In several wmtc threads over the last few weeks, there have been discussions of whether or not to vote strategically in this election: here, here, here and here. I've gotten into similar discussions both on Facebook (before I went on Facebook hiatus for the duration of the election) and in person.
I live in a riding where the NDP will not be elected, where the Conservatives made gains in the last election and are hoping - not unrealistically - to make more this time out. The 905s, traditionally Liberal, are now increasingly Conservative.
There's no doubt that I'm a natural NDP voter. They are the party whose values line up most closely with mine. Many times Jack Layton's NDP has been too centrist for me, and I am further to the left. Yet here I am, voting Liberal.
I've been feeling a strange peer pressure from my Toronto activist friends. It's not what anyone says; it's what they don't say. There's a chilly silence. A few people have told me, "I voted strategically once, and I regretted it." But they live in ridings that will be either Liberal or NDP. They're not actually facing the possibility of living in a Conservative riding.
Obviously this does not apply to everyone. Many people vote NDP or Green in ridings where those candidates will not be elected. Many of them have lived in Canada a lot longer than I have. They've lived under Liberal governments - something I have not had the opportunity to do! - and they know the party's reality to be very different than its rhetoric. Many others will not vote for a party whose foreign policy is essentially identical to that of the Conservatives. I respect that, and I don't disagree. I realize this is difficult for many people to understand, but I'm not trying to convince anyone to change their votes. I'm writing about my own choice.
One expression I keep seeing and hearing about strategic voting is that it's "self-defeating". The argument goes: people won't vote for the progressive party because they can't win, but how can that party win if people won't vote for them?
But my reason for voting Liberal is not because the NDP can't win. It's because the NDP can't win in my riding, and that's the only place I can vote.
I would never not vote for a party because that party is unlikely to form the government. That's not strategic; that's just stupid. All the parties elected to Parliament have an opportunity to influence the direction the country takes. The more opposition seats, the better. The greater the space on the political spectrum between the government and the opposition, the better.
If someone's mistaken idea of strategic voting comes down to "I don't vote for the NDP because they won't form the government," then yes, that is absolutely self-defeating.
But the definitions of defeat and success depend on what you're trying to accomplish. On the night of May 2, here's what I want to see.
As many Bloc seats as possible.
As many NDP seats as possible.
As many Liberal seats as possible.
As many Green seats as possible.
As few Conservative seats as possible.
In this election, my goal as a voter is two-fold: to help deny the Conservatives as many seats as possible, and to help prevent a Conservative majority. Thus, in my riding, the most self-defeating act would be to split the anti-Conservative vote among NDP, Green and Liberal, thereby electing a Conservative MP. Contrary to much of what I read, this is not "making a joke" of voting. This is using my vote as wisely as possible.
And when the New Democrat Party and the Green Party are denied their full share of support - when the number of seats they hold in the House of Commons does not accurately reflect their support among the citizenry - this is not the fault of strategic voters. It's the fault of the first-past-the-post system in which our votes only count in a lump sum as part of some artificially designated district.
Right now, this is the only system we have. And right now, I live in Mississauga. Therefore, I am voting Liberal.