Montreal, November 15, 2005 • No 160




Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.




by Harry Valentine


          Secessionist sentiments that prevail in both Alberta and Quebec can be examined in view of envy that may exist within segments of the populations of both regions. Reference to the theory of envy between similar classes of people was first mentioned by Alexis de Tocqueville in a treatise about politics and the French Revolution(1). According to Tocqueville and also Emile Faguet, humiliation rather than oppression inspired the revolution, a result of the 18th century French middle class being almost as rich and as powerful as the French nobility(2). As Helmut Schoek wrote, "Man's envy is at its most intense where all are almost equal."(3) Discontent with France's political regime was highest in regions where most of the improvement had occurred. This discontent motivated the middle class to champion the cause of the underprivileged and in doing so, they made the lower classes aware of the wrongs that had been perpetuated against them by the elite.


          During the early and mid-20th century, Francophones had been denied opportunity for advancement in mainly English controlled industries that once formed the backbone of the Quebec economy. Supervisory openings that became available were filled with personnel who were brought in from outside Quebec. Members of the Francophone labour force knew that they had the experience and ability to do the same job and as proficiently. Denying them such opportunity for advancement became a source of humiliation and resentment. The founders of the sovereignty movement often referred to a time when Francophones were humiliated in the workplace by being treated as second class citizens in Quebec.

          Despite the political fervour, it was ongoing technological advancement in industry and in manufacturing that ultimately brought about change in Quebec. Alvin Toffler's writings describe the kinds of social and economic changes that could result when technological advancement created entirely new job categories that had never previously existed(4). Such industrial advancement unintentionally championed the cause of Quebec's francophone labour force by creating new job opportunities for them, reducing the humiliation that they had previously suffered in English-owned industries. They subsequently became more aware of wrongs that had been previously perpetrated against them and, as a result, major social and political upheaval began in Quebec after the mid-1960's.

          Tocqueville theorized that the most perilous time for an oppressive regime is when it seeks to mend its ways. Industrial advancement brought competition to older industries and governments in Ottawa and Quebec City were essentially powerless to protect politically favoured industries from such legitimate competition. Traditional industries that embraced such technological advances risked bringing about changes within their work forces. Improving the nature of work can make people aware of injustices they had previously endured and motivate them to agitate for changes in the society at large. By the mid-1960's, a quiet revolution had begun in Quebec as public protests and demonstrations against established institutions became more numerous.

          In the decade that followed, Quebec was rocked by social upheavals and by people agitating for political change. During the early 1970's, the federal government created an industrial grant program to encourage industries to locate in economically disadvantaged areas, including Quebec. Instead of winning support inside Quebec, the program earned the resentment of a portion of Quebec's workforce(5). Quebec-based companies that were having labour union problems used the federal industrial grants to relocate to other economically disadvantaged regions of Canada. The grant program was cancelled as René Lévesque's PQ government took power in Quebec.

"Ottawa's program of transferring funding from wealthier regions of Canada to the poorer regions has traditionally resulted in the inefficient and wasteful use of these funds. This program has produced the anti-Quebec sentiment that prevailed outside Quebec and it gave rise to the Western Independence movement."

          The federal government responded by initiating programs aimed at attracting support for federalism in Quebec. New federal funding for research and development became available to select industries in Quebec. A series of high-profile federally funded technology projects followed and, almost consistently, degenerated into market failures. While the program was intended to win federal support from the Quebec work force, it essentially elevated recipients of federal funding to that of nobility. This nobility was essentially equal in ability to other people in Quebec who also owned or ran other businesses and industries that did not qualify for or benefit from the federal aid program. According to theories put forward by Tocqueville and Schoeck, this nobility could risk becoming the target of resentment and envy from the other business owners and workers in other industries in Quebec.

          The nobility may devise high-profile technological or scientific projects into which the federal government may "invest" in order to raise its profile and status before the Quebec electorate. The federal government obtains its funding from taxes collected from outside Quebec and transfers a large portion of it into industries and programs in Quebec. The result is the envy and resentment that took the form of the anti-Quebec sentiment that had prevailed in parts of Canada. A large cross-section of Quebec society subsequently complained about neither feeling welcome in Canada nor feeling that they were a part of it. As the Gomery commission hearings began in 2005, a series of adverts appeared in the business pages of several major newspapers advising readers that federal partnership funding made up a very small percentage of total research and development acquired by one of Quebec's high-profile companies.

          As these adverts appeared, the federal and Ontario governments announced partnership funding to automobile manufacturers to upgrade their production facilities in Ontario. Critics of the initiative have claimed that less than 100 jobs were going to be created in an industry that was experiencing losses in the marketplace. Despite federal and provincial industrial funding, a threat of impending layoffs now looms over several of Ontario's automobile factories. If the federal government intended to appease the Ontario electorate by giving assistance to Ontario's troubled automobile manufacturing industry, it may achieve the opposite result. Despite mending its ways outside Quebec, the federal government may have actually made some the Ontario electorate aware of economic wrongs previously perpetrated against them.

          Regardless of which level of government administers industrial partnership programs, funds are taxed from successful low-profile companies and transferred to politically favoured high-profile companies. The long-term record of these transfer programs has been dismal in that more often than not, funds were wasted. When the high-profile companies' state-funded programs encounter market difficulties, their laid-off workers may feel betrayed. Workers may also be laid off from the low-profile companies due to the funding transfer. They may first have felt envy toward workers in high-profile companies then resentful toward a government that cheated them by giving partnership funding to high-profile companies.

          Ottawa's program of transferring funding from wealthier regions of Canada to the poorer regions has traditionally resulted in the inefficient and wasteful use of these funds. This program has produced the anti-Quebec sentiment that prevailed outside Quebec and it gave rise to the Western Independence movement. As long as the federal government continues using a socialist approach to "ameliorate" economic disparities between Canada's regions, it will provoke the envy and resentment that exist within Canada and that gave rise to and sustains secessionist sentiment in Alberta and in Quebec. Instead of promoting national unity, Ottawa's policy of forcing economic equality between regions could ultimately result in the break-up of Canada.


1. Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and The Revolution, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1856, p. 175 - 180.
2. Emile Faguet, Politicians and Morality of the Nineteenth Century, Ayer, 1928.
3. Helmut Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, Irvington Publications, Indianapolis, 1987.
4. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, Bantam Books, 1984.
5. Henry Hazlitt, The Wisdom of Henry Hazlitt, The Foundation for Economic Education Inc., Chapter 25, "On Appeasing Envy," pages 265 - 269, March 1993.