Voting As If You Mean It

I’ve had several conversations over the last couple of weeks with people who are planning to “vote strategically” in the federal election. Generally this means they’re going to vote Liberal because they think this will keep a Conservative from being elected, and thus keep Stephen Harper from being Prime Minister. I’m sure there are other variations on this, depending on the riding, but it basically boils down to “voting for someone you don’t like so that someone you don’t like more won’t get elected.”

I wish people wouldn’t do this.

I think of election day as a sort of national opportunity to say “this is who we are.” And I take the show of my hand very, very seriously. Seriously enough that voting for someone who I don’t respect, whose ideas I don’t believe in, or who doesn’t reflect my true feelings, would feel like telling a big, public lie.

I think we should vote with our hearts, not while holding our noses, because I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s the bedrock on which the entire representative democracy is based.

I also think not voting for someone just because “they don’t have a chance of winning” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense: election day isn’t a lottery or a horse race; there’s no upside for backing a winner.

The amazing thing about our electoral system — and I really do think it’s an awesome system that demands our respect — is that it’s a fluid, unpredictable system made up of millions of parts, the outcome of which, polls and pundits aside, is completely up in the air. Up to us.

When you start trying to “game” the system, telling lies about how you really feel with the hopes that enough people will lie with you, you’re perverting that system without truly understanding the potential results.

And in the end, whether you vote Liberal to keep out the Conservatives, or Conservative to keep out the Liberals, or Green to punish the NDP, your vote is going to be used by someone for purposes you didn’t intend — someone, sometime, is going to say “look, 65% of the electorate in my riding supported my plan to outlaw free thought.”

I think the honest, respectful thing to do on polling day is to go behind the screen and pick the person you think should represent your riding in Parliament. I’d like to think that would be obvious.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on June 21, 2004 - 13:36 Permalink


Ken's picture
Ken on June 21, 2004 - 14:20 Permalink

Strategic voting is not wrong. Not voting is wrong. In fact strategic voting, given this slate of candidates (none of whom I really admire), is the best way to vote.

Candidates are not universally loved, the choosing is more a process of elimination rather than wishing you could have voted for two candidates — you just liked them both so much.

Finding one candidate you like is unlikely, we know so much bad stuff about all of them and none seem to rise much above that to actually appeal — Trudeau or Mulroney (for a very short time before absolute rejection) won most of our hearts.

So it is that strategic voting is particularly effective during an election like this one with marginal national leaders and possible minority government. Harper is twitchy enough, imagine him with a one seat majority. I can live with Liberals, even though I’d prefer Greens.
My nightmare future is Harper-Bush and and a lot of greasy palms and well oiled machinery.

It is a time of war. Oiled School vs. Social Justice. Do you really want to vote on the second or third runner up to a Conservative government? May I remind you Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft are conservatives. Will citizens killed by Canadian troops in some future unjust war care you voted for the internet party or whatever?

Ken's picture
Ken on June 21, 2004 - 14:38 Permalink

Voting is like a horse race when one one if the entrants is riding for the Apocolypse.

Pray Hard

Nils Ling's picture
Nils Ling on June 21, 2004 - 14:50 Permalink

Agreed … to a point. But what happens when the person you respect most belongs to a party you can’t stomach, or a party which behaves so abominably during the campaign that you have concerns about how your favourite candidate’s view will be heard over the din of his or her less savoury colleagues?

As you say, it’s a complex machine. If voting for the best person in my riding leads to a government that doesn’t represent my way of thinking, has my vote been effective?

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on June 21, 2004 - 17:30 Permalink

Because I live in Europe, I have had a chance to get a closer look at how other people do things in other countries. I think the most relevant counter I can make to your suggestion that we all vote with our hearts and strategies be damned is my experience though from some distance of the last French election. If you recall, in that election everyone voted with their hearts. There was a perfectly good Socialist candidate named Lionel Jospin, but most lefties were too righteous and good to vote for him. Some of them voted for the Bolshevik, others for the Communist and still others voted for the Green. There were seemingly endless choices on the left of the political spectrum. The end result was that the Fascists (a.k.a. the Front National) were chosen over the Socialist candidate to proceed to the second round of the election, which shocked the French immeasurably, especially those who had been too good to vote at all. Ultimately, the day was saved by the centre right candidate Jacques Chirac who, though a clown, looked mighty good next to Jean-Marie Le Pen and therefore won the Presidency.

