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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)


A PQ majority would mean another secession sequel Add to ...

How many times have we lived through this? Give the Parti Québécois a crack at power with a majority government and the party promises a “vast popular consultation” about the merits of secession from Canada.

Zzz. Wake us up when this collective bout of navel-gazing ends at its preordained conclusion: Canadian federalism is all bad, Quebec secession is all good.

The PQ, which prides itself (often quite wrongly) on being a party that rallies all Quebeckers, is about to launch an election, believing it can win a majority. The election call is likely to come in mid-March, with voting on April 14.

The PQ is favoured to win, having divided Quebeckers on the basest and most dangerous of human emotions: fear of the “other.”

Former PQ leaders have opposed the PQ’s Charter of Quebec Values. University presidents, business leaders, judicial experts – the overwhelming majority of leaders in Quebec civic society – all have denounced the charter.

No matter. The PQ put the charter forward intending it to stir up insecurities, phobias, fears and pride among the province’s francophone majority, especially in areas where there are almost no “others” (in particular, Muslims). This phantom menace has done its evil political work, worming the PQ into an enhanced political position.

Possessed of a majority, the PQ promises a “vast popular consultation” designed to hear what Quebeckers think about secession. This consultation will be paid for with public money, supplemented with government propaganda and larded with denunciations of Canadian federalism. It will eventually reach the conclusion that the PQ has been trying to persuade Quebeckers to adopt for almost half a century: that secession followed by independence is the only option.

Canada will be put again through the ennui of watching a remake of an old movie, with some of the same aging actors repeating the same lines that have grown stale with the retelling, including the biggest whopper of them all: that an independent Quebec would get all its money back from Canada and be richer and better for it.

So many studies have debunked this claim that library shelves buckle under their weight. Yet in Quebec, the impression persists that the province subsidizes Canada, rather than the other way around.

Part of this misunderstanding arises from a series of Quebec premiers, including federalist ones, always complaining about the province’s poor treatment at the hands of the federal government. The image of Quebec as hard done by deepens with every new demand, for no premier is ever satisfied and none ever says thanks.

The truth is the contrary, but that truth does not sell in the dream world of Quebec politics. It likely matters little that the latest analysis, pulled together from Quebec’s own statistical bureau by Alain Dubuc of La Presse, shows that the federal government spent $16.3-billion more in Quebec than it raised in revenue in 2012. Equalization payments have now grown to $9.3-billion a year, without which Quebec’s deficit would be disastrous.

It shouldn’t be this way, of course. Quebec should not need equalization, considering its immense human talents, its natural resources, its favourable geographical position, its use of two international languages, its democratic traditions, its respect for the rule of law and its participation in one of the world’s undeniably successful countries.

Rather than asking why Quebec should require equalization, the standard line from its provincial governments (federalist or secessionist) is that somehow the system discriminates against Quebec, which accordingly should receive more.

Then there is the mythology about monetary policy: that Quebec could either have its own currency or use the Canadian dollar and enjoy some influence over the currency.

As Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England and former governor of the Bank of Canada, recently explained to the Scots: Using a common currency without strict fiscal controls will not work well.

Once a country uses someone else’s currency, a chunk of political independence disappears. Fiscal harmonization becomes important. The rest of Canada would not give an independent Quebec a whisper of a say in the management of the Canadian dollar.

But holding a referendum while federalist forces lack an engaging leader, and are burdened with the very unpopular Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, would give a majority PQ government an incentive to try for independence again.

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