In the text below, my CAQ colleague Christopher Skeete has some questions about a legitimate government’s mandate. He cites examples, but the one that sticks out for me was the PQ’s forced mergers in 2001. That was a case in which the PQ had been legitimately elected as a majority government, but nowhere in its platform or proposals had there been a public declaration it would force-merge municipalities. Louise Harel led the project for PQ and it was a resounding failure on all accounts, particularly in its failure to recognize that it was the kind of issue people would vote on in a referendum, not a run-of-the-mill law that a government could pass without much controversy despite it not being in its platform.

Is the current Quebec Liberal Party government legitimate? Absolutely. Does it have a mandate to make sweeping cuts after campaigning on the status quo? I’m not sure.

Legitimate Without a Mandate

By Christopher Skeete

I remember my first year in political science. In Intro to Poli Sci, we learned about theories and ideas, but these rarely apply to the real world; the Apr. 7 election, however, may prove to be an exception that.

The difference between being legitimate and having a mandate

For political novices, a legitimate government is a one that has legally and rightfully won the right to govern. It may manage the state, make decisions, and pass laws because it has the legitimacy to speak on behalf of the population. Think of legitimacy as having a legal authority. After its clear victory, the PLQ is legitimate. However, in a democracy, one also requires a mandate. In a free society in which people can contest the government and there is freedom of the press/free speech, having legal authority without a mandate is like having a car with no gas. Only when both these ingredients are present can government move forward, especially in times of great change. The type of great change Quebec needs.

The Liberal program did not speak of cutting $4 billion in spending, it did not call for selling off crown corporations, nor did it speak to instituting austerity measures. Instead, election promises had the Liberals investing massively in infrastructure and heavily in health care. Now in power, the PLQ is submitting sobering reports that indicate that our finances are bleak and that radical action will be needed – this after minimizing the urgency for a change of direction.

A mandate emerges from a political party’s program that’s voted on by its members at various party gatherings. These programs are then presented to the public as party platforms and are part of the public record. During an election, a party will present a real world plan based on its platform. Finally, a (hopefully) informed electorate will then choose between the various options and cast votes giving a party permission to implement its plan. Therefore, legitimacy and mandates are why we why we hold elections. This is why elections have debates and platforms. This is the opportunity for all questions about each party program to be discussed in order to define the government’s mandate. Consider a recent example:

In 2012, a legitimate Liberal government attempted to institute a 75 per cent tuition hike without having a mandate to do so. This led to massive civil unrest, most likely resulting in the PLQ’s subsequent electoral defeat. The PQ, for its part, ran its campaign on abolishing this increase, therefore once the PQ legitimately took power, it then had a mandate to abolish the rate hike.

Does today’s Quebec Liberal government have a mandate?

The Liberal program did not speak of cutting $4 billion in spending, it did not call for selling off crown corporations, nor did it speak to instituting austerity measures. Instead, election promises had the Liberals investing massively in infrastructure and heavily in health care. Now in power, the PLQ is submitting sobering reports that indicate that our finances are bleak and that radical action will be needed – this after minimizing the urgency for a change of direction.

The PLQ now wishes to impose massive societal change for which it has not sought the public’s permission. This is contrary to the Coalition Avenir Québec’s platform, which has always been clear on the urgent need to remedy Quebec’s finances and has assumed the political costs of this positioning. Historically, in free societies, diverting from your mandate is a recipe for civil unrest and we are already seeing unions, student groups and various interest groups mobilizing to counter these movements.

(The CAQ) would rather lose telling the truth than win on a lie.

So, for all those people who told me the CAQ should tone down its “rhetoric” and minimize the urgency of change in order to win, you now know why I said “I would rather lose telling the truth than win on a lie.”

Winning on a lie is the recipe for the political status quo. What the Quebec Liberals will soon learn is that by undermining the CAQ and saying that its program would lead to anarchy, the PLQ actually undermined its own ability to reform Quebec.

Couillard predicted cuts would lead to "anarchy" just 5 days before the election, yet is promising large cuts now... http://www.journaldequebec.com/2014/04/02/couillard-predit-lanarchie-si-legault-devient-pm
Couillard predicted cuts would lead to “anarchy” just 5 days before the election, yet is promising large cuts now…
http://www.journaldequebec.com/2014/04/02/couillard-predit-lanarchie-si-legault-devient-pm
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