I support the Boycott and I’m Voting Liberal

We should separate the act of voting from our conception of political action. Voting is not political – and to think of voting as genuinely political is to morally endorse a system which systematically excludes “the people” from political discourse. Democratic politics is about building movements which can by the force of masses take away the power which can no longer be trusted to elites.

If you support a movement which offers genuine critiques of the current state structure, you should support it materially and with your labour, and not only on election day. I lend my moral support to the election boycott; I think it’s the correct idealist (and revolutionary-practical) response to the corruption at the root of our system. But, even if you support a movement which does participate in the elections, like Green or NDP, you should not confuse with the number of votes your movement might receive with its strength. The strength of grassroots movements is not only in what happens on election day, it is in the everyday life of organizing a grassroots movement which extends throughout the year and does not rely exclusively on candidates, MPs or elections. To think a small party can intervene in politics through elections rather than through mass organizing is a pathetic mistake, and parties doing this should fail and leave room for movements which are willing to organize both inside and outside elections.

Since voting is not political, no matter what political movement you support, so long as it is to the left of Harper, you should vote liberal. You should not believe that in voting liberal you are “granting the liberals a mandate” (that’s empty political rhetoric), and you should not think of yourself as “selling out”. The real sell-out is to think that by voting by your conscience you are somehow doing your democratic duty, and doing what if everyone did would somehow make us ok. The real sell-out is to think that voting in any way other than “strategically” might matter.

Voting is not about democracy. Voting is not about ideals. Voting is about who wins, and who gets screwed as a result. Less people get screwed if there is a liberal minority as opposed to a conservative minority. So, you have to vote liberal.


15 thoughts on “I support the Boycott and I’m Voting Liberal

  1. Why Liberal? This sounds like the kind of advice that gets the Conservatives elected in e.g. Oshawa instead of NDPers by sending “strategic voters” to the Liberals, who generally finish third lately in that riding. (Do you really think it would be worth flipping ridings like Trinity-Spadina to the Liberals from the NDP in order to achieve a Liberal minority instead of a Conservative minority? I can’t see there being enough short-term gain in that to make up for the long-term damage of wiping the NDP out in places like Toronto.) More generally, at this point, the NDP have a real chance to replace the Liberals as the alternative to the Conservatives nationally, especially if the Bloc collapses soon and close to half of its support goes to the NDP as some polls have indicated would happen. Anyway, living in a safe Liberal riding, I’m voting Green.

  2. Cincinnatus,

    For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking in exactly the way you describe here – after all Olivia Chow is a decent MP, she represents me – and I even get to keep tabs on her through facebook. It is at an extreme moment of disillusionment with the system that one might decide that one more liberal back-bencher is more valuable than a frontline NDP representative, but if it comes down to Harper minority/Liberal minority, that one liberal seat can mean much more than all the good things I can say about Olivia Chow.

    Now, if I believed as you do that the NDP stands a real chance to replace the liberals as the other national party – then of course I would absolutely vote NDP. I have not been privy to this logic, however. Can you show me some articles which make the argument that the NDP has a real chance of becoming a governing party?

  3. I haven’t got any articles I can point you at offhand–maybe a google-alerted NDP operative will drop by to offer you some. (On the other hand, I can point you at an article from a few years ago by James Laxer arguing that the NDP should not be as focussed as it has been under Layton on replacing the Liberals.) The key for the NDP is Quebec. They have never been a contender for government in Canada historically because they have not been competitive at all east of Ontario. Alexa McDonough made them competitive in Atlantic Canada. A variety of factors have come together to make them the obvious beneficiary of the Bloc’s demise in Quebec. (Quebec nationalists can’t stomach the Liberals and the Conservatives are unpalatable to most urban Quebeckers.) Assuming that the Bloc’s existence is unsustainable and probably won’t last much beyond Duceppe’s leadership, there will be about 45 seats in play in Quebec in the medium-term future. If the NDP were to win 20 of those, without losing seats elsewhere, that would get them close to 60 seats nationally. That would still put them 15-20 seats behind where the Liberals are currently, but it would make the NDP an evident contender for government and help put an end to both “strategic voting” and mainstream-media framing of elections as Conservative-Leader vs. Liberal-Leader races (which leads people to believe that they’re actually voting for prime minister, and they can either vote for the Conservative guy or the Liberal guy, because no one else can be prime minister).

    Ekos’s polls have charts of second choices by party if you scroll down the full PDF reports. The NDP is usually the leading second choice of the supporters of every party, including Conservative supporters. (Many people in Ontario would find this strange, because they don’t understand that in some parts of Canada the Liberals are anathema and the live political options are strictly Conservative/NDP.) It’s by far and away the leading second choice of Bloc and Liberal supporters.

