Do you dream of a better Canada? Maybe you don’t have a family doctor. Maybe you are concerned about homelessness and urban poverty, or the state of affairs on First Nations. Perhaps you are concerned about the decline of family farms and resource industries, which is killing off rural areas. Maybe you are frustrated with the gridlock that is paralyzing your commute while you continue to pay for gas prices that have already jumped well before the typical summer surge. You want to vote your conscience, and yet you are afraid that your vote won’t count, that you have to vote for someone else to stop someone you really don’t like. Will you ever be able to vote your beliefs?
Now is your chance. For the first time in 23 years, Canadians can vote for something. In a stunning turn of events, the NDP, once thought by pundits to be in danger of losing seats as the Liberals and Conservatives battled for top spot, is now in second place nationally and the Liberals dropping dramatically. The Liberals have long asked people to vote Liberal out of fear of what the right wing would do, only to follow through with many of the same policies. Yet their fear campaign against the Conservatives has fallen apart, and in an unusual twist of events, Harper is poised to win seats around (and possibly in) the liberal/left bastion of Toronto, while at the same time is nearly certain to lose seats in the right-wing bastion of Alberta. How did this come to be?
The seeds of this shift, showing up federally, can be seen in recent municipal elections in the cities of Toronto and Calgarythat happened within weeks of each other. There were similar dynamics. A long-serving incumbent mayor had stepped aside. A far-right city councillor challenged for the post. The main challengers were also right-wing, though not to the same degree. The best candidates, according to public opinion polls, were nowhere near contention.
That is where the similarities end. In Toronto, progressives panicked at the thought of Rob Ford being elected mayor, and loudly asked everyone to vote for the unpopular George Smitherman, who’s only reason for being in contention was that he apparently could win according to public opinion polls. Pantalone was blamed for splitting the vote, but in the end, retained a strong core support while Ford handily beat Smitherman. Regardless of how scary things seemed to be, too many Pantalone supporters saw no reason to choose between 2 right-wingers. Some things, they argue, are more important than the race for first place.
Calgary was a different scenario. Progressive voters, led by young adults, campaigned relentlessly for Naheed Nenshi and built up a base of support, despite a call for strategic voting by one of the marginal contenders. Their hard work paid off, and Nenshi was elected on a wave of high turnout.
Appealing to people’s aspirations proved to be far more effective than trying to scare them away from something bad. The question many progressives had in this election: do I vote strategically or do I vote my conscience?
Both. In 2011, the clear strategic choice is your conscience.