Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Get What You Pay For

With much angst and anxiety already developing as the Canadian census numbers show a relative and even absolute decline in the numbers of folks residing in Quebec, we ought to consider for a second or two what these statistics might say about past public policy, not just the future power of Quebec.

The initial numbers include things like this:
In only five years, 2006-2011, Quebec experienced a net out-migration of 50,000. They weren’t all native French-speakers of course. But many were.
The question that Quebec politicians need to be asking themselves is why.  Why are more folks leaving than coming?  What makes Quebec less desirable than other parts of Canada?  As someone who is choosing to leave Quebec, I obviously have thought about this quite a bit.  For me, part of the issue is that living in Ottawa will offer different professional opportunities that Montreal cannot offer, given that one is the capital of the country and the other is not.*
*Indeed, if  Quebec were to secede, the capital would be Quebec City, not Montreal.
It has long been the case that wages are lower and taxes are higher in Quebec than in most of Canada.  Is this a product of imperialism?  Of Anglophone domination?  Or a relatively captive labor market--that folks get paid less because they are less mobile than folks in other provinces?  I am certainly moving in part because my wages will be better and my taxes will be lower.

I am also moving because I feel as if the tax dollars in Quebec are poured into giant black holes--since the quality of the roads and other public services are clearly inferior to those elsewhere.  I love Montreal, but Quebec drives me crazy--that the governance is so poor that the efforts to fix the roads linking the west part of the island to downtown will precede significant changes to the commuter train system rather than the other way around.

I worry about McGill's future, given that Quebec decides how it is funded.  Sure, Ontario is not looking that great these days with magical tuition rebates that gut the income the province needs to pay for higher education.  But that is just a bad campaign promise.  

For immigrants, the restrictions on their kids' education in the language of their choosing (with the PQ promising at times to extend such policies to CEGEP's) provides some impetus to moving onwards.

The sad thing about these demographic trends is that they happened during a time of relative provincial peace with no referenda during the time frame or in the near future.  If the rabble-rousers in the PQ have their way, we would see even more people flee Quebec due to its instability.

And, yes, part of the reason for the demographic decline is that folks in Quebec are not having babies at a high enough rate.  The irony is that Quebec has long envied Europe's social democracy and tried to imitate it (badly), but now Quebec is suffering from a challenge that Europe is encountering--declining fertility.  The answer to declining birth rates is ... immigration, but Quebec has a set of policies in place that encourage immigrants to come and then move on to the rest of Canada.  The numbers show that I am not alone in this path.

One last note--yes, Harper managed a majority without Quebec, but that is not a recipe for success in general.  Quebec will continue to have much political power in Canada for quite some time to come.  No need to push the panic button (or, at least, wait until I am firmly ensconced in Ottawa).

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