The most secular and left-wing province in Canada is Quebec. This was not always the case. Before the reforms of the “Quiet Revolution” in the early 1960s, politicians such as conservative Premier Maurice Duplessis enjoyed the support of the Catholic Church, most of the working class (particularly the non-organized), and Anglophone and American business leaders. State intervention was minimal and Quebec had a strong economy that paralleled Ontario. But left-wing intellectuals were keen to see change. The secularization process that unfolded was a welcome development to those who characterized the Duplessis era as “the Black Ages” (See Michael D. Behiels, ed., Quebec Since 1945). Yet, not all is well in Quebec today.
In Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values (2009), Brian Lee Crowley argues that a “New Canada” was born on June 22, 1960 when Jean Lesage of the Liberal Party took power in Quebec and unleashed the Quiet Revolution. He writes: “The profound transformation that emerged so forcefully in the last five decades or so can be summarized as a Canada of expansive government and social programs, of bilingualism and multiculturalism, of the appeasement of an endless list of demands from Quebec nationalists, of the abandonment of anything but a highly sanitized history of the country, of the decline of the work ethic, of the family and of our fertility.” This is a fascinating thesis worth exploring, but my focus is on the more momentous changes within Quebec itself.
When most of Quebec broke from the Catholic Church, politicians tried to build an ethical and moral code not linked to religion. The results are apparent. The 2006 census showed that 44.4 per cent of all common-law families in Canada lived in Quebec (even though the province represents less than a quarter of the population). Gay activism is very strong. Since the mid-seventies, Quebec’s suicide rate has consistently eclipsed the rates in other provinces. In fact, for a period it was the highest in the world. Given the high incidence of abortions, Quebec is also known as the ‘abortion capital of North America.’
As for the economy, Quebec has the highest rate of unionization: 40 percent in 2004. Crowley writes, “Quebec makes no promises of a higher individual material standard of living…. What Quebec promised (and continues to promise) is moral superiority and social solidarity.” Left-wing politicians and activists “distracted Quebecers from looking at the extent to which their own redistributionist policies were at the root of the province’s difficulties. In fact, any suggestion from outside the province that the ‘social justice state’ being created in Quebec was at the root of their economic and social underperformance was simply treated as further evidence that the rest of Canada didn’t share Quebec ‘values.’” In 2004, only Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi had a poorer ability than Quebec to generate wealth for its citizens (ie., GDP, per person).
In recent weeks, mostly francophone students and activists responded to the government’s plan to raise university tuition rates by taking to the streets, destroying property, and disrupting university classes and city transportation (mostly in Montreal). Even though the cost of university education in Quebec is the lowest in Canada, left-wing forces demand free education. Reports by Sun Television suggests that the angriest and most revolutionary of the activists are over represented by students in soft and politicized courses unaware of basic economics and wealth creation.
The tepid and inconsistent response of the Liberal leaders to the violence and destruction of property is rather pathetic. Their liberal and “tolerant” values are failing them. Having lost their own sense of history and moral backbone, Quebec politicians are struggling to find any light.