Elsewhere in this issue, and in the Winter/Spring 2009 issue of Inroads, Pierre Fortin has set out his view that Quebec is doing well economically.1 We challenge this view. We agree that Quebec has a more equal distribution of income than other Canadian provinces; we disagree that the standard of living in Quebec is adequate. It has not achieved the level it could if better economic policies were pursued.

Quebec’s dependence on federal transfers

Two different measures of income can be used to assess a jurisdiction’s absolute and relative economic success: disposable income per capita and real GDP per capita. Disposable income per capita – that is, income after deduction of personal and payroll taxes – measures the standard of living accessible to the residents of a territory through private consumption, and includes both market income (wages and salaries, investment income and private remittances) and public transfers to individuals.

Hence, disposable income per capita in Quebec includes transfers received from federal Employment Insurance and Old Age Security. Quebec’s disposable income per capita is higher than it would be if Quebec were to finance its present social spending without equalization payments and other transfers received from the federal government. Without equalization, Quebec would need to impose higher personal income and payroll taxes, among other measures needed to raise revenues. While a good indicator of the average standard of living, Quebec’s disposable income is a poor indicator of its economic performance because, in part, it is at the mercy of the generosity of the federal government; its capacity to pay will depend in part on economic activity in other provinces.

This is illustrated in Figure 1, showing federal transfers as a share of personal income. In 2006, these transfers amounted to $2,240 per capita in Quebec and $1,870 in Ontario. Summing over all Quebecers, this difference amounted to $2.8 billion. Furthermore, in 2006 Ottawa derived only 19 per cent of its revenues from individuals and firms in Quebec, as opposed to 41.5 per cent in Ontario.2 So Quebec gains more in transfers and pays less in taxes.

Real GDP per capita measures value added during the production process in an economy. Hence, it reflects the average economic market output for every resident of a jurisdiction. This is not a perfect indicator of economic activity, since it omits nonmarket activities and is not directly linked to income availability or distribution. Despite these drawbacks, however, it remains the conventional way to evaluate the economic productivity of different jurisdictions, either national or subnational. Figure 2 presents per capita Quebec GDP and disposable income between 1981 and 2008, expressed as percentages of per capita GDP and disposable income in the rest of Canada.

For nearly the entire period, Quebec per capita GDP was roughly 85 per cent of that elsewhere in Canada; in the last four years it has declined to about 82 per cent. On the other hand, Quebec per capita disposable income has been consistently closer to the level elsewhere in Canada than the relative productivity of Quebec’s economy would warrant. That is what equalization and personal transfers make possible. What is disconcerting is that, in this decade, per capita disposable income has increased faster in Quebec than in the other provinces (as evidenced by the rising disposable income ratio), while at the same time Quebec’s relative productivity (as measured by the GDP ratio) has declined.

Since 2000 Quebec has become increasingly dependent on federal transfers, such as equalization, to fund its social programs. As shown by Figure 3, total transfers from Ottawa accounted for 18.4 per cent of Quebec government revenues in 2009. A decade earlier, in 1998, the ratio was 14.8 per cent. In less than a decade, annual federal transfers to Quebec grew by $7.4 billion. Equalization payments may be a good way to ensure similar standards of public programs from coast to coast, but they were never meant to continuously subsidize higher social program expenditures in one province relative to others. In the 2009–10 fiscal year, Quebec will receive $8.3 billion in equalization payments, representing nearly 60 per cent of the total.3 Equalization payments will amount to $1,075 for every Quebec citizen and more than 10 per cent of Quebec government revenues.

In sum, Quebec is more dependent on Ottawa’s willingness to fund its social programs than any other province outside the Maritimes, and its population is less productive than the population in most other provinces. In 2008, Quebec’s per capita GDP was 18 per cent below the average outside Quebec (see Figure 4).

Proper pricing to sustain the “Quebec way of life”?

