As we stand on the brink of Canada’s forty-second federal election, it is abundantly clear from polling data that a majority of Canadians are desperate for change in Ottawa. It has been nearly ten years since Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party took power; in that time, we have seen Canada’s once sterling international reputation as a bastion of democratic values erode through a series of legislative and policy initiatives promoting ignorance and exclusion domestically.
Over the course of Stephen Harper’s terms in office, the government has legislated second-class citizenship; gagged scientists; ended the long-form census to the outcry of nearly 500 organizations in Canada; backed away with disgrace from the international Kyoto protocol; failed to protect domestic jobs; stigmatized Muslim Canadians for political gain; and callously refused to fund a public inquiry into the growing number of missing and murdered Indigenous women at the behest of the United Nations.
While mainstream media outlets may tout the Conservatives’ stable economic record, it remains that the plethora of other issues young Canadians care about — including student debt, youth unemployment, social justice, and a reasonable policy on marijuana — have been sidelined. Yet, months of campaigning have only reinforced what many of us already knew: the Conservative government is not interested in student concerns. In fact, they don’t want you to vote, and through Bill C-23, have purposely made it harder for you to do so.
At such a critical juncture, it has often behooved newspapers to make informed endorsements of candidates for the benefit of their readerships in advance of elections. Yet, the flawed nature of our electoral system means that to categorically endorse one progressive party would merely encourage vote-splitting on the left, and ultimately allow the Conservatives another four years. Consequently, we are supporting the next most effective tool at our disposal: strategic voting.
To write a soft opinion, merely reminding you of the importance of the democratic process and just urging you to go out and vote, would squander the opportunity before us.
We urge you to remember that in our current electoral system, not all votes are equal. In our first-past-the-post electoral system, it does not matter exactly how many votes a candidate receives, but merely whether they receive the most votes out of all competitors. So while the total progressive vote share in one riding may be (and often is) more than that of the Conservative’s, relatively minor partisan divisions between the Liberals, NDP, and the Greens split the vote, which leads to the election of a Conservative candidate.
Consider, for example, the Brampton Centre riding in Ontario. Polls show that the progressive vote is hovering around 55 percent, while the Conservatives are at 39. Yet, since the progressive vote is split between the Liberals and NDP (36 per cent and 19 per cent respectively), the Conservatives end up winning the riding with the greatest share of votes.
Whether you are a dyed in the wool Liberal, a fortunate casualty of the 2011 ‘Orange Crush,’ or a fervent Green, you have been dealt a bad hand from a stacked deck. However, voting strategically can counter this flawed system. In the aforementioned Brampton Centre, NDP supporters can put their support behind the Liberal candidate, resulting in the ultimate ousting of the Conservative candidate. Replicate this strategy amongst the provinces, and country, and the net effect is to stop Harper from taking office again.
If you live in a riding with a strong Conservative candidate, then, we implore you to vote for the progressive candidate with the most realistic chance of succeeding. While we recognize there are many nuances between the progressive parties that might make people averse to voting strategically, it is an unfortunate reality that these nuances will never actually be realized if the Conservatives remain in power.
Consequently, the only way a remotely progressive government can be formed is if progressives of every stripe band together in direct opposition of the incumbent government. If anything, support them for their willingness to reform our electoral system, so we do not have to vote strategically in future elections.
We cannot abide another Conservative victory this October. The best way to oppose them at this time may be to set aside the small things that separate us, and embrace the big things that bind us against a flawed system that preys upon our division. Many of us find ourselves in a position to vote in a federal election for the first time, few of us can afford not to.