Vote Strategically

So, the federal election campaign has suddenly got interesting.

To some extent it’s about competing polls. One surveying the national and province-by-province mood of voters was done by the polling firm Ekos for LaPresse newspaper in Montreal. The results were released just in time for the French language leaders’ debate this week. It polled 2,343 people for their voting intentions. The results are considered accurate 19 times out of 20, to within two percentage points, according to news reports.As recently as earlier this week the campaign was still being widely described as a “horse race,” with the three main parties in a statistical tie, each in the 30-percent range of popularity among voters, give or take a percentage point or so.

But the results of the Ekos poll suggest the Conservatives led by Stephen Harper have broken away from the pack at 35.4 percent, compared with 26.3 percent for the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, and 24.5 percent for the NDP under Tom Mulcair.

And believe it or not that has the Conservatives closing in on majority government re-election territory, especially in Ontario, where the Ekos poll results indicate their support has surged to 38.7 percent, compared to 30.3 percent for the Liberals and just 19.9 for the NDP.

The same poll even shows the Conservatives gaining ground in Quebec, where the Harper government’s stubborn, anti-Islamic position regarding the ban on the wearing of face-covering during the oath of citizenship appears to be paying off for them among Francophone nationalists. It showed the NDP still leading in Quebec with 32.8 percent voter support, but the Tories surging to 23.7 after being virtually out of the running earlier.

The Harper Conservatives won a majority government in the 2011 election with barely 40 percent of the popular vote, but a majority of the seats in Parliament. If indeed the Ekos poll is accurate in its reading of the trend in the campaign with a few more weeks to go it could happen again.

The anti-Islamic fear-mongering of the Conservative re-election campaign and its narrow-minded strategy to keep the unfettered reins of power in Stephen Harper’s hands so he can do what he wants with Canada’s future appears to be working.

Or is it?

Another poll, the results of which were also released a few days ago, tells a different story, especially in the local riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound where veteran Conservative MP Larry Miller appeared to be heading for an easy re-election. That’s the way I saw it anyway right from the start of the campaign as I drove the highways and byways of the northern part of the riding on my way back and forth from the woods of Hopeness, through Miller country around Clavering and Shallow Lake, and on into Owen Sound.

It’s not so much the roadside signs on public property, as it is the ones on private lawns. They’re put there at the request of people who have definitely made up their voting minds. It’s a virtual poll of sorts and Miller, regarded by his Conservative colleagues in Ottawa as the “keeper of the flame,” appeared to have a big lead in it, and still does.

Miller prides himself on being outspoken and speaking his mind. Sometimes he does it to a fault though, when he used intemperate language on a local open-line radio show last March to buttress his support for his government’s face-covering ban. But it didn’t look like it was damaging his chances of re-election though.

That was until the poll of more than 1,022 local voters showed his popularity at 43 percent, compared with the 56.3 percent popular vote that won him re-election in 2011. Liberal candidate Kimberley Love polled 29 percent, New Democrat David McLaren 20, and the Green Party’s Chris Albinati nine.

It must be noted that the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound poll was one of 31 done in local ridings across the country by the polling firm Environics for Leadnow, an on-line advocacy group dedicated to the encouragement of strategic voting to prevent another Harper Conservative election win. Leadnow has described Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound as an “emerging” swing riding where strategic voting could be decisive.

The anti-Islamic fear-mongering strategy of the Conservative campaign appears to be working to get it into majority government territory again. But it’s a risky strategy because it has built-in limitations: most Canadian voters won’t fall for it: they think better of themselves and the country.

If the majority of Canadians somehow rally and unite around that better sense of who they are, and what Canada is to vote strategically, the Harper Conservatives won’t win – not a majority, and maybe not even a minority government.

Like I say, suddenly this long campaign has become interesting.

Originally published in The Sun Times in September, 2015.

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