I changed the subtitle to this blog, suggesting that I would occasionally discuss ethnic politics, which has been the focus of most of my research. Given that my work has mostly focused on separatism, it was ironic that I ended up in Quebec (although Texas, with the recent mutterings by Governor Perry, would have been appropriate as of late). My usual line is that Quebec is a great place as a scholar of secession, but a lousy place to be a taxpayer. I would suggest that the two are related.
I have begun to semi-seriously consider the following puzzle: taxes/fees are higher in Quebec than in the rest of Canada [ROC is a standard acronym up here] or than any state in the US, yet, objectively, the various functions of the Quebec government seem to be, well, dysfunctional, and perhaps far worse than most of the other provinces. For example, one can immediately tell when one's car is leaving the province by the sudden smoothness of the roads. The excuse is that winter is bad for the roads, but I think that Vermont, New York, and Ontario have severe winters as well. The health care system is problematic, with hospitals that seem to be falling apart and significant waits. One friend had to have his finger re-broken as he was waiting in the ER so long it had set.
The obvious difference between Quebec and ROC is the nationalist cause. Why is nationalism in Quebec associated with higher taxes and lesser service/public performance?
1) Spending on nationalist projects: Perhaps the government spends lots of tax dollars on the language police (arms of government dedicated to enforcing the primacy of French); the delegations abroad (Quebec has pseudo-embassies to present the Quebec nation); and the like. The problem with this argument is that this really isn't that much money, compared to the revenues and expenditures. Plus plenty of federal units have some kind of foreign policy, involving representatives abroad even if Quebec flushes more money on this.
2) Nationalism + Unions = No Good: The unions in Quebec are much stronger than unions in the ROC (I think) and in the US (absolutement!). AND the unions have been tied to the Parti Quebecois, which has been the party of Quebec separatism. So, when the PQ is in power in Quebec, perhaps unions get sweetheart deals. It is clear that when the Liberals (a federalist party) are in power, the unions tend to do their best to undermine them. I do think, but have no facts at hand, that Quebec employs far more people than it should, perhaps due to the power of the unions, but these government employees, except at the top, are not overpaid. Indeed, wages are lower in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada. So, this may be a factor, but not a big one, I think.
3) Elections Are NOT About Public Service: I think the key is that the nationalistic politics have caused elections to lose their essential accountability function. That is, instead of competing with each other based on who is providing the public goods, each election with a notable exception has turned on whether the public is more or less alienated by Canada or Quebec at that moment. It was quite amazing in a recent provincial election (2007) when there was a three party race between the Liberals, the PQ and the ADQ (a slightly right-center party with an anti-immigration platform) and suddenly, with the thrashing the PQ received, attention was briefly on public service. Indeed, one of PQ leaders said, "I guess we are going to have to focus on public service now."!!!!! In the aftermath of this election, the Liberals seemed responsive, but now that the ADQ has collapsed, the status quo ante has returned, I think.
A fourth explanation is that there is a fetish here for big projects and one-size-fits-all solutions that lead to tremendous waste with the 1976 Olympics as the exemplar. I need to work on this one some more.
Finally, yes, I have used words separatism and secession rather than sovereignty. I will work on the semantics of Quebec separatism in a future post.