A new kind of canvasser has been knocking on doors in Canada’s election campaign, the longest in its modern history. These canvassers are partisan only in the sense that they oppose Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. What they are asking like-minded voters to do is to set party allegiance aside and vote on Monday for whichever opposition candidate has the best chance of defeating the Conservatives.
Interest in this kind of strategic voting has been growing during Mr. Harper’s decade in power in Canada, a country where there is sometimes as much discussion over the mechanics of the electoral system as over who ought to be elected.
As Mr. Harper’s opponents point out, the Conservatives have formed governments after each of the last three elections without ever getting more than 39.6 percent of the popular vote. That has been enough to win them a majority in Parliament because most of the remainder has been split between two center-left parties, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party.
“I was just appalled with our government, and that Harper would get 39 percent of the vote and 100 percent of the power,” said Jackie DeRoo, a retired executive in Vancouver, British Columbia. She now volunteers as a canvasser in a strategic voting campaign organized by Leadnow Canada, an independent group that encourages citizen participation in elections and on issues.
Less obvious than the arithmetic of the opposition’s vote-splitting problem is how to eliminate it. One solution would be a merger of the Liberals, who date to the founding of Canada, and the slightly more leftward New Democrats, a party created in part by organized labor. The current Conservative Party of Canada was created that way — a 2003 merger of the Canadian Alliance, then led by Mr. Harper, and the venerable Progressive Conservative Party — for a similar reason, to avoid fracturing the vote on the right.
Yet there do not seem to be many voters like Ms. DeRoo who want to reduce Canadian politics to a two-party system, and the idea has no support among party leaders either. Nor does Canada have a tradition of parties forming coalitions during campaigns.
That leaves strategic voting. In a country where voters choose their members of Parliament district by district, but most publicly available opinion polls yield only broad national data, determining how to vote strategically is not always straightforward.
Early efforts in Canada mainly involved websites trying to guide voting decisions. In 2008, Hisham Abdel-Rahman, an information technology worker in Calgary, Alberta — historically a Conservative bastion where strategic voting would be pointless — started a website, strategicvoting.ca. He said he relied on past election results and online election handicappers to offer advice to voters who live in areas where strategic voting might work. Based on web traffic, he believes interest in the idea has increased.
“People are really engaged in this process this time,” Mr. Abdel-Rahman said.
Readers of The Globe and Mail, the Toronto newspaper, were greeted by a full-page advertisement on Tuesday promoting another website offering strategic voting advice, justthefactscanada.ca. Victor L. Marks, the founder and president of a company in Vancouver that produces fine bound blank notebooks, paid for the ad, for the site and for a researcher.
“I’m either on a fool’s errand or I’m saving the country from the overreaching of Mr. Harper,” Mr. Marks said. “Strategic voting is about getting the government you want, not the guy or girl you like. To me, it’s about good governance, not about the loss of political soul.”
Leadnow’s project, Vote Together, is among the groups that have introduced strategic voting canvassers in this election and that have run fund-raising campaigns to commission local polls in some constituencies.
“What’s clear to me is most people in this country want to get rid of the Conservatives,” said Amara Possian, Leadnow’s elections campaign manager. “But most people don’t know that vote-splitting could lead to Conservative victories.”
The group’s volunteers ask voters to promise to vote on Monday for the candidate who Leadnow’s research and polling suggests is most likely to defeat a Conservative rival. Ms. Possian said that just a few thousand voters might be enough swing the balance in several local races.
The long-term objective of Vote Together, Ms. Possian said, is to make strategic voting obsolete by replacing Canada’s winner-take-all system. But they have yet to decide on what they want in its place.
Strategic voting has many critics and, perhaps surprisingly, some of them are staunch opponents of the Conservatives. They include Paul Moist, the national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which has 628,000 members and supports the New Democrats.
“It’s well-intentioned citizens banding together and saying ‘Don’t vote who you believe in,’ ” Mr. Moist said of the strategic voting campaign. “This kind of thing could turn people off. I don’t see this as having legs.”
He pointed to the failure of similar efforts to block a Conservative victory in Britain’s recent election. “Democracy has to be worked at,” Mr. Moist said. “It can’t be gamed.”