Re-thinking strategic voting

Around 2004, the first time the Green Party of Canada ran a full slate of candidates across the country, there was a statistic floating around that said that among 18-24 year olds, only about 25 per cent voted. Many look at that number as a symptom of a failure to educate youth on democracy, others chalk it up to youth’s tendency to focus on things more cultural and less official, and still others have conducted an examination of our electoral system and declared it does nothing to encourage youth to vote. Any critically thinking person, for that matter, can easily see what is wrong with our “first past the post” electoral system, in which over half the votes in a riding don’t count towards seats, and in which majority governments with near-absolute control over the country’s policy direction are achieved with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

The strategic vote, as it is called, is a devil’s bargain, where you end up not voting for whom or for what you really want.. How often have you heard people say, “I don’t like the Liberals, but at least they’re not the Conservatives?” In my involvement with the Manitoba Green Party I have heard NDP-active friends say things like, “If you don’t vote NDP, you’re going to help the PCs get elected.”

Canadians are being fed the same old line by Michael Ignatieff: “[The Liberals] are the only alternative to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.” And yet on some matters Ignatieff’s Liberals have been enabling the Conservative agenda, such as Iggy’s spineless no-show in the House on two key issues: the granting of refugee status to U.S. war resisters and the act that would have held Canadian mining companies operating abroad accountable to human rights and environmental standards.

A proportional system recognizes the political diversity of our society and reflects it in a more diverse polity that must work cooperatively to achieve common social needs. One obvious answer for progressives who want to vote for a positive vision and policy and not against someone is to become a civic activist for electoral reform, by becoming active in Fair Vote Canada, for instance.

There’s another approach to strategic voting, however, that moves beyond the perpetual panic of the present political anxieties, especially since we’re now into the fourth federal election in seven years and there’s no real end to the minority stalemate in sight. That is to vote how you want, for the platform you most agree with, towards the kind of society you’d like to see in ten or 50 years. I’ve told friends and activists who don’t see the point in voting that I see politics is like a stubborn elephant that you are trying to get to the next village. The best you can do is push in the direction you want it to move.

From the Green perspective, it is not only about having power or winning this seat or that, though in a proportional system Greens would already have 20 seats in Ottawa (based on the one million votes — or nearly seven per cent of the national vote garnered in 2008). It is about pushing the other parties to adopt Green policies, to improve our society. So if the Green vote reaches 10 per cent in this election and 15 per cent in the next, then in ten years we can expect to see a society that has started to live more within sustainable means, caring to provide a share in the economy — which is ultimately based on Earth’s living systems — to the generations to come. With public funding on a per vote basis, there are no wasted votes. Funding helps smaller parties like the Greens to research and forward their policies more broadly.

If the 75 per cent of you under-25s who are not expected to vote suddenly voted and chose to move away from the old, established, grey parties, then suddenly that elephant would begin to budge. You know what elephants produce a lot of? It’s the elephant dung of today that produces the healthy garden of tomorrow. Let’s compost the old guard of today. To the polls!

Alon Weinberg is a master’s student in native studies.