Tag Archives: Philippe Couillard

Why Quebec must hold the line on childcare programs


When, in 1997, the Quebec government introduced publicly subsidized, universally accessible childcare for just $5 a day, regardless of the socio-economic conditions of its subscribers, a great hosannah arose from the province’s hoi polloi and advantaged, alike.

And for good reason.

One of the early thought-runners of this grand experiment was University of Montreal  psychology professor Camil Bouchard who concluded, in the early 1990s, that anything governments can do to produce an atmosphere in which children feel loved, wanted and cherished can only benefit society’s clear-eyed goals for longterm economic development.

To be sure, this was, by no means an original observation. After four decades, beginning in the 1950s, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany were only just beginning to see, in the 1990s, durable results from their respective early childhood education programs.

But, by 2008, nine years after it launched its provincial childcare agenda, Quebec had become the envy of, and the model for, the developed world.

“Based on earlier studies, we estimate that in 2008 universal access to low-fee childcare in Quebec induced nearly 70,000 more mothers to hold jobs than if no such program had existed – an increase of 3.8 per cent in women employment. By our calculation, Quebec’s domestic income was higher by about 1.7 per cent, or $5 billion, as a result.”

That came from Montreal economist Pierre Fortin, who was commissioned by provincial bureaucrats to dispassionately conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the Quebec program.

He continued: “We ran a simulation of the impact of the childcare program on government own-source revenues and family transfers and found that the tax-transfer return the federal and Quebec governments got from the program significantly exceeded its cost.”

Or, indeed, as Clement Gignac – a senior vice-president and the chief economist at Quebec-based Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services stated in the Globe and Mail earlier this year, “It may seem counterintuitive to talk about a social program as a means of wealth creation. . .but it can also raise the standard of living.”

And how.

Consider the oft-repeated observations of T-D Bank’s chief economist Craig Alexander last fall: “Raising investment in early childhood education would bring long-term benefits. Most studies show that a one-dollar investment reaps a long-term reward return of 1.5-to-3 dollars. . .It is true that raising Canada to the average level of investment in other advanced economies would cost $3- to $4-billion, but that is evidence of the magnitude of underinvestment at the moment.”

All of which makes the Government of Quebec’s recent decision to cut back (or raise fees on) its demonstrably successful, universal childcare program downright bizarre. That province’s budgeting process is, unfortunately, falling prey to bureaucratic thinkers who perceive that all line items on an expenditure sheet can support equal measures of tolerance and  intolerance. For these factotums, a spread sheet is just a spread sheet.

The truth is, or should be, patently obvious: The social and economic advantages of a universally accessible system of early childhood education are far more compelling than the outright waste, patronage and bizarrely partisan schemes of most sitting governments.

Millions go to roads that are never built. Millions more go to favoured constituencies for special “ceremonial” events that produce nothing but short-term jobs and, when strategically juxtaposed with political ambitions, votes for favoured sons and daughters of a fundamentally skewed political system.

Billions of dollars are cavalierly dedicated to industries whose bottom lines, without public injections of capital, most developing countries would envy.

And all the while, provinces like Quebec poor-mouth their circumstances; they say with straight faces and crocodile tears that they can no longer afford the few social programs that they actually do right, ones which actually generate the human capital that is, in fact, necessary to lifting themselves from the doldrums they, and only they, have engineered.

As Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard rose solemnly in the National Assembly to express his deep disappointment in the state of his province’s finances this week, his staff was taking note of the vast sums the publicly owned hydro utility generates each and every day through exports to the northeastern seaboard of the United States.

Yes, indeed, in this country, we make sure to look after our money.

We’d be richer, in the long run, if we learned how to look after our kids.

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The perils of East Coast pipeline politics


On the energy front, perhaps we should not have been so quick to assume that Maritime economic priorities neatly dovetail with those of Ontario and Quebec. After all, when have they ever?

Indeed, if there was a time when political leaders in New Brunswick considered  TransCanada’s eastbound pipeline project a slam-dunk, that time is over, which leaves the province’s new Liberal premier Brian Gallant with yet another post-election migraine.

According to a Globe and Mail report last Friday, “Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel sent a letter to (TransCanada) chief executive officer Russ Girling laying down seven conditions (the company) must meet to win the province’s support for the (Energy East) project. With his letter, Mr. Heurtel established conditions similar to those adopted by British Columbia Premier Christy Clark for Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline that would deliver oil sands bitumen to Kitimat for export to Asia, though his tone was somewhat more agreeable than Ms. Clark’s has been”.

Specifically, “Mr. Heurtel’s conditions include the need for public acceptance of the project, for proper consultations with First Nations, and for clear economic and fiscal benefits for Quebec, as well as assurances to gas customers. Mr. Heurtel also cited a National Assembly resolution demanding the government assess the impacts of ‘upstream”’GHG emissions – those produced by extracting the oil – for the pipeline that would carry 1.1 million barrels a day of western crude to market. But he was vague on whether the government will assert the right to block the pipeline.”

Ontario, too, wants environmental assurances and pledges from TransCanada that its newfound interest in shipping western bitumen through its territory en route to Saint John’s refinery will not overwhelm priorities to make supplies natural gas available to central Canadian industry.

Meanwhile, Premier Gallant is scrambling to put the new developments in the best possible light. “I will meet with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to talk about the fact that we are certainly behind the project,” he told reporters on Friday. “For us, what’s important is to assure when we can do it in the most