I normally don’t subscribe to the drivel on the National Post, but the tory MP Bernier does make a good point about Quebec
Maxime Bernier: Toward a proud, responsible Quebec
Posted: April 20, 2010, 9:30 AM by NP Editor
Maxime Bernier, Canadian politics
Political debates in Quebec have been dominated for several decades by the “national question.” It’s a legitimate debate, but a debate that’s not going anywhere and will probably not go anywhere for a long time to come. Lucien Bouchard said it recently, and polls also show it: Most Quebecers do not believe that Quebec will separate from Canada in the foreseeable future.
Despite this, since the 1970s, we’ve talked a lot about political independence, about the constitution, and we’ve held referendums. And meanwhile, we’ve built a system of economic dependence that’s become more and more elaborate.
Quebec has one of the biggest and most interventionist governments in North America, and one of the heaviest fiscal burdens. Quebec has the most far-reaching social programs. Quebec is the province that gives the most subsidies to businesses, artists and a host of other groups. And let’s not forget that Quebec is among the most rapidly aging societies in the world. This will increase the cost of social programs, and there will be fewer young people to pay for them.
Some weeks ago, we learned that Quebec ranks fifth among the most indebted societies in the industrialized world, not far behind Greece, which is currently going through a financial crisis. While we were debating independence, we accumulated an enormous debt and became dependent on borrowed money to fund an unsustainable level of public services.
We certainly have many reasons to be proud of our culture, of the evolution of our society during the past four centuries. But the political choices that were made have led us to a dead end. If we do not change direction soon, we’re going to hit a brick wall.
The Bloc Québécois was recently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Instead of discussing the real problems of Quebec, the Bloquistes prefer to continue debating a hypothetical project and trying to prove that our federal system is not working.
Gilles Duceppe made a fool of himself by comparing the separatist movement to the resistance against the Nazis in his anniversary speech. If the Bloquistes spent more of their energy trying to find solutions to the concrete challenges that we face instead of uttering such nonsense, perhaps we’d be in better shape as a society.
Mr. Duceppe also complained that Quebec does not get enough money from the federal government. He is fighting for Quebec independence, but laments that Quebec is not more economically dependent on the rest of Canada.
This year, Quebec will get $8.5-billion in equalization payments. That’s more than half of the $14-billion in the program. That money comes from richer provinces, such as Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
It’s true that other provinces, such as Manitoba and the three Maritime provinces, get even more equalization money per capita than Quebec. But that’s not an excuse. As a Quebecer, I am not proud that we are a poor province.
And our poverty’s not the rest of Canada’s fault. Unbridled state interventionism does not lead to prosperity. If it did, Quebec would be one of the richest places in North America.
Many studies have shown that the less its government intervenes in the economy, the more prosperous a society becomes. The Fraser Institute regularly compares the economic situation in the provinces and states of North America and has found a direct correlation between the level of economic freedom and prosperity. An analysis of 23 OECD countries over a period of 36 years has also shown that economic growth is inversely proportional to government spending. For every additional 10 percentage points of government spending as a proportion of GDP, economic growth is permanently reduced by 1% a year.
In the 1970s, Robert Bourassa invented the term “profitable federalism.” That was an unfortunate concept to put forward as a way to defend federalism. For many Quebecers now, the more money we extract from the rest of Canada, the more profitable federalism is deemed to be.
Both federalist and separatist provincial governments use the threat of separation to try to get more money. Even when the amounts being sent by Ottawa increase, the reaction in Quebec City is always that it’s not enough — we need more, or else this is the proof that federalism is not profitable.
The federalism that I wish for is not a profitable one, it’s responsible. On the masthead of my blog, there are two words in large characters: liberty and responsibility. I favour as much individual freedom as possible. But when you are free, you must also be responsible for your actions. You can enjoy the fruits of your labour, but you must also bear the consequences of your bad decisions.
The same is true for governments. A responsible federalism is a federalism that rests on the principle of subsidiarity. This means issues should be handled by the lowest competent authority, the one closest to the people. Each one should fund its own programs and decide for itself its own priorities as an autonomous entity.
This way, each province, each community, develops according to its own personality. This allows local particularities to be expressed. And each is responsible for its own policies. If one has bad policies, others cannot be held responsible and should not be forced to help pay the bill.
Many people in the rest of the country perceive Quebecers as a bunch of spoiled children who are never satisfied and always ask for more. This perception has some basis in reality. It derives from 40 years of futile debates over independence; 40 years of irresponsible policies adopted by one Quebec government after the other living beyond their means and getting us deeper into debt; 40 years of demands to extract yet more money from the pockets of our fellow citizens in the rest of Canada.
We must stop presenting a false choice between independence and profitable federalism. We must also put an end to policies that lead to our impoverishment and must stop expecting the rest of Canada to bail us out.
Imagine if, instead of exerting ourselves to get more money from the rest of Canada, Quebecers aimed at something more positive: becoming sufficiently rich that we’d no longer receive equalization money.
Imagine if, instead of pointlessly debating the merits of political independence, we tried instead to live within our means and to get out of our economic dependence.
Imagine if, instead of having the Bloquistes always trying to impede our progress within Canada, we had a group of conservative MPs teaming up with all those who want a more decentralized federalism.
That’s the alternative that we have to offer Quebecers: the vision of a proud, responsible and autonomous Quebec.
Maxime Bernier is the Member of Parliament for Beauce.