By Jim Harding
Harper’s 2011 majority was won with only 39% of the votes, where only 61% of eligible voters voted. Do the math: that was support from only 24% of the electorate. Our electoral system is neither representative nor fair. The low turnout and the split opposition, not majority public opinion, is how Harper has been able to undermine everything from healthcare and environmental protection to parliamentary accountability.
This time Harper has support of 3 of 10 decided voters; the NDP and Liberals have similar support. The Greens have support of less than 1. Most of us (70% plus) want change, yet the first-past-the-post system and Harper’s divisive “wedge politics” might see him back in power. So what are we to do on Oct. 19th? Vote for the party that we most identify with and risk Harper getting power again? Or is it time to vote for the country?
THE BIG PICTURE
Harper strategists appeal to our perceived narrow self-interest. But divisive politics only works if we let it. We should be looking at the big picture. Effective action on the unfolding climate crisis has to occur quickly, otherwise our offspring will face increasing threats to water and food security; the writing is on the wall.
The mushrooming geo-political crisis in the Middle East has to be resolved politically, otherwise we face the huge risk of military conflict escalating to global proportions. We don’t need more wasted resources, more human dislocation and death and environmental destruction. And we don’t want the climate crisis and failed states to converge into an even larger humanitarian crisis; the UN is already facing its limits.
And of course the Canadian economy needs to be refurbished so that it more fairly meets the needs of Canadians and does this in a way that enhances sustainability. Inequality is getting out of hand and “corporatism” is a growing threat to communities everywhere. Grappling with this through proactive, democratic governance, and not playing the politics of fear, will be the path to human security here and elsewhere.
How do the major parties line up on these matters? It’s now pretty polarized with the Conservatives on one side and the opposition parties assembled on the other. On some issues the NDP may seem to have moved to the centre (fiscal policy) and the Liberals may seem to have moved to the left (income tax). But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to split the vote to Harper’s advantage because of strategic positioning. In sharp contrast to Harper’s xenophobia, both the NDP and Liberals have stood firm on Charter minority rights. Both agree that our country needs federal-provincial negotiations to address climate change and our growing healthcare challenges.
Were the NDP to become the government the Liberals could support a corporate tax increase and perhaps agree to fully repeal Bill C-51. Maybe they’d support the long overdue child care and Pharmacare programs promoted by the NDP. Were the Liberals to be elected, the NDP could support short-term deficits to upgrade and Green Canada’s infrastructure, while pushing the Liberals to follow through on a new bracket to get more income tax from the 1%. Both parties would cooperate on a multi-lateral humanitarian and peacemaking strategy for the Middle East.
There’s lots of room for progressive negotiating. And supporters of the NDP and Liberals seem to grasp this: one poll has half of their supporters willing to support the other party. The only way to ensure that the majority will is expressed is to not fall into the trap of splitting the vote to Harper’s advantage.
Of course we have to know our own riding. What should people do in Regina-Qu’Appelle where I live? In 2011, Conservative Scheer won handily with 53% of the vote. But the opposition vote consolidated around the NDP, which got 38%, up from 32% in 2008. The combined Liberal and Green vote decreased 50% to only 8% of the total.
Scheer can be defeated if support for Harper drops, voter turnout increases, and the opposition vote further consolidates around the NDP candidate Nial Kuyek. This is possible. Harper’s elimination of the Indian Head tree farm and PFRA and deregulation of the Qu’Appelle waterways has greatly hurt this region. Meanwhile Scheer seems more interested in being Speaker than MP, with regular “no shows” to important community forums on these burning issues.
A big unknown is whether the large indigenous vote will increase and whether this will mainly go NDP. On treaty rights, Truth and Reconciliation and murdered and missing women the NDP holds progressive views. The Liberal candidate however is an indigenous woman and the Green candidate has run for many consecutive elections. Scheer’s Conservatives clearly hope that votes for these parties go up from the 2008 lows. Under existing circumstances, voting any other way than NDP will work for Scheer’s re-election.
With our country’s future at stake I don’t see the point of voting solely on personal preference. Though I don’t agree with everything the NDP stands for, that is where my vote will go. On the burning questions of climate change, a peaceful resolution of Middle East conflict, creating programs to benefit working Canadians, and moving the economy in the direction of sustainability, the NDP is generally on the right track.
But I am not being partisan. If I resided in Regina-Wascana, I would vote to reelect Ralph Goodale in spite of not supporting the Liberals on Bill C-51 or their lack of greenhouse gas reduction targets. If I lived in Saanich-Gulf Islands I would vote to reelect Elizabeth May. No matter where I lived I would pick the non-Conservative candidate most likely to win. This would keep Harper from using the first-past-the-post system to his advantage and that would be good news for the whole country.
If we can get rid of Harper’s authoritarian rule then electoral reform, a climate strategy and making Canada a fairer and more peace-promoting country becomes possible. This time vote for the country!