Canadian politics are plagued by an archaic electoral system where whoever gets one more vote than second place gets sole command over their constituency. This practice is known formally as “single-member plurality” or first-past-the-post voting and remains in use only in Canada, the UK, and the USA.
When Canada was founded, and only 2 major parties existed, the system made sense. However, once a third candidate enters the race, the system breaks down and screams of “vote-splitting” are rallied from every party in an attempt to sway voters to their camp.
The right-wing in Canada argued, successfully, to their base that the split between the Canadian Alliance (formerly Reform) and the Progressive Conservatives was costing them elections. After merging, they soon won a minority government (although have still failed to break 38% in an election.
In 2008, and again this year, there are cries of vote-splitting on the left, and many projects attempting to rally voters behind “progressive” candidates (meaning primarily Liberal, occasionally NDP, and one Green) in swing ridings, in an attempt to take down the Conservative government.
While good-spirited, these motivations are flawed by design for several reasons.
First, the end-game result of strategic voting is not a government that represents the majority of Canadians, but the eventual shift to a two-party state, like the United States. Granted some ridings will become entrenched Con-NDP races and others will be entrenched Con-Liberal races, we are doomed to only have two possible ways to define our politics. Sadly these two ways are even more simply characterized as for or against the Conservatives.
Forgive me if I’d rather vote for something, rather than against.
Second, these plans fail to account for drastic swings in public opinion. In Quebec until about a week ago, the primary anti-Conservative vote was rallied behind Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois. Now, with the NDP surging into first place in the province, strategic voters ought to take note. Had everyone listened continuously to their rhetoric, such a push would be impossible as everyone gave into the politics of cynicism. Instead, voters there are signalling that they won’t be take for granted and reminding everyone that the voters get to decide who’s elected.
I believe that Jack Layton’s rise in Quebec (and now across the country) is due more to his consistent record of giving voters something to hope for, rather than continually playing the fear and anti-Conservative card. By rallying a good message with the right (or should I say left) party, we no longer need to worry about vote splitting, since most Canadians aren’t entrenched partisans.
Third, strategic voting completely neglects, and potentially promotes, the fact that voter turnout is a below three-in-five. In the majority of these swing ridings that are targeted, if the all of the non-voters voted as a bloc, they would choose the next MP for that riding. In 2008, Ujjal Dosanjh won Vancouver-South by 16,110-16,090. Meanwhile, 38,838 people didn’t vote in that riding, had less than half of them turned up and voted Green, Marxist-Leninist or NDP, that riding would have a completely different MP.
Strategic voting promotes a cynicism that promotes many voters to completely eschew the entire election.
How about instead of crunching the numbers to see how little it would take to change this riding from blue to red, we actually divert that energy into creating the country we want and promoting the candidates that will best promote your vision for the country.
Finally, the cure for our voting system is not strategic voting (which can be seen either as a symptom or part of the illness), but electoral reform. Only the NDP and Greens support changing the voting system. The Conservatives and Liberals have long been aided by this system (although that may change) that often gives majority power to a two-fifths vote. A strategic Liberal vote will not fix this system, and will only perpetuate it.
My primary goal is not simply to defeat the Conservatives, but to actually promote some positive change in this country. After a decade of broken promises and entitlement by Chretien and Martin*, I am not swayed by arguments that they deserve my vote. My vote is earned by truly being progressive** and standing up for a Canada I believe in.
* culminating with the “oh we were going to do all this stuff but then the NDP ganged up with Harper and brought us down” cries after the 2006 election, how about Liberals actually own up to the fact that they had the chance to implement Kyoto and universal daycare but didn’t.
** e.g. not having pro-life caucus members