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| October 15, 2015

Take heart. We the people, who see Stephen Harper and the Conservatives as a Canadian tragedy and a world-class blight on global problem-solving, are still more than two-thirds of the population.

Sadly, over the last decade, that hasn't meant much. But, citizens, this is no time to allow a messed-up electoral system to defeat us again. There are tools and information available like never before about how to avoid vote-splitting. By voting together, we can make regime change happen.

We live in a country that is just barely holding on to any measure of economic growth -- except in the area of joblessness, which is thriving -- on a naturally beautiful planet that is tipping perceptibly toward climate catastrophe and where every day, warfare, injustice and violence are turning more and more of our fellow humans into desperate refugees. We live in precarious times that demand we join together to remove this anti-social Conservative force from power. We need to change both who is in power and how they govern. No matter which leading progressive party wins, after the election we need to see some new tricks from those old dogs.

But let's start with the who.

We have something in this election that we haven't had in a long time. We have talent across the board; authentic and progressive leaders are at the helm of three of the four national parties.

The Green party's Elizabeth May, our one wise woman leader, has been impressing us for years. Election newbies NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal party head Justin Trudeau are each smart, articulate and compelling. That hasn't happened in a long time.

Of course, Jack Layton, who preceded Mulcair, was a wonderfully gifted politician who so movingly offered the last of his life force to call in NDP voters. He was rewarded by a wave of orange in Quebec, netting the NDP the honour of sitting as Canada's Official Opposition.

That was nice, but it ushered in a Harper majority.

The NDP as the Official Opposition couldn't stop even an iota of the terrible ideas Harper had in mind. That is one serious life lesson for progressives that cannot be dismissed, denied or diminished.

But we are talking talent here, and Mulcair, Layton's Quebec lieutenant, did a great job exposing the waves of scandalous and punishing behaviours of the Harper government. How often has the federal party had back-to-back leaders who could grab those headlines and hold onto them? He earned front-runner status at the start of this election.

But like all electoral successes or defeats, it was ephemeral.

This is a note to those who think the faint possibility of their NDP in power is worth any sacrifice to Conservative domination: after these last four years, the risk should be more than obvious.

Trudeau's top-notch election performance and his fearless willingness to take such important progressive stands as deficit spending to support infrastructure investment and taxing the richest 1 per cent to help the middle class -- not to mention legalizing marijuana -- have earned him big props from a hungry electorate looking for a centrist leader who still offers real change.

The country hasn't had a serious and progressive Liberal leader in eons. But Canada needed a centrist party to represent those with centrist views. We are a democracy after all. So the NDP has tried to play that role. What looked like an NDP opportunity has turned out to be a critical problem for progressives. In the hopes of becoming that centrist party, the NDP has taken many stands that violate the core values of its base. Mulcair's balanced budget pledge is one example. Isn't it better that the Liberals be the centrist party rather than watering down the much-needed value-based NDP?

It's true that Trudeau tepidly voted for Bill C-51 and recruited former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, of carding and G20 fame, to be part of his team. Are those deal-breakers for voting in your riding with an eye to avoiding vote-splitting between the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals?

Is the NDP's commitment to a neo-con populist call for a balanced budget and no new taxes, even on the wealthiest, a deal-breaker? That is dangerous stuff. It embraces the right-wing rhetoric that has eroded the political culture of our country and the continent. Fulfilling these commitments in the tenuous economic times we are facing could usher in an era of cutbacks, recession and maybe even deflation.

Each leader has abandoned deeply progressive supporters for the sake of gaining votes at the centre.

Politicians will always disappoint us in some way. But those who still think about politics in absolute terms have not only forgotten the basic law of the universe -- relativity -- but every lesson of history in our lifetimes.

Democracy is not a process where we mistake leaders for the wished-for heroes of our childhood dreams and fantasies. Politics is called the art of the possible for a reason.

Let's vote for our collective self-interest: smartly and efficiently to elect as many Liberals, NDPers and Greens as possible on October 19. And in the likely event that we wake up to a minority government, let's make our voices loud and clear that we won't be satisfied until our talented leaders show what fine humans beings they are and co-operate to take the reins of power and make real change.

This column was first published inNow Magazine.

Photo: Chris Yakimov/flickr