WARNING: This blog post discusses strategic voting. Reader discretion is advised.
NOTE: This was originally delivered in the form of an email I sent on February 28 to the more than 2,000 members of the Catch 22 website.
In a couple of weeks, I will be shutting the catch22campaign.ca website down. That's another way of saying (officially) that there will not be a Catch 22 Campaign in this year's federal election and I will not be registering a C22 Third Party with Elections Canada. The website was a campaign tool -- one I'm proud of -- but it was more or less obsolete the day after the 2011 election.
I left the site active (at $25 a month) mainly because I wanted to see how politics would unfold under the Harper juggernaut. I think it's been an interesting -- and sometimes exciting -- four years in terms of the opposition to the Harper Cons. LeadNow's Vote Together campaign (with resources Catch 22 could never dream of) is working on a three-prong election plan that includes democracy and electoral reform along with the environment and inequality. There is a real, long overdue debate on proportional representation taking place in the Liberal Party of Canada. The NDP and Greens consider the election to be the referendum on proportional representation and will proceed in the next Parliament if they have the votes.
Given those positive factors, combined with the amount of time, energy and money it requires to mount a serious cross-Canada Third Party campaign, I decided not proceed again.
I also left the site up with all of its content -- including detailed campaign plans and (sort of) internal discussions so that anyone thinking about these things for the next election could benefit from what others have tried. A lot of people put a lot of efforts into Catch 22 and our website and I remain thankful to everyone for that.
Some of the innovative features we used on the website included:
- Target riding profiles which showed how why we selected the riding
- Target riding-level groups and other issue groups where people with common interests could gather and organize
- Interactive google earth maps providing a visual display of the 2008 riding results along with poll-by-poll results
- An online candidate endorsement process
- Space for people in non-target ridings to discuss those ridings without losing our focus
- Website membership and strict moderation in order to stay positive, stay focused and provide a safe, productive space for activists to have respectful, adult conversations.
What does closing down the website mean for members of the website?
- You're receiving this email because you provided it to us when you signed up to the campaign website.
- This message has been sent through the website's "email blast" feature which will no longer be available to me. However, I will download a final list of email addresses, names and ridings before shutting the site down.
- I may periodically send out messages. If you want to be removed from the email list, reply to this email and let me know or sign in to the website and delete your account.
- I will not provide this list or any other personal information my possession (including donor lists) to anyone although I may send out occasional messages on behalf of other campaigns. I have carefully observed our Privacy Statement over the last four years.
- I will archive the structure and content of the website.
- Your account will be permanently disabled.
- Any content you may have contributed will no longer be available.
What does this mean for the Catch 22 Campaign?
The Catch 22 campaign team effectively disbanded right after the election. The 2011 election was our sole focus. The Third Party wrapped up a few months later after we submitted our audited financial report to Elections Canada. Website traffic plummeted from 1,000s of hits a day to zero in just a couple of weeks.
Over the last four years, As an individual, I have used the Catch 22 website, email list and social media to promote several issues including NDP and Liberal party leadership races, Nick Fillmore's One Big Campaign , Lead Now's election strategy consultation process and the Stop Election Fraud initiative. As a Catch 22 "persona," I will continue to moderate the Facebook page (which has over 2,000 likes). I will also continue with the Twitter feed (1,100-plus followers). These are low-cost, low maintenance activities but I just want to make it clear that there is no Catch 22 organization. It's just me now.
My work with Catch 22 has always been in the context of what I consider to be the strategic imperative of changing federal, provincial and municipal voting systems to some form or other of proportional representation.
A few thoughts on strategic voting and electoral reform
"Strategic voting," what others call "negative voting" or "tactical voting" is not an exact science. Nor is it rocket science. Nor is there agreement about what it actually is. Catch 22 identified our approach as "strategic campaigning." Whatever you call it, in my view, SV is essentially the reverse-engineering of first past the post elections to swing enough votes to create a winning split.
SV Checklist: Select target ridings. ID undecided, uncommitted "super-voters." Identify issues. Make candidate endorsements. Deliver the message. Get out the vote. Do that successfully in enough ridings and voila, one might "win" the election. To do that professionally, more than a handful of volunteers sitting around a kitchen table as we did in 2011 are needed.
Catch 22's basic premise was that the futility of the voting system with its focus on ridings and parties -- not voters -- needed extraordinary efforts if we were to stop Harper. While Catch 22 wasn't able to have the kind of impact needed to help prevent Harper's majority (we did reach tens of thousands of voters with robocalls and flyers), we did succeed in making the connection between strategic voting and our (antiquated, post-feudal) winner-take-all voting system.
A lot more people get what split-voting is and what a 39 per cent majority means, why it's unfair to voters and why we need change. In my view, that makes the time and effort put into Catch 22 a worthwhile investment.
PR is a means to an end. It's a tool that can be used to more democratically and productively address the ever-deepening economic, ecological, democratic and social challenges we face. It's a lot easier to eat baked beans when you have a can opener. Whether you're active in a political party or whether you plan to get involved with a strategic voting campaign this year to try and defeat Harper's Conservatives, I hope that -- in parallel -- you will see beyond this election and demand the kind of electoral reform that will change the rules of the game and make strategic voting obsolete.
You can read more of my views on the proportional representation imperative in this blog post I wrote in conjunction with last August's Peoples' Social Forum.
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