I’ve been struggling with this concept in the context of our current, endless election campaign. (Endless for Canadians; for my American friends, it’s just a blip on the calendar…) So please indulge me while I share this struggle.
I am, frankly, tired of voting strategically. It’s been a long while since I simply cast my ballot on the strength of my convictions alone. And yet, it’s what I will do again on October 19. Does that make me a moral laggard? Some would say so. But how can I ignore the potentially negative impact of doing otherwise? How could I justify putting my political party loyalty above my loyalty to the country when its very soul is under siege?
The fact that the sheer ugliness and demagoguery of Canada’s current conservative government is recognized by easily two-thirds of Canadians should make this election season a time of hope. Instead, we find the two major opposition parties squabbling over which is better suited to govern. As a result, they are once again bound to split the anti-conservative vote enough to elect conservatives in many ridings. A survey published this morning identifies twenty-eight seats that will likely go conservative because of vote splitting. Twenty-eight out of 338. Not insignificant in this too-close-to-call election. In a worst-case scenario, they could tip the projected conservative minority to a majority government with barely a third of the country’s support—thanks to a three-party race and our first-past-the-post system. In the best case, they could hand a minority government to one of the other parties.
An ardent NDP friend recently posted an article on Facebook encouraging people to vote ABC (anybody but conservative), but then confessed that she, herself, could never do such a thing because of her loyalty to her political party. Let me be clear: she’s a principled and thoughtful person whose political views are probably very close to my own. And she’s hardly alone. The cries of the NDP to eschew strategic voting are growing louder. Do not vote Liberal! By implication, though less ardently as is their wont, the Liberals are sending a similar message. Don’t vote NDP! Do not abandon your principles!
But what are those principles?
I have never been particularly partisan. Some of you may remember a moment in my life when I ran for the Ontario Liberal Party—an uncomfortable time, indeed, in part because the partisan mantle didn’t fit me comfortably and in part because I may have been the world’s worst campaigner. All that smiling, all those embarrassing signs….I had to tout the Liberals as the “good guys” of course, but I never really thought the “bad guys” were all that bad. In the end, much worse guys won. The moderates and the left sacrificed the good in pursuit of the best in that provincial election 20 years ago. Federally, it’s been happening for the past decade, leading to a government that has failed Canadians in so many ways it’s hard to even begin. We have become a nation that postures aggressively on the world stage, refuses to acknowledge the urgency of action against climate change, denies all evidence in its pursuit of a tough-on-crime agenda, shrouds itself in secrecy, and muzzles those who would speak against it. This is not my Canada, or the Canada of most Canadians. It is Harper’s Canada, representing a mere third of us.
So, I ask myself: what exactly is this sacred principle underlying the campaign strategy of both opposition parties, which appears to be focused at least as much on each other as on the conservatives? Especially given that both party leaders are criss-crossing the line that divides “left” and “middle” with policies that run counter to their traditional stances in order to outflank the other in an attempt to capture the middle-left?
To me, the line-crossing is a hopeful sign since I think ideology is the greatest enemy of sensible policy-making. It’s why I’ve usually been happy to occupy the Mushy Middle—the realm of principled pragmatism. The ideology of the right, anti-intellectual as it is, runs counter to evidence more often than the ideology of the left, especially in areas of social policy but also—surprisingly to some—in areas of fiscal policy. But what happens to the stalwarts of the left if and when their own ideological premises are challenged by data? Do they shift? Or do they dig in—in which case, they become potentially Harperesque in their defense of a name and a logo? And though my own political comfort zone is somewhere on the left side of middle, I know people who are wedded to that name and logo too, and cringe at casting a vote for a rival party. And so, here we are. Stuck again in a campaign that puts party ahead of country.
In my own riding, the NDP seems certain to win, so strategic voting is not really an issue—though if I am to practice what I preach, I will be voting NDP. But many of my friends live in Sault Ste. Marie—one of those 28 ridings that could end up returning a conservative to parliament unless the Liberals and the NDP combine. If they’re unwilling to combine forces to vote for the most likely to beat the conservative, how will they feel on the morning of October 20 if Harper continues his grip on the country? Will they really convince themselves that on the spectrum of best to worst—however defined—only the two extremes matter?
If the Liberals and the NDP would stop treating each other as the enemy and join forces against the Conservatives, there’s no doubt who would win. If they don’t—and at the national campaign level they’ve clearly made that choice—there’s every reason to fear we will once again end up with the worst, while the good and the best duke it out.