian ideology it supports, and that I have always seen that as the most important goal for progressives of all stripes. I said in the 2006 election cycle that the money corrupt Libs were still a less harmful choice to Canada than the clearly power corrupt CPC, and the actions of the CPC in that election cycle and subsequent once they formed a minority have only proven that point.

    Personally I don't care what you think of me, but I tell you now that you and those like you are what Harper is most counting on for his victory in this election cycle, a party partisan too blinded by their own narrow agenda and hatred for their main electoral (as opposed to biggest threat to principles) rival to see the true threat, Harper's CPC and what it will do if allowed to stay in government. It is not like the NDP were able to do much to stop them in the last minority now was it?

    Face it jftb, Layton has sold out you and the principles the NDP always stood for and (until Layton) actively placed the defence of as the top priority with beating the Libs for seats as the first priority even if it means letting Harper be PM. Deal with it, don't pretend it isn't true, the record of the last three years show it is clearly is.

  6. Just a quick note to say that I empathise with your dilemma of strategic voting. I too feel that Harper must be banished from power, but was always dead set against voting strategically. For me it was always vote for who would best represent your interests in Ottawa, party second. But with the threat of a possible Harper Majority has brought compromise to that way of thinking. I am biased to Liberal but what I would suggest is vote for the person who will best represent you as long as it isn't Conservative. Well over 60% of voters didn't support Harper and the Conservatives in the first place. It's time to suck it up if it means an end to Harper.

  7. pleading? Me?

    well I guess I am, and I think it's needed.

    Odd, many people who are strongly opposed to the death penalty and killing in general will say - I don't believe in killing, but if anyone tried to hurt those I love, I wouldn't hesitate to kill them. I'm one of those people.

    But hey, ask them to vote for a party they don't like in order to save lives, save democracy, hell - save the planet, and no way! Can't be violating those principles!

    I am so happy you made this post, jennifer.

    (and I love you, Scotian!)