John Deverell: Catch 22 super-voters can keep Stephen Harper humble
By John Deverell
It is the strangest of elections. Nobody really has a feel yet for how many voters will show up or what the outcome will be.
Stephen Harper, the benign dictator (his phrase), is openly campaigning for a majority—and he might get it. Voter turnout in Canada has been dropping toward U.S. levels. The right is united in a Conservative party engorged with funds raised by tax credit. The Harper permanent campaign machine is organized and motivated to pursue its large advantages within Canada’s wonky voting system.
If voter turnout is low, the usual response to a flood of televised attack ads, and if there is no new issue which shakes up people’s voting tendencies, then the May 3 headline is “Harper Wins Majority”. If that happens, it won’t be long until we read “Liberals and NDP Seek New Leaders”.
What can still change this picture is informed tactical voting. A year ago, a small group of people bothered by the prime minister’s suspension of Parliament for 22 days set up a volunteer group, Catch 22 Harper Conservatives. They wanted to short-circuit Harper’s maneuvering toward unchecked majority control of government.
The Catch 22 founders realized that, given the usual vote-splitting among squabbling opposition parties, only a smart, targeted campaign run independently of the parties could deny Stephen Harper his goal. This Catch 22 upstart is starting to inspire discouraged voters in 52 of Canada’s 308 electoral districts to vote together against Harper and astonish Canada.
Catch 22 director Gary Shaul, a long-time campaigner, knew that winners and losers in most Canadian electoral contests are pre-ordained. Some citizens vote for a winner, many do not get a representative they want, and all know which of the two categories they are in before the ballots are cast.
The trick, whether for tax-financed political parties or democracy-starved tactical voters, is to focus on the few ridings which are actually in play.
Personally, I wrote a book about the need for proportional representation and other democratic reforms nearly 20 years ago. For the past decade as a Fair Vote Canada activist I have campaigned for equal votes and equal representation, but the resistance in Parliament to such democratic accountability remains stiff. With no reform in sight, I’ve become a Catch 22 supporter.
With a Harper majority government there will be no hope of democratic reform. If Harper is denied complete control, there’s a chance the Opposition Liberals will finally realize that, for them to get back into government, fair voting has become a necessity.
On Thursday, Catch 22’s research team crunched the numbers again. What shook out of the analysis were 52 hotly contested ridings, 32 held by Conservatives and 20 by opposition MPs where, with the switch of a small number of opposition votes to the leading opposition candidate, the Harper Conservatives would lose their dream of a majority and see their role as a minority government challenged.
Because they hold the fate of the Harper government in their hands, we call anti-Harper voters in target ridings the Catch 22 Super-Voters.
Catch 22, operating on a miniscule budget, is using the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, massive emailings, local newspaper ads and selective robo-calling to spread the target riding information, distribute leaflets, remind the Super-Voters of their potential to astonish Canada, and galvanize them to organize and use it for the common good.
Will it work and heep Harper humble? We think so.
When the word spreads, and throngs of Super-Voters turn out and vote for the recommended candidates in all Catch 22 target ridings, they will greatly shrink the number of Conservative party seats in Parliament. Harper Conservatives would still be the largest faction, but they would be able to govern only with the help of the Liberals or the Bloc Quebecois.
In Canada, in 2011, this is as close to a democratic outcome as the citizens of Canada are allowed to get.
John Deverell is a supporter of the Catch 22 Campaign.