Embracing the fringe

Polar meltdown
“Polar meltdown” (Photo: Arne Naevra)

Okay, so I fibbed. Two posts ago I told you that I’d explain in my very next post why I voted Green in the recent Ontario election. And then, without even signaling, I left the road in a shower of gravel and ended up talking about Stephen Fry’s new blog. But let’s not hang around chewing over hurt feelings. Consider it an unexpected bonus, and let’s call it even.

Any essay that starts out with a “why I voted x” topic statement immediately implies that voting “x” is not normal for the author. Voting Green is not normal for me. Come to think of it, voting is not normal for me. I’ve had a longstanding policy of leaving voting, in general, to those motivated enough to actually learn something about the choices in front of them. I have to take it on faith that such people exist. Frankly, I don’t know what drives most voters to the polls after a back-breaking day at work. Party loyalty, perhaps handed down as family tradition? Ideology? Greed? Fear? The patriotism of democracy? Surprisingly powerful, that last one, particularly among university students (who don’t, lest you give them too much credit, have back-breaking days at work to recover from).

I know what drives me, though: I’m a crisis voter. When times are good, I can’t work out the policy differences between Liberals and Tories. Either one will do, and I trust my fellow Ontarians and Canadians to do the right thing in the ballot cubicles (what are those little tables with the cardboard-box screens called, anyway?). I’m honest about my tradeoffs, too. If the government of the day does something egregious, I’m the last to complain about it – I didn’t vote for their opponents, after all – or even to notice it, usually.

But when times are bad, when unjust wars or disastrous economic policies are in the slips, you can count on me to wield my vote with a vengeance. (You should see how heavily and aggressively I mark an X on the voting card. Mussolini would be proud.) And the great thing about being a crisis voter is that there’s no need to work out any subtle policy differences between the parties. To use the Latin, some are fer, and some are agin. It’s usually pretty easy to pick the party that offers the best hope of stopping whatever crisis drove me to the polling booth in the first place.

Thus, the brief history of my vote. In the 1980s, after the Liberals had driven Canada deep into debt, I voted Tory. In the 1990s, when both major parties agreed on basic economics and social policy, I didn’t vote at all. And in the years after September 11, I voted for the Liberals, who were the party most likely to keep Canada out of the Iraq War and at a safe distance from U.S. foreign policy.

I used the same approach in the Ontario election, although with a slight twist. In previous elections, I voted for one of the two major parties because I wanted to be sure action would be taken. Voting for a fringe party or for the not-soon-to-be-elected NDP was never an option. Now that climate change is the crisis at hand, however, there was reason to believe that either of the winning parties would be capable of applying sensible policies in Ontario (or rather, that both the Tories and the Liberals are equally capable of the same level of mish-mash pointed in generally the right direction). So for me the primary need was to give the winning party a clear indication of the importance of doing the right thing. So Green it was.

Winning 8% of the popular vote, nearly a tripling of their support from 2003, the Greens seem to have benefited from a mini-wave of such voting. A lawyer friend of mine, a Liberal, told me later that the problem with this kind of protest vote was that its influence would not be lasting – not least because first-past-the-post ensured that the Greens would have not a single seat in the legislature. But I’m more hopeful. I just visualize Liberal and Tory strategists staring at the 2007 poll results again and again over the next several years as they plot for victory in the next election, scribbling furiously on their yellow pads, trying to boil down the themes and lessons that they’ll rely on. And I’m sure that more than one of them, hopefully all of them, will end up writing something like this: “It’s the environment, stupid.”

Never a wasted vote. That’s my policy.

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