The past, present, and future of Québec? (Part Ten)
By Mark Wegierski
It could be argued that a possible alternative to "dualism" would be some form of general “provincialization” or regionalization in Canada. It is the Liberals that have usually held a majority in the federal Parliament. Especially in the 1990s, the Liberal government of Jean Chretien was frustrating whatever somewhat sensible measures the provinces were attempting to undertake to get their fiscal houses in order. For example, in that time period, the government of British Columbia, which was at that time an NDP government, attempted to impose a three-month waiting requirement for welfare, for persons coming to that province. Since B.C. had some of the highest welfare payments in Canada, persons seeking welfare were coming there in massive numbers from the rest of Canada. The Federal Government threatened to cut off much of its funding to the province, if these measures were enacted in B.C. In Alberta, where Progressive Conservative Premier Ralph Klein attempted to introduce private healthcare clinics outside of the official public system, the Federal Government also threatened to cut its funding to that province. The chief effect of the Liberal federal government at that time appeared to be the prevention of any kind of commonsense initiatives to improve Canada's fiscal situation. Although the federal deficit was eventually wrestled to the ground, it was as a result of a confluence of circumstances that favoured the government of the day – such as most notably the revenue from the GST – Goods and Services Tax -- (the Canadian equivalent of a value-added tax or VAT), which Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had enacted virtually in the last year of his government, but which only the Liberals benefited from, as far as allowing them to fairly easily balance the federal budget. Chretien had explicitly promised to get rid of the GST in the 1993 election campaign – but he was not excessively censured for reneging on that promise.
Given Western Canadian provinces' insistence on "the equality of provinces" in Canada, and their unwillingness to recognize Quebec's distinctiveness (the distinct nature of Quebec is simply a historical and sociological fact), perhaps they would be more satisfied as an independent country or countries, where they would no longer have to worry about entanglements with so-called Central Canada (Ontario and Quebec). (In Western Canada, the term “Eastern Canada” usually refers to Ontario, Quebec, and very secondarily, the Atlantic provinces. So-called “Easterners”-- meaning mostly Ontarians -- are frequently disparaged in Western Canadian political rhetoric. In Ontario and Quebec, so-called “Westerners” are also frequently criticized. In Ontario, the term “Eastern Canada” is frequently taken to mean the Atlantic provinces. People in the Atlantic provinces also apply the term “Eastern Canada” to themselves.)
Surprisingly, even NDP provincial governments in Western Canada sometimes have appeared to be more conservative than the Liberal government in Ottawa. For example, the NDP government in Saskatchewan had in the 1990s balanced its budget. The Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) and Newfoundland (now frequently referred to as “Newfoundland and Labrador”) (all these together constituting Atlantic Canada) have traditionally tended to vote Liberal, both provincially and federally, but their Liberal governments have usually had a degree of fiscal prudence. Atlantic Canada is also probably the most socially conservative region in Canada, with genuinely rooted local cultures. Perhaps the last bastion of a more authentic identity in English-speaking Canada is some form of mostly Atlantic-based “Celticism.” The politics of the Atlantic provinces have largely continued in an earlier Canadian mode, where it makes comparatively little difference whether Liberals or Conservatives or the NDP form the government. The Atlantic provinces are somewhat tied to the federal government because it is seen as a source of fiscal support. An intriguing hypothetical possibility for the future of the Atlantic region would be to join the EU.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.