Amendments Should Give Meaning to Right of People to Elect and Be Elected

– Report on discussions held by the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec –

Quebec's current Election Act celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. A lot has happened since 1989, the time of its adoption. The electoral process established 35 years ago already had serious problems, and has undergone several reforms since then. A review of the Act and its reforms reveals that its fundamental flaw remains. In its current state, the only role it confers on the citizens of Quebec is to vote every four years for candidates chosen by the parties that hold power and privilege in the National Assembly. This pretty much sums up the situation. Even though elections are said to be the cornerstone of democracy, far from empowering the people, party financing reforms have resulted in increased state control over political parties and the marginalization of people's participation. These are alarming signs of autocracy, not democracy.

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec (PMLQ) is intervening in the consultation of the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec (DGEQ) based on the consideration that it is essential that sovereign decision-making power be vested in the Quebec people. So long as the Election Act is designed to elect party governments, in other words, governments formed by the political party that obtains the majority of seats in the National Assembly, the people will remain excluded.

Since 1989, 10 general elections and 57 by-elections have taken place in Quebec based on this electoral law. The first major changes to the law followed the revelations of the Gomery Commission on the sponsorship scandal which implicated the Liberal Party in accepting bags of money under the table to circumvent the election financing regime. That was in 2004. Although changes to the Act have served to tighten the screws on political parties to play by the rules, powerful interests invent all sorts of ways to strengthen their privileged positions.

Between 2009 and 2010, under the pretext of restoring voter confidence in the electoral process and democratic institutions -- rightly considered corrupt due to successive scandals -- three bills were presented to the National Assembly on the Election Act. However, as the parties failed to come to an agreement, none of the bills were adopted.

The Charbonneau Commission, a commission of inquiry created in 2011 into the awarding and management of public contracts in the construction industry, revealed not only the existence of corruption and collusion schemes amongst those in control of the sector, but also how the major parties falsified political contributions by having employees make contributions, seemingly within the limits permitted by law. Although no one was prosecuted, the government declared that "voter confidence had been shaken."

Then in 2012, Bill 2, An Act to amend the Election Act in order to reduce the elector contribution limit, lower the ceiling on election expenses and increase public financing of Québec political parties was passed. It reduced the limit on contributions citizens could make to a political party, reduced the ceiling on electoral expenses and increased the state's public financing of political parties in Quebec. Through these changes emerging parties lost out. They had been able to raise more funds from their sympathizers when the contribution limit was $1,000 than when it was lowered to $100, despite the state's contribution in the form of matching revenues of $2.50 for each dollar contributed. As for the parties with seats in the National Assembly, 80 per cent of their election expenses would be covered through state funding.

The PMLQ has always opposed this type of public financing of political parties, which is then accompanied by the requirement to be accountable to the state, not the party's members. Once it is the state that regulates a political party, it becomes an appendage of the state, not an instrument of its members. A political party should be supported financially by its members, who should also decide on its policies and the direction it envisions for society. Instead, the parties with seats in the National Assembly find themselves in a situation where they require more and more state funding to pay marketing firms to design their campaigns and determine the issues by claiming that this is what electors want.

Calls to democratize the electoral law by providing the people with the means for their affirmation, not that of political parties -- which less than one per cent of the citizenry belong to -- have fallen on deaf ears. So have demands to end the state's violation of the privacy of members and supporters who make contributions to political parties. In 2016, challenges to Bill 101, An Act to give effect to the recommendations of the Charbonneau Commission on political financing, forced the National Assembly to drop the requirement to publish the contributor's address, as well as the requirement to provide the name of his or her employer, to be able to make a contribution.

The fact remains that all information relating to a citizen's party affiliation is publicly available and the DGEQ is legally permitted to interfere in matters that legitimately belong to a party and are not public. This includes accepting party contributions and memberships, without the party having any role in choosing which individuals it accepts into its ranks.

