Quebec: A have-not province?

Posted 05.12.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | On Mother's Day I drove down to Belleville on Lake Ontario to visit my 100-year-old mother, Marcella. The cool weather made the driving a breeze, and a dusting of snow within the mostly-forested route created a bit of visual magic to ease the three-hour drive.

What really struck me about the trip itself, and not about our lovely and peaceful visit, was the amount of road work underway in rural Ontario.

How could our neighbours afford all this? There was one new bridge, hundreds of culverts, shoulders rebuilt, ditching and widening, and preparations for kilometers of re-surfacing; wires are being moved, new access roads built, and guard rails going up everywhere.

Work on lengthy country roads is always expensive -- but then I remembered the big "stimulus spending " packages that our governments launched last year. Our neighbours are using spending on road infrastructure to stimulate their economy -- and are making a long-term investment in their province.

Then another question jumped to mind: Where is my province's stimulus spending? Where are our billions of tax dollars being spent? Are they being siphoned off via the kick-backs and wheeling-dealing we've been reading about from Montreal and Quebec City?

Crossing into Quebec on the way home made one thing unquestionably clear: that stimulus money isn't being spent around here. Crossing the highways into our province is like traveling to the developing world.

Or maybe worse.

A trip to a poor Caribbean country in February showed my wife and I better roads than we travel daily.

As serious as this question is -- Where's the stimulus spending in our region? -- a little rumination brings to mind an even more abstract but just as serious a question: with our province as big and as resource-rich as it is, with our well-educated middle class, and with our near inexhaustible hydro energy -- why is our province so poor?

We are classed as a "have-not " province within the Canadian federation. How could so much wealth, real and potential, yield so little public benefit?

Sovereigntists automatically blame the federal government for ripping us off, but they also close their eyes to cleaning up our own house. Blaming someone else, using the old blame game, is the easiest way to avoid finding an uncomfortable answer close to home.

There's no Quebec-bashing here. As a Quebecer, I am not a masochist. This is a legitimate and disturbing question. And it is an important one to consider, a question every one of us should be asking. It is not a partisan question -- the state we are in is the result of governments by both major parties. It is also a result of the governments we vote into office and of the fumbling governance which we passively accept.

Wouldn't it be interesting to see what might come out of a public inquiry into this question: "Why in the world is Quebec a have-not province?"

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.10