August 21, 2015 5:02 pm
Updated: August 21, 2015 7:44 pm

Web campaign asks voters to support candidates with best chance of unseating Conservatives

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WATCH ABOVE: Many voters are considering a change of government, but their allegiance is divided among several opposition parties. That could leave Conservative candidates holding on to dozens of swing ridings. One group is determined to end so-called vote splitting. Jacques Bourbeau reports.

A new website by advocacy organization Leadnow tells voters whether they are in a swing riding, and suggests who they vote for: the candidate with the best chance of unseating a Conservative.

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The website, Votetogether.ca, works like this: you enter your postal code and the website will tell you whether you are in a Conservative-held swing riding, where Leadnow believes that a Conservative could be unseated if votes weren’t split between other parties. It then asks you to enter your email address, pledging to vote for the candidate with the best chance of beating the Conservative. Leadnow will then conduct local polls, compile historical data and where the candidates stand on the issues, and then ask the community to pick a candidate to get behind. Then, in theory, everyone who has pledged will vote for that same person.

“We’re trying to achieve change on October 19,” said Amara Possian, campaign manager with Leadnow.

“Our electoral system is broken. It’s what gave Conservatives all the power in Parliament with just 39 per cent of the vote last time. So what we’re trying to do is bring together people in these swing ridings to vote together for the best local candidate who can win, to defeat the Conservatives.”

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People who don’t live in the 72 ridings that Leadnow has identified as swing ridings can participate too, she said, by making calls or donating for local polling.

Step 1: Get the Conservatives out

Leadnow doesn’t support any specific party, though it is definitely anti-Conservative. Leadnow’s members want a “fair economy and open democracy and a clean environment” said Possian, and they don’t see these things happening under Conservative rule.

“We know that the Conservatives are standing in the way on all of that. We see voting together as a means, not an end. This is just one step in the process. We need to get rid of them on October 19, in order to be able to take action on the issues that we care about.”

“The real fight is going to be after the election when we need to push whoever is in government to take action on the stuff we care about.”

She believes that the Canadian political system allows parties to ignore the issues as they chase votes, so by putting issues first, Leadnow’s campaign can make a difference.

And part of the strategy is predicated on there not being a big difference between the opposition parties, making people willing to vote for whichever is chosen by the local community. “I think that ultimately there’s more that brings the opposition parties together than divides them,” she said.

View from the ground

But how do the opposition candidates feel about being lumped together?

“I think when people go to the ballot box they’re really going to ask themselves what kind of candidate they want, and that’s going to be the choice that they’re going to be thinking about,” said Andrew Thomson, NDP candidate in Eglinton-Lawrence, one of the swing ridings targeted by Leadnow.

“And let’s see who has the best plan for middle-class families and let’s see who has the best plan for transit and let’s see who has the best plan for child care. That’s the choice that we want to put on the ballot in Eglinton-Lawrence.”

Liberal candidate Marco Mendicino agrees. “I think what people do is they evaluate the candidate that is campaigning at their doorsteps,” he said. “Apparently they ran a poll that shows we’re in a dead heat with Joe Oliver, a sitting finance minister. Polls go up, they go down, I’m going to keep working hard and I think that on the strengths of what I bring to the table, people are going to support us. That’s what I focus on.”

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The Conservatives say they’re not worried. “When I heard of this I was actually very, very, very encouraged, to be honest with you,” said Paul Calandra, who is running for the Conservative Party in Markham-Stouffville, not one of Leadnow’s targeted ridings. Global News requested to speak with Joe Oliver, the Conservative incumbent in Eglinton-Lawrence, but he was unavailable.

“I actually think it’s an admission by the supporters of both the Liberals and NDP that their leaders neither have the experience or the policies that Canadians are attracted to to actually have a shot to defeat Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative government,” said Calandra.

“What are we, 18 days into the campaign and they already believe that they don’t have the ability to defeat the Conservative government head-on?”

The strategic vote

Thomson hasn’t seen much strategic voting during his previous campaigns in Saskatchewan provincial politics, he said. “There are a lot of people who talk about strategic voting right up until election day. I rarely hear this from ordinary voters. Voters really are talking about what that next four years look like, what are the policies the parties are going to bring in, and how do they connect to that. So I’m not as concerned about these types of initiatives,” he said.

But strategic voting isn’t new, said Barry Kay, associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, and he doesn’t think that Leadnow’s campaign will have much of an impact. “How widespread its success will be is another matter because it requires a certain level of sophistication for people to be aware of the circumstances that are going on in their riding. And just the fact that a third party tells them that this is the candidate that is best likely to defeat another candidate doesn’t always work.”

He’s not sure why people would trust Leadnow as opposed to their friend or family or anyone else, he said, even if they do hear of the campaign.

“That said, a lot of people, myself possibly included will vote strategically this campaign because they can understand on their own that if they want to defeat the Conservatives, voting this way or that is probably the best way to do it.”

Possian disagrees. She believes that the Vote Together campaign is unique enough to make a difference. “No one has done this before. I’m pretty confident that people are smart and we’re doing them a service. And that by having access to these tools and resources they’ll be able to do something really powerful,” she said.

“I don’t want to predict the outcome of the election, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think this is a game-changer.”

With files from Jennifer Madigan and Jacques Bourbeau

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