Popular discontent with the parties in power and institutions continues to grow. Amongst other things, this results in low voter turnout, with some 35 per cent of voters not casting a ballot. In 2023, only 29,590 electors out of 6,000,000, or 0.49 per cent, made a financial contribution to a political party, at a time very few citizens were members of a political party. With the changes that have taken place over the years, public financing now accounts for over 85 per cent of political party revenues. Meanwhile, the parties which form the government often obtain the majority of seats even if they do not obtain a plurality of votes cast.

Those who form governments are not seen as representing the aspirations of the people or as being committed to resolving the problems they face. Far from it, the Election Act allows people to come to power who are only concerned about the business interests of the most powerful, to the detriment of the well-being of the population and the natural environment. In recent months alone, hundreds of thousands of health and education workers have had to fight the current government, which has degraded their working conditions. Thousands are fighting to obtain decent social housing. Millions are demanding that the environment be protected. We are in a situation where Authority acts with complete impunity, while people's living conditions continue to deteriorate.

All of this discredits the democracy and democratic institutions, which is seen as autocratic, not democratic. The proposed reforms of the Election Act presented by the DGEQ (see Appendix 1) are oblivious to the reality and of how we got here. They do not ensure that citizens can participate in decision-making on matters affecting their lives and in the administration of public affairs, and that elections contribute to making this so. Instead, the proposals seem to be driven by the need to more ably administer the demands of the most powerful interest groups, such as their insatiable need to get their hands on evermore state funding to finance their marketing campaigns.

Some proposals appear to be prompted by the needs of the political police, who want measures which provide them with direct access over what political parties can and cannot do, to the point of controlling their membership in the name of protecting Quebeckers against foreign interference. If such measures are implemented, the right of Quebeckers to associate freely, make their own decisions without external interference, particularly from the state, and to freely express their opinions and conscience will be further compromised.

Other measures seek to further penalize citizens and their collectives, who are intent on expressing their own opinions during an election or telling politicians competing for positions of power what they want and what they think. Ironically, these citizens and their collectives are referred to as "third parties," as if they were mere auxiliaries forced to pay money and obey rules in order to speak and organize, even though such rules and payments legalize their marginalization.

Again, as long as proposals for the revision and modernization of the Election Act are not worked out by the people themselves and remain the preserve of the parties already present in the National Assembly which enjoy positions of power and privilege, the problems will persist. These parties are not inclined to give up their positions of power and privilege of their own accord. Measures not aimed at empowering the people only serve to exacerbate the credibility crisis in which parties and politicians are mired, as well as the legitimacy crisis of the democratic institutions and the electoral process itself.

In the opinion of the PMLQ, so long as the Chief Electoral Officer does not address this problem in his proposals, amendments of an administrative order will not suffice. In this case, many proposals seem dangerous because they turn citizens into potential criminals who must be penalized for breaking the law. Although we understand that it is not easy for the DGEQ to enforce the law, the PMLQ believes that proposals which further eliminate the participation of Quebeckers from the democratic process and which appear to be deliberately directed against the emerging parties without seats in the National Assembly are not the right way to proceed.

The process followed by Élections Québec in receiving briefs and hearing interventions within so short a time frame also poses a problem. Whether from the point of view of the means used to solicit opinions which, for the most part, are not made public, or of the deadlines given to receive comments from the public, the consultation process does not allow for information to be shared with Quebeckers, let alone encourage an in-depth examination of the Election Act and a discussion on the subject.

These are some of the issues the PMLQ heard from participants during the 20 or so roundtables it organized to inform people and listen to their opinions on the proposals made by the DGEQ for the reform of the Election Act. Roundtables were held in the Outaouais, Montreal, Quebec City, Centre-du-Québec, on the South Shore, in CEGEPs and universities and amongst workers. The PMLQ also organized three national virtual meetings and two roundtables with political parties without a seat in the National Assembly. Some were held in person, others virtually or a mixture of the two. These gave rise to other meetings and exchanges organized by participants in the roundtables.

