Maxime Bernier: Toward a proud, responsible Quebec

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.


Lucien Bouchard: “La souveraineté n’est pas réalisable”

At a conference yesterday, described as his first major public appearance since his resignation in 2001, former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard made quite a splash, stating that sovereignty for Quebec is not feasible:

L’ancien premier ministre Lucien Bouchard croit que le Québec doit embrasser un nouveau rêve, trouver «le tremplin de notre nouveau départ». Mais ce n’est pas la souveraineté: ce projet n’est pas une solution puisqu’il n’est pas réalisable.

Lucien Bouchard participait à un forum sur les 100 dernières années de vie politique au Québec, organisé par l’Institut du Nouveau Monde dans le cadre du centenaire du Devoir. C’était pour l’ancien premier ministre une première sortie publique importante depuis sa démission en 2001. Il a insisté sur la puissance du rêve pour une nation, de l’importance de voir grand comme ce fut le cas lors de la Révolution tranquille, le moment clé des 100 dernières années au Québec, selon lui.

Mais ce rêve libérateur, ce n’est pas celui de la souveraineté. «À vue de nez, non. Pauline Marois ne veut pas faire de référendum. Elle sait que ce n’est pas le temps. Le monde n’en veut pas à court terme; ça veut dire plusieurs années», a-t-il dit en réponse aux questions des journalistes. M. Bouchard est persuadé qu’il ne verra pas un autre référendum sur la souveraineté de son vivant. L’ancien chef péquiste est toujours souverainiste, mais la souveraineté est devenue une question hypothétique; elle n’est donc pas une solution aux problèmes du Québec.

Reprenant des éléments du discours des Lucides, Lucien Bouchard a dit qu’il fallait que le Québec «secoue sa torpeur et se remette en marche», qu’il accepte de voir les obstacles qui lui barrent la route, comme le fort taux de décrochage scolaire, le piètre financement des universités et les tarifs d’électricité trop bas. (Translated version)Bottom line? Quebec needs a new collective dream to embrace but in his view, sovereignty is not the answer. Sovereignty, he says, has become a hypothetical question, not a solution to the problems of Quebec. He doesn’t believe he’ll see another referendum on the question in his lifetime.

This is a welcome thing to hear coming as it does from one of the lions of the sovereignty movement over the past twenty years, that makes it all the more significant. It was also delivered in a diplomatic enough manner that makes it difficult for the PQ and the Bloc to be in too much disagreement with the statement. He affirms that he is “toujours souverainiste,” as would they, yet puts it in the realm of the hypothetical. In a candid freebie moment, would Marois and Duceppe not do the same? Bouchard is probably just speaking to an undercurrent in Quebec, a belief that the sovereignty movement remains a defining core element for the PQ and the Bloc yet largely in a symbolic way. The federal Clarity Act entered the picture and has forever altered the landscape for the separation question. It’s not smart to ever write separatism off as a factor in Quebec, but Bouchard’s characterization of the goal as a hypothetical maintains the ongoing calm on that front. It’s a big statement yet it really just affirms the status quo.

The other big news out of Bouchard’s appearance is a dig at the PQ for their present dalliance with intolerance, characterizing the party as wanting to pick up where the ADQ left off. That aspect may get more attention given its immediacy as an issue as opposed to the above.

No reporting here on whether the Bloc’s role in Ottawa came up or not, the forum being devoted to the past 100 years of political life in Quebec. Seems like that would have been a logical topic of discussion, how the Bloc’s presence in Ottawa has shifted the federal voting dynamic in Quebec and its future. Oh well. Sounds like Bouchard was in a mood to make waves too. Guess we politicos will have to be content with the above pronouncement, in and of itself quite remarkable.

Quebec’s New Video Game Language Laws

Quebec’s New Video Game Language Laws
by Karen Sampson

New law forbids English video games if French-translation version exists, prompting some to question the motivation behind the “language police.”

