Every four years – or, as it has been recently, every one or two and a half – Canadians vote for their Members of Parliament. This time around, many progressive voters are determined to prevent the Conservatives from getting re-elected. And with four left-wing parties to choose from, many are considering voting strategically for the party most likely to defeat the Conservatives in their riding.
Web sites have sprung up predicting what their authors think is the party most likely to defeat the Tories in each riding. Other sites encourage vote swapping – voting for a strong candidate from a party you would not normally vote for in a competitive riding and having someone else vote for your preferred party in a safe riding. Although we can’t agree on which party we think should get elected, one thing we can agree on is not voting for the Conservatives.
In the last month, we’ve criticized them in this space for trying to weaken copyright protections for consumers and for slashing arts funding – cuts the Tories just announced they would reverse after massive public outcry. With environmental policies that allow pollution to rise drastically, American-style crime policies that create hardened criminals, and Harper’s controlling nature within his Cabinet, it’s no surprise that strategic voting is gaining popularity.
Especially after blaming Ralph Nader for Gore’s loss to Bush in 2000, many voters have tried to avoid splitting the vote. But the theory that supporters of smaller parties would automatically vote for larger ones simply doesn’t add up. In the 2000 Canadian election, the combined total of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance was 38 per cent. But after the two right-wing parties merged, the following election had the new Conservative party claim only 30 per cent of the vote, even as the weakened Liberals lost their majority.
The other problem with strategic voting is the difficulty in knowing which candidates can beat their Tory opponents. The most common method is to consider a race competitive if the margin between the top two candidates was less than five percentage points in the last election. But in the last three elections, more seats where the margin was greater than five percentage points flipped than those where the margin was smaller.
Incumbency, strong candidates, good party organization, more money, even a campaign stop by a party leader can drastically affect who is the “strongest” progressive candidate, especially when more than two parties are competitive, which is the case in many ridings around the Greater Montreal Area this year. Often, by encouraging strategic voting often encourage you to vote mostly for the party they prefer.
Despite Canada’s use of the simplistic “first past the post” system – where the candidates with the most votes win, even if they get fewer than 50 per cent of the votes – Canadian politics has astoundingly evolved into a multi-party system. This is more in common with countries that use proportional representation, and quite rare in those, like Canada, with “first past the post” voting systems. Strategic voting will further push us toward an unwanted two-party system, as those who vote for a third party will essentially be “wasting” their vote.
Smaller parties can have an influence even if they’re not the governing party. For instance, their policies may be adopted by larger parties, and in minority governments, they can even can hold the balance of power. A little healthy competition in the political landscape is far from a bad thing.
Further, any party that gets two per cent of the national vote will get $1.95 per year for each vote they received in the previous election. Your vote matters no matter what happens locally or nationally. So learn about the issues, get involved in the future of your country, and vote your conscience.