Thursday, October 20, 2005

Quebec's Corrective Vision

Yesterday in the Commons, the Liberals decided to have some fun with BQ leader Gilles Duceppe's musings on a possible army for Quebec:

Hon. Denis Paradis (Brome—Missisquoi, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my question is entitled “There's No Life Like It”. This morning, we learned that the new priority of the Bloc Québécois leader, our new James Bond, is to develop a plan for the army and the secret service of a future sovereign Quebec. The leader of the Bloc Québécois is intent on interfering in the PQ leadership race.

With proposals like this one, it is clear where the Bloc's priorities are. What does the Minister of Foreign Affairs think of that?

Hon. Pierre Pettigrew (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the Bloc leader is totally out of touch with the real concerns of Quebeckers. What the Bloc wants is hard-core independence. The much promised association, the link they used to talk about, is a thing of the past. We are back to the 19th century.

I would suggest that the Bloc leader's spies be assigned to find out what the real priorities of Quebeckers are.

As it turns out, a group of Quebec leaders -- including former premier Lucien Bouchard -- have already identified those "real priorities," in a manifesto entitled Pour un Québec lucide, released yesterday. (I've linked to the English-language version of this manifesto.)

Put briefly, this manifesto proposes a new relationship between government, business and the population. For the following reasons:

-- Quebec's population is going to decline, relative to the rest of North America. You know the upcoming "baby boom crisis" where fewer young people are going to need to support more seniors? That situation's going to be compounded in Quebec.

-- Quebec's manufacturing and industrial base will face stiffer competition, mainly from Asia. Countries like China and India have always had cheaper labour, but they're also experiencing a population boom, and they're catching up to the Western states in terms of high-tech education. And in the meantime, Quebec's demographics will result in problems recruiting skilled labour into its own manufacturing base.

-- Government can't afford to play a big role in society anymore. Quebec's government grew in scope so that it could foster Quebec's culture. But now, government debt is crippling its ability to maintain all the programs the province is used to. And any attempt to cut back results in vicious opposition.

What to do about it? The manifesto's big recommendation is public debt reduction, which is pretty much a bugaboo for provincial politicians because what's spent on debt can't be spent on other programs.

The manifesto also recommends raising tuition fees for post-secondary institutions. The Canadian Federation of Students will be upset, of course, but universities and colleges are expensive to maintain, particularly in a world where innovation happens every hour. Low tuition fees are only possible if there's a very big student population, and according to Quebec's current demographics, that's not going to happen.

There's also one that Quebec's nationalists will have trouble stomaching: encouraging more languages other than French, especially English. This means a re-thinking of the Quebec Language Charter and Commission, something of a sacred cow in this environment.

It's good that Quebec's elite is thinking about these things, but I'd be curious to find out if other provincial leaders would do this kind of exercise. (Dalton?)