Despite the inevitable pleading from the Liberals, progressive voters should not vote Liberal in order to stop the Conservatives (a tactic that is usually mislabeled as “strategic voting”). Just because the Liberals’ well-documented sense of entitlement now seems to have expanded to include a belief that they are entitled to votes they’ve done nothing to earn, that doesn’t mean they deserve to be re-elected — or even to avoid oblivion.

Election campaigns are supposed to be an opportunity for political parties to make their case to voters. But, due to an apparent inability to think of any positive reasons for voting Liberal, Paul Martin is again relying on voters’ understandable distaste for the prospect of a Conservative government to scare those who favour NDP policies into not “wasting their vote.”

There is nothing strategic about strategic voting. While the tactic has worked quite well for Martin and the Liberals before, it hasn’t worked very well for voters. There are over a dozen examples from the 2004 election in which strategic voting by NDP supporters achieved the very opposite of what it was intended to achieve. As blogger J. Kelly Nestruck wrote last month: “Sometimes a vote for the Liberals is a vote for the Conservatives. And, worse, a vote for the Liberals is always a vote for the Liberals.”

In over a dozen ridings, the third-place Liberals took votes away from the NDP candidate and allowed Conservative candidates to sneak in. In other ridings, where the Conservatives were barely in the race, voters who wanted a New Democrat MP ended up returning a weak Liberal incumbent instead. In many cases, that Liberal proved to be barely distinguishable from the Conservatives.

Indeed, the real problem with voting Liberal to stop the Conservatives is that the Liberals aren’t really all that different from the Conservatives. If former Cambridge MP Janko Peric — who famously referred to the Conservatives as “dark forces” during the last campaign — had been re-elected in 2004, the Parliamentary vote count on same-sex marriage (to cite just one example) would have been exactly the same.

Voting for the NDP does not mean “splitting the progressive vote” because, despite all of Paul Martin’s assertions about “shared values” during the last campaign, a vote for the Liberals is simply not a progressive vote.

Liberals may have introduced some progressive measures during their time in office, but they’ve done so only when they were in a position of weakness or when they think that they have no choice. Ralph Goodale’s original 2005 budget was so right wing that he hadn’t even finished reading his speech before Stephen Harper emerged from the House of Commons to express his support for it. It was only after Harper reversed himself (in the midst of some damaging testimony before the Gomery Inquiry) that the Liberals needed the NDP’s support. They then agreed to cancel their huge corporate tax cut and redirect that money to the environment, housing, public transit and foreign aid.

Even though many advocates of strategic voting say that they favour a continued Liberal minority with the NDP holding the balance of power, that’s not what the Liberals themselves want. If they did, they wouldn’t have recruited high profile candidates to run against NDP incumbents. Likewise, they’d be telling people in ridings featuring Conservative-NDP races to support the NDP. You won’t hear that from a single Liberal, because they are clearly aiming to crush the NDP. That way, they can return to their habit of campaigning from the left and governing from the right, without anyone to call them on it.

Moreover, even if it happened that we end up with another Liberal minority, I don’t support the view that only the total of Liberal and NDP seats matters. I would submit that it is always better to have an NDP MP rather than a Liberal MP to represent your riding. In the last Parliament, there were votes on several key issues in which the Liberals lined up with the Conservatives, including the defeat of federal anti-scab legislation. The only sure way to get an MP who supports NDP policies is to vote NDP.

MPs also act as advocates for their own communities. If a Liberal had represented Timmins-James Bay, for example, does anyone believe that they would have risked embarrassing the federal government regarding its scandalous inaction on the water problems in Kashechewan? That issue was brought to light only because New Democrat MP Charlie Angus was determined to get the problems fixed.

Timmins-James Bay is also an example of another reason that strategic voting is such an ineffective strategy. It’s a riding in which the NDP finished a poor third in 2000, but won in 2004. If we try to make a list of ridings in which the NDP is supposedly “not a factor,” we’re going to be constantly one or two elections behind. As well, the NDP will be prevented from becoming a factor in many ridings if their supporters keep being scared into voting Liberal.

People across Canada should take a look at the parties and the candidates in their ridings and cast their votes in a way that best reflects their own values. And, the Liberals should drop the fear tactics and concentrate on actually convincing voters that they truly deserve their votes.

In a democracy, the only way to waste your vote is to use it to support something in which you don’t believe.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...