Want politicians to work together? Vote with your heart.
I went to see Elizabeth May today as she stopped by the Kitchener-Waterloo Green Party campaign office to deliver a pep talk. One of her catchphrases this election season has been “The problem isn’t vote splitting, it’s vote abandonment.” She mentioned this the other night while being interviewed by Peter Mansbridge, and I expect she’ll bring it up again tonight when she’s interviewed by CHCH TV in Hamilton.
That got me thinking, because I’ve advocated in the past for left-leaning voters to vote strategically if they’re in a riding where the frontrunners are neck and neck. I have to admit that now I’ve changed my mind.
So what is vote abandonment? Well, 41% of eligible voters decided to stay home in the last federal election. That’s a larger chunk of votes than for any individual party. Heck, all those abandoned votes could have formed a majority in the house of commons! So you see, this is a block of voters who have huge potential to influence the outcome of an election. But they just don’t feel like it.
The Liberal party has tried to position itself as “the big red tent in the centre” that left-leaning voters should vote for if they want their vote to count. Because, sure, it’s good and noble to vote with your heart, but in the end, the Liberals are the only left-of-centre party with a real shot at forming a government. That logic doesn’t work anymore, and here’s why.
- A coalition by any other name would smell as sweet… As Andrew Coyne points out, “[Ignatieff] has ruled out a coalition; he has not ruled out a minority government of some other kind. Nor should he.” The 2008 coalition left a bitter taste in our mouths, but that certainly won’t prevent a power-sharing deal between the Liberals and the NDP, should they get enough seats to command parliament. For left-leaning voters, this means we can freely vote NDP because the Liberals will have to rely on New Democrat MPs to have a stable minority government. In fact, a vote for the NDP would just give them more bargaining power when it comes to negotiating a power-sharing deal with the Liberals.
- Vote abandonment. If people think voting with their heart won’t make a difference, they’re more likely not to vote at all. Votes for smaller left-wing parties don’t cannibalize the Liberals’ numbers. The rise in popular support for the Green Party, for example, didn’t come at the expense of the other parties. It came from people who finally cared enough to go and drop a ballot in a box for the first time.
These two issues - vote abandonment and coalitions - are going to shape the future of Canadian democracy. The only way to increase voter turnout is for parties to put forth platforms that actually resonate with people. And that could well mean a number of new, smaller parties entering the political arena. I’d love to see the Wildrose Alliance step up to the federal scene and give right-of-centre voters some real choice. By increasing the number of parties, cooperation across party lines will become even more necessary than it is now. Short-term, issue-specific “coalitions” between parties will not be vilified, but rather celebrated as our MPs find common ground.
To conclude, a call to action: on May 2nd, vote. But don’t just vote for the lesser evil that you think might have a good chance of winning. Vote with your heart. Take a close look at all your candidates and be true to yourself when you approach the ballot box. If you don’t like any of the candidates, deface your ballot. It’ll get counted by Elections Canada as a rejected ballot - a sign that we need better political candidates who have something to offer the 41% of voters who are dissatisfied with the current political options.
/ End rant.Sam Nabi