Monday, October 13, 2008

A Better Strategic Vote

For much of my adult life, I have been a reluctant "strategic voter." Indeed, I was voting strategically before I ever heard the term used in the popular media. You see, I live in a neighbourhood where the progressive choice in federal elections has usually been the Liberal candidate, while the progressive choice in provincial elections has been the New Democratic Party candidate. So while my natural political affinity has been for the NDP, and while I have almost always voted NDP provincially, I have cast several Liberal ballots in federal elections, especially when John Harvard was the member of parliament for the western part of Winnipeg.

That changed when John Harvard retired from parliament upon his appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba. In the ensuing three elections, the Liberal party decided to run parachute candidates who had little or nothing to do with this part of Winnipeg before they decided to seek to represent it in parliament. First there was Glen Murray, whom I had supported as mayor of Winnipeg but who proved to be less progressive in office than I had hoped and who seemed ambivalent towards the suburbs, where I happen to live. Then there was John Loewen, who resigned as a Conservative member of the provincial legislature to seek the federal seat as a Liberal. I thought to myself, "If we really want a Conservative MP, why wouldn't people just vote for the Conservative candidate?" This election, the Liberals nominated Bob Friesen, who has found this urban constituency a more promising field as a Liberal than the rural riding from which he comes. So, for three elections now, I have voted for the NDP candidate in a constituency where the Liberals were once contenders.

The Liberals could have seduced a vote from me, though, since I cannot fathom the thought of another Conservative government under Stephen Harper. Nor do I relish the thought of once again being represented in Ottawa by the reactionary Steven Fletcher. Now, I'll confess that I belonged briefly to the Progressive Conservative party when I was a teenager, in the days when the party was led federally by Robert Stanfield and provincially by Sidney Spivak, two of the most decent persons ever to serve as leaders of any party. In those days, the Progressive Conservatives were so genuinely progressive, it seems, that Stephen Harper belonged to his high school's Young Liberals Club! (Hmmm, maybe we could appear together on Trading Places!) I gave up on the Progressive Conservative party during my first year at university, when it became clear that the Red Tory tradition had been displaced by American-style neoconservative economics and a reactionary social agenda.

I'm so anxious to replace the Harper government that I might have loaned my vote to the Liberal candidate this time if St├ęphane Dion and his party hadn't sent me so many signals that they weren't interested in having it. Dion has stuck doggedly to the platform he and his party crafted before the current global financial crisis, blissfully indifferent to rapidly changing conditions and stubbornly resistent to modifying their plans in response. Then there was Dion's embarrassing CTV interview, which he has tried to spin as a simple misunderstanding of the question, although it seems more likely that it was a very public illustration of his own impatience, anxiety and stubbornness. But the one thing that has made me glad, in hindsight, that I didn't cast a Liberal vote was Dion's insistance that he would not enter into a coalition with the NDP in the event that a progressive coalition could replace the Conservative government. In other words, St├ęphane Dion effectively declared that, short of a Liberal majority, a vote for the Liberals would serve to maintain the Conservatives in office. The Liberal caucus has already voted with the Conservative government too often and I don't care to encourage them to continue the pattern.

So I voted strategically in the advance poll, but my strategy has changed! This year, I committed myself to a longer-term strategy, which stands to produce positive results in future years, if not necessarily in 2008. I cast my vote entusiastically for the local NDP candidate, Fiona Shiells, a personable, intelligent and articulate young women who would make a wonderful member of parliament. I am confident that Fiona has a long and promising political career before her. As significantly, though, I've decided that the only feasible strategy for the future is to contribute to the NDP's national strength, so that the day will come when New Democrats replace the Liberals as the official opposition and, from that base, go on to form the government. The time has come for a fundamental political realignment in Canada, since the Liberals have seemingly abdicated governing to their Conservative rivals.

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