There are two questions that I consider when I think about the Quebec sovereignty movement – one is ‘why won’t it happen ?’ and the second question I ask myself is, ‘what if it does happen?’ I think that the answers to ‘what if it does happen?’ are in some ways the best way to argue that it never will happen. So I’ll jump right into 5 things that I think will happen if Quebec separates.
I will make a fundamental assumption here – that the new country of Quebec retains most or all of its territory. I am making this assumption because this is what separatists think they will get in a referendum win, so it highlights even more dramatically the consequences of separation in some ways. Also, note that this is only my opinion – it is very difficult to predict exactly what will happen, but I’ll give it a go. I do find it amusing that there are many Quebec separatists out there that believe after Quebec separates, everything will continue business as usual – this is simply delusional thinking and it takes a simple thought experiment to come to that conclusion.
I will use data from 2009 for the economic numbers (Statistics Canada) to back up point 3. These numbers are 5 years old (best I could do for a complete set of data), but the trend is somewhat the same (or worse) right up until 2013 for Quebec when the latest data is available.
Note that some of the points below are co-related.
1. Businesses will leave the province
By making the assumption that Quebec will retain all of its territory, including Montreal, there will be many businesses that will leave Quebec. I don’t expect this to be the worst consequence of separation because so many businesses have already left and the major ones remaining are more or less Quebecois companies (especially in the technology sector). I don’t see Bombardier, CGI, or SNC Lavalin leaving Quebec for example. However, there will be quite a few smaller scale enterprises that will leave for various reasons – principle, migration of employees and workforce out of the province, and lost sales.
I would expect the sectors that will be hit the hardest (in fact devastated) will be restaurants, retail, entertainment, real estate, insurance as well as downstream sectors such as agriculture, raw materials, processing, logistics, procurement, transportation, energy, services. The companies that would be least affected would be Quebec based or international companies in the following sectors: technology, pharmaceuticals, and the public sector.
Read on to discover the reasons why these areas will be affected.
2. A minimum of 1.5 million people will leave the new country to start off
1.5 million people will leave the province in a ‘first wave’ and possibly another 1 million over the course of several years as the new country experiences increasing hardship. Of course this is a rough estimate and probably on the conservative side as well. My estimate is based on the fact that the entire Anglophone community will leave the province + a good contingent of the Allophone population. Let’s state the choice in words that will be given citizens that are living in Quebec after a referendum win: you can either stay in an unproven and increasingly impoverished country in which thousands are fleeing every day and renounce your Canadian citizenship, or you can go on living in one of the freest, richest countries on earth. Doesn’t sound like a particularly difficult choice to make. Personally, I’d have my bags packed and house on the market well before the referendum campaign even started.
3. Lost revenue
One of the major arguments for Quebec separatists is that they pay all kinds of money to the federal government and that this money will be repatriated when Quebec becomes a sovereign nation. Pauline Marois even went to the podium a few weekends ago and reminded her zealous followers about how Quebec is paying for shipbuilding in the Maritimes and auto industry in Ontario.
What they forget to tell you is that money will be required for equivalent services in Quebec. Not only equivalent services, but start-up costs to for example, create a postal system, a military, infrastructure.
Furthermore, the PQ never mentions how Quebec benefits from equalization payments in their propaganda. Quebec received a whopping $ 8,355 billion in equalization payments in 2009 – way more than any other province. Ontario received nothing this same year with a population that is 5 million greater than Quebec. Furthermore, since Quebec’s contribution to the equalization program was 18.4 % of the total contribution of $ 14,4 billion for that year, Quebec benefited from a net gain of $ 5.7 billion in equalization payments for the year of 2009. Since 2009, the trend is quite similar – Quebec benefits way more than any other province from the equalization program. To be fair, Ontario has received some equalization payments since 2009 when it received none, but still nothing compared to Quebec.
You will hear separatists argue that some of the Atlantic provinces have a higher equalization per capita (in other words, if you divide the payment they receive by the total population). This is true, but they don’t mention that administration costs are higher per capita because these provinces have much lower populations, they have an economy that is highly reliant (but less so in recent years) on fisheries and that they are at a serious geographic disadvantage to Quebec (proximity to major Canadian and America cities). So it is like comparing apples to oranges – Quebec is the second largest economy in Canada, so shouldn’t we stick to comparing it to Alberta or Ontario?
What makes statements made by Marois even more ludicrous, is that Quebec contributed $ 3 billion to the federal budget deficit in 2009. So, I am not sure how the economist working for Marois came to the conclusion that Quebec pays for shipbuilding in the maritimes or the auto industry in Ontario, but I guess it makes for great propaganda for separatist zealots – it takes about 10 minutes of research to see how false this statement is.
source: 1. please see document ‘The Canadian Equalization Program: Main Elements, Achievement and Challenges’ by Quebec think tank ‘The Federal Idea’. 2. Statistics Canada: Consolidated provincial and territorial government revenue and expenditures, by province and territory
4. Housing bubble
The housing collapse in the USA, which effectively began in 2006, left millions of Americans homeless and personally bankrupt. Even though the circumstances that led up to the housing bubble in the USA are dramatically different than Quebec separating, the end result would be the same: massive increase in housing inventory, driving housing prices through the floor, leaving people with mortgages they can’t pay for on houses that are worth nothing.
How will this happen? If the families of 1 million people sell their homes in a short period of time to get out of the province, I figure Montreal will look something like Detroit fairly rapidly. Couple this with massive job losses and you have a recipe for total disaster. This will unfortunately have an effect on banks and mortgage brokers, but since many of these institutions have a national presence, they will most likely recover quite well as people migrate and settle in other provinces and take up mortgages. The worst hit bank will most likely be Desjardins, which has a strong presence in Quebec and a weaker presence in Ontario and other provinces.
5. Psycological/human toll
It is rarely considered just how much of a toll this will take on the people, if we forget the economics for a minute. Quebec families are integrated across multiple ethnicities, languages and cultures and creeds. Quebec separating will effectively destroy this harmony, especially in Montreal. My own family (extended included) is a mix of Francophones, Anglophones, Swiss, German among others (speaking all of these languages at the dinner table during family reunions). I can’t imagine the prospect of part of my family living in a different country.
This leads me to my final point: before the PQ started systematically dividing us, I can’t recall not having as much solidarity with Francophones as I do with Anglophones. Close your eyes, and remember what it is like before the PQ and you will see just how good they are at messing with our heads.
I am sure I can add many other points, but I will leave it to you to fill in the blanks!
A simple exercise such as the one I have done above reveals that, because of the consequences, Quebec is highly unlikely to separate any time soon. What do you think?