Government gets their hands dirty
Government involvement in the private sector created a big stir in video game stores in Quebec earlier this year thanks to a new law that has come into effect banning English versions of certain video games. But opponents of the law, the stated purpose of which is to promote the French language, say it could put them out of business. Ronnie Rondeau, a local game store owner who own eight stores in the area, remarked that he feared the worst for his business. “If it really was going to make a difference,” he said in an interview in The Star, “I’d be for it, but only a small number of people want to play in French. The rest don’t care.”

The crowds will go elsewhere
Gamers are notorious for wanting new versions of games as soon as they are released, regardless of the language of the programming. Rondeau says that he even stocks several titles in Japanese because demand for the games was so high. But game designers frequently delay the releases of foreign language titles before they can debug the games for fear of future problems. In some cases the game may not be released in Quebec markets at all because the cost of translation isn’t worth it for game producers.

Even when games do get released in these limited markets programmers often take multiple extra weeks to release the new games, like the ever popular Rock Band video game. While sales in the United States were soaring over the Christmas holidays sales in Quebec were nonexistent because the game wasn’t released in French until six weeks later. Gamers simply looked elsewhere. With government involvement causing some businesses to panic, many have asked whether the Office Québécois de la langue Française, or Quebec’s French “language police” have gone too far.

The business of gaming
Gamers have always been known to be a very demanding crowd. Oftentimes games that are delayed even a few days cause the majority of the crowd to look elsewhere, across the border or on the internet, for other options. “I’m afraid it’s going to cost me my business,” Rondeau said. And even if he is able to scrap it out in the increasingly difficult market, “… money-wise, it’s going to hurt.”

About the author
Karen Sampson writes for Select courses. She welcomes your feedback at

A story about racial discrimination in Quebec

I remember going to a “Quebecois” school in Quebec where I first learned about racial discrimination when I was younger. The difference between a “Canadian” school and a Quebecois school in Quebec is the Quebecois school generally had separatist influences, they are relatively less diverse than the Canadian schools, there is no trace of anything distinctly Canadian, and there is no assistance to students who do not speak French as a native language.

Canadian schools, on the other hand, had a diverse student body, had some programmes for non-French speaking students, and put down racism in their school by promoting multiculturalism. My early experiences were both at a Canadian (St. Lawrence School) and Quebecois school (Ecole Samuel-De Champlain) where I spent 2 years in each school when I was young.

The first instance of racism I experienced at a Quebec school called Ecole Samuel-De Champlain, was when I was entering the school in the morning. While I was walking to class, some French kid kept making “Ching-Chang-Chong” noises while looking at me while a few kids called me a “Chin-tok (Chink in French)”. The kids that were around me simply ignored it as if it was normal while a handful laughed. At another instance, some French kids beat me up, trashed the things in my bookbag, and told me to “Go back to China” in French because they felt immigrants were taking his parents’ jobs or diluting the Quebecois spirit.

Then there was that second grade teacher named Sylvie L, who still teaches in the school as a grade 1 teacher. At that time she was in her late thirties, and I learned later that her husband was unemployed. I knew when I was younger I was a bit of a troublemaker, but I always thought it was strange how she would only give stern warnings to the White kids in the class while throwing me out of her class for the entire day when I did something wrong. This was strange because I did similar things to the other kids, but I got a harsher punishment and she never called me back to class once she threw me out.

I think these things were related to immigration and that’s why I get disgusted when people opposed to immigration rabidly deny that the issue has a racist element to it. I can definitely say, it has a racist element since I had the luxury of experiencing it first-hand in Quebec, Canada.

I really don’t like talking about this part of my life but it is a crude reminder of who I am. It’s also a reason why I unlearned the French language, abandoned my Catholic faith, and one of the reasons why it took several years to come to terms with myself.

My experiences in America are much better than Quebec. Although there is more ignorance than rampant racism here compared to Quebec, I want to do what I can to eliminate negative racial stereotypes and explore what it means to be Asian-American.