The central role that strategic voting plays in Canadian elections speaks to a larger set of problems with the electoral process and electoral coverage by various media and polling sources. In the most general sense, "strategic voting," in which people vote against a candidate that best represents their values or preferences for an individual more likely to obtain a majority consensus, thus bumping another less desirable option out of the electoral picture, works against the fundamentals of democracy. In Toronto right now, a more immediate and pressing concern is that casting a strategic vote means unequivocally voting for John Tory to be the city's next mayor after the carnival of torrid, illegal, and embarrassing events characterizing the Rob Ford regime.
This is truly a frightening consideration on many levels. John Tory and his neoliberal ilk are as hazardous to the future of inclusive and robustly social and public forms of life in the city of Toronto as either Rob or Doug Ford, despite his appeal to a more balanced and liberal politics. The decision to vote for Tory, whether out of a commitment to his demonstrated corporate and business-friendly values, or out of a sacrifice borne of a conviction to oust the Ford family from political life, is ultimately a decision to vote for a mode of politics hostile to public values and the everyday struggles of working and poor people, minorities, women, and union and labor organizations. To be perfectly clear: recourse to empty notions of "strategy" and "lesser evil" when it comes to electoral voting are not sufficient reasons for people with a commitment to progressive and social values - and moreover an understanding of the long-term commitment these struggles require -- to vote for a candidate like Tory.
Local, national, and international media attention surrounding Rob Ford's drug and alcohol use, his racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on, have provided the perfect script for what has proved an influential civic melodrama in which our collective capacity to resist conservative values has been reduced to simply getting rid of the Fords at all costs. Voting for Tory in order to guarantee that we don't have to deal with four more years of Ford has become a kind of twisted civic sacrifice, which members of the liberal media tell us concerned citizens should be willing to make. The problem is that as we chase the Fords - strategic electoral pitchforks in hand - towards a well-deserved exile, we fail to see that we've lowered the gates to equally, if not more, regressive social policies and market-based politics.
The promise of a Ford-free Toronto should not be used as an alibi to vote for more privatization and increased social disinvestment. Put simply, a vote for Tory means siding with a dangerous form of neoliberal politics, a politics in which forcefully privatizing ideologies alongside market and corporate modes of productivity and efficiency, provide the basic models for dealing with everything from providing vital goods and services to dealing with social problems like unemployment, poverty, or homelessness.
On the day of the election, it is also crucial to take up certain candidates and most of the mainstream media's ignorance around questions of race and privilege during the campaign months. This issue makes clear the serious need for Toronto to have a broad-based, collaborative conversation about the structural and political problems contributing to, for instance, more acute levels of inequality and poverty in minority and immigrant communities. Tory is not simply unable but unwilling to have that dialogue, and to create the social investments needed to deal with these issues in any substantive way. Like the Ford brothers', Tory's understanding of poverty and inequality - like his approach to all issues that need to be articulated critically and relationally across categories of race, class, gender, and ability - is to conclude that they are private issues demanding private solutions.
Importantly, Tory's denial of both white and male privilege and his refusal to talk about race or racism throughout his campaign - to say nothing about the inflection of class or gender in the institution of many major social problems plaguing Toronto - must be considered, especially alongside the ongoing and coordinated hate crimes that have been visibly and violently directed at city council candidate for Ward 2, Munira Abukar; Toronto District School Board Ward 10 trustee candidate, Ausma Malik; and city council candidate for Ward 18, Mohammad Uddin. Doing so makes clear the degree to which new forms of 'post racial' racist civility, which we see in Tory, are intimately related to older and more immediately shocking forms of bigotry, which we see in Ford and many of his supporters, as they attempt to make social inequalities or violent crimes invisible through the language of individual choice and solution. If you care about social justice and believe politicians should have an obligation to make local politics speak to the struggles of all communities, especially politics that shares in a meaningful consideration of race, class, gender, or religious differences, then vote for the candidate that you believe best represents those values and interests. That candidate is, however, not John Tory.
A strategic vote for Tory today is a vote against the kind of radical hope necessary to keep progressive politics alive in a climate dominated by austerity, precarious labour, and a quickening reliance on markets as models and solutions for all the needs, demands, and problems facing a robust, cosmopolitan city like Toronto. It's a vote against the hope that things can be substantially otherwise than they are now. Democracy is about struggling over the values that you believe are important, and, even more significantly, it refers to an ongoing process and struggle rather than a final destination. Part of that process is having the civic courage to vote along the lines of hope and imagination. What that means is not sacrificing a meaningful vote for a different candidate simply out of a misguided sense that 'this is the best we can do at this moment' - or worse, that 'there is no alternative.' Politics is never just about this moment; politics and the decisions we make when we vote are always gestures towards the future, and towards the kind of society we want to live, work, play, and struggle in together.
Casting a strategic ballot for Tory today means giving renewed consent to a form of politics that have proven over and over again to be socially and politically bankrupt. If Tory's corporate values best represent your own, then make that decision and own it. But if they don't - if you believe that our private and public obligations extend to the collective wellbeing of all people and communities in Toronto - then Olivia Chow is the only real option on the table.
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