On Sunday November 3, Montrealers elected their new mayor, Denis Coderre. Voter turnout this year was at 42 per cent, up from 38 per cent in the last election, but still indicative of a basic apathy among citizens. Why cast a vote for a candidate who might be brought up on charges of fraud within a few months?
This disillusionment with the electoral process, especially at the municipal level, is nothing new. Just in the past year, there have been four different mayors: Gérald Tremblay resigned following allegations of corruption and was replaced by interim mayor Michael Applebaum, who resigned when he was arrested for fraud and corruption, and Laurent Blanchard had been serving as interim mayor until Coderre’s win. And all this as the Charbonneau Commission hearings – an investigation into provincial corruption – continue. Little wonder Montrealers feel like nothing changes around here, as a rotation of token leaders engenders little change. Candidates often come off as opportunists, using empty rhetoric backed with little concrete policy to capitalize on identity politics and popular opinion to gain votes. Despite all the talk of change, there’s little action with regard to systemic issues.
A number of refreshing candidates have recently become involved in the otherwise stale national political scene. Charmaine Borg, Matthew Dubé, Mylène Freeman, and Laurin Liu – all young McGill students or graduates – were elected as Members of Parliament for the New Democratic Party in 2011, and are all new to the political stage, bringing a different perspective to Parliament. While their election evidences the possibility for change, there are still fundamental problems with the electoral system. The elections fail to address the concerns of anti-establishmentarian thinking proliferating in the city, exemplified by those who aren’t satisfied by the options in the official system, and take their grievances to the streets.
Citizen participation in politics does not have to be limited to voting. While the power afforded to the public by official political channels may be inadequate, there are other ways to exert influence, whether it be through demonstrations, strikes, economic disruption, petitions, or even simple consciousness-raising discussion. A prime example of non-electoral political action is the recent, widespread student protests against tuition hikes, and their influence on politics. The Parti Québécois took advantage of the Maple Spring movement to take power from the Parti libéral du Québec, but then enacted a budget that followed in the previous government’s footsteps toward privatized education. Although the fight is not over, the massive mobilization succeeded in making student fees a central electoral issue.
It’s easy to lose faith in the democratic system when the people feel like they lack representation, but it’s no reason to give up on creating change. The endemic corruption in our city should not rule out all political participation. Casting a ballot is only a small part of our political system, and it’s far from the most powerful. Political participation is an everyday thing, and we must not rely solely on representational politics to effect change.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board