While the official date of the launch of the Quebec election campaign was August 23, unofficially, it has been in full swing for weeks. All signs point to an important election, of potential interest to all Canadians, as the political landscape seems set to undergo a major shift in this province for the first time in my lifetime.
For one thing, a party other than the Liberals or PQ may well end up holding power, something that hasn't happened in almost 50 years. For another, the PQ may fail to secure even the 12 seats it needs to maintain official party status.
Regardless of who ultimately wins, though, here are three files I'd like to hear the different parties weigh in on more — and I'll bet I'm not the only one. Indeed, these are issues that have repercussions not just for Quebecers, but for all Canadians across the country.
Even if Quebec was long known for its poor management of public finances, things have changed for the better recently. Indeed, the province has balanced its four budgets since 2015-2016, and has committed to paying down $10 billion of its debt over the next five years. And I was very happy to see, last November, that the government did finally reduce personal income taxes at least a little bit.
Of course, its March 2018 budget included a 4.7-per-cent increase in total spending, marking a significant break with the restraint shown in the previous three budgets. I really hope that whoever wins the election will scale things back again and return to the discipline that has made Quebec the poster child of sound fiscal management in Canada for the past few years.
In Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, waiting times are a serious, chronic problem. We've all had the experience — or know someone close to us who's had the experience — of waiting an unreasonable amount of time in an emergency room. The MEI found that the median wait last year was 4.5 hours, with 5.6 per cent of patients stuck there for more than 24 hours!
The reforms undertaken by successive Quebec governments over the years have failed to address this problem, yet we know that many other countries with universal systems, like Sweden and Germany, have solved it. The main difference: They call upon the private sector's capacity for innovation and flexibility in the provision of health care, all while maintaining universal funding. Does any party in this election have the courage to propose turning over the management of a certain number of hospitals to the private sector?
And what happens in Quebec on this file matters for all Canadians. Once one province takes the first step and enacts real, effective change like this, it will be that much easier for the rest to follow suit.
Finally, in the wake of the recent meeting between Canada's premiers, in which they announced an intention to increase the amount of alcohol that individuals can transport across provincial lines, I'd like to see Quebec's political parties announce what they plan to do to free up interprovincial trade. So far, to my knowledge, none of them has done so.
For someone like me, who makes the trip from Montreal to Ottawa fairly regularly, the agreement in principle to let Canadians bring more alcohol across provincial lines is welcome news, to be sure. I often do hit the LCBO before heading back home, and I don't want to feel like an outlaw for bringing back a few bottles of booze.
But I live fairly close to a provincial border; many others don't. And needless to say, I'd have to drive a long way to get B.C. wines! I can't order them instead, either, as having wine delivered from a winery in another province remains against the law, punishable by fines of up to $100,000 and up to six months in jail, depending on the province.
These are three issues — public finances, health care and interprovincial trade — where Quebec could lead the way for better public policies across Canada.
Jasmin Guénette is Vice President of Operations at the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this op-ed are his own.
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