Reform of Democratic Institutions: ten years later, where are we now?

Simon St-Onge, special collaboration

In 2002, the Steering Committee on the reform of democratic institutions across Quebec launched an unprecedented citizen consultation. Its mandate: to collect the views of citizens about their political system and make recommendations to overcome the significant “democratic deficit” then felt in Quebec. Ten years later, the rupture between the political class and the citizens disillusioned seems consumed … but still no reform. Why ?

“The will for change expressed 10 years ago is even stronger today,” says Emmanuelle Hébert immediately. In 2002, as a political science student, she was chosen to be on the steering committee of the Estates General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions. Since then, the co-founder of the Democracy Movement and Quebec citizenship continues to push for a more representative democracy. “The steering committee’s recommendations are more relevant, more necessary than ever!”

Background: between June 2002 and February 2003, the Steering Committee on the Reform of Democratic Institutions organized 27 public meetings in 16 regions, meets more than 2000 citizens, received 2500 questionnaires and 237 body memories. This approach is concluded in February 2003, with the general on the Reform of Democratic Institutions: 825 delegates then meet in Quebec City to discuss ways to adopt to reform the Quebec political system and give citizens their rightful place.

“The system is imperfect, but Quebec is a haven of peace. Quebec democracy is, despite everything, a great democracy. “Christian Dufour

In this regard, the revision of the voting system is then considered to be the most urgent and most significant reform. Delegates speak out overwhelmingly in favor of a new voting system that would include the election of a number of MPs proportional: 90% of them approve this proposal. The idea of ​​adopting a presidential system in the US is, in turn, rejected 53%.

Among the other issues discussed, the elections on fixed dates won the support of 82% of participants; in the same vein, 81% of them want to establish the right of popular initiative, a process that allows a certain number of citizens to hold government to hold a referendum on major issues.

Three-quarters of the delegates will also show in favor of incentives facilitating access to women in politics, and 65% support similar measures in favor of cultural communities. The right to vote at 16 is also set aside 58% of votes.

“If there was a reform to do this would be it”

The Steering Committee takes note of these results and presents 14 key recommendations in its report: revision of the electoral system is needed in the first place. The Committee proposes a regional voting system of proportional representation, in which the elector has one vote “shandy” enabling it to rank candidates registered for its region. Then assigned to the parties a number of seats corresponding to their share of votes.

Political scientist Christian Dufour, a researcher at ENAP and columnist at the Journal de Montreal, was fiercely opposed to the time of this reform proposal. He has not changed his mind. According to him, a mixed electoral system would end the fundamental political change and weaken the power of the francophone majority in Quebec. “I was afraid that the proportional – by splitting the opposition and giving undue weight to English counties – promotes the Liberals and make permanent party of government,” he says today. “We must also understand that there is a failure in the Quebec canada and I do not want Quebec to lose more power against Ottawa. the current system, there is a real power. ”

Emmanuelle Hébert takes issue before this last argument: “The argument is that a coalition government of Quebec does not have to face Ottawa bargaining strength does not hold water. On the contrary!Instead of a government which represents only 42% of the electorate as the current Charest government, a coalition government – formed in the context of a proportional system – could represent 75% of the population that, This is an Ottawa face strong argument. ”

For Emmanuelle Hébert, the parliamentary system is no longer in phase with the current electorate. “Our voting system, which dates from the XIX th century, was built for bipartisanship, by and for male owners, the” Lords “… Since then, there has been an explosion of identity. The world and politics have become much more complex. ”

Christian Dufour remains loyal to the British system, which according to him both combines the benefits of democracy and those of a strong government: “The system is imperfect, but Quebec is a haven of peace. It’s been over 200 years since the National Assembly exists. Quebec democracy is, despite everything, a great democracy. ”

“A reform that could be instituted immediately is holding elections on a fixed date. Several provinces already do. Here, the prime minister is like the Sun King: He decides everything! We must bring power to the Blue Room. “Emmanuelle Hébert

This long parliamentary tradition is also, according to Christian Dufour, one of the reasons for resistance to change: “The force of inertia is greater. we have very old habits and ways of doing things, it will be very difficult to change. ”

Emmanuelle Hébert believes for his part that the resistance of the political class facing the reforms is due to less noble reasons that attachment to tradition: “Politicians are resistant because they are both judge and party: c ‘ Certainly with a reform of the voting system, there are seats that fall. parties should also rethink all their electoral strategies. They do not endorse the reform due to electoral calculations. ”

Common ground ?

Today, as in 2002, it is clear that the reform does not unanimous. Two of the most strongly supported during the Estates General proposals seem however rally all camps holding elections on a fixed date and the right to popular initiative.

“A reform that could be instituted immediately is the fixed election date Emmanuelle Hébert advance. Several provinces already do. Here, the prime minister is like the Sun King: He decides everything! We must bring power to the Blue Room. ”

Christian Dufour admits that the current parliamentary system gives “too much power to the prime minister and parties. Party discipline is too large. It would give more power to MPs maneuver. ”

And the prospect of giving more operating power directly to citizens, granting them the right to popular initiative referendum? “It’s a nice idea, I am not against, but it should be strictly supervised. We should not, for example, use the electronic voting. It’s too easy! One is in the “feeling” in the snapshot. The solemnity of the vote must be preserved. ”

Emmanuelle Hébert abounds in the same direction: “There should be regulations in place to prevent abuse, such as California, where lobbies were hand-low on process, or so as in Switzerland, where we vote in two days. The referendum law already exists: one can simply apply it to other issues. ”

The impact, 10 years later …

Nine years after the Steering Committee of the report of the deposit on the reform of democratic institutions, we see that none of its 14 recommendations have yet been realized. The fate of the States General would it be yet another reason to despair even in the state of our policy?

“We can not judge the impact of the States General by limiting the results of the report, said Emmanuelle Hébert. I think there was a real decision-citizen awareness, there are people who met the General, who are allies and who continued to mobilize. The Citizenship and Democracy Movement of Quebec, the Institut du Nouveau Monde, the Collective Feminism and democracy, have all benefited from the momentum of the States General. ”

Emmanuelle Hébert remains convinced that the States General were not in vain: “Recent studies have shown that it takes an average of 10 years for a relationship begins to have an impact. “The real echo of the States General may be heard among themselves chorus of politicians who want to” do politics differently “. For what that “change policy”, if not first rethink and reform the institutions that embody it?