2021 presents a weak case to the left for strategic voting
O’Toole’s more progressive direction a safety net for 2019’s would-be NDP voters

A headline earlier this year from the Beaverton, a satirical publication, reads: “Poll finds 100% of liberal voters would vote NDP if they thought it had a chance at winning.”

While the number may not be wholly accurate, there’s no question that strategic voting — casting one’s vote for a more popular party to prevent another party from winning the election rather than voting for preferred candidates — has a strong influence on modern Canadian elections. A Leger poll conducted after the 2019 election showed that 43 per cent of Liberal party voters took considerations of strategic voting into account, and 46 per cent of respondents who voted for the Liberal party considered voting for the New Democratic Party (NDP) at one point. The poll showed that Conservative party voters were less likely to consider strategic voting.

The effects of strategic voting are felt on the more crowded left side of the nation’s political spectrum, with the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the NDP consistently seeing voter shares in double digits. A result of this is NDP supporters deciding before an election to make the “smart” choice and voting for the LPC in order to prevent a Conservative-led government, rather than voting with their conscience. But the case for doing so Sept. 20 is weaker than it was in the previous two elections.

In 2015, Canadians were introduced to new Liberal leadership that inspired hope for some sort of change. Meanwhile, the Conservative party struggled with leadership that was past its days of inspiring much of anything. But after six years of Justin Trudeau’s administration, that hope has dried up for many.

There are a number of broken campaign promises people will cite when discussing Justin Trudeau — implementing a national pharmacare plan, meaningful action toward Indigenous reconciliation, a more balanced budget — but key for NDP supporters were his assurances that the 2015 election would be the final first-past-the-post federal election.

There are two systems that have been discussed by the federal parties in recent years: the NDP’s favoured mixed-member proportional system — which, put somewhat reductively, would generally result in the number of seats in the House of Commons distributed to a party being more affected by their share of the popular vote — and a preferential voting system that Trudeau and the Liberals have expressed past interest in, which would likely see a stronger NDP vote given most Liberal voters list the NDP as their second party of choice.

Unfortunately, the Liberal government has abandoned any plans for such reform. With hopes for election reform shattered under the leadership of the LPC, as well as a number of other promises broken, the “second-best choice” the Liberal party has represented to many in the past may look a lot more like the “lesser of two evils” in 2021 — and fresh Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole might make the margin between the two from the left’s perspective even slimmer.

Despite painting his Conservative leadership race rival Peter MacKay as too liberal and touting rhetoric about “taking Canada back,” since becoming leader O’Toole has proved to be something of a bulwark against any drift further right by his party.

While he wouldn’t be mistaken for a Liberal, O’Toole has expressed beliefs and policy plans that one might expect from the more “progressive” parties: he’s brandished a decent climate plan, is pro-choice and has directly spoken against the more radical elements of his party.

It’s clear he understands the Conservative party must cater to a wider portion of the Canadian population than only the firmly right — an understanding which is likely to at least somewhat influence how his party chooses to govern should they win the election.

Such a leader takes a lot of the bite out of the LPC’s fear-mongering against a Conservative party they would like to paint as being far-right and takes a lot of danger out of left-wing voters’ worst fears about a Conservative government.

Say Canadians who align more with the NDP than Liberals vote with their hearts this election. After bleeding votes the previous two elections, the idea of a strong enough turnaround to become the official opposition — let alone forming a government — is far-fetched. Still, at worst, the country would be governed by a Conservative minority under O’Toole, and at best, a recovering NDP could get on a path back to the highs of 2011 within the next few elections.