On April 7, Quebecers will go to the polls for the second time in less than two years. The election, called by Premier Pauline Marois on March 5, is a bid by the Parti Québecois (PQ) to win a majority government in the Quebec National Assembly. The PQ currently holds power as a minority government, and many of its initiatives have been met with resistance from opposition parties.
As voters prepare to select their provincial leadership, they would do well to remember that representative democracy is frequently manipulated to appeal to a particular group for whom one issue may be of crucial importance. This is not true representation of the group’s interests, but a perversion through oversimplification and manipulation; and this is what the PQ has done since the last election period. Capitalizing on student strikes and corruption scandals, they won by a slim margin in 2012. Since then, the party has used its term to significantly cut funding for higher education and push an austerity program on the province, directly opposing its own pro-education platform and betraying the voters it swayed with that platform.
Representative democracies contain few mechanisms to hold elected officials accountable between elections. Voting is rendered an insignificant exercise, legitimizing the growing gulf between the people and the political class. The Parti nul du Québec takes note of this, and encourages voters to choose it to indicate a protest vote, an option otherwise unavailable in Quebec elections. This provides a potential avenue for disagreement not only with politicians, but with the very system that empowers them. There are other ways of resisting the flawed electoral setup; direct action is one major and often successful way, as exemplified by protests and student movements throughout the years.
Nonetheless, the upcoming elections will return winning candidates. If Marois succeeds in guiding her party to a majority, it’s likely that Quebec will be saddled with a Charter of Values that discriminates against cultural minorities and suppresses freedom of religion. Due to fears of this consequence, this round of elections threatens to again be largely reduced to a single issue. Not only does agreement on a single issue not indicate a party’s investment in their best interests, but parties frequently renege on their own election promises. When operating within this flawed system, voters must be aware of the ways in which issues can be manipulated at election time.
Whatever the outcome in April, government policy will continue to reflect the flaws of our democratic system and cause harm. These policies can, and should, be resisted. Voicing opposition through voting is frequently unsuccessful, and can lead to unintended consequences, as was the case in the 2012 provincial elections. It is then crucial that political involvement not end at the ballot box. Whoever wins, whatever initiatives pass, do not wait for the next round of elections; mobilize in whatever ways are available and feasible. Direct action is the only way to prevent the co-option of your interests.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board