Why is Quebec not doing as well as the other large provinces? Structural factors are part of the answer. The fact that most Quebecers are unilingual francophones reduces population inflows and outflows as a mechanism to adjust to economic changes within the North American economy. Relative labour immobility allows the Quebec government to use high labour taxation to subsidize capital investment. High labour taxes enable Quebec to invest in selected industries more than do most provinces, and many of these state-directed investment funds have generated disappointing results in recent years. Hence, the high payroll taxes may well be lowering private investment and what would otherwise have been provincial productivity. And the existence of a sovereignty movement is unlikely to increase the attractiveness of Quebec to investors.4

So, is 21st-century Quebec doomed to be a poor, sovereigntist-ridden province, much as it was poor and priest-ridden in the first part of the 20th century? In our opinion, no. Proper pricing in various sectors can free up resources and ensure economic growth.

At present, too many publicly supplied private goods in Quebec are sold at inefficiently low prices. One important example is hydroelectricity. Fortin wrote, “If you happen to sit on large reserves of oil and gas, you’re okay; if you don’t, you’ll be found in the bottom ranks of North America for real income per capita.”5 Quebec’s abundant hydroelectric capacity should be the equivalent of oil. However, the policy of no electricity price increases adopted for most of the 1990s encouraged overconsumption within Quebec and restricted the potential for export income. In 2005, Quebec was the second highest per capita electricity consumer in the world, just behind Iceland and ahead of Norway and the rest of Canada.6

The result is that Hydro-Quebec is forgoing export sales. With a differential of 13.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in average cost of production between Hydro-Quebec and New England utilities, such exports would realize substantial revenues for the Quebec treasury.7 Many American states have faced power shortages in recent years. Exports from Quebec could provide the American market with greener, more affordable power. Both jurisdictions would be better off.

The example of Newfoundland shows that a relatively poor province can improve its position by efficiently managing its resources.8 Newfoundland’s per capita GDP grew at a sustained annual average rate of 5.1 per cent from 1981 to 2008. In comparison, Quebec’s per capita GDP grew at an annual average rate of 1.7 per cent during the same period. Last year, Newfoundland stopped receiving equalization and attained its fourth budget surplus in a row because it managed its natural resources efficiently. Instead of freezing prices, it allowed private producers to transform the raw resource, and then charged high royalties. In 2008–09, offshore oil royalties were $2.5 billion, nearly a third of provincial government revenue.9

A large majority of Quebec homes are heated electrically – at unduly low prices. The appropriate policy would be for the Quebec government to phase in higher prices, giving time to allow households to adapt to the new price structure.

Another example of a publicly supplied service for which Quebecers pay an unduly low price is postsecondary schooling in community colleges (Cégeps) and universities. Everybody in the Quebec education milieu – from university chancellors to leaders of teacher and student unions – considers Quebec universities underfunded compared to other Canadian institutions of higher education. A larger part of universities’ budgets comes from the provincial government in Quebec than, for example, in Ontario,10 while Quebec fees are the lowest in Canada. Since university education yields high private returns, at least for undergraduate degrees,11 it would be sensible to increase fees, thereby improving the funding and quality of university education in Quebec. In the long run this would increase the productivity of Quebec’s labour force. Here is another simple application of the user-pay principle.

In general, it is possible to attain Quebec’s social goals in a more efficient fashion by using correct pricing, whether of electricity, universities, pharmaceutical insurance or other goods and services. Revenues thus obtained could be used, where appropriate, to subsidize consumption by low-income households either through refundable tax credits or through education-related grants and low-interest loans. Correct pricing would do away with ill-conceived universality realized through subsidized prices, which is poor public policy, albeit good politics.

If Quebec were to reform its pricing policies over, say, the next 20 years, it could slowly unravel inefficient implicit promises to keep prices of publicly supplied services artificially low. In the case of hydroelectricity, raising prices would simultaneously raise government revenue and induce less wasteful electricity use within the province. By raising electricity rates and requiring a higher portion of postsecondary education costs to be borne by tuition, Quebec would have more fiscal room to aid those who need it and to further reduce corporate and individual taxes. Instead of always looking for new investors and immigrants, Quebec could then hope to attract wealthy people and workers. This would invert the current vicious circle of poverty into a virtuous circle of wealth creation.

