Dimanche démocratique : Give us a sign

Marc-Boris St-Maurice
Democracy is produced “as a matter of enterprise not [vision]…is designed to appeal to everyone” and “doesn’t come from any particular place or mark off any particular taste.” It is “not driven by any significant ambition except profit and commercial reward…and, in [ideaological] terms, it is essentially conservative.” It is “provided from on high rather than being made from below…Democracy is not a do-it-yourself political system but is professionally produced and packaged.”
POP Democracy

There is an election happening in Montréal?

Has anyone else heard this question asked of them? At first it angers me; we are currently in the information age and there is no longer any excuse for ignorance. It is unfortunate that, despite the freedom we have over information, our laziness prevent us from informing ourselves. However, I will admit that something seems to be missing from this year’s electoral campaign.

As most of you know, democracy in Canada has become a vast marketing machine. Politicians don’t give speeches, they generate sound bites. They don’t foster visions, they fabricate photo-ops.

Democracy can now even be boiled down to colour associations:

RED = Liberal
BLUE = PQ and Conservative (strange bedfellows)
GREEN = Green

Democracy has come to mimic the Wikipedia definition of advertising:
The most important element is not information but suggestion.

« It makes use of associations, emotions and drives dormant in the sub-conscience of people (such as sex drive, herd instinct), of desires (happiness, health, fitness, appearance, self-esteem, reputation, belonging, social status, identity, adventure, distraction, reward), of fears (illness, weaknesses, loneliness, need, uncertainty, security), or of prejudices, learned opinions and comforts. »

In democracy, image is everything. De facto and de jure. Don’t believe me? Ask Robert Stanfield.

Stephen Harper performs at an arts gala in Ottawa, and now everyone thinks he is Ringo, the misunderstood Beatle. The E, F#m, B chord progression has secured the Canadian Prime Minister a future majority government.

Trudeau vs. Stanfield
Advertising has become so important; I charge that the very lack of it may be causing this year’s election to be lacklustre.

If I weren’t so invested in urban affairs in Montréal, I don’t think I would have any idea who was running for what, where and when. If I run to the press for answers, I’m left with questions: Tremblay is crooked? Harel can’t speak English? Bergeron, who? One must also not discount the role Montréal’s fusion-défusion-confusion system of administration has in intensifying the fog of ignorance. Is Ville St-Laurent a city; Montréal-Nord a républik; Mile-End a district of Brooklyn?

Promotional material needs to be hit over the head of the electorate. It needs to be spat in their faces. It needs to be whipped across their backs. Only then, will people wake up and say: Oh! This thing that is happening seems to be very important. Why don’t I take a look into it?

In Montréal, as with the rest of Canada, this task is usually accomplished by two things: wedge issues and election signs. The former is looking a little worse for wear, and the use of the latter has been curtailed for this year’s election.

The reason to reduce signs this year was, on the surface, a noble one. Environmentalism, improving the visual urban landscape; who can complain about these benefits?

However, since democracy is advertising, a lack of advertising is a lack of democracy. It means people do not know their candidates; people don’t know the issues. Research has shown that the electorate is generally conservative – not seeking change – so if presented with the choice between the familiar and the unfamiliar, they will choose the former. Comme disent les Anglais : Better the Devil you know. Fewer election signs only bolster results for incumbent or star-calibre parties.

The signs of yesteryear that literally smacked people in the face are all gone. Until quite recently, in my district, one would be forgiven if they believed that Marc-Boris St-Maurice was –

  • a) The only candidate running, or
  • b) A local New Wave band.

(p.s. the answer is c) none of the above. However, he is a candidate really worth supporting; unlike some in the political machinery, he doesn’t just espouse vague énocés, he pushes an actual platform)

Municipal parties are trying, though. In Côte-des-Neiges, which, following years of municipal neglect, has become possibly THE most exciting arrondissement in the race thus far, electoral signs exude a stronger presence. So when push comes to shove, « environmentalism » goes out the window.

Maybe certain parties have abandoned certain areas of the city?
Vote or Die.
Whatever the case may be, I will be voting in the municipal elections this November. Perhaps democracy has more in common with a mentos commercial than any sort of political philosophy. Nevertheless, it is the only option we currently have.

Bonus: SOS Montréal – Design students at the Université du Québec à Montréal and their take on election posters


  1. Seems to me that restrictions in the amount of public campaign advertising is pretty much an advantage for the incumbents, who are also probably the ones who think it is such a good idea. It’s uncanny how politicians can go “green” when it suits their own best interests and/or political agenda.

  2. I have to agree with Jody here. Project Montreal has an actual progressive platform and sure, some of the ideas are high-reaching but I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? Big ideas sometimes take time to accomplish but at least they’re putting those ideas out there and their candidates at least have some experience- and results- backing them up.

    Also, don’t forget that there’s a federal by-election happening at the same time in Hochelaga Maisonneuve. Réal Ménard stood down to run for Vision municipally, leaving the seat vacant. The bloc parachuted in Daniel Paillé and the local riding association was overridden. The liberals and conservatives have also brought in outsiders. What this means is that, to the best of my knowledge, Jean-Claude Rocheleau of the NDP is the only major party candidate who even lives in the riding! I was already left inclined; but if I wasn’t, I’d seriously be considering why the other parties have so much contempt for the local population that they couldn’t be bothered to work with the local riding associations. It’s not like it’s hard to find people that want to run for the Bloc or the Liberals.

  3. The only reason I know anything about this election is because I read Spacing Montreal. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs in the general press.

  4. Anyone complaining about the lack of coverage from old-school media should think about picking up the slack.

    For instance, instead of listing the colours associated with federal/provincial parties, one could cook up a comparison of the municipal contenders from a urbanism/”Spacing” point of view.


    PS: Probably preaching to the choir here… but I filmed one of Luc Ferrandez’ (Projet Montréal Mayoral candidate for Plateau) sidewalk prensentations… 100% relevant to the “Spacing” crowd:

    http://www.vimeo.com/6921714 <— full version
    http://www.vimeo.com/6992756 <— short version with slides overlayed on top of video. (Better if you don't understand too much french… at least you can look at the photos!)

  5. “Democracy can now even be boiled down to colour associations:
    BLUE = PQ and Conservative (strange bedfellows)”

    Speaking of sowing confusion…

  6. I find your extreme cynicism very disturbing.

    Sure, there are problems with a system controlled by big-business interests (who also control the media). But you far too immersed in — and therefore a slave to — those very ideological practices you claim to oppose.

    Democracy is, always has been, and always will be in the hands of the people. Not in the hands of the aristocrats, the oligarchs or the mass media moguls.

    But it’s our responsibility to keep it there. So, instead of burying yourself in an anti-democratic milieu — then whining about how awful it is — why don’t you pull your head out of your media analysis textbooks and actually do some democratic, grassroots organisation? Because democracy is much, much more than voting once every 4 years.

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