Individual votes matter more this election

Voting for a lesser of two evils further removes power from smaller parties 

Collin feels that students should vote for the parties that best align with their politcal ideologies.
Credit: 
Supplied by Collin Chepeka

This election season, some voters may be tempted to cast their ballots for either the Conservatives or Liberals in an effort to ensure their ideologies are reflected in Parliament. With many key issues at stake, strategic voters should look to cast their votes for the parties that best represent their values.

With the federal Conservatives taking a lead in the polls over the incumbent Liberal government, many voters will be faced with the choice between voting for the party that more closely aligns with their values, or voting for the party that has the best chance at beating the one they don’t want in power. 

Partisanship aside, this issue affects both the left and the right. 

On the right, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada (PPC) promises a more thoroughly right-wing platform than Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives, yet O’Toole looks like he has a solid chance of winning the election. 

The same is true for left-leaning voters. Trudeau has the best chance, according to polls, of beating the Conservatives, yet for voters concerned with issues such as climate, voting for the party that purchased a doomed pipeline project seems to conflict with a deep commitment to tackling climate change. 

Unfortunately, due in large part to inner-party disintegration, it’s highly unlikely that Annamie Paul’s Green Party will even win a seat. 

Having to pick a lesser of two evils in an election to prevent a party you dislike from winning is as old as Canadian democracy itself. 

According to a study done by researchers at Duke University, a substantial amount of Canadian voters cast their ballot strategically. That is, they vote for the candidate they think has the best chance at winning instead of the candidate that best aligns with their political values. 

This results in supporters of smaller parties like the New Democratic Party (NDP) or PPC abandoning their first preferences and voting for larger parties with similar ideologies. 

The prevalence of strategic voting in Canadian elections has some calling for a change in the way we vote, as they argue that Canadians should be able to vote for who they want rather than who will beat who they don’t want to win. 

A popular alternative to our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system known as proportional representation (PR)  would allows votes to more directly reflect the actual level of support for candidates than our current system does. 

However, researchers have found that in PR systems, the level of strategic voting that occurs is roughly the same as in our current system. Further, given that Trudeau campaigned on electoral reform only to abandon the project, it’s unlikely we will see substantial change in our electoral system anytime soon. 

With the upcoming election you will soon see a plea from both the Liberals and the Conservatives to shift your support away from smaller parties towards them as they stand the best chance of winning the election. 

If your goal is to keep either O’Toole or Trudeau out of power, odds are you will end up voting for the lesser of two evils. However, I want to present another strategic option that allows you to vote for who you want and potentially keep who you don’t want out of power.

Let’s say you’re a New Democratic Party (NDP) supporter but really don’t want the Conservatives to win. You could vote for Trudeau, who stands the best chance at winning outright against the slow creep of Conservative support. Or you could go ahead and vote for the NDP. Unfortunately, with the latter, it seems the Conservatives have a better chance of winning. 

But that’s not the whole picture. 

As it stands, the Conservatives look like they could win with approximately 34 per cent support of Canadians, whereas the Liberals have 31 per cent and the NDP only 20 per cent. So the Conservatives win, but that’s not the end.

In the Canadian parliamentary system, a party can either win a majority or minority amount of support. In a minority, the ruling party needs to rely on support from the other parties in power in order to pass legislation. Without this support, the ruling party basically can’t do anything because the majority of power belongs in the hands of the parties who did not win the election. 

In situations like these, the parties who make up the majority of votes can choose to work together by forming a coalition government. This means they team up with each other and call a vote of non-confidence in the ruling party. This allows the coalition to then take power and rule as a cooperative government made up of multiple parties. 

So, let’s say the Conservatives win a minority government because you chose to vote NDP. Hypothetically, the NDPs and the Liberals, who are already closely aligned in terms of policy outlook, could form a coalition government with 50 per cent of support versus the Conservatives 34 per cent. 

This would force the Conservatives not only out of office but out of the position in which they could block legislation they disagree with. Thus, for NDP supporters, it could be just as strategic to vote for the NDP. 

The same is true of voters on the right who feel like the Conservatives have moved too close to the centre of the political spectrum. If a party like the Bloc Quebecois gained even 10 per cent more support, they could successfully form a coalition government with the Conservatives should the Liberals win. Until then, Conservative voters have less flexibility when it comes to this strategic alternative. 

While voting for the lesser of two evils is a strategy, it’s not the only one. Further, it’s far from clear if this kind of strategic voting has any real impact on election outcomes. Canada’s parliamentary system allows for another option: the coalition, which is arguably more democratic than single-party rule as more interests are represented by the ruling parties. 

When two parties rule together, more people can see that their vote made a difference.

The Conservatives know this, which is why Erin O’Toole in early August warned against other parties conspiring to form a coalition government should he win. 

The only thing standing in the way of a left-wing coalition government made up of the Liberals and the NDP would be Justin Trudeau’s desire for a majority government. Should Trudeau lose, it would be wise of him to team up with the NDP to form a government rather than wait for another chance to try and win another majority government. 

As a student, go against the grain this year when going to the polls. It’s strategic to vote for your first preference. 

Voting for smaller parties allows for more voices to be heard and provides a bulwark against the kind of bipartisan politics that characterizes the United States. 

Despite its drawbacks, our current FPTP system does allow our individual votes to make a significant difference when it comes to who is in charge. 

Collin Chepeka is a PhD candidate in the Philosophy department. 

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