Four years ago, I voted for the NDP in the Alberta provincial election that shocked the wor … country. Mine wasn’t a principled vote, born more out of mischief and curiosity. I certainly held no love for the splintered conservative party who had governed for 44 years but were now running as two entities. The PCs were less loathsome than the Wild Rose, but I was eager to see both have a timeout along with their mass of worshippers across the province. I honestly didn’t think the NDP would win a majority. Had I been betting, I’d have put money on the electorate congealing around the Wild Rose Party, if just barely.
Still, the potential for even an NDP minority felt like fun. Just seeing the faces on many of my fellow citizens was worth the throw-away vote. That I got to see those faces twice that year, Trudeau would become Prime Minister that fall, was remarkable. And hilarious.
Of course, in 2015 the oil price correction had only begun. The province was starting to feel its sting but there was no expectation that it would, four years later, still be smothering Alberta’s oil patch engine. Thousands of jobs have been lost, some likely forever. Pipelines have become a lightning rod of Canadian unity. And our Prime Minister has proven to be every bit the empty suit his distractors claimed. The comedy of what happened has … waned.
Notley, on the other hand, has proven herself a capable premier. Considering the caucus of newly minted MPs, many of whom had no anticipation of winning when they signed up, she’s governed surprisingly well. Zealous partisans be damned, that NDP win could have been a train wreck. With what has transpired since 2015, they’ve performed above expectation and, social issues aside, not much differently than a conservative government would have.
It’s now time to vote again. Today, in fact. And for the first time since moving to Calgary back in 1998, my vote feels important. That’s a peculiar feeling in a place that votes Conservative, both provincially and federally, with the regularity of a Metamucil addict.
MPs and MLAs in the ridings in which I live regularly receive 75% of the vote and they’re always conservatives. Even in that shocking 2015 election, my riding was one of the few to retain a PC MLA. He managed this win despite losing over 5500 votes (that’s 90% of the number he, himself, received) to the Wild Rose candidate. That’s all you need to know about political leanings in the middle/upper class burbs of Calgary.
Having party leaders as MP more often than not doesn’t help matters either. Federally, I’ve had both Preston Manning and Stephen Harper as my MP. I moved and then had Jason Kenney as my MP, a man who, while not party leader, was certainly a member of the elite inner circle of governance.
To be honest, the fact that its only 75% support is regularly startling to me. There are times when I expect the grass to grow blue here. Seriously, the Conservative Party of Canada could run a bucket of feces fresh from the ass of a champion Stampede bull and it would win in a landslide.
As such, I’ve rarely had to put much thought or effort into my voting. I continue to vote, mostly out of principle (or is it habit?), but my vote has zero impact. Were I a staunch conservative, my neighbours more than compensate for any laziness I should embrace on election day. Were I a staunch ‘insert fruitless opposition party here’, my vote still wouldn’t make a lick of difference because my neighbours would wholly overwhelm even my best intentions.
That is exhibit A for why I support voting reform. It would be nice if my vote counted for a little something more than comic relief to my MP, MLA, and their supporters. I seem to recall being promised something regarding this relatively recently. Anyone recall who or what that was?
There’s another factor in this renaissance of democratic importance I’m experiencing during this election. I have a child studying government in grade six social studies concurrent with the election. An inquisitive twelve year old can motivate civic engagement more readily than any campaign ad, I assure you.
She has questions. Lots and lots of questions. And they demand meaningful, sophisticated answers. And I want to give her those kinds of answers while limiting my influence in her decisions. It’s great that her class is doing this. They’re even holding a faux-election themselves. But I don’t want her simply adopting my cynicism towards politics. I want her to earn it from real life experience.
What can I say, her enthusiasm has rubbed off on me. For the first time, in a long time, I’m putting genuine thought into my vote. I’m still convinced, as I was the day after the shocking NDP win in 2015, that the conservatives will reclaim their domination of Alberta politics in this election. Still, perhaps surprisingly, it feels like there’s a bit of a horserace happening. Maybe a UCP majority will prove to be a foregone conclusion, but a solid, influential opposition feels achievable. And that’s good for all of us.
As such, I find the Voter Compass surveys a wonderful tool to help me weed through the noise. It’s far from perfect nor should it be your sole tool for decision making, but it’s far better than relying on political ads and whatever your coworkers are posting on Facebook. It’s also better than my clumsy attempts at teaching my daughter how to make an informed decision.
