In Magog, Mr. Stanley Van Zuiden was, for years, an antique dealer with whom I experienced, from time to time, the pleasure of discussing history. Dutch by birth, Mr. Van Zuiden had fled his country during the Nazi occupation. After the conflict, like many of his compatriots, he found himself swelling the ranks of the strong immigration welcomed by an America confident in a fraternal future, to the point of forgetting that it secreted its own regime of injustices.
Mr. Van Zuiden became, while wearing himself out at work in the factory, a connoisseur of local history. His curiosity made him, over time, preserve many objects of great interest from destruction. So much so that one day he became an antique dealer. Without him, more of the traces of his part of the country would have sunk into the abyss of oblivion.
One day, among his accumulated finds, I got my hands on a silver-glazed stoneware pot stamped with the effigy of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Very ugly, that is to say in the purest tradition of electoral objects, the pot dated from the end of the 19th century.e century, at the time when the elections were practiced by such advertising reinforcements. At the time, within parties, these objects were associated with what was loosely called “propaganda”.
Today, at your grocer, Sir Laurier d’Arthabaska is sold as a soft cheese. This is what the label of the manufacturer of Arthabaska affirms, in an advertising description perhaps tinged with irony. It is not badly found anyway, I always thought, to characterize a Canadian Prime Minister.
During his lifetime, Laurier enjoyed quite an aura. The “man with the silver tongue”, as he was called, could speak like no other, in French as well as in English. In XXe century Quebec, there is hardly that Henri Bourassa and Pierre Bourgault who can compare to him in this respect. But Laurier, unlike them, is a man of power. That is to say, he knows very well, with one hand, how to stroke the goat on the neck while, with the other, he waters the cabbage. As a politician experienced in the art of generating these electoral ambiguities which are to the advantage of those in power, Laurier masters the towers of dorsal flexibility, as Cyrano de Bergerac would not have failed to notice.
“Strapped up in his frock coat and his icy mock collars, his head thrown back, towering over any audience from the height of his six feet and a few inches, smooth talker and fine conversationalist, the clear eyes, the thin lips, the calm voice and with a mocking smile, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was a charming monster ”, sums up Jean-Claude Germain in his pen in The Quebec bet, a lively book in which the writer reiterates, taking a few detours to the side of psychology and history, that culture, well beyond politics, remains the main means that Quebeckers have to ensure their future and their desire to live together. But how can they be heard?
Before becoming a cunning politician himself and perfectly trained in the art of government, Laurier presented with aplomb an idea which continues to shake up the regime of partisan pettiness from which each era must constantly aspire to free itself. On June 26, 1877, in Quebec, Laurier exposes what, in his opinion, should predispose to political life in society. The province then lives under the thumb of a theocracy. And yet Laurier dares to assert, in front of his audience, that only the voter can decide on which side his ideas should lead him to vote. In other words, says Laurier, it is up to the voter to decide whether the sky is blue or whether hell is red. Still, this truth must be repeated often in order to end up being heard, with each epoch secreting new deafness in the midst of an otherwise often blind elective system.
By voting, we are enjoined to believe in individual power, while this entire electoral system has on the contrary been designed, from its origins, to ensure the maintenance of the interests of groups of property owners. They were, moreover, for a long time the only ones to have the right to vote, until the day when it became evident that the fact of extending this right to others, without changing the foundations of the system which governs it, did not risk too much to disrupt the results. To vote in this way will always mean admitting to being mystified, in the name of the illusions of a pseudo-majority.
In Magog, a long time ago, Mr. Van Zuiden was happy to give me for three times nothing this stoneware jar flanked by the head of Wilfrid Laurier. At the time of production of this horror, only men aged 21, provided they owned property, were eligible to vote. They saw Laurier tobacco pipes, Laurier cough syrups, Laurier clocks, Laurier feathers, Laurier calendars, Laurier ribbons, Laurier plates, Laurier cigars, Laurier wood stoves. In short, whatever you want.
One day, I had to give up my apartment momentarily. I was going to work abroad. On the way back, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier jar, carelessly but safely stored, had disappeared. What had happened to him? Had he broken? The object was so ugly and so obviously uninteresting, the occupant had explained to me, that he simply saw fit to throw it away. How could I have blamed him? Without knowing it, he had sort of voted against the very concept of soft dough.