A Conversation With a Voter

Greg Bester was very disappointed by last night’s election results:

Well that was a bit of a disaster, wasn’t it? Needless to say, that was my last vote in an Ontario election. I will still vote federally, since the parties get money for the votes they collect (thanks Jean!), but I won’t vote again provincially as long as we keep FPTP. I live in a Tory riding and I have better things to do with my time.

Well, that’s Greg’s prerogative. But I wanted to point out one of the brighter spots of this election, and also to (forgive me) needle him a bit, along with other bloggers who sold the Green Party well short of its eventual 8.1% tale in this election.

ME: It’s a shame about MMP, but you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt. In good news, the Greens took a remarkable 8% of the vote. Maybe next time they can win a few seats the old fashioned way.

Here’s the conversation that followed:

GREG: James B. as the song says “You gotta know when to hold em, when to fold ‘em”.
I am throwing in a bad hand in a fixed game.

ME: I’m more misquoting from Terry Pratchett’s character, Sam Vimes, who says, you do the job that’s in front of you.

GREG: James, convince me the game isn’t fixed and maybe I will play. Give it a think. Answer this question. I live in a safe Tory seat. My vote means nothing since it is completely discounted once the Tory member is elected. No one even looks at where the NDP finishes in this riding and no one cares what I think because there is no reason for them too. My vote doesn’t even mean the party will receive funding (btw I contributed my own funds to them this time, regardless). What is my incentive for voting?

ME: You prevent yourself from becoming one more person that the NDP have to convince in your riding to change their mind in order put them over the top.

As stacked as the system is against the third and fourth parties, it’s still all about the people. They’re your greatest obstacle, but they’re also the only ones that will bring change about. You have to address them.

It will take a long time, and there will be lots of failures and setbacks. But you do the job that’s in front of you. That’s how you make things go forward.

That’s what I believe. As disappointing as the results are, particularly for Mixed Member Proportional, it’s still a democratic result. Not enough people care enough about the proposal to express their support for it. We who supported it failed to change enough minds to get the result we wanted. And in ridings where we believe the wrong candidate won, we failed to convince enough voters why those candidates were wrong. The people had the power to make changes to the system and to the government, and they chose not to, either by voting in a particular way, or not voting at all.

So, we start again. We focus on what we want, and we talk to the people, and we try to convince them of the benefits of our vision. It’s frustrating. It frankly sucks to lose. But that’s the only way forward. The only way to guarantee failure is to give up.

That said, the election results are not unexpected, and while the Liberals got more seats than they deserved, it’s not a disaster, in my opinion. I’ve already said what I think most people were thinking, and I don’t think they were wholly wrong. We’ve given McGuinty a second chance to govern, and to see what he can do now that the province is in surplus. He should be warned, though, that he’s on probation. There were things on his platform that were worth voting for, Move Ontario 2020 being chief among them. There had better be action on these policies soon, or else public opinion will really sour. In short, there had better be shovels in the ground for the new subway extensions, Toronto’s LRTs and reversals in our municipalities’ fortunes, or else Jason Cherniak is going to have a very long night come 2011.

Tory’s defeat in Don Mills West certainly puts his future under a cloud. It would take a lot to restore his fortunes, certainly, but I would advise against the Conservatives moving to a staunch rural-based Conservative. That way lies oblivion, as the Conservative caucus has grown as far as it can in the rural areas of the province, and there aren’t enough seats there to claw one’s way back to a majority. Tory’s basic objective, to build a broad-based coalition of rural and urban interests, is the only way forward. It should be noted that Tory didn’t fail by moving his party to the centre, but because the Liberals were already there, and a palatable enough to the centrist majority of voters. That situation won’t last forever. Given that’s where the votes are, the Conservatives have to persuade centrists of the benefits of Conservative policies, or respond to centrist concerns, or both. Conservatives like Frank Klees don’t, and they’re unelectable.

As for my TVOntario trip, I was there, but ended up bumped by the leader speeches (gee, who’da thunk it?). A lot of people were bumped. The station brought in politically interesting people from around the province, including up north, and about half never appeared on camera. But it was still interested while we all mingled, shared some food and drink, and watched the results come in.

I have to thank Toronto Life columnist and fellow blogger Philip Preville who recognized me and single-handedly saved me from becoming a wallflower that night. We had good conversations throughout the night. I met with former Conservative candidate for Toronto Centre Megan Harris, Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc, and I spotted both Diane Cunningham and John Snobelen — the latter of whom seemed particularly glad to be out of all of this politics.

In conversation with Mihevc, we talked a bit about Toronto’s Transit City proposal, and he seemed optimistic about it all as a result of the Liberal victory. In his view the priorities are LRTs along Finch West and Sheppard East, as well as getting started on the mammoth underground LRT beneath Eglinton Avenue. Apparently, the plan for the layout for Sheppard East is half done, and he suggested that we could have shovels in the ground by next year, with cars operating in time for either the next municipal election, or the next provincial election. If that’s the case, that would meet my criteria for success.

A lot of people noted the oddity of Dalton McGuinty breaking convention and giving his victory speech ahead of the concession speeches of Tory and Hampton, but McGuinty wanted to get things in before the 11 o’clock news, and Tory probably had to wait to see the final results of his riding. But having Hampton go last may have spared a lot of people. I was startled by how badly his speech was. He looked terrible on camera, with a shiny flushed face (have a make-up person handy, guys), and his speech rambled very badly. I hate to say this, but some people in attendance wondered out loud if he was drunk. I can only say that it was very hard to listen to, and the party really needs to work on that, assuming Hampton sticks around.

As I said, the biggest bright spot of this campaign was the strong performance by the Greens, who pulled higher than I predicted (6%) and significantly higher than most people predicted. They finished third in a number of ridings, and second behind Bill Murdoch in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound (taking almost 15,000 votes!). An eight percent take throughout the province puts them at the low end of electability, and they possess undeniable momentum at the moment. It’s time to take them seriously.

The Family Coalition Party, on the other hand, took just 0.8% of the vote, lower than my prediction. Turnout was also terrible, at 53%, but not to the level of a municipal election or an election in the United States. Yet. Maybe next time. Especially now that the Greens are an alternative.

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