I won’t vote. Will you?

By Benjamin Massey · May 9th, 2017 · No comments

Happy election day, fellow British Columbians! Today Canada’s left-most province heads to the polls to determine whether the Liberals or the New Democrats will spend four years being hated by half the politically-passionate population for their greed, cynicism, and incompetence. (The Greens, who have a good chance of winning seats and none of forming government, get to be hated for denying power to whichever of the big two doesn’t win. Nobody said virtue was easy.)

Unless you are unhealthily partisan and in need of a holiday, the question of which party you should support is not important since they are all terrible. I know everybody always says all parties are terrible but seriously, in British Columbia they’re all terrible. Even the ones which get nine votes are terrible. Nothing good has come out of a British Columbia election since Amor De Cosmos.

So of course, the only thing every British Columbian who thinks about politics can agree on is that you should definitely vote for one of these losers.

Some of these calls come from those political obsessives who’ve spent the past thousand years filling your Facebook with campaign advertising and is convinced that anybody who stuck it out with him this long is sure to vote the right way. “Please, friends, remember to get out and vote today, the sooner to drag our enemies into the street and beat them to death with sacks of their ill-gotten loot.” Many of these people are likable in civilian life and will spend tonight getting either very sad drunk or very happy drunk, so a generous mind will view these with the same polite indulgence you give any friend whining about work problems you have no investment in.

But a second group believes that voting is a sacred duty which must be evangelized by advertisements and Twitter posts. For the past month British Columbians have been treated, at taxpayer expense, to the handsomely-made-up face of former hockey star Trevor Linden telling people “I vote.” Good for him. Linden is currently “president, hockey operations” at the Vancouver Canucks, who just finished 29th in a 30-team league. I am disinclined to take him as a role model.

Voting is never bad. That doesn’t make it an strict obligation. If you skip jury duty or dodge your taxes, other citizens must take up the burden; not so for the non-voter. If you do not vote, you most certainly may complain. If you do not use your vote, there is no reason to think you might lose it. (Not to Godwin myself, but turnout for the November 1932 Reichstag election that led to Hitler taking power was over 80% despite the previous election having been in July.) Even an election with low turnout amounts to a poll of the 50-some percent of the population that has the most interest in the result; pollsters get reasonable accuracy with samples one one-thousandth that size. It is impossible to imagine how more uninterested people being forced to cast ballots could make anything better.

My riding is contested only by a Liberal, a New Democrat, and a Green. No hopeless minor party candidate or independent trying to get his deposit back. Even as individuals the candidates are lousy: two generic pious-left-wing-big-government professional politicians and a Toronto-educated hippie who worked at the Pembina Institute. The thought of casting a ballot for one of those causes violent shaking and intermittent but energetic vomiting of blood.

Proponents of turnout truthiness would tell me to spoil my ballot. Write “DEEZ NUTS” across the paper as a protest against the province’s filth-spewing political machines! If enough of us did it, it could theoretically make a difference, as a tolerable candidate would see the massive DEEZ NUTS turnout and say “I’m sure I could win these guys over, even though all I know is that they think the Liberals, NDP, and Greens suck and have nothing better to do on a Tuesday.”

I am not aware of a case where this has worked. In the most recent French election, a relatively-colossal 11.5% of voters either spoiled their ballot or left it blank. This has been widely noted and covered in the press. It seems that choosing between Creepy Cuck and High-Heel Hitler provoked a great deal of discontent. However, honestly, we knew that already. Many other candidates tried to break through to the French presidency, they just failed in the first round. What do those spoiled ballots prove, “we would rather have voted for the guy we voted for earlier?” Cool.

Voting “none of the above” does not automatically lead to better options; how could it even theoretically, when reactionary me and my full-Communist neighbour would both go down as “spoiled or invalid?” Several new Canadian parties have formed in my lifetime and become successes, but none rose out of spoiled-ballot indignation.

Spoiling my ballot would spend my own time, that of everybody behind me in line, and that of our kind election volunteers, to achieve nothing. The only thing preventing a spoiled ballot from being the acme of narcissism is that the vote is secret, so I’d need a ballot selfie to show what a transgressive badass I am. Pulling an Australia and compelling me to vote would make my life and the lives of other well-meaning citizens worse for no gain. Admittedly this would be so in-character for British Columbia politics I’m amazed they haven’t already done it.

As to the idea of endorsing a hateful candidate to stick it to candidates I like even less, this is such a negative approach that its toxicity hurts everything it touches. A vote should be to support some ideal, not to oppose somebody else’s out of resentment. It encourages terrible parties that can count on a large “keep the bastards out!” vote to stay terrible, which British Columbians know something about, erodes the chance for new parties to make our politics less bad, and reduces democracy to spite.

If you have a dog in this fight, or you don’t really but still have an opinion strong enough to be worth the time and trouble, vote away. However you may spare the sanctimony for us non-voters, who are not invariably lazy freeloaders on your holy labour of democracy. We may have our reasons not to endorse any part of our province’s poisonous political pu-pu platter, and “because I have something better to do” is a valid one. If our candidates are so awful that their visions are less compelling than staying at work, don’t blame the victims for it.

