PQ leader Pauline Marois puts sovereignty in the spotlight

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois has put sovereignty and referendum talk back into the context of Quebec politics - even though polls remain steadily predict 61% of Quebecers would vote no. This week, she announced an independent Quebec would have no borders, use Canadian currency and be welcome to tourists.

In Marois's independent Quebec, there are no borders, there are plenty of tourists, and Quebec will use and continue to have a say over Canadian currency via a seat on the Bank of Canada. This week, Marois is making bold promises that put a relatively unpopular topic in Quebec, and the rest of Canada back in the spotlight. Are these promises even realistic?

Quebec's economy remains sluggish and public debt is the highest in Canada. The PQ have been forced to restrain spending, even after pushing the date to balanced budgets. This will be the least of Marois's problems - just wait until 25% of Quebec's revenues through Canada's equalization program magically disappear.

Marois, however, argues Quebec's economy is stronger than its ever been and there's no reason why Canada wouldn't want to partner with an independent Quebec. Her vision for Quebec's new relationship with Canada derives from the way the European Union is set up where countries of different cultures and political decisions can all co-exist in partnership economically and diplomatically. However, these promises require two sides to agree and are simply unattainable as mere election promises.

"They accept to share their borders, their money they have the Euro, so that is a model which is very interesting, but in the European Union each country has its independence," she said.

"We are eight million people living here in Quebec and we have an economy which is a rich one," said Marois. "We have a lot of consumers, we have a lot of business organizations in our territory, and I think it's important to have a place at this level but if it is not the case we will see."

The PQ's pro-sovereignty numbers would rank Quebec's Gross Domestic Product within the strength of the European countries at the lower end of the scale. Her independence plan, on her numbers would make Quebec rank 19th among OECD countries, unlike the 8th place ranking we currently enjoy as Canadians. This means an independent Quebec would have even less financial legroom than it does now to fund public programs.

No tolls, no borders, a say in a now foreign nation's currency? All this requires Canada's approval and wouldn't be necessary if Quebec remained a province within Canada's confederation. Quebecers would be dragged to the negotiating table and not only is there no guarantee any of these promises can or will be attained, there is absolutely no reason for Canada to feel obliged to accept them - Quebec used to be a part of Quebec and if Quebec wants these benefits, they should remain a part of Canada. If the Canadian government decides the hypothetical new Canada-Quebec border will have a crossing and security checkpoints, there will be. If the Canadian government decides the hypothetical new Canada-Quebec border should have tolls, maybe Marois won't put them on Quebec's side but nothing is prohibiting Canada's side to have tolls. This isn't to say none of these goals can be achieved, but as mere election promises these ideas are far from realistic.

To go even further, if the Canadian government decides it doesn't want to allow the Quebec nation to use and have a say over Canadian currency, then Marois has no choice but to shop around for a new currency and until Quebec's finances and rampant spending (and debt) come under control, an independent Quebec would be a crippled economy with a broken and overbearing public sector that would be forcefully subjected to privatization and severe austerity. All it took was a tuition hike to send students to the street in 2012, what will happen when all services across the board to be severely cut?

The talk of sovereignty is already a source of instability that drives down foreign business investment in Quebec and companies who don't want to deal with stringent language laws, unreasonably high taxes, and rampant public mismanagement will set up shop elsewhere. A strengthened Bill 14 and a Charter of Values as well, add a level of division and red tape that is agonizing for business potential in Quebec.

Nonetheless, Marois believes she can keep business headquarters in Quebec, by adopting protectionist views on business takeovers.

“We must retain head offices in Quebec, in particular those companies that are jewels of the Quebec economy,” Marois said announcing plans to amend the Securities Act and allow corporations to adopt variable voting rights giving Quebec shareholders and boards of directors more power to block foreign takeovers. “What we’re proposing today will not only help maintain head offices, but also support the development of Quebec businesses.”

Marois also says an independent Quebec would have open doors for tourists but Canada and the world is watching the PQ's identity politics unfold - and they aren't impressed. Nebraska, an American state, was shocked to hear their religious accommodation laws were being used to justify the PQ's charter - and frankly, they don't care much for these laws either. As minorities in Quebec feel as though they are no longer welcome, how can the world watching this unfold possibly think any different?

“We could continue to go see the Rockies in the West … or go to Prince Edward Island and [the rest of Canada] could continue to come visit us. There will be no borders and no tolls,” Marois said.

While the rest of Canada watches in anticipation, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard notes the folly.

"The PQ always tries to take us to a world of fantasy, an imaginary world, Alice in Wonderland," he said.

"The mechanics of a referendum are already underway. You know it's all planned, it's the lobster trap that monsieur Parizeau talked about a few years ago. It's been designed, opened, hey the bait is here, get in Quebecers, get in the lobster trap and then we'll close the door and you'll have a referendum no matter what," said Couillard.

What do you think of Marois's referendum talk? Is she being too idealist for her own good? Share this article, join the discussion and let us know what you think: Facebook, Twitter, Google+

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