Québec owes Canadians

On November 8th 2004, Jean Charest addresses a federalist crowd in Charlottetown for the 40th anniversary of the Confederation Centre of the Arts. He tones down the expectations of people who saw his arrival at the helm of the province as a challenge to those who would separate Québec from Canada. Among other things, Jean Charest talks about federalism and what it involves: respect, flexibility, the rule of law, balance and cooperation.
What is a federation, after all? By definition, it is a partnership of two levels of government, which are each sovereign in their jurisdictions as defined by a constitution. In Canada, the provinces are not accountable to the federal government. Each government is accountable to its electorate in its own jurisdiction.The Equalization Program is one of the means the country has given itself to ensure equitable access to public services by all Canadians at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. The purpose of the program was entrenched in the Constitution in 1982. Equalization payments are unconditional; receiving provinces are free to spend the funds according to their own priorities.

Québec is among the provinces that receive equalization. It's not the one that receives the most equalization per capita, but, because of its population, Québec gets the lion's share. In 2007 and 2008, it received $7.2B and $8.0B in equalization payments.

Regardless of the fact that Québec is not the only "have not" province, many feel compelled to underline this Québécois trait. The province's social democratic inspired programs are seen by them as an usurpation of the country's tax dollars. Is it?

In 2006, the Québécois put $95B in the governments' coffers [Google translation]. Of this amount, $38.4B went to Ottawa. Does this mean that Québec gets shafted? Not really... like all provinces, it gets monies from other programs and it benefits from other federal services.

These numbers however illustrate what too many fail to realize; the province isn't poor. These numbers also illustrate another reality; the Québécois are among the most taxed citizens in North America. Anyone from the rest of the country who moved to the province will testify that at equal salary, her/his paycheck shrunk. That's the cost of more generous social programs. In Québec, the richest is poorer than in other provinces, but the poorest is richer.

In essence, the province's social programs are more generous simply because that's what the population has decided them to be. What seem for many to be federal funded richer programs are in fact simply basic programs improved with provincial money. Like all Canadians in this country, the Québécois pay their taxes and have nothing to justify to other provinces and their residents.

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