Strategic voting fails again

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Written by Scott Piatkowski

Given that the Liberals managed to salvage a 135 seat minority from their train wreck of an election campaign (clearly their worst effort since 1984), many analysts have judged what can charitably be termed “Paul Martin’s week of begging” to be an unqualified success. It was nothing of the sort.

On June 22, for example, Paul Martin warned voters “If you are thinking of voting NDP, I ask you to think about the implications of your vote.” A few days later, he continued his pathetic pleading: “What I am saying to those NDP voters is, look, we share the same values. For the good of the country, let us come together. We hope those NDP voters understand how important this is.”

For someone who appointed a Defense Minister who had argued in favour of Canadian involvement in the invasion of Iraq (just as vociferously as did Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day) to now claim to “share the same values” as the NDP is a bit rich. Indeed, after a decade as Finance Minister in which the size of his program cuts were rivalled only by the size of his corporate tax cuts, any attempt to claim “the progressive vote” should have been seen as the outright deception that it was.

In a whole host of tight ridings where the Conservatives were never a threat to win, voters heard Martin’s message and dutifully elected Liberals over second-place New Democrats. This ensured the re-election of threatened Liberal incumbents in ridings like London-Fanshawe, Hamilton East-Stony Creek, Hamilton Mountain, Western Arctic, Victoria, Beaches-East York and Parkdale-High Park. It also ensured that Liberals (and not the NDP) would be able to win seats like Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, Vancouver-Kingsway, Vancouver Centre and Davenport, but it did absolutely nothing for “the good of the country” – merely, the good of the Liberal Party. Ironically, in the case of London-Fanshawe, it saw the return of virulently homophobic MP Pat O’Brien, who believes in everything that the Conservative “forces of darkness” believe in.

But, voters in Oshawa, New Westminster-Coquitlam, Vancouver Island North, Nanaimo-Alberni, Southern Interior, Selkirk-Interlake, Palliser, Saskatoon-Humbolt and Regina-Q’Appelle also heard the message. And, as in the aforementioned ridings, many of them deserted the NDP for the Liberals. In every one of these ridings, however, the result was the election of a Conservative. Diverting votes from the second-place NDP to the third-place Liberals (votes that could have defeated at least more nine more Conservatives) doesn’t seem very strategic, does it?

Once again, the Liberal Party relied on the same tired old scare tactics in a desperate bid to win an election. Appeals for strategic voting had nothing to do with keeping Conservatives out. They had nothing to do with the good of the country. They were all about conning voters into voting Liberal one more time. It’s much easier for them to do that than actually giving Canadians something to vote FOR. Interestingly, the Liberals didn’t even bother to suggest that they have a better platform than the NDP – because they know that they didn’t.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s take up Mr. Martin’s suggestion. Let’s think about the implications of an NDP vote in last week’s election. A whole host of interest groups – from the Canadian Federation of Students to the Canadian Health Coalition, from Greenpeace to the Sierra Club, and from the Canadian Labour Congress to Canadians for Equal Marriage -- did, and they all recommended the NDP platform over the Liberal platform. In other words, the implications of an NDP vote are that you were voting for the best party on education, the environment, human rights, jobs, social investment, and health care.

The Liberals pointed out that the Conservatives have many social extremists among their candidates who would like to stop same-sex couples from marrying and deny women access to abortion. But, the Liberals have plenty of social extremists in their caucus as well (e.g. O’Brien, Roger Galloway, Dan McTeague, Tom Wappell, etc.), so voting Liberal was hardly a way to ensure a progressive social agenda.

The Liberals pointed out that the Conservatives wanted to allow private health care initiatives and allow our medicare system to be undermined. But, the Liberals have done nothing to stop private sector intrusion into health care in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. They’ve done nothing to deliver on long-promised home care and pharmacare initiatives.

Now that Paul Martin is on the record expounding on all of the values that he shares with the NDP, he’ll have a chance to demonstrate that. If he fails to deliver, the nineteen New Democrats who managed to get elected (in spite of all the begging) will be there to hold him accountable. Voters should be prepared to do the same in the next election.

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