Strategic voting plays big role in stopping Hudak's Conservatives

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An evaluation of the results of Thursday's Ontario election indicates that the activist group One Big Campaign (OBC) and several unions clearly played an important role in stopping Tim Hudak and the Conservatives from becoming the government.

OBC made close to a million anti-Tory phone calls in 40 key ridings and union groups, such as the Ontario Federation of Labour, Unifor, teachers and nurses groups etc., as well as Working Families Ontario, campaigned to both defeat Tories and protect some key Liberals and New Democrats in order to stop Hudak.

Now that the results are fully tabulated, the group I volunteered with, One Big Campaign –- a group of fewer than ten volunteers operating on a miniscule budget –- is amazed to discover that our massive telephone calling program helped defeat 36 Tory candidates in the 40 key ridings we focused on.

This election was like no other I've ever experienced. I've been working on elections in Canada since the start of Pierre Trudeau's career, as a journalist and now as an activist, and I've never seen a campaign where people were so desperate for advice on who they should vote for to stop a political party.

We can't tell for certain exactly the impact we had, but did our work make a difference? Yes!

"We definitely had influence," said one of OBC's researchers, "but exactly how much is really hard to say. No riding is alike and there are local issues involved. It's hard to say exactly how many voters we swayed with riding-wide messaging. Either way, a win against Hudak is an important win."

As far as we know, OBC was the only group that telephoned every voter in several ridings, urging people to vote strategically for the candidate our research showed as having the best chance of defeating the Conservative.

Our campaign benefitted from a pointed song written and recorded by Nancy White, well known for her satirical songs on CBC Radio. "Tim, we did the math!" was a hit on YouTube, Operation Maple and other sites had more than 15,000 plays and it was passed around among anti-Hudak folks throughout the campaign.

Kathleen Wynne's Liberals won a majority, taking 59 seats. The Conservatives remain the Official Opposition with 27 seats, but Hudak used his concession speech to announce his resignation as leader. The NDP's Howarth, who badly misjudged the electorate in forcing the election, won 21 seats. But I don't think Howarth will survive as leader, as many of the party's more progressive old guard were after her even when she forced the vote in the legislature.

The OBC team, along with the unions and others, helped prevent nine Conservatives from being re-elected in ridings we targeted. Most significantly, we helped knock off the Conservatives only sitting member in the Toronto area, Doug Holyday, who was handily defeated by former fellow city council member, Liberal Peter Milczyn.

Other Tory incumbents to fall were: Rod Jackson (Barrie), Jane McKenna (Burlington), Rob Leone (Cambridge), Roxanne Villeneuve Robertson (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell), Ted Chudleigh (Halton), Jane Twinney (Newmarket-Aurora) and Rob Milligan (Northumberland-Quinte West).

Moreover, the OBC researchers correctly identified a number of Liberals and New Democrats who were leading, but threatened, in key ridings, and helped push them to victory.

The four of 40 ridings OBC and other campaigners "lost" were to Laurie Scott (Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock), Randy Pattapiece (Perth Wellington), Michael Harris (Kitchener-Conestoga) and Gila Martow (Thornhill).

Political observers who earlier were skeptical that strategic voting would have any real impact on the election are back peddling.

"Well, congratulations," Wilf Day of Port Hope, an astute political analyst, wrote on Facebook. "History will show Hudak lost this election, and strategic voters won. My congratulations are tempered by only two caveats. First, didn't you succeed a bit too well, getting the Wynne majority? Second, you endorsed three Liberals where the PC ran third: Kingston, Brampton-Springdale and Brampton West. However, in the history of strategic voting campaigns, getting it right 31 times out of 34 is pretty good."

OBC is pretty much ecstatic about what we were able to accomplish with a handful of volunteers and a few thousand dollars donated by concerned citizens. Late in the campaign, when we didn't have much cash on hand and a key funding request was turned down, we consider shutting down our campaign. But we reduced our goals, obviously made some good decisions about target ridings and carried on.

The OBC campaign appears to have been one of the most concentrated strategic voting campaigns ever in the country, and it clearly speaks to the need for a well-organized similar campaign against the federal Conservatives next year.

Nick Fillmore, a frequent contributor to rabble.ca, is a freelance journalist and social activist. The founder of One Big Campaign, he was the co-ordinator of the OBC's Ontario strategic voting election campaign.

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