So, the moral of the story is: A bird in the hand is worth dozens of protest votes and spoiled ballots. I say, vote for whoever will win against the neo-con marauders.

P.S. voting for one clown to ‘punish’ another is just silly. None of us is so important in all of this that we are in the position of judge or punisher. And you’re just kicking yourself in the teeth if it means that Harper will win.

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on June 21, 2004 - 17:48 Permalink

I agree that strategic voting is silly. And I’ve never believed in the “vote for the candidate, not the party” philosophy. The parties are asking us for a mandate to implement their platforms. We support those platforms by sending an MP to Ottawa. Should a party’s ability to field likeable people determine the electoral success of the party? Maybe a little, but it certainly leaves open the possibility of a parliament filled with agreeable people with a distasteful plan to govern. I would prefer the other way around.

Rusty's picture
Rusty on June 21, 2004 - 18:01 Permalink

Wow. Ms. Howard from France sounds a lot like a Team Martin propagandist, but who am I to judge, as it were.

In my experience, alot of people do vote to punish an incumbent. “Throw the bums out” is one of the few motivating sentiments for the modern electorate. When platforms are merely hollow rhetoric, or worse, a pack of lies, voting to throw the bums out sends just as good a message as voting with your heart.

With the respect to strategic voting, aside from the hypocrisy inherent in voting for the lesser of two or three evils, I would suggest that it rarely works. Voting patterns can only have the appearance of strategy, but a real strategy among thousands of anonymous voters with disparate intentions is impossible to achieve.

On the issue of voting with the (apparent) winning team, I find it so absurd a motivation as to be impossible to fathom: What could possibly be achieved for the individual voter to vote for the winner if you really don’t like the winner? Couldn’t you just say you did after the fact if you wanted to appear smart?

As Churchill said, democracy isn’t a great system, but its the best one we’ve been able to devise yet!

Alan's picture
Alan on June 21, 2004 - 18:10 Permalink

Peter, you are asking others to use their freedom as you frame it. That is impossible. It is great that you have determined how you will use your vote but it is useful in other ways — strategic voting, declining, ruining, ignoring. I am not free because the state says I am. I am free because I am human — hence human rights. Telling me that I have to choose how you choose would be an impingement if I took any authority from your post.

mike's picture
mike on June 21, 2004 - 18:11 Permalink

I think voting is a personal choice and people are free to vote for whomever they choose and for whatever reason they choose….end of story.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on June 21, 2004 - 18:13 Permalink

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. HL Mencken

JJ's picture
JJ on June 21, 2004 - 19:36 Permalink

I had this discussion yesterday with my family (ages 55 & 53, 33, 30, 30, and 28)The four younger members of this group really do not know how to go about voting in this election. One cannot stand Stephen Harper. Two went to high school with Darren Peters, and one thinks that she should vote for the Green Party. I am one of those 30 year olds.

I didn’t vote in the last election, however I realized that if we are ever going to see change I needed to not only vote myself, but to encourage anyone else I knew to vote as well. Most people I talk to don’t really care. Comments like, “It won’t make any difference if I vote or not. How am I going to benefit? and It doesn’t affect my life in any way, are all valid.

My response, NOT YET! My generation has to get on the ball. Personally I cannot stand Stephen Harper he makes me sick. Paul Martin is going into this election carrying too much baggage from the recent scandal surrounding the Liberal Party, Jack Layton has been trying to get people to realize that neither Harper or Martin deserve even one vote and well the Greens, lets talk about them when they are actually recognized as a party.

