Members of the House of Commons returned to Ottawa last week, and as many observers have noted, this marks the beginning of the run up to the 2015 federal election. This also marks the beginning of a discussion among Canadian progressives about how to defeat Stephen Harper and elect a government that will implement progressive change.
With two national parties trying to court progressives, the scheme of so-called "strategic voting" to defeat the Conservatives has become the battle cry of some. However, putting aside one's principles and trying to vote strategically often has an outcome far different than what one intends.
The 2011 federal election surely is proof that strategic voting is misguided and counterproductive.
At the beginning of that campaign (38 days before the election) no one would have predicted the New Democrats would win three times as many seats as the Liberals. Nor would anyone have predicted the NDP would be the party to come in second to the Conservatives in an additional 107 races. This could not have been predicted from any of the polls.
In fact, if you were using the "most likely to win" criteria, you would have worked against the vast majority of the NDP candidates who got elected, let alone those who came closest to defeating a Conservative.
Elections matter. Polls are increasingly unpredictable. And candidates or parties who argue that you should "hold your nose" and vote based on some calculation of what is "strategic," are both factually misguided and are asking you to use elections as cynical tools devoid of principles. Both of these aspects are bad for democracy and establishing good government.
In an election where on the one hand the NDP has 97 incumbents (as opposed to 37 Liberals) and came second to the Conservatives in 107 ridings (as opposed to 56 Liberals), and on the other the Liberals have a lead in the opinion polls, there are two national parties who can reasonably make the case that they will unseat the current government.
However, all this is besides the key question for Canadian progressives: what kind of government do we want to replace the current regime?
I believe most progressives would agree that if we are going to replace Stephen Harper, we need to elect a government that will truly take the country in a new direction.
And yet if we look at Justin Trudeau and the Liberals on stated policy, we find that there is precious little difference between them and the Conservatives on most key issues. Justin's difference is mostly in rhetoric and style.
Trudeau has yet to even articulate a progressive vision of substance. On trade, the Liberals are just as committed to free trade agreements as the Conservatives, even endorsing the CETA before the final text of the agreement is released. On foreign policy, the Liberals seem to run in lockstep with the Harper government, supporting foreign intervention in Iraq without seeing the facts around such a mission. On the environment, Trudeau has endorsed the Keystone XL pipeline and has yet to propose any meaningful plan to address climate change. On economic issues, the Liberals, having overseen the a huge increase in inequality in this country when they were in power during the 1990s, have continued to vote against progressive labour law reform and have not said where they stand on a federal minimum wage.
The suggestion that we should strategically count on the Liberals to produce progressive change is immensely problematic. As we all know, the Liberals' history has been to promise and posture progressively before the election, and govern conservatively when elected.
I have no doubt the Liberals, like with the Red Book of 1993, will eventually propose progressive campaign promises. But like the Red Book promises, there's ample reason to believe Trudeau's vows, too, would remain unfulfilled 13 years and many Liberal budgets later.
I profoundly believe that elections should be about what we are for rather than what we are against. So, when someone suggests to me that I should "vote strategically," I will tell them the strategic thing to do is vote for who you believe will actually take this country in a different direction after getting elected.
Voting for your principles is strategic voting.
Ken Neumann is National Director of the United Steelworkers.
This article originally appeared on the Toronto Star and is reprinted with permission from the author.