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October 23, 2012
CALGARY, AB, Oct. 23,2012/ Troy Media/ – Last Saturday, a day before the Nov. 26 date for the Calgary Centre by-election was announced, about 50 people gathered at a ‘post-partisan unconference’ called by Brian Singh, one of the brains behind the 1CalgaryCentre (1CC) website. Singh believes that the decrease of memberships in political parties implies ‘post-partisan politics’, wherein many free-floating voters will migrate from one party or candidate to another as the situation changes.
Singh and his cohorts also think that the by-election result could be distorted by too many parties competing for the plurality of Calgary Centre voters who would prefer a non-Conservative MP. A recent poll in that electoral district backs them up:
Conservatives 44 per cent, Liberal 21, NDP 14, Green 12. That is, at least 47 per cent of Centre residents prefer a non-Conservative candidate.
Obviously, the problem for non-Conservatives is that vote-splitting dooms them to yet another defeat – unless they combine behind one candidate (hence ’1CC”). Here’s one reason for past low voter turnouts – a hopeless feeling that one’s opposition vote won’t matter, especially in Alberta which almost seems like a one-party state.
What to do? It’s too late to establish a process to nominate one unity candidate – efforts to do this failed last summer – and, at the 1CC meeting, candidates representing three opposition parties (the Liberal did not attend, but earlier told me that progressives will unite behind him, so that inter-party cooperation is unnecessary) made it clear they would not withdraw even if they trailed badly during the campaign. So (understandably, as the ballots will be printed before comparative strengths become clear) they’ll all stay on the ballot and race toward self-destruction.
But Brian Singh’s group is offering a way for voters to find out who among the opposition candidates has the best chance to win, so that opposition voters can combine behind that person. As I understand the process, 1CC’s website will provide a forum, or clearing house, for people to study platforms and candidates before voting. There will also be a chance for Calgary Centre residents to register their preference and this number, together with other statistics such as Facebook ‘likes’ or Youtube and Twitter activity, will be displayed to help voters make up their minds what to do.
Albertans may remember the Democratic Renewal Project’s campaign through ChangeAlberta.ca to encourage strategic voting for the centre-left candidate with the best chance to win in the most promising electoral districts in the recent provincial election.
But the difference is that DRP members themselves researched and identified those candidates without much consultation. Their conclusions were seen by some as a one-way, top-down, elitist approach and although the DRP was correct in its predictions of comparative strength in 39 of 42 districts, its influence was less than hoped for (only nine of those candidates won).
1CC will work differently and also enjoys the advantage of being able to focus entirely on one electoral district. It will not itself ‘choose’ and recommend the strongest non-Conservative candidate, but facilitate an inter-active mechanism for voters to make up their own minds. On Saturday, for example, all non-Conservative candidates (except the Liberal) appeared on a non-partisan panel and showed this observer that identifying the strongest candidate from the excellent field could be tough.
I see at least two possible problems with 1CC’s approach. First, unless thousands of people participate, parties may flood the site with their own supporters and distort non-aligned voters’ preferences. Second, it assumes that many undecided or weakly aligned voters will spend the time and effort necessary to study all this material, a belief that some political observers do not share. It appears that many voters decide on hunches and emotional impressions, rather than a detailed and dispassionate analysis of party platforms.
1CC is aware of this and hopes to maximize voter participation by leaving a door hanger at every household in the riding and encouraging people to network about the by-election through social media and personal interaction.
Hopefully, an important aspect of 1CC’s approach will be to allow people to change their preference as the campaign unfolds. If this is lacking, their statistics could miss shifts in public perception.
In any case, 1CC appears to be the only organized way to help voters elect a non-Conservative. Faced with a divisive Conservative candidate and the increasingly authoritarian Harper government, it may be that many more voters will be motivated to turn out and support the strongest non-Conservative candidate, regardless of the party for which that candidate is running.
Phil Elder is a former federal Liberal Assistant (1967-70), NDP provincial candidate in 1982, and was a strategic Green voter in the last federal election.
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