OPINION | On Voting for Change

Sage BirchwaterBy Sage Birchwater —

For many of us, the October 19 Canadian federal election was all about voting for change—to get rid of Stephen Harper. We took a lot of flak for this because our critics felt our stance was too negative. They argued we should be voting FOR something, not against someone.

That may be true, but first and foremost, Harper had to go.

We had our reasons. Under Harper’s regime Canada’s international reputation had sunk to an all time low, and our self-image as Canadians was hurting.

Harper’s politics of pitting one group of Canadians against another was unconscionable. His heavy-handed autocratic style saw him firing scientists and destroying decades of scientific research and records in a wrong-headed attempt to dumb down our country’s ability to act intelligently and responsibly.

His removal of environmental protection for rivers, lakes, and streams, denying climate change, and being an agent of corporate dominance over the common good, threatened the roots of our sustainability and democracy.

Then there was squeezing the life-blood out of the CBC, fear-infused rejection of Syrian refugees, and a paranoid stance on the niqab issue.

The Canada we loved was more than just low taxes and squeezing the bottom line. It was about inclusiveness, fairness, looking after the less fortunate, and celebrating our differences.

When Harper called the most-expensive-ever, 78-day federal election on August 4, 2015, many of us were already in the ABC (Anything But Conservative)/ABH (Anything But Harper) camp. Conservative Todd Doherty was the only Cariboo Prince George candidate in the running, and we knew the Conservative Party base in this riding was a hard nut to crack.

Before the other major parties selected their Cariboo Prince George candidates, a nation-wide grassroots organization known as Vote Together emerged intending to defeat Harper. Through various polls, surveys, and analysis the group identified which “progressive” party ABC/ABH voters should support in each riding.

Based on 2011 election figures, Vote Together identified the NDP as the party of choice in Cariboo Prince George.

Trudeau has already made a difference, shifting Harper’s divisive cloud into an attitude of inclusiveness.”

To everyone’s amazement, by mid-September the Vote Together poll showed the NDP leading the Conservatives in Cariboo Prince George by six points, 36 percent to 30 per cent. Closing ranks on the two front runners, however, were the Liberals at 29 per cent. In spite of that, the NDP was still the party of choice to defeat Harper.

What ABC/ABH supporters didn’t factor in was the strength of the Liberal party base in Cariboo Prince George, and the volatile changing tide surrounding the leaders Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau.

The Liberals fielded a strong candidate in Tracy Calogheros, executive director of Prince George’s Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre. She was high-profile and proficient and she demonstrated her acumen at the two all-candidate meetings she attended in Williams Lake.

At the end of August, the NDP finally got it together to select candidate Trent Derrick. He was a successful businessman in Prince George, who had experience working in the public service. At 40 years old, he was young for a politician, and was of First Nations ancestry. Trent’s father is a hereditary chief at Gitskan in Hazelton, and his grandfather stood fast against settlers trying to take over his land.

We threw our support behind Trent Derrick.

The response Trent got from First Nations people across the region was inspiring. Back in August at the Tsilhqot’in All-Nation Gathering at Siwash Bridge, the chiefs encouraged their people to register to vote, and before they even knew who the candidate was going to be, they stated their support for the NDP.

At a breakfast meeting in Tl’etinqox, Trent bridged an understanding with people who were perhaps voting for the first time. He fielded issues technically outside the federal mandate, but his empathy with the community losing children in care was authentic.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day. It will take more than a whirlwind tour to win the hearts and minds of the electorate. Building a political base takes time and dedication.

In the last days of the election NDP fortunes across the nation were plummeting and Trudeaumania was on the rise. Nevertheless, I was still convinced the Vote Together poll was accurate. Our message was consistent. If you want to dump Harper, vote for Trent. Even if you were Liberal, vote for Trent, because the fewer Conservatives in, the better chance Trudeau has to form the next government.

I know we swung a few Liberal and Green votes into the NDP camp. I’m tempted to feel bad, because Vote Together had it all wrong. Tracy Calogheros was the candidate we should have rallied behind, but we never saw it coming. When the final tally was counted, Conservative Todd Doherty took the cake with 19,688 votes, followed by Calogheros with 16,921, and Trent Derrick with 13,879.

Whether our ABC/ABH campaign should have backed Calogheros is unclear, but one thing is certain: voting together could have defeated the Conservatives. The rest of Canada, however, had it right and bounced Harper from office. That’s mostly what we cared about.

Trudeau has already made a difference, shifting Harper’s divisive cloud into an attitude of inclusiveness. Not only will Trudeau attend the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris, but he has invited Green Party leader Elizabeth May, the leaders of the other political parties, and premiers of all the provinces and territories to join him.

Those who supported the Vote Together campaign are hopeful Trudeau will introduce electoral reforms supporting proportional representation. This will end the need for strategic voting where you hold your nose and vote for someone who is not your first choice, so they will be first past the post ahead of someone you want even less.

Meanwhile, the colleagues in my camp feel we got our Canada back. The wicked witch is dead; the Grinch who stole Christmas is gone.

 

Sage Birchwater moved to the Cariboo-Chilcotin in 1973. He spends his time freelancing, authoring books, and with Caterina, hanging out with their dog and cat, gardening, and being part of the rich cultural life that is the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast.

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