I live in Quebec, a province that always seems to be teetering on the verge of separation from Canada and striking off on its own as an independent, majority-French-speaking country. It boasts only two major industries, forestry and electricity generation tied to the American market; relies on transfer payments from the federal government in the usual futile attempt to make up for its annual budgetary shortfall; runs the largest deficit in the country; is burdened by a bloated, parasitic, and non-productive bureaucracy, especially in transportation and education; and is entangled in so much ministerial red tape that business cannot move freely in the market place. As a result, separation would quickly lead to great economic suffering or, at best, a living standard more or less equivalent to Slovakia’s after the velvet divorce.
But even if Quebec remains in the Canadian family, its future looks problematic. It is the highest taxed jurisdiction on the North American continent, and taxes in general, value added or GST surtaxes, and user fees are waistlining out by the year. Indeed, a new user fee will shortly be piled onto our single-payer medicare system, which is already prohibitively costly and seems almost totally dysfunctional. Patients wait inordinately long before being treated, are often released prematurely, and some die on corridor gurneys. For these undoubted benefits Quebec has earmarked approximately 40% of its program spending, which is, admittedly, a Canadian problem as well. (Americans, take heed, and remember, Michael Moore is a sicko liar.) Onerous auto licensing and registration fees, accompanied by hefty gasoline taxes, tend to make domestic and commuter driving more of a luxury than the necessity that it is. This raptorial scourge afflicts the municipal level too, where cities like Montreal are distinguished by outrageous property taxes, indiscriminate ticketing, and various “solidarity” excises.
To add injury to injury, like many Quebecers, I have just been hit by a proleptic revenue grab, that is, a newly mandated advance tax based on an estimate of my next year’s earnings, which must be paid in two installments before the current fiscal year is out. It is, really, a form of legalized extortion. Where else, I wonder, does one pay a portion of next year’s taxes this year? As the province sinks deeper into debt, it has sought to defray its expenses and ballooning interest payments by mortgaging the future, when the debt freight will only have increased and the means to service it correspondingly decreased. Quebec is Charlie Chaplin’s waiter, scampering ever forward to keep the glasses from falling off his tray. Moreover, the fact that approximately half the population does not pay taxes and is effectively grubstaked by the other, productive half only exacerbates the situation.
In the political/cultural sphere, the situation is no less gloomy. Bill 101, titled the Charter of the French Language and passed in 1977, proclaimed French as the official language of Quebec. At first specifying the exclusive use of French in the managerial operations of certain business firms and French only on signs and notices, later modified to require the prominent placement of French in upper-case letters with small-letter English writing inconspicuously below, it applied to all sectors of provincial life. Government agencies, the judiciary, advertising, the workplace, primary school education (with very few loopholes) came under the authority of these draconian instruments, which spawned a pettifogging outfit called the Office québécois de la langue française, popularly known as the “language police” (apparently after the phrase was used on 60 Minutes), that snuck about eavesdropping on shopfloor and office conversations and even fined pub owners for providing English-language beer coasters. The passage of the bill into law led to a mass exodus from the Anglo community, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and to the relocation of most of the head offices of major corporations, to Toronto and Calgary. Quebec has never quite recovered from the economic impact caused by the flight of business and of many of its most dynamic, tax-paying citizens.
The depletion of the census, however, is being compensated by a constantly burgeoning Islamic presence in which an ever greater role is being played by the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem is not, clearly, the peaceable community of ordinary Muslims but the threat of advancing radicalization. Through its various branch plants, like the Muslim Association of Canada, the Canadian Islamic Congress, and the Présence Musulmane Montréal (which recently hosted Islamic propagandist Tariq Ramadan), the Brotherhood is subtly advocating for the introduction of shariah law, little by little extracting concessions from our institutional apparatus, infiltrating our political parties, cozying up to the media, practicing the tactic of lawfare, and gradually proliferating in a network of mosques and prayer venues, of which there are 69 in the Montreal area alone. The city is now home to 200,000 Muslims. This is about one fifth the number currently residing in Canada which amounts to approximately 4% of the country’s population and growing.
It gets even more interesting. Quebec has a history of electoral malversation — I recall as a child, during the blatantly crooked administration of Premier Maurice Duplessis, coming across heaps of destroyed ballots in the gully behind the public school. When we look at the electoral procedures during the second Quebec referendum of 1995 on the issue of secession, or what was euphemistically called “sovereignty-association” in the first 1980 referendum and “sovereignty” tout court in the 1995 question, we are back in the Duplessis era. The No side won by around 1 percent of the vote, but the actual result was not quite as close as it seemed. For the pro-independence, Parti Québécois scrutineers invalidated, by one count, 86,000 No ballots on the flimsiest of pretexts, for example, the kern of the X trailed slightly outside the index box, or was smudged, or inked rather than pencilled. I suspect the number was higher than that. In the mainly Anglophone riding of Chomedy, one out of every nine ballots was rejected. The fraud was later covered up by the Quebec Superior Court, which restricted access to the ballots and eventually destroyed them entirely. Subject closed. There were also reports of elderly people from the English community turned away from the voting booths or forced to wait until their patience gave out. Others were simply misdirected to nonexistent or more remote polling locations. Additionally, the separatist Parti Québécois refuses to take No for an answer and has vowed to conduct future referenda until it gets the answer it wants. Perhaps its motto should be: If at first you don’t secede, try and try again.