    The big caveat is that everything might change once Ignatieff and Layton are gone. But everything always might change.

  4. If your top priority is reducing the chances of a Tory victory, the sensible strategy seems to be voting for whichever alternative candidate is leading in the polls, regardless of their party.

  5. So, apparently the NDP is tied in the polls with the Liberals, although also, apparently, this has happened before. If it looks like the NDP have a real chance of replacing the Liberals as the left leaning majority party, I will vote NDP.

  6. Jesus Christ, if you’re going to do this “support the boycott and vote strategically” approach, vote for Olivia Chow. I’d been seeing your posts about this here and on Facebook, but somehow I thought you might still be voting in BC, not Trinity-Spadina. She’s got a very good chance of winning and the Liberals are full of entitled bullshit about why the “condo factor” is going to bring them to victory. Really, fuck them.

    Personally I think education (or “propaganda”, used in the neutral sense of propagating one’s position) electoral campaigns are the way to go. The boycott campaign is a response to a left vacuum and we have a responsibility to fill it. I don’t agree with the unnuanced analysis the Party for Socialism and Liberation has of the world outside of the United States (“putting a plus where the bourgeoisie puts a minus”), but they are a good example of a small party that takes its propaganda/education electoral campaigns seriously, with well-designed stylish websites, media interviews and actual campaigning, from Mayors to Representatives to President.

  7. I’ll vote for Chow when there is the possibility of a minority NDP government. A vote for the NDP in a liberal vs NDP riding is not strategic because it is not a vote against Harper. What matters is the number of liberal seats, not some local political issue about condos.

  8. I don’t think it’s simply a local political issue, given Toronto’s population and the population shifts happening right now, although it does seem surprising that the Annex could be further gentrified.

    I think that voting “strategically” for the Liberal in Trinity-Spadina is no strategy at all. Olivia Chow is the incumbent and has a very good chance of winning. The victory of a Liberal would be a rightward shift in this riding. In the grimy context of electoral strategy, anything approaching progressive politics is likelier when the Liberals are in reach of power but need to appeal to the NDP and Bloc for support, whether in a formal or informal coalition (informal obviously with the Bloc). I think that growing austerity means that coalescing with the Liberals will draw the NDP further rightward, but if we’re talking about “voting strategically” and “stopping Harper” I think it is simply revelling in a position of ultimate cynicism to vote for the Liberals: I’m voting for the Liberals strategically, and guess what, I lend “moral support” to a boycott campaign…though I’m not boycotting, because I’ve separated the act of voting from my politics and voting for anyone is a strategy – both realpolitik and morally superior at the same time.

    I’ll vote for Chow when there is the possibility of a minority NDP government. A vote for the NDP in a liberal vs NDP riding is not strategic because it is not a vote against Harper. What matters is the number of liberal seats, not some local political issue about condos.

    Re-reading this, this basically means voting for a Liberal in every single riding (maybe there are some NDP vs Bloc ridings in Quebec? Is some Green challenging a strong NDP seat in BC?). If the Liberals cannot win enough seats against Conservatives, removing or minimizing the NDP and Bloc in parliament is not going to save them nor is it going to bring in anything but a modicum of progressive legislation, amidst a flood of austerity measures. I don’t think the Bloc and NDP will be very good at opposing these measures either.

    Sorry for the repetition. Your argument scrambles my mind in the context of ridings like Trinity-Spadina.

  9. “The victory of a Liberal would be a rightward shift in this riding.”

    Why should I care about this riding as it concerns federal politics? The difference between a conservative minority and a liberal minority will mean a lot more to “this riding” than whether it is represented by Chow or some meaningless liberal backbencher.

  10. “Re-reading this, this basically means voting for a Liberal in every single riding (maybe there are some NDP vs Bloc ridings in Quebec?”

    Why should I act in such a way that worries about the case in which everyone followed the rule by which I act? That’s Kantian morality, but it has no place in politics. Politics is where you act with full knowledge that others act on different maxims.

  11. I’ll vote for Chow when there is the possibility of a minority NDP government.

    Hey presto! Like they say, a week is a long time in politics … and there’s a long time left to go until election day. But as it stands now, a vote for the Liberals is a vote closer to a Harper minority, and a vote for the NDP is a vote closer to an NDP-led government after the Conservative government’s defeat on its throne speech. (But since Ignatieff has backed off of the “winner gets to govern” logic that Harper has been selling and you’ve been buying, it might not matter, for the purposes of achieving a non-Conservative government soon, whether the Liberals or NDP are in second place. It does matter in terms of who gets to be prime minister after the government’s defeat in the House.)

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