Tuesday May 31, 2022
Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Two days from now the people of Ontario will decide who to entrust with the government of our province for the next four years.
I am not able to give impartial commentary on provincial matters. A deep revulsion over what happened here in the wake of the “Common Sense Revolution” of 1995 has been a factor in almost everything I’ve said and done since. I remain committed to doing anything I can to undo the damage that was done, to ensure that what happened isn’t forgotten, and to prevent anything like it from happening again.
Beyond speaking out on related matters every now and then, I haven’t been able to do much. I’ve learned that to make a difference you need to either join together with others, or convince others to work with you.
I know how I’ll vote this time around, and why. For anyone who is still undecided, here are a couple of resources for “strategic voting” in the provincial election:
The VoteWell site, which comes out of Victoria, B.C., explains the purpose this way: “There are 3 national parties in Canada with leftist politics, and only one that is right-leaning. This often causes a ‘split vote’ among leftist voters, giving the right an over-representation of electoral seats.”
The message here is that we need to vote carefully, and take into consideration the odds, riding by riding. Which is what I’ve always done. But I don’t like the idea of “strategic voting”, and will try to explain why.
To begin with, I don’t consider myself left-leaning, at least not in relation to a right as represented by the forces that dominate the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, their federal and other provincial counterparts, and, of course, the wellspring: the hard core Republican consortium down in the U.S.A..
The reality is that there are three viable moderate-centrist parties with progressive tendencies in this election, and one hard-line radical-libertarian party with retrogressive, obstructive and destructive tendencies. The distinction is not a bifurcation within a continuous spectrum, but between two completely different ways of seeing the world and our place in it.
If I’m wrong, and the old left-right spectrum remains relevant, I want no part of it. And that’s a lonely position to take up. My place in relation to the body politic would be analogous to that of an Old Order Mennonite or a Doukhobor.
My sense is that this core driving force in the PCO, CPC and GOP is out of tune, not just with the majority of citizens of both Canada and the United States, but with the reality of our time. It is also a contradiction of almost any reasonable combination of principles, ideas or moral standards. This is an optimistic view, but I’m trying to hang on to it. Giving up would be saying you can fool most of the people, year after year after year, which is tantamount to giving up on democracy itself.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario as currently constituted remains a force to be reckoned with only because it has been able to fool large numbers of Evangelical and Catholic Christians into voting with them, while skillfully managing to exploit, exacerbate and foment fear, resentment, suspicion and hate whenever the opportunity arises.
Progressive and, I would argue, conservative in name only, the party that Doug Ford leads remains viable because they have retained the support of both traditional, true blue conservatives, especially in small town and rural settings, and of those who still identify with a political tradition that is nearly extinct: the anti-republican, anti-revolutionary “Loyal She Remains” strain on which this province was founded.
The form, practice and culture of political parties as they function today are part of the problem. But I do believe in purposeful association and organization, even in the municipal sphere, where Canadians have generally tried to avoid formal partisanship.
A key consideration for me is the question of what constitutes a constituency. We don’t vote as a province or as a country, but riding by riding. And while the process through which electoral districts are defined in Canada is far superior to the way it’s done in the United States, where partisanship corrupts the process, the effort to sort the body politic into roughly equal sections leads to some strange configurations that can be a hindrance to the democratic process.
My riding, Kitchener, has a certain integrity, but it is awkward to have parts of the city sectioned off and portioned out, some to Waterloo and others to the two sprawling suburban-rural ridings nearby so that the principle of rep by equal pop is maintained.
To vote strategically is conspiring to have it your way. You’re wheeling and dealing in order to outmanoeuvre what you consider your competition. It suggests that elections are contests between opposing interests and wills. What you do in the privacy of the ballot box is either a quiet profession of your personal convictions or making a calculated move in some kind of game with winners and losers.
I’m not interested in having my say, or in silently professing my political faith, or even in determining an outcome I prefer. An election is democracy at work: a collective process, through which we, as citizens, deliberate, and make decisions about how to best move forward into the near future, together, as a city, a township, a province or a nation. And the “we” in our system is everyone within a particular constituency, however shaped and defined.
It’s the deliberation process that matters most. What’s missing is a procedure for reaching a final decision. So the best I can do is to try to guess what my fellow citizens are thinking, and try to align with enough of them to constitute at least a plurality, and ideally a majority, on election day.
Right now, especially with the diminution of local and regional media, there are few channels for meaningful deliberation. Public forums, all-candidates meetings, questionnaires and so forth certainly can help, and have been steadily improving. But they have a narrow reach.
Essentially, elections are decided through rival advertising campaigns devised and distributed from metropolitan centres, and sent to our homes as standardized packages. They leave little or nothing to discuss. There is no reliable way of getting a sense of which way your fellow constituents are leaning, other than the kind of poll numbers provided by services like votethemallout.ca and votewell.ca.
Despite those limitations, I’ve been satisfied with the results in my constituency. Over the last decade or so, I’ve voted red, orange and green, but always for the winning candidate. The last time a plurality voted for a party that I couldn’t possibly support was in 2008. Even then, I rather liked the winning candidate as an individual human being, and was able to have meaningful and productive discussions with him.
But a plurality shouldn’t be enough. Declaring a candidate with less than a third of the eligible votes the winner is leaving things hanging. Our election process doesn’t give us a chance to come together to form a majority and make the decision firm.
In a healthy democracy, of course, the final step would be for the body politic as a whole to declare support for the decision that was made through the democratic process. Once you’re elected, your job is to represent everyone in your riding. But that’s not possible when one party is an outlier, and the choice is between two completely different ways of seeing the world and our place in it.
A house divided this way cannot stand. A body politic at odds with itself is diseased, and cannot live a full life.
A progressive tendency means moving forward, adjusting to the needs of the times, and making improvements along the way. It doesn’t require unity or solidarity. But there does need to be harmony and balance. Treating a renegade party with retrogressive, obstructive and destructive tendencies as an acceptable option would be like trying to walk with one leg stepping forward while the other insists on going sideways, backwards, jumping up or kneeling down.
Proportional representation would make things even worse. This would, in effect, turn political parties — partisan configurations of varying sorts — into constituencies. Instead of coming together, it would make division permanent, and reduce all political activity to brokering deals.
There must be better a way. Meanwhile, we have to make do with the system as it exists, and the resources currently available.
According to VoteWell, it is not necessary to vote strategically in Waterloo or Kitchener, where people seem to be satisfied with their current representatives in the legislature, and neither of them are with the renegade party. For the other three constituencies in Waterloo Country — Cambridge, Kitchener-Conestoga, Kitchener South-Hespeler — it looks like the strategic vote, the responsible vote, the informed vote is orange this time around, with those leaning green holding the balance of power.
I would work under the green banner if it became a movement dedicated to facilitating responsible collective decision making, finding solutions, and getting the work done, rather than a party in the root sense: a division, a parting, a separation. Questions of how we, human beings, relate to the planet, to creation, to our earthly home are not a priority, but a commonality: They are fundamental to all other considerations, and therefore a concern that should be bringing us together, not setting us apart from one another.