The strategic voting, wasting a vote and not voting at all issue I sum up like this. I believe that I would be “wasting my vote” if I were to choose someone simply because I figured that they were going to win anyway. If I were to cast my vote for an individual I didn’t support because I didn’t like the other candidate more I would be voting strategically.

For this election I am going to USE my vote, I am going to choose the individual and party which shares my values, ethics and beliefs. I will mark my X beside their name and be glad that I did because eventually I know it will make a difference.

Charles's picture
Charles on June 21, 2004 - 22:15 Permalink

>Do you really want to vote on the second or third runner
>up to a Conservative government? May I remind you Donald
>Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft are conservatives.

Umm, Ken, they are also Americans, so voting Conservative in Canada isn’t likely to give them more power. Not all conservatives are evil, war-mongering, free speech opressing baby-eaters. Most are actually quite sane.

As for voting strategy, I’ve always thought it best to vote for the platform you agree with the most. After all, it’s better to have an incompetent politician working for you than a skilled one working against you.

Ken's picture
Ken on June 22, 2004 - 00:24 Permalink

Harper and Bush grinning together as they announce the end of abortion, gay marriage, and pot reform. EI cutbacks and tax incentives for big corporations. Health care privatisation.

Harper and Bush riding horseback in Crawford? Yee-haw!

Look out evil-doers!

Anyway I voted today so even if I change my mind it’s too late. I voted my heart, for the party most likely to beat the New Conservatives.

Paul D's picture
Paul D on June 22, 2004 - 02:18 Permalink

Condorcet voting (…, where you rank candidates in order of preference, would instantly solve the “strategic voting” dilemma. However, since this would give new parties and new ideas a real chance, the Libertories will never allow it. Shows just how much politicans believe in actual democracy.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the Two Big Parties will never represent my interests, and the federal government will always suck, so I might as well vote for a candidate I believe in. At least he’ll get $1.75 toward his campaign costs. My vote is completely worthless otherwise.

Marcus's picture
Marcus on June 22, 2004 - 18:29 Permalink

You hit the nail on the head there Paul — exactly how I feel too. Libs, Cons, Dippers, Greens will never adequately represent what I want as far as national direction goes.

I’m resigned to just vote for the individual, as I have been doing since my first fed election in 1993.

I’d go even further and advocate that the Westminster System in provincial legislatures & Parliament look at moving away from a party emphasis (or be abolished) and more to the individual parliamentarian… However, I fear with emphasis on the individual, we’d become more like the Congressional system and lose some of our more progressive (yet radical) public policy options as majority rule would get dictated by the national will.

I’d love to see a leader like Borden, St. Laurent, Diefenbaker or Pearson because none of these current guys cut it — Harper, Martin, Layton, Harris are not prime-ministerial & aren’t even inspiring enough to lead buffalo over a cliff…

Even though Pearson muddled with some institutions I care a great deal about (like the military & emphasis on the monarchy — I believe they should both be strengthened IMHO), his government under a minority situation achieved more important legislation victories than Trudeau’s 15 years (the ‘82 constitution isn’t a victory in my mind). Also, why do none of the major parties put environment ahead of things like health care and education and Quebec… (Greens aside)?

And what about this whole off-loading of federal debt onto the individual via the provinces and in turn onto municipalities and in turn on property owners? The lack of strategic thinking on this file, along with the cronyism and corruption, bigotry and sheer incompetence among any of the 305, soon to be 308 idiots in Ottawa, or the 27 in Charlottetown is beyond me.

I’m still extremely bitter bordering on outright hatred at Martin’s little experiment in the 1994 budget with the “Canada Health and Social Transfer” when he lumped post-sec education spending with health spending, then reduced the total amount & let the provinces make the dirty decisions. Paul Martin as a finance minister didn’t have the gonads to stand up in front of the nation and tell people that he was just letting provincial finance ministers make the cuts for him… that’s not leadership — it’s duck and cover. My tuition went from $2400/year in 1994 to $4750 in 1998… and the Maritime economy is still so lousy we can’t get jobs here. That and the fact several good friends and relatives I know were turfed from the public service during the politically-correct-named “program review” (aka slash & burn cuts) in ‘94-‘95 ensures my lasting bitterness at this man. He will never be a prime minister in my mind. The lack of compassion for the individual by Martin & his colleagues astounds me (remember the compensation for the tainted blood scandal too?, or how about Chretien’s much-vaunted solution to native issues? and what about the military members who are away 18 out of 24 months on the little Chretien-inspired international schemes while the bugger cut DND with glee? what about his purchase of the 2 Challenger jets without tender?)

