Left-Leaners Must Decide Whether to Vote with Head or Heart

By Jason Menard, 

If you’re a left-leaning voter in this Canadian federal election, you’re faced with more than the obvious four options when you step up to the ballot box — you’ve also got to deal with an even harder question: to vote with your head or with your heart.

Oh to be a conservative voter. It would be so much easier, since you really and truly only have one choice. But for those of us who find ourselves on the left-hand side of the political spectrum, in addition to the Liberal/NDP/Green debate, you also have to whether you’re willing to engage in strategic voting.

The left-wing vote is fractured. For many, since the scholarship scandal, it’s no longer simply just Conservative versus Liberal. The NDP has grown in support, the Green Party is a viable alternative for many, and the Bloc has strong support in Quebec — and not just with the separatist voters. With no dominant left-wing party in place, the left-leaning vote is spread so thin that it’s a challenge to even consider that any one part could legitimately overcome the Conservative plurality.

Elgin-Middlesex candidate Ryan Dolby dropped out of the race, after earning the NDP nomination, in what he terms a “strategic decision.” The right-wing conspiracy theorists are already trumpeting this as evidence of the great left-wing Evil Coalition (while conveniently ignoring the existence of a 2004 letter signed by Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, and Jack Layton, which expressed their intent to implement a Harper-led coalition should Paul Martin’s Liberals lose a non-confidence vote), but while you can debate about Dolby’s behaviour, he does raise a question that must be asked.

Do you vote with your head or your heart?

I’ve always believed in voting for the candidate who best represents your views and/or would best represent your riding. I don’t believe in voting solely by party, but that affiliation is a factor in any decision. But should it be the sole determining factor? That’s the question we must answer.

I’ll be honest with you. I have no idea what I’m going to do. Over the years, I’ve voted Liberal, NDP, and even Green once. When I voted Green, I was told by some that I wasted my vote. But that all depends on how you value a ballot. If you see it solely as a means to an end, then, yes — it was a waste because my candidate didn’t win. Of course, you could say the same for roughly 60-70 per cent of votes thanks to our first-past-the-post system. Essentially, if you don’t vote for the winning party, your vote is wasted.

This won’t turn into a plea for a more representative form of government. There are other days for that argument. We have to deal with the system we have in place — one that rewards our nation’s reins to whichever party has the plurality of votes. Essentially, a party that receives just over 30 per cent of cast ballots is considered representative of a country that voted overwhelmingly for other parties.

And that’s where strategic voting rears its ugly head. There are those who advocate — including Dolby — voting for the Liberals regardless of which candidate you feel would serve you best. Regardless of whether you think your NDP or Green candidate would offer you the most representation in the House of Commons, there are those who would have you ignore that instinct in favour of unifying against a common enemy.

I haven’t been one of those people in the past. But it all comes down to how you define effective representation.

Is a vote for NDP or Green wasted? Not in my books. Yes, our current system of government penalizes you for not siding with the majority, but you still have an obligation to make your feelings known. Otherwise, what’s the point of voting locally? Why don’t we just elect a party to power and let them fill in the blanks?

I’ll be honest, I still don’t know who I’m voting for. There’s plenty of time and opportunity to make that decision. Strategic voting just doesn’t sit right with me, though. It seems to go against everything that parliament should be about.

In the end, maybe voting for someone who I feel best represents me is selfish, but I thought that’s what elections are supposed to be about. Yes, the game has changed, but choosing this country’s leadership shouldn’t be a game. Too bad so many of us don’t take it seriously.

One thing’s for sure, though. When it comes to voting I don’t want my head to be the only thing that’s in the game.

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