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Friday, March 26, 2010

How Do You Say PIGS in French?

They don't call it La Belle Province pour rien:

 Quebec offers $17 billion, or 26 per cent, more in services than Ontario, while its GDP is 14 per cent less, they observed.

That means even though Quebec is poorer, it spends far more.


Quebec's gross debt stood at $151 billion last fiscal year, or 49.9 per cent of its GDP. It will rise to 53.5 per cent this year. That compares to 30.1 per cent for Ontario and 4.2 per cent for Alberta.

According to the OECD measure, which includes Quebec's share of the federal debt, it's at $286 billion, even as the province offers services that others do not.

The article also informs us that by the OECD's measurements, Quebec is the fifth most indebted jurisdiction in the developed world. Up there with the usual suspects, including tottering Greece. Just to recap, for those of you who've been totally absorbed in your attempts to become bilingual/bicultural these last four decades, Quebec has created a lavish European style welfare state through a combination of high taxes, transfer payments and record borrowing. Back in the fall I reviewed Brian Lee Crowley's latest book, which examined the growth of the federal government as being driven, in part, by English-speaking politicians attempts to appease Quebec. Appeasement worked, but not in the way advertised at the time. 

The reason there is no independent Quebec, and will never be in our lifetimes, is that by opting for the Deluxe Big Government package after the Quiet Revolution, the Quebecois have made their future Republique a financial impossibility. The Bloc and Pequistes are not mortal threats to the Dominion, just unusually obnoxious pressures groups that, due to the quirks of the Canadian electoral system, need to have the softer elements of their political base pandered to by Federal-level anglophones. 

Four decades ago federal politicians reasoned that Canada could not survive without Quebec. Intentionally or not, they and successive governments have made it impossible for modern, big government dependent Quebec, to survive without Canada. At some point some one, from either solitude, needs to call the separatist bluff and end the asymmetrical looting euphemistically referred to as equalization. Two generations ago Pierre Trudeau came to power not, as popularly believed, with a mandate to reform Canadian society along his utopian preferences, but for a reason of stark realpolitik. Trudeau was seen as a federalist Francophone who could deal with Quebec. That's why Pearson called him from academic obscurity into politics, after some arm twisting by Jean Marchand. It's also why he beat Robert Winters at the 1968 convention, and why he stayed in power for almost all of the next sixteen years. English Canada - or at least Ontario - voted for a French federalist, not a louche socialist. 

Moving forward two generations, a Francophone Quebecois today can replay the Trudeau card, except in the other political direction. To English Canada: Sick of Quebec mooching off the Federal dole? I'm the man (or woman) to put Quebec in its (fiscal) place. Said politico then resells the message to Quebec voters: Mild mannered though Les Anglais seem, they're pretty fed up this time. The independence routine isn't going to work anymore. If Quebec wants any shot at being taken seriously, inside Canada or not, we're going to have to get our act together. To give this hypothetical Quebecois, and no outsider will ever be able to make such an appeal to Quebec, the leverage he needs, English Canada needs to play its part. The part of Howard Beale saying "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" 

Posted by Richard Anderson on March 26, 2010 | Permalink


The problem is that Québec is trapped in the 1960s, socially speaking; it has not moved on like the rest of the country. I have observed that French-speaking societies tend not to evolve gradually over time, as do many anglophone societies, but rather in violent fits and starts, interspersed with long periods of almost complete stagnation.

The Québec of today is trapped in the 1960s; before the Quiet Revolution, it was trapped in the 19th century; prior to that it was more like the 16th century. As for the mother country, France, it is currently on its fifth republic, suffering from the same volcanic approach to development as la Belle Province.

An independent Québec is now a complete fiscal impossibility, and the waning influence of bona fide separatists suggests that Québecois are beginning to accept this fact. People today vote for the Bloc not because they expect or want separation, but because they feel the Bloc will represent their interests better than the other parties. And the Bloc delivers, which is why they clean up at election time.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-03-26 7:33:15 AM

" And the Bloc delivers, which is why they clean up at election time."

If we had real representation by population in this country, then we wouldn't be ruled by a minority. Less than 20% of Canadians live in Quebec, yet Quebec wields power in our Parliament far beyond what the population base might suggest.
Kind of shameful for an modern democracy to maintain this course as the status quo.

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-03-26 11:13:38 AM

Actually, Ed, it's much simpler. Québec has such clout because they vote en bloc, and the two national parties are evenly matched. I presume you're talking about proportional representation? Don't hold your breath. The single transferable vote has been defeated twice in B.C. out of two tries, making attempts in further provinces unlikely in the near future.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-03-26 12:14:05 PM

Shane, I agree with you that the situation is tailor-made for abuse by people who would tend to abuse others.
Sadly for Quebeckers though, the level of usery of the ROC has been so high, and the dreaming has been so pie-in-the-sky that they will have their own little European-style country on the backs of others, that the crash when it comes will be very noisy indeed.
Not too much pity here.

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-03-26 2:47:39 PM

Regarding the advent of the separation of Quebec from Canada: Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. What agreements we have today would be treaties tomorrow.

Posted by: Agha Ali Arkhan | 2010-04-08 3:54:45 PM

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