The real challenges are just ahead

Poorer, more dependent on federal transfers than most provinces and economically mismanaged by its politicians, Quebec was already in trouble before the present economic downturn. In Quebec as elsewhere, economic debates on pricing publicly supplied services such as electricity and postsecondary education, on fiscal implications of an aging population and on public finances in general have been put on the back burner because of the recession. There is no escaping these dilemmas, however. Sooner rather than later, Quebec will have to face its economic situation. Either it accepts declining economic and political influence as its fiscal dependence on other Canadians increases, or it engages in difficult structural reforms to provide public services more efficiently. Let us highlight a few facts as we enter – hopefully – the postrecession period.

The population is now aging at a faster pace in Quebec than in other provinces. As shown in Figure 5, the dependency ratio (ratio of those under age 15 plus those over age 64 to those between 15 and 64) was historically lower in Quebec than in Ontario and in Canada overall. That was the consequence of the historically high Quebec birth rate. Reflecting the current low birth rate, the ratio will grow faster in Quebec in the next decades than elsewhere in Canada. In 2031, it is expected that each Quebec dependent will be supported by only 1.6 people in the active age interval (a dependency ratio of 0.63); in 1985, each dependent was supported by 2.3 in the active population (a dependency ratio of 0.43).

In facing the fiscal implications of its aging population, Quebec will be more severely constrained than all other provinces because of its large public debt. In its 2009–10 budget plan, the Quebec government produced a table showing debt as percentage of provincial GDP among the provinces. The conclusion is simple but devastating: Quebec is the most indebted province by far, whatever the debt definition used.12 Figure 6 shows the ratio of public debt to GDP for Ottawa and the four major provinces, by three measures:

  • gross debt: accumulated deficits plus liabilities of civil service pension funds;
  • net debt: gross debt less net financial assets of the government;
  • accumulated deficits.

Based on the broadest debt definition, Quebec’s debt equals nearly half of its annual GDP. Its closest contestant for the sad title of most indebted province is Nova Scotia with a gross debt-to-GDP ratio of about a third. Quebec’s natural comparator, Ontario, is in far better fiscal shape.

Heavily indebted jurisdictions have less freedom to pursue public policy initiatives. They constantly risk having their credit rating revised downward by major rating agencies such as Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s. Lower ratings mean higher interest rates on public debt and potential difficulty in refinancing.

Finally, Quebec has been losing population to other provinces almost from the day data on interprovincial migration were first produced in 1961. For example, in 2006–07, Quebec increased its population by 0.5 per cent through international immigration; however, it lost 0.17 per cent to other provinces the same year.

Difficult choices

With its aging population and considerable productivity gap relative to other provinces, Quebec will not be able to continue as the generous welfare state it is – unless it undergoes major changes. The status quo in its public finances is unsustainable in the long term. Quebec’s government faces difficult choices. It must choose some combination of reduced generosity of social programs and a sharp rise in taxes and/or prices of publicly provided services.

If it is prudent, Quebec can meet social objectives without ending up bankrupt. The key is wise management of its natural resources.


The ADQ’s social and economic policies

The outcome of Quebec’s election in March was a surprise, in large part because of the remarkable showing of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ). The old two-party system was broken as a third party emerged as the official opposition. But where does this usurper really stand? While much was made of its “autonomist” views – neither federalist nor sovereigntist – its leader, Mario Dumont, insisted that what really distinguished the ADQ from both the Quebec Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois (PQ) were its social and economic policies. Were they indeed so distinctive? That’s the question this article tries to answer.

