Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Strategic Voting. . .

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.


Rural said...

“It is not clear that any the three largest parties operate on any kind of principles.”
Indeed it would seem that the Greens are the only one with principals, Kirby. Would that they had a better chance of winning in more ridings giving us a “real choice”

“ 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. “

I agree totally, but will the Libs or the NDP actually follow up with their promises if elected and will they work together in a minority situation to bring in electorate reform?

Kirbycairo said...

Thanks Rural - Yes, it seems that the only party that is operating on any kind of principle at this point is the Green Party. As far as we can rely on the Libs and NDP to come through with electoral reform, I am only living on hope at this point.

Lorne said...

This year I had hoped to avoid strategic voting, but the imperative of getting rid of Harper is too great, for the reasons you articulate here, Kirby. I live in a newly-created riding, thanks to redistribution, but I am currently at a loss to know whether the Liberal or the NDP candidate has the best chance. I recently became a supporter of Lead Now, which purports to be able to able to advise the wisest choice in swing ridings, but so far when I put in my postal code I have not found any guidance. I hope this will change as we get closer to the election.

Anonymous said...

I've no problem with strategic voting. I do however recommend that people remember they are actually electing a person to be their representative - and not a Party. Undeniably, today's Parties in Canada exert very high control (I do note, ironically, that Conservative MPs have a better track record of voting *against* their party that other MPs). Nevertheless, people matter.

Casting a vote for a person who will be a good representative - regardless of their party affiliation - is very important.

Weird things can happen in Parliament. Parties can implode, MPs cross floors. New unexpected issues come up for which their is no good precedent.

So who their local candidates are might be the important factor for people who are voting strategically against the Conservatives, to see if they will cast for a local Lib candidate or NDP candidate (or even Green or other candidate).

Kirbycairo said...

@ Lorne - I am still not even sure if it is worth voting strategically in my riding because I am in Poillievre's riding and they have reorganized it to ensure that he will get even more than the 54% of the vote he got last time. In my case no one seems to have a change of beating him.

@Anonymous - your point is taken.

Anonymous said...

Apropos of nothing really it's just odd to see something really close to home on the vast intertubes. Poillievre is my current MP too but blissfully we get rid of him due to redistricting. Sucks to be you however. Anyway, howdy neighbour.

Kirbycairo said...

@ Anonymous, Alas. . . it does suck to be me, because Poillievre is so unbelievably embarrassing. I am literally on the wrong side of the street. I am about 20 yards away from not having to put up with this fool as my MP any more. Oh well, so it goes.

lungta said...

and my neighbors vote 68% blue
(my quick peruse saw it as the highest in canada)
and i'm at least 20 miles from a boundary
we will be contributing a youthful harp seal to the circus
"most men live lives of quiet desperation" Henry David Thoreau

Anonymous said...

I saw someone say that the Cons have a better record for breaking with the party. It is my understanding that all the important laws Stevil has forced upon us have come in the Ominous (Yes, I know this is not the formal name) Bills which the Cons are forced to vote for and do.

I was planning to vote strategically for the NDP because they have said they will change the system to proportional representation. Why can't I see anything about this on their web site?