A 'Yes' vote means no cash
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, March 01, 2007
You will, I trust, be happy to hear that if Quebec separates, you get to keep sending subsidies. No, really. In this Quebec election, the sovereigntists are not content to mess with your emotions by threatening to tear your country apart without giving you a say in the matter. Now they want to tear your country apart and raid your bank account, too.
Some of that interesting debate about your cash got lost in the hijab controversy and the kerfuffle over the switch in terminology from "referendum" to "popular consultation" in the Parti Quebecois platform -- er, I mean, roadmap. But you should know that PQ leader Andre Boisclair is making promises to Quebecers that involve the money you send -- yes, you, personally, at least if you live in Ontario or Alberta -- to the federal government so it can send it to Quebec.
It's right there on page 8 of the roadmap (available, in French only, at pq.org under the prominently displayed, and environmentally green, "Feuille de route"): A Parti Quebecois government "will guarantee the continuity of federal transfers paid to Quebec citizens."
I'm sorry, what? Guarantee? And, uh, are Ontarians and Albertans -- the folks whose money is transferred so generously to Quebecers -- allowed to have an opinion about this?
Apparently not. For when Premier Jean Charest said that there was no way transfer payments would continue if Quebecers voted Yes in a referendum -- beg your pardon, in a popular consultation -- and added that the extra equalization money everybody expects to be in the March 19 federal budget "will, by all evidence, be cut substantially the day the Parti Quebecois takes power," he was pilloried.
"Never in the history of Canadian politics have we seen such blackmail, such threats," huffed a half-frozen Mr. Boisclair in Sept-Iles. A sentiment echoed throughout the press with commentators snickering at Mr. Charest's "scare tactics" and suggesting that really, Quebecers are confident enough not to be intimidated into voting federalist by threats to their economic well-being.
Maybe. But that's not the point. If Quebec separates from Canada, Canada will stop subsidizing Quebec. Unfortunately, Quebec politicians' whining for years about the "fiscal imbalance" has misled their voters into thinking the RoC is not subsidizing them. (In which case, incidentally, how could federalists "blackmail" Quebec by threatening to stop non-existent subsidies?) Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe typically claims Quebecers are entitled to transfer payments because they pay taxes to the federal government. But everybody who's not stubbornly blind or blindingly stupid know s the 20 per cent of Quebec's revenues that comes from federal transfers is larger than the total that Quebecers pay into federal coffers.
No matter. On Monday Mr. Charest had to crank down the rhetoric a notch: "On the day after the election, things would continue as they are," he said. "But the day after you separate, you can't expect your neighbour to continue to pay." Wanna bet? Writing in Le Devoir on Tuesday, editorialist Jean-Robert Sansfacon sounded exasperated as he explained that "the morning after a Yes, nothing would change with regards to money transfers" because all these things would be negotiated between a newly independent Quebec and the rest of Canada. "The day Ottawa ceases to manage old-age pensions or employment insurance, for instance," he added, "Quebec would already be prepared to take over like what happened last year with maternity leave." Assuming, of course, they're not short billions because subsidies suddenly stopped.
Mr. Charest's climbdown failed equally to pacify Mr. Boisclair, no doubt delighted to divert attention from the "whither referendum" business. "The accusations I made I maintain," he said. "We don't want lip service. We want no nuances. I feel both Mr. Charest and Mr. Harper need to be very clear. After the election of the PQ on March 26, the money announced in the federal budget will stay in the Quebec budget. We're looking for leadership. We're looking for truth. We're looking for real answers. Not ambiguity."
Yeah. Us, too. So try this for unambiguous: It's childish and irritating to jaw on about your unbending desire to have your own independent country so long as you get to keep the booty that comes from being a relatively poor province in a bigger, richer country. And I know I speak for most Rest-of-Canadians on this point.
If Quebecers truly dislike Canada so much they give a clear Yes to a clear question, fine. Let them go. But on their own dime. I've had enough with the "we dislike everything about Canada except what's in your wallets" nonsense.
The day after a popular consultation "Yes," it stops. You can take that to the bank.
Brigitte Pellerin's column appears Tuesday and Thursday.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007
The highways are full of flat squirrels that couldn't make up their minds!