Canada's Two Political Parties - Conservative, and Other

It’s Federal election time here in Canada. Which means it’s a fast-and-furious stream of incoherent messaging all tantamount to white noise as the various political figures attempt to sway Canadian passions (which are, at best, as politically frigid as Winnipeg in February).

Adding to all of this are, new to this run, a number of social media-style services all helping to add “information” (and likely being more like more noise to the signal) to help people align themselves with the political party of choice. I came across one, recently, and suddenly realised that despite the fact we have five major political parties vying for seats, they’re really only divided two ways.

Which means you either vote Conservative, or you don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating voting Conservative. Frankly, I have serious misgivings of how they’ve been running things the last few years, and I would very much like them deposed from the throne. The reason I say you either vote one way or the other really boils down to a graphic presented by the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship at McGill University, the CBC/Radio Canada, and the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Toronto.

It’s part of a service they created called Vote Compass, and it strives to help people understand our political parties. It’s important, because some of the parties are awfully darn hard to differentiate in a meaningful way. With some of the issues, it’s quite easy to see which party you should look towards. But with others, it’s more like splitting hairs. That’s why the service ends up providing 35 questions (30 general ones, 3 regarding the parties’ leaders, and 2 about the parties themselves), which ultimately determine what your best political party would be.

And that’s really the key thing — your local candidate, regardless of how awesome they are, ultimately contributes a seat to the overall picture, allowing a party to rule. Your individual candidate, unless they become a Cabinet Minister, is little more than a hand raised during votes and can only hope to offer changes via private member’s bills. Remember, your party has already chosen its leader, and the one leading the winning party automatically becomes prime minister. (On a cynical note, I also strongly believe that anyone voting Conservative is therefore directly a supporter of Stephen Harper.)

At the end of your questions, Vote Compass produces … well, a compass, showing you which way you lean, politically-speaking. Mine (currently) looks like this:

[Ed. note: The image, sadly, is long-lost. I does, however, indicate that I am decidedly not conservative.]

(The checkmark is me, incidentally. Yes, I’m socialist. I believe very strongly in Canada’s history of helping others, including ourselves.)

See the split? See how the Conservatives are in one corner, and the other four parties are up in the other? (Given, the Liberals are much more centre, but still…) This is what I mean by “you’re either voting Conservative, or you’re not”.

“But,” you say, “that’s not true! I vote for my non-Conservative party! What’s wrong with that?”

Allow me to rephrase my point slightly, then. You either cast a vote for the Conservatives, or you cast your vote against them into a diluted pool.

This has also been my primary gripe with the “ABC” campaign ("Anyone/Anything But Conservative") that has been popular in parts of Canada since the 2008 federal election. Sure, don’t vote Conservative … but now you’re spreading out a vote amongst (up to) four other parties, reducing the potential power of those votes so much that…

…drum roll, please…

…you end up with minority governments. Two of them so far, as a matter of fact, and from what I’ve seen, we’re likely looking at a third. Which means another call for a coalition government, which will likely be nearly as useless with all the in-fighting.

This is one of those few times when I look to the American two-party system and admire its simplicity. You go one way or the other. (‘Course, really, they’re all the same, just one tends to more open and honest about liking guns than the other.)

What I would like is for one of the other four parties to stand out from the others, and really make themselves out to be a strong contender to the Conservatives. Although the NDP seems to be gaining some serious ground this time out, they’ll have to do something about the Prairies if they hope to make a serious run. Which, really, leaves the Liberals who don’t look to have recovered from Chrétien’s era (nor show any signs of such).

Or better still, have organisations/movements like ABC pick a party. Just one. Please. The message should be “don’t vote Conservative, vote for …” so long as it’s focused. Lack of focus equals lack of success. That’s about as simple a rule as it gets, however it gets applied: in school, in business, how my kids clean up their toys. Focus, please.

T minus 9 days. I actually fear for my country.