Are you a "lucide," or a "solidaire?" It's been a timely question in Quebec ever since October 2005, when a dozen prominent Quebecers including Lucien Bouchard published Pour un Quebec lucide. This manifesto appealed for fiscal sobriety, warning that demographic change plus a growing public debt would mean economic crisis for the next generation.
Within weeks, an equal and opposite group published Pour un Quebec solidaire, proposing that the state should do even more and that income should be more evenly distributed. The $121-billion provincial debt is not a problem, they said, and corporate taxes should be higher.
The duelling documents launched a public debate. Now it seems to be settled: Results of a major new opinion survey, published last week, showed Quebecers far more solidaire than lucide: only 36 per cent find the "Quebec model" of an omnipresent and costly state to be too burdensome, while 57 per cent say the opposite. Fully 83 per cent oppose higher electricity rates, a central "lucide" proposal for balancing the government's books. Only on health care do Quebecers show a preference for more private-sector solutions.
And young adults, the survey found, were least concerned about the fact that fewer taxpayers are going to have to pay far more in taxes to keep all this going in the next few decades. This fits with the experience of Action democratique leader Mario Dumont. In the last Quebec election, Dumont thought he had a winning issue in galvanizing young adults to demand some "generational equity" while baby boomers are still in the workforce. He got nowhere.
It's a discouraging survey. Too many Quebecers, young ones in particular, are living in denial of intractable realities.
When the crisis hits, as the lucides have assured us that it must, we will hear a loud chorus of "Why weren't we warned?"
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