To end strategic voting, vote strategically

This observation is bound to upset some readers, but it's possible that the best way to advance the interests of the federal New Democrats and Greens this election is for their Yukon supporters to vote Liberal on Monday.

This observation is bound to upset some readers, but it’s possible that the best way to advance the interests of the federal New Democrats and Greens this election is for their Yukon supporters to vote Liberal on Monday.

That’s because Canada’s existing first-past-the-post electoral system has tended to punish these parties by awarding them a number of seats in Parliament well below their share of popular support. This election is unique, in that all three opposition parties are promising to replace this system. But the reality is that the Liberals are in the best position to deliver.

We know, we know. The Liberals are a feckless bunch who only recently jumped aboard the electoral reform bandwagon, whereas the NDP and Greens have long championed such policies. But it doesn’t matter which party proposed an idea first, the most frequently or loudest. What matters is who is best able to make it happen.

With just a few days before voters head to the polls, it looks like the election will be a toss-up between a Liberal or Conservative government. Yes, pollsters have badly miscalled some recent elections. But it’s hard to find many people at this point who seriously believe the NDP will form the next government, and nobody has ever imagined that would be the case with the Greens.

New Democrats are putting on a brave face. In the Yukon, they’re buying ads that claim they’re the strategic choice, but if they really believed this, they would probably provide some evidence to support this contention. Instead, the ad touts how they’re the principled choice compared to those unscrupulous, say-one-thing-and-do-another Liberals.

It’s true that the NDP, unlike the Liberals, never went through ridiculous contortions over the controversial Bill C-51 spy bill, by simultaneously denouncing and supporting the legislation. It’s also true that the Liberals have refused to set a clear target to limit carbon emissions, as the NDP have done. And so on. But the fact remains that, in the eyes of most voters without strong partisan leanings, the difference between both party platforms are modest at best.

You may also have noticed that the flurry of objections raised by New Democrats over strategic voting serve to shift the subject of debate. It’s important to remember that being principled and being electable are often not the same thing.

Nationally, the NDP has taken a long slide in the polls during the campaign, and it’s hard to imagine this trend reversing course during the final stretch – instead, it seems far more likely to become a vicious cycle, as undecided progressive voters coalesce around the Liberals as the most plausible alternative to the Conservatives. That’s notwithstanding a recent whiff of some old-style Liberal scumbaggery, with news of a now-sacked party adviser offering political advice to a big oil company.

Locally, we only have one publicly available poll to go off, but it does put the Liberals ahead by a wide margin. New Democrats harrumph that they don’t believe these numbers are accurate. We have no idea if this is true or not, but sometimes perceptions influence reality – and the reality today is that Yukon’s chiefs are urging their citizens to vote strategically to turf the Conservatives by voting Liberal.

None of this takes away from the fact that the NDP’s candidate, Melissa Atkinson, is an intelligent First Nation woman with an impressive background as a prosecutor and legal aid lawyer. But she has faced a big uphill battle against a competitor like Bagnell, who has the name recognition that comes with being a tireless constituency MP for a decade, who lost the last election by just 132 votes, and who signed up a big swath of supporters long ago. At the campaign’s onset, this created a strong circumstantial case that Bagnell would be the best strategic candidate, and no unexpected drama has erupted since that time to change things.

The Conservatives, of course, show no interest in electoral reform. During a recent candidates forum, Yukon MP Ryan Leef more or less suggested that voters aren’t smart enough to handle anything beyond marking a single “X” on a ballot box, and fretted that changing the system could lead to widespread confusion and declining turnout. It just so happens that the Conservatives also handily benefit from the current arrangement, in which the left-leaning share of the vote is split.

The Liberals have promised to replace our first-past-the-post system with something else within 18 months of forming government. Yes, this commitment is vague and nebulous compared to the NDP’s firm promise to introduce a form of proportional representation. And yes, there is no guarantee the Liberals will prove able or willing to make good on this pledge. But all it would take would be a modest change to, say, an instant-runoff ballot that allows voters to rank their choices in priority to end the sort of vote-splitting that currently leads to so much hand-wringing.

That could allow you to pick the Greens as your first choice, followed by the NDP and then Liberals, if you so chose. Votes allotted to low-ranking candidates would be redistributed accordingly to next picks until one candidate received a majority. In short, left-leaning voters would no longer worry about having to pick the lesser of evils to prevent the Conservatives from sneaking up the middle, as happened last time.

The catch, of course, is that some voters may need to support the lesser of evils to make this happen. But if you really want to vote with your heart, and at the same time want your vote to count, then perhaps the overwhelming concern this election should be to see that our electoral system is changed to better reflect these desires.