Sunday, January 22, 2006

How not to vote

Fair Vote Canada doesn't endorse political parties or candidates. And I would never tell you not to vote, or to spoil your ballot, or eat it.

So I'm not actually going to tell you how to vote. You'll have to decide that for yourself.

This election has been framed as an election about values. What kind of Canada do we want?

Personally, I want to see a Canada where the values of the government are the values of the people. A Canada where every voice is heard and every idea is given a fair hearing. A Canada renowned around the world for the fairness and effectiveness of its democratic institutions.

Sadly, although we are blessed compared to many places in the world, we are far behind most industrial democracies in this regard. All the best-run countries in the world, countries like Switzerland and Germany and Sweden and Norway and Denmark and Holland and Belgium and so on and so on, over 80 countries in all, changed to proportional voting systems decades ago. Canada has fallen behind.

The time has come for change.

Like the frog in the pot of water coming slowly to a boil, we didn't notice for a while how we were failing to keep up with the evolution of democratic institutions. In 1993, the wheels fell off. We went from a two-and-a-half party system to a full-blown multi-party system, and suddenly nothing made sense any more. The Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives each got over two million votes, but the Reform Party got 52 seats and the PCs were reduced to two. The NDP, with almost 7% of the votes, dropped to nine seats (3%) and ceased to be an official party. The fourth place party, the Bloc Québécois, got 54 seats and became Her Majesty's Not-So-Loyal Opposition.

A decade later, we are reeling from a string of record-phony-majority governments and chaotic minorities. We can no longer pretend that everything is OK. Voting system reform has gone from a discussion topic for policy wonks to an urgent priority for more and more Canadians, including almost all political scientists and growing numbers of media commentators. The question is no longer whether we need a new voting system, but how and when we will get it.

Which brings me to strategic voting.

I don't recommend or endorse strategic voting. My views have been laid out in my previous post on The Perils of Strategic Voting, way back on December 12.

The fact that strategic voting has (again) been a major topic of discussion throughout this interminable election campaign is in itself an indictment of the state of our system. More than one party has been urging you to hold your nose and vote for them.

When we get a fair voting system for Canada, we will never have to think about strategic voting again. Every Canadian will be able to vote for the party and/or candidate of their choice, and know that their vote will make a difference to the outcome of the election.

In the meantime, if you're planning to vote strategically, at least get it right!

The key to strategic voting is to understand that it's all about what's happening in your local riding. You don't get to vote for what party will form the government, and you don't get to vote for who will be the Prime Minister. All you get to vote for under our current system is who will be your local Member of Parliament.

The next important thing to understand is that you don't even have the opportunity to vote strategically unless you have a close race in your riding. Four out of five of us already know who will win in our riding. Vote with your heart.

If you live in a swing riding, your favourite party may be one of those who have a chance to win. Lucky you! Vote with your heart.

That still leaves a few ridings where there may be a chance to make a difference with a strategic vote. has a Strategic Voting Guide that may be helpful, if you accept their analysis of the polls. Note that they don't actually endorse strategic voting either.

Remember that, under the new campaign financing rules, the party you vote for will receive $1.75 per year until the next election.

Whatever the outcome, the campaign for a fair voting system will be neither won nor lost tomorrow. It will just enter a new phase. Indeed, the struggle for democracy never ends.

However you vote, think about how your vote will affect the chances for change leading to a fair voting system for Canada.

And may God have mercy on us all.



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