Catch 22 strategy aims to vote out Stephen Harper government
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing a “Catch 22”. But this isn’t the kind of double bind situation meant by the phrase taken from Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22.
It’s a grassroots campaign that seeks to drive the Harper government out of Ottawa. The game plan: unseat at least 22 Conservative MPs by endorsing an opposition candidate who has the best chance of winning a seat in the next election.
Going by the name Catch 22 Harper Conservatives, the movement’s list has grown to 32 Conservative-held ridings across the country, including four in B.C.
“We feel that some strategic voting is needed because our dysfunctional electoral system doesn’t really allow Parliament to represent the full range of views of people,” Masrour Zoghi, the campaign’s local spokesperson, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
A UBC student, Zoghi lives in the North Vancouver riding that was won by Conservative MP Andrew Saxton by a margin of only 2,820 votes over his Liberal competitor in the 2008 federal election. The NDP and Green candidates each garnered 5,417 and 6,168 votes, respectively.
“I’m sure a lot of those Green candidates [in that election] would have preferred a government formed by [former Liberal leader] Stéphane Dion with some sort of green agenda, as opposed to an anti-green, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-whatever government that Harper is running,” Zoghi said.
In addition to North Vancouver, Surrey North, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, and Vancouver Island North are on the list of the Catch 22 campaign. In the latter three ridings, NDP candidates came in second.
Toronto-based trade-union activist Gary Shaul is the campaign’s coordinator. He explained in a phone interview with the Straight that the initiative’s name is inspired by the 22 sitting days lost when the Harper government prorogued Parliament for a second time in 2009 and 2010.
Shaul said the campaign intends to hold the Conservative government to account for its “abuses” of democratic institutions and processes. In addition to the two prorogations of Parliament, he cited as examples the withholding of documents related to the torture of detainees in Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers are deployed; funding cuts to nonprofit organizations involved in advocacy work, especially on women’s issues; the killing of the climate-change bill in the Conservative-dominated Senate; and the scrapping of the mandatory long-form census.
Shaul added that the movement is considering whether to endorse federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May in Saanich–Gulf Islands, as well as a Green candidate in another riding.
When asked for her opinion on strategic voting, May said in a phone interview from Ottawa that it’s a “poor idea because what it means is people have to hold their nose and vote for someone they don’t like because they fear someone else more”.
“What I hope is that voters in Saanich–Gulf Islands will take a look at what’s on offer and decide that I’m the best possible representative for their values,” May told the Straight.
According to the Green leader, recent polling by her party has reconfirmed survey results it released last fall showing a statistical tie between her and Conservative MP Gary Lunn.
Despite the campaign to defeat Harper’s minority government, Conservatives in two Lower Mainland ridings may yet pull off surprise upsets in the next election. In 2008, Burnaby-Douglas was narrowly won by incumbent New Democrat MP Bill Siksay over his Conservative challenger by 798 votes.
The contest was even closer in Vancouver South. Veteran politician and Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh barely survived with a margin of only 20 votes over Conservative candidate Wai Young.
Young is set to run in the next election. She said in a phone interview that the government’s success in steering the Canadian economy during a global economic downturn is the Conservatives’ ticket to another term in office. She also vowed to campaign harder.
“The voters of Vancouver South are ready for change,” Young told the Straight.
When the next election is called, which could be sometime this year, campaigners like Zoghi and Shaul will be out there reminding voters to ask themselves before they mark their ballots, “What’s the catch?”