In all cases, those present were shocked by the DGEQ's proposals. Some participants sent submissions with their opinions or completed questionnaires distributed via the DGEQ website. Some tried to track contributions on the site and found that very few are posted. According to the "Steps of the process" set out on the DGEQ website, in addition to the public consultation which ran from November 20, 2023 to March 30, 2024, there was also a consultation with political actors as well as with academics and specialists. The consultation with "political actors" seems only to have involved six of the 21 registered parties.

However, neither their opinions nor those of academics and specialists are subject to public discussion, never mind the opinions of Quebeckers themselves broadly speaking. Some people told us that they had asked the office of the DGEQ why these opinions were not submitted for public consultation and were told that only the DGEQ receives them and would summarize them in his report. College students also pointed out that the participation of the youth, one of the concerns raised in the DGEQ's document, will not be achieved unless measures are taken to mobilize them in the discussion on the Election Act and how the electoral and political process works. They wonder why the DGEQ does not carry out genuine consultation, for example by touring CEGEPs, communities and municipalities. They said that he must ensure that the information reaches places where young people congregate.

Persons whose mother tongue is not French also pointed out that they had difficulty fully grasping the proposals and arguments put forward during the consultation. They suggested that, in order to encourage greater citizen participation, explanations be made available in other languages.

In short, if the objective is to establish confidence in the electoral process, it will not be achieved by increasing state intervention in the affairs of political parties or by increasing public funding from the state to the political parties. This is because the people do not support the state covering the fees of marketing agencies which determine "the issues" in an election and carry out smear campaigns designed to win votes for one party against another. If nothing is done to allow the people to participate directly and speak as is their right to define the direction of the economy and policies in all areas of life, there is a serious danger of despotism. We are already seeing government ministers usurp more and more powers to take decisions that deeply affect people's lives, using methods which pivot from autocracy to persuasion on the basis of issuing threats, fear-mongering and holding fraudulent consultations.

Our Proposals

1) End state funding of political parties. The state should finance the process, not the parties. As a means of strengthening the democracy, public funds could be used to finance the process 100 per cent to facilitate the participation of all Quebeckers in the affairs of society. Among other things, each household could receive the program of the candidates running for election, provided by the DGEQ. The DGEQ could hold public meetings in neighbourhoods, workplaces, educational institutions and seniors' residences so that citizens and residents are informed and can make proposals on issues of concern to them.

The state currently pays out over $10 million to political parties each year in the form of allowances, not counting additional allowances which, during an election year such as in 2022, amount to over $6 million. This money could be used to assert the right of citizens to vote in an informed manner. This would give a completely new character to electoral campaigns, which today are increasingly run by public relations firms that use microtargeting and other practices, which result in atomizing public opinion and the body politic rather than engaging the electorate politically.

2) Guarantee the right to elect and be elected, which means Quebeckers require a process for candidate selection that is not dominated by the cartel parties, while the people are relegated to the status of "third parties."

The question of candidate selection is of such importance that, without it, elections are meaningless.

We say: no election without selection to address the problem that the cartel parties pre-select candidates and decide the "issues" of concern to the polity on the basis of marketing surveys designed to eliminate the role of the people altogether. The idea of participating in the selection of candidates is based on the principle that when people determine the program and set what they want their representatives to do and say, they must be able to select the person best able to represent that program and also decide upon what means they can use to hold them to account. He or she must be accountable. Without this, the idea that the democracy is representative enshrines concepts of representation and representativity that are not those of Quebeckers. As currently used, these are words that make no sense to Quebeckers. This is because not only are they counter-intuitive, they also have hidden meanings designed to cover up who they serve.

3) Establish an accountability mechanism for elected members by enshrining the right of recall. The right of recall between elections refers to the right of citizens to recall elected representatives who are deemed to have betrayed the mandate given to them by those who elect them.

4) Guarantee the right of Quebeckers to a say over the decisions taken by governments by submitting them to referenda where the people say yes or no to the proposed laws and even regulations imposed by ministries at their discretion.

These changes will make a difference in political life in Quebec, restore the integrity of the vote and undoubtedly increase the participation of all citizens, including the youth, in the electoral process as well as on voting day.

