In the first week of the election campaign, Stephen Harper's party jumped out to a quick lead of almost 10 points over the Liberals, and another 10 ahead of the NDP. A month ago, the Liberals and Harper's Conservatives were tied.
Thoughtful people are terrified at the prospect of a Harper majority. The ABC response Anybody But Conservatives will be heard more and more as the Liberal campaign spins its wheels.
The problem with ABC is that it does not take us anywhere worth going. It is easy to agree on the need to elect as few Conservatives as possible. When the issue is how best to minimize any Harper gains, ABC gets complicated.
Depending on where you live, an anti-Harper voter has as many as four options: the Bloc, the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals. Despite what you will read, while the opposition to Harper may be divided, the left is not. Neither the Liberals nor the Greens qualify as left parties. The Liberals did once have a serious social liberal wing. It did not survive past the 1982 major recession, though we saw a dead cat bounce at the time of the 1988 free trade fight.
The Greens are new, which makes them novel, but the party outlook is conservative, not left. Indeed, the socialist implications of the ecological revolution needed to transform the way we produce goods and services and exploit natural resources are denied by the Greens.
The Bloc has roots in the Quebec trade union movement, but it is a nationalist coalition that leans left, not a social democratic or socialist party.
The NDP is the only left party. Granted, the membership is to the left of the leadership, and the party programme falls short of what the left would like to see happen nationally, but the NDP is the only party that consistently tacks left on the issues.
Notably, the party leadership often fails to satisfy its supporters, as it trims its messages for the prevailing winds of opinion. "Crime" is a painful example. But, its supporters do not have to take issues to the public, past doorkeepers from a hostile media, and answer questions in front of reporters looking to score points by red-baiting.
In this campaign, Jack Layton has drawn a lead on Harper, and put the economy front and centre. His party is very competitive in urban Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa-Gatineau, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Edmonton. Usually the main rival is the Liberal party, so ABC does not apply. Where tight three or even four way races do prevail, then voting ABC is not that easy.
Since downtown Canada is mostly ABC already (except in Alberta), strategic voting choices do not have to be made with one exception. The Greens are everywhere the spoiler.
A vote for the Greens is a vote for Harper. StÃ©phane Dion and Elizabeth May have recognized this by not putting up candidates in each other's riding. It is too bad they did not pick a bunch more ridings where they would stand down for each other. And it is a shame the NDP has not been pushing a three or even four-way electoral pact. Setting up a series of two-way races the Conservatives against just one other party in, say, 50 ridings would be the best way to deny Conservatives anything more than a narrow minority government.
The Harper Conservatives get it. They have stood down against independent MP AndrÃ© Arthur in the Quebec City area riding of Portneuf-Jacques Cartier. Not only did Harper recognize a soul mate in the former talk show host, celebrated for his over-the-top right-wing outbursts on-air, he arranged a tactical withdrawal so his party would not risk losing him to a split vote.
The NDP, Liberals, Greens, and why not, the Bloc could have done the same thing, for the same reason. Better to have non-Conservatives even from another party you do not like than a Conservative government winning re-election, despite not having 40 per cent of the vote, because of preventable vote-splitting.
The Liberals hope to recover by brandishing the understandably nightmarish scenario of the Harpers in charge with a majority in the House of Commons. Political science teaches us (Duverger's law) that in the first-past-the-post electoral system, when people want to defeat the government, they vote for the party with the best chance of defeating the government, not for their preferred choice.
In this election no party has enough support to defeat the Harpers on their own. Since we live in a competitive party system the electoral co-operation needed to assure a Conservative defeat is not going to be forthcoming.
Mostly, ABC must come from inside the party system. Relying on individual voters to cast the best ABC vote is no guarantee of an ABC result. ABC is not as easy as a,b,c.
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