Strategic Voting – Why it isn’t the way to get a More Progressive Government and Hurts Democracy

In 2011, the Conservative Party of Canada won a majority government with only 37.65% of the popular vote. The reason was Canada’s first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system. A candidate is elected to Parliament based on having the most votes in their particular riding. Advocacy groups (leadnow.ca, strategicvoting.ca and wevotetogether.ca) feel Prime Minister Harper won a false majority as 62% of voters chose a different party than the Conservatives. In the upcoming election they are encouraging voters to vote strategically, to elect the progressive alternative (NDP, Liberal or Green Party) over the Conservative candidate in their riding.

These groups are right about one thing; Canada’s electoral system doesn’t work. Electing a government with less than half of the popular support isn’t democratic at all. Our voting system does need to be changed so that governments better represent the will of the electorate.

Where they are wrong is the idea of strategic voting. Trading your democratic right to avoid the worst possible alternative still means you don’t get the government you want. Voting is supposed to be a person’s expression of his/her hopes for how this country should be governed. Political parties need to earn that vote, not simply be the means to avoid the worst case scenario.

If these groups are successful in defeating the Conservative government in the next election, they will have sent some combination of NDP, Liberal and Green Party members to Ottawa. Will it be majority or minority government? Who gets to set the agenda? How can these groups be sure this will result in meaningful electoral reform? What if the new government does implement electoral reform, but they don’t agree with the rest of their agenda? Is that trade-off worth it?

If Canadians want progressive change in Ottawa, there are three scenarios that would legitimately achieve that end:

  1. Progressive Canadians choose one of the opposition parties in the next election and they defeat the Conservatives. Both the Liberals and New Democrats have pledged that this election will be the last one fought under first-past-the-post.
  2. The NDP, Liberals and Green Party agree to a formal coalition and are fully transparent about their intentions before the vote, so the electorate can make an informed decision on October 19th. In the event that the Conservatives do win the most seats, but don’t have a majority, the opposition parties could vote non-confidence in the government. Rather than hold another election, would form the government themselves with one of the leaders chosen as Prime Minister.
  3. Voting splits lead to a re-elected majority Conservative government. The re-elected Conservatives agree to hold consultations on electoral reform based on the grass roots campaigns and overwhelming support from the Canadian people. The Conservatives institute electoral reform and the next federal vote is contested with an alternative system (I realize this is unlikely, as the Conservative Party has no intention of reforming the electoral system).

Canadians who want progressive change in Ottawa need to make their voices heard. Working within the current system is the only way to legitimately get the change they want. Trading away your democratic right is just not going to get the job done.

For more information on electoral reform, visit the electoral reform section of my blog.

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