Throwing the Rascals In: A Final Column – May 1, 2011, not published in the Herald
Peter Waite, of Dalhousie University, was the best history teacher I ever had. He was sharply critical of politicians, and one day a student asked him to describe his own political philosophy. Waite pursed his lips and looked out the window for a moment. Then he turned back to the class.
“Throw the rascals out,” he said.
That’s the way my column for Sunday, May1, was supposed to begin — but that was before the Halifax Herald’s antediluvian management philosophy led the paper to demand that all freelance contributors sign a horrible, exploitative contract. The freelancers tried to bargain, but the Herald wouldn’t alter the crucial clause in the contract. If you want the gory details, check out my blog at www.thegreeninterview.com/blog, and also the freelancers’ site, www.HoweNow.ca.
Anyway, back to Peter Waite, throwing the rascals out. A lot of Canadians share that philosophy – but you can only throw the rascals out by throwing some other set of rascals in. And therein lies the problem.
Throughout the 1990s, Jean Chretien won three majority governments with about 40% of the vote because the right was fragmented between the late Progressive Conservative party and the Reform Party in various disguises.. Now the situation is reversed, with the progressive vote split among the NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. (Yeah, yeah, I know: separatists – but the turf they occupy in Quebec elsewhere belongs to the New Democrats, which is why Smilin’ Jack Layton was able to make such huge inroads in la belle province.)
Because of the split on the left, and our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system, two-thirds of Canadians voted not to have a Harper government in 2008, but we got one anyway. Heading into this most surprising election, most observers probably expected another minority Harper government in 2011.
But maybe not. When the dust settles, we may have a Harper government, either a minority or a slim majority – or something else altogether. The NDP seems poised to replace the Liberals as the official opposition, and if the Harperites only get a minority, it’s conceivable that an NDP -Liberal alliance could form a government instead.
The risk, of course, is that in many ridings the Liberals and the NDP will allow the Harperites to win by splitting the vote. The obvious way to prevent that – if the two parties won’t formally collaborate – is for the voters themselves to collaborate. To me, that’s the real story of this election — the sharp upsurge of interest in strategic voting.
Several web sites have sprung up to lead the way. Catch22 (http://catch22campaign.ca/) is spearheaded by Gary Shaul, a long-time union activist in Toronto. Its focus is on “SuperVoters” in 52 ridings across the country where a small shift in the opposition vote could mean victory or defeat for the local Harperite. Another site, www.ProjectDemocracy.ca, has analyzed the last voting results and the newest polls to pinpoint the ridings that are in play, and the anti-Harper candidate with the best chance of winning in each one. Go to the site,click on the map or type in your postal code, and bingo – there’s the analysis.
Project Democracy’s research shows that in some ridings, it doesn’t matter how you vote. The result is a foregone conclusion. Nobody is going to beat Mark Eyking in Sydney-Victoria, or Peter Stoffer in Sackville-Eastern Shore – although the polling suggests that the NDP’s David Parker may pose a real threat to Peter MacKay in Central Nova.
In two other ridings, though, Nova Scotians voting strategically could kick two seats out of the Harper column, all by themselves. In West Nova, Greg Kerr beat Liberal Robert Thibault by 1594 votes in 2008 – fewer votes than the Green Party drew. And in South Shore-St Margarets, Gerald Keddy beat New Democrat Gordon Earle by just 932 votes, while the third-place Liberal drew 9500.
The candidates are the same this time, and the polls suggest that the standings are similar. So the message is clear. If nobody moves, the Harperites win both seats. But if a brigade of New Democrats in West Nova vote Liberal and a squad of Liberals on the South Shore vote NDP, both Conservatives will lose, and each opposition party will gain a seat. What’s not to like about that?
Other Nova Scotia ridings may change hands tomorrow night. Liberal members Geoff Regan and Michael Savage are facing strong challenges from the NDP’s Gregor Ash and Robert Chisholm. But in terms of deciding whether the Harper government survives or not, only three ridings matter: Central Nova, West Nova and the South Shore.
As you go to the polls in those ridings – perhaps with a clothespin on your nose – to vote for a party you thoroughly dislike, you may feel as though you’re throwing a rascal in. Am I really voting for the socialist hordes, for the slick Grit stick-handlers? Yeah, you are — but do it. You’re throwing the bigger rascals out – and in this election, that is literally what counts.
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Silver Donald Cameron is the host and executive producer of the environmental website www.TheGreenInterview.com. He wishes this column had appeared in the Halifax Sunday Herald.