The Virtue of “Voting For”

Yesterday Raphael Alexander, in a comment on this blog, raised an interesting point. Is the Harper Government worthy of re-election for their accomplishments?

I am a strong proponent of “voting for” rather than “voting against”. Obviously, wanting to see a government dismissed to the opposition benches counts as “voting against”; so, too, does wanting to see your own MP retired (regardless of their career plans). Less obvious, perhaps, is the type of “voting against” that comes up when you say “well, I need to vote for X because no one else should be given power”. This is not an endorsement of X, but a rejection of the other choices: it is a hidden form of “voting against”.

So — whether or not one should “reward” a government for their accomplishments (this is a question for later) — does the Harper Government have accomplishments worthy of recognition (as I reported yesterday my son believes they do)?

Sandy, of Crux-of-the-Matter, believes there is a solid record of accomplishment to point to. Certainly, from my own point of view, some of the items on this list are not “accomplishments” but negatives, signs of “Liberal light” thinking rather than fiscal conservatism — but there is no question but that the past two and a half years of government have seen a number of actions taken, including most of the policy commitments from the 2006 election. A politician who actually turns election promises into legislation given royal assent is a rare breed!

Those of us who hoped for a fiscally conservative government, of course, are disappointed in elements of this track record (just as those of us who hoped for a socially libertarian framework of law have disappointments — but not as many as the social conservatives, I daresay! — as well). No government is perfect. (To hold up perfection as a standard is to live in cloud-cuckoo-land.) On the whole, it is a record I can take satisfaction in, even though I remain critical of many actions of this Government: it is a strong reason to side with the Government party candidate the next time around.

(I am, of course, on the record already as saying that there are real elements in Stephen Harper’s personal style which I do not like, and that I would not be dissatisfied with a strong NDP showing — even to the point of Jack Layton becoming Prime Minister. Comparing Harper and Dion, I would “vote against” Dion in a heartbeat. Comparing Harper and Layton, I would “vote for” Layton. But the record of the Government is not such that I would “vote against” them for it.)

Much of the rest of the question of my vote will turn on two other factors: who runs in my riding of Vancouver-Quadra, and what is in the policy platforms of the parties. You can be sure — again, I am already on record over this — that our sitting MP, Joyce Murray (Lib.) — will not receive my vote. I did not want her representing us at the by-election and her subsequent behaviour in Ottawa is not worthy of her return. Who will receive my vote, however, must be a matter of positive attraction, not a tactical vote to bounce Ms. Murray out. The policy platforms, of course, are yet to be put in front of the Canadian people.

So you may mark me as “undecided” until voting day, although it seems clear to me that my vote is likely to be either Conservative or NDP this time around — with the possibility that I would again support Dan Grice should he run again, not because he’s Green, but because he’s an excellent potential MP for this riding.

All of this posting today is designed to show, however clumsily, just how complicated the simple act of marking a ballot in a Canadian election can be, if you think about what you’re voting for. We get one mark, for one candidate in our own riding, to be our MP. We can use that to support a party leader, a party platform, or a candidate regardless of their affiliations. So much — by pollsters and the media — gets “read into” the voting intentions of Canadians. But voting, for us, is a complicated affair: you only get to vote for a leader (so to speak) if you live in their riding, and nowhere do we get to explicitly vote for a party. We only vote for local candidates.

Reflexively voting against — as so many do — really doesn’t serve your own interests. Far better to take the time to work out what you can and will vote for — and place your mark there. Even if your candidate/party/leader loses the election, you’ll feel much better for it — and have made the difference voting actually makes.

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One response to “The Virtue of “Voting For”

  1. I’d say whether one hooses to vote “for” or “against” a candidate says a good deal about not only their political beliefs, but their personal character.

    I think there’s a certain amount of optimism inherent in voting “for” something — a belief that those who you’re voting for can accomplish what they propose. Likewise, a certain hint of pessimism in “against” voting — you don’t necessarily believe your chosen candidate can deliver what they promise, but they’re better (or less threatening than) the other guy.

    That’s actually why I prefer the new NDP spot to the old Liberal spots, despite the presence of the same motifs (right down to the same female narrator). Certainly, they highlight why they believe people should not vote Conservative, but in the end, stick to the NDP’s tradition of convincing people to vote for them, as opposed to merely against the other parties.

    It’s a noble and honourable political tradition that I hold a great deal of regard for. A welcome alternative to the “Choose your Canada” divisiveness of the Liberal party.

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