It might seem a moot point to argue over rules of how Quebec could leave Confederation, since support for the idea in that province is pretty soft. Yet such a debate is back in the news.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is making noises about challenging the province on its law declaring it has the right to secede unilaterally, also that a referendum to that end would require only 50 per cent plus one to make it happen.
Quebec’s Bill 99 was introduced in response to the federal Clarity Act, brought in by the Jean Chretien Liberals and which stipulates that it would take a clear majority in a referendum to put in motion negotiations to separate.
While such musings offer some entertainment value, making for great arguments, why not zero in on the practical details? Call Quebec’s bluff. Say you’re on your own if you win your referendum, but it’s going to cost you.
In a comparison of debt across this country, analysts will tell you that Quebec is in the deepest. Last March, the provincial debt was around $122 billion, an amount that’s more like $259 billion if you take into account the debt of health and social services, education networks and public corporations for which the province is responsible.
Looked at another way, provincial debt combined with what would be considered Quebec’s share of the federal debt, gives a total around $286 billion.
In a similar regard, take a look at the country’s system of transfer payments. Quebec received $7.4 billion last year. It has always been a net recipient under equalization and has received $253 billion since 1957.
That’s a cash cow that would be hard to give up. It’s a reason why, just as one example, university students pay about a third the tuition that students in Nova Scotia pay – because the rest of the country helps them out.
That’s a level of debt most would describe as crippling. Politicians really should bring those numbers to lead the discussion and see where sovereignty support goes.