Bringing conservatism to the BC Conservatives

By Benjamin Massey · January 5th, 2016 · No comments

So, farewell then, Dan Brooks, leader of the British Columbia Conservative Party. Brooks announced his resignation as party leader, having taken over in April 2014. No, no, you’re thinking of John Cummins, the former MP for Delta—Richmond East, who managed to get some actual press coverage and double his party’s popular vote in the 2013 election. It’s okay. I don’t think I’d heard of Brooks either and I might fairly be called his party’s natural constituency. That photo up there is so bad because I couldn’t do better. For a sharp young politician who got a decent vote share in 2013 and won the leadership convention by a mile, Brooks is the invisible man.

I feel bad slinging too much mud at Brooks, who took on a very tough job without getting paid for it. However, he found not a fraction of Cummins’s media reach, and since the election the BC Conservative Party may as well not have existed. It can’t all be the leader’s fault, but the price of all that glory is being where the buck stops. “There’s not an election campaign on!”, true, “the media’s not interested in the nattering of a right-wing party with no seats!”, also true and even understandable. A November interview with Brooks did get into the Black Press papers, and started like this:

TF: There was a rumour that you’re in Victoria to join the B.C. Liberal Party.

DB: I don’t know where that started. It’s false. I’ve never talked to a Liberal about anything of that nature, ever.

So that went well.

But what have the Conservatives done for themselves? The official Twitter account has an obscure name, fewer followers than your humble correspondent, has never been more than semi-active, and consists mostly of retweets, media advisories, and Churchillian rhetoric like “no reason4 #BCFerries 2 reimplement fuel surcharge after Christmas season; shud B gone 4good.” The Facebook page is good for less than a post per month. The “Recent News” on the official party website contains a release on Brooks’s resignation, three short posts from December and June, and a Vaughn Palmer column from October copied out of the Vancouver Sun.

I am neither a strategist nor an insider, just some guy. To me, the party’s messaging is not only infrequent but fabulously uninspiring. The preamble of the BC Conservative constitution is a paean to fiscal responsibility. Galvanize the disenchanted Liberal voters of British Columbia with your “[firm commitment] to the concept of accountability to the taxpayers of the Province”! All this talk about “old, recycled ideas” from the Liberals and the NDP and how we need “change” and “a new voice” is so much hooey when your concerns resolve around the cost of a ferry trip and the allocation of hunting licenses. During the election, Cummins enjoyed a generally high profile given his party’s position and got headlines by proposing that convenience stores be allowed to sell beer and wine. Thanks to this plain, common-sense style, the BC Conservatives finished without a seat and several points lower in the popular vote than polling predicted.

Why would you vote for today’s BC Conservatives? Because you’re sick of the Liberals and hate the NDP? That’s a reason to stay home, as 42.9% of British Columbian electors did in 2013. If civic pride drags you to the polls anyway, and you overcome the urge to vote anybody-but-the-party-you-hate, then you might as well go Libertarian, or, hell, Excalibur Party or Marijuana, or whichever other “common sense” gang of no-hopers is available in your riding. The Libertarians wouldn’t only let you buy a bottle of beer at the convenience store, but let you turn it into a bong and get fucked on the porch while shooting a .22 at slow children1! Now that’s real change for British Columbians!

Realistically, not only do the Conservatives have no chance of forming government in the next election regardless of who the leader is but they’d fall over each other in joy if they won a seat. This means that you have to think big, bigger than “fiscal responsibility” and “a new voice” and hunting licenses. You have to give people something to vote for, rather than pointing at what they should vote against. That is common sense.

The BC Conservatives’ current irrelevance does provide one strength. They, for now, should be immune to the power-chasing, loosely-principled opportunists who have contaminated the federal Conservatives and numerous provincial parties. People who are basically Liberals but joined the blue team for tribal or careerist reasons, or as they are more commonly known in Canada “Red Tories,” are already safe within the BC Liberal Party’s bosum. Indeed, so strong is the Red Tory influence on the BC Liberals that wags joke they’ve made the BC Conservatives irrelevant. The past few decades show there’s a grain of truth to that joke, but only so long as the BC Conservatives call plays from the Red Tory book.

What if the BC Conservatives retook their natural role and, rather than splitting economic hairs with the Liberals, defended active, social conservatism? Brooks’s rural focus would have been a great first step had it been stronger. There are still British Columbians who want the tentacles of our government, extended by premiers of every party, cut back, not necessarily for financial reasons but out of principle. Multi-billion-dollar questions like public transit reform and huge new toll bridges sprayed across the Lower Mainland, and local conservative opportunities like neighbourhoods transforming into something long-time residents don’t recognize and don’t like. Fight for Canadians’ intrinsic freedoms from their government, inherited from a constitutional tradition going back to Magna Carta, rather than today’s citizen-against-citizen human rights racket. When the inevitable cantankerous candidate says homosexuality is an illness in front of a tape recorder, and he will, remind the outraged reporters that allowing people to speak on important subjects is an essential liberty in of itself, regardless of whether there’s any chance of them getting their way. There are issues, from how to treat the mentally ill to whether people should be allowed to enjoy their own vices2, that are moribund in provincial politics but seriously impact how people live their lives, and where the old conservative options should be spoken for, changing the conversation even if your party is miles from government.

In short, turn your conservatism into a moral position, a firm idea of how the world works and how government should, rather than dwelling on niche differences and whimpering “don’t you want change?” This will definitely outrage people who would never have considered voting for you anyway, but it might also attract voters who, even if only broadly, like what you’re saying, or like that there’s somebody out there who can say it. There is precious little to believe in if you’re a right-wing British Columbia voter these days, why not offer something? It’s no sure path to power, but trying to be the Liberals without the baggage won’t work either.