Today, as the anti-social offensive intensifies and the people are unable to hold governments responsible for the decisions they take, the need for democratic renewal is more pressing than ever. Providing this problem with a solution that empowers the people becomes ever more urgent as time goes by and the dangers facing the society increase. We must break with the idea enshrined in law that the role of the citizenry is only that of "voters" who cast a ballot every four years for candidates they do not select or know anything about, who they have no means of holding to account.

Once Quebeckers are able to participate in elaborating the government's agenda, they will no longer be at the mercy of priorities decided upon by the private interests of political parties and the media. The principle of accountability will be activated in a manner that encourages the members of society to participate in political discourse when they see this benefits the people and society itself. The question of who wields political power and where decision-making power resides will begin to be addressed in a manner that is seen to be democratic.

At this time, so many dangers threaten the security of the society and country -- from the climate crisis to an economy that pays the rich and privatizes social programs and public services, to war preparations that Canada and Quebec are embroiled in and increasing levels of generalized anxiety over unpredictable outcomes. It is crucial to understand that our security lies in defending the rights of all, not depriving the members of society of a say over all the decisions taken in their name.

The PMLQ's program is to encourage workers, women and youth to speak in their own name, defend their present and their future, and adopt an electoral process and an Election Act that is a step forward in this direction.

Various reasons are often given for not making the extra effort to engage the electorate in the debate, to broaden the discussion beyond the minimum required to call this an official consultation. The PMLQ believes that it is by doing this that we will see how to go further. Already the discussions we've had in the roundtables we've held, even if still on a relatively limited basis, have given definite signals that people are not at all indifferent once it's established that the initiative belongs to them. We say: For us, accountability begins at home, because it's precisely when voters take ownership of the process that they can fully engage and bring their experiences and ideas to bear.

For the people, the idea that an election (or a public consultation) is the moment when "it's the people who speak" is meaningless if, in reality, those who speak are those who are already in power. If the election is the occasion when the people are called upon to judge the government's orientations, it's the people who should have the say, not the political elites -- those already in government or in the opposition. Yet the current consultation does precisely that: it gives no room whatsoever for the expression of the popular will other than by filling out questionnaires that reject any consideration that elections should have a purpose other than casting a ballot every four years.

The consultation document notes that, "Based on data from the 2018 election campaign, the media space provided to political parties is to be proportional to the results obtained." One intervener at the roundtables commented that this seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy: "The parties with the most seats or votes, obtained by the 'smartest' mediatized campaign as a result of inordinate media coverage, will have the privilege of being awarded the title of most popular and therefore most legitimate. It's silly logic if the aim is to establish a regime's democratic credentials."

These are our opinions and observations on the matter, and we hope that the discussion on this crucial issue for the future of Quebec continues in a manner that is ongoing, lively and open to all.

Christine Dandenault
Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec


The need for a more profound review of the Election Act

In the introductory letter to the consultation document, the DGEQ writes: "No in-depth reflection, supported by a coherent, structured and concerted vision, has been carried out on the Election Act as a whole for almost 35 years. Considering the importance of the issues facing electoral democracy, as well as the extent of the modifications that have been made to the Act since its adoption, for us such a reflection seems essential to allow the Act to evolve while respecting the individual rights and the democratic principles which are their foundation."

The proposals contained fail to deliver on the promise of an "in-depth reflection, supported by a coherent, structured and concerted vision."

The DGEQ says he has undertaken multiple consultations with specialists, academics, and "political actors." On this basis alone, the consultation poses a serious credibility problem. Six online questionnaires were prepared to consult with citizens. Upon examination of those questionnaires, one is tempted to conclude that everything has already been decided. The six questionnaires are more like surveys with pre-established choices as answers. No wonder people tell us the conclusions have already been drawn. This is not a consultation that allows Quebeckers to express themselves on their own behalf, to share their points of view and their concerns, especially since the time allocated to respond to them is very limited.

