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When fear casts your ballot

Anything-but-Harper drives strategic voting

The election campaign has barely gotten underway and yet anybody-but-the-Conservatives discussions about strategic voting in the Mon, Jan 23 vote have started already.

In the last election anti-Stephen Harper scaremongering tactics swayed some undecided and New Democratic voters over to the Liberals. Even queer lobby group Egale Canada jumped on the bandwagon.

“We have never done this before, but this election calls for drastic measures to ensure that all Canadians are protected,” executive director Gilles Marchildon stated in a June 2004 press release. “Egale calls on Canadians to protect the Charter by voting strategically against Team Harper.”

Some observers say strategic voting cost the election for pro-queer candidates like New Democrat Olivia Chow in Trinity-Spadina. Bob Gallagher, who used to work for Chow, quit his work with Egale-affiliated Canadians For Equal Marriage after the Egale press release. Egale is not urging strategic voting this election.

But the Liberals are playing the card again. At the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) annual meeting last week, Martin said that only he or Stephen Harper had a chance at becoming prime minister, and that he was the better choice. CAW head Buzz Hargrove, a staunch NDPer, surprised everyone when he encouraged NDPers in ridings where the NDP candidate won’t win to vote Liberal to ensure the Conservatives are defeated.

With Harper promising to reopen the same-sex marriage debate if he becomes prime minister, queer voters are left wondering what to do.

“I think that a lot of people who think they’re voting strategically are not strategic in their voting at all,” says Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University Of Toronto. He says voters often forget to analyze all aspects of the race when voting, and vote emotionally rather than rationally.

“A lot of NDPers were so frightened by Harper that they swung and voted for the Liberal candidate. Was that strategic because they weakened the NDP? Would the Conservative candidate have won anyways?”

Bill Siksay, openly gay incumbent NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, says that strategic voting can backfire in areas like Hamilton, Windsor, Vancouver and Toronto where the NDP candidate stands a strong chance of winning.

“A vote for a New Democrat [in BC] elects a New Democrat. You can make a positive choice to see a positive candidate elected,” says Siksay.

NDP strategists say as many as a dozen of their candidates were defeated due to strategic voting last time. While the NDP candidates supported same-sex marriage, many of the Conservative or Liberal winners ended up voting against the government’s marriage bill, they say.

Glen Murray, openly gay former mayor of Winnipeg and federal Liberal candidate in the last election, says the NDP might take enough votes to cause Liberal candidates to lose.

“The reality is that we’re going to see a lot of Conservatives where the anti-Conservative vote is higher,” says Murray.

Not always, says Wiseman. Some people voted Liberal, even in ridings where the NDP candidate stood an equal or better chance of winning the seat than the Liberal candidate. In those cases it would have been better for Liberals voters to vote NDP if the goal was to defeat the Conservatives.