This weekend's edition of Kamloops This Week promimently featured a story about vote-swapping, entitled Vote-swapping across cyberspace. Vote-swapping, a practice in which voters from different ridings agree to strategically vote against their conscience in an attempt to influence election outcomes, has become a novelty pastime with armchair activists across Canada this election season.
The most frequent argument for vote-swapping in this campaign is that it will help coalesce the votes who are currently split between multiple parties on the centre-left, so as to overcome the party on the right (the Conservatives).
Frequently mixed in with (to the point that it is often indistinguishable from) this message is activism against Canada's First-Past-The-Post voting system. The suggestion is that if another voting system was in place, vote swapping wouldn't be necessary. David Thompson of the thetyee.ca recently posted that, "strategic voting is only necessary because Canada still suffers under the first-past-the-post system". And as the people behind Facebook's Anti-Harper Vote Swap Canada explain, the primary goals of this group consist of:
A) Allow third parties to flourish and maintain Canada's multi-party system.
B) Help stop a Harper Majority! If the Tories win big, we all lose equally.
C) Raise awareness about the need for electoral reform - people should not have to go to such lengths to ensure that their vote is not 'wasted.' No party should be elected to a majority with less than 50% of the popular vote.
It strikes me that this justification for vote-swapping has really turned the practice into a substitute for, rather than an demonstration of, electoral activism.
As posted in this space a year ago (Elector, Heal Thyself!, 07-Sep-08), building a tent big enough to win an election and implement progressive policy is hard work...
Our electoral system is not broken, and neither is the party system. What sometimes gets broken however, is the parties themselves.
Case in point the Progressive Conservatives, which in 1993 lost all but two of their 151 seats in the House of Commons. The Bloc Québécois formed the official opposition with just 13.52% of the popular vote, while the Progressive Conservatives and Reform parties polled with 18.69% and 13.52% of the popular vote, respectively. The right took a well-deserved beating in that election, but developed such a taste for its own blood in the process that it didn't manage to put a winning formula together for another 13 years.
The solution to the right's demise was its willingness to embrace renewal while accepting a spectra of opinions within the coalition.
Now let's look at the left; the NDP has been flanked by the growth of the Green Party in both federal and provincial elections, much like the Green Party and Ralph Nader have disrupted Democratic election results in the United States. Buzz Hargrove of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) saw the writing on the wall in the run-up to the 2006 federal election, and bucked years of tradition by backing then-Prime Minister Paul Martin and the Liberal party rather than his brothers and sisters in the NDP. It didn't work, but he had the right idea.
In 1990, Robert J. Jackson and Doreen Jackson published the 2nd edition of Politics in Canada (Prentice-Hall Canada Ltd.), in which they wrote:
Electoral systems do not determine the nature of party systems, nor the type of government, majority or minority, single-party or coalition, in any country. Governmental outcomes are largely a function of the balance of party forces: the party system, in turn, is largely shaped by a country's political culture and social structure and by the electoral behaviour of its citizens.
Canada doesn't need a new electoral system, and neither does British Columbia. Why legislate, when the power to build winning coalitions already lays within the hands of the members and leaders of our political parties? The problem is that the parties on the left apparently still haven't experienced enough pain to resolve the problem on their own, hence the cry for an electoral system that will allow them to avoid the hard work of building bridges instead of silos.
For those activists who are too work averse or hard-headed to build a big tent, there's always the other option: popular support.
BC's carbon tax is a good example of how issues are often most effectively championed by the very parties that appear to be part of the problem. Gordon Campbell saw an opportunity to garner more votes by implementing a carbon tax. While the policy shift has seen a lot of criticism (from the provincial NDP, no less!), the Liberals have now effectively commandeered an issue that had been owned by the environmentally-friendly oppositon. If an issue enjoys enough support to influence widespread voting behaviour, fundamental change is not only possible, but probable, reqardless of the voting system in place.
Sadly for slacker activists, building popular support for an issue among voters sounds like a lot of work too.
It's likely that some misguided voters in this riding will swap their votes on Tuesday. But before they cast someone else's vote, I encourage them to read these thoughts presented by other Canadians (of various partisan and non-partisan stripes):
- Pundit's Guide to Canadian Federal Elections (non-partisan): Think Twice About Voting Strategically
- Dipper Chick (NDP): VOTE SWAP is a sham
- DevinJohnston.ca (NDP): Strategic Voting, Vote Swapping, and Democratic Reform
- John Laforet's Blog (Liberal): Vote Swapping Stupid, but Legal
- The Invisible Hand (Conservative): Strategic Stupidity
To share your thoughts about vote swapping, vote pairing, strategic voting, the federal election, first past the post, mixed member plurality, proportional representation, armchair activism, or anything else about this post with Right Up Your Alley: Kamloops readers, just click on "Comments" (below).