New film systematically challenges Quebec's sacred cows

The Quebec model is assailed as a recipe for economic disaster

L'illusion tranquille

The most shocking movie in town contains no gore, no sex, no foul language. L'Illusion tranquille, which opened quietly during the weekend, is far more shocking than anything like that. Halfway through the performance that I saw, the couple in front of me rose in a huff and stomped put.
This Quebec-made documentary does what no francophone film has ever done before: It systematically challenges many of the province's sacred cows, starting with the untouchability of "le modele quebecois."
This idea that Quebec's large, soft-hearted government is innately virtuous has replaced the view, encouraged by clerics prior to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, that the province's strong Catholicism made it especially blessed. The film dares question the moral superiority of a province in which more than 40 per cent of the population pays no taxes (a proportion far higher than any other province) and where electricity rates, daycare fees and university tuition are the continent's lowest. Such policies help explain why Quebec has the continent's highest taxes as well as Canada's highest public debt as a share of GDP.
No politician can object to the Quebec model without provoking an uproar led by labour leaders, whom the film calls the new clergy. Witness how Henri Masse & Co., with allies in the Parti Quebecois, whipped up public sentiment against Premier Jean Charest's planned reform and made him retreat. Anyone who fails to bow to the model gets slammed as anti-Quebecois, neo-liberal or right wing. That shuts a lot of people up.
L'Illusion tranquille - the name plays on Revolution tranquille - was made on a shoestring by a director who is a newcomer to films, Joanne Marcotte. It shares the boat-rocking, one-sided spirit of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. It consists mostly of interviews with iconoclastic academics, economists and social observers (including journalist Alain Dubuc) whose pro-Quebec credentials are unassailable.
The film attacks the myth that makes the Quebec model so hallowed - that is, the belief that the model is a recipe for economic success. Yes, these experts say, the model worked for many years after the Quiet Revolution. But no more. Too few Quebecers understand how poor the province is compared with its neighbours. Stacked up among the 60 provinces and U.S. states, we rank 54th in per-capita GDP, a handy gauge of prosperity.
Given this performance, change should be welcome. Indeed, former premier Lucien Bouchard and his group of prominent Quebecers warned 15 months ago that things would only get worse. Their so-called "lucid" manifesto predicted Quebec was on course to seeing the real growth of its GDP fall by half in the next decade.
They urged cutting the debt; the cost of simply paying interest on it is as much as the budgets of 12 of Quebec's 21 ministries. They also called for higher electricity rates to pay down the debt (not to mention spurring energy conservation) and higher tuition fees (combined with more financial aid for needy students). No-brainers all.
What has been the effect of this call for reform? A CROP poll for the Canadian Club of Montreal suggested last week 57 per cent of Quebecers want the "most generous government possible" even if it means further indebting future generations. Sixty-five per cent of all respondents (most of them not young) oppose tuition hikes. And 83 per cent reject increases in power rates. Vive la presque free lunch.
The movie goes farther than Bouchard's non-partisan group: It addresses sovereignty. It says it would only hurt Quebec's economic future. It was at that point the scowling couple in front of me took off.
Yes, the movie tells unwelcome truths. The city's media are giving it far, far less notice than they did to the Moore and Gore movies. Note, however, those two tackled outside devils - U.S. foreign policy and the oil industry. This Quebec movie requires looking in the mirror.
It's the old story: If you can't refute an argument, either ignore it or, as did the La Presse reviewer who rated it as a bomb, avoid the main points and focus on secondary shortcomings.
L'Illusion tranquille is playing at Cinema du Parc all week. Young people in particular should see it. The prodigal Quebec model is on their tab.
Henry Aubin is The Gazette's regional-affairs columnist.

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