In the lead up to the just-finished Provincial election, I made the mistake of sharing at work that I planned to vote for the BC Green Party. I say mistake because the responses I got were predictable. I was called naïve and foolish, and reminded that any vote for the Greens was a vote for the Liberals; that I was splitting the vote and should vote NDP to ensure the Liberals are ousted. I was a patient listener to these responses (too patient at times), but I never considered strategic voting because to me this is a flawed and fallacious strategy that simply scapegoats one party. It doesn’t work.
Strategic voting is the idea that people choose the candidate that is most likely to win against the candidate that you do not want. In this election, the narrative of the strategic vote went that anyone who doesn’t want the Liberals to win should vote for the NDP. The Greens, people would say, have no chance of winning and so voting for them is a wasted vote – it’s a vote for the Liberals.
This logic is so exceptionally flawed, for so many reasons.
“But if you add up the Green votes together with the NDP votes, they’d beat the Liberals.” Mathematically correct though this is, it presupposes too many details. First, it assumes that Greens and NDP align perfectly politically – they don’t – and that 100 per cent of the Green supporters buy-in to this strategy. Or it supposes that the Greens just don’t exist. There is such an arrogance to this by NDP supporters, as if there is a birth-right that they have to annex votes from the Green Party, but any suggestion of the NDP voters voting Green – like say, in Oak Bay Gordon Head – is met with incredulousness.
Moreover though, it is revisionist history. We are dealing in assumptions, because we only know where it would matter after the election results are in. In Langley East for example, the sum of Green and NDP votes would not be enough to surpass the Liberals, and so that excuse is not trotted out. But in the Langley riding, NDP supporters are quick to note how the math would work in their favor. This isn’t something however that we know in advance, and it is either fear mongering to change voters minds, or it is unintelligent to bring up after the fact. After all, if those six per cent who voted independent had voted Liberal in the Langley riding, then the Liberals win anyway. See how easy it is?
But the failures of the NDP to be a compelling choice and entice voters to select them cannot be blamed on the Green party when the math is convenient. My vote is, after all, my vote. Most intriguing though, is the relative silence of strategic voters when it is clear that Green party actually syphoned off votes from the Liberal party themselves. Places like Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, where the Liberals lost over 6% of the vote from 2013, and Maple Ridge-Mission where they lost around five per cent. In both of these ridings, the NDP benefited from those Liberal votes going to the Greens.
And overall compared to 2013, the NDP actually increased their popular vote percentage whereas it is the Liberals who lost percentage points. Again, the rhetoric doesn’t work here because a vote for the Green is claimed to be both a vote for the Liberals (if the Liberals won the riding), and a vote against the Liberals (if the Green vote allowed for an NDP victory). But it is neither, because a vote for the Green party is a vote for the Green party. And if more British Columbians would vote for a candidate, rather than against one, maybe we’d end up with a more positive government.
Perhaps this will all be moot, because if Proportional Representation becomes reality in B.C., then strategic voting will go the way of the dodo. Either way, I hope we can get past the negativity of strategic voting and instead vote based on issues that matter to us.
Roland Bottiglieri, Langley