October 20, 2005


New manifesto for Quebec (Graeme Hamilton, National Post, October 20th, 2005)

Lucien Bouchard, the former separatist premier, yesterday led a group of influential Quebecers issuing a "wake-up call" to their province, saying it must break from decades-old practices or face ruin.

The group, bringing together sovereigntists and federalists, acknowledged that it was treading risky ground as it took on such sacred cows as trade unions and language.

"Unfortunately, at the very moment when we should be radically changing the way we view ourselves and the world around us, the slightest change to the way government functions, a bold project, the most timid call to responsibility or the smallest change to comfortable habits is met with an angry outcry and objections or, at best, indifference," their manifesto says. "This outright rejection of change hurts Quebec because it runs the risk of turning us into the republic of the status quo, a fossil from the 20th century."

The initiative is a rare foray for Mr. Bouchard into the political arena since he quit as premier in 2001, but he insisted it is not the beginning of a comeback. He said he was motivated by concern over what kind of society his children will inherit. "We have to break taboos, to lucidly tackle the problems confronting us and to envisage all solutions, no matter how uncomfortable they are," he told a news conference.

The report that he and the 11 other signatories produced offered plenty to make Quebecers squirm. For example, Quebecers "work less than other North Americans; they retire earlier; they benefit from more generous social programs; both individually and collectively, their credit cards are maxed out," the 10-page document says.

"This is all only human; we all seek the best life possible. But we must also be realistic."

"In a few short years, our dreams -- or rather, not ours but our children's -- will be brutally interrupted by a knock on the door, when the bailiffs come calling!" The report also notes that 16% of Quebec's spending goes to servicing its debt, a much higher proportion than other provinces.

While the challenges are not unique to Quebec, they are more pronounced because of a looming demographic decline.

"Quebec is about to experience a demographic shock sooner and harder than anywhere else in North America," said Pierre Fortin, an economist at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal who signed the declaration. By 2025, the proportion of the Quebec population in the workforce will decrease by 12%.

"The ageing means two things: more elderly people to care for and fewer people to pay taxes. More money going out and less coming in," Mr. Fortin said.

The group proposes a substantial increase in the rates Quebecers pay for electricity to help pay down the debt. It says massive investments in education and research are needed to make the province competitive. It recommends raising university tuition to match other provinces and reforming the tax system so there is less emphasis on income tax.

It also says the Quebec government has to do a better job teaching English to francophone students: "In today's world, it is no longer acceptable that most young French-speaking Quebecers graduating from our educational institutions cannot speak or write correct English."

This is probably the first time in years Quebec separatists and federalists have agreed on anything other than hockey.

Posted by Peter Burnet at October 20, 2005 6:40 AM

So when will Mordecai Richler's birthday be declared a provincial holiday?

(Or maybe his yahrzeit?. Whatever. Somewhere in heaven---let's give him the benefit of the doubt---it is likely that Rene Levesque is once again searching for a Valium, or perhaps something a bit stronger.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 20, 2005 7:27 AM

The first rumblings of the earthquake...

Posted by: Mikey at October 20, 2005 8:43 AM

AND they just taxed Alberta to support them.

Posted by: Sandy P at October 20, 2005 3:11 PM