TORONTO — A simmering ABC sentiment — anyone but the Conservatives — has spawned a growing strategic voting movement, but experts say the 1-2-3s have to add up for it to actually work.
Various groups are urging Canadians to vote either Liberal or NDP, based on which candidate has the best chance of defeating the Conservative in each riding, in order to defeat Stephen Harper's government.
An apparent newcomer on the strategic voting scene took out a full-page ad Tuesday in the Globe and Mail newspaper.
"Removing Mr. Harper from office can be facilitated by asking the three of you to make a choice for Canada and work co-operatively in strategic ridings," reads the Just the Facts ad, directed at the leaders of the Liberal, New Democratic and Green parties.
Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson University, said the strategic vote movement has more chance of success in this election because it is more organized, more proactive and he senses a greater anti-Harper "intensity," given four years of majority government.
"For many voters, the desire for defeating the current government is stronger than the commitment or feeling about which of the opposition parties becomes the new government, I think, because there's a sense that the two leading other parties are like-minded on a fair number of issues."
Hisham Abdel-Rahman, who founded strategicvoting.ca in 2008, said he has been surprised with the amount of traffic on his site. He got the site up and running with riding information for this election in late August and since then has seen about 720,000 people access it, according to Google analytics.
"After four years of a majority Conservative government, people have actually had enough," he said.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper dismissed the existence of strategic voting Tuesday in an interview with Toronto TV station CP24.
"Nobody votes strategically, you and I both know that," he said. "People vote for what they think is best for them."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Tuesday voters have multiple choices.
"To suggest otherwise would be arrogant and an insult to your intelligence, so I'm not asking you to look at the polls," he said. "I'm asking you to look at our platform."
Henry Jacek, a political science professor at McMaster University, said strategic voting "certainly" can work, but the various groups have to effectively organize the strategic vote. Among the anti-Conservative strategic voting websites are: strategicvoting.ca, Just the Facts, LeadNow.ca, Vote Together and voteswapping.ca.
"If you can mobilize 55-60 per cent who don't want that party, then you can defeat them, but you have to mobilize (voters) and it takes quite a bit of effort to do it," Jacek said.
"So it's not impossible, but you have to work at it, plan it. You can't wait until the last minute. You have to collect data and have analysis."
To arrive at his recommendations, Abdel-Rahman looks at polling in individual ridings, if available, then he looks at the 2011 election results and compares them with projections on threehundredeight.com. If they don't match up, he digs into the results from previous elections.
He has found, for the most part, that the recommendations among the various sites are the same, he said.
Just the Fact's ad in the Globe and Mail highlights 20 ridings in which the New Democrat candidate could beat the Conservative, and another 50 in which the Liberal could beat the Conservative. Strategic voting does tend to negatively affect the NDP more than the Liberals, Jacek said.
The NDP candidate in Vancouver Granville said in theory, strategic voting makes "a lot of sense to people," but whether it adds up is a different story.
"They are definitely engaging people, but what my message to them has been is if you want to see a progressive government, you need to come make one happen so come join the campaign, even if you are also doing other efforts," said Mira Oreck.
"My feeling is they should be strengthening a progressive campaign if that's what they want the outcome to be and I do think for a lot of people they look at this theoretically not necessarily practically."
The newspaper ad's strategy of appealing to the parties themselves to advocate strategic voting won't work, Jacek said.
"They want all their people to win," he said. "So it's unlikely if they're running third even, that they're going to endorse another party."
Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion angered many in his party when he agreed for the 2008 election not to run a candidate in Central Nova, where Green party Leader Elizabeth May was challenging Conservative Peter MacKay. May ended up with 12,620 votes to MacKay's 18,240.
More so than the NDP, the Greens lose out in strategic voting, as they are unlikely to capture many ridings beyond May's own seat in B.C. Strategicvoting.ca tries to make it up to the Greens.
"For ridings that Conservatives are very solid and there is no way of strategic voting to make any difference I sometimes ask people to vote for the Green Party to make sure the Green Party won't be penalized by strategic voting," said Abdel-Rahman.
With files from Stephanie Levitz
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