The origins of the ADQ

Despite what is sometimes thought, the ADQ was not founded by Mario Dumont. The founder and first leader of the ADQ was Jean Allaire, like Dumont a former Liberal. In the wake of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, Allaire chaired a committee that wrote a report recommending a massive decentralization of powers. The Allaire Report’s program would have left the federal government with only five fields of exclusive jurisdiction: money, defence, customs, equalization and management of the common debt.1 The report was adopted by the Liberals in 1991, but was then set aside when the party chose to support the Charlottetown Accord. This led to a split, with supporters of the Allaire Report campaigning for the No when the Charlottetown Accord was put to a referendum in 1992. After the victory of the No side, the split grew wider, with the result that, led by Allaire and the former leader of the Young Liberals, Mario Dumont, the dissident Liberals created a new party, the ADQ. Allaire was elected its leader in March 1994 but, only one month later, he resigned for medical reasons and Dumont became leader. From then until now, there has been no other leader; indeed no leadership contest. From 1994 to 2002, he was the only ADQ member of the Quebec Assembly. In many ways Dumont is the ADQ.2

In the 1994 election, the ADQ managed to obtain just 6.5 per cent of the votes provincewide, with only its leader Dumont winning a seat. After the election, however, Premier Jacques Parizeau gave Dumont and his party a prominent role in the period leading up to the forthcoming referendum in an effort to rally the “soft sovereigntists” to the Yes side. This prominence got Dumont an invitation to participate in the 1998 election debate. In the election the ADQ vote rose to 11.8 per cent, but it failed to win any additional seats. But suddenly, in April and June 2002, the party won four byelections, raising its seat total to five, and jumped in the polls to 40 per cent.3 If an election had been held during this period, Mario Dumont would have been elected premier. But it wasn’t, and ADQ support dropped to 18.2 per cent when the election came in April 2003. The ADQ actually ended up losing a seat, with four MNAs elected.

It was at this time that Quebec’s political class first paid attention to the social and economic policies of the ADQ. They discovered a very conservative party with a right-wing agenda – one, some claimed, that wanted to remake Quebec society for the benefit of the rich. Hence few objected to PQ and Liberal parliamentarians refusing to give the ADQ any resources as a party (they were not required to since the legal threshold was 12 seats or 20 per cent of the vote).

Practically without resources, the ADQ became almost invisible, but Mario Dumont proved an astute politician. In the fall of 2006, right in time for the 2007 election, concerns about the integration of ethnic and religious minorities were gaining the attention of the public – but not the mainstream politicians. Dumont chose to speak out, questioning the politically correct doctrine of reasonable accommodation. Soon he was playing a large role in setting the terms of the election debate. And on March 26 the ADQ won 41 ridings, only seven fewer than the Liberals. It became the official opposition; the PQ was relegated to third place.

In both 2003 and 2007 the ADQ ran on an election platform, staking out quite clearly its position on key policy areas and issues. These provide a basis for posing the question of whether the ADQ was and is the far-right party it has been painted to be. We do so by examining its social and economic policies and comparing them to those of its opponents. We ask also to what extent the ADQ has changed, especially in the period leading up to the 2007 election when the possibility of actually forming an government emerged. It was at that point that Mario Dumont offered his own definition of the ADQ, categorizing it as an “autonomist centre-right party.”4 The term autonomist refers to the constitutional position of the party, while use of the term centre-right reflected an effort by the party to define itself so as to avoid being defined by others, as happened in 2003. By affirming loud and clear that the ADQ is a centre-right party, Dumont sought to short-circuit attempts to portray it as extremist.

The question is whether it was successful, and whether it deserved to be. The 2007 party platform retains the general principles of 2003, emphasizing free choice, individual responsibility, autonomy and freedom, terms dear to the heart of business people and right-wing think tanks like the Economic Institute of Montreal and the Fraser Institute. For the ADQ, the government is not always the answer – though it is not always the problem either. Overall, while continuing to assert that the government plays too big a role, Dumont is now more cautious when it comes to specific cutbacks. The ADQ is not committed to massive cuts in public spending, or to privatization of important publicly owned companies like Hydro-Quebec. Like the Harper Conservatives, Dumont’s ADQ knows that a party intending to win has to move toward the centre. This is the main reason why its 2007 platform is more centre-oriented than its 2003 one.

