Voting Out of Spite

In Politics on April 30, 2011 at 12:14 PM

When it happened, it probably caught you off-guard too. The Conservative and Liberal ads that were played this past week were oddly out of place. The change was that both parties are spending their final campaign dollars to attack the NDP. While I’m not an expert on running a campaign, I’m pretty sure that by attacking the NDP, or more importantly, acknowledging that the NDP even exists, was a mistake for both parties.

The reality is the Conservatives and Liberals have gotten away with being a two-party system for decades by refusing to acknowledge the NDP or any other party in their ads. They focused on attacking each other, and we, as voters, assumed that while the NDP might get a seat here and there, the battle for leadership was between the Liberals and Conservatives.

This year, something strange happened. Polls show that the NDP is actually ahead of the Liberals. They have made unexpected gains in Quebec. They’re stealing votes from all other parties. In fact, voters are in such disbelief, that each poll is backed up by a second and third poll to demonstrate that it’s not an anomaly. The NDP is truly making progress.

But to make this real for everyone, the Liberals and Conservatives are asking us the rhetorical question: Do we really think the NDP has the ability to lead this country? This lets us know that both the Liberals and Conservatives are really worried about Jack Layton. Most people don’t think any of them can lead the country. Another minority appears likely, so why not vote for the NDP out of spite for the other two parties?

The non-stop elections since Harper came into power almost a decade ago have certainly been the most annoying feature of our minority government situation. But other than that, the balance has forced our Parliament to work with each other and incorporate a variety of interests into legislation. The NDP’s rise could secure their status as the official opposition and potentially a record-setting number of NDP seats in the House of Commons.

Traditionally our voter turnout has been terrible. We are lucky if half the population casts a ballot. But a part of me wonders if people have been waiting for something like this to happen.

Ontario has seen this before in 1990. David Peterson (Liberal) was Premiere and decided to capitalize on his popularity by calling a snap election. The move backfired, when Ontario, out of spite, voted in Bob Rae’s NDP party into power. Will the chance to vote out of spite draw additional voters come Monday?

For those that have been around long enough, they might recall the 1988 Federal election, the last time the NDP made a similar surge in the polls at a federal level. Ultimately, Ed Broadbent’s NDP party won a record number of seats in Parliament but still finished a distant third while Mulroney won a clear majority of seats. This tends to support the theory that these last minute attack ads work, and somehow a significant portion of people has enough doubt regarding the NDP that they will change their minds or simply won’t bother to vote.

In today’s Canadian political climate, the NDP serves a critical role in the federal government. While I don’t want any single party to have control, I think that Layton and his team work best as the necessary contrast to Harper’s staunch conservatism. The Liberals have made themselves irrelevant by trying to please everyone (not to mention, trying to find an identity, as well as a suitable leader).

In the end, having two people I dislike balancing each other’s power seems to provide a federal government that I don’t mind.

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