Thursday, October 15, 2015



LeadNow is that group that has been polling ridings and telling us which non-Conservative candidate they believe has the best chance to win in each riding. My friends, which seem to lean left by nature, have been sharing their posts on social media. 

LeadNow wants to get rid of Stephen Harper. I want to get rid of Stephen Harper.  So why is their whole campaign giving me the creeps?

Just so we are clear (and so my friends don't feel like I'm doubting them), I don't discount the choice of voters to consider electability as ONE factor in their vote. In the end, your vote should reflect the likelihood of getting policies and government you want. If you have one key issue, and two candidates have equally acceptable positions on that issue, then it is only logical to think about which one can win. 

What bothers me about LeadNow is that their campaign denies that anything else matters. It takes all those concerns, passions, preoccupations and hopes that lead people to choose a party, and treats any concern besides the polls as an irrational obsession.  This masquerades as a value-free judgement, but it actually makes a big value judgement -- that all policies must be given equal acceptance as long as they aren't Harper's policies. 

It makes it even creepier when that value -- that polls trump all -- becomes a campaign. It is one thing when a voter, in their personal reflection, decides they can live with the candidate who may be ahead.  It's another thing when a national campaign spends time and money urging a value-free vote. It comes off as a well-funded effort to chase debate out of the public square. Once we decide we aren't blue, LeadNow seems to say, the conversation must end. 

There are five reasons to tune LeadNow out. 

First, elections are meant to be conversations. That is hard to remember when one party seems hellbent upon making us talk about niqabs and barbaric cultural practice hotlines (where I'm from, that's 911).  But the three non-Conservative parties have platforms that differ on some big issues, from civil rights to economic theory to environmental standards to human rights. Even if you may decide that you can live with more than one of those options, that should happen after a full debate on the merits of each. LeadNow is actively trying to short circuit those debates. If we stop having those debates in elections, we start to lose the chance to learn from each other. 

Second, those issues are legitimate reasons for people to choose a party over another. Even more vitally, the right to withhold your vote from the party highest in the polls has democratic meaning.  When I ran as a Liberal, knowing that people could choose to vote NDP was a reason to remember our progressive traditions. If you don't want a pipeline, there is power in telling Mulcair and Trudeau that you will withhold your vote even if they may lose to a Conservative.  Same goes for NDP voters who want Trudeau to know that voting for C-51 or opposing national child care plans will mean he loses their vote. Or Liberals who think Mulcair has made an economic error in rejecting deficits. 

(Me, I worry that Mr. Trudeau's insistence on borrowing to fund massive infrastructure spends while opposing national social programs will lead him to eventually cut social programs to pay for the infrastructure, which will likely be distributed in a very political manner. It's not like we haven't just seen that in New Brunswick, where Liberals build hockey rinks in ministers' ridings and fire teachers in my children's schools.) 

These are legitimate, principled stands. One may decide that they aren't as important as seeing Stephen Harper's ugly campaign beaten. But it is a legitimate balancing of factors, not some irrational fascination to be dismissed.

Third, local candidates matter. In the long term, good government requires smart MPs who can challenge their leaders in caucus and committees and not just recite talking points. (That is actually a good reason to turf the Conservatives in many ridings). Parties need to know that nominating good candidates and not just good soldiers matters. A candidate shouldn't get a free ride from scrutiny just because their party is ahead. 

Fourth, LeadNow ignores the fact that if we always just support the leading non-Conservative candidate, the political center will become more conservative. Let me give you an example -- let's say late in the USA election, there are three candidates for president. Three weeks out, Independent Donald Trump has 38%, Republican Jeb Bush has 34% and Democrat Bernie Sanders trails with 28%. 

Now, I do believe Trump would be a uniquely disastrous president, an authoritarian crackpot who has used ugly wedge issues to get ahead. I would prefer Jeb Bush, and so it would seem rational for me to vote for Jeb Bush to stop Trump.  Except, I don't want to live forever in a world run by Jeb Bush. I really prefer Sanders, and at some point I have to vote for him. Yet LeadNow would have me forever accept Jeb Bush's America.

The result of this is actually counterproductive.  If LeadNow tells us to always stop a Conservative by voting for the closest alternative, Conservatives can actually make us all move to the right. If Conservatives just choose more and more extreme right leaders, then we will start accepting more and more right-wing alternatives to stop them, and soon the whole spectrum moves right. (Case in way in which Rob Ford triumphed is that he made progressives enthusiastically vote for John Tory, whom progressives desperately fought to beat in 2006). 

The bottom line is that at some point, you have to vote for what you want. Which leads me to....

Fifth, citizenship demands more than just voting people out. New Brunswick is paying a high price for just throwing parties out and not looking at the alternative (eventually, parties can just nominate unqualified, scriptable leaders because anyone can beat the last unqualified, scriptable leader). Citizenship demands choosing the best ideas and the best candidates, not just falling in behind someone because they are ahead. (Vanilla Ice was the top-selling artist of 1991. That didn't make it right.)  

A good citizen may decide, after thoughtful scrutiny, that two candidates will be acceptable and one can win. That should be the result of personal reflection, not national campaigns designed to squeeze out debate and options and choice. LeadNow isn't asking you to lead. It is demanding a follower mentality that isn't healthy in the long term, however alluring their short-term goal.