In December 1979, Pierre Trudeau had resigned as Liberal leader and was set to retire. Then, an unexpected election was called. After some Hamlet-like dithering, Pierre agreed to fight on.
Having already retired and, recognizing his unpopularity, Trudeau told reporters this would definitely be his "last campaign." This sparked a joke from Prime Minister Joe Clark, who said Trudeau's slogan should be, "Vote for Me and I'll Quit."
Of course, a few weeks later, it was the Liberals laughing, because the gambit worked. Trudeau won a majority, and Clark was out.
Is that what Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne hoped for by conceding the Ontario election five days before the vote? Does she plan to win a majority by promising not to be Premier?
Not quite, but the play is similar. Her line now is something like, "Vote for me and I promise to lose."
Sounds peculiar, doesn't it? It does, but there's a method to this madness.
Having sunk to the bottom under the weight of Wynne's concrete-block like unpopularity, the Liberals face the prospect of winning few — maybe zero — seats in the election. Wynne sees this precisely one year later than anyone else in Ontario who was paying attention.
At this point, it's a little late to resign — I bet she mulled it over — so this is the next best thing. Wynne is telling people that she will not be Premier after June 7. Somebody else will.
But of course, we already all know Wynne will lose. So why is she talking about it? The Liberals at this point have different goals than forming government after the election:
- They want a new government that is easy for them to attack and campaign against
- They want the largest contingent of Liberal Members of Provincial Parliament elected possible
- They want to remain the preferred option for "progressive" voters in the next election.
You see, all of this is about the Liberals' preferred way to lose.
The best case outcome for the Liberals now is for the Conservatives to win
Wynne had a message for voters while conceding-in-advance. It went like this. Read it, but keep in mind something important — it's basically false.
"By voting Liberal you can keep the next government, Conservative or NDP, from acting too extreme — one way or the other. By voting Liberal you can keep the next government, Conservative or NDP, accountable to you. By voting Liberal you can keep Doug Ford — and the NDP, from having a blank cheque."
It's true that by voting Liberal, you will take a vote away from Ford and from the New Democratic Party. But that's not what matters on June 7. What matters isn't how many votes anyone gets, but who gets the most votes in each riding.
The Ontario election is actually 124 local elections, held at the same time. That's how our parliamentary democracy works. In the majority of those ridings today, Ford's Conservatives hold the lead or, are close. And the only party that can beat them in those ridings is, you guessed it, the NDP.
If you take Wynne's advice and vote Liberal because she promises to disappear, you might elect a Liberal — though probably not — but you will almost certainly help elect a Conservative.
The best case outcome for the Liberals now is for the Conservatives to win. That way, the NDP doesn't become legitimized in government. That would be very difficult for the Liberals in future. For the Grits to have a chance next time, they need progressive voters to see the Liberals as the electable alternative, as they have up until now.
So, it's very important to Wynne's Liberals that Ford's Conservatives come to power. Wynne can't say "vote Conservative," so she's saying the next best thing: "vote Liberal."
If enough people follow that advice, not only will goal one be achieved (Ford will get elected,) but goal two could also be achieved: the Liberals could hang on to second place, or, at least, official party status. And those outcomes help achieve goal three: to be there waiting for progressive voters when they run screaming from the Ford government.
We have to be realistic and do what we must, to achieve the most tolerable result possible
By finally acknowledging she will disappear, Wynne wants to make it feel safe to vote Liberal again. But in doing so, she is now effectively campaigning to elect Ford. And the nice thing is, you can elect Ford without having to vote for the guy. All you have to do, in most ridings, is vote Liberal, or Green, or not at all.
In many situations, the only responsible vote is to cast a ballot that you don't want to cast, for someone you're not too fond of, because the alternative would be worse. Voting is very much a team sport: you can't win playing it alone. Your vote is not just your vote, because it affects others.
I'm not a New Democrat, and maybe you aren't either. I have voted NDP in the past, and also Conservative, and for a time, I was a Liberal. My dream scenario would be a "purple" government: socially liberal and financially responsible, less intrusive in our personal lives and more responsible with our money. But it's not about my perfect dream scenario, or yours; we have to be realistic and do what we must, to achieve the most tolerable result possible.
More from HuffPost Canada:
For many who want to get rid of the Liberals, that means voting Conservative, despite its leader. For others, it means voting NDP. For those who don't want the Conservatives to come to power, what were once two viable choices now seems reduced to one, and it's not the Liberals.
One thing seems sure: if you don't want to wake up to "Premier Doug Ford" on Friday, you probably should not follow Wynne's advice on Thursday.
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