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Current budgetary debates – a page taken from everyone’s books (#231)

The last post was an introduction for this and the next two posts. In the past post and the next two posts, let us explore how Québec’s (and Canada’s) relationship is one of symbiotic evolution.

All provinces have a role to play in our country’s symbiotic relation.  However the nature of Québec gives it a unique role in this evolution – to the extent that I am certain Canada and its people would not have been the same in the absence of this relationship.  Likewise, Québec and its people would not have been the same in the absence of this relationship.

The following example is one in which the overall Canadian context is currently (right now) influencing Québec’s own internal public policy & collective or public psyche.

Québec, like a number of other provinces is currently undergoing a period of hard fiscal restraint (some call it “austerity”, but I am not sure austerity would be the correct word — at least not in the sense of what we have seen in certain European countries over the past seven years).

Nonetheless, this is currently a hot-button issue (as it usually is).

In Alberta, the “Progressive Conservative” government recently implemented what could stereotypically be viewed as a “Liberal” budget (oil prices tanked, but despite a severe drop in oil revenue, Alberta wants to take a cautious, slow approach to eliminating their deficit until it becomes clear what direction the economy will take over the next two or three years).

Yet, in Québec the “Liberal” government has recently implemented what could stereotypically be called a “Progressive Conservative” budget (the current government is making fast and deep cuts, eliminating a massive deficit in a little over one year.  They’re doing so because they already know where the province would financially sit in the absence of such cuts).

I am certain that both provinces (Alberta and Québec) would have drawn from to past Federal, Alberta, and Ontario experiences from the 1990s and 2000s when trying to decide how best to navigate their current difficult cash-flow realities.   They also would have compared each other’s situations with those of other provinces when trying to guess where they would be in a few years.

Our provinces have a habit of sharing best practices. 

Considering our provinces basically share the same systems, I would not be at all surprised if Québec consulted other provinces to learn from their own budgetary experiences to seek out best practices.  This would take out a great deal of the guess work, and would allow Québec to implement fiscal and structural changes which worked for other provinces, and which worked without “harming” the system.  Areas where there could have been consultations likely would have been regarding the consolidation of health administration structures, the fusion of education districts, the balancing of tax changes etc. – all which have (successfully) occurred in other provinces, and some of which appear to have been copied in Québec.

In my view, learning from the lessons of other provincial budgetary exercises is a broad type of Canadianization.   It simply makes sense that our current provincial governments would look at how other parts of Canada have handled similar issues when deciding how best to deal with present regional / provincial issues.  This is all-the-more important considering that our political and economic systems are generally the same at their core, regardless of what province we reside in.

But frankly speaking, I don’t think we should apply a party label to any budget.  A government just needs to be practical and needs to look to past Canadian experiences in order to determine the best route of the present (that’s why we have seen Liberal budgets which have both splurged and slashed, PC budgets which have both splurged and slashed, and a very mixed bag from NDP governments).

The fact that one jurisdiction tends to learn from another is where I believe Canada, as a Federal State, has a HUGE advantage over “unitary” countries (like Italy, the UK, France, Portugal, Japan, etc.).   We have 10 provinces, 3 territories, and one federal government which, in our highly decentralized environment, operate quite autonomously on many fronts.  Within the span of 5 years, each of these 14 relatively autonomous jurisdictions will have at least one election cycle.  Thus, within only 5 short years, as a country we have 14 times the amount of government budgetary experiences from which to draw from – from which to find “best practices” — and from which to implement the best-of-the-best as we continue to move forward.

Compare this with unitary” countries.  “Unitary” countries only have one election cycle and only one government within a 5 year span.  Thus, they have no other “best-practice” examples from which to draw from within the confines of their own economic, governmental and social systems.

One short side-note in closing:  Unfortunately our “local” media generally does not report on the budgetary successes of other provinces when reporting on local budgetary exercises.   Local media will often be more apt to criticize local budgetary exercises without pointing out how the same measures have worked elsewhere.  It’s unfortunate – especially when there is a language barrier.  Take from that what you will.   But then again, I am an advocate for bilingualism, which allows for light to be shed on these issues — and for a better informed, well-rounded perspective.

