Vote With Your Head by Chris Dupuis

There was a funny feeling in the air of Toronto on June 4, 1999. The Mike Harris Conservatives had just won their second majority government, much to the surprise of the average Progressive Torontonian. People sat in bars and coffee shops across the city shaking their heads. How did this happen?, we asked ourselves. Harris is evil incarnate! He’s cut social services, education, arts funding, and forcibly amalgamated cities against the will of their citizens! We protested his policies, rallied our friends to come out and vote, and even set up a system to let people know whether they should vote Liberal or NDP in their riding in order to prevent a Conservative from taking the seat! How did Mikey end up with a second majority?

While the progressive population’s efforts were admirable in this case, they were also sort of sadly amusing. We succeeded in preventing a single Conservative MP from being elected in the Metro Toronto Area, but in typical Progressive Torontonian fashion, we forgot about the rest of Ontario. We assumed it would be enough to talk to our friends and the people in our neighbourhoods, completely ignoring the fact that, while Toronto holds a lot of seats at Queens Park, it is nowhere near the majority.

We comforted ourselves by saying that even though we hadn’t succeeded in unseating Mikey, we’d sent a strong message to the Conservatives that their particular brand of Common Sense was antithetical to the very nature of Toronto. We were the largest city in the province, its economic engine, and its cultural capital. Surely after seeing our protests, hearing our speeches, and watching his support drop at the ballot box (despite still winning a majority) Mikey would change his tune and start respecting our values.

This was another of those sadly amusing Progressive Torontonian moments. The following four years saw further cuts to those areas and services we valued, more poverty, more tax breaks for corporations, and a tightening of the law and order agenda. Our work against Harris did nothing to change his mandate or attitude. And why would it? Politicians elected to office, even with a minority of voters supporting them, are going to go about implementing the mandate they were elected to enact. The fact that some voters opposed them is not going to change that. In fact, having a percentage of the population in vocal and angry opposition is often helpful to politicians, because they can gesture to them when they are talking to their supporters and say “Look what we are fighting against!”

The morning of October 26, 2010 we Progressive Torontonians might wake up feeling a little like we did on that fateful day in 1999, if Rob Ford becomes mayor of our city. We will say to ourselves “But we posted all the stupid things he’s said on Facebook! We built websites telling people how bad he will be for the city! We talked to all our generally apathetic friends and convinced them to come out and vote! How did Rob Ford become mayor?”

But how many of us donated money to another candidate? How many of us volunteered in another campaign? It seems we Progressive Torontonians have become satisfied with point and click political activism, sitting behind our refurbished MacBooks with our Grande Americanos, trading jokes about the relative fatness of politicians we oppose on Facebook and Twitter, while catching up on downloaded episodes of Dexter.

But if we really want to get things done, we’re going to have to close our laptops, walk out of Starbucks, and get our hands dirty working in the political trenches. This doesn’t necessarily mean working directly for another candidate. It can also mean talking to people we wouldn’t ordinarily talk to; the kind of people who would vote for Ford because they think artists are lazy hedonists who waste taxpayer dollars on parties and that cyclists are Luddites who deserve to die because they can’t afford a car.

There’s been a lot of talk recently, as the reality of a Ford mayoralty has sunk in, about “voting with your heart” in this election; that giving support to a candidate other than Ford will show him that we don’t all share his politics and will help him lean in favour of ours. While it’s a nice sentiment, do you honestly think that would happen? It’s virtually unheard of in our political history for a candidate to change their platform after being elected based on the wishes of people who didn’t vote for them. If anything, it just adds fuel to their fire.

I am not endorsing a particular candidate in this instance, and of course I would love it if sometime over the course of today things tipped in Pantalone’s favour, but we all know that’s not going to happen. So vote however you want. But keep in mind that the decision you make today will affect Toronto, not just for four years, but likely for the next eight, since it’s unusual for a sitting mayor not to be re-elected. Voting with your heart has a nice ring to it, but we’ll all be better off if we vote with our heads.

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