Unlike previous elections, the results of my Vote Compass answers landed me almost on top of two political parties. Usually I find myself in no-man’s land with nary an option in sight for which to comfortably vote. In this election, I purportedly line up best with both the NDP and the Liberals.
And if I were solely a visual person, I’d view this result as a coin toss and leave it at that. But if you look at the ‘How much you agree with the parties’ stats next to the chart, things change a bit. I agree most with the Liberal party and nearly as much with the Green Party. My agreement with the NDP is third but several percentage points less than with the Greens. So why am I plotting almost on top of the NDP but not terribly close to the Greens?
Similarly, I’m nearly as agreeable with the Alberta Party as I am with the NDP but again, I plot a fair distance away from the Alberta Party. The same distance away as the Green Party in the opposite direction. This doesn’t make much sense to me other than I guess the stuff I don’t agree with for the Greens and Alberta Parties I must REALLY not agree with. It’s a quirk that has me questioning this voter compass.
Then there is the problem of questions that don’t fully encapsulate an issue or don’t offer a response that best describes my true beliefs on it. For example, the very first question the survey asks is, “How much should wealthier people pay in taxes?” That’s straight forward enough question and typically differentiates between Left and Right rather starkly. I answered ‘somewhat more’. I would prefer to have answered, if given the option, that I think EVERYONE should pay somewhat more in taxes. But that is a question rarely asked nor offered as an answer. So, does this questionnaire accurately reflect my true political views thereby capturing my best voting option? I don’t think so.
“How much tax should large corporations pay?” Another question that doesn’t offer me an accurate answer. What if I want all corporations to pay more tax? And how is ‘large corporations’ defined, for that matter?
“How much should be done to accommodate religious minorities?” Yikes! This is a question you don’t want your friends answering around the campfire after a few beers. Again, my options are left wanting. What about accommodation of religious majorities? What if I think religious minorities should have the right to wear whatever they want on their heads but feel it’s about time the Catholic School Board be abolished?
“New pipelines should be built in Albert?” Is that actually a problem? I imagine this province would eagerly vote to build a clear, circular pipeline from Fort McMurray to Grande Prairie to Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Lloydminster, and back just so we all can watch the dilbit flow around and around as we hold hands and sing songs of solidarity. Why is this even a question? It’s pipelines OUT of Alberta that’s the issue.
“The provincial deficit should be reduced, even if it means fewer services?” Except that’s not the only way to reduce deficits. I think deficits are a big issue. I think accumulated debt at all levels of society is a huge problem. I even wrote about it. Yes, it’s just that important.
And if you take many Albertans at their word, it’s the primary reason many are voting as they will. Yet, we are asked only one questions on the subject, and it narrowly focuses on one solution for addressing it. And a simplistic solution at that. Reduced services.
Despite these problems, I think the vote compass gets close to a proper answer. I didn’t fall on top of the Freedom Conservative Party. Thank God. Choosing between the Liberals and the NDP feels right. Short of me starting my own party, anyway. Though I’d probably still get less than 100% correlation via vote compass somehow.
This result also forced me to explain to my daughter an important nuance of voting in a multi-party system; strategic voting. There’s a reason I don’t home school. But I tried my best. And I think she understood what I was saying though she remained unpersuaded. Her vote compass results offered a similar conundrum and she chose to stick with the party that best represented her values.
I’m not sure I can be as principled. Am I pragmatic or dishonest? Given the options available, I should vote Liberal. But the Liberals haven’t a hope in hell of forming government. They are unlikely to even win a seat. It’s a wasted vote and yet that’s the very thinking that will prevent them from EVER winning a seat. The chicken and the egg dancing off into oblivion.
Ultimately, I’m left with a difficult decision. Do I vote for whom best represents my ideals (though not perfectly) or do I vote for whom I believe can best stop a party that decidedly doesn’t represent my ideals? Which do I value more, social progressiveness or fiscal prudence?
If history is any guide, then fiscal prudence is a value political parties preach but rarely abide. Damn, there’s that cynicism come back to haunt me.
Many Albertans are voting with their wallets in this election. I can understand that and there is part of me that wants to as well. Debt has run amok everywhere. We don’t take it seriously enough and the growth solution is a false hope. But I can’t tolerate fiscal restraint coming part and parcel with social conservatism nor the fringe hate that lurks within the conservative movement. I refuse to throw gay kids under a bus in return for vague promises of balanced budgets.
Logic tells me we will soon have an unpleasant man as premier with many equally unlikeable members of parliament surrounding him. Conscience tells me I had better have done my part to try and prevent that.