The next couple of posts will provide additional examples of our current symbiotic evolution in action.

Québec and Anglophone Canada, a relationship of symbiotic evolution (#230)

We often hear people say that Canada is influenced by Québec’s public debates – be it societal, social progressive, or economic in nature.

The argument is that Québec plays a role in “boost-starting” societal debate elsewhere in Canada, policy and legislation in the rest of Canada, or will sometimes lend that “extra little push” to public debates which already exist in Canada – enough to tip it over the edge to incite change.

Over the years we have seen several such examples:  recent issues surrounding the allowance of doctor assisted suicide, the much earlier debates and policies pertaining to abortion-related issues, gay marriage, national linguistic policies, certain Federal parties adopting a Québec approach to things such as universal daycare platforms, environmental issues, etc.

I tend to agree with the above portrait in a “general” sense, but I also firmly believe that it is a two-way street.

As much as Québec has a Québeconization effect upon the rest of Canada, the rest of Canada also has an overall Canadianization effect on Québec  (just as all provinces are influenced by this Canadianization effect).  Examples of this include the earliest notions of industry nationalization (huge swaths of key Canadian  industries, and other provincial industries were once “nationalized” much earlier than Québec’s round of provincial nationalizations — which helped to serve as a model for Québec’s nationalizations, such as Hydro-Québec), universal health-care from Saskatchewan, or provincial-aboriginal autonomy agreements to name just a few (BC’s landmark Nisga’a agreement could be said to have served as a model for Québec’s historic “Cree Nation Agreement” signed by Bernard Landry — although I doubt Landry would admit it, considering that it serves as a perfect example of the effectiveness, practicality and pragmatism of Federalism).

This mutual influence works as a mutual symbiosis — which I believe is beneficial to all of us in Canada.

It has a “tempering” effect, as well as a “call-to-action” effect.  It makes us a well-rounded, level-headed and worldlier country, with greater opportunities for all (socially, economically, and environmentally).  One could think of it as a check-and-balance approach at a practical level.  But I tend to think of it more in practical terms; as a matter of debating the largest and most important issues across all provinces, then taking the best approaches (and best practices) and adopting them throughout the country.

As things are debated, as policies & laws are formed, and as they make the jump back and forth between Québec and English Canada, we mutually influence each other.  The changes spur our societal evolution, and ends up shaping our collective and individual psyche (both in Québec and elsewhere in Canada).  These changes do not occur overnight.  Rather, they form over years, decades and generations.

This is also a major reason why we have a unique way of approaching and viewing things; a unique perspective and a unique national psyche which differentiates us from even our closest neighbours and friends (such as the USA, Australia, NZ, the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and the list goes on…).  We simply would not be the same people or same country without this internal symbiotic relationship (even in the furthest reaches of Canada are affected by it, as we all our subject to the influences of our national policies, legislation, and growth of our shared values).

This is why, despite the continued existence the Two Solitudes (which are apparent in daily aspects of our lives, such as Francophone versus Anglophone pop-culture), we still share a deep “collective” culture, train of thought, approach to issues, and mindset – common to both Québec’s society and English Canada’s society (you may recall that three posts ago, in the post entitled “How a little bit of ignorance of the Two Solitudes can lead straight to failure” I mentioned that you cannot “split” Canada’s “combined” Anglo-Franco culture when talking about public policy and laws in a national context (versus talking about them in a regional context).

Even today, we’re currently experiencing a series of “national” events which fit with the notion of a melding of common public debate, the formation of public policies and legislation, and the continued evolution of our collective society, values and psyche.

The next three posts will look at three current and specific examples in which

  • the overall Canadian context is now influencing Québec’s own internal public policy,
  • Québec’s recent public debates are now influencing Canada’s overall current public debates,
  • a possible future public debate, which is slowly gathering more-and-more steam throughout English Canada, and which has the potential to provoke a debate in Québec on the same subject at some point in the future.

I’ll see you soon as we explore the above three examples in the next posts.