On Sept. 4, Quebecers go to the polls. It will be Premier Jean Charests fourth run for the electoral roses and it could be his last. A Leger survey shows Charest trailing the Parti Quebecois by a couple of points. More troublesome for Charest is the emergence of the centre-right Coalition Avenir Quebec.
The CAQ is showing star power moving up 14 points in the last week, the party is eating away at Liberal support and as the name implies it sees itself as the future of Quebec.
As the campaign lurches on through the dog days of August the usual Quebec topics are at play. Sovereignty, language rights, corruption, immigration, religious symbols, student tuition fees and the need for political change. The last factor does not bode well for Jean Charest.
Interestingly, there is little outside concern for the Parti Quebecois lead. The Canadian dollar is strong and gaining, ditto for Canadian companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Simply put, the Parti Quebecois is no longer seen as the national economic threat it was in the 1970s and 80s.
Indeed, looking at the current Canadian political landscape, it could be argued a Parti Quebecois win would be a good thing for the country. Put the separatists feet to the fire and have them understand there is simply no place for their self-absorbed intolerant whining in a modern, outward-looking country like Canada.
From a political perspective, Stephen Harpers Conservative Party win in 2011 shows he can form a majority government without the support of Quebec.
From a national point of view, there are a number of inconsistencies in Quebec that need to be addressed and a PQ win could force those issues to the forefront. For the rest of Canada, including most Canadian premiers, a PQ government becomes a great target.
At the top of the list has to be the current provincial equalization program. This program recognizes the fiscal capacity of each Canadian province. Fiscal capacity is the ability of a province to raise taxes. Five revenue categories are measured. They are personal income tax, business tax, consumption tax, resource royalties and property taxes. A national average is determined and those below - called have-not provinces - get a transfer lift from those provinces above the average. The two big have-nots are Ontario and Quebec. In fiscal 2012/13 Ontario will take $3.2 billion, while Quebec will take a whooping $7.4 billion. B.C. by the way is a have province and has been since 2004. It took a couple of years to get out from under the NDP-induced recession of the 1990s.
I agree with the principle of equalization, its been part of our confederation since Confederation. But Quebec isnt playing fair. The test for equalization is fiscal capacity, but it doesnt include fiscal responsibility. As an example, if youve been following Quebec politics over the past four months youll know one of the tough issues has been university tuition rates. Currently tuition in Quebec is half what is charged in other provinces. Jean Charest put a tuition increase plan in place, but it was met by months of student protests.
I must admit, it would be pretty good to go to McGill for $2,200 as compared to paying about double that to attend any other Canadian university. But whos picking up the tab for that educational largesse? Go look in the mirror, dear reader -- thanks to our equalization formula, you are.
Its time to rethink equalization, particularly as it applies to Quebec. Fiscal capacity is one thing, but its time to adopt an equalization formula overhaul that takes into account non-conforming expenditures. Quebec day care is $7.00 per day. Thats nice as long as the four have provinces - including B.C. - are helping to cover off the losses.
Quebecs provincial debt is 47 per cent of GDP; B.C.s is 24 per cent.
I wish whoever wins the Quebec general election all the best. I trust that under their stewardship the province will prosper and resolve its many issues. My only concern as a British Columbian is that Quebec will stop looking for handouts and start paying its bills, all on its own.
O little town of Bellingham.
Residents of Bellingham, Washington, are ticked off at Canadians for aggressive shopping behaviour, poor parking habits and in general for being there. The Americans want a U.S.-only time for locals. This issue has even hit the big-time on the national U.S. news channels. Apparently Canadian shoppers are emptying the milk shelves at Costco in Bellingham so quickly theres none left for the homefolks. At the risk of repeating an earlier column, the remedy is not a locals-only time slot, the remedy is having our federal government dump the Canadian system of supply management as it applies to dairy and poultry. Milk is artificially overpriced in Canada due to our outdated regime of shielding the industry from market pressures. A protected industry with a monopoly has no interest in competitive pricing.