Andrew Scheer

Strategic voting: the only sane option, or Scheer nonsense?

Peter Wheeland and Matthew Hays argue for and against backing “the lesser of two evils” in next week’s federal election.

Yes, we need to strategically vote. Sorry, but it’s pretty much inevitable.

by Matthew Hays

Nothing feels terribly familiar about this election. Even though our Prime Minister is the son of a previous one, even though many are calling this a fight between the two parties that have traditionally governed Canada, there are several new factors, including renewed interest in the NDP (but a month after people were predicting their doom) and a resurgent Bloc Québécois. And, of course, there’s Bernier’s nutjob party.

But the old debate over strategic voting is alive and well, and I’ve been having it (yet) again with an alarming sense of déja-vu. Anti-strategic voters argue we must vote our passions and for our ultimate goals. There’s no such thing as a wasted vote, the logic goes, and we shouldn’t be voting for the lesser of two evils, but rather the party we’d really like to see in power. For the most part, these arguments are floated by those on the left who are frustrated by the Liberal Party, who always seem to campaign to the left and then, once in power, govern to the right.

These arguments are understandable and I get them entirely. It’s been extremely frustrating to see the Liberals and Trudeau squander what was a great deal of enthusiasm (or hype, depending on how you look at it) on nationalizing a pipeline (the Alberta oil sector was never going to like you no matter what you did), selling arms to Saudi Arabia, dumping promised electoral reform and dabbling in corruption (SNC Lavalin). These sore points led many to the conclusion that the Liberals are just gussied-up Conservatives, and that it’s all just the same thing in the end anyway. The only real change will come if the NDP or the Greens were to form a government. Many people I have great respect for — including Toronto-based feminist activist and author Judy Rebick — have made this argument forcefully.

In an ideal world, I would like to see the NDP form a government and Jagmeet Singh become our next Prime Minister. Most Canadians admire him, he’s clearly up to the task and the NDP are doing an amazing job at the provincial level in B.C. Actually, scratch that — what I’d really like to see happen is for Che Guevara to be born again and run the entire planet.

I’m veering off into silliness for a reason: the NDP don’t really stand a chance of forming a government. It’s the inconvenient truth, especially when their fortunes are clearly going to go down severely in Quebec, where the majority of the population, sadly, sees absolutely nothing wrong with holding certain religious symbols (like the turban that Singh wears) against them.

The polls appear to be headed in two distinct directions: the NDP is going to pick up some seats in B.C. (at the expense of the Liberals) and the BQ are going to pick up some seats in Quebec (at the expense of both the Liberals and the NDP). This makes the results of this election much, much more difficult to predict. Some are suggesting it could lead to a Conservative victory, albeit probably a minority.

Some will accuse me of cynicism and say people should not be bound by the idea of voting for the lesser of two evils. But I would argue that while imperfect, the Liberals are far from evil. Indeed, they have done many good things (taking in a record number of refugees, legalizing pot, reinvesting in culture, appointing a gender-balanced cabinet and reducing poverty rates by a sizable 18 per cent, as Stephen Marche recently argued in The Atlantic.

Stephen Harper and George W. Bush at the White House, 2008. Photo by Chris Greenberg

Perhaps people are developing amnesia, but the Harper Decade was a horrible time. There was a war on science, the census was shut down and there were cuts to anything resembling sane, empathetic government assistance. I remember it too well as I made a small cottage industry out of trashing the Conservatives, from a dissenting editorial endorsement in the Globe and Mail to a dressing down in The Guardian to a trashing in Ha’aretz. These were not good times, and many have done a good job compiling a handy list of the nastiness that was this dark period in Canadian governance.

Strategic voting is simple, and in a country with as many politically distinct regions as Canada has, entirely necessary. If you’re in a riding where the NDP has a good chance of winning and you want to vote for that candidate, go for it. But if you’re in a riding where the NDP is trailing and it’s essentially a battle between the Liberals and Conservatives, please have the good sense to vote Liberal.

People who argue the opposite are dreaming in Technicolor or seeing the world through John Lennon glasses. It may sound extreme, but the country is at stake, and with much of the world grappling with a lunatic-rightward shift, we cannot afford to allow Canada to join that tide. Strategic voting is essential to maintaining the kind of government most Canadians actually want. It’s easy to learn how to do it in your riding.

I urge you to put country over party allegiance and do the right thing. ■

See Cult MTL’s 2019 federal election guide, featuring a breakdown of all the party platforms (minus PPC), here.