Vote if you must, but set yourself some standards and don’t settle!

This is the final entry in a series on the question of voting and whether it’s a worthwhile exercise. Parts one, two, three, four, five, and six 

It’s the summer election campaign that nobody wanted and everybody’s going to get subjected to.

This morning, our Fearless Leader visited the Governor-General to ask for the Queen’s permission to dissolve Parliament, which of course he got, the whole ridiculous monarchistic ritual being a meaningless and banal anachronism that gets right under my skin but which isn’t the subject of this post and which therefore I’m going to tie to a balloon and let go.

*Deep breath*

Harper didn’t get to make the triumphant declaration he’d been hoping for today, as TPP talks broke down badly over the weekend. He’d planned on launching the campaign by boasting about how he’d signed Canada on to the “biggest trade deal in history”, but instead trade envoys left Hawaii with little more than some upbeat spin – and no date set for the next round of talks. Rumour has it they won’t meet again until at least November, setting this up to be a campaign issue, which is actually so exciting for me.

Instead, the campaign immediately devolved into an argument about money, which is probably the worst and most crass kind of argument there is. Harper’s claims that the new form of campaign financing instituted by his party’s widely panned “Fair” Elections Act mean that parties, not taxpayers, will be on the hook for election expenses – a statement which, as Elizabeth May quickly pointed out, is a blatant falsehood. The former Chief Electoral Officer for Elections Canada estimated that the extra costs to taxpayers would run in the tens of millions.

These extra costs are being incurred, of course, because the election campaign we’re staring down is set to be the longest in nearly a century. And that only happened because Harper thought it would be to his advantage, because a longer campaign means he can spend more money – an extra $675 000/day. As the Globe and Mail put it, “If the election can be bought, the Tories will win easily.”

Fortunately, there are other factors at play here, including a strong and earnest desire on the part of many many Canadians for change in government. And for what it’s worth, The Alfalfafield’s official long-range prediction, from eleven weeks out, is a narrow NDP majority, a massive collapse in Liberal support, and an election-night resignation from Stephen Harper. (This will be followed by four years of resigned disappointment on the part of long-standing and principled Dippers, who aren’t much going to like the spectre of an NDP government.)

The question we’ve been considering in this space for the past six weeks is whether or not this whole election drama matters, and it’s fitting that our series concludes as the election opens. For some context, let’s return to the problem as it was posed in our initial entry:

For someone coming to politics from [a radical] viewpoint, there’s nobody to vote for. There is no party which champions, for instance, an immediate transition away from fossil fuels, or an end to the colonization and exploitation of indigenous peoples and territories, or an end to military imperialism in the Middle East, or the dismantling of the burgeoning surveillance state, or the total decriminalization of all drugs, or the dismantling of the fundamentally broken prison system, or the total eradication of homelessness and poverty, or even the greater involvement of the citizens of this country in decisions which impact their lives. All of these things, I need to emphasize, are achievable and affordable goals. But they aren’t part of our political discussion. They aren’t considered as serious possibilities.

And there’s a reason for that. None of those changes would benefit the political and economic elite of our society. People who advocate these policies don’t generally get taken very seriously by People Who Matter.

And voting for this party or that party isn’t going to achieve any of these goals. If any of them are achieved, it will be through tireless activism and advocacy, through mass movements, through civil disobedience on a large scale. These pressing goals are only achievable outside of electoral politics.

Which raises the obvious question: If we can’t achieve the changes we as a society need through changing the party in government, then does it really matter who wins the election this fall?

All of which makes today’s squabbling over how much money exactly this election’s gonna cost seem pretty petty.

After several weeks of thinking about this question, and reading about it, and talking it over with friends and acquaintances and strangers, I’ve come to two conclusions.

1) Stephen Harper is a dangerous and despicable man. He has been so bad for this country in so many ways, some of which it may take us years or decades to realize and come to terms with. For the Conservatives to win another majority government would be an unmitigated disaster. I feel the fear of four more years of this shit, and I totally understand where the Anybody-but-Harper crowd is coming from. Logically, they ought to coalesce around either the NDP or the Liberals as the campaign goes on, and with the NDP holding a lead in the (not-to-be-trusted) polls and the Liberals in free-fall, the Dippers are the obvious choice. In other words, it’s their election to lose – hence my bold prediction. So there is a strong case to be made for voting NDP.

