Text signed by Isabelle Hudon, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, published in Le Devoir, the Journal de Montreal and the Métro on April 17, 2008.
The electoral map: A tool promoting democracy,
not economic development
In recent months, I've undertaken a tour of Quebec's regions to meet with business people and entrepreneurs and, above all, initiate a dialogue allowing us to recognize and harness our complementarities. During this process, I've observed that the economic challenges facing Quebec's regions particularly the most remote ones are considerable. There is thus no doubt in my mind that the entire province including the metropolis has a responsibility to reflect on and participate in the success of each region.
That said, I sincerely believe that interrupting the process of revising the province's riding map, as launched by the Commission de représentation électorale in response to Quebec's changing demographics, would be in nobody's best interests. The reason is simple: economic development and democracy are two entirely separate things: the electoral map is not and should not be viewed as a tool for economic development.
A healthy democracy results from a fragile balance between the collective participation of all citizens and the perception that each and every one of those citizens has a voice in the results. It's no coincidence that the most hotly disputed elections are the ones with the highest participation rates: every vote really can make a difference.
During an election, the concept that every vote has equivalent weight is crucial if the result is to be seen as fair and legitimate. And this is where the danger lies: if the democratic exercise starts to be viewed as being more favourable to some than to others, the sense of legitimacy will quickly be replaced by cynicism, distrust, and, ultimately, disaffection.
The electoral map currently in effect already stretches the perception of the equity of each vote to the limit. It's well known that Metropolitan Montreal is under-represented; the number of voters per riding is often higher than the average number of 45,207. In 2007, there were easily fifteen Greater Montreal ridings with more than 52,000 voters, or a discrepancy of more than 15%. On the other hand, the populations of the most far-flung ridings are shrinking with no equivalent adjustment in their representation. Montréal may thus be the ideal place to provide safe ridings for star ministerial candidates, but many believe it is in the regions that you must campaign and, above all, make announcements if you hope to win an election.
In my opinion, failure to redraw the existing electoral map would run the risk of stretching the perception of equity to the breaking point. Tensions are already high enough, and I'm concerned about the ability of Quebec's political system to function cohesively if we do not take greater care to ensure its representativeness.
The regions, the capital, and the metropolis all face major but different challenges. Despite these differences, we will be better placed to meet them if we work together, making the most of our complementarities. Rather than nurturing a sense of competition, we must focus on what we have in common beginning with our membership in the same democracy. In short, I believe it is in nobody's interest not even that of the regions to finesse our democracy to the point of making us question its equity.