How to vote in Trudeau's coronation
Mar 13, 2013

How to vote in Trudeau's coronation

Even before Justin Trudeau announced his candidacy to be the next Liberal leader, pundits were tripping over each other to declare the inevitability of his eventual success. With Marc Grarneau dropping out of the race following internal polling showing Trudeau lightyears ahead, the outcome truly is certain (read this is you still have your doubts). The question now is whether there remains any point in voting and, if so, who to vote for?

Is there still value in voting?
I believe that there is still considerable value in voting in the leadership election and that the question of who to vote for is still important. While the dominant goal of a leadership election - choosing a leader - has been decided, there are still many other still important goals. Namely, it doesn't just matter who the leader is, the relative balance of values and policies being pushed by the base have a real effect on constraining and shaping the actions of the leader and the party.

There are two ways in which voting for someone other than Trudeau can have influence. Firstly, if that person has a strong value or policy agenda, voting for that person is a proxy for pushing the relative prominence of that agenda. In the 2012 NDP leadership election, for instance, a vote for Nathan Cullen was a proxy for a vote for the idea of cooperation with the Liberals. Or take a vote for Ron Paul in the 2012 GOP Presidential candidate election; Paul was never going to win, but voting for him pushed the relative prominence of his libertarian values and ideas.

This idea that there is value in the framing of the political debate, and that votes are a form of signalling that shift policy has been a theme on this blog. In fact one of my first posts was on the value of voting for third parties.  I don't think this always applies, however, as it depends on a strategic consideration of the specific election. This election is one where we don't have to vote strategically as the outcome is assured. This frees us up to be the type of election where we vote based on signalling and framing of the political debate and pushing values and issues we care about. These things do make real differences, such as the effect that green parties - Ontario being a case in point - have had on shifting real policies.

The other way voting can have influence is by increasing the prominence of specific people, not just as a proxy for their values. After the NDP leadership election, losing candidates like Peggy Nash and Nathan Cullen have risen to considerable prominence within the party. Even people like Niki Ashton who performed poorly, will undoubtedly have raised her prominence and can take further leadership positions in the future. It isn't just to us voters that elections are more than just choosing the leader. The candidates recognize this as well; often many of the other candidates have their own goals and aspirations that are not necessarily just about becoming the leader. For instance, I spelled out some of the motivations behind the other GOP contenders here and here. As such, a vote for someone who is not Justin Trudeau can be a way to increase their relative prominence within the party in the future and ensure that their voice, which you are endorsing, gets that much louder.

Who to vote for? 
The above has argued that, in principle, there can be value in voting for inevitably losing candidates. Given that, who best to vote for? Well, I will leave that decision to you.

I will note that the candidate who is most clearly a proxy for some value is Joyce Murray who is the candidate proposing cooperation with the NDP. If you believe that there is value in some level of cooperation with the NDP (even constrained to something like forming a government in a minority situation), a vote for her is much like a vote for Nathan Cullen was in the NDP election. It signals that the base is supportive of the idea of this cooperation. Personally the chance of direct electoral cooperation at the riding level in 2015 was always remote; even if Joyce Murray won, Thomas Mulcair has ruled it out. However the need to form a government, possible a coalition government, in 2015 is high if no party gets a majority. So this issue of cooperation is not going away and a strong signal that the Liberal base supports cooperation could have a huge effect on our political landscape.

Unfortunately, despite my proposal that this race should be focused on policy, it largely wasn't. Justin Trudeau openly admitted he didn't intend to lead on policy and is opting to try and take a longer perspective on policy formation that was inclusive of Canadian's opinions, a position that Marc Garneau tried to hammer despite offering very few policies of his own. Martha Hall Findlay was the alleged policy wonk, but outside of a few random things here and there like opposition to supply management, really didn't lead on major policy initiatives. This pattern repeats for most of the others. In fact, outside of George Takach who ran as the self proclaimed "tech candidate" before dropping out, none of the candidates could in the slightest way be identified as a proxy for a specific policy, and most barely even managed to espouse any policies. See my debate coverage for a few of the various specific ideas mentioned. As such, I submit that with the exception of Joyce Murray, there is no real point to voting for anyone except Justin Trudeau on the grounds that I have spelled out earlier.

And of course, one can still vote for Justin Trudeau. Doing this shows the strength of his support and helps to build momentum for a Liberal resurgence.

Comparison to the Mitt Romney:
Justin Trudeau may well have outdone the air of inevitability that shrouded Mitt Romney as he was being nominated for the GOP's most recent presidential candidate. It was recognized in both contests that it was these leading candidates races to lose, that it was "their turn" at bat. However, there the similarities stop. The reality is that while Trudeau soared to very high levels of support, Romney experience a constant battle with numerous surges in the polls for almost every other candidate. It emphasizes, once again, just how fundamentally poor Mitt Romney was as a candidate and how he could not even manage to get his base to rally around him until, belatedly and unenthusiastically  in the general. Sorry, I couldn't help myself take just one more belated wack at poor Romney. That Trudeau has not experienced this drop demonstrates that his skills as politician are legitimate and not just resting on name brand recognition. 

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