Log Cabin Chronicles

Get your priorities straight, then do the right thing

CHRISTOPHER C. GOODFELLOW

I don't envy Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard's dilemma.

Labor is pretty restless. Nurses, pharmacists, doctors right now. Teachers and public service unions in the fall. It could all get out of control.

It seems to me that perhaps instead of the laying down of ultimatums by either side - "pas un cent de plus!" or threatening a crippling general strike that we certainly cannot afford, we ought to take to consider what the real problem is.

We might also consider our good fortune compared to 9 percent of the rest of humanity and whether we wish to risk the future well-being of Quebec by not being responsible in our priorities.

There are two ways to give people more money in the pocket and that's clearly what we all need. One is to raise salaries; the other is to cut taxes.

It's pretty clear the treasury is empty and Mr. Bouchard is right that we cannot afford huge pay increases.

The answer lies in cutting taxes and not by small amounts but immediate and massive tax cuts that will put more money in people's pockets and stop people leaving Quebec because of high taxation and lack of opportunity.

Unless you've been lucky in the stock market or won the lotto, every Quebecker has ended up with less and less disposable income this decade.

There are huge and growing pockets of poverty, unemployment, underemployment and social distress in this province as families are ripped apart and people leave.

And unless you are totally blind, it is disquieting.

That's no way to build a society.

So how does the Quebec government give a large tax cut when already its revenue demands exceed the capacity of the private economy to generate? It simply must come to grips with the fact that the society cannot support the present public overhead and decide on priorities.

Period.

It must decide what is really important and get rid of the rest.

I think two things are really important to the people of Quebec and the future health of Quebec society.

One is that if we are to have a public and universal health system, it must work. We must pay competitive salaries so that our human resources in this sector that we have paid to educate do not get up and leave for greener pastures. What's happening now is sad. Once educated and talented professionals uproot themselves, they are likely to never return.

Two, we need an education system that functions. What we have now is an administrative monster.

The whole structure needs turning upside down and we all know it. It's about too much bureaucracy, too many administrators, and too few front-line teachers educating our children in classes of a reasonable size with real contact between teacher and student. The whole approach to raising and educating our youth needs a fresh approach.

If we can all agree these two areas are the most important areas for government function in Quebec, it will be a start. Right now the government is trying to do it all and it is time to simply accept it isn't working, it isn't going to work, and unless we wish to continue in a freefall, we have to change approaches. Whether you wish to call it the Quebec Model or as we have previously described it as a state fundamentalism, it isn't working.

Taxing more. Throwing more money at it. More regulation and state dirigisme. More inspectors and Régies. It simply won't work. Political objectives aside, you simply cannot grow an economy by taxing more and more out of it and continually introducing more and more regulation.

It is time that the Government of Quebec, not the Parti Quebecois, not the Liberal Party, but the Government of Quebec as a whole do what is right by the Quebec people. It must face reality. It must choose what is really important and, yes, get rid of the rest.

Priorities are, in the end, important.

If it doesn't, this province will pay an extreme price in terms of growing social unrest and hollowing out of both industry and human resources as talented, educated, and productive people accelerate their departure from Quebec because the perceived future here is so bleak if the Government continues on its present course.

Digging a deeper hole is no way to get out of the one you are in.

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