Quebec's leadership hopefuls have lost touch with reality

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By: Nelson Peters

Thanks to the creation of several new parties and the influence of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, the campaign for the Quebec provincial election is fast becoming one of the most dynamic in recent history.

Except, unfortunately, when it comes to the ideas the parties are talking about. In that case, it is a matter of the same old, same old . . .

First, every popular political party is still proposing an increase in the role of government in the economy and a boost public spending, despite the fact that Quebec already has one of the highest public debts in North America. This lack of perspective shows the extent to which the political discourse in Quebec has become short-sighted, irresponsible, and foolish.

Commentators such as Eric Duhaime have pointed out that Quebec has yet to bear the full brunt of the spending spree which began in the 1960s when the shackles of the Catholic Church were thrown off, to be replaced by a wide-ranging welfare state. As Duhaime has written, the Baby Boomer generation will soon begin to cash in on its lucrative public-sector pensions.

Strangely, no one seems to be talking about the consequences of that upcoming crisis during the current provincial election campaign. Instead, potential leaders seem to be more concerned with finding new ways to spend money.

Second, all three major party leaders are opposed to the takeover of Quebec-based Rona by U.S,-based Lowe`s, a chain of retail home improvement and appliance stores. Instead, they are proposing that public funds be used to buy up Rona`s shares, all in the name of “national control” over the economy. Liberal Minister of Finance Raymond Bachand has even proposed creating a $1 billion fund, at taxpayer expense, to block further foreign takeovers which do not reflect Quebec’s “values”.

Third, Parti Quebecois (PQ) leader Pauline Marois has been beating the worn-out drum of French-language protection, pledging to enforce the infamous Bill 101 on companies with 11 to 49 employees, stipulating the usage of the French language in their business activities regardless of whether their customers speak it, or even if it becomes unprofitable to do so.

Fourth, Jean Charest’s governing Liberals are being criticized by student protest leaders for being in favour of “neoliberalism” (which supports the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the deregulation of markets, and the promotion of the private sector's role in society), and yet, according to Jean-Herman Guay and Luc Godbout at the Université de Sherbrooke, the number of public employees for the Quebec provincial government alone has grown by over 80, 000 since 2002 for a total of over 780,000; nearly one in every 10 Quebeckers is now employed by the province.

Fifth, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), Quebec’s supposed proponent of change, plans to use the Caisse de dépot et placements, the investment vehicle for Quebec’s pension plan, as a piggybank for mining companies in Quebec’s north. Francois Legault, the CAQ’s leader, wants to commit $5 billion in public funds to mining companies as a part of northern economic expansion, in effect making the government a minority shareholder in exploration companies. This is not a recipe for competitiveness and productivity, not to mention the nightmarish potential it creates for abuse and corruption.

Quebec’s present economic situation is precarious at best. The provincial government has predicted a deficit of $1.5 billion for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Quebec’s present economic situation is precarious at best. The provincial government has predicted a deficit of $1.5 billion for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, and yet after only the first two months in the 2012 fiscal year has already overspent by $1.4 billion. Who in their right mind would continue to lend to such a foolhardy spender?

In effect, international lenders are supporting Quebec’s drunken sailor spending addiction on the assumption that the federal government will step in to prevent a default by borrowing and using transfers from other provincial entities. Does the story sound familiar?

Finally, if the Parti Quebecois (PQ) wins a majority government (a real possibility because of the widespread apathy and vote-splitting between the Liberals and the CAQ), the question of political independence is again rearing its ugly head, all while productivity stalls and public spending climbs to unsustainable levels.

In short, Quebec’s political discourse is losing touch with reality.

The promises being made in the Quebec political campaign are pipedreams and nonsense. Quebec cannot afford its current government programs, much less pay for nationhood. This is not a matter of being on the left or right, Liberal or Conservative, federalist or sovereignist. This is math.

Troy Media syndicated columnist Nelson Peters is originally from Manitoba. He has spent much of the last five years in Quebec, where he completed a degree in Civil law at Université Laval and served as Editor-in-Chief of the faculty student law review from 2010-2011. He, along with three colleagues, writes a weekly column keeping an Eye on Quebec.

This column is courtesy of Troy Media: Troy Media



Organizations: Parti Quebecois, Rona, Catholic Church Lowe Université de Sherbrooke Caisse de dépot Université Laval

Geographic location: Quebec, North America, Manitoba

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