Health care

The health care system is at the centre of political debate in Canada. With waiting lists still quite long and money still short, the Quebec system is no exception. In 2003, Jean Charest and his team promised to make health care their top priority. While they did increase funding, they didn’t manage to improve the overall quality of services, at least not in the public mind.5 Thus, when the 2007 campaign began, Quebec voters were more open than ever to major changes in the system, including private sector involvement.6 In its 2003 platform, the ADQ had promised to increase the role of the private sector, even if it meant violating the Canada Health Act. For example, it proposed to allow individuals to pay for some products used in clinics or certain administrative charges, such as the charge for opening a file.7 At the time, the ADQ failed to calm fears of private sector involvement, especially as the platform referred to patients as clients and promised to bring competition into the system. For its 2007 platform, the ADQ had modified its language and spoke of a “truly mixed system.”8

Its position nonetheless constitutes a significant transformation. An important factor was the Supreme Court of Canada’s Chaouilli decision in June 2005, which declared the prohibition of private insurance for services already covered by Quebec’s public health insurance agency unconstitutional. While the PQ immediately demanded that the Liberal government invoke the notwithstanding clause, the government asked for a delay in the application of this decision.

The ADQ seized on the judgement to move even further toward the privatization of health care. The ADQ now not only proposes to allow people to contract private insurance but is also committed to allowing doctors to work in the private sector once they have provided a minimum period of service in the public system. Thus, when it comes to health, the ADQ position differs considerably from that of the Liberals and the PQ, neither of whom accepts significant private sector involvement. The 2007 PQ program says only that “privatization is not the solution” (p. 17), while the Liberals would place any private sector involvement under tight controls. Concretely, the Charest government put this plank into effect in response to the Chaouilli ruling when it agreed to allow the establishment of private clinics that could provide certain services which up to then had been covered exclusively by the public agency. In conclusion, on health care, the ADQ is clearly the most pro-market party. It’s in fact the only one to give an important role to the private sector and to speak openly of private insurance.

In 2007, the ADQ changed its formula, so that instead of giving a voucher to everyone with a child of childcare age, it promised to maintain public subsidies to the daycare centres while giving parents $100 a week for every child not in daycare.

Quebec is a distinct society when it comes to childcare. In heavily subsiding public daycare so that parents pay only $7 (previously $5) per child, Quebec differs from the other provinces, where daycare can cost as much as $40 a day. Implementation of this measure, which was introduced in 1998, has naturally proven very costly, with expenses, according to the Quebec budget, of $1.7 billion in 2007. For its part, the ADQ’s 2003 program called for maintaining the public network. However, rather than going to daycare centres, the public subsidy would go to parents in the form of vouchers so that they would be able to choose how to use it – including financing a parent to stay at home with their children, something the existing system discouraged. This is the logic that motivated the Harper government to bring in a payment to parents of $100 a month for every child under six. In 2007, the ADQ changed its formula, so that instead of giving a voucher to everyone with a child of childcare age, it promised to maintain public subsidies to the daycare centres while giving parents $100 a week for every child not in daycare. In reality, the outcome would not be significantly different – this proposal, like its predecessor, moves the system closer to price neutrality between public and private childcare – but the ADQ sensed that it was less likely to make parents with a child attending a daycare centre feel threatened.


Primary and secondary schools are mainly public in Quebec, but there is a substantial private school sector at the secondary level, reflecting the past role of religious collèges classiques. These private schools are generously subsidized by the Quebec government, which allows them to keep tuition fees low (about $3,000 a year in 2007). In its 2003 platform (p. 43), the ADQ proposed to give every parent a voucher that could be used to pay tuition fees to attend any school, public or private, in a given area. Currently, while parents with the capacity to pay and academically qualified children can choose between the private and public networks, they have little choice over which public school their child can attend. The ADQ proposal sought to give parents more choice, as well as to introduce some competition into the public system. Such voucher systems are rare and exist only in few jurisdictions (such as Sweden and New Zealand), though under appropriate conditions they are certainly feasible. Whether they in fact improve the educational system is still an open question, and the Liberals and PQ showed no interest in the idea.

