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A Brief Note on Voting

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
A Brief Note on Voting

I am not going to vote in the upcoming election. I take no pride in this nor do I think it is a stance which is effective per se.

How can I reconcile these two statements?

To begin with let's start with the obvious facts. There are differences between parties. The Conservative agenda is extremely regressive, especially socially. Less taxes for corporations, more jails, more military spending, less funding for women's groups, no real childcare policy, an attack on the bodies of trans people, queers and women, a hatred for people of colour both migrants and indigenous peoples, an extremely regressive foreign policy, the defunding of progressive civil society groups and an utter contempt for the people.

The Liberals are less regressive on certain social issues but offer only slight policy differences on issues such as military spending, foreign policy, the tax system and the funding of social programs.

The NDP, the party most susceptible to grassroots pressure, fares better than the rest. A better foreign policy, more funding for social programs and it is by far the least regressive party when it comes to trans rights, queer and women's issues. However, it still offers the same old when it comes to crime, nationalism, and the basic tenets of our economic system.

There are differences between parties and depending on your economic situation and especially your race, gender, sexual orientation and/or your status these differences are hard to overstate. The array of choices presented by the three major parties aren't between ideal options and evil one's but between degrees of compromise. However when it comes down to things such as deportations or access to abortions the differences between degrees can be the difference between life and death.

While it would be a grotesque simplification to say that there are no differences between three major federal parties it would, in my view, be accurate to say that the parties offer only moderate variations of the same choice. All three parties present themselves as responsible stewards of the economy, they all want to govern using the same institutional models and that none of the three major parties presents a threat to the overall trajectory of our society. If the NDP were to somehow come to power during this election they would be faced with the same market forces which dictate policies within the other two major parties.

Jacques Ranciere, the French philosopher, wrote that "a good democratic government is one capable of controlling the evil quite simply called democratic life." According to Ranciere there is a difference between democracy and democratic governments. The state form of democracy is oligarchic, while democracy in action sits beneath this sphere. "Democracy, then, far from being the form of life of individuals dedicated to their private pleasures, is a process of struggle against this privatization, the process of enlarging this sphere (which) does not entail asking for state encroachments."

Democracy in the state form is opposed to the spirit of equality in action contained within the word. There is no way of reconciling them. A state system with such a visceral hatred of democracy does not contain in form or content any mechanism which will bring forth greater democracy in action. "The collective intelligence produced by a system of domination is only as intelligent as that system. Unequal society does not carry any equal society in its womb... (democracy) is not based on any nature of things nor guaranteed by an institutional form."

Ranciere's critique of democracy as a state form is worth remembering when democratic sycophants implore you to vote, to participate regardless of your views in the election. This crass injunction to be part of the system should be seen for what it is: ideology in its purest form. Just vote = liberal blackmail.

However, before one makes the decision to vote or not. We should understand the other options. I firmly believe that a strong extra-parliamentary left is necessary to build a world based on justice and equality. But what if that extra-parliamentary movement is non-existent, as it is in Canada?

For those of us opposed to parliamentary democracy, those stating that to vote is to legitimize an oppressive system, what are we offering? The answer, other than a weak subtraction from the status quo is not much. We have failed to build vibrant social movements that can challenge the powerful in our society and address the immediate material concerns of oppressed peoples. It is too easy for me, as a straight white man with a job and no dependents, to say don't vote. If a Harper majority comes into power my body and my immediate well being will not be under attack.

In my riding, Halifax, I believe that the seat held by Megan Leslie of the NDP (the best MP in the house) is a relatively safe seat. My vote will not be of any significance either symbolically nor statistically. However, if this was a close race involving a conservative candidate I would probably vote. In times of reaction we must use all tools available to soften these regressive attacks. However, to vote strategically we must consider the terrain in which we reside. We should consider voting in close races involving reactionary candidates but consider not voting in ridings where the vote is a forgone conclusion.

So I believe any call for non-voting must be accompanied by a questioning of the alternative. Those of us who are critical of this capitalist parliamentary system must be self-critical as well. We have failed to offer substantive alternatives. In these times of reaction, when people are fighting for their lives, bodies and communities we should not fault people for voting but fault our inability to build political projects which truly challenge the status quo. The question is not whether to vote but how to create movements that actually have power to address our needs without compromising our principles.

Further Reading:

Boycott 2011 Elections

Why Play the White Man's Game?

Where Harper Stands, In Comic Form

Should the Radical Left Vote NDP?

The Federal Election and Its Parallel Universe

Gender Focus: Questions to Ask Your Candidate

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1027 words


This is actually pretty thoughtful, ...

so thanks for that. I live in a swing riding and I am going to vote to kick out the Con, not because they've done anything to harm me personally, but because they've harmed people that I care for, like my friends in Central Africa who continue to suffer at the hands of the Canadian mining companies, who enjoy the unwavering support of this despicable government, no matter how many people they poison, or bury alive, or even shoot point blank.

I guess the question is if all you, as someone living in this country, care about is your own liberties or if it at all matters to you how others who don't get to vote here are affected by our choices. I guess it's easier for those of us who have lived a certain portion of our lives on the other side of the fence to visualize those consequences (this has nothing to with race, but your life experience), so I don't really criticize this sort of lack of empathy and the resulting apathy, but I do mind it when divestment is presented as the morally superior choice.

The issue of whether or not your vote matters is a separate and more technical matter that you most certainly can do something about by working with groups like Fair Vote. You seem to be mixing these two discussions, which is really not helping with the clarity of the exposition.

For the sake of honesty, I should say that I never voted all those years when I lived in Olivia Chow's riding in Toronto, but that was because she was pretty safe and didn't need my vote, and not as a boycott of the entire exercise: it was just blatant laziness.

Fringe parties

Thoughtful, but the only thing I would say is that there are always a few more candidates on the ballot than the big three cartel. MLPC for example. If Leslie's seat appears safe, are you sure that ALL the parties don't fit with any of your values? Call me naive, but I've always felt more revolutionary voting Communist than sitting at home. Far easier if you ask me.


dont boycott, spoil your ballot

Rather than not voting, spoil your ballot creatively.  The poll clerks will see it and it will be counted.

In ridings where a 3% swing could defeat the worst candidate, it may be worthwhile voting anyway, for those of a pragmatic mindset.

I believe it is extremely

I believe it is extremely important to vote. I don't think it is safe to assume that Leslie's seat is safe. People may be strategically voting liberal, and this could have some impact on her votes. Stephen Harper is takeing advantage of the apathy many of our young people are displaying, we need votes against him! I believe anything other than Harper is better than nothing!!

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