Direct democracy?

Montréal, 5 Mar 2003

Our representatives at the CSU held another of their general assemblies today. The point of this assembly was to examine and vote on two resolutions: one concerning the establishment of an inquiry into racism at Concordia and one opposing war in Iraq. These goals are supposedly achieved by packing some number of students into an auditorium arguing for a while, usually amending the resolution a few times on the spot, and then settling things (i.e. passing the amended resolution) by a show of hands.

The assembly was announced in tempera paint on cartridge paper near the entrances of selected Concordia buildings. Don't bother with the CSU's webiste, it hasn't been updated since last year.

When we hear claims of direct democracy anywhere else, it generally means a referendum or plebescite wherein the entire constituency gets to approve or disapprove of various projects. When the CSU says direct democracy, we mean an assembly of people with a few properties getting together to craft and approve a resolution. These people:

Most people disqualified by these conditions (evening students who work, co-op students, many serious students and students fron the West Island burbs) are, I suspect, somewhat more conservative than those who can turn up.

Anyone who reads the question and has no opinion may be in for a surprise after all the amendments get pushed through. Last assembly, a resoultion calling for the support of a specific UN resolution morphed into one calling for a Palestinian state. I wasn't at this assembly (academics interfered), but whenever the CSU releases the results of this one, (on their next website update... way to go on the transparency front) I'm assuming the resolution passed won't be the resolution advertised.

Secret ballots and knowing the question ahead of time were controversial at the beginning of last century. Today, even third-rate dictatorships generally do their best to have these trimmings on their toy referenda and elections (they tend to be even more organized than us crazy advanced democracies, having carefully considered standards for the results.) Calling the CSU's exercise in unrepresentative democracy direct is an exercise in definitional creativity.

The CSU line on why the general assembly even happens is that resolutions should have a chance to be modified by the constituents. Fine. But when the CSU wants to claim legitimacy for one of these resolutions, it should either clearly be a Council or Executive decision based on these low-budget Royal Commissions, or should face the full heat and fury (not to mention reflection time and serious debate) of a referendum in which all CSU members (that's us students) get to participate.