Recently a reader wrote that voting for the Green Party or any other smaller party was a wasted vote in our parliamentary system. I would like to offer some other possibilities to consider.
First, there is a strong tendency over time in countries that use the first-past-the-post electoral system to consolidate into a two-party structure. Third parties and minorities nullify each other until they merge, as you witnessed with the PCs and Reform parties.
The same fate will likely befall the NDP and the Liberals after another eight years of frustration.
The trouble with a two-party system is that it further silences any minority position, as the parties mostly court majority votes. Secondly, the inevitable left-right polarization seen in these systems becomes more gridlocked (e.g., Republicans and Democrats). At that point voters elect one party with a true monopoly of power.
As we in Canada have witnessed, that can lead to omnibus budget bills that savagely erode our sovereignty and environmental protection to promote large corporate interests, while cutting funding to scientists and organizations that could offer caution in reviewing policy.
In our Parliament, this results in staged and contrived question periods, and limited debates with no chance of changing faulty legislation. Typically partisan loyalty trumps the national interest, and our faith in democracy drifts towards despair and apathy. What is the alternative?
When a citizen casts a vote for a minority party, it creates a ripple. When many people begin to have similar concerns, and vote accordingly, it creates a wave.
With enough citizens co-ordinated in their action, especially younger people using social media, it can begin to create a movement (witness Naheed Nenshi becoming major of Calgary).
When a minority party starts to build momentum, it forces the majority parties to take notice about a growing constituency and consensus. At that point they have two main strategic options: either change their platform to include minority concerns, or throw hugely funded campaigns to discredit and overwhelm these positions with massive political power (negative advertising, misdirecting robocalls, illegal campaign overspending, etc.).
If that strategy succeeds in silencing the canaries in the coal mine, virtually nothing is left to minority voters except non-violent protests that might ignite public support on a wider basis than anticipated (e.g., against clear-cutting Clayoquot Sound), resulting in subsequent government policy change.
When you cast a vote for a minority party, or work to support their main policy positions, you may be surprised to find you are not the only person who thinks this way or has these concerns. Remember, we never thought that we would see the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union crumble in our lifetime. We can accomplish social change, by one vote for many voices.
About working within the structure of large existing parties, the voter might well find that any position other than the existing party line ideology will likely be discouraged or sidelined as irrelevant by party loyalists, with arguments such as, “Only the economy matters. Job creation and growth in the GDP are the only meaningful measures of success. Your ideas won’t play well to our traditional power base.”
Vote with integrity in your convictions. It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.