In Saturday's National Post, this article discussed a letter that Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Quebecois sent to the international community this past week. His letter, available here, informed the international community that they should brace for another referendum on Quebec sovereignty and that there is currently a strong political movement to make Quebec a sovereign nation. Apparently, the letter was sent from the Leader's Office in the Canadian House of Commons to the leaders of various nations around the world, including the United States and countries in Europe, South America and Asia.
In the letter, Mr. Duceppe claims that Quebeckers have a strong desire for freedom and independence; they wish to make all of their own laws, collect their own taxes and act on their own behalf on the international stage. The letter goes into the history of the failed first sovereignty referendum in 1980, the failed Meech Lake Accord, the rejected Charlottetown Accord and the failed but very close second Quebec sovereignty referendum of 1995. Mr. Duceppe then outlines the history behind the Clarity Act that he claims "contravenes every international and democratic practice...". He states that the parties in Quebec's National Assembly have all agreed that the wording of any future referendum shoudl be the prerogative of the National Assembly aand that it is no business of the Canadian government.
Here's a quote from the letter regarding Mr. Duceppe's interpretation of how Canada regards Quebec:
"Twenty years after the Meech Lake Accord fell through and fifteen years after the 1995 referendum, a recent scientific survey has shown that Canadian opinion toward Quebec has hardened. Whether it is about language, culture, immigration, public finances, international relations or simply respect for Quebec's constitutional jurisdictions, a large majority of Canadians refuse to compromise. In fact, 61% of Canadians refuse to even consider negotiations ro (sic) reach a constitutional agreement with Quebec.
A large majority of Canadians do not want to open the door to an agreement with Quebec. This leaves the Quebec nation with no recourse but sovereignty..."
I gather he thinks Canadians really don't like Quebeckers. I would disagree with him on that count. It's Quebec's politicians we don't really like, but then again, we aren't that fond of our own politicians either.
He states that the "conditions are ripe" for another sovereignty referendum; he also states that the "international community will be invited to formally recognize Quebec as a sovereign nation.
Let's take a quick look at Mr. Duceppe's resume as an MP for the Bloc. He has been in Parliament for 19 years, 10 months and 2 days (effective today) so he will qualify for a very large, Canadian taxpayer-funded pension and, because he is already 63, he could collect the pension at any time after his service to Canada ends. His base salary as an MP is $157,731; in addition, as a Leader of another Party in the House, he receives an additional salary of $53,694 for a total salary of $211,425. I've also taken a screen capture of his MP expenses from the April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009 period as released in the Individual Members Expenditures publication:
His total office expenditures for the fiscal year were $446,967. In comparison, Jack Layton, Leader of the NDP had expenses of $548, 783 but then again, Mr. Layton's objective is not to form a sovereign nation. I'd have to say that he doesn't really seem to object to spending Canadian's tax dollars.
Let's also take a quick look at the financial situation for Quebec. Their net provincial debt for 2009 - 2010 is projected to be $142.8 billion, the second highest in Canada after Ontario. Their net debt works out to 47.5% of their GDP, by far the highest in Canada, in fact, 8.1 percentage points ahead of the next highest province (Nova Scotia). Their per capita debt is $18,246, also the highest in Canada. Quebec's projected deficit for 2009 - 2010 is $4.3 billion, second only to Ontario and, like most provinces, they project returning to a balanced budget in 2013 - 2014. To help them balance their budget, Quebec will increase it's blended sales tax by 1 percentage point next year and an additional percentage point the following year, raise tuitions for post-secondary education, increase fuel taxes and reduce program spending growth.
A demographic summary posted on the Government of Quebec website states that Quebec will have among the oldest populations among industrialized societies in 25 years if past trends remain consistent. At one time, Quebec had among the lowest birth rates in Canada; a program to encourage parental leave has led to an increase in the birth rate in recent years, however, the provincially-run program cost the Quebec treasury $817 million in 2006, hardly an insignificant expenditure for a province with a large debt. Back in 1988, the Quebec government also introduced a program called the Allowance for Newborn Children; bonuses of $500 were paid for the first child and up to $8,000 for a third child. The program was cancelled in 1997; it was deemed a partial success but the general fall in birth rates since that time will prove problematic in the future.
Quebec is also deemed a have-not province and as such, qualifies for equalization payments. Quebec's totalequalization payment in 2010 - 2011 was $8.552 billion. In addition, in 2010 - 2011, Quebec will receive transfer payments for Health ($6.093 billion) and Social programs ($2.587 billion). The following chart shows that total federal financial support for Quebec in 2010 - 2011 will be $19.266 billion, in that same year, their own projection is that the province will generate $49.164 billion of its own revenue. It it is readily apparent that Quebec revenues rely heavily on transfers from the Canadian government, in fact, about 28 cents of every dollar of revenue the province receives comes from the Canadian government.
Quebec, on its own, would certainly face some very major, and perhaps insurmountable, financial hurdles without the assistance of the Canadian government. Demographics and their mounting debt are working against any hope of balancing their budget should they attempt to balance it on their own.
I am suspicious of Mr. Duceppe's motives for writing his letter at this juncture. In the most recent EKOS poll for the week of June 2nd to 8th, 2010, only 35.8% of Quebeckers state that they would vote for the Bloc, about the same as the combined vote for the Conservatives and the Liberals. That is hardly a ringing endorsement for both the Bloc and for sovereignty. Perhaps Mr. Duceppe is concerned that the Bloc is becoming redundant in its own home province; maybe he wishes to stir up the fires of separatism once again to preserve his own future and that of his Party.
I wish Mr. Duceppe and Quebec all the luck in the world, from what I can see, they've got a long, winding and tough road ahead of them.