Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Peace, Order, and Corrupt Government

Yesterday saw the convergence of two events: the 100th day of the student strike marked by a demonstration of more than 150,000 people in the streets of Montreal and the opening of public inquiry into the corruption of the construction industry and its links to the financing of political parties.

Apparently, the adoption of Bill 78 as an emergency measure to calm the masses and bring order to the province has little or no effect.  On the contrary, its repressive measures, which will be surely challenged in the courts, only seemed to galvanize the protests.

Unfortunately, in the flurry of media response to the students strike most of the attention is being paid to the particulars of the dispute: whether the rise in tuition fees is justifiable and if the restrictive measures concerning the right to demonstrate are reasonable.

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 A current theme that finds its way into many of the texts put forward by the pundits is that the students are out of line because they are refusing to abide by the decisions of a "democratically" elected government.

If I only had a dollar for every time a politician or a journalist misappropriates the word "democracy" to describe our system of governance.  Holding popular elections in no way guarantees that the ensuing government is indeed democratic.  In other words, popular elections are necessary but not sufficient.

In Quebec there are two considerations to keep in mind.  First, looking at the distortions that electoral system creates, the current Charest government only garnered the support of approximately 25% of the electorate.  Second, as we will soon find out, the financing of the major political parties is tainted by the systemic misappropriation of public funds dedicated for public infrastructure projects that find their way into the coffers of the political parties.

As a result, what is really at issue is the moral legitimacy of the Charest government. 

Democracy entails the two fold dynamic of ruling and being ruled.  As it stands now, Premier Charest wants to rule unilaterally without allowing his citizens meaningful participation in the process of governing other than going to the polls.

Given the perception of the widespread corruption of the political process in Quebec, especially in Montreal, the refusal of being ruled by the decision of a corrupt government is a rejection of the social contract of peace, order and good government.

Indeed, it is the absence of good government that brings about the repeated breach of social peace and order.  A call to respect the rule of law does little within this context since those who pass the laws are no longer perceived to merit the obedience of the public.  As could be expected and is now certainly the case in Quebec, the call for civil disobedience as a means to challenge the legitimacy of the present government grows louder every day that the strike continues.

What remains to be seen is whether a general election will remedy the situation.  If the millennial generation is in the process of rejecting the political system now in place, it may take more than a simple change of government to address the problem.

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