Québec a poor province: a myth

For a decade or so, it's become common knowledge that the Québécois enjoy a standard of living considerably lower than that of our American neighbors, from about 20% less, according to some, to as much as 45% less, according to others. The situation is such that we sometimes read that people in every state, including the historically poor Mississippi and Louisiana, are richer than the Québécois. For those who've visited these states, such a statement is puzzling.

The fact that the world's largest economy generates, per person, more wealth than Québec comes as no surprise. However, witnessing the difficulties of the American middle class, strangled by the exorbitant cost of private medical insurance and tuition and stagnant income, seems in contradiction with the notion that Americans keep, on average, between 20% and 45% more than the Québécois in their pockets.

We also know that our neighbors to the south, and more than anywhere in the Western world, has seen an alarming rise in wealth inequality over the last 30 years. The gap between the super-rich and the average American has returned to its level of the years prior to the depression of the 1930s. Québec hasn't seen such excesses.

Could it be that the super-rich are skewing the figures? Could the vast majority of Québécois be at least as rich as the vast majority of Americans?

It could... setting aside the top 5% of the richest U.S. taxpayers and the top 5% of the richest Québécois, thus comparing 95% of the population, 2007 figures show that the income per capita are $18,932 and $18,998. In short, there is a very thin margin in favor of the average Québécois.

But converting apples and oranges to make a fair comparison between the two is a tedious task. Click here [Google translation] to know more about this interesting analysis.


Québec: The most corrupt province

A year ago, Maclean's cover story claimed Québec to be the most corrupt province. A supporting article to this cover story pointed to the province's nationalist penchant as the reason for it.

In reaction, Jean-François Lisée wrote an articulate piece challenging the magazine's journalistic integrity:"I did try to find in last week's issue the methodology used to grant Quebec its number one spot on the corruption scale. I was curious to know who was number two, and how wide the margin was—as in Maclean's yearly university rankings. Did the writers use the number of corruption convictions of elected officials in each province since 2000? The cash amount proven to have changed hands illegally? Or, since no conviction is to be found in Quebec (yet?), the number of police inquiries in play? I was disappointed. Maclean's has no comparison metrics whatsoever. The whole cover is based on opinion and perception alone. Hopes for a Pulitzer on this one are dim.

I have a great idea for a Maclean's cover. Picture a Bonhomme Carnaval with a halo. No, better yet, a crowd of such Bonhommes as far as the eye can see. The title:
Quebecers: Canada's resilient corruption-busters.

The story would go like this. Eliot Ness-type figures battling corruption are a staple of Quebec culture. It seems to be in the national Quebec genome to rise up against graft and sleaze. Not that they haven't been duped. In the forties, they loved Maurice Duplessis because he denounced and ridiculed the corruption of the preceding Liberal government. But he then became as a great corrupter himself. In the 1950s, they turned to the incorruptible inspector Pax Plante and crusader Jean Drapeau, who cleaned-up Montreal's Mob and brothels with a vengeance. Drapeau became a hero, then an autocratic, visionary, and at times inept—but never corrupt—mayor. In the 1960s, the new white knight was René Lévesque, who championed procurement reform in a Liberal "équipe du tonnerre" that equipped Quebec for the modern world. The decade nearly was scandal-free. In the early 1970s collusion between a mob-related union, the FTQ-Construction, and the Quebec Liberal government saw the rise of new corruption-busters in a commission that was followed more closely than hockey night. Brian Mulroney and Lucien Bouchard's careers take their roots in this largely successful cleansing effort."
This week, under relentless pressure from the population, Premier Jean Charest appointed a commission of inquiry into collusion and fraud into the construction industry. An inquiry that will take place outside the usual legislative framework. An inquiry in which commissioners will not be able to subpoena witnesses and force them to testify or order the search and seizure of evidence. An inquiry in which witnesses will appear voluntarily without receiving immunity, thus exposing evidence that may be used against them in future criminal cases. An inquiry in which commissioners themselves are not protected against future lawsuits.

But the population isn't duped. A poll by Léger Marketing [Google translation] conducted in the days that followed the announcement reveals that 68% of the Québécois are not satisfied with the proposed format. An overwhelming majority of respondents (86%) are dissatisfied that witnesses cannot be subpoenaed.

Note the situation. Popular support to expose corruption through a public inquiry is roughly at 80%, but the staunchest federalist Premier the province ever had behaves as if he doesn't want one. Shouldn't Maclean's write a follow-up story on its conclusions?