Harper’s out too for me — does anyone ever bother remembering that controversy about the Alberta conservative movement in the 1980’s (and some of the movers and shakers in the Reform Party, now affiliated with New Conservatives) flirting with the Heritage Front. CSIS mole Grant Bristow, who was outed by an investigative report, used to attend Reform organizing meetings with these guys.

Is it any wonder dozens of people I know in their 20’s aren’t even bothering — hell they’re so swallowed in debt or trying to pay off their inflated municipal taxes (or still-too-high income taxes after all these cuts — why are they spending/wasting more than pay down the debt if they made these cuts anyway?)….

Stupid choices out there… resignedly I head to the ballot box in another democratic exercise in futility. Canada’s broken & I don’t gain a whole lot of hope or optimism from this election.

jeff's picture
jeff on June 22, 2004 - 18:51 Permalink

Whether or not one votes strategically is a dilemma. An even greater dilemma is convincing people that their vote does matter. Too many Canadians have fought and sometimes given up their lives to defend our freedoms for us not to be voting, regardless of who we choose. The important thing being that we choose.

Sheila Copps in the foreward to her book “Nobody’s Baby” gives a shocking fact to why every vote counts. According to Copps, Adolph Hitler won the leadership of the Nazi Party by ONE vote. I stand to be corrected if I’ve misquoted Ms. Copps on that and apologize in advance if wrong there.

I don’t want to turn this lovely discussion into a partisan slanging match but I couldn’t in good conscience let some of the more outrageous comments made here pass without retort. Specifically, I would point out that:

Paul Martin himself supported the war in Iraq…well-documented for any googling monkeys to find.

Martin’s Defence Minister supported sending Canadian troops.

31 Canadian troops did serve through exchanges with Coalition countries, despite the government’s best efforts to deny their existence.

The entire argument is a phony one since Canadian military barely has capacity to respond to domestic civil disasters, let alone participate in peacekeeping/peacemaking abroad.

Most Private member’s bill tabled in last Parliament to turn clock back on a woman’s right to choose came from Liberal MP’s, not Conservative ones (How many Island MP’s are pro-choice I wonder?) Issues of conscience

Paul Martin himself advocated using notwithstanding clause on same-sex issue, after taking multiple positions on issue (ditto for Kyoto)

Paul Martin let the pot reform bill die on the order paper without passage when he called the election.

Paul Martin accumulated a $47 Billion surplus in EI Fund by increasing premiums and cutting benefits since 1993.

In 2000, Paul Martin brought in largest tax cut in Canadian history, $100 Billion (he thought tax cuts were a good idea then)

Martin cut health care funding by $25 Billion since 1995, while several of his Cabinet support private delivery of health care (Deputy PM MacLellan, Health Minister Pettigrew among others) and while PM uses a for-profit MRI clinic owned by his own doctor.

Sometimes when people’s fear of the unknown is being hysterically fanned they can forget the fear of the status quo..

Rusty's picture
Rusty on June 22, 2004 - 19:23 Permalink

Good Heavens, Marcus! What political party could possibly “adequately represent” what you want for national direction. You want heavy-funding of post-secondary education and health-care but you resent paying for it in your property taxes. Then you say education and health-care should take a back-seat to environmental issues. You want to strengthen the monarchy but complain about cronyism and corruption. You want a strong Canadian military and you don’t like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sadly, I think our politicians are doing a very poor job in edifying the public about the issues and the reasons to support one view or another. All we get nowadays is appeals to base emotions and no rational discussions, leading those with a bundle of idiosynchratic reactions to claim the higher intellectual ground.

