By-Election Strategic Voting

November 12th, 2006 by Potato

My political idealogies lean to the left, as I’m sure you all can tell. I believe in strong, effective social programs such as health care, subsidized education, etc. Most of all though, I believe in taking a long-term view, working towards goals that extend beyond the next 4/5-year election cycle. With that mindset, I’m supporting the Green Party in the upcoming London North-Centre by-election.

One thing that has hurt the Greens in the past is “strategic voting”: people see a large threat, namely the conservatives, and feel that they have to vote for the candidate who has the best chance of blocking that greater threat, even if that candidate doesn’t best represent their interests. It’s all about perception: people believe that the Green party is too new or doesn’t have enough support to win outright, so they back the next-best party, which drives more people to valiantly throw their votes out to stop the party they least want from gaining power.

It’s a concept that isn’t entirely without merit in our first-past-the-post system. However, this is not a general federal election: it’s a by-election with only one seat in Ontario at stake. Strategic voting doesn’t apply at all since the Conservatives already have control of the government. Electing a second-choice candidate to “stop” them here will do nothing to change that. Likewise, in the “worst-case” scenario — a Conservative win — the federal government won’t have any more real power. At best it would be a short-term moral victory, but a weak one: every party is running new candidates, and the Liberals (the incumbent party) are in chaos as they’re in the midst of their own leadership race.

Even that pale threat is mostly illusory: the Conservative candidate in this riding only got 30% of the vote in the last election (the NDP were close in 3rd place with 24%). Since that time, the minority government has not pleased the voters, and a broken election promise is fresh in everyone’s minds (the income trust tax). Plus, the new tory candidate is hiding from the local media which can’t be a good omen for them.

Conversely, a Green win here could have larger ramifications later. It would show people in other ridings for the next election that yes, the Green party can take a seat, making them a more reasonable choice when considering “strategic voting”. It would also clue the other parties into paying more attention to some of the issues and positions that matter to us, and perhaps to alter their stances to overlap the position of the Greens a little more.

The by-election also presents the perfect opportunity for those who are worried about the opposite “strategic” issue; namely those people who believe in at least some of the points in the Green party platform, but didn’t want to risk voting them into power when they are largely inexperienced legislators. A single seat is the perfect starting place.

Those larger party issues are somewhat abstract, however, and don’t mean as much to me personally. At the end of the day, our vote in the by-election is to send a person to Ottawa to represent London North-Centre, and in that regard I have to say that Elizabeth May seems like a perfect candidate. True, she’s not a full-time resident of the area, but her situation is certainly not unheard-of. What seems more important is that she has a very impressive resume, including her status as an Officer of the Order of Canada, no small honour in this country. In her interviews she comes off as very personable, coherent, and energetic; I had the opportunity to meet her in person and was impressed.

Whatever your views, do a bit of research, get involved, and be sure to hit the polls and vote.

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