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June 23, 2004 — 10 PM

No, Really, Your Vote Counts This Time

Five days remain in the national election campaign, before Canadians are actually pressed to hold their noises and pick someone — anyone — to lead the country.

Over at the Election Prediction Project, the current standings put the Liberals at 93 seats, the Conservatives at 74, the Bloc Québécois at 37, and the NDP at 17, with a staggering 87 seats left as “too close to call.”

Can you trust the numbers? The project has a pretty good record going: it was 91.3% accurate in the recent Ontario provincial election, 93.9% accurate in the last British election, and 92.3% accurate in the last Canadian federal election in 2000.

With such little time remaining, it’s hard to imagine that the prediction numbers will change significantly before voting day. That means that we could be in for a wild ride on election night.

It’s been awhile since the results of an election were seriously in doubt in Canada: the Liberals had a bumpy ride last time in 2000, but few really expected them to lose, and in 1997 and 1993, there was really no doubt at all. The 1980s saw massive Conservative majorities as a backlash rose to the old, tired Trudeau Liberals.

In fact, the last time there was even a minority government in Canada was 25 years ago, in 1979. That means an awful lot of people who are voting this year were either too young, or perhaps too stoned, to remember. Many weren’t even born.

The possibility of a minority government puts we Canadian voters in a unique position. Our votes have extra importance, since it may be a party with a small number of seats that swings the balance of power to either of the two leading parties, the Liberals or the Conservatives, one of which will lead a government after Monday.

Quebeckers, according to the latest polls, have all but crowned the Bloc Québécois as their “balance” of choice; there will be a lot of Bloc MPs after Monday, and they will have a lot of clout, like it or not. With whom they lie in bed depends on the intentions of nearly every other part of Canada (except maybe Alberta, where the Liberals have no hope at all). The Election Prediction site rates an astonishing 41 seats in Ontario as too close to call, which are apparently the Conservatives’ to win, and the Liberals’ to lose.

I think I’ve stated my opinion already, but I feel like it’s worth repeating: no party in Canada at this time is likely to attain, nor does any deserve, a majority. In a minority situation, it makes sense to cast your vote for the party that will uphold your interests most strongly, because even if your party only has twenty or thirty seats, your individual MP will still be able to have a say, and will very likely directly impact whether any the prospective legislation will pass.

Our national media seem to discuss our elections in American terms, focusing almost exclusively on the leaders and the party lines, even though our system is radically different from theirs. Our parliamentarian system functions best, democratically speaking, when you vote for a candidate rather than a leader, since, in any parliament, your MP should represent your voice, rather than merely kow-towing to the leader’s cabal. In a minority coalition, though, it’s actually likely that your MP will think independently. Don’t vote strategically because you’re afraid of what might happen. Vote for someone who you support. Vote to be heard.


It’s true that the Canadian and American governmental systems are very different (to say they are radically so is a bit strong, I think). But I disagree entirely with you that American system is more about party members kowtowing to the leader, and that Canadian MPs vote more independently. In fact, our system is much more about toeing party lines and the investment of power in the leaders. If an MP in the governing party votes against the party line, the PM has the legal right (which, as far as I can tell, has always been exercised) to expel that person from the party. That person then acts as an independent with very little influence at all in parliament, and ultimately is not invited to join the party ever again. While Republicans and Democrats tend to also toe party lines, there are almost always a few here and there who don’t, and they don’t have to suffer any repercussions. So your MP is actually more likely to represent the party line, especially if in the governing party, than your interests (unless, of course, they happily coincide).

Also, the role of the leader is more significant in Canada than it is in the USA. Much has been said and written about the fact that Canadian PMs are, within their own governments, the most powerful democratic leaders in the world. Check out this page to read about all the amazing powers Paul Martin currently has “:http://www.fact-index.com/p/pr/prime_minister_of_canada.html”. It’s pretty scary, actually!

Whoever your MP is, no matter the party, they’ll probably be pretty cool to you if you need to replace your citizenship card quickly and you don’t have the right papers or something (can you tell I’m speaking from experience?), but I doubt they’ll defy party lines on your behalf. So I would suggest trying to get a good read on a party’s platforms and the track records of its leaders before looking at who the local schmo is.

I would therefore also recommend that people think about which leaders might be likely to become prime minister before they vote, considering the clout that comes with the office, with or without a minority government. There’s nothing wrong with voting strategically per se; people also vote for candidates they support because they’re afraid of what might happen otherwise. What is important is that your vote represent your interests.

— ERK | Jun. 24, 2004 — 5 PM

Previously: The Scare Vote

Subsequently: Voter, c’est la luxe

June 2004
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