Ken Boessenkool: Why I won't vote in this election
I won’t choose between bad and worse, and don’t make me say who is which
By: Ken Boessenkool
As an outspoken conservative critic of United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Danielle Smith, the Alberta election has put me in a bit of a quandary. I, like many conservatives, face a choice between bad and worse.
Or do I?
Our fore-bearers fought world wars, fled communist and fascist dictatorships and/or worked to establish small-l liberal democracies here and elsewhere. They fought, and we (or most of us!) wear a poppy once a year to remember the lives lost for the values we cherish. Chief among those values is the right to vote, which many understand to mean an obligation to vote.
But is it?
I have decided that I am not voting in this election. And the reasons why are consistent with the value and importance I place on our liberal democracy.
In the first place, our democracy gives us the right to choose to vote. It does not obligate us. Not voting is a rational and acceptable choice. There is a vast difference between not voting when you have the full and free ability to do so, and not voting because you are prevented from doing so.
Further, Alberta’s democracy is not at risk in this election. Unlike what we have seen and continue to hear from MAGA Republicans in the US, there is no party here that would deny the election result, attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and/or spread lies that the election was “stolen” if they lost.
If we ever get to that stage, and God help us if we do, I would vote for whatever party promises to respect and uphold our democracy — democracy, in that case, would, er, trump ideology.
I might also vote if I could mark a ballot for Ric McIver or Rajan Sawhney. I was honoured to run Ric and Rajan’s respective leadership campaigns. But I can’t. My vote would be cast in Lethbridge East, a highly competitive riding being contested by one of Danielle Smith’s few leadership supporters in caucus.
In the second place, Alberta is fundamentally fine. The goal of many campaigns is to convince the electorate of the vast amount of damage that will be done if their political opponents win. I not only understand that; I’ve done that. Democracy is war by peaceful means — it is how we peacefully decide to govern ourselves when there is no agreement on how we ought to be governed.
However, the choice in this election is between a party that is well within acceptable bounds of those disagreements, but outside of my personal bounds (the NDP) and a party within my personal bounds but led by someone well outside those acceptable bounds.
That’s not just my standard, it’s apparently Danielle Smith’s, or once was. She and the UCP disqualified a candidate named Nadine Wellwood for equating vaccine mandates with the Nazi regime; but the party won’t disqualify Smith herself for expressing essentially the same thing. And that’s just chapter one in a long book of disagreements I have with the her.
While I don’t believe a Danielle Smith government would actually do some of the crazy things she has advocated for in the past — for example, her initial support for an unconstitutional Sovereignty Act as the first step to Alberta separation became a meaningless damp squib of a law when she became premier — I can’t bring myself to vote for a party that would have such a person as leader.
In the third place, I am entirely comfortable with Albertans making this choice for me — a choice they will make; and a choice I will live with. In part, this is because my love for Alberta includes a love for its people. Even, perhaps especially, people I disagree with. Notwithstanding my views on the current election, I have many friends on all sides of the political aisle. They are all Albertans.
In part, this is because, as a conservative, I don’t believe that who is in our government, or what our government does, is actually the most important thing in my life. No government can eliminate (even if it dampens) the Alberta entrepreneurial spirit. No government can fundamentally wreck Alberta’s civil society and the institutions that constitute it. No government here will fundamentally break our families, eliminate our places of faith or destroy our communities.
Government and political life are, for us, a very small part of what determines the good life. That is my version of conservatism — as much about disposition as ideology. A disposition which prefers incrementalism and evolution to radicalism and revolution.
And so, on May 29 I will not vote. I believe Alberta will be fine whatever my fellow citizens decide. I won’t choose between bad and worse (and don’t make me say who is which), even as I wish godspeed to my fellow Albertans who will.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Pitch us something: firstname.lastname@example.org