At his opening campaign event at the end of March, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told voters that they had just two options in this election. They could walk through the blue door or they could walk through the red door. This phrasing represented new imagery, to be sure, but it is essentially the same message that the Liberal Party has been serving up to Canadians for years. To be blunt, after losing their grip on power and patronage, it's all they have left.
There is no doubt that the Conservatives under Stephen Harper have done a lot of bad things and would continue to do bad things if re-elected. It's equally true that they've been allowed to get away with that by a Liberal Official Opposition that seems to be afraid of it's own shadow. When the Liberals weren't voting with Harper, they were staying away from the House of Commons entirely. And, when the campaign got underway, Ignatieff visited one NDP riding after another -- refusing to take on the Conservatives where they need to be defeated.
We live in a multi-party democracy and people don't like being told that they have only two options. They especially don't like being told that their only alternative to the hard-right agenda of the Harper Conservatives is a party that so thoroughly discredited itself while in office that if managed to lose to a party that is clearly out of step with the majority of Canadians on social, economic and environmental issues.
Of course, the Liberals always talk a good game while they are in opposition. A good part of their platform is lifted directly from the NDP. But, let us not forget who drastically cut health care funding, who cancelled federal initiatives for affordable housing and who waited 13 years to get around to dealing with the child care file. Likewise, let's remember that many Liberal MPs are just as opposed to the rights of women and gays as their colleagues behind the blue door.
If recent polls are to be believed, voters have decided that they like what the Liberals are saying, but don't trust them to deliver on it. They appear to be turning in record numbers to the NDP, which has far more credibility in attacking corporate tax cuts (since it actually voted against them) and protecting health care (because it wasn't the party that cut health care funding to the bone in the 1990s).
As noted, this leaves the Liberals with one argument -- that only they can stop Stephen Harper. It's simply not true. In the last election, New Democrats defeated Conservatives in Newfoundland, Alberta and B.C.. This election, they are poised to defeat Conservatives in those provinces, plus Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan. Whether they are voting out of principle or out of strategy, progressive voters can cast their ballot for the NDP without having to hold their nose.
If a voter genuinely believes that the Liberal Party means what it says, then they should feel comfortable voting Liberal. But, let's face it, few if any Canadians vote Liberal out of principle, because the party is not wedded to any particular set of principles.
The rapidly changing political landscape makes the recommendations of websites that advocate so-called strategic voting even more suspect than usual. These sites take 2008 results and assume that they are set in stone (and no one can change their mind). Then they tell people how to vote to change what happened in 2008. But, the reality is that the world has already changed since 2008; it's even changed since March 2011, mostly at the expense of the freefalling Liberals and to the benefit of the surging NDP. People who take the advice of strategic voting sites and open the red door will likely find that it is a trap door.
The effect of voting Liberal in 2011 can best be illustrated by the video below. The Liberal voters are on the down escalator, trying to get to the top on an escalator that is moving in the other direction. Wouldn't it make more sense to get on the other escalator, the one going in the direction that every good anti-Harper Canadian wants to go?
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