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Media Bites: Marois and Quebec Got Hitched, For Richer, For Poorer

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With Pauline Marois now officially inaugurated as the sixth separatist premier of everyone's favorite French-speaking province, you might reckon that our nation's gigantic, months-long Quebec politics bender would finally be coming to an end. Also, you might be an idiot. This is Canada we're talking about, man, the place where the maple syrup flows like water and Quebec editorials blossom like daffodils.

As you may recall from our last summary of such matters, it was the broad pre-election consensus of the Canadian pundit brigade that Quebec voters were basically dooooomed no matter who they voted for, since all of their provincial parties were either crookeddumb or evil in some spectacular fashion. And that's still very much the mainstream sentiment today, except now we get to focus on the flaws of Marois' party exclusively -- which is loads of fun since everyone agreed she was the worst one in the first place.

So get a load of this, says Matt Gurney at the Post. Quebeckers have just elected a woman who is opposed to virtually every conceivable source of economic growth and revenue, including natural resource explorationnuclear powerreasonable post-secondary tuition fees (if not tuition fees altogether), and health care premiums. Matt finds this to be quite the load of laughs since Pauline's province also has a "mind-bogglingly large debt burden" which "could prove absolutely ruinous" for the provincial economy... unless she can find a source of economic growth and revenue. Yes, yes, fine, she can always hike taxes on the 1 per cent, but remember "the rich are pretty good at avoiding such taxes." Just ask this guy.

I totally agree, Matthew, says Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe and Mail, (or at least his headline writer) "it's hard to square the fiscal circle of reality with the PQ's vows." To the extent such a thing even exists, he notes, the whole separatist economic philosophy is based on the idea that Quebecers can manage the various services and programs presently under federal jurisdiction -- particularly the cultural ones -- more efficiently than the wicked federal government itself. Which is a nice idea, aside from the fact that in "one cultural agency after another, the share of money going to Quebecers and Quebec institutions exceeds their share of the national population." In other words: mo' powers, mo' spending, mo' problems.

Not everyone in the press is super-gloomy about Quebec's future, of course. Beloved Quebec apologist Chantal Hebert, for instance, is stoked about Premier Marois' new cabinet, which is full of all sorts of cool progressive types who went to university and visited foreign countries and stuff. Bleeding-heart environmentalists and academics and lawyers as far as the eye can see, all of which adds up to "the most left-leaning government in modern Quebec history." Only trouble is they now have to share an apartment with "the most conservative federal government in living memory." The failed CBC sitcom practically writes itself!

In the heady days before September 4, the Canadian press was quite smug on its own satisfaction that even if Marois was elected, separatism was dead, dead, dead, and anyone who claimed or feared otherwise was some sort of hysterical dope ignorant of the enormous logistical and democratic obstacles associated with persuing secession in the 21st century.

Less addressed, however, was the notion that French separatism is merely one symptom of a deeper crisis of unity between Canada's "two founding peoples," manifest by things such as, oh, I dunno, one province embracing an economically incoherent agenda of old-school socialism and central planning while the rest of the lot struggles to slash expenditurescap paycheques, and balance the books.

A "distinct society" indeed.

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If you ever want a textbook example of the charming phrase "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," consider the horrible media response that's greeted the Harper government's plans to reform parliamentary pensions.

In theory, everyone loves the idea of restricting the monstrous globs of cash our federal politicians happily award themselves in exchange for screaming at each other in some oak-paneled room for six years and occasionally raising their hands. The numbers revealed in this damning CBC investigation in particular have gotten a lot of play in the papers lately -- a 24-to-1 taxpayer-to-politician pay-in ratio, a 10 per cent yearly top-up of make-believe interest, annual payouts starting at 50 grand for even the lowliest back bencher, and so on.

Pity, then, that the Tories' universally popular decision to ratchet back some of these perks had to "be wrapped in the most unsavoury political packaging possible," says the Star's Tim Harper. Like most pundits, Harper's really fumed that the other Harper a) won't make these pension reforms effective immediately, b) won't couple them with a equally-appropriate parliamentary pay cut (just the opposite, in fact), and c) has chosen to cram them into another one of those horrible everything-and-the-kitchen-sink omnibus bills he's so fond of.

From the Montreal Gazette to the Toronto Sun (!) the editorial page consensus is pretty strong: Harper done goofed. He's almost doing the right thing, but our brave press guardians aren't about to overlook all those self-serving gimmicks, either.

I mean, this is parliamentary pension reform we're talking about, Mr. Prime Minister, one of the most monumental political causes of the last 30 years -- so it's crucial you do it right. Save the partisan shenanigans for some lame issue no one cares about.

Like national unity.