Our current electoral system is broken and needs fixing -the way in which this federal election is rolling out has confirmed this for most Canadians. Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of talk about strategic voting: ‘a vote for the NDP is a vote for Harper’; ‘a vote for theLiberals is a vote for Harper’; ‘a vote for the Greens is a vote for Harper’. While any or all of these may be true in a few unique situations, this logic is getting me thinking that the only way to avoid a Conservative majority is to vote Conservative…

…All kidding aside, the frequency with which I’m hearing these arguments is increasing. In certain ridings strategic voting might make sense,but it sure doesn’t inspire me to run out to cast a ballot. I can see why voter turnout continues to decline, especially with younger voters.  If voting for the party that most closely reflects your values is going to be a wasted vote or help bring forward a dangerous agenda for Canada, why bother participating?

Throughout this campaign there has been an explosion of strategic voting initiatives. Websites, blogs, and Facebook pages for vote swapping; all trying to convince voters to hold their noses and vote for the least worst option. The Liberals, NDP and even the Bloc are falling all over themselves to make the case to Canadians that a vote for them is the only way to stop a Conservative majority. One of the sites grabbing huge attention is www.voteforenvironment.ca which has received over 1 million hits in the past 12 days.

The popularity of this site highlights that Canadians are looking for any possible way to make sure they get a government that best reflects their values. It confirms that the vast majority of people are truly scared of what a Conservative majority might do to Canada.And it’s not just “Joe Sixpack” considering strategic voting; even Newfoundland’s Conservative Premier Danny Williams has his own strategic voting initiative Anything But Conservative.

The proliferation of these strategic voting efforts is really a proliferation of democratic desperation. They are seen by many as the best and only way to wring meaning from an unfair process; a process that frustrates voters and produces phoney majority after phoney majority.  A recent Angus Reid poll indicates that an understandably low 32% of Canadians are happy with the current ‘first past the post’ system.

For our democracy to function, to engage non-voters and young voters, we need parties and elected representatives that will compromise and work together. But the rewards for being confrontational and divisive remain too strong. To make politics relevant again to a new generation we need a process that rewards, and ultimately requires our politicians to become accountable to every Canadian, not just those calculated populations needed to win phoney majorities.

In this election “vote splitting” on the “left” may end up driving Canada down the wrong road on climate change by handing a stronger mandate to Harper to implement his Oil Industry-approved plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The sad story is that all of the major parties (except the Greens) have had a chance to move forward with changes to electoral systems (to make it more proportional and representative) at both the provincial or federal levels – but they’re too tied to the current system of big winners and big losers. As a result, there have been increasing calls to compensate for the consequent political imbalance by merging parties on the “left” to stop”vote splitting” – thereby moving Canada closer to the two party system used in the US.  I think merging “left” parties is a bad idea. Our democracy is much stronger with a diversity of voices.  But we need to give those voices a meaningful podium,- we need an electoral system designed for our multi party system, not one that has long stopped working for Canadians The fact that we don’t have an electoral system that works in step with our party system will be the main reason Harper may get handed the reigns of power again on Oct 14th.

Over the last few days of this election campaign take the time to ask your local candidates where they stand on proportional representation so that we can make sure this is the last election where a strategic vote makes any sense at all.