As election day approaches, calls for a strategic vote to defeat Harper are becoming more and more common. Danny Williams and Gilles Duceppe have been at the forefront of this campaign but the politics of ABC (Anybody But Conservative) have found a sizable degree of support on the left. To varying degrees, ABC strategic voting has been promoted by the CAW leadership, columnists such as Linda McQuaig and activists such as Judy Rebick in a recent article in the Globe and Mail.
As much as I want Harper to be ousted, I cannot bring myself to supporting ABC strategic voting. This is because ABC means, for most people, voting Liberal to keep out the Tories. I donâe(TM)t know how the left can endorse this. Maybe we should recall the 2000 and 2004 American presidential elections to learn a little about Canadian politics.
Buoyed by the emergence of mass opposition to neoliberalism with the Seattle WTO protests, Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader campaigned hard to expose the Democrats and Republicans as two wings of the same corporate party. After the Democrats conceded the stolen election to Bush, Nader became the victim of the most remarkable and effective character assassination in recent political memory. In the process of demonizing Nader as the man who let Bush win, Naderâe(TM)s message about the two corporate parties was buried. This set the stage for the co-option of Americaâe(TM)s progressive social movements âe” labour, women, anti-war, immigrant rights âe” into the dead-end ABB (Anybody But Bush) politics in 2004 which re-established Democratic Party control over these movements.
Fortunately, we have the NDP in English Canada, a party which did emerge from grassroots social movements and reflects the aspirations of millions who want progressive social change. Itâe(TM)s got problems, itâe(TM)s not perfect, and it long ago abandoned the âeoeparliamentary road to socialism.âe While the NDP, as a party, is largely absent from Canadaâe(TM)s social movements, individual NDP members are found in every progressive campaign.
This is why the call to vote for the Liberals is so disturbing âe” because Naderâe(TM)s analysis holds here in Canada.
The Liberals, who will be the main beneficiaries of ABC strategic voting, are a corporate party to the core. There is no whitewashing of their pro-war agenda. They got us into Afghanistan, put our troops into the Kandahar combat mission and began the massive military spending increases before the Tories got in. They only stayed out of Iraq because of unprecedented levels of popular protest that threatened a backbench rebellion and the political suicide of their party like many of the Western governments which backed the U.S.-led invasion.
While more socially progressive than the Tories, the Liberals presided over the biggest social spending cuts in Canadian history in 1995, cuts which hurt every working Canadian, and disproportionately women and minority groups which are supposedly defended by the alleged social conscience of the Liberals.
The Liberals are just as bad as the Tories on the environment, having failed to implement Kyoto and allowing Canadaâe(TM)s carbon emissions to rise at a faster rate than the U.S. And letâe(TM)s not forget how they flip-flopped on the FTA, pushed through NAFTA and tried to advance the FTAA.
Proposing the Liberals as an alternative to the Tories sows illusions in the Liberals, a party that differs from the Tories largely in how they present themselves âe” lying about their agenda rather than hiding it as the Tories attempt to do. Ultimately, ABC strategic voting can only emerge from a narrow view of politics, a view which reinforces the sort of fear and despair that feeds into short-sighted lesser-evilism. Thatâe(TM)s why as much as I want Layton to keep attacking Harper, he also needs to be attacking the Liberals for their neoliberal, anti-environment, pro-war record.
The real weakness of ABC proponents is its implicit assumption that what happens in elections and parliament matters most. It ignores the root of real social change: ordinary people organizing and campaigning in their workplaces, communities and schools.
Across the country, there are people gearing up for anti-war demonstrations on October 18. There are workers fighting to unionize while others are mobilizing the union membership to win better collective agreement. Students are confronting military recruiters on campus and mobilizing in the thousands to bring down tuition fees. Affordable housing, safe-injection sites, womenâe(TM)s rights, justice for Indigenous peoples, and much more is all being fought for across Canada and Quebec. If this is where real change emerges, how can we possibly build any confidence and hope on the ground if weâe(TM)re suggesting a vote for the Liberals? Theyâe(TM)re by no means congruous, but the NDP, more than any other party, has its roots in these grassroots struggles because of the efforts of individual NDP members and voters (remember, thatâe(TM)s 2.6 million people).
The âeoepolitics of hopeâe and the âeoepolitics of despairâe are platitudes in the mouths of politicians, but to ordinary people engaged in day-to-day struggles, hope and despair are very real and have enormous affects on the outcomes of such important grassroots campaigns.
Voting Liberal to keep the Tories out builds no confidence on the ground, only a feeling of despair and demoralization. This is not the mood we want on the left and among activists when Harper gets elected, even if it is a minority.
We want to wake up on October 15 with a feeling of confidence and a willingness to take on whichever government is in power.