Montreal, December 15, 2005 • No 161




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




by Harry Valentine


          Recent polls undertaken in Quebec have indicated that the sovereignty movement appears to have gained renewed support. This sentiment may be reflected in the way Quebeckers vote in the forthcoming federal election. A minority government that holds a minority of electoral seats from Quebec may likely be elected to Ottawa. Such an occurrence may require that a subsequent federal election be called before the next provincial election in Quebec, especially if support for sovereignty and for the Parti Québécois remains high. A minority or coalition government in Ottawa with minimal electoral support from Quebec would otherwise have little credibility leading a pro-Canada campaign in Quebec if a sovereignty referendum appears imminent.


          Recent opinion polls taken in Quebec have suggested increased support for Quebec sovereignty. The Parti Québécois electing a new, more moderate leader in the person of André Boisclair has enhanced this trend. Quebec is scheduled to hold a provincial election within the next two years, at which time Boisclair would have an opportunity to contest the premier's office. If support for his party remains high and if he wins a decisive majority in an election, a sovereignty referendum would be inevitable.

          While several of the federal government's policies and programs may have originally been intended to promote national unity over the short term, some of these same policies have actually begun to achieve the opposite objective over the long term. The result of these policy debacles includes the rise of Western alienation, the emergence of a Western independence movement, the emergence of an anti-Quebec sentiment that existed in some parts of Canada and Quebeckers feeling that they are not a part of Canada. The federal government is not alone in having enacted policies that eventually undermine Canadian unity.

          Provincial governments have enacted policies such as interprovincial trade barriers that protect local markets while shutting out wider Canadian markets. In a nation like Canada, an internal trade barrier is tantamount to the first step in asserting sovereignty. Internal trade barriers are a subtle rejection of Canadian nationhood as well as the official rejection of the right of Canadians living in one region to trade freely with other Canadians living elsewhere within the same nation. The combination of a variety of federal and provincial policies across Canada may ultimately provide a group such as Quebec's sovereignty movement with justification for its cause.

          Opportunity will exist prior to Quebec's next referendum for federal and provincial governments to end regulations, repeal legislation, discontinue policies and abandon wasteful programs that undermine national unity. Canada has evolved into an over-governed country that has an over-regulated economy and where new regulations are routinely signed into law without any prior debate occurring before any elected body. This status quo that has become a bureaucrat's dream also has the potential to fragment the nation. Precedent from earlier referendums indicates a reluctance by elected officials to remove power from government and transfer that power directly to the citizens. In future referendums, that reluctance could cost Canada its nationhood.

"Canada has evolved into an over-governed country that has an over-regulated economy and where new regulations are routinely signed into law without any prior debate occurring before any elected body."

          If world oil prices are high prior to Quebec's next referendum, the federal government may attempt to use the windfall of oil tax revenues to buy support for federalism. However, that option may be unavailable if world oil prices are low at that point in time. If the American market has a high enough demand for natural gas and oil from Atlantic Canada over the next few years, the tax revenues from the sale of those resources could allow for major reductions in federal transfer payments made to that region. It may ultimately be the American market and not Canadian federal handouts that will bring Atlantic Canada to economic self-sufficiency.

          Over a period of several decades, successive federal government economic programs that cost several billions in tax revenue were implemented in Atlantic Canada and ultimately failed there. While such programs may have enhanced the public stature of numerous elected officials, it also bred contempt for Atlantic Canada amongst Canada's wealthier provinces. Similar federal programs were implemented in Quebec and involved a substantial transfer of revenue from elsewhere in Canada. The result was the anti-Quebec sentiment that existed across English Canada and that increased support for the sovereignist movement.

          Despite federal officials claiming that their funding transfer programs were intended to promote Canadian unity, those programs may instead be achieving the opposite aim. There is more than one way by which the federal government may "ameliorate regional economic disparities" that exist in Canada. Regions that have suffered economic setback can be declared both tax-free and economic regulation-free zones. In the United States, new companies that open in most regions can operate for up to three years while paying minimal, if any taxes. This system avoids the waste of tax revenue that is common in regions of Canada where handsouts and grants are given to new companies that open in economically depressed regions.

          If the status quo as to how Canada is governed remains unchanged over the next few years, support for sovereignty in Quebec and independence in the West could likely increase. This could be reflected by the way Canadians vote in the next federal election: A minority government elected to office with few seats from either Quebec or from Western Canada. Such a result would indicate that the party that portrayed itself as being a party of national unity has achieved the opposite of what it had originally intended. The forthcoming federal election may be a prelude as to what the future may hold for Canadian federalism.