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Simon Jomphe June 11, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/352137/un-simulacre-de-democratie-au-quebec
One of the arguments that surfaces again and again to defend the legitimacy of actions taken by Charest’s government is that it was democratically elected by the Quebec people. If citizens are unhappy, all they have to do is express themselves in the next election. Opposing the government through demonstrations is to oppose the democratic will.
However, a government’s legitimacy can hardly be based on the sole fact of having been elected. If a government betrays all of its electoral promises and adopts laws and measures that were never part of its electoral platform, in other words, if it has carte blanche to do whatever it wants, how can anyone maintain, with a straight face, that such a government represents anything other than itself? Or that it really represents any segment of the population whatsoever?
Reducing and limiting democracy to the electoral vote, without any additional obligations on the government to respect commitments or meet popular demands is ultimately to settle for a façade of democracy and to give free reign to liars and cheaters.
Masquerade of democracy
Some were surprised by the low voter turnout in the last provincial elections, the lowest in the history of Quebec. Citizens are cynical and indifferent. Today it is commonplace (which doesn’t mean that it’s false) to say that politicians are liars, hypocrites and traitors, so there’s no point in voting.
This attitude is not surprising. Even if we agree that not all politicians are hypocrites, they are all, nonetheless, in a position to be. During elections, political parties never clearly spell out to citizens what they are committing to, as in a contract. Instead, they make “promises,” ask us to place “confidence” in them and, generally, whoever puts on the best show wins. If the elected government then betrays its promises and makes decisions that go against public interest, well, too bad! We’ll wait another four years and try again…
Joining this masquerade are a number of prominent Quebec media organizations, whose complicity has become more than obvious in their response to a real democratic phenomenon—the student associations. Refusing to acknowledge student spokespersons in their role as democratic representatives without decision-making powers, many journalists stubbornly insist on referring to them as leaders, as if they were actually in charge of the student movement.
Not understanding, or pretending to not understand why the student representatives consult their associations before taking a position, many journalists of questionable ethics criticize them for it. Then they accuse them of betraying their signature when the associations vote against government proposals that the spokesperson has agreed to submit to a vote. Either these journalists are completely ignorant of how the student associations function, or they are rampant hypocrites.
The ultimate sham of Quebec’s media and political elites is to present the student strike and the popular demonstrations as forms of opposition to democracy, as represented by the elected government. But if democracy is to be found anywhere, it’s clearly on the side of the demonstrators, the people expressing themselves, and not on the side of this representative “democracy” that represents nothing other than the Liberal Party itself.
Limiting citizen participation to voting once every four years isn’t good enough. When a government goes too far in its arrogance and betrayal, it has to be stopped and challenged. Otherwise, a counterfeit democracy will continue to rule Quebec.