With a few days to go in the federal election there are growing calls for “strategic voting”—based on a desire to get rid of Harper, frustration with his majority rule based on a minority of votes, and an attempt to build unity to drive him from office. But despite these good intentions, “strategic voting” builds illusions in the Liberals and undermines the challenge to corporate Canada.
So-called “strategic voting” assumes that anyone would be better than Harper and that we can vote Liberal to stop the Conservative agenda. It assumes that Liberals and NDP are indistinguishable “progressive parties” whose “vote splitting” allows Harper to rule, and that there’s no difference between shifting votes from Liberal to NDP or from NDP to Liberal. While Liberal rhetoric and NDP reformism are to blame for this confusion, we shouldn’t compound it through a strategy that obscures Canada’s corporate coalition and reinforces how they rule.
The evil of two lesser
While there’s a majority sentiment to “stop Harper,” this shouldn’t be reduced to Stephen Harper the individual, but expanded to the 1% he represents—which “strategically votes” for two corporate parties. As explained in the Globe and Mail article “The top ten families in Canada who contribute to political parties,” the leading financiers and media barrons, bankers and owners of aerospace and electronics support both parties of corporate Canada. There is nothing strategic about voting for one corporate party over the other. Voting Liberal does not stop the Conservatives but merely continues their shared agenda.
If we oppose Harper’s exit of Kyoto why should we vote for the Liberals who simply ignored the climate protocol? If we oppose Harper’s war in Iraq and Syria why should we vote for the party that invaded Afghanistan and overthrew democracy in Haiti? If we oppose Harper’s healthcare cuts why should we vote for the party that deeply cut social services in the 1990s? If we oppose Harper’s Bill C-51 why should we vote for the party who began secret trials, and who voted for Bill C-51 this year? If we oppose Harper’s crackdown on the G20 protest, why should we vote for the party that is running Bill Blair, the police chief responsible?
It was not “vote splitting” amongst “progressive parties” that has allowed Harper to rule, but the complicity of the corporate Liberal party with the corporate Conservatives. Harper’s minority rule, from 2006 to 2011, was only possible because of Liberal support (including from Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who made a career defending imperialism) and this support continued under Harper’s majority—including Trudeau voting for Bill C-51, supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and opposing the $15/hr minimum wage and national childcare program.
That’s why the Orange Wave of 2011 was so important: because it represented a historic break from the domination by two corporate parties, and a shift towards the only party associated with the labour movement. The Orange Wave was a real “strategic vote:” against the twin parties of corporate Canada.
Regardless of the limits of the NDP, the 1% are clear that a vote for the NDP is a vote against their interests, which is why they don’t fund them. Regardless of what they do once in power, an NDP victory at the polls will be interpreted as a shift to the left, against corporate Canada, and will encourage movements to demand more. We can see this from the recent election in Alberta, supposedly a bastion of Conservatism, but where the election of the NDP has been helpful for the climate justice movement to demand real alternatives.
But the NDP is contradictory. Like all social democratic parties it’s a “capitalist workers party”: while it is a party tied to the labour movement, whose base includes thousands of activists, it’s leadership aspires to use Parliament to reform capitalism, not get rid of it. In practice this means defending the capitalist state and the capitalist economy against the same movements of resistance that its base helps build. So the experience of NDP rule isn’t much different from any other party—whether it’s attacking Indigenous land defenders at Gustafson Lake, imposing neoliberal policies in Ontario, or raising tuition in Nova Scotia. So regardless who’s elected we need to keep building movements outside Parliament.
We can see both sides of this contradiction during this election. The NDP began this election with a wide lead by reflecting their base: denouncing Bill C-51 and promising higher minimum wage and childcare. But then Mulcair campaigned to reassure Bay Street he could represent the Canadian state: promising police and pipelines, reducing the proposed corporate tax hike, defending fighter jets and promising a “balanced budget.” Rather than disappointing people after being elected, Mulcair did so beforehand—and rather than capturing more voters, he has driven them to the Liberals.
“Strategic voting” in practice
The Liberals have cynically taken advantage of the NDP’s contradictions and of “strategic voting.” In the Ontario provincial election Kathleen Wynne campaigned to the left to bury the Liberal record of cuts and capture NDP votes to beat Tim Hudak. Tragically, “strategic voting” even defeated left-wing NDP MPP Jonah Schein in a riding where the Tories weren’t even a threat. After election day the Liberals revealed their true colours: imposing an austerity budget and continuing to ignore the environmental racism in Grassy Narrows.
Now Trudeau is trying to replicate this trick at the federal level: speaking against fighter jets when he would continue wars, and speaking against millionaires when he will cut their taxes. But the class-conscious 1% know not to worry about Liberal rhetoric. As media baron Conrad Black explained, “Trudeau seems to be regaining enough of the old Liberal dexterity of being just far enough to the left of the Conservatives as not to seem like tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum to voters of the centre-left, and adequately to the right of the NDP not to frighten the cautious Canadian bourgeoisie.” From the point of view of the 1%, “strategic voting” is a way to split the progressive vote and create the illusion of a difference between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum of corporate parties—bolstering their shared agenda.
Think, and act, outside the ballot box
Finally, debates on voting strategically should not distract from the real strategy of building movements outside Parliament. The best challenge to Harper has not been through Parliamentary maneuvers or false unity between conflicting parties, but in building real unity through movements in the streets, campuses, and workplaces.
It’s been the climate justice movement, without any Parliamentary voice, that has challenged every pipeline across country, built solidarity with Indigenous communities and demanded climate jobs. It’s been Idle No More and indigenous communities that have led climate justice movement, demanded justice for missing women and exposed centuries of Canadian colonization. It’s been the women’s movement that challenged Harper’s “barbaric cultural practices” hotline and that continues to fight for reproductive justice and childcare. It’s been mass rallies that have challenged Bill C-51 and pushed the NDP to speak out against it. It’s been the anti-war and migrant justice movements that have challenged Canadian wars and demanded a welcome for refugees. It’s been Black Lives Matter that challenged police brutality and anti-Black racism. It’s been the disability movement that challenges a system that prioritizes bombs over ramps. It’s been the Occupy movement that exposed the system of the 1%, the Quebec student strike that challenged tuition hikes, and the labour movement that is fighting for $15/hr.
All of these movements challenge Harper, expose the complicity of the Liberals, and reveal the limits of NDP’s Parliamentary road to a better world. To frighten the Canadian bourgeoisie, we should vote truly strategically: not only at the ballot box for the NDP and against the twin parties of corporate Canada, but also through movements in the streets, campuses and workplaces after the election.
In Toronto and Vancouver join us the discussion “After the election: the fight against austerity and climate change”: 6:30pm on October 20, at Spartacus Books, 3378 Findlay St, Vancouver or at 7pm on October 22 at Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St, Toronto
In Ottawa join the November 5 climate welcome to demand the next Prime Minister act on climate change