Commentary  Represented or co-opted?

The façade of inclusiveness in electoral politics

As Pauline Marois returned to the stage to finish her speech Tuesday night, after her victory party had been disrupted by what would turn out to be an assassination attempt, she explained her calm and poise by saying, “This is an example of a woman head of state.” Indeed, the leader of the newly-elected Parti Québécois (PQ) government will be the first female Premier of Quebec, a fact her supporters would say gives progressive cred to their party.

That image of progressivism has been bolstered by Marois’ promise, early Wednesday morning, to cancel the tuition hike put forward by the previous government and overturn the repressive and contentious Law 12 (more commonly known as Bill 78). The PQ had positioned itself as the only party able to realistically meet these demands, a promise made symbolically visible by the presence of former student spokesperson Léo Bureau-Blouin as a candidate.

A similar logic is at work in some voters’ desire to see Québec solidaire leader Amir Khadir remain in his seat because he is currently one of the only people of colour in the national legislature. It is a tenet of electoral politics – and particularly of progressive parties – that we are best represented by people who resemble us. Political pundits spend huge amounts of time speculating on the women’s vote, the anglophone vote, et cetera, while speechwriters spend equally long trying to make their candidates “relatable.”

In 2008, Walter Benn Michaels wrote in the New Left Review that the apparent victories of Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama over sexism and racism did not represent any true commitment to overcoming inequality. Instead, he argued that neoliberal capitalism upholds inequality as much as ever, as it merely discards ideologies such as racism and sexism as outdated and inefficient sorting devices.

Here in Quebec, the government-elect is nowhere near giving up on these “sorting devices”: their policies on language, religion, and resource exploitation – to name only a few – increase the burden on the shoulders of immigrants and indigenous people. But even where they have made steps toward diversity, a shared identity does not necessarily mean shared interests. And what of the intersections in our identities? A win for greater gender parity in a parliament still dominated by white Quebecois settlers is not a win for indigenous women or undocumented immigrant women or trans*, genderqueer, and two-spirit people whose gender oppression goes beyond the male-female binary.

Representative democracy relies on a power differential between governing and governed – one which is only exacerbated as those in power vote in laws to keep themselves in power. Party politics in particular means a permanently limited palette of choices in which those closest to the interests of the marginalized have no incentive to make concessions, since the vulnerable can always be counted on to vote for the least terrible option. In fact, the only people who can adequately represent us are ourselves.

In the face of a government more beholden to corporate interests than its populace, departmental general assemblies, union general assemblies, and neighbourhood popular assemblies present opportunities to make decisions and actions that truly reflect the desires of a majority.

Finally, the streets remain the forum to which people turn when they are not heard in the houses of Parliament. With the taste of collective power that people in Québec have had over the past several months, they may be reluctant to hand it back to a few elected representatives. If the incoming government thinks they’re in for a quiet term, they have a shock coming to them.

Mona Luxion has voted in elections in three countries and is still unrepresented in all of them. They can be reached at m.luxion@gmail.com.

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