In this upcoming federal election, I wish I could convince Canadians to Vote their conscience and to vote on issues. As most of you know I am the current Leader of the Green Party of Manitoba, but what I am talking about goes beyond this. Certainly I want you to vote Green, but more than that I actually want you to vote in who you truly believe. I want you to research issues and vote your conscience on those basis alone.
It was quite comical the other day, when sitting in a restaurant having a bite, I ran into a local politician with known ties to the NDP. The politician jested at me have you heard about this biased CBC questionnaire – apparently most of the NDP affiliated politicians were being told to vote Green by the CBC's Vote Compass. I had to swallow first, I had taken the Vote Compass and the damn thing told me to vote NDP (I am obviously voting Green BTW)! We had jovial laugh though, with the politician asking with a smirk why is it that the poll is telling so many people to vote Green, and me replying because of course we have the best policies (see: Vision Green is available on GreenParty.ca). As the Councillor left I thought to myself how engaging and enjoyable that exchange was – That's how cross-partisan politics should be I thought.
So what should we take from the fact that a CBC poll is telling voters to look at parties outside of their traditional comfort zone. In short, not much. But, I think it means that perhaps voters should take a closer look at what the respective parties have to offer, and should really think about what their conscience is telling them and vote for who they truly want.
Chris Rock's blunt words express it best:
"I'm conservative", "I'm liberal", "I'm conservative". Bullshit! Be a fucking person! Lis-ten! Let it swirl around your head. Then form your opinion. No normal, decent person is one thing, okay? I've got some shit I'm conservative about, I've got some shit I'm liberal about.”
Do we really think that a web quiz should be determinative?
Now I am not trying to knock the vote compass. Unlike Stephen Harper and the C.R.A.P, or Layton and the N.D.P. I am not going to argue that the survey is biased (see Winnipeg Sun, March 30, 2011 “CBC defends voting tool that appears to lean Liberal”). Rather I would argue that it is limited, and people need to understand it for what it is: a heuristic device (an entity that exists to enable understanding of, or knowledge concerning, some other entity). The political realm is simply too vast, too complex, to be pigeon holed into a circle which denotes degree of left and right economic and social policy.
Nor am I saying that people should quit taking the quiz on the CBC website. Au contraire, the quiz is a great for people to begin to engage themselves, but they need to go further - they should look into their results on a question by question basis, and they choose some of the questions which interest them and research these issues even further. People need to engage in politics more: they can organize debates in their community; or they can get involved with a political campaign; and they should put more effort into the latter activities rather than the first activity of completing a 10 minute online survey.
We elect people to manage our tax dollars, our ecological resources, and to a certain extent our cultural direction as well. Perhaps placating your desire to know “who you should really vote for” is better served by: reading up on issues on your own, or calling or visiting each and every individual candidate (if possible) and determining for yourself who you want to vote for, rather than relying on an entertaining web device to make the decision for you.
This election we need to make it about something more than election web surveys, and viewer response polls to the latest attack campaigns! We must engage people in the issues, and the political process itself, we must get people to think about ideas that go beyond their pre-conceived notions. I think we can, and the Green Party and Elizabeth May are truly working to make this a reality! This is why we need Elizabeth May in the Parliament, and we need her in the debates!
Secondly people need to vote their conscience this upcoming election. Strategic voting is ironically a bad long-term strategy as it actually creates less option over the long term.
Let us use the sale of beverages in a chain of convenience stores across the country as an analogical heuristic device to explore the issue further. Right now said store has four beverage choices which are offered consistently: coke, diet coke, orange crush, or cold water from a fountain; in Quebec bottled water is very popular but it is not available elsewhere in Canada; and up to fifteen other varieties are offered sporadically across the country.
However people are being told that they need to drink coke or diet coke. Coke because: “It is that good old-fashioned coke!” Diet Coke because: “It is so-o-o much healthier than regular coke!” If in response people decide not drink water from the fountain, not to drink orange crush or the numerous other small brands, then eventually these options may disappear.
This is the folly in strategic voting and our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system.
The following snippet from the comments of the CBC website is particularly telling about the malaise in our democracy:
“I want to vote Green, but the Green candidate here won't win, so my vote would be lost. Even if I vote for my second preference, the piddly petty candidate in my riding won't win, so again: my vote would be lost. I don't want to vote for the candidate whose win is a foregone conclusion. So what do I do, not vote at all?”
We need proportional representation, but at the same time Canadians need to recognize that every vote says something. Voting is about democracy, and to be deceived away from voting your true conscience undermines democracy – over time deteriorating the political choices offered.
Greens offer a different approach to democracy! We believe in proportional representation, we believe in meaningful grassroots citizen engagement, and Elizabeth May is trying to promote a democracy of respect – where politicians don't score points for acting like buffoons.
Firstly even if the candidate of your choice is not elected, the vote is certainly not wasted. Voting for a candidate provides moral support, even if the ballot is not cast for a winning candidate behind that vote is a democratic individual expression of choice, adding credence to the ideas that candidate espoused.
Secondly political parties receive subsidies. Your vote delivers a few dollars a year to the party of your choice provided that they received more than 2% of the vote across the country. From this subsidy the Conservatives received $10.4-million; the Liberals received $7.3-million; the NDP received $5.0-million; the Bloc Québécois received $2.8-million; and the Green Party received $1.9-million.
Now Stephen Harper wants to cut the per vote for “budgetary reasons”, which is kinda funny when the man was voted out of office because his Government was found in contempt of Parliament for not disclosing the financial costs of fighter jets and prisons, and for guarding his minister who inappropriately and without authorization rejected funding to respected Canadian not-for-profit organizations doing overseas aid work.
But even if we want to talk about the budgetary impact of subsidization of political parties why is Mr. Harper only talking about the $27.4 million per-vote-subsidy which provides parties with stable funding proportional to their proportion of the vote garnered? Why is he not talk about the other subsidies to political parties? Election expense rebates the Parties worth $29.2-million combined, and Candidate rebates worth $28.7 million. The two combined more than double the size of the per vote subsidy. I think that most Canadians feel their vote is worth even more than a few dollars, and they would rather see political parties rewarded for earning votes rather than spending money during an election.
The dilemma facing the Canadian electorate is to elect who they truly want, rather than who they are told to vote for. Hopefully Canadians have the wisdom to vote with their conscience and to vote on the issues, and capabilities of candidates, rather than focusing on polls and political shenanigans.
CBC Vote Compass “Canada Votes 2011”
The Hill Times, Jan 20, 2011: “Comparing the per-vote subsidies to all federal political subsidies”
Winnipeg Sun, March 30, 2011 “CBC defends voting tool that appears to lean Liberal”:
Chris Rock (HBO 2004) “Never Scared”, on Wikiquotes