To the contrary, Monsieur Harper

Marois’s new Harper-opposing policies discourage investment, immigration, resource development and healthy universities

To the contrary, monsieur Harper

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

It is a marvellous country that tolerates as many contrasting styles of government as Canada does. In the late 1990s Preston Manning gave a news conference in Ottawa where he argued that, with Mike Harris and Ralph Klein running Ontario and Alberta on the right, Jean Chrétien must somehow be kept from running Ottawa on the left. In the end the only mechanism that could be found to fix the problem, if it was one, was a succession of general elections. It took many years after Manning voiced his complaint, but today Stephen Harper is running the country in a different direction.

Unfortunately for fans of uniformity, the provinces move too. Ontario hasn’t been run the way Mike Harris, or Stephen Harper, would like it run for nearly a decade. British Columbia seems likely to tilt leftward soon too. And in Quebec—well, let’s have a look.

Watching the early moves of Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois government, I’ve found myself thinking of a speech Harper gave at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. This was Harper the economic manager laying out his long-term vision for Canadian prosperity. Even people who don’t like what he’s done to the long-form census or the long-gun registry might discern some horse sense in what the Prime Minister said at Davos. At the time I noted it was much like a big speech Paul Martin delivered seven years earlier.

Marois’s new government is already doing the opposite of what Harper laid out at Davos. Systematically. It’s like she’s keeping a checklist.

“Is it the case that in the developed world,” Harper told the Davos toffs, “too many of us have, in fact, become complacent about our prosperity, taking our wealth as a given, assuming it is somehow the natural order of things, leaving us instead to focus primarily on our services and entitlements?”

Marois replies: nope! There’s still plenty of time to take wealth as a given and to focus on entitlements. The university tuition increases that were the object of half a year’s protests are cancelled. But the increased student aid that was supposed to compensate for the tuition hikes remains in place. That’s tens of millions of dollars’ worth of increased burden on universities. “We will continue to make the key investments in science and technology necessary to sustain a modern competitive economy,” Harper said at Davos. Marois is digging a funding hole for universities that will make good science that much harder to afford.

Taxes? “We will, of course, continue to keep tax rates down,” Harper said. “That is central to our government’s economic vision.” Marois says: speak for yourself. A uniform $200 health fee is abolished, to be compensated by higher income taxes on Quebecers who make more than $130,000 a year. It might even work, if high-income earners don’t simply shuffle their portfolios to put more of their money out of the taxman’s reach. Or leave Quebec. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Natural resources: “We will make it a national priority to ensure we have the capacity to export our energy products beyond the United States and specifically to Asia,” Harper said. “In this regard, we will soon take action to ensure that major energy and mining projects are not subject to unnecessary regulatory delays.”

Marois wants to substantially increase revenues charged on northern resource developers. Where Harper’s environment minister, Peter Kent, seems not to believe there is such a thing as the environment, Marois’s Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet is horrified by natural resources. Quebec has immense shale gas reserves. Lucien Bouchard, whom you know, is in charge of the province’s shale gas lobby. On her way into her first cabinet meeting, Ouellet said she does not believe it will ever be possible to safely exploit the province’s shale gas. This will ensure Quebec is more virtuous and less rich than, say, British Columbia, where shale gas development proceeds apace.

Immigration? “We will ensure that, while we respect our humanitarian obligations and family reunification objectives, we make our economic and labour force needs the central goal of our immigration efforts in the future,” Harper said. Here, Marois may be stymied by the opposition to her minority government, but her stated goal is to make the French language the central goal of her immigration efforts. That means preferring French mother-tongue immigrants from Bordeaux over bilingual immigrants from Shanghai who might have handy skills. And French-speaking immigrants from North Africa? Well, the PQ has this thing about Muslim head scarves that doesn’t make Quebec sound like the most welcoming destination these days.

Economic growth this year in Quebec is already well below what Jean Charest’s Liberals projected in their last budget. Marois must find money where there hasn’t lately been enough, while her policies tend to discourage investment, immigration, resource development and healthy universities. Surely Harper is disappointed that his vision does not stretch past the Ottawa River.

Perhaps not. The investment that does not go to Quebec will go elsewhere. Quebecers who leave, many of them francophone, will make a stand somewhere else. It’s been common for decades to hear Quebec accents in Vancouver, Banff and Calgary. It will become more common. Harper’s long-term plan is to encourage money, populations and power to move westward within Confederation. Pauline Marois is doing all she can to help. He should send her a cake or something.




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To the contrary, Monsieur Harper

  1. Are you also making the point that Marois may be paving the way for Harper to get back into QC’s good books if she fails spectacularly on these issues? Probably not. There are other parties who are more likely to do that than Mr H. The provincial libs for instance, if they don’t get deep sixed by DB. And they aren’t likely to be asking to bunk in with the Brits, refight obscure colonial wars, and hang portraits of the Queen on every bit of spare federal wall space.

  2. “Economic growth this year in Quebec is already well below what Jean Charest’s Liberals projected in their last budget.”

    Economic growth is down across the country. Looks like we are headed below 2%. Carney’s original forecast was 2.5% (2.5% next year.)

    But interestingly enough, Budget Officer Kevin Page originally forecast growth of 1.9% this year 1.6% next year. Conservatives complained his forecast was too pessimistic.

    Budget watchdog accused of being too pessimistic
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2012/04/26/page-parliamentary-budget-officer.html

    • I’m a conservative and I don’t like straight-up facts!

