New stadium? Let people decide

If we needed more proof that politicians work for themselves and not for us, it has arrived.

Our leaders want to finance 100 per cent of the new Colisée de Québec with our taxes. Stephen Harper is hesitating, but his deputies in Quebec have already said yes. What a spectacle they made posing for photos wearing Nordiques jerseys, pandering to Quebec City voters. Pathetic.

The project will be a black hole for dollars. The idea is to cough up $400 million (about $200 million from Canadian taxpayers), and then to soak up a $3.5-million deficit each year. All without asking the private sector to throw in a single penny. Smack in the middle of an economic crisis, too, with our hospitals crumbling and our debt increasing by $135 million a day.

Do most Canadians (or Quebecers, for that matter) want to pay for this project? Makes no difference. Our politicians will do it anyway. There are seats up for grabs in Quebec.

This debate has brought out the beggars. “Montreal has its concert hall, we want our Colisée!” “We spend money on culture, why not on hockey?” Mayors of other Canadian cities are already up in arms. Everyone wants a new stadium.

Meanwhile, the mother of two who, between preparing lunches and helping with homework, has no time for lobbying, sees her taxes keep on rising. Someone has to pay for the goodies handed out to the beggars.

If this is democracy, it needs an overhaul.

How? Let’s hold a referendum, periodically, for large expenses. The deterioration of our public finances and the irresponsibility demonstrated over and over again by our politicians demands it.

Do taxpayers want to go into debt for a stadium? Pay a billion dollars for a G20 summit? Give subsidies to multinationals? Bring on a referendum and let’s find out.

Sounds crazy? The Swiss have been doing it for more than a century. So have several American states. In Porto Allegre, Brazil, citizens get together to vote on budgetary priorities for the year. It’s called direct democracy. Even B.C. has its own watered-down version. By subjecting each law to a general vote if they want to, seven million Swiss keep a tight rein on their government, making sure that it concentrates on its primary missions. But it doesn’t happen all that often. Politicians, conscious of the “referendum threat,” restrain themselves. So do beggars.

If we can’t change the way politicians are, we must change democracy.

David Descôteaux is an Associate Researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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