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Canadian Political Arithmetic: Quebec, and Canada, after Charlottetown

  • George Feaver

Extract

CANADIAN POLITICAL ARITHMETIC IS A TRICKY BUSINESS. IN Canadian politics, as in Alice's Wonderland, things become ‘curiouser and curiouser’. In suggesting, on the eve of the October, 1993 Canadian federal election, that it looked like ‘the Liberals’ election to lose’, I thought I had gone out on a limb. Brian Mulroney, who by the date of his departure was regarded throughout English Canada with almost universal antipathy, had retired. With their new leader, Prime Minister Kim Campbell, at the helm, polls published at the time the election was called indicated that the ruling Conservatives were favoured by 36 per cent of leaning and decided voters, as compare to 33 per cent for the Liberals. The Tories could win, or at least deny the liberals a clear majority.

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1 ‘Inventing Canada in the Mulroney Years’, Government and Opposition, Vol. 28, No. 4, Autumn 1993, pp. 463-78.

2 Oakeshott, Michael, Morality and Politics in Modem Europe: The Harvard Lectures (ed. S. R. Letwin), New Haven, 1993, p. 31.

3 Canadian attitudes to social programme reform are mixed. A Decima poll conducted 4-13 November, 1994, indicated that some 26 per cent of respondents wanted a complete overhaul of social programmes, 53 per cent wanted major changes, and 17 per cent thought minor changes were all that were needed. On the other hand, an extensive 1994 national opinion study called ‘Rethinking Government’, undertaken by Ekos Research Associates, found that Canadians were unresolved about their concern over the deficit and their wish to maintain a high level of public services. Asked to choose which out of a total of 24 hypothetical uses for $10 million would best serve the public interest, respondents ranked ‘Reduce the annual deficit by $10 million’ and ‘Decrease taxes by $10 million’ only 8th and 10th respectively. All the other uses involved new or rejigged forms of public expenditure.

4 In December, 1994, the Parti Québécois government announced a revised deficit projection of $5.7 billion for the 1994-95 fiscal year, a record deficit up some $1.3 billion from figures projected by the provincial Liberals last May. Canadian Bond Rating Service Inc. placed Quebec on a credit watch, and the PQ was warned by the larger and more influential Moody’s Investors Service in New York that the province might face a downgrade on its bonds if the deficit picture does not improve, sentiments echoed by the US brokerage firm Salomon Brothers Inc. ‘This thing is not real’, says the President of Montreal investment dealer Dlouhy Investments Inc., of the renewed PQpush for sovereignty in such an economic climate. ‘It’s a little like a Gilbert and Sullivan play.’ But Standard & Poor’s Canada has affirmed Quebec’s A-plus bond rating. Provincial Industry Minister Daniel Paille expects Quebec’s economic growth to be slower than that of the Canadian economy as a whole for 1995, and unemployment remains higher in Quebec than the national average. Parizeau has recently assigned Health Minister Jean Rochon and Education Minister Jean Garon the task of streamlining health care and education costs, which together account for almost half the total of Quebec’s $42 billion provincial budget.

5 Something that the PQ has never managed to accomplish. In 1976, the approximate popular vote was PQ, 41 per cent, Liberal 34 per cent and the Union Nationale 18 per cent; in 1981, PQ 49 per cent, Liberal 46 per cent; in 1985 Liberal 56 per cent, PQ 39 per cent; and in 1989, Liberal 50 per cent, PQ 40 per cent, Equality Party 3.6 per cent.

6 ‘Euphoria of First Campaign Not Repeated’, The Globe and Mail, 13 September 1994, p. A6.

7 Wells, Paul, ‘Separated at Birth’, Saturday Night, 11 1994, p. 18.

8 The Cree, whose population of 12,000 live in nine communities in sub-Arctic Quebec, have announced their own public meetings and their own referendum if and when the PQ holds its referendum. Canada’s Inuit have also announced a nationwide referendum on their future, to counter Quebec’s sovereignty referendum and to demonstrate that the 7,000 Inuit living in Quebec’s far north are not isolated.

9 Quebec’s influential, pro-federalist employers group, the Conseil du patronat, suggests that the choice should read: ‘Are you in favour of remaining a part of Canada or are you for pure and simple sovereignty?’

10 Although the transfer payments remain frozen at current levels for 1995-96, the replacement Canada Social Transfer payments, totalling $26.9 billion.will represent a cut of 4.4 per cent for 1996–97, and for 1997–98, totalling $25.1 billion, of a further 4.4 per cent, effectively placing the onus on the provinces to make any required savings where they may.

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Canadian Political Arithmetic: Quebec, and Canada, after Charlottetown

  • George Feaver

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