  3. When it comes to entitlements (social spending,) the fact is Canada and America are on the bottom of the OECD (#23 and #25.) America didn’t go broke doling out entitlements; it went broke doling out tax cuts to the rich.

    Harper has the same position: he brought in over $30B/yr in tax cuts since coming to power. Since they utterly failed to boost productivity or create jobs they amount to a 30 billion-dollar boondoggle — fiscal incompetence at its worse.

    When it comes to competitiveness and productivity both have plummeted since Harper came to power. So more “blah blah blah.”

    Harper’s talk on immigration is also shallow rhetoric. He is tightening requirements; family reunification is at all time lows; he is also allowing corporations to hire temporary immigrant workers at a 15% discount.

    The right-wing position that living standards should be downsized, spending cut, centrist government dismantled while taxes are cut for the rich is the cause of all the economic problems we are facing today.

    We had a centrist position in the post-war era that created modern living standards. The strongest economies are mixed-market in northern Europe.

    Although Marois’ policies may be too far to the left, it’s a fallacy that Harper’s right-wing policies are good for the economy.

    • Don’t like Harper much, eh?
      The fact is that Canada under Harper is doing much better than the U.S. under Obama or Europe under a variety of leaders. Look at unemployment, for instance. You can argue that it was all the Liberals’ doing, but how many years can that mantra be used?
      Yes, Harper has done many annoying and foolish things. But they are all symbolic and haven’t done any major economic harm to Canada. Contrast that to Marois, who by merely opening her mouth has lots of Quebeckers thinking of moving.
      One important thing that the present goverhnment should be recognized for, is trying to diversify our trade away from the U.S. and toward Europe and Asia. They might not succeed, but at least they are trying — finally. Contrast that with Marois’ parochial mind-set.

      • “The fact is that Canada under Harper is doing much better than the U.S. under Obama or Europe under a variety of leaders.”

        It’s a fallacy to suggest Canada is doing better than northern European countries. Their economies have been outperforming ours and are much better positioned.

        Fact is Harper has been electioneering with cooked stats and outright lies about the economy.

        Under him a $14B budget surplus turned to a $30B deficit; a $26B trade surplus to a $50B trade deficit; 500,000 export-related jobs have disappeared; unemployment is higher; productivity growth has been at its lowest in recorded history; and we have a housing bubble about to deflate — caused by Harper’s 40-year no-money-down banking deregulation.

        So yes I don’t like someone who implements boneheaded right-wing ideology squandering resources and opportunities while lying to Canadians about the state of our economy.

        • BTW, here is Canada’s actual economic standing in relation to other developed countries:

          * OECD productivity (2011): #17
          * OECD productivity growth (2011): #24
          * OECD government debt/GDP (IMF 2011): #25
          * OECD Unemployment rate (2012 Q1): #17
          * OECD GDP growth (2011 CIA): #14
          * OECD trade balance (IMF 2011): #24
          * Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (2011): #12
          * Conference Board of Canada Economy Rankings (2011): #11
          * WEF Global Competitive Index (2012-2013): #14

      • Well now. If Harper deserves credit as you suggest the only question remaining is when does he take blame rather than the very, very tired; “it’s the Liberals fault”.
        Your man’s in deep deep doodoo which will rise like yeast as the US prints more money and increases our commitment to their failure…that was classical Harper economics…(the backing of the US dollar?).

  4. The Quebec Liberal label is badly tainted and going to get worse(probably more shoes to drop on the corruption scandal).. Also, there is no one in the Quebec Liberal Party who has the heft of Jean Charest. The Liberal’s 50 seats are the result of many Quebecers not finding another viable alternative to the PQ. If the Liberals are smart, they should try to join forces with the CAQ to form a new party(much like in BC where the Conservatives and Liberals formed the provincial Social Credit party). Both the provincial Liberals and CAQ have pro-business and investment policies. In addition, neither party wants a new referendum on Quebec. Finally, the Liberal label nationwide has also taken a big hit and some Quebec politicians might want to rethink being associated with it. The truth is that in 2013, Ontario and PEI will be the only provinces run by the Liberals. In Ontario, Liberal control is very unpopular(McGuinty’s precarious hold is largely due to Hudak’s bad leadership performance). In PEI, we have a province of about 160,000 which represents .5% of the population. The Liberals hold about only 35 seats in the Commons. The label is a negative in many areas. However, a merged Liberal/CAQ party (say called the Unity Party) could attract traditional liberals, voters disaffected by all traditional Quebec parties and pro-investment soft sovereignists. A new party that is anti-PQ, staunchly pro-business, pro-private sector job growth that will court both anglo and francophone voters(and unify them around the idea of a prosperous, bilingual Quebec that offers opportunites to people of both languages)..

  5. Memo to the Opposition Leaders of Quebec: Just give Marois enough rope to hang herself.

  6. How sad to see this magazine become more and more of a right wing rag. Whatever happened to the balanced journalism that celebrated the social democracy we Canadians value. Time to cancel my subscription!

  7. Harper is the prime minister of this country. A part of his job is to govern the entire country thus keeping it connected to a federal presence. He has never been seen in most of the Quebec province, they know nothing of him there, he has never granted an interview to the Quebec media, he is like a stranger in Quebec. He is not doing his job, a prime minister should be able to multi-task, it’s ok to do the economy in a country as rich as Canada, that cannot be that difficult, but he should address other concerns perhaps more important such as keeping the country together.
    As far as the economy goes, he inherited a very healthy government which he proceeded to put in debt yet again. How to solve it this time? on the back of the provinces again? Quebec will have none of it this time around.

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