In recent years the issue of strategic voting has been a significant point of discussion and contention in Canada. The reason for this is obvious; Stephen Harper. Most governments are disliked or even despised by the supporters of other parties. But hatred and fear of Stephen Harper is like nothing this country has seen in recent memory. Accusations that a government or Prime Minister is 'dangerous,' a 'threat to democracy,' 'illegitimate,' or an enemy of the constitution itself, are always out there, but they are the kinds of accusations usually associated with political extremists. For, example, lots of people didn't like Chretien government, they accused them of corruption and opportunism, neo-liberalism and a corporatist agenda. But few, outside of extremists ever accused the Chretien/Martin governments of widespread election fraud, of trying to destroy the constitution, of meddling with the judiciary, of unjustly proroguing parliament, of systematically trying to stop political debate in the House or in society at large. However, the Government of Stephen Harper has engendered widespread fear among many politically mainstream people, fear that our very democracy is under threat. I have heard and talked to many average people, people who are not particularly political, who really think the future of the county is at stake in this election because they have simply never seen a government that is this secretive, this anti-democratic, this anti-judicial, this eager to quiet scientists and civil servants, and this willing to ignore the very principles of law. Thus, I would say, the talk of strategic voting is unprecedented in Canada because the perceived malfeasance of a government is also unprecedented.
Traditionally when those in the political centre, or on the centre-left have talked of strategic voting, it has been basic partisanship (rightly or wrongly) that has been cited as the reason for not taking this pragmatic step during an election. The more leftist NDP supporters would say that the Liberal Party is so close to the Conservative Party that strategic voting is senseless. Meanwhile the rightwing of the Liberal Party would commonly accuse the NDP of being a some kind of a nutty socialist party (oh, that it were!). However, I don't think these arguments are nearly as meaningful as they once were. This change is largely the result, I believe, of the NDP having abandoned much of its traditional agenda. But however you feel about the two main opposition parties, it should be fairly clear that the things that once made them seem easy to distinguish no longer obtain in a clear way. Mulcair is talking about lowering small business tax and raising corporate tax (though by how much is not clear). If that doesn't confuse you, then think about the fact that Trudeau is talking about raising taxes on the wealthy, but the NDP won't make that commitment. The NDP has promised a new PR voting system, while Trudeau has promised some sort of reform (perhaps weighted voting). The Liberals have at least vowed to put a "price on carbon," but exactly what this plan will look like is unclear. The NDP plan for the environment is at this point entirely unclear. Suffice it to say that it has shifted its political stance and at the same time many issues that the opposition leaders are talking about are no longer clearly left, centre, or even right nowadays. I believe that because of these shifting political waters it is easier to vote strategically than it once was.
The other objection to strategic voting is, of course, less based on the issue of pragmatism. Some people simply say that we should vote on principle. My reply to that is - of the three largest parties today what principle exactly are you holding onto?? It is not clear that any the three largest parties operate on any kind of principles. I won't even talk about the laughable opportunism of the Conservative Party. If they have any principle it seems to be either self-survival, or simply putting the government at the service of foreign corporations. The NDP has clearly abandoned much of its principles. They still pay lip service to workers rights, average Canadians, and tax fairness. But gone are their principles that no one should profit from healthcare, that the so-called market is not the best model for our energy industry, that unions need to play a fundamental role in how government and society should operate. Meanwhile, the Liberals were never a party of principle, unless you include the principle of universalism (something they abandoned long ago). The Liberal Party, like most self-identified 'Centrist" parties, has always strived, it seems to me, to appear pragmatist and pliable. (Some people just call that wishy-washy, but I will leave that up to you.)
I see no reason not to vote strategically at this point, if it is a reasonable position for your particular riding. And I support strategic voting for two basic reasons. One is that I do believe that Stephen Harper is fundamentally dangerous to our country, to what is left of our democracy, to our environment, and to the existence of the Indigenous population. The other reason I support strategic voting at this point is because only electoral reform will allow us to meaningfully vote on principle later on. Some form of PR will change the political discourse of the country, and it will make sure that our votes actually count. The NDP and the Greens support PR, and the Liberals have committed to changing the voting system in some way and make it more fair and meaningful. So voting strategically to rid this country of Harper can not only save our country in the short term, but can have the potentially added benefit of finally bringing some sanity to our political system and make strategic voting a thing of the past.
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