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Tyee's Strategic Voters' Guide

A riding-by-riding look at pros and cons of voting 'anyone but Harper' in BC. (Not as simple as it seems.)

Andrew MacLeod 10 Oct

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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Before you switch your vote, read on.

For many Canadians, the ballot question when they vote on Oct. 14 will be who can beat Stephen Harper and his Conservative crew. But figuring out who that is in many ridings will be way harder than many pundits suggest.

Harper became prime minister in 2006 with the support of just 36.27 per cent of voters. Put another way, out of every 20 people who bothered to vote, just seven wanted the man to win. Nearly twice as many wanted someone else to lead the country.

Most recent polls suggest Harper's popularity has slipped since the last election, with somewhere between 31 and 35 per cent saying they plan to vote for him, and a solid majority planning to vote for somebody else. Depending how those votes are distributed geographically, Harper may well end up with a weakened government but, thanks to our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system, still be prime minister.

Many will vote their heart, picking the party and candidate they believe in. Others will vote for whomever they think has the best chance to beat Harper, or "Anyone But Conservative," as Newfounland Premier Danny Williams put it. According to a recent Strategic Counsel poll, some 16 per cent of Canadians are willing to switch their vote to prevent a Harper majority.

Those decisions will be especially important in British Columbia, where our 36 ridings include 10 that pollsters identified as "battlegrounds" at the start of the election, plus several others that are shaping up to be very competitive.

Unexpected results happen

The problem, however, is figuring out whom to switch your vote to. The perils are well summed up in a recent blog article by University of Sakatchewan political scientist David McGrane on vote swapping .

His main point: in elections, unexpected results happen all the time. He cites an example from Saskatchewan where a Liberal came out of nowhere to defeat the Conservative in 2004. He just as easily could have picked Victoria, where the NDP's Denise Savoie surprised the pundits in 2006 by winning a seat that had long been Liberal or Conservative.

Or, as University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon, who recommended the McGrane piece, put it, it's a mistake to assume the last election is a reliable guide to this one.

Nor, he said, do the national polls say much about what's happening in any given riding. The samples are so small that while they may give a picture of national trends, they don't tell you anything about what's happening in your riding. He said, "You could make some serious mistakes."

Websites like Vote for Environment claim to have predictions down to a science, but they suffer from the same inability to tell the future that everyone faces. The site, which has had significant media attention and received over a million visits in its first couple weeks, based its local predictions on previous elections and more recent polls.

Said Pilon, "That's utterly false. You can't make those kinds of assumptions."

The site's B.C. spokesperson, Kevin Grandia, did not return a couple of calls.

Incumbents favoured

The Vote for Environment site generally favours incumbents, but chooses to stay mum on races like Vancouver Centre, Vancouver Kingsway and Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, which are expected to be battles between the NDP and the Liberals. It's an odd choice for a site trying to pick non-Harper winners, since those are the very races where a Conservative could squeak up the middle.

The Georgia Straight also picked a "stop Harper" slate for the Lower Mainland this week. The method? "We have examined the polls, looked at previous voting patterns, and assessed the impact of each party's campaign in B.C. in 2008."

Not exactly a science. In many cases they too picked the incumbent. In some cases they'll be right, but there are no guarantees, and in other cases they'll likely be dead wrong.

So it is with much caution that we share the results of our own vision quest, based on the same entrails everyone else is looking at.

By The Tyee's count there are seven ridings in the province where there is a clear battle between a Conservative and a single front runner from another party. If you live in those ridings and you want to vote strategically, not that we're encouraging you, you have a relatively easy choice.

In another six ridings the results are too close to call. Two, Vancouver Kingsway and Burnaby-Douglas, are between the Liberals and the NDP. The other four have a serious Conservative contender, including one where the Tory is the incumbent. We wouldn't presume to tell you for whom to vote.

B.C.'s other 23 seats can be considered "safe" for one party or another. The Conservatives have 13 of them, the NDP eight and the Liberals just two. And one of the ones we're counting for the Liberals has Hedy Fry in what's got to be one of the country's tightest four-way races.

Remember, too, that even if your candidate is hopeless in your riding, your party will get $1.95 per vote, indexed to inflation, annually for each vote it gets. You can think of your ballot as a government-funded donation if you want, not a wasted vote.

Finally, the long term solution to vote splitting and strategic voting is to introduce a proportional representation electoral system, where the number of seats a party gets better reflects its share of the popular vote. It makes little sense that the Bloc Quebecois wins 51 seats with 10.5 per cent of the vote while the Greens get none with 4.5 per cent.

Groups like Fair Vote Canada are pushing to improve the system, but meanwhile we have to vote in this election.

Ridings where strategic votes would likely beat a Conservative:

Ridings where the NDP and Liberals are likely close:

Ridings likely to go NDP:

Ridings likely to go Liberal:

Ridings likely to go Green:

Sorry, none. Especially if people insist on voting strategically.

Ridings likely to go Conservative:

Related Tyee stories:


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