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My First Time Voting Doesn't Seem Like Much Of A Choice

I'm one of many young voters whose first election experience has been defined by strategic voting.

Not yet of voting age, I watched the 2015 federal election from the sidelines. Canadians 18 to 24 — many of them new voters, not much older than I was — went to the polls to form a decisive voting block critical to winning Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau a majority government. Young as they were, their votes seemed to have meaning and weight. It made me excited to think that I, too, would be able to cast my vote for the first time when the next federal election came around.

A voter enters a polling station in Vaughan, Ont. during the 2015 election.
A voter enters a polling station in Vaughan, Ont. during the 2015 election.

But things weren’t as simple as they seemed back then, when the idea of democracy seemed to be “vote for who you want.” What I didn’t know was that strategic voting took over the 2015 election, leaving voters with a stark choice between the Liberal and Conservative Parties — whichever of the top-polling “lesser evils” could keep the other out of power. With a record number of young voters turning out, many millennial and Gen Z voters had their first voting experiences shaped by the lack of a meaningful choice.

Now, as the race tightens between the Liberals and Conservatives in the current federal election, and the discussion once more turns to strategic voting, it makes me wonder how I should cast my first-ever vote.

It’s easy to feel like a vote for a party outside of the Liberal-Conservative dichotomy is wasted. The Liberals and Conservatives, with their significant, head-to-head lead in the polls, have the highest probability of forming a majority and drawing the most votes. For progressive voters, it seems each vote for a left-leaning party other than the Liberals puts the Conservatives one vote ahead; likewise, a vote spent on a right-leaning party other than the Conservatives could improve Liberal Leader Trudeau’s chances.

Looking at the two parties’ respective track records and promises, and thinking about voting for one or the other on election day, the question for me is: do I have to? I feel torn between voting for who I think can best lead Canada and voting simply to keep the most racist person out of power.

The Liberal party has made its fair share of mistakes. Scrolling through bizarre pictures of Trudeau in brown face at an Arabian Nights-themed party, and more of him in blackface, really made me think about what it would mean for me to give him my vote. I’m tired of Black and brown people being the butt of the joke. It was a breaking point for me after his party reneged on its promise to get rid of First Past The Post, not to mention Trudeau’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its expansion, which was yet another major setback for reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

“Strategic voting is the absence of a real choice.”

The Conservative Party has a history of questionable actions such as considering a niqab ban in the past election, attempting to cut funding for refugees’ health care in 2014 and, more recently, proposing close the loophole to the Safe Third Country Agreement rather than find ways to help asylum seekers find safety in Canada. They’re also selling pretty words of universal tax cuts, but what that really means to me is fewer accessible services — and a number of Conservative leader Scheer’s cuts have yet to be specified.

I am the daughter of immigrant parents in a racialized community. I feel an obligation to consider how my vote will affect those around me. A party’s relationship with minority communities, its ability to help the working class, and its stance on immigration policies are important to me. It’s more than my own personal connection to these groups and issues; it’s also about acknowledging that parties need to work for more than just the elite.

I grew up with working-class families who couldn’t afford dental care, like costly braces, and medication that can be unaffordable without insurance coverage. I want a party with policies that makes these challenges its priorities. Sure, if I am forced to vote for a party that will keep the wrong party out of power in order to safeguard these communities, well, that’s still a win. But strategic voting is the absence of a real choice.

Unfortunately, I feel as though my priorities will fall second. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how my vote should go to ensure the country doesn’t go haywire — probably more time than on which party truly deserves my vote. This election season, I’m left wondering: why am I voting to prevent, rather than to gain?

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