In many respects, the U.S. appears to be heading toward the same terminus ad quem as Quebec — California is just about there. The culture wars between liberals and conservatives, left and right, resemble the language wars in my home province. The distressing sense that a national fracture may be looming, a premonition of possible break-up, is common to both polities. The growing deficit and Atlas-like debt load is a shared phenomenon, as is the hamstringing of business and industry, one half of the population supporting the other half through taxes and financial redistribution, and the movement of individuals and families from high-taxed or depressed regions to more favored locales.
When we take into account the notable venality and profiteering in the construction industry (for which Quebec is nationally infamous), our decaying infrastructure (overpasses collapse, bridges disintegrate, roads are pitted with potholes), the unseemly strength and bullying tactics of the labor unions which hold the economy hostage, and the swelling public sector living off the back of the dwindling private sector, with ever more government beadles and administrative functionaries enjoying secure salaries and comparatively lavish pension plans, the analogy between Quebec and the U.S. becomes progressively instructive.
As at one time in Quebec (and who knows what tomorrow may bring), voting irregularities in the U.S. are ubiquitous, evident from the Black Panther case of voter intimidation; the caucus hijinks in which votes are over-counted and names copied out of telephone books, among other such malfeasances; the various forms of Motor Voter fraud including the tallying of deceased people, to the advantage of the Democratic Party; suspicious events such as arson and legal suits in Texas to harm the Republican cause; and non-compliance with the Voter Registration Act in Pennsylvania, contaminating the voter rolls with the names of dead, underaged or otherwise ineligible voters. It may be expedient to suggest that a team of international observers from respectable nations be invited to monitor the November 2 congressional elections, as they occasionally do in overtly corrupt and autocratic countries. For it is beginning to look as if the November elections will be a dry run to devise and entrench ways to manipulate the vote to ensure the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012.
In Quebec, we seem content to let our politicians, from whichever party happens to be in power, trample over the electorate. They raise taxes with unabashed brio all across the board and pass legislation to our collective detriment, and we respond by heaving a deep sigh and lemming it toward the voting stations. The question is: will Americans be disposed to behave in the same passive and complaisant way or will they arise, with the Tea Party Express, to prevent the predatory run on their solvency and the expropriation of their constitutional rights?
To be fair, though, all is not uniformly dismal in the true north strong and free. A new variable has entered the medical equation. According to Dr. John Philpott of CanAm Physician Recruiting, “Obama’s health plan is scaring the life out of all the doctors in the United States,” many of whom are relocating to Canada. Since an influx of American doctors will go some way to easing our hospital gridlock and partially repairing our broken health care system, even if it does not cure its structural ills, Canadians and Quebecers have reason to be grateful to President Obama.
There is another smidgen of good news which suggests a modest and — for a change — benign similarity between Quebec and the United States, at least in the sector of public sentiment. A new social advocacy group, the Reseau Liberté-Québec, or the Freedom Quebec Network, loosely based on the Tea Party model, has appeared on the scene. Co-founder Roy Eappen sees Quebec as “a province that will soon be worse off than Greece” and where “the leftist media ridicules anything that is even slightly centrist, let alone right of center.” According to fellow co-founder, radio commentator, and local columnist Éric Duhaime, “a lot of people here … are fed up with a big interventionist state and are looking for more individual liberty and personal responsibility.” The group expects 250 attendees — a “lot of people” for a statist, big-spending, welfare-oriented province — at its October conference in Quebec City.
But the odds are stacked against a much-needed turn for the better in a province that is determined to live off someone else’s checkbook. Indeed, as has been often pointed out, what we might regard as Quebec’s “daycare environment” is largely subsidized by Alberta oil. Rather than recognize what is ultimately an unsustainable situation and put its house in order, the provincial elite has mobilized to resist and denounce any conservative movement fighting for smaller government, fiscal restraint, and intergenerational fairness as outright “Quebec bashing.” And it is obviously supported by a substantial segment of the public riding on the backs of the endlessly exploited, whether via federal transfers from the “have” provinces or amplifying tax receipts from its own gainful citizens.
Many things are at a premium here, especially sanity and, of course, honesty. It seems to have escaped us that we can freewheel for only so long before the future forecloses. Quebec’s inner skateboarder, I’m afraid, is heading for a wipeout.