Declining Just an Empty Protest that Won’t Move the Needle

By Jay Menard

When exactly did we determine that voting against something is better than voting for something?

Strategic voting is bad enough – the idea of compromising your beliefs in some grand effort to ensure “they” don’t get it. It’s semi-understandable when it comes to our first-past-the-post system, especially if you’re in a riding where vote-splitting may be an issue.

But this idea of “Declining your vote” as a grand statement against the political system? Sorry for being frank, but it’s egocentric and ineffective.

Suck it up, buttercup. There will never be a political party with which you agree wholeheartedly. Ideally, you vote for the candidate who best represents your riding in the larger political forum. We know, thanks to Party politics, that’s rarely the case, but it’s still the ideal upon which you should base your ballot.

Which candidate do I feel will represent my riding the best? Which Party best aligns with my values?

And notice that I didn’t say “me.” Our elected representatives should vote based upon the desires and needs of our ridings. I have opinions, thoughts, and beliefs, but I’m not so arrogant as to say mine are any more valid or right than my neighbours. Should a clear majority of my riding-mates feel a different way, then my candidate has an obligation to represent that belief – regardless of what I feel.

Many years ago, I fought long and hard against Pat O’Brien who conscripted the will of my old riding, first by applying his beliefs and those of his close confidants/supporters with too broad of a brush, then by negating our riding’s choice and choosing to leave his political allegiance behind without allowing the electorate the right to validate that choice.

It was clear that a majority in that riding did not support these actions – though we were never given the chance to prove it. That’s not representation.

The best way we can ensure that our collective desires and beliefs are heard is through the ballot.

So go ahead, decline your vote and make your protest. Enjoy your Pyrrhic victory and walk away from the ballot self-satisfied, but know that you’re arguably just contributing to the ongoing political malaise.

Because the Big Three know you’re not going to keep doing that. They know, next election, you may just not cast a ballot at all. And they just get stronger – and they just ignore the others.

Sites like Decline Your Vote talk about “all political parties” but focus exclusively on the Liberals, NDP, and PC. And that’s what’s wrong with the system.

In my new riding alone, I have candidates representing the Big Three. But I also have a Green candidate, someone representing the Freedom Party, a Communist option, and someone from the Paupers.

Instead of spoiling a ballot, declining it, or voting strategically, wouldn’t it be better to vote FOR something? There are other options. None of the above shouldn’t be one of them.

Sadly, our new political environment is all about instant gratification. If my worldview isn’t immediately embraced, then I’m going to take my ball and go home. But politics isn’t a sprint — it’s a marathon. The needle moves slowly, but it moves. It just needs a reason to move.
The argument has always been: a vote for Party X is a wasted vote because they’ll never get in. But that’s short-sighted.

True, Candidate Fringe may not have a chance to be elected – but don’t think the big parties aren’t watching. If a significant part of the riding voted Green, for example, it makes a statement that a number of people in that riding believe in that message and those policies.

There’s a reason why, despite the different colours, all three political parties are basically shades of grey.

They all learned, through the Liberal federal dominance from 1963-1984 (all due respect Mr. Clark) and from 1993-2006 that Canadians, coast-to-coast, tend to hover around the middle of the spectrum. The Conservatives only came to power when they muted the more extreme right-wing remnants of the Reform Party.

So now, when it comes to the Big Three at both the federal and provincial level, we’re left with only gradients of change. It contributes to the general “what’s the point?” malaise.

What bothers me most is that this is completely disrespectful of the process. I’ll gloss over the fact that we just celebrated an anniversary of D-Day. Locally, let’s try to put the images of those veterans who stood at centre ice during the MEMORIAL Cup out of our minds, so that we can have our self-indulgent, narcissistic protest.

And it is narcissism. You don’t see yourself and your point of view reflected exactly in the candidates, so let everyone know you’re declining.

Oh, but you know that tired old adage about “if you don’t vote, don’t complain.” The adage I’ve never believed in? Well, that changes. I have more respect for people who don’t vote because they’re actively choosing to abdicate their vote in favour of people who are making more of an effort. To decline your vote? To say, “There is absolutely no one in this list of five to 10 people in whom I share some affinity” and decline the right to vote FOR representation? That’s just disrespectful to everyone around the world who would kill — or, more often, are killed — just for the opportunity to vote.

Yes, we have the right to behave any way we want at the ballot box. We can spoil our ballot, we can write in a goofy name, or we can not show up. But there are differences between rights and responsibilities. We have the responsibility to act responsibly with our ballot.

If you feel declining a ballot and voting for nothing is better than choosing an alternative candidate and voting for something, that’s your right. It’s irresponsible, but it’s your right.

Declining a ballot does nothing to move the needle. Sure, the Big Three will note your displeasure, but you’re not helping to guide them anywhere. A vote for Green, Communist, or Christian Heritage at least is counted and, if enough are cast, show a direction where people are heading.

Politics isn’t an all-or-nothing game. It’s not an immediate gratification. And something is better than nothing.

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