Monday, November 07, 2005

Civic duties

Today, I reluctantly shed my blue flannel pyjamas to vote in Montreal’s municipal election. I met James en route, and, in true grad student fashion, we arrived at the polling station with not more than five minutes to spare. (Aside to James: Have we become pathologically incapable of doing anything in a punctual manner?)

Afterwards, we had dinner at Le Jardin du Cari, and discussed our likely futile votes over what is indisputably the best lentil soup in the city. James remarked that he had never in his life voted for a successful political candidate; I noted that I had, exactly once. Then I told the story.

On September 6, 1990, just days after my nineteenth birthday, I helped to elect the New Democratic Party to political office in Ontario. It was a complete shock, as the NDP had never before won an election in the province, and no one in their right mind expected them to win that one, much less with a solid majority.

Watching the results come in with the radicals at Kathedral B, I felt like I was in a dream. I would soon be governed by card-carrying socialists, in a province that had been ruled by Conservatives for 42 of the preceding 47 years. It was like winning the lottery, only the money would be equitably distributed to all Ontarians, irrespective of their race, class, or sexual orientation.

We all know what happened next. Ontario suffered its worst economic decline since the Great Depression, and, instead of cutting social programs, Premier Bob Rae implemented the Social Contract, which required most government employees to take ten days off without pay each year. Public sector unions went completely apeshit and withdrew their political support for the NDP, both federally and provincially. Sadly, the party has never been the same since.

I happened to be working for Ontario’s public broadcaster at the time, and I remember well the fury that the “Rae Days” unleashed among my coworkers. Many, I am sure, voted for Mike Harris in the next election, who promptly slashed social programs and laid off thousands of government employees. Several hundred of my colleagues lost their jobs, and I wish I could ask them if they are still kicking themselves. If not, I would gladly do it for them.

In any case, I voted for Projet Montréal today, who are expected to receive approximately 4% of the total electoral vote. Then again, you just never know...


Nick said...

I too voted for P.M., for the simple reason that I couldn't distinguish between Candidate #1 and Candidate #2, both of whom had the fresh stench of money on their hands from various local contractors, who will ostensibly be the ones earning that $75 million in city beautification budget set aside by Mr. Tremblay. Plus ça change.

35% voter turnout is ridiculous for a province with such political bluster...there is something seriously wrong when unions can shut down the major streets twice a week for lively protests, but nobody votes.

James said...

A postscript/confession: As I explained, Vila, I voted conscientiously for Project Montreal except where it came to the "burrough mayor." Here, I voted spitefully against the evil Helen Fotopolous, "strategically" blobbing some ink beside the candidate I believed to have the best chance of unseating her, the Team Bourque one, obviously. The results, however, revealed my brilliant plan to be precisely the bourgeois hooey it sounds like: the Bourquean candidate received 24% of the vote while the Projectile candidate got 30%. (see It was not my day for games of strategy.


P.P.S. The massive investment in technology (a laptop for every table at the polling station and computerized ballot counters, for those of you who lay abed that day) for a municipal election in which, in some burroughs, councillors were elected with as few as 850 votes--this investmest that impressed us so very much paid off in a concrete manner: "A computer glitch delayed the vote count in Montreal," the Montreal Gazette reports (see

Vila H. said...

Nick--As usual, you are dead right on both counts. However, the former problem does tend to exacerbate the latter. Honestly, why should anyone bother to vote if the candidates on offer are virtually indistinguishable?

Still, I'm of the mind that one can always vote for a fringe candidate, or, if all else fails, spoil one's ballot. The ideal solution, of course, would be to have the option of marking "none of the above," who would surely win by a landslide.

Vila H. said...

James--And therein lies the problem with strategic voting. Worse, imagine if the Bourque candidate had actually won! When they immediately set about bulldozing our sidewalks in order to repave them with gold, or embarked upon some other ridiculous neighbourhood "beautification" project, you would bear a measure of personal responsibility.

Then again, as you yourself suggested, Projet Montréal would likely have imposed mandatory jogging and an all-hemp clothing policy if they had gotten in, so there you go. Something about a rock and hard place...?