Saturday, January 27, 2007

Quebec's Quiet Illusion

For decades Quebec's separatists have tried to teach its youth the values of self-rule and the honor of autonomy. Are we now seeing these lessons being applied, unexpectedly, to the socialist model long dominating quebecois political and economic discourse? From the National Post:

Quebec film hits socialiste nerve

Targets unions, state monopolies
MONTREAL - A new disaster movie is playing in Quebec theatres, but this one features no tidal waves or nuclear Armageddon. The nightmare scenario in L'illusion tranquille involves an ageing society living beyond its means, unable to shake the grip of meddlesome government and powerful trade unions. The place is Quebec, and the year is 2007.
The low-budget documentary, made by two novice filmmakers and financed from their own savings, is fuelling debate on a topic considered taboo until recently. Has the so-called "Quebec model" for development, with its emphasis on government intervention in the economy and sweeping social programs, run its course?
"What I concluded is very simple," the film's director, Joanne Marcotte, says through the voice of a narrator as the film opens.
"Quebec is suffocating under the weight of state monopolies and a new union clergy. Our system for redistributing wealth is obsolete. Universality is an illusion, and the glory years of Quebec's union movement are well behind us."
Ms. Marcotte, a former computer scientist, teamed with her husband, financial advisor Denis Julien, to produce the 72-minute film after becoming frustrated that Quebec media were largely ignoring the province's true problems.
After starting her research in 2003, she made the rounds of Quebec production houses with her proposal. She might as well have been pitching a film claiming Maurice Richard was a lousy hockey player. At the Montreal headquarters of the National Film Board, she was a third of the way into her Power Point presentation when she was told to shut it off, she recounted. "He said, 'I'm a child of the Quiet Revolution, and I don't like what you're saying.' " (The film's title is a play on Revolution tranquille, the French term for the 1960s' Quiet Revolution.)

Ms. Marcotte acknowledges that her film's message is hard to swallow. "Quebecers have been told for years that their model is really fantastic, that we are setting ourselves apart," she said in an interview. "It is very important to be different in Quebec. It is more important to be different than for our model to work.... It is not easy to look in the mirror and say it doesn't work well."

L'illusion tranquille does its best to shake people's faith in the status quo. It points out that in 2003, among the 60 American states and Canadian provinces, Quebec ranked 54th in per capita Gross Domestic Product, an indicator of living standards. It was ahead of only the Maritime provinces, Manitoba, West Virginia and Mississippi, making Quebec the poorest industrialized region in North America. …
The documentary argues that Quebec spends money it does not have on such programs as universal daycare at just $7 a day, university tuition fees that are half the national average and electricity rates that are among the lowest in North America. …
Claude Montmarquette, a professor of economics at Universite de Montreal who is featured in the movie, said Quebec has passed the cost of these programs on to others -- either by borrowing money that future generations will have to pay, or through equalization payments that the federal government uses to redistribute wealth from rich provinces to poorer ones.
"It's billions of dollars a year, money that allows Quebec to have social programs that often the provinces that pay cannot afford to have," Mr. Montmarquette said of the equalization payments.
He fears Quebec is one significant economic slowdown away from a crisis. "We have time to correct our aim," he said in an interview, "but we need to act now to avoid hitting the wall."
Alain Dubuc, a newspaper columnist and author of Eloge de la richesse (In Praise of Wealth), published last year, believes Quebecers are not wedded to the social-democratic model; they just need a more effective selling job.

He sees signs that Quebecers are more open to change. "People know things are not going very well, and they know the problem will not solve itself. They know something is going to have to change so it works better," he said. "It's when we come to concrete measures that there is an obstacle. There is a market for someone who can propose a well-packaged agenda for change."

1 comment:

truepeers said...

Brilliant, maybe we can host a film night and bring this one to a Commercial Dr. cafe, or something!