Whatever the reason, the 2007 ADQ platform no longer promised vouchers. Instead, the focus in education was on another area: the party promised to abolish school boards. This proposal gave concrete form to the commitment to radically decentralize school management in the 2003 platform. Giving more powers to school principals was presented as a means of introducing some competition; the ADQ also claimed it would reduce administrative costs by as much as $150 million. Neither the Liberal nor the PQ program spoke of abolishing school boards. And Dumont was hard pressed by his opponents to justify this radical idea and to prove that the cost savings of school boards would not simply become higher expenses for municipalities, which would be responsible for maintenance and school buses.

Another key education issue in the campaign was university tuition fees, which have remained unchanged in nominal terms as a result of a 1995 decision of the then PQ government. University students in Quebec on average pay less than $2,000 in fees per year – much less than other Canadian students – and community colleges (CEGEPs) charge no fees. In 2003, all three parties promised to keep tuition frozen, but in 2007 only the PQ continued to promise this. The ADQ platform promised an unspecified increased “contribution of students,” which Dumont stated would be accomplished by indexing fees to inflation – hardly a radical change. The Liberals were more specific, proposing to increase tuition fees by $50 every session for five years.


If the three main parties agreed on the Kyoto targets, they differed on how to reach them. Interestingly, the ADQ was the only one not to propose the establishment of a carbon trading exchange in Montreal. Such markets currently exist in Europe and in Chicago with varying levels of success. The ADQ approach is close to that of the federal Conservative government, which has shown no great interest in carbon exchanges, suggesting other means to reduce greenhouse gases. While the ADQ generally adopts positions closer to those advocated by mainstream economics, as we have seen, this is not the case when it comes to the environment.

This is somewhat surprising since Quebec is a leading Canadian province in reducing greenhouse gases. With its hydroelectricity and implementation of the Charest government’s “green plan,” the province is likely to reach its Kyoto targets and would thus benefit from carbon trading among Canadian provinces and American states. Moreover, if this market were located in Montreal, it could allow the Montreal exchange to regain some ground lost to the Toronto Stock Exchange. But even though it endorses the Kyoto targets, the ADQ is very critical of the “green plan,” which it opposes because it introduces a new tax (on petroleum products) to raise the required funds, noting that the burden will just be shifted to consumers. Instead it calls for improved energy efficiency and expansion of Quebec’s hydroelectric export capacity. In sum, the ADQ’s program on environmental issues is a little bit thin compared to the other parties. Interestingly, the late September 2007 meeting of the ADQ general council, while adopting more pro-environment policies, created controversy when, in his closing speech, Mario Dumont stated that the environment could not trump the economy.9

Public finance

The debt owed by the province of Quebec is estimated at $118 billion for 2006, or 43 per cent of provincial GDP. Depending on accounting procedures used, this is the first or second highest ratio of debt to GDP of any province in Canada. Annual budgets are officially balanced, but the Auditor General of Quebec reports annually that this is due to creative accounting, and the province is in fact running a deficit year after year, something the ADQ makes a special effort to bring to public attention. Indeed, it stressed debt reduction early on, well before 2003, and has criticized the Liberal government for its hypocrisy in claiming zero deficit while in reality letting the debt grow.

The ADQ was also probably the first party to be publicly concerned with the demographic decline resulting from the aging of the population, which means an added public debt burden for today’s young. The ADQ did not buy into the Fonds des Générations set up by the Liberal government with the support of the PQ in 2006,10 supposedly to address the problem. The Fonds is managed by the Caisse de Dépôts et Placements, the Quebec government’s portfolio manager, and funded with water-related taxes and profits. Its assets should grow to more than $30 billion by 2025. In its 2007 platform, the ADQ explicitly commits itself to abolishing the fund and to spending the money on directly reducing debt.

