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  • Writer's pictureTim Ellis

What is strategic voting?

You've likely heard our work referred to as "strategic voting". But what exactly does that mean? Is that really what we're doing?

Voters make up their minds for all kinds of reasons. In a way, every vote is a strategic vote - it’s just different strategies.

But because of our "First Past The Post" electoral model, voters who broadly agree on most things find themselves in a challenging position. Take climate, for example - of the four major parties in Ontario, three parties (and their voters) accept the reality of climate change and have policies to address it. Doug Ford, on the other hand, is openly antagonistic to Canada's climate goals - and with the window for holding off the worst of climate catastrophe already closing, Ford's recalcitrance is a death sentence for an unknown number of our kids.

This dynamic repeats itself across a host of different issues. While the NDP, the Liberals, and the Greens have substantive and important policy distinctions, on issue after issue their voters find themselves agreeing on the diagnosis, and merely disagreeing on the prescription. That's a healthy democracy.

By contrast, Ford's PCs are deeply out of touch with most of the policy priorities of Torontonians. From (repeatedly) ignoring science and inflicting preventable waves of death and disease, to ripping up an evidence-based sexual education curriculum as a sop to his most extreme supporters, Ford has proven time and again that he just isn't interested in our shared set of facts.

And it doesn't stop there. Ford adds to the chaos through incompetence (see his bungled licensed plates and botched rapid test rollout), indecision, and absenteeism.

In short: we have three parties competing on policy and organizing muscle, and one party headed by a Leader who is completely out of touch, in hock to his most extreme ideological supporters, and can't even manage to make a decent license plate - one of the most basic functions of government imaginable - who can't muster anything close to a majority and is entirely dependent on the idiosyncrasies of our electoral system to form government.

That is not a healthy place for democracy.

And that's where we come in.

Our strategy is to unite the vast majority of Torontonians who agree on the diagnosis to our problems now, during the election, to ensure we get a government that can work on the prescriptions collaboratively for the next four years.

It's true that the New Democrats, Liberals, and Greens have distinct policy differences between them. Let us be clear: if your top priority is supporting one or more of those policy differences, then your voting strategy absolutely should be to vote for the party that best reflects your policy preference. We are never going to tell anybody not to vote their conscience.

For those who feel, as we do, that the time is too short, the urgency too great, and Ford's failures too severe to risk another term, we are asking that you unite behind our unity candidates in our target Toronto ridings.

Our strategy: we will be selecting the candidates who we feel can best defeat the Ford PC in their riding, and working to organize and unify voters in our target ridings to unite behind those candidates when voting begins.

This is hardly out of the ordinary. Indeed, many Canadians report voting strategically in every election. And the leading political parties are themselves making strategic voting pitches, casting themselves as best positioned to defeat to defeat Ford. They recognize that this is what voters are looking for.

Let's address the elephant in the room: it's absolutely true that "strategic voting" has been deployed cynically before for partisan aims. Candidates misrepresenting province-wide polling to imply it was their own riding's polls; parties claiming that another party "can't win" or is "splitting the vote"; party leaders implying that voters get to vote for them directly when the truth is that each riding is its own election. The examples abound.

So it's perfectly understandable that fears of the same are being directed our way.

That's one reason we've put together a robust model for selecting our unity candidates, is designed to prioritize on-the-ground information that matters in an election. This is not merely looking up some stats on the internet and then posting some Facebook ads. Our candidate selection model uses the following information, gathered by our local riding teams and analyzed by our research team, to assess and decide on our unity candidates:

  • Candidate resume, connection to riding, and other assets, such as incumbency and experience

  • Campaign strength and capacity - fundraising, data, volunteers

  • Unity pledge numbers in that riding - how many people we've been able to organize there

  • Review of the past 3 election outcomes and party vote margins, including trends

  • Polling aggregates, weighted for local polling, including polling conducted by our team where applicable

In addition, candidates must commit to working together, across party lines, to form government in the event we hold Ford below the majority threshold by even a single seat. (If one or another opposition party wins outright, then there is no need for our campaign and our commitment would not longer hold - though we certainly hope that our unity candidates will seek cooperation anyway, given the scale and urgency of the challenges we face rebuilding from the Ford years).

A lot can happen in a campaign. This may all be totally unnecessary. In fact, we hope it is! But current indications are that Ford is on track to win another majority. If those current trends hold, then neither Andrea Horwath nor Steven Del Duca will wake up as the Premier on June 3rd.

With 11 seats won by the PCs in Toronto in 2018, we can make the difference between majority and minority right here in Toronto. What we can't do is determine the outcome of the rest of the election. What we are doing, in our 25 ridings, is creating the conditions that will allow for Premier Horwath or Premier Del Duca in June; they have another 99 ridings in which to settle the rest.

For those partisans who are still upset at us: we understand it can feel frustrating, and we understand that this approach has been misused before. We encourage you to have confidence in yourselves, your fellow volunteers, and your candidates. Our assessment process is rigorous and much more involved than simply checking a polling aggregator. If you have done the work to recruit strong candidates, build a large war chest, inspire grassroots energy, and connect to voters, there is no reason you can't earn our support. Anyone running a strong campaign should feel good about Not One Seat.

Alternately, if our presence inspires campaigns to run even more effectively, so as to fend us off and make us irrelevant, so much the better. Our mission is accomplished either way.

There are some incredibly important policy debates to be had. With Greens, Liberals, and New Democrats at the head of the table after June's election, we can have those debates. If we let Ford take advantage of an idiosyncratic voting system to eke out another majority, none of those debates will be heard - and our province will have lost four more years to preventable suffering, willful ignorance, and bumbling incompetence.

We will not stand idly aside and let that happen.

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