Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Seven steps to deciding who to vote for

VICTORIA -It's been a grim election campaign.
The issues have been small, and negative. No party has come close to offering an inspiring vision for Canada, or raising a defining issue that it is prepared to stake its future on.
But the parties are different. You should vote. So here's seven things to consider if you're having trouble deciding how to vote on Monday.
First, forget most of the issues the parties raise in an attempt to make the other guy look bad. Paul Martin is not any softer on child porn than Stephen Harper, despite the stupid press releases from the Conservative party. Harper is not going to take away women's right to abortion. These are bogus issues.
Second, take a hard look at the details of the Conservative platform, particularly the assumption that taxes can be cut while health and military spending are increased, without any reductions in other areas. Most economists are dubious. Many British Columbians recall that the provincial Liberals made similar claims, and a majority of them are dissatisfied with the results. Conservatives say they won't have to cut other programs, just keep the rate of spending increases down. It's a claim that demands a very hard look. (That's especially true because of the vagueness of the Conservative platform.)
Third, take a similar look at Martin's plans. How credible can it be that a leader who chopped health care spending has now suddenly discovered that wait lists are the most important issue facing Canadians? How can a leader who promises to restore democracy blow off Liberal party members in key ridings and appoint his own candidates? And why isn't Martin running on the record of his government - isn't that what we expect from competent political parties seeking re-election?
Fourth, consider your local candidates. An effective MP handling constituent's concerns and working for them in Ottawa is valuable no matter what the party. If you have a candidate you like and respect, then why not pick the person, not the party?
Fifth, get specific. It's a brute to try and sort through the parties' positions on every issue. So pick one that matters to you, and check it out. Base your vote on their ability to reflect your priorities in that critical area. (Party web sites are useful, as are media sites that include overviews of the major issues.)
Sixth, get strategic. Voters have different options in different ridings. In Kelowna the Conservatives are going to win; if you're not in their camp, you can vote for any other party safely. But in Victoria, for example, Liberal David Anderson faces a tighter race according to most observers. Given the closeness of this race nationally, that means that a single Victoria voter could decide the future of Canada. Conservative or Liberal? Minority or majority? It could all be decided by one voter who stays home on Monday, too busy or bored to vote. You can assess the likely outcome in your riding - check out www.electionprediction.org and www.bcelection.ca for insight - and make your vote count.
Seventh, recognize that your vote means money for a party for the next several years. Corporate and union donations have been banned; instead parties that meet a minimum threshold will get $1.75 per vote per year. (Reasonable concept, but too costly - $1 per vote would have been reasonable.) Even if the outcome in your riding is not in doubt, your vote matters. The Green Party, for example, raised about $140,000 in 2002. If they can hold their current level of support, they will get about $1.4 million a year. That's a lot of organizing money.
You should vote. It's a cliche, but people did die - and are dying today - over the right. Practically, our collective decisions are better than choices made by just a few of us.
And surely, following the seven-step program, you can find a reason to head out to vote on Monday.
Footnote: B.C. - and your vote - matter this time. Nationally, the Liberals and Conservatives are each on the brink of forming a minority government. The Election Prediction Project reports that with days left 16 B.C. ridings ae too close to call. The rest of Canada could be watching B.C. to see who will govern

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