Sadly the brief answer is probably yes. There is so much wrong with Jeffrey Simpson’s column on Quebec, Quebec’s pay-everyone social programs are draining its purse, and on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. Rather than make a catalogue let me just make two interventions: one on audience and one on accuracy.
The obvious needs to be pointed out; namely, that when writing in the Globe and Mail you are writing for an Anglo Canadian audience much of which is waiting to have its ignorant view of Quebec confirmed. So fact checking is kind of essential even when all you want to do is present a one-sided, single sourced position. Simpson’s opinion reminds me of the racist joke teller that can’t even get the intended target’s ethnicity right.
This brings me to accuracy. Here is the glaring claim:
Forty per cent of Quebeckers do not pay income tax, as young economist Mathieu Laberge has noted. One result is fierce opposition to program cuts by people who are not taxed to pay for government services. Another result is that, with only 60 per cent of the population paying income tax, it’s hard to raise big new revenues.
Sounds pretty desperate. So few people pay income tax in Quebec they cannot raise significant revenue through income tax increases. The way it is phrased it makes it sound as though this is unique to Quebec. Thus playing into the dominant stereotype of Québécois(e),lounging around in their English Canadian equalization payment paid for Swedish style welfare state. Indeed troll through the comments section of Simpson’s column and it would appear that Simpson’s mission is accomplished.
Here are some examples of the bile Simpson (in)advertently(?) encourages:
This is why the Quebec referendum threat is complete BS. They can’t afford to leave as they would no longer get transfer payments to subsidize their socialist spending problem. If you don’t give “less fortunate” members of society any reason to make a go at bettering themselves, why would they bother?
Quebec should deal with their own problems and stop crying for subsides from the RoC.
Clearly Simpson’s article, and the data provided by the young Mathieu Laberge, simply serves to stoke the image that the Quebecois(e) do not work as much as other Canadians and are unjustly rewarded for their lack of initiative. Having grown-up in BC and lived at the centre of universe for 10 years I can attest that this is pretty common stereo-type about Quebec.
I have one simple question are the percentages of Québécois(e), paying income taxes lower than in the rest of Canada? Or even out of line with any of the major English Canadian provinces? One caveat: I do not know how Laberge derives his figure that 40% of Québécois(e), do not pay income tax. It would seem he is just equating the employment to 15-64 year population ratio in order to get his number. And indeed in Québec the employment to population ratio is 60%. I would have thought a more accurate guestimate would have taken the labour force participation numbers as a percent of of the population between 15-64 (termed the participation rate). Unemployed workers have paid or presumably in the near future pay income taxes as they are in the paid labour market. The participation rate in Québec is 65.5% implying only 34.5% of Québecois(e) will not pay income tax this year.
However whether or not you use Laberge’s (and Simpson’s) somewhat exaggerated measure or mine the fact is that Quebec’s numbers are good as they compare with BC’s at 61% and 66% or Ontario’s at 52% and 67.5% respectively. Quebec hardly is a case of a low income tax paying province. And Quebec’s numbers compare favourably with its Atlantic Canadian neighbours. So if there be a problem with the percentage of income tax paying citizens to non-income tax paying citizens then it is a Canadian story with a western Canadian wrinkle (Alberta and Sask have high participation rates).
That is we could have made the same alarmist sounding claims about BC, Ontario and all of Atlantic Canada. So whatever the story is here it is not about L’exceptionnalisme Québecois(e).
Moreover, it is fine list of programs that Simpson presents from cheep affordable and quality post secondary education through to universal drug plans and by although no means universally accessible affordable day care. Hence it is hardly a surprise that we pay higher income taxes in Québec than almost anywhere in North America: Duh! because we have more public services. It is not a glitch Jeffrey and Mathieu, it is a prerequisite.
Look it is not like progressives have not seen this film before. First you attack universalism under the guise that you really want the rich to pay their fair share; then you start with an anti income tax campaign trying to get the public to internalize the idea they are over taxed; then you destroy universality and give the bulk of tax reductions to the very rich people you made the chumps think you were originally targeting. And in the interim destroy l’esprit égalitaire that Laberge so detests.
Simpson is right though in the sense that Charest is certainly attempting a re-run of this film in Québec and I suspect he will be successful.
All the data for this post can be obtained from Statistics Canada for free here.