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Strategic voting in B.C. ridings “crucial” for outcome of federal election

DECISION 2011: Anti-Conservative group promotes strategic voting to prevent a Tory majority -- even if it means voters have to hold their noses.

The battle for Ottawa is taking place in B.C.'s backyard, according to one national political campaign. 

Catch 22, a non-partisan grassroots group aimed at defeating the Conservative government, identified Burnaby-Douglas, Surrey North, Saanich-Gulf Islands and Vancouver South as some of the "vital ridings" which may decide the outcome of next week's federal election.

"It's probably the most fluid province, where a lot of change could happen," said Masrour Zoghi, Catch 22's B.C. representative. "There aren't as many ridings as in Quebec or Ontario, but the few that are here are are very important."  

Zoghi and his volunteers have been out in the streets and at all-candidates meetings trying to get people in key ridings to vote for candidates with the best chance of beating a Conservative candidate.

Their recommendations include:

- NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart in Burnaby-Douglas

- NDP candidate Jasbir Sandhu in Surrey North

- Green Party leader Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands

- Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh in Vancouver South.

Like other campaigns including Project Democracy and Swing 33, Catch 22 is pushing a "strategic vote" during this election. Catch 22 is the only one to have volunteers pamphleting on the ground, but all three groups have a common cause: to convince people to vote for the candidate with the highest chance of preventing a Conservative victory. 

"There are quite a few people who have said, 'I usually vote Green or NDP, but this is just too horrible,'" said Zoghi, explaining the response he has encountered during the campaign. He has recently been urging people in South Vancouver South to cast their ballot, reminding them that Ujjal Dossanjh of the Liberal Party won by just 20 votes against Conservative candidate Wai Young in the last election.  

Nick Fillmore, the group's media outreach and political strategist, said that changes in voter behaviour means more people are likely to vote calculatingly to prevent a Conservative victory. 

"People are different these days," he said. "When my parents and grandparents were growing up, families were known to vote Liberal or Conservative for life. But so many people are flexible now, they can be much more changeable than in the past." 

Fillmore, who is himself in his sixties, said that many older people have joined the campaign out of desire to see a change of government. 

"This is the first time I can recall in an election where you can put up an opinion poll and more than 60 per cent of Canadians don't want want the government reelected," he said. Referencing a new poll in Angus Reid, he said that four in 10 Liberals and three in 10 NDP supporters said they would "definitely or probably vote for someone they dislike to force the defeat of a specific candidate in their riding." 

Jason Hjalmarson, working at the office of NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart in the swing riding of Burnaby-Douglas, said that while "every riding is crucial in determining the election outcome," he knew his candidate would have tough competition from Conservative candidate Ronald Leung. 

 "It's going to be a very close race," Hjalmarson said. 

One thing that non-Conservative candidates appear to have going for them is media outreach, including a stronger presence at all-candidates meetings.

Many Conservative candidates in swing ridings, including Leung and Surrey North candidate Dona Cadman, have been criticized for not attending all-candidates meetings in their ridings.

A volunteer from Cadman's office, who gave a name but later asked to remain anonymous, said that Cadman was aware that her riding would be a "tight race," and that she was working hard to gain votes over NDP candidate Jasbir Sandhu.  

"Dona has been working nonstop to connect with people," the volunteer said. On Cadman's absence from the meeting, the volunteer said: 

"She really, really wanted to be there. We said she could be at just one debate because she really wanted to devote her time to door-knocking, but sadly, it didn't work out and she was very upset."

The volunteer said Cadman pulled out for personal reasons, but did not specify further. 

Zokhi, meanwhile, says that the absence of Conservative candidates at candidate debates is a sign of vulnerability more than confidence. 

He feels the strategic-voting campaign has hit a nerve with Conservative candidates, with North Vancouver incumbent candidate Andrew Saxton criticizing the group's activities in the North Shore Outlook. 

"The Conservatives heavily rely on vote splitting on the other side in order to get in," Zokhi said. "Anything that involves galvanizing the opposition voters to support one person instead of splitting their votes ---  they are terrified by that."

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