The platform goes on to promise to use the windfall resulting from extraordinary economic growth (defined as more than 3.5 per cent in nominal terms) as follows: one third for reducing personal taxes, one third toward the debt and the last third for improving infrastructures. But unlike the Liberals, nowhere does the ADQ promise any tax reduction under current circumstances, citing the province’s tough financial situation. And Mario Dumont and his team commit themselves to putting into practice the accounting rules of the Auditor General (though, interestingly enough, the financial perspectives set out in their program are cast in the accounting rules of the Minister of Finance). On taxes, then, the ADQ is conservative but moderate: the heavily criticized proposal to introduce a flat tax, as in Alberta, was withdrawn right before the 2003 campaign. Of the three main parties in Quebec, it remains the one most concerned with the debt issue, though the Liberals and PQ do admit that there is a problem. The PQ has come around to supporting the ADQ demand for stricter accounting rules in determining deficits in public finances.

Another issue related to public finances concerns the fees and rates of publicly provided services, such as electricity, childcare and drivers’ licences, which were frozen over a number of years. The Charest government allowed the Régie de l’Énergie to raise electricity rates and itself hiked daycare fees from $5 to $7. The ADQ tries to have it both ways. It criticizes the PQ for having frozen the rates, while opposing the Liberals for the way they raised them. The ADQ says it is committed to establishing a clear pricing policy for publicly provided, subsidized services. This amounts to repoliticizing many pricing decisions, and could lead to further problems. For example, since 1978 car registration and drivers’ permit fees, as well as personal liability coverage auto insurance premiums, have been set by an autonomous agency (SAAQ) whose job it is to link the fees to actual costs, and thus prevent government from bringing in political considerations. This conforms to the economic principle of individuals paying for what they use. The ADQ in its values unambiguously endorses this principle, yet violates this very principle by heavily criticizing the Liberal government for allowing electricity rates to increase.

A centre-right party

Overall, the ADQ is distinct from the other Quebec parties on economic and social issues. But we have also seen an evolution between 2003 and 2007 which suggests that the ADQ has moved toward its own self-definition: a centre-right party. Its platform in 2003 was clearly more liberal (in the European sense – that is, conservative) than in 2007. Yet the changes appear to reflect an effort to be more electorally acceptable rather than any change in the ADQ’s underlying ideology. On Quebec’s left-right political spectrum, the ADQ is clearly the major party to the right of centre and, on most issues, the one closest to the federal Conservatives.

Its main effort has been to reformulate conservative proposals to make them more attractive. This has meant moving away from broad commitments to cut spending toward proposals based on conservative ideas that could attract support – even if they were costly. A good example is the $100 credit to every parent with a child not attending daycare. Though costly, this proposal seeks to maximize freedom of choice by users of public services and arrive at appropriate pricing for such services – principles dear to the heart of mainstream economists. In a sense the ADQ is reminiscent of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, promising an unthreatening “rupture” with the old statist society.

No one can doubt Sarkozy’s profound influence on the very terms of public discussion in France. Is anything like this true of Dumont in Quebec? The ADQ was, after all, the real winner on March 26, even if it only became the official opposition facing a minority government. While it’s always hard to pinpoint what actually matters in a campaign, we can say without much doubt that the ADQ managed to define certain key issues. The first is the family: imitating Stephen Harper, the ADQ clearly emphasized the family’s role and importance. Second, perhaps its greatest accomplishment was to open to the door to private sector involvement in the health care system. Politicians can now speak more freely of the role of the private sector in providing health care, which was still taboo a few years ago. Third, the burden of the debt is now better recognized in Quebec, and this is clearly due to the ADQ’s emphasizing this issue starting long before 2003; this is no mean feat.

Not only that, but the ADQ affected the very style of the 2007 campaign. Taking a feather from Stephen Harper’s cap, it offered simple, understandable solutions. Mario Dumont came across as closer to the people, especially outside Montreal. One example of how the ADQ forced the other parties to adjust was provided by Jean Charest, whose first speech from the throne after the election borrowed a number of the ADQ’s simple popular ideas, for example the return to school report cards with numerical grades. It feels as if the ADQ has the momentum to win power next time. But this is politics, and things can change very quickly. Whatever happens, however, the ADQ will remain a player and the Quebec electorate, like Ontario’s, will have to get used to a three-way contest.

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