Thanks for the franchise!

by Jonathan Sterne on October 12, 2015

It’s thanksgiving 2015 and this is my first federal election as a Canadian citizen. I am grateful to finally be able to vote in a federal election here.  We just missed the 2011 election by a little bit.  I am not thankful for some kind of cold-like bug, but I am voting today, since the polling place is at the corner.

“But wait,” I hear the foreigners say, “I thought the election was October 19th?” (Okay, foreigners wouldn’t say that. They’d be surprised to learn there was an election here, but whatever.)

Over the past few weeks we’ve been seeing ads on TV telling us where and how to vote. As registered voters, we receive cards in the mail with information on our polling place on October 19th–and a number of alternative options in case we can’t vote on the 19th. As someone who grew up in the American system, with its long history of institutionalized voter suppression, this is a really striking difference.

I am also grateful to have a party to vote for who represent, more or less, my political worldview and interests. The New Democrats have historically been a party for social democracy. Among other things, they originated Canada’s healthcare system. Their platform includes measures for Indigenous rights, gender equity, workers’ rights, childcare, and undoing a lot of the bad work of the Harper administration. This NDP is certainly a mixed bag, as any party would be. I am not a huge fan of the leader, Thomas Mulcair, who is without a doubt very intelligent, but also historically more of a centrist. I miss Jack Layton.  A lot. With a chance to actually govern, and leading the polls at the beginning of this election, the NDP decided to run a more centrist campaign. I think it’s safe to say now that didn’t work in terms of attracting additional voters. And balanced budgets–one of the NDP’s more surprising planks–certainly didn’t energize the left wing base. Indeed, I don’t know why you’d be so concerned about balancing budgets in a recession, when interest rates are at historic lows. Still, their corporate tax proposal would bring in (according to their estimates) about a billion more dollars per year than the Liberals proposal to raise taxes on the top 1% of Canadian earners, who make more than $200,000 a year (according to the Liberal plan). Frankly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t do both and then spend more money on education, infrastructure, Indigenous programs, retirement, employment insurance, immigration, and all the other things Harper has gutted since he took office.

I do know, however, a thing or two about history. Leaders campaign on personality and the press helps them do it, but we vote for parties, not individuals. And the liberals have a history: run to the left, govern to the right. Paul Martin, the last liberal prime minister, made his name running the country’s finances, and he balanced budgets on the backs of the poor, not the rich.  If Trudeau is elected prime minister, I am certain a large swath of the old liberal functionaries will be back in power. If we elect the NDP, a new group of people will be in power. It is possible, even likely, that they will disappoint, but at least they will have a chance to govern differently.

I spent part of yesterday reading both parties’ platforms. They are both grab bags of promises, and the liberals are “not so bad,” but the NDP’s commitment to proportional representation, workers’ rights, the environment, disability rights and Indigenous rights is definitely clearer and stronger. They are also the only party (of the big three) willing to talk about forming a coalition to ensure that Harper doesn’t get another mandate. The Liberals, meanwhile, have a little dog-whistle militarism buried in there, and are only going to “study” changes to government, which means they don’t want to do anything. There are plenty of studies already.

The liberals now lead in the polls and if current patterns hold–a big “if” with a week left before the election when the polls are this close–they will form a minority government. I will be happy to see the end of the Harper conservatives, who never received a majority of Canadian votes, out of office.

But I have a chance to vote my conscience* in an election where the party I am voting for has a chance to win.**

That is why I am voting NDP.

* I did vote for Paul Wellstone in 1990, a liberal democrat who rarely disappointed me. That was the only other “enthusiastic” ballot I can recall casting in a federal election.
** Okay, maybe not in my riding. Our MP (member of parliament) is Justin Trudeau. I will be supporting the NDP candidate, Anne Lagacé-Dowson.

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