Follow your head or your heart: A progressive voter's strategic struggle

Tony Myatt's exactly the kind of voter Justin Trudeau was talking about when the Liberal leader swooped into Fredericton earlier this week with a plea to progressive voters. 

"For me, the defining issue is climate change," Myatt said Thursday morning in an interview at his home. "I believe there's a climate emergency. It's very, very serious, very dire. We need action."

But the economics professor at the University of New Brunswick has spent the last week agonizing about how to achieve that at the ballot box.

"We need to stop the Conservatives from gaining power," he said. "So my heart is to vote Green, but if voting Green allows the Conservatives to win, that would be really bad. So I'm looking at the numbers and worrying."

The Liberals have been sliding in the polls, prompting Trudeau to warn left-leaning voters that choosing a party other than his may divide what he calls the "progressive" vote, allowing Andrew Scheer's Conservatives to form a government.


In most areas of the country, Trudeau's aiming at the NDP, which has been gaining support.

But in Fredericton Liberal fears are centred on the Greens, who have a strong provincial base.

"If you want progressive action, you need a progressive government, not a progressive opposition," Trudeau said during an appearance at the home of a supporter.

He called his climate plan "the most ambitious plan Canada has ever had. … We've done more than any other government in the history of this country."

Trudeau has introduced a carbon tax that applies in provinces that have not adopted their own price on carbon, including New Brunswick.

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

But he hasn't laid out a realistic way to get to Canada's goals under the Paris climate agreement. He has adopted the previous Harper government's emissions-reductions targets, which fall short of that goal. 

"What Trudeau has implemented so far has been insufficient," Myatt said. "Obviously he's planning to go further, but the plan as it's announced doesn't nearly go far enough." 

Still, he said he'd be "devastated" if Conservative candidate Andrea Johnson was elected in Fredericton thanks to a Liberal-Green split, and if that in turn helped bring Scheer to power.

Doing his homework

So Myatt has been studying poll numbers and seat-projection sites carefully.

"I was just letting it play out," he said. "It fluctuated a bit over the last few days. Yesterday it seemed like the best way I could vote was Green, and now it's changed again." 

Myatt's familiar with strategic-voting arguments. In 2010 he ran provincially for the New Brunswick NDP, a party often on the losing end of that equation.

He's been consulting one strategic-voting site, VoteWell, which advises voters how to defeat Conservatives. Until Thursday, its recommendation for Fredericton was the Green Party, and party members shared that widely on social media.

But Thursday morning, based on the latest polling, the site's recommendation switched to the Liberals.

Seat-projection sites are not based on riding-level polls. They use national trends to project how much party support will swing compared to the last election in individual races. 

Fredericton Liberal candidate Matt DeCourcey said it's "absurd" to think the Green Party can win, pointing out that the party won 12.4 per cent of the vote last time, far below what seat projection sites were showing. 

"Polls don't vote, people vote," DeCourcey said.

Still, Myatt said projections of a close three-way race this time have him thinking he should give up on a strategic vote altogether.

"It's a little bit impossible to get your strategic vote right with it being this tight, so in the end you just have to go with what you want in this riding, in this situation," Myatt said.

"It's so tight and there's such a big margin of error in the projections that I may as well just vote with my heart."

'They're voting for what they want'

Fredericton Green candidate Jenica Atwin said she has encountered voters who are torn. 

"This is how they want to vote," she said. "They feel good about voting Green, but they're stuck with that fear again about what could happen." 

But Atwin said she's been able to persuade many of them that the Liberals will disappoint them, as she said they did after rallying the left-wing vote in 2015. 

Al MacCormick/CBC

"They're really voting with their hearts this time. They're not buying this kind of fear-mongering that they have to vote this way or that's going to be the outcome," Atwin said. "They're voting for what they want." 

Myatt is almost there, but he's still not 100 per cent sure.

"I think I'm pretty close," he said, adding that Trudeau's last-minute plea in Fredericton was actually counterproductive.

"I was thinking that way anyway and it was embarrassing to have him saying that, like that's his schtick, especially given the fact that he was promising proportional representation, which would have avoided this problem.

"So I find that annoying rather than anything else … although it's true what he's saying. Annoyingly true."