Since the publication of my book Rogue in Power, I have called the attention of my readers to two main points. First, I wanted to underline the significance of a mass vote against the Conservatives, taking into account the particularities of each riding. Second, I invited the members of civil society to imagine today what kind of mobilization we will need after the elections. In essence, even if we imagine that Stephen Harper and his team lose the next elections, which I highly doubt, we will need to do a lot of work to rebuild the Canadian institutions and democratic practices needed for the maintenance of the rule of law. If, as I fear, the Conservatives win, whether as a majority or a minority, then we will need to be in a position to resist their aggressive policies as of the first days following the election. If we are not prepared to face them, they will be ready to face us in any event, and we will come to recognize that we haven’t seen anything yet.
In the short and long terms, democracy in Canada will be under attack on two levels. It is called into question by the systematic dismantling of its institutions by the Harper Conservatives. However, democracy is also undermined from the inside by a cult of indifference. The self-proclaimed analyses of certain media are the cause of many problems. One such problem is clearly seen in the large number of journalists commenting on political news as though this were merely sporting events or artistic performances. How often do we hear commentators discussing the Conservatives’ contempt for Parliament, their disregard for social justice and democracy, and other related issues? These questions, they say, do not reach the average voter. But it is very easy to pretend to know what citizens think when speaking on their behalf. The “real world,” pseudo-political analysts tell us, wants to hear about the economy and nothing else. Strange reasoning, because how can we possibly discuss the economy if the Parliament is not functioning and if it hides the real cost of F-35 fighter jets, or if the distribution of funds to development aid programs rests on the arbitrary will of a few people? It is obvious that the economy is a crucial political question. However, the economy means nothing if it is considered for its own sake, abstractly and without points of reference located in our very way of conceiving the nature of a just and democratic society.
Another problem with the current election is that we seem to have already forgotten the reasons why we are in an election in the first place. Everything is unfolding as though the only important thing worth discussing is the manner in which Ignatieff flirts with electors or whether Harper was or was not ready to form a coalition in 2004. I am not saying that these points are unimportant, but they seem to have priority in the media and elsewhere in civil society, while the fundamental questions are not discussed because of a presumed lack of interest on the part of the electorate. In predicting indifference, do we not cultivate it, when things could, after all, be otherwise?
Nobody gets the idea to get on stage if the play they are watching is not good or if the sports team is not making an effort to win. But the political arena is not a theatre in which the actors are strictly separated from the audience. We can and must express what we want and need. By telling citizens that politics is merely a game, and that we have no chance of winning anything, we promote exactly what we ought to be revisiting with all our strength: the passivity of the electorate.
Is it possible to respond to all these problems? Is the task too demanding? No, because we are so numerous. No, because we are very strong, well organized and capable of tremendous mobilization. Civil society exists, we can see the proof everywhere; it would take very little to see deployed the largest opposition ever seen in this country against a government that can, and should, no longer act on our behalf. This is true here and now, before the elections, and it must remain true after the elections. Together, we can avoid the worst situation if only we think about the long term.
There are dozens of organizations that fight constantly to protect us. We must invest in them. In simply considering the case of Québec, we cannot ignore the crucial role of the unions, the CSN, FTQ, CSQ, as well as other important actors in civil society — I am thinking particularly of Alternatives, the Ligue des Droits et Libertés, the main student organizations, the FRAPRU activists, the Conseil Québécois des Gais et Lesbiennes, The Quebec Federation of Women; in short, all those organizations essential to the proper functioning of what Rousseau called “a well-ordered society”. Elsewhere in Canada, there is the Canadian Health Coalition, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, the International Women’s Rights Project, the Raging Grannies, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International, PSAC, Oxfam Canada, CWP Advocacy Network, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, Democracy Watch, and many, many others. The fight is possible: we are not alone!
The great recklessness of Stephen Harper, which is in line with his way of thinking about his relationship to power, ultimately undermines the very bases of his moral authority. The political actions sought by his party and also his infamous recourse to prorogations, have had the effect of diluting confidence between the voters and their government. In light of this, he can no longer stake his authority on anything like a genuine democratic legitimacy, and must rely instead on demonstrations of power or fiat. Moreover, no longer evincing moral legitimacy, he forces his projects through by sowing the seeds of disorder in the opposition and fuelling discord therein. Our own power, by contrast, stems from the legitimacy of the causes for which we are ready to fight and to unify our forces.
I sincerely hope that in the days to come there will be huge demonstrations in this country, that tens of thousands of people will show up in each of the big cities, from Montreal, to Québec, to Toronto, and Ottawa, as well as in Winnipeg and Vancouver, to name but a few. We will also need many meetings outside the major urban centres to fight against a government that now lacks all credibility and whose projects run contrary to a just society. I also hope that these mobilizations will continue after the elections, in order that we not lose sight of the fact that we are not fighting against Harper and his acolytes as individuals, but precisely against what they represent. A philosopher’s dream? We will soon see…
Christian Nadeau is a professor of philosophy at the Université de Montréal.