Elections, a theatre of democracy (Huffington Post)

By: Étienne Boudou-Laforce, Ianik Marcil, Steve E. Fortin, Bianca Longpré; signatories at bottom of post
Originally published on: October 15 2015
Original French text here: http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/etienne-boudou-laforce/election-theatre-democratie_b_8307102.html

With its cardboard stage set, contrived acting and empty issues, federal elections can resemble an interminable production of summer theatre. Thankfully, at the end of the day, the theatricality makes way for handsome and unshakeable democracy. Elections are in fact the people’s calling to vote and choose their own destiny. Is it not a deeply noble thing to see democracy enacted?

Theoretically, the answer is yes, indeed. But maybe you should check with Greece. They elected an anti-austerity party and won a referendum against austerity, and yet their creditors answered back with a categorical “no” and even greater austerity in order to possibly punish them for even thinking they could get away with a referendum. As Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund-Adorno once said, “if voting could change the system, it would be illegal”.  Does this mean that our “less bad system” would be a simulacrum of democracy that is more pernicious than others because it suggests real political consequence? Is Étienne Chouard correct in stating that “the fact of having to designate our masters is a fraudulent imposition. It yields plutocratic results, with the rich leading for the past 200 years”?

If voting is indeed an admirable gesture of citizenship, with all the power and money at play, not to mention the bustling lobbyists, the dubious methodology of polls, the fourth estate jumping in the fray, then all bets are off where democracy is concerned. Are we that naive or are we consciously consenting? “Adults don’t believe in Santa Claus. They vote”, Pierre Desproges joked, while Michel Chartrand insisted that only morons believe they live in a democratic country.

In Quebec, we’re sometimes under the impression that voting on La Voix has a greater impact. There, at least, we have control over something. Are Star Académie and Occupation Double so successful because we finally believe that our vote does something, no matter how futile the stakes?

Likewise, given our British system, even a majority government can, once elected, and with few exceptions, do as it wishes without consulting the people.

Let’s consider the example of the Energy East pipeline. Regardless of the fact that the majority of Quebecers are opposed, there is every indication that oil companies hold the big end of the stick and will have their way. There are dozens of articles, news reports and investigations about how the political class literally allows oil execs and bankers to write certain laws, ones that devastate the environment, civil rights, the economy, public services and the middle class. Jack Abramoff, a well-known American lobbyist, bragged and chuckled while marvelling at the jaw-dropping ease with which politicians were “bought” to write these laws. A few show tickets later and voila!, it’s a done deal, he claimed. Swapping show tickets for influence, doesn’t that sound like the Charbonneau commission?

It’s not all that different in Canada. To achieve their ends, the major oil companies pull the current government’s strings by dictating to them what to include in their bills. In January 2013, Greenpeace reported that the heads of four of Canada’s major oil and gas lobby groups wrote to Joe Oliver and Environment Minister Peter Kent, asking them to amend laws in order to reassess the existing environmental guidelines. Several months later, “mammoth” bill C-38 made history, gutting numerous social, economic and environmental laws. All that to pander to the oil and gas lobby, with which, by the way, Stephen Harper met close to 3000 times between 2008 and 2012.

Regardless of whether or not Mr. Harper is to vacate his role as Prime Minister, let us not forget that Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff and right-hand man is none other than oil lobbyist Cyrus Reporter. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. It’s often said that politics are complex, but that’s a myth. Politics are relatively simple and in practice, it consists of figuring out who pays whom to make whichever decision.

At the same time, follow the money is an adage of any journalist. While there’s a multitude of articles being written about the burqa or the niqab, few tackle lobbyists and their harmful impact on our society and institutions. It’s relatively the same in France, where the media speaks only very little of the most important issues, stirring outrage in Jean-Luc Mélenchon [a French politician] in light of the 2900 jobs cut by Air France.

Beyond the backroom games and power struggles, the fact remains that a better democracy, by and for the people, is possible. When will we have a democracy where it will be possible to organize real referendums by popular initiative and to choose our politicians by draw? When will we have a democracy where “we ourselves will vote in laws, one man one say, to vote for laws and not to designate our masters,” as Étienne Chouard points out?

The election myth is very powerful. It has even become untouchable—a sacred cow—in our western societies. Yet it is necessary to question and reinvent elections, and democracy, in order to end the political and social impotence plaguing citizens.

What good is voting when it only leads to obeying our leaders’ orders?

We’ve moved beyond that now.

This text was co-signed by: Étienne Boudou-Laforce, Paco Lebel, Normand Baillargeon, Guillaume Wagner, Dan Bigras, Jean-François Mercier, Ianik Marcil, Patrick R. Bourgeois, Marc-André Cyr, Frédéric Dubé, Sébastien Trudel, Ken Pereira, Sarah Labarre, Catherine Dorion, Véronique Grenier, Étienne Savignac, Jonathan Durand Folco, Vladimir De Thézier, Brice Dansereau-Olivier, Marie-Laurence Rancourt, Steve E. Fortin, Matthieu Bonnier, Roxanne Guérin, Philippe Dujardin, David Rankin, Stéphane E. Roy, Pascal Allard, Renart Léveillé, Bianca Longpré, Evelyne Abitbol, Dominic Palladini, Karim Akouche, Virginie Chaloux, Ludvic Moquin-Beaudry, Jean-François Lessard, Jérôme Peer-Brie, Tanya St-Jean, Mélodie Nelson, Benoit St-Hilaire, Jean Bottari, Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, Laura Kneale, Marilyn Bastien, Nabila Ben Youssef, Michel Seymour, François Avard, Christian Bégin, Audrey Benoit, Mathieu Charlebois, Nathaly Dufour, Émile Proulx-Cloutier, Léa Clermont-Dion, Jean-François Fortin, Jules Falardeau, Kim Lizotte, Pierre Huet, Mohamed Lotfi, Mike Ward, Kéven Breton, Nicolle J. Charbonneau, Léandre Plouffe, Matthieu Bonin, Mathieu Breton, Yanick Barrette, Helen Faradji, Christian Rochon, Klô Pelgag and Laurent Paquin.


Translated from the original French by Language and Dissent, a collectively-run blog supporting the anti-austerity struggle in Quebec. These are amateur translations written by volunteers; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may have their flaws. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us via email (languageanddissent [at] gmail [dot] com). Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.

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