The DGEQ lists the changes made to the Election Act over the last 35 years. He writes: "For some thirty years, the Election Act has not remained unchanged. On the contrary, numerous changes, including several major ones, have been made over time. The permanent list of electors was created in 1997; voting methods were expanded in the early 2000s; major political financing reforms took place in the 2010s; and fixed election dates were adopted in 2013. All these changes had significant effects, not only on the behaviour of voters, who are increasingly casting their ballot in advance, but also on the practices of voters, political parties and candidates, who appear earlier in the campaign and have modified their relationships with the electorate. These changes have also influenced the way elections are organized."

But what is our assessment of these changes? For example, has Bill 101, adopted in 2016 following the recommendations of the Charbonneau Commission on corruption, resolved this problem? No, because what constitutes corruption has never been addressed. Has the reduction of contributions from party supporters to $100, with the increase in state funding which purports to compensate for the drop in party funding by members, reduced corruption? Not at all.

The demand for increased state funding is incessant, while the participation of the citizenry is continuously eliminated

The more administrative requirements are imposed in the name of transparency and opposing corruption and the more the state interferes in the affairs of political parties, the more the decision-making power, even within political parties, is taken out of the hands of members. Just because there are all kinds of laws supposedly targeting corruption doesn't mean there won't be any political corruption. Those who are politically corrupt will do anything to ensure they come to power. While making political parties accountable to the state, the fact that they no longer need members is not discussed. However, their control over the National Assembly remains complete.

When the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party ministers were recently caught red-handed getting $100 contributions at their cocktail parties in exchange for direct access to them, the CAQ leader said that the solution was to have parties without donors, and presumably without members, and to eliminate the "public" financing that Élections Québec calls "autonomous financing." He called on the other cartel parties to join him in this demand. It doesn't get any more absurd or self-serving than that! And this, after the political parties in the National Assembly agreed last fall to raise the contribution ceiling from $100 to $200. For these parties, it makes sense, but the public is kept in the dark as to their reasoning.

The PMLQ also received sharp comments on proposals that increase the DGEQ's interference in the internal affairs of political parties, and that especially target with specific measures those parties without a seat at the National Assembly. The DGEQ proposes that:

- parties should set targets for candidate parity and diversity and provide a report on the results achieved, and that a sanction be introduced for political parties that fail to produce a report on results;

- reasonable additional expenses related to the care of a dependant or a situation of disability, incurred by candidates during a campaign, could be reimbursed (totally or partially). A specified threshold of valid votes cast could qualify some for the reimbursement;

- the required number of members a party must submit annually to retain its official registered status could be increased from 100 to 250 members;

- criteria aimed at ensuring the political and electoral vocation of a political entity for obtaining and maintaining is official status could be added, with parties having to issue a declaration confirming that one of their essential objectives is to participate in public affairs by supporting candidates and endorsing their election, and many others.

Opposition to these measures is strong: it is interference in the internal life of political parties to want to set parity or other criteria in the choice of candidates for an election, and moreover, disregards a party's situation. The DGEQ wants to make it more difficult for parties not represented in the National Assembly to present themselves. There is already too much administrative paperwork for political entities that are without resources, and this would channel their energy even more administratively rather than politically. The DGEQ is seeking to intervene even more in internal party politics, which runs counter to the aim of the Election Act, which is supposed to enable greater participation.

Many people told us that the DGEQ's proposals seem to be only concerned with enabling him to carry out his administrative duties in the most efficient manner possible and have nothing to do with providing the Election Act with "a coherent, structured and concerted vision." These are definitely not policy proposals aimed at ensuring that the electoral process is democratically based on citizen participation.

Disinformation on foreign interference and false information carried by social networks and concerns over the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence

The document notes, amongst other things, that "Disinformation can be practiced by national actors or be linked to attempts at foreign interference." There is also talk of social networks which convey false information aimed at interfering in elections.

While the use and influence of social networks and AI has become a way of life in Quebec and in Canada and we live in a world where misleading information, rumours and doubt are commonplace, controls being implemented on what people can and cannot say, and who can speak, especially during an election, are inappropriate. It could be argued that the electoral campaigns of the so-called major parties are altogether misleading and include fomenting passions, splitting the electorate and sowing doubt. This is carried out in the form of microtargeting and through social networks to denigrate rival candidates and provide people with false and diversionary information so as to influence the outcome of elections.