2) The NDP is not the party we need to solve the massive problems facing us. In becoming the compromise party that strategic voters flock to, they have abandoned whatever principles they may have once had. To give but one example: in the face of overwhelming evidence that we need to leave the tar sands oil in the ground if we want any hope of dealing with the climate crisis, the NDP advocate for more pipelines (and more safety regulations on them). Just read this and try not to weep:

The federal NDP leader also said pipelines to carry oil from the West to the East should be a priority because they would build energy security, get higher prices for Canadian oil, and create jobs…

“The NDP will be a partner with the development of energy resources,” if it forms a government in 2015, Mr. Mulcair told a luncheon organized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by oil sands producer Suncor Energy Inc. and pipeline company Enbridge Inc.

“We will be there with you,” he said, while also inviting the sector to work harder to earn its “social licence” to operate, have meaningful consultations with First Nations, and take its environmental responsibilities more seriously. [my bold]

As somebody who does not in any way support continued tar sands extraction or the approval of ticking timebomb pipeline plans, how can I in good conscience vote for this party?

And that’s just one example! On issue after issue, I look at what the NDP – the left’s great hope – has to offer, and I  think, “That’s it?” I know a lot of people feel the same way – disappointed, and uncertain what to do.

So here’s my conclusion that I’ve come to.

Voting strategically isn’t going to solve our problems. We’re either going to get a bad government or a worse one, and while the difference between bad and worse is meaningful, in the long run it doesn’t make a huge difference:

As the bogeyman-du-jour changes, memories fade, and the conviction that this time is different takes hold again. Yes, the pro-capital monsters that conservative parties elevate to their leaderships are terrible – but when all of our efforts are expended on electing the least-bad alternative, then capital still wins. It wins by keeping the terms of debate narrow, it wins by putting forth “moderate” “compromise” positions which are “better than nothing” and which maintain or increase their profits, it wins by co-opting parties and governments, it wins by being belligerently disruptive to any government which challenges it (“After the new finance minister’s very first meeting with the banking community , a bank vice-president told him, in the presence of an aide: “Nice speech, Mr. Minister, but we’re going to kill you.” And they did.”), it wins by keeping everybody focussed on the problem of selecting the lesser of all evils while it goes about its wretched unceasing Business.


Besides, we don’t need to settle for such crappy options. We can have standards for ourselves.

So that’s what I’m going to do, and I’ll encourage you to do the same – I’m going to set standards.

I will not vote for a party that supports signing the top-secret Trans Pacific Partnership, for instance. I will only vote for a candidate who is committed to eradicating poverty in this country. No party which supports a continuation of our Glorious Non-Combat Operation in the Middle East will get my vote.

Feel free to come up with your own minimum requirements – respect for indigenous treaty rights! An end to drug prohibition and the war on addicts! Ambitious goals for transitioning away from fossil fuels!

Then – and this is the important part – don’t settle.

Contact your local candidates. Call them, or tweet them, or show up at their office. Tell them you have standards, and here’s what they are. If they can’t meet your standards, don’t vote for them – they don’t deserve it.

Talk to your friends. Talk to them about your standards. Encourage them not to settle either.

Take a look at all the parties. Look at the Green Party. Look at the Pirate Party. Look at the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party. Look at the Marxist-Leninists, even, if that’s your thing. Maybe one of them will meet your standards. If so, great! If not, stay firm. Don’t settle.

If you don’t see a candidate you like, maybe run yourself. It’s a lot of work but it’s work that’s needed.

And don’t forget that most of the changes we need to make are not going to be possible through electoral change. We need sustained grassroots pressure. We need widespread civil disobedience. We need economic disruption.

So if you feel like this election has nothing to offer to you, then don’t sweat it. Don’t worry about it. Do something else to make the world a better place instead.

But for democracy’s sake, don’t settle.

Because if we don’t have standards, then we deserve the shitty governments we keep getting.

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