As my wife and I make our move across Canada this year, heading from Montreal to Vancouver, we are spending one month in Vernon just as the country prepares to elect their next slate of parliamentarians.
I said farewell to the Green campaign I had been helping in Montreal and waited to see what I could do to help the cause here in the Okanagan. I was immensely pleased when I saw Chris George speaking for the first time. He knows the policies and he knows the background. He’s a terrific public speaker. He’s passionate about politics! You can’t just take these qualities for granted, you know.
Besides that, Greens had performed extremely well in Okanagan-Shuswap in past elections. In 2011, we beat the Liberals by a few percentage points and in 2008, had done even better than that, not only besting the Liberals but finishing neck and neck with the NDP.
Walking through downtown Vernon recently, I was amazed to find how many Vernonites were familiar with Green positions and endorsed them. Having worked on Green campaigns in hostile territory since 2008, I found this all very gratifying. Hooray, B.C. Hooray Vernon.
But an old ghost has returned to haunt me: the spectre they call strategic voting. In every single voting cycle we are told, this time is different, vote not for the party and candidate of your choice but against the candidate you fear. This is another idea brought to us by the Good Intentions Paving Company. Here’s why.
Currently, about 60 per cent of eligible voters turn up at the polls on election day. Many non-voters feel the old-line parties do not represent them and they stay home. Greens have spent decades convincing Canadians that there is another way and in recent years have reaped real dividends by taking seats at different levels of government. I would also submit we have raised the profile of issues Greens care about.
Many new supporters have spent years preparing for and working on the current campaign by various means. To ask these people to abandon their beliefs and undermine any effort or progress that has been made in the interests of a dubious and complicated scheme like strategic voting is to encourage greater apathy and disillusionment with democracy generally. Others, who find the prospect of voting daunting to begin with, will be more discouraged by these additional and confusing considerations. The consensus is that those with the most to gain from low voter turnout are the Conservatives.
Worse than this, the strategy ignores any appeal Green policy may have for traditionally conservative voters looking for another option. Greens consider themselves fiscal conservatives. Preserving the environment and removing market distortions while advantaging small business over large corporations are all conservative ideas now best defended by Green policies elaborated in minute detail and available online to all Canadians at all times, election or no. To be clear, when we encourage people to be dismissive of the Green vote, we really have no idea where their votes might migrate if they don’t simply abstain. Here’s a voting strategy: Get to know your candidates and their positions and then vote for the one you like best. If everyone did that, and had done so these past few elections, the nation would likely be having a very different conversation right now.