The Métropolitain

Time for prosperity over prejudice: Let’s improve « nous-mêmes » not demonize « les autres »

Par Beryl Wajsman le 20 janvier 2014

The Leger Marketing poll released this week was dismaying for several reasons. Obviously troubling was the fact that the percentages seem to put the PQ within reach of a slim majority government. But equally – if not more – troubling , is the fact that the reason for increased support for the government is broader acceptance of its identity initiative called Bill 60. This truly puts into question where Quebecers’ minds are at. Too many just don’t seem to get it.

As we have written before, laity in the public square certainly is not Quebec’s burning concern. With one-third of urban households below the poverty line, another third of our working men and women basically “working poor” with no more than two weeks of salary as a safety net, with Montreal coming in dead last among North America’s major cities in economic growth in 2013 and with ever-increasing taxes, the overarching issues are jobs and the economy. But since the PQ opened this conversation on laity, reasonable people can agree that there are precedents for a liberal pluralistic society adopting lay regulations for elected bodies, courts and security authorities. More than that is nothing but an appeal to irrational fears. And sadly, governments in Quebec have been very good at those appeals ever since the Duplessis years when Jean-Charles Harvey warned of « la politique de la peur .»

In aiming legislative guns in the form of Bill 60 at a problem that does not exist, the PQ has once again managed to harvest votes from those for whom demonizing « les autres » is more important than improving « nous-mêmes. » This is borne out by some extraordinary numbers in the poll. While voting intentions put the PQ at 36% to the Liberals 33%, the PQ`s strength is in the non-urban ridings which have considerably less voters than urban ones. In other words, not all votes are equal. This problem should have been straightened out years ago simply by reducing the number of voters in each urban riding thereby giving Montreal  - the economic engine of Quebec with some 60% of its GDP – proper representation in the Assembly with more seats.

But this poll demonstrates something more troubling than election vote intention. It demonstrates that Bill 60 is actually more popular than the government that proposed it and is therefore the catalyst for PQ strength through reflected “glory.” Nearly half the respondents – 48% - back the identity legislation. Twelve points more than declare they would vote for the party that proposed it. That number jumps to 86% among supporters of the PQ. But even among Liberal backers, the number rose to 29% backing Bill 60. And when asked who would make the best premier, respondents answered Marois but only with 27% support, well behind the legislation and her party. 

This raises the disquieting question of the new “two solitudes” in Quebec. The poll results showed that the PQ was second to the Liberals in Montreal and third in Quebec City behind the Liberals and the CAQ. In the regions however, the PQ leads.

The only reasonable conclusion from these breakdowns is that either voters in the regions are not aware of Quebec’s precarious economic position, or just care more about prejudice than prosperity. The Marois administration has made it almost impossible for Quebec to recover. It missed its budget estimates leaving a  $2 billion deficit that will take years – by Finance Minister Marceau’s own admission – to cover. It has mandated permanent moratoriums on natural gas development on the South Shore, oil exploration in the Gaspé and Anticosti and any discussion of the monetization of Hydro-Quebec by putting it on the stock markets as France did with Électricité de France so that rates can be dropped for North America`s most over-taxed population. Federal numbers have demonstrated that some 30,000 have left Quebec in the first nine months of 2013 alone, the highest number since the 1995 referendum. Moody`s credit rating service has put the province on `”negative” watch. And the PQ’s bombastic language and culture proposals – Bills 14 and 60 – have frozen out foreign investment. Quite a record for 16 months in power. Imagine what the PQ can do with a majority.

The tragedy in all this is that Quebec has the natural resources and skilled population to become one of the most prosperous jurisdictions in the west as it once was. Just look at Montreal. This city surpassed Boston several years ago for the greatest number of college and university students per capita in North America. Our port is the third most profitable on the continent. And our bio-pharma and avionics industries are national leaders. But you’ll never hear the nationalists talk about that. Because they know full well that the next election will be the battle for Montreal. And it may be our last chance to wrest control of Montrealers’ destinies from the nationalists’ yoke. 

A nineteenth-century writer supporting entrenched legislation to protect minorities once wrote, “A lie doesn`t become truth, wrong doesn`t become right, and evil doesn`t become good just because it`s accepted by a majority.” Well,  even Quebec’s majority in the regions should start to understand that we in Montreal may be their last hope too. Because if people in the regions don’t start to get it, the only place most will be exercising their language and identity are the unemployment and welfare lines.