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BRIAN JONES: ‘Strategic voting’ is a degradation of democracy

“Voting strategically” is an admission that our democracy is broken.
“Voting strategically” is an admission that our democracy is broken. - 123RF Stock Photo

One thing is certain: on Oct. 21, millions of Canadians will be angry and aghast that their side didn’t win.

Mock Americans all you want for their decrepit political system and idiot leader, but Canada is treading the same route toward a corrupted democracy, and it has to do as much with people’s attitudes as it does with backroom influence and wealthy elites.

Ponder the notion of the “wasted vote,” which took hold a few years ago when the push for a proportional-representation system became popular.

In the currently used first-past-the-post system, if your candidate loses, then your vote is deemed wasted. You get nothing. It is winner take all.

If, however, your wasted vote were counted along with thousands and perhaps millions of other wasted votes in a proportional-representation system, your vote would suddenly be meaningful. You, too, could be counted among the winners.

It sounds reasonable, in the everybody-gets-a-medal sort of way, except that it undermines the single most essential aspect of democracy: majority rules, but it does not rule absolutely. The rights, opinions and needs of the minority — of the losers — must be given credence and attention by the winners.

In a democracy, winners get power, but it is not absolute. That perk is reserved for authoritarians, totalitarians and dictators.

So no, your vote is never “wasted.” If your candidate loses, if your party loses, your vote is part of an alternative perspective that must still be recognized and considered by an incoming government.

Unfortunately, democracy has become a sweepstakes in which the winner takes the jackpot and the losers go home with nothing but bitterness.

It isn’t supposed to be this way. In fact, it wasn’t always this way. This is a phenomenon that has taken hold during the past several decades, with the rise to power and popularity of the ultraconservatives and their reverence for ideological absolutism, i.e., “I won, so now I get to do whatever I want.”

Thank the ideologues Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney, who ushered in this modern era that now vexes the citizenry of at least three countries, the U.S.A. worst of all.

New and newish voters might scoff at the notion that things were ever different.

But then, they likely don’t know about a now-extinct creature, the “Red Tory,” which died out in the early 1980s.

Somebody, somewhere, once described Red Tories as “conservatives with a heart.” You can see why they disappeared.

Today’s Tories take pride in their heartlessness, which they prefer to call “austerity,” “belt-tightening” and other euphemisms.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the popular trend of the past few Canadian and American elections, of “strategic voting,” a tactic thought necessary to stop the tide of ultraconservatism from returning, i.e., Andrew Scheer becoming prime minister.

Bless them, their anti-conservative hearts may be in the right place, but again, it is a concept that admits our democracy is twisted, broken and irredeemable.

Strategic voting requires you to vote for the candidate most likely to defeat the candidate you hate/fear the most, not for the candidate you like the most.

Talk about a corruption of the democratic ideal.

As with the misguided desire for proportional representation, the push to vote strategically undermines that fundamental aspect of democracy: winners may take power, but losers still have a say.

It is sometimes accompanied by soothing patter such as, “Hold your nose and vote Liberal/NDP.”

(The targets of strategic voting are always Conservative, which seems fair enough, since it was ultra-conservatives who brought us the ideological boxing ring that politics has become, where nothing less than a knockout will do.)

As with the misguided desire for prop-rep, the push to vote strategically undermines that fundamental aspect of democracy: winners may take power, but losers still have a say.

Winning a democratic election doesn’t give you licence to drive a social and economic steamroller over the losers, forcing your rigid ideology on everybody and on an entire country.

Except that, in our corrupted democracy, it does.

A renewed democracy doesn’t need prop-rep, and it most certainly can’t involve strategic voting. Those are both admissions that our democracy has failed.

What can be done? A good first step would be to stop saying, “If you don’t vote, you don’t have any right to complain.”

Actually, no matter how you vote, or even whether you vote, you always have a right to complain, to make demands of your government.

And governments always have an obligation to listen to people other than just their ideological adherents.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at


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