Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 7, 2005
Clear-Eyed Vision misses point
Former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard and some of his friends attracted brief national attention last month with their manifesto, For a Clear-Eyed Vision of Quebec. While Bouchard et al challenge some of the attitudes they find in Quebec today, their vision is far from clear eyed.
An expanded role for the state was at the heart of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and it remains central to this group's vision, albeit tempered with a little more enthusiasm for private enterprise. There is no sign that Bouchard and friends recognize that the problems they so eloquently identify are spiritual and social at root. The government may be able to cut its staggering debt. But the solutions to Quebec's problems are beyond its reach.
Clear-Eyed Vision acknowledges some of Quebec's accomplishments since the Quiet Revolution - French-speaking and English-speaking Quebecers now have incomes that are virtually equal; both linguistic groups now have equivalent education levels.
Then it turns to the problems:
The manifesto spins out several consequences of this demographic decline: rising health care costs, a decline in creativity, a 50-per-cent drop in real economic growth over the next 10 years, decreasing government revenues, a greater difficulty of attracting immigrants and further dwindling of "the French fact" in North America.
As the authors note, these are not minor consequences. They threaten the viability of Quebec society.
Moreover, there is strong resistance to change in Quebec society. It threatens to become "the republic of the status quo, a fossil from the 20th century."
But when it comes to presenting solutions, Clear-Eyed Vision becomes murky. All will be well if Quebec cuts government debt, invests "massively" in education and training, charges higher tuition fees, jacks up electricity rates, implements major tax reforms and implements a guaranteed annual income.
These solutions are not without merit. But one clue to the murky vision comes when the authors brush aside the possibility of an increase in the birth rate as "unlikely."
Well, it is certainly unlikely the government can do much to encourage people to have more babies. But - surprise! surprise! - the government is not the only engine for positive social change.
The Quiet Revolution had many strengths. It also had weaknesses. One substantial weakness was the almost overnight disappearance of the Catholic Church as a major force in the province. Another weakness was the calamitous drop in the role of the family in Quebec.
From being a society with spectacularly large families, Quebec has become the province with the lowest marriage rate and highest rate of common-law relationships on the continent.
The government cannot restore the role of the Church or coerce people to get married. But if the Church's influence were to grow and the family were to regain its strength, Quebec would have a much happier outlook.
The last 40 years, Quebec has been living on borrowed capital from the days when the Church and family were strong. The Quiet Revolution would have been impossible without the strength of character, education and social solidarity that came from a strong Church and strong families.
Quebec cannot roll back the clock 40 years. But if it acknowledged that its dynamism of the last four decades came more from the Church and family than from big government, it would be taking a large step towards restoring that dynamism to what Bouchard and friends say is a fading culture.
- Glen Argan
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