If you want to find a symbol of what is wrong about politics, André Arthur might be your man. He was elected as an independent MP in the Portneuf riding (near Quebec City). The former “trash” radio host, who made a name for itself talking against welfare beneficiaries, left-wingers, immigrants and politicians in general, currently drives buses and make vacuum cleaner advertisements, which explains why he is so often absent from Parliament. Quebec might send to the Commons another public figure as independent MP. Comedian Jean-Francois Mercier announced last week that he will be candidate in the upcoming federal elections in the Chambly-Borduas riding (Montreal South Shore).
Mercier has made a name for himself first as a writer for different TV shows, most notably the very interesting “Les Bougons”. However, most québécois know him for his “gros cave” character; you could translate this to “big jerk”. His humor is outrageous and provocative, however it often includes social critics. English Canadians might remember a mini scandal his sketch had provoked during the “Bye Bye 2008” presented at Radio-Canada.
The comedian/candidate explains his decision by the fact that he never voted in federal elections, considering no party represents his views. Recognizing that some individual politicians are working hard and have truly honest and noble motivations, he argues that our political system does not allow any significant change to happen. Contrary to Arthur’s clearly hypocrite approach, Mercier’s initiative is presented as an act of contestation. To do so, he is helped by two other comedians Mike Ward (his political aide) and Guy Nantel (his bodyguard).
Mercier embraces his well-known provocative style to campaign. His slogan is “Là, s’t’assez tarbarnak!”, that could be translated to “That’s fucking enough”. He is the head of the “Futur Parti Pour La Gloire”, future so he does not really have to form a real party. Some of his promises include: installing floats on Champlain Bridge so that when it falls, it will be easier to pick up; building a second Mercier bridge (to his honor), 12 lines each way, one line reserved for Hummers; instead of buying 65 F-35, he proposes to build one huge jet to “scare the shit” out of other countries. If elected, he will give back his salary to the community since “one can surely lives off bribes” and promises to go to Ottawa only when his vote could make the government fall, hence limiting his impact on the environment. Obviously, Mercier is laughing at the whole campaign, however, he argues that his intent is to denounce politicians’ stonewalling and the political system inability to make change happen. Every vote he gets will demonstrate how people are disabused and fed-up with our political system.
In addition to make you laugh, Mercier does put forward some interesting questions and debates. What kind of impact theses contestations initiatives have? Is it fair or useful to use the electoral process to denounce its shortcomings? Is Mercier accentuating current cynicism or contributing to bring new voters into political debate, even if this mean by showing their total disagreement with the whole system? Watching this unattractive and boring campaign, completely out of touch with my preoccupations (environment, social inequality, electoral reform, Quebec’s place within the federation), I wonder if a radical denunciation is not indeed necessary. On the other hand, initiatives such as Mercier do not propose any concrete modifications. The only hope remains that thousands turn out and vote for him, so that other parties realize many voters are willing to get to the polls if they identify with candidates. Even though I share many of Mercier’s preoccupation and salute his efforts to contribute to political debates, I am not convinced his election would be positive for our democracy. It remains an opened question… You can see some videos on youtube (this one has subtitles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tqyDivCIQc) or visit his web site http://www.jeanfrancoismercier.com.