Democracy, unlike beauty, is not in the eye of the beholder. You either have it, or you don't.
If you do, the least voters expect is that in each riding, they'll have a choice of candidates representing the recognized political parties.
But there's an urban legend according to which parties shouldn't field candidates in a riding where the leader of an opposing party is running to sit in the National Assembly.
It is, fortunately, only an urban legend. And it should remain that way, or otherwise voters are stripped of their rightful choice and forced, if they don't support that leader or the party, to vote for someone they disagree with, or else to not vote.
So why is Premier Jean Charest so angry at Action démocratique leader Mario Dumont, who is seriously thinking of running a candidate against Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois in a soon-to-be-held by-election in the riding of Charlevoix?
Charest even dug up the killer line he used to constantly ridicule former PQ leader André Boisclair, saying Dumont is showing here "a lack of maturity and judgment." The label might have worked against Boisclair because it was based in fact, but chances are it won't stick to Dumont.
The premier also accused Dumont of wanting to "block" Marois's arrival in the National Assembly. Charest said it is very important that all three leaders get to face off in parliament. True enough.
Charest is right to say the usual courtesy requires the premier to call a quick by-election, but he is wrong that this courtesy extends to denying voters the right to choose which candidate from which party they would like.
And if Charest really thinks Marois would be "blocked" by other candidates in a fairly safe PQ riding, then it says a lot about what he thinks of the party's new leader.
Even if that were true, there must still be a choice in a democratic election. A single-candidate election in a riding should be avoided at all costs.
In fact, not fielding candidates against a party leader is a myth. In general elections, party leaders have lost their riding.
It happened to Robert Bourassa in 1976 and in 1985 - a double humiliation at the hands of PQ candidates. That didn't keep the former premier from governing for an exceptional four terms. It also happened to René Lévesque. Apparently, he recovered from it rather well and went on to become a leader of exceptional stature.
An example of what not to do in a democratic system was the by-election in Pointe-aux-Trembles in August 2006. To make Boisclair's life easier as the then PQ leader who took his sweet time to run in a riding, both Charest and Dumont refused to field candidates.
While Québec solidaire, the Green Party and a few independents did run, the by-election result was surrealistic. Boisclair won an almost Soviet-style 71 per cent of the vote, although his popularity was already vanishing.
As of yesterday, the ADQ's party executive hadn't made an official decision on Charlevoix. But not only should they run a candidate, so should the Liberals.
The premier is to be commended for recognizing that in the context of a minority government where an election can come sooner rather than later, it is a good thing for Marois to sit in the National Assembly in time for the fall session.
Running in Charlevoix, it's a safe bet that she will. But that doesn't take away the responsibility of other major parties to give voters a real voice and a real choice.
Voters in Charlevoix should perhaps ask their highly probable future MNA to insist herself that such a choice be given to them in the coming by-election.
Liberals wrong not to run a candidate against Marois
Democracy requires that people have a choice of candidates