Participants in the roundtables declared to the PMLQ that while it is true that a democratic electoral process must adopt standards to ensure that political discourse does not encourage attacks on others, it should not allow activities harmful to social solidarity to be financed with public funds. And when it comes to disinformation, the first thing a modern electoral law should do is to stop protecting and funding the main culprits who spread disinformation, decontextualize facts to deprive them of meaning, while presenting false narratives offering fake alternatives.

Participants at the roundtables told the PMLQ that the electoral process itself claims that people have a choice between the so-called major parties and the programs they propose, which suggests that one of these programs represents them, which is not the case. They represent private interests as well as nonsense concocted by marketing firms that electors are like consumers at a grocery store checkout counter, inciting them to buy this product instead of another.

This is one of the many ways whereby the voice and opinions of the people are stifled during elections which, as the DGEQ rightly points out, begin earlier and earlier, outside the periods determined under the Election Act. Replacing political debate with election campaigns is despicable and keeps the problems facing society within the framework established by official circles who oppose any debate they cannot control. Methods which allow the people to speak in their own name, discuss and propose their solutions to the problems facing society are totally absent from the proposals for the reform of the Election Act.

Disinformation is also presented as being linked to the problem of national and foreign actor interference. In that regard, the DGEQ refers to "close monitoring" and the "collaboration of several entities interested in preserving the integrity of the elections." The so-called democratic party government system would not survive "close monitoring" by the state because the more things go, the more the citizenry can see that these parties are mere appendages of the state, which dictates everything from what values people must espouse, to how they must think and act in what is called a democratic society.

Many people told the PMLQ that they found this seriously problematic.

The use of "hate" as a new instrument for controlling the political space

The DGEQ document takes up the proposals of the Liberal government of Canada, as well as the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other European countries, with regard to the targeting of "entities that incite hatred or violence." The DGEQ takes its inspiration from the political police who suggest approaching such problems from the angle of "ensuring that the Election Act reflects the values of our society."

The document notes that while "disinformation, intimidation, harassment and threats are on the rise" in Canada and Quebec, "reports of hate speech and hate crimes have increased significantly since 2017." He warns that "the more these kinds of comments and actions take shape in the public space, the more likely they are to be reflected in the political environment." "Hate," we read in the consultation document, "marginalizes, excludes, dehumanizes."

To deal with this, the DGEQ goes on to say that privileges derived from the authorization of a political party "should not serve to amplify hate speech." Besides affirming that everything is a matter of privileges that can be given and taken away by outside forces, the DGEQ proposes the addition of criteria linked to the name, objectives, discourse and activities which could lead to the withdrawal of a party's authorization. He cites examples of legislation in Europe that allow for the banning and dissolution of a political party on this basis.

Banning a political party for inciting hatred or violence, or because it is considered extremist, is no small matter in a society that calls itself democratic. While the implication is that the hate-mongers and violent extremists being targeted are from an extreme right-wing fringe, once this door is opened, any party whose opinions are found by the powers that be not in conformity with their own can be targeted. We see this already in the case of those activists and organizations who oppose Zionism and the acts of genocide perpetrated by the Israeli state against the Palestinian people. But within the country as well, we see that those who support the hereditary rights of Indigenous Peoples or oppose the degradation of the environment by narrow private interests are being targeted.

How to defend freedom of expression, the right of association and the right to conscience within the evolving context of social media networks and the influence of Artificial Intelligence is a matter that belongs to all Quebeckers. These rights must not come under attack. Broad public consultations must be held, where the public is informed and engaged in the discussions, including with regard to political parties, and can put forward solutions. This is all the more serious once the importance of the exercise of these rights is recognized in the formulation of a popular will and public opinion which serve the polity, especially at a time when those who currently have access to positions of power and privilege are so self-serving.

