Pastagate and Quebec’s Suffering Economy

I’m a little late to the party so I’m sure many of you have already read about the so-called pastagate scandal in Quebec. As much as I would love to rant about rights infringements, that topic has been covered to death. Instead, I will rant about the economy.

Today a legislative committee in Quebec City will begin examining Bill 14 and the Parti Québécois’ drive to impose greater restrictions of Quebec’s Anglophones. The oppressive nature of Bill 14 and Bill 101 are a black mark on both the province and our country. Shunned by the United Nations and mocked by our neighbours to the south, Quebec’s language laws are a troubling reminder of the potential abuse of government power. There appears to be some momentum working against Bill 14, but opposition is generally characterized by embarrassment rather than outrage. If Quebecers – both Anglo and Franco – are unwilling to stand up for individual liberty and human rights, should they not stand up for their own welfare?

The economic situation in Quebec is a disaster and has been for a while now. The province’s debt currently totals over $254 billion, making it one of the largest debtors in the world. In 2011, the province’s debt trailed only Japan, Italy, Greece and Iceland. That’s right, only four countries in the entire world carry debts larger than Quebec, and most of those countries have experienced extreme economic turmoil in recent years. In 2011, Quebec also lost 56,000 jobs while Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario all added jobs. Meanwhile, Quebec’s universities and schools desperately need funding while their best graduates are less and less likely to find quality employment in their home province. Unfortunately, Quebec’s new provincial government isn’t likely to solve these issues anytime soon. The PQ won a minority government in 2011 by promoting an agenda of social services, big government and high taxes. Consequently, in September 2012 the PQ unveiled plans to significantly increase taxes on both individuals and businesses. But what does this have to do with pastagate?

Quebec is bleeding money. According to organizations like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, one of the biggest contributing factors in Quebec’s economic decline has been red tape and excessive regulations. When I think of pastagate, I am initially troubled by the willingness of a Canadian government to infringe on the rights and liberties of its citizens. However, I am also aware of just how economically crippling these types of regulations are for small-medium businesses. While higher taxes ensure that companies are more likely to expand in other provinces or even relocate out of Quebec, language laws that demand French be spoken in the office or that signage be translated also have serious economic consequences. Major corporations are already discouraged from operating in Quebec due to excessive regulations, and some brands even refuse to export to the province due to the cost of translating their labels.

The constitutionality of requiring private companies to conduct their business in a specific language is certainly questionable, but consider the economic ramifications of Bill 14. If the minimum number of employees changes from 50 to 25, how will companies with Anglophone employees adjust? Suddenly companies with 35 employees would be required to adopt French as their primary language of communication to avoid unwanted attention from the language police. To do so, these companies would need to spend considerable funds on language training for unillingual Anglophones. Conversely, these companies could choose to replace these employees – adding another layer of potential rights violations – thereby losing the time and money invested in those employees in favour of hiring and retraining Francophones. Let’s also not forget that English is the international language of business. Of course, the most unattractive possibilities are that some companies will downsize, relocate or shut down due to the financial pressures associated with the PQ’s economic package. In each scenario, people’s jobs are at risk and the productivity of Quebec’s businesses is threatened. In a time when the province needs a boost in economic growth and productivity most, does it really make sense to increase pressure on small-medium businesses?

Ultimately, what is the PQ so worried about? Outside of Montreal and the Gatineau region, French is clearly the predominant language in Quebec. Most Anglophones do not seem interested in destroying Quebec culture or the French language. Rather, they are seeking the same equality and protection of rights that Francophones demand outside of Quebec.

The language laws demonstrate just how lost the PQ and the Francophone extremists really are. Quebec culture is far from dying and its protection certainly shouldn’t cost more annually than Montreal’s key organized crime squad. Obviously there is recourse for Anglophones who are unhappy in Quebec: mass exodus. While it is unfortunate that some people have felt compelled to utilize this option due to oppressive regulations in a supposedly democratic country, the Francophones left behind are also punished. Quebec’s economy is in trouble and this brand of over-regulation is not going to help turn it around. Combined with increased taxes and declining incentives for non-Francophone professionals and businesses to operate in Quebec, these language laws are causing significant trouble for the citizens they are designed to protect – Francophones.

Perhaps it is time for Quebec to look to its roots and an iconic motto born during the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

I’d like to apologize for the gap in my posts. Unfortunately I have been quite busy with my job search, but I aim to retain consistency regarding this blog. I will continue to strive for one or two posts per week in the future. Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter (@colinpallag) or find me on Linkedin (Colin Pallag).


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