It's strategic voting -- or Harper!

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It all comes down to that age-old question: Does the end justify the means?

Right now, many Canadians are torn between their strong desire to nullify Stephen Harper's corrupt, anti-democratic rule -- and their own party loyalty.

But, with polls predicting at least another Harper minority -- given our distorting first-past-the-post system -- more and more are turning to the concept of strategic voting.

For this reason, there has been a proliferation of online groups designed to assist those who want to put their "X" beside the local opposition candidate best positioned to defeat the Harper representative. Check them out -- Catch 22, Project Democracy, Know Harper, Swing 33, and Avaaz of petition fame. 

The problem these groups are trying to tackle is the refusal of our more progressive politicians to hold back on their usual partisan horserace, even in the face of the Harper threat. As in the past, our three (four in Quebec) relatively progressive parties could easily split the non-Harper electorate -- and allow a Conservative to win by even a handful of votes.

Two weeks before election day, in an article entitled: "Layton takes aim at Ignatieff -- but Grit Leader won't return fire," Globe and Mail writer Bill Curry summed up this frightening scenario: "A stronger showing for the NDP could mean an easier path to power for Conservative candidates in some ridings as the centre-left vote splits between the Liberals, NDP and Greens."

Precisely. Of course, there are those who oppose strategic voting because it focuses on winning, rather than issues, but, for a growing number, the biggest issue is a Harper victory -- and the destructive, far-right policies he would eagerly introduce.

And, do we really like being governed by a party which can muster a mere 38 per cent of votes, representing about 25 per cent of Canadians?

Strategic voting is, in fact, the only way to ensure that the majority is heard.

This non-partisan (other than being ABC) approach to voting is only relevant in certain ridings. Voters in solid Liberal or NDP ridings can relax, knowing that the tactical, anti-Harper challenge lies in the many swing ridings across the country.

The Catch 22 Campaign, of which I'm a member, has identified almost 60 such ridings where strategic or smart voting is relevant. Some of these have been designated "offensive" campaigns -- where the Conservative MP won by less than 20 per cent in 2008.

Others are "defensive" -- ridings held by a Liberal or NDP member, but targetted by the Conservatives.

In the realm of "offensive" ridings, take London West where Conservative Ed Holder won with 39.1 per cent of the vote in 2008. The Liberals got 35.4 per cent; the NDP 14.6, and the Greens 9.8.

It is clear that, if the NDP and the Greens had held their noses and voted for the Liberal, Sue Barnes, the only real contender, London West would have had a different MP, cutting into Harper's numbers.

Instead, a majority of the voters in London West didn't want Ed Holder as their representative -- but they got him.

Same goes for Egmont, PEI. Conservative Gail Shea won by less than 100 votes -- a margin of .30 per cent. Very close! If some of the NDP and Green supporters had adopted the idea of strategic voting, Liberal Keith Milligan would have headed to Ottawa.

Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar in Saskatchewan would have had NDPer Nettie Wiebe packing her bags for the capital, if a few Liberals and Greens had given her the 300 votes she needed to beat Conservative Kelly Block.

In fact, that's how NDP candidate Linda Duncan in the "defensive" riding of Edmonton-Strathcona made it to Ottawa -- as the only non-Conservative MP in Alberta.

During the last election, several Liberals realized Duncan was the only one who stood a chance of beating Conservative Rahim Jaffer -- of Helena Guergis fame. Those "Liberals for Linda" helped her win by a margin of .98 per cent. We all know what happened to Jaffer.

So, what if Liberals, NDPers, and Greens weighed their options in a less party-oriented fashion and voted en masse for the most promising anti-Harper progressive?

Given the 2008 results and present riding numbers, we would probably have a Liberal minority government supported by the NDP and possibly a Green or two. Imagine! And, once citizens themselves had demonstrated their willingness to give the three progressive parties a chance to govern, the new MPs would have to follow suit -- and co-operate.

To this end, Catch 22 has developed a strong "on-the-ground" presence with dozens of in-riding campaigners planning to distribute about 100.000 pieces of literature and posters in several target ridings, as well as flyers, newspaper ads, and robo-calling to selected homes.

In my riding of Kingston and the Islands in Ontario, Liberal MP and House Speaker Peter Milliken retired, leaving the Conservatives keen to take advantage of the gap left behind.

Respected author and activist Jamie Swift recently sent out an email to 100 friends: "... I feel I have to vote for (Liberal) Ted Hsu in what is, realistically, a two-person race locally ... I'd vote NDP in a heartbeat in any two (or three) horse race where the social democrats had a chance. If you agree with this line of thinking, please spread the word to people who would normally vote NDP or Green. The Harperites are presenting a credible threat in Kingston ..."

Some argue that the Liberals are as bad as the Harper Conservatives. In rebuttal, I point out that Ignatieff has no chance of winning a majority and, given the history of progressive and productive Liberal minority governments (Pearson, Trudeau), it's worth the risk.

On the other hand, we've seen Harper in a minority situation, killing forward-thinking bills with his new Senate majority. With a majority, he would rule in the same negative, destructive way Mike Harris did in Ontario -- deeply wounding our society.

With this in mind, we can't afford to leave the results of the next, crucial election up to political parties, whose primary goal is to win. If we want to defeat Harper and create a more progressive Canada, we have to go beyond partisan interests -- and vote strategically.

Kathleen O'Hara is a member of the Catch 22 Campaign, which supports strategic voting.

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