Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Compromising democracy isn't the answer

Late in this last election, after it had become overwhelmingly clear to everyone in Edmonton-Strathcona that this riding was a two-horse race between the incumbent Conservative and recently elected New Democrat Linda Duncan, a guy stood up at one of the all-candidates' forums and asked the Liberal candidate to step down. Linda's response was that she would never ask anyone to do that. I've never been prouder of her than in that moment.

"For the good of democracy," the guy said. I know he meant well, but that's just crazy. When are we going to put a lie to the notion that it would be more democratic to deprive voters of some of their democratic choices so as to rig the election in one candidate's favour? Think about that one for more than two seconds and you'll realize how ridiculous it sounds.

Linda Duncan and her team won in Edmonton-Strathcona through our sheer determination to convince people of two things: one, that she really, truly could win this time, and two, that people who would normally prefer a different party didn't have to "hold their noses" to vote for her because she was by far the best candidate anyway. Was it harder than it would have been if there hadn't been a Liberal candidate running? You bet. But elections are about convincing people to place their X next to your name, not about taking the easy way out. If we hadn't been able to do that, we wouldn't have deserved to win. It's that simple.

There are few people who understand the frustration of living in a vote-splitting riding better than an Edmonton-Strathcona New Democrat. But as one who's been there, I also know that there are only two truly democratic solutions to this very real problem:

1) Fight the good fight until you win, and
2) Join the electoral reform movement and fight for proportional representation.

Looking for shortcuts isn't the answer. It can never be the answer. Because when we compromise what little democracy we do have under first-past-the-post, we're selling our souls. And more often than not, we're selling them in exchange for a loss.

8 comments:

Pete said...

To me, Edmonton Strathcona is that example that proves people should NOT accept strategic voting.

As an NDPer, I could have voted Liberal in 2000, 2004 and 2006. And I would have gotten an MP that didn't really reflect my views. Instead, I (and many others) held my ground, worked my ass off, donated until it hurt, and got paid off on Tuesday night.

I will never be tempted to vote strategically again.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Pete,

Well, a lot of people who would have normally voted Liberal or Green did in fact vote "strategically" in Edmonton-Strathcona--if they hadn't, we couldn't have won. But it's also the case that again and again we heard from those voters: we don't usually vote NDP, but we really like Linda or it's not hard for me to decide to vote for Linda because of her strength as a candidate. That's quite different from what you're talking about, which is voting for a candidate you can't stand just because he's better than the a candidate you hate even more. And it's certainly miles away from party higher-ups making backroom deals to deprive voters of a full spectrum of candidates in order to rig the election for one candidate, which is what I'm talking about in this post. (As far as I'm concerned, playing the game that way is just plain cheating.)

Greg said...

I agree with almost everything you wrote, but "fighting the good fight until you win" is fine and all, but it leaves the problems of our electoral system in place. After all, Linda won and that's good, but all of the folks in her riding who did not back her are orphans. Better just to go for option 2 and fight for reform.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Greg,

It's not an either-or proposition. We fight for reform, and until we get reform, we fight the best fight we can under FPTP. (Taking the occasional cynical potshot from your blog about how we shouldn't even bother voting may be easier, but it gets fewer proven results.)

In any case, I hope very much that some of those Conservative, Liberal, and Green orphan voters in Edmonton-Strathcona will join me in that fight for reform. The next stop is the BC referendum in May of 2009.

Greg said...

(Taking the occasional cynical potshot from your blog about how we shouldn't even bother voting may be easier, but it gets fewer proven results.)

Oh, snap.

pete said...

I have no doubt lots of regular Liberal supporters voted NDP this time (the greens are more debateable).

Linda being a good candidate was part of the picture. Layton being a good leader and running a great campaign was another part of it.

The extensive and solid ground campaign the NDP ran in Strathcona was also a big part of it.

But that doesn't mean I like or support strategic voting.

Liberals had great candidates over the years, people of substance and solid credentials - but they didn't reflect my values or beliefs. So I didn't vote for them - even though they were the 'strategic' choice.

Duncan's victory has assured me that that comprimise isn't the way to go. Hard work and effort is a better alternative.

If Liberals want to put aside their loyalties and vote for my candidate - I'm happy to accept their votes. But I won't pretend that I'm ever going to return the favour.

olaf said...

Good for you IP,

It's refreshing to hear someone make the same argument, whether it benefits their chosen party or not. Its terribly irritating, for example, when the same Liberals that chastised Layton for asking Liberal voters to "lend" him their votes, fully expected NDP voters to lend them theirs. Consistency tends to be in short supply amongst political observers of all stripes, and should be lauded on the rare occasions it appears. So, I laud you.

Also, I just heard that Jaffer gave an acceptance speech before finding out that he actually lost. That is both hilarious and rather telling of Alberta Conservative entitlement you spoke of earlier.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Olaf,

Thanks for the...er...lauding!

Also, I just heard that Jaffer gave an acceptance speech before finding out that he actually lost. That is both hilarious and rather telling of Alberta Conservative entitlement you spoke of earlier.

Agreed on the entitlement, but I find it more baffling than hilarious. I mean, over at Linda's headquarters, we knew exactly which polls had already come in at the beginning of the night--the Conservative strongholds. If Edmonton-Strathcona Tories were having Jaffer give his victory speech based on those, that means that either they weren't keeping track of which polls those were, or they didn't know the riding well enough to understand that they were a lot stronger in those suburban polls than they were in the urban areas. Either of which is inexcusable.