The Quebec puzzle

In 2015, the Conservative Party of Canada was campaigning in Quebec with a slogan proclaiming that Quebecers are more conservative than we think.

That year, Quebec ended up being the only region in the country where Stephen Harper’s party made any gains, albeit modest ones, while its support shrank in the rest of the country.

It’s easy to imagine that Quebecers are also more inclined than the rest of Canada to lean toward a certain identity-based conservatism that rejects all-out cultural relativism and its various incarnations, such as wokeism or cancel culture.

This is actually a point that was ably demonstrated by political strategist Carl Vallée in a piece published over three years ago already.

But how does Quebec measure up when it comes to some themes near and dear to the hearts of fiscal conservatives and classical liberals?

This is an interesting question and one that leads to certain conclusions that may surprise many readers.

Let’s start with health care.

A poll commissioned earlier this year by the Montreal Economic Institute found that 65 percent of Quebecers are in favour of increased access to private health care, while only 24 percent are opposed.

This is by far the highest level of support in the country. British Columbia comes in second with 52 percent.

What about Quebecers’ tolerance for the huge deficits the federal government is accumulating?

Once again, Quebec is out in front, with the lowest level of tolerance in the country, as 64 percent of Quebecers think federal spending is too high or much too high. Western Canada is in second place with 53 percent.

But when it comes to pipelines, surely Quebecers are opposed, right?

Not so fast. In fact, a poll conducted last summer showed that 61 percent of Quebecers favour the construction of new oil and gas pipelines to transport hydrocarbons to ports in Eastern and Western Canada.

Moreover, 78 percent of us say we prefer to get our oil from Western Canada than from anywhere else.

Admittedly, Quebecers’ enthusiasm for Canadian oil is not the highest in the country. Still, the level of support represented is clearly in majority territory.

These data are hard to reconcile with the reality that we see around us.

Indeed, Quebecers have trouble rallying around political parties that promote economic freedom in significant numbers.

Of course, there’s little doubt that this is due in part to Quebec’s particular political context that dilutes the votes of fans of individual responsibility in favour of vast, more or less misshapen coalitions structured around one constitutional position or another, from federalism to separatism, passing by autonomism.

Even with the third way of autonomism, constitutional questions take precedence over practical considerations such as the sound management of public finances or a plan to save the health-care system.

It could be said that Quebec is the victim of a novel permutation of public choice theory, in which the constitutional question is an additional factor, on top of all the usual lobby groups.

It nonetheless remains the case that, individually, Quebecers on average are more conservative than we might believe.

In 2011, on the initiative of its founder Michel Kelly-Gagnon, the Montreal Economic Institute launched a Quebec-Alberta dialogue. Indeed, this initiative is more pertinent than ever, given the federal government’s numerous intrusions into provincial jurisdictions.

The main impetus for this project at the time remains relevant today: the need to create more wealth in Canada by allowing the development of our natural resources.

More than ever, the restriction on the maximization of our prosperity stems from the actions and deliberate decisions of a federal government that is overstepping its authority.

Despite the prejudices that sometimes still linger between the residents of these two provinces, the fact remains that Albertans and Quebecers have every reason to engage in dialogue and try to understand each other better. After all, judging by the polls, the time is ripe for an alliance of the head and the heart.

Daniel Dufort is President and CEO of the MEI. The views reflected in this opinion piece are his own.

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