One third of Quebec’s students are on strike, demanding a tuition freeze. Or free tuition. Or less debt. Or civil rights. Or the elimination of capitalism. Or no more people enjoying themselves at the Canadian Grand Prix. No, actually, now they’re all nude and it’s about sexualization of women at the Grand Prix. Whatever it is they want, they’re going to hold the streets hostage until they get it, all the time yelling that farce of a slogan: “This is what democracy looks like.”
Maybe we should actually have a conversation about what democracy really looks like before we use slogans that demonize opponents as anti-democratic by definition. Ignoring the largely semantic truth that Canada is a constitutional monarchy and not truly a democracy, we are in all practical respects a representative democracy. Rather than submit to mob rule or the horrific, uninformed whims of a direct democracy, we elect representatives to various governing bodies.
And no, Occupy’s little experiments with direct democracy don’t validate that system. What may work for a relatively small, self-selected group of idealists with generally compatible political views will not scale up. No amount of hand twinkles can deal with the diversity of political beliefs present in the real world and the number of people holding them.
Which is why we elect people to do the governing for us. They get a few years in power to enact those things that they promised, and are trusted to make the right decisions when new issues arise. Should they fail, the people can oust them come election time. The running of the country is protected from the endless consultation and bickering that a direct democracy would require, while ensuring that nobody will be stuck with autocratic or unpopular rule that would necessitate bloody revolution. Because for all the rhetoric and Che Guevara shirts, revolution is not sexy.
This system isn’t perfect for the same reason no government will ever be perfect: too many people have too many different opinions about how things should be run. But the answer isn’t to take to the streets and whine about every little thing that bothers you — especially when your whining begins to actually interfere with people’s freedom to do what they want, as is happening with the Grand Prix and will likely happen with other festivals this summer in Quebec.
Many of those in attendance are rich tourists that could generally be categorized and demonized as “the elite.” But many are hard-working lower and middle class fans who saved all year to enjoy themselves. Protesting this event, or even demanding to be able to use it as a platform as CLASSE would like, is like walking into a crowded movie theatre and giving a speech on how hard students have it. Just because you think your cause is the most important thing in the world doesn’t mean you get to hijack others’ time.
All the pots and pans in the world won’t legitimize a minority declaring its interests more important than the interests of those who it demands pay for them. And to its credit, the Charest government is not giving in to the demands of a mob. This is a government instilled with the confidence of the people of Quebec, and for better or worse, they have full authority to make the decision on tuition rates. If the protesters truly are boasting such numbers that “this is what democracy looks like,” they will have no problem electing a new government with representatives pledging lower or frozen tuition.
As for Bill 78, if it’s unconstitutional, the courts will strike those parts of it down. That’s one of the reason why we have courts, as a check on the power of the legislators. But that bad move by the Charest government, while deserving of criticism, should not distract from the hollowness of the general protests.
Accepting that you’re not always entitled to change right now may not be as exciting as making noise, disrupting traffic, yelling “scab!” throwing things at police, dismissing all dissent aimed at your dissent as a “media conspiracy” or walking around Montreal nude, but often what’s exciting isn’t what’s fair to everyone. If a decision made by the Charest government is rejected by the Quebec people as a whole, and not just those students and sympathizers who show up on the streets, we’ll find out. But we can’t simply let whoever shows up with a pot make the decisions — every person who did not join the protest gets an equal say too.
If Charest isn’t taking tuition, debt, civil rights, the evils of capitalism or the Grand Prix and its sexualization of women seriously enough for you, he can be removed in the next election. Because enough people united around a set of issues to remove from power those who they deem unworthy of it by the peaceful means of casting a ballot in a system where any voter may run for office with clear rules on term lengths and with judicial power separated from legislative? Well, it won’t fit on a sign, but it beats throwing around the word “democracy” with no actual regard for what those who disagree with you think. The protesters aren’t using physical force, but when disruption reaches certain thresholds, it is effective force — and that is not what democracy looks like.
The remnants of chivalry still linger today, especially in the dating world.