Marcus's picture
Marcus on June 23, 2004 - 03:07 Permalink

Rusty, not trying to claim any intellectual ground — just expressing my disgust/distrust of our system. Let me guess… you’re one of the ones who was lucky to avoid the federal downloading onto students in the ‘90’s….? Sure it had to happen to some generation — call me bitter & disillusioned. As for property taxes — I seriously doubt many in my generation will ever get out of debt enough to enjoy *paying* inflated property taxes anytime soon anyway.

My priorities — sure that rant is a bit misdirected but it sort of encapsulates everything I feel in more-or-less the right areas. Heck, I want my cake and want to eat it too, just like everyone else. I realize the $40 billion/year deficits inherited from Trudeau & Mulroney couldn’t continue but the incompetence with which Chretien/Martin have managed the federal government is leaving a really bad taste in my mouth.

Auberge Grand Mere & waste like it are found across the country. You probably don’t find many people on the pork-Isle of PEI complaining about Auberge — we have our own secrets to hide when it comes to federal $$ getting mispent.

But the Challenger jets was the last straw & the height of arrogance… especially given the EH-101 fiasco. I’ll give David Pratt kudos for having the guts to fly in a Sea King when he was in Halifax this past winter/spring — I could be wrong here, but I don’t think any PM since Trudeau has flown in a Sea King since he was on HMCS Bonaventure one time in the mid-70’s and they were almost 15 years old then.

Military spending does need to be ramped up if we keep acting like the world’s boy scout troop, putting out the U.S.’s & European’s fires all over the place. And sure I’m 28 & maybe nobody else in my generation cares about the “institution” of the monarchy but let’s not start that debate here — we all know the arguments for and against.

As for repatriation — no problem there, but the Charter’s emphasis on individual rights vs. those of the collective are a huge reason why Quebec’s federalist premiers since 1982 haven’t signed the Constitition Act. Face it, the Liberal Party of Canada is the reason why Quebec doesn’t feel that it’s a part of this federation. You can’t blame the festering sovereignty movement — Bourassa, Johnston & Charest didn’t/haven’t asked for a signing ceremony for a reason & the way that Charter is worded is a part of it.

Ideology plays no role — just issues that I feel at one point or another — I’ve voted Liberal, NDP & Conservative in all the past elections (respectively) and to be honest

I’m just tired of the federal-provincial bitching — health care gets so much money right now as it is — some OECD study a few years back said our state-funded medicare system was one of the most expensive in the world even compared to Scandinavia etc. And sure changes in education funding hurt like hell to me and others this past decade but now that 60%+ of cost is on the students, I don’t see the need to readdress this one, short of changes to the loan program maybe.

My question is why can’t we have a government which does spend more on the military? Essential equipment like tanks, choppers, destroyers, fighter jets & tranport aircraft need replacing & Canada’s procurement policies are so screwed up that we keep pushing it back and back and back — it’s going to bite us one way or another… That and increase the number of troops so families aren’t separated for months on end like they have been. And I’d also like to see a government which places the environment extremely high on the list of priorities, bring in credible & honest management of the bureacracy & our tax dollars to keep paying down the debt and work toward a solution to health care… all the while keeping away from being a suck-up to the U.S. It’s not that tall an order, is it?

Greg's picture
Greg on June 28, 2004 - 18:51 Permalink

Ms. Howard from France makes a perfectly valid point, but about a system that has absolutely no resemblence to ours. For one thing, we do not vote directly for a leader; our votes are filtered through an outdated system which marginalizes most of the votes in each riding… there is no high-level aggregation of votes.

For another thing, there are only three (plus zero-point-one-two-five) parties, each of which is thoroughly differentiated from the others. It’s not a question of voting Bolshevik as opposed to Marxist-Leninist or Trotskyite, but between (very) Conservative, substantially less conservative, and apologetic Socialist.

So I agree with you, Steven, except I would advise that people vote based on the party, not the local candidate, as the former is what determines how the government governs (unless of course your local candidate winds up Prime Minister).

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