This is the first Canadian federal election for which I'm eligible to vote. Part of what always made me excited about coming to Canada - and now, about being a Canadian citizen - is the presence of a viable left-of-liberal party. For a long time, I've been looking forward to voting for a party that more closely represents my values, the NDP. So here I am, finally eligible to vote... and I'm going to hold my nose and vote Liberal.
I live in a riding that will be hotly contested in this election: Mississauga East Cooksville. Our Liberal MP is retiring for health reasons, and this is exactly the kind of riding the Conservatives hope to grab. Two adjacent ridings, Mississauga Erindale and Mississauga South, are both on the Globe and Mail's list of "50 ridings to watch". Erindale flipped from Liberal to Conservative by a very slim margin in 2008; Mississauga South, while still Liberal, is seen by the Conservatives as ripe for picking. The demographic of Cooksville, smack in the middle, fits a similar profile.
There's no viable NDP candidate in Mississauga. Fortunately, a few non-mainstream parties from the right side of the spectrum will siphon off potential Conservative votes. But realistically, the choice is squarely between a Liberal MP and a Conservative MP.
I intensely dislike Michael Ignatieff. Back in New York, I used to read his writing in the New York Times Magazine, so I know him to be a war-monger and an apologist for torture. There are some very decent MPs in the Liberal caucus, but as a whole, the party is a big tent with few principles. Not unlike US Democrats, they campaign slightly left-of-centre and govern quite a bit right-of-centre.
But my negative feelings towards the Liberal Party of Canada are a snowflake compared to the avalanche of ill will I bear towards Stephen Harper's Conservative Party. Five years of Harper's anti-democratic, deceptive, corrupt, fear-mongering tactics and anti-human legislation make the choice in my riding very clear.
A Liberal minority government would give me plenty to protest. But a Conservative majority government could potentially ruin Canada. Harper's now-infamous boast - "You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it" - feels closer to reality every day.
Voting in our society is not a revolutionary act. It's not a time to seek moral purity or distill principle for its own sake. As an activist, I know there are myriad opportunities to get involved and to collectively create change. Voting is one small moment of activism - an essential one, but also a strategic one.
Strategic voting is often a chimera. If your riding is a shoo-in for the Conservatives, then why not vote NDP and help build the opposition voice in your community? Occasionally, though, strategic voting carries real weight. That's why groups like Catch 22 Harper Conservatives and Leadnow are so vital right now.
Helping Stephen Harper win a majority government in order to lay claim to some false idea of personal integrity seems both foolish and selfish. Foolish, because my leftist worldview is much more expansive than mere partisanship. And selfish, because I have a responsbility to use my vote wisely. I will spend my vote on whatever currency has the best chance of improving Canada, or put more negatively, of keeping the Canada that I love from disappearing altogether.
Where I live, that means voting Liberal.
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Postscript. I'm receiving a small deluge of email about CBC's "vote compass," including some from CBC News itself. So yes, I am aware of it. It seems to be a dilute imitation of the excellent Political Compass, which I have blogged about over the years: mostly here, with graphic here. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems little more than a gimmick to drive traffic to the CBC website.
Update. Asked and answered. If you're about to defend Vote Compass, please read comments first. Thanks.
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