The problem with the legalization of prohibitions of all kinds which are applied to individuals and organizations by police powers is precisely that the people are not involved in analyzing the source of these problems or defining how to control hate and violent extremism, what is hateful, violent and extremist and, ultimately, on the basis of what definitions the laws are enacted or the regulations applied. All too often, in the name of the "values of Quebec society" simply proclaimed from above, our Quebec youth have been unjustly accused of radicalization or violence. Once citizens are labelled and put into this or that category, they are marginalized and made targets of police actions.

Today, seeing with what determination all the parties in the National Assembly, the House of Commons and the monopolized media seek to create an equation between support for the Palestinian people and anti-Semitism and hate propaganda and predictions of what will end up in acts of violent extremism, it is not difficult to understand the dangers of measures taken on the electoral front to "fight against hatred."

The point we want to make is that so long as the Election Act does not endorse a process which puts the citizenry at the centre of solving the problems of concern to them and to society itself, based on the collective experience and principles that unite the people, state actions which atomize the body politic will not benefit Quebeckers in the least. Introducing new regulations and norms about which the people are not even informed, let alone able to participate in arguing out, is destructive. This undermines public opinion and the cohesion of the body politic. Measures which divide society between those who are so-called violent and non-violent, between those who promote hatred versus those who do not, also increase apprehensions and chaotic behaviour. Anarchy and violence become the new normal and suppression is used in a vain attempt to bring people under control.

This is very troubling and dangerous, participants in the roundtables told the PMLQ. They want to see the citizens and residents of Quebec, irrespective of their national origin, united on the basis of a modern nation-building project where the people are empowered to set the direction of society and how it conducts its affairs in all fields of endeavour.

The concept of third parties must be banned from the Election Act

Participants in the roundtables also expressed grave concerns over the role assigned to citizens in an election as "third parties." In the name of equality and transparency, the proposals in the DGEQ's consultation document continue to block the participation of Quebeckers during an election and in the so-called pre-electoral period. The stated goal of the DGEQ is to ensure the preponderance of political parties and candidates during an election. He writes: "In Quebec, the intervention of third parties during the electoral period is limited by law so that political parties and candidates have all the necessary space to debate their ideas and their interests." This is simply not true. During the electoral period, those who are designated "third parties" can express their opinions only to the extent that their interventions cost nothing, from their design and production up to publication and broadcast. Unless acting on behalf of a political party or a candidate, an individual cannot make a partisan intervention if that intervention has a cost.

The PMLQ does not agree with this concept of preponderance, that cartel parties are authorized to usurp the possibility of any voter, whether individually or organized, to speak in their own name. Participants at the roundtables told the PMLQ that ordinary people grow up to believe that elections are supposed to be a moment of collective societal debate about the Quebec that people want. They do not appreciate definitions of "fairness" which in fact discriminate against those with scarce financial means. They see that there is no fairness between political parties in Quebec. They see that systematically, parties without representatives in the National Assembly, like ours, are ignored or their views are trivialized, declaring that they have been given the democratic treatment they deserve.

The introduction of the concept of an electoral pre-campaign, will only result in further consolidating the usurpation of the political space by the ruling cartel parties. Reducing citizens to "third parties" subject to financing regimes is unacceptable. It poses a major block to the participation of the citizenry in political discourse.

An example given during one of the roundtables was that of the public interest organization Équiterre which was sanctioned by the DGEQ because marks were given to political parties on their environmental commitments in 2018. The same thing happened to the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) in 2012. The FTQ even tried to go to the Superior Court to defend its right to intervene during a campaign, but its application was refused because it did not conform with the Election Act.

Concerns about infringements on the right of association and of speech

Political parties are private organizations. It is therefore up to the parties to decide by whom they are financed and who their members are. However, political parties are placed under supervision. The Election Act stipulates that a financial contribution can only be paid to the Chief Electoral Officer and the name of the voter, the city and postal code of their residence are published on the DGEQ website as well as the amount paid and the name of the party to which the funds are contributed. This is tantamount to placing the political party under state trusteeship. It is not the party that decides who contributes to its work or who becomes a member. There is no law that requires cultural, sports, educational associations or those in other fields of endeavour to publish their membership lists, however political parties must do so. Given the propensity for political persecution worldwide, many people express serious concerns about this, with regard to both their jobs and their right to conscience.

How can matters of conscience and association be placed under the purview of the state, in the name of controlling finances and fighting corruption? This is something imposed; it's not even discussed within the body politic, despite the infringement on the right of association, freedom and speech, as well as the right to conscience. Many people have told the PMLQ that they do not want their contributions or membership given to the DGEQ to process. They want their party to determine and control who is a member and what is done with their money. This seems elementary and people are shocked to find out that this is not the case. Many do not want to contribute because they refuse to have their right of association and to conscience violated by the Election Act, all the more so because their name and postal code are made public on the DGEQ website.

Appendix 1

Proposals presented in For a New Vision of the Election Act.

Chapter 1 -- The Right to Vote

Entry on the list of electors

Proposal 1: Convert registration and changes to the list of electors to a digital service.

Proposal 2: Enable voter registration and changes to voter registration at advance polls and on polling day.

Proposal 3: Require electors to be registered on the list of electors of the polling subdivision of their domicile at the time of voting.


Proposal 4: Adopt single-line voting at polling stations.

Proposal 5: Open advance polling centres in popular locations.

Proposal 6: Allow remote voting trials.

Organization of the vote

Proposal 7: Provide for fixed-date by-elections.

Proposal 8: Broaden the recruitment pool for election workers.

For further reflection: Enhance polling day as an important civic moment.

Chapter 2 -- The Right to Stand for Election

Candidates in elections

Proposal 1: Encourage political parties to report on their objectives and results in terms of parity and diversity of their candidates.

Proposal 2: Evaluate the possibility of providing a separate plan for the reimbursement of certain expenses related to the care of a dependent or a situation of disability.

Authorization of political entities

Proposal 3: Add criteria to ensure a political entity's political and electoral vocation when obtaining and maintaining authorization.

Proposal 4: Ensure that the Election Act reflects our society's values, to prevent an entity that incites hatred or violence from benefiting from authorization and the privileges that accompany it.

Proposal 5: Add grounds for authorization refusal and withdrawal linked to the financial and administrative obligations of political parties.

Taking the debate a step further: For a healthy and respectful climate within our democratic institutions and processes

Chapter 3 -- Political Financing and Election Expenses

Spending control

Proposal 1: Create a mechanism to enhance the transparency of third-party pre-election activities.

Proposal 2: Clarify, revise and disseminate the rules and standards governing the use of parliamentary and government resources.

For further reflection: Political financing: time to take stock; controlling election expenses within the context of fixed election dates

Chapter 4 -- Electoral and Political Information

Information for electors

Proposal 1: Provide electors with an information window on candidates and political parties.

Transparency of political communications and the fight against disinformation

Proposal 2: Consider creating obligations for digital platforms in terms of transparency and compliance with the Election Act.

Proposal 3: Enhance the transparency of communications of a political nature and regulate the use of certain online practices.

Proposal 4: Consider transparency and oversight measures for the publication of election poll results.

For further reflection: Democracy in the digital age

Chapter 5 -- Election Governance

The process for amending the Election Act and the role of the Chief Electoral Officer

Proposal 1: Provide for a periodic review of the Election Act.

Proposal 2: Revise the Chief Electoral Officer's accountability obligations.

The role of the Advisory Committee

Proposal 3: Review the scope of the advisory committee's mandate and composition.

Further reflection: The participation of other players in the process of amending the Election Act

Chapter 6 -- The electoral map

Preliminary boundaries of electoral divisions

Proposal 1: Consult Members of the National Assembly within the framework of public hearings rather than through the Committee on the National Assembly.

The revised proposal and the establishment of electoral boundaries

Proposal 2: Add a consultation period following the tabling of the second report of the Electoral Representation Commission.

Further reflection: Consultation as a basis for fair and equitable representation

This article was published in
Volume 54 Number 4 - May 2024

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