Whatever your opinion of the demerger referendums, the dirty tricks that cost some cities their demerger bid, or the eventual outcome for both demerged and still-merged cities, they changed the face of democracy in Quebec, as Henry Aubin explains (sorry, link requires registration, which makes me feel less guilty about quoting a large chunk of it):
The demerger voters have not only rocked the boat of Quebec authoritarianism. On Montreal Island and Longueuil, they’ve capsized it.
By authoritarianism, I mean that tradition in which elected officials – on both the municipal and provincial levels – bring citizenship to its lowest possible level on the democratic scale. In return for being allowed to vote every few years, grateful citizens are supposed to shut up between elections and let people they’ve voted into office become bullies. The public possesses no automatic right to being consulted between elections on policy issues – a right that in most North Americans and western Europeans take for granted.
[ . . . ]
These results augur a sea change in the way provincial and city governments in the Montreal region will have to relate to citizens. In the most impudent display of people power in memory, voters in many municipalities across the province have insisted on the right to have a say in decision-making between elections.
Legally speaking, the provincial and city governments will be as free as they’ve always been to treat the public highhandedly. But the political ethos has changed.
Just as the demise of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords created a political (as distinct from legal) precedent that has made constitutional reform unthinkable, so the collapse of mega-Montreal and mega-Longueuil will make certain practices unacceptable.
No longer will a provincial government dare to transform public institutions without an electoral mandate, as did the former Parti Quebecois government in its breathtaking abolition of more than municipalities.
No longer will a provincial government refuse even to hold public hearings on so vital issue.
No longer will it dare to embark on so sweeping an enterprise without having studies to back it up.
True, this new mindfulness by government will not be automatic. In examining yesterday’s results, politicians are not going to slap their foreheads and renounce arrogance.
No, what will change is the public’s confidence in its ability to stand up and insist on being heard – and not just by the provincial government but also by city governments and other public bodies.
In fact, with all the conflicting studies and pieces of propaganda issued by both sides, it’s almost impossible to predict whether cities that demerged will be better off than ones that didn’t. But for most demergerites, this wasn’t the issue. The point was that the government can’t steamroll over democracy.
And, at least as far as this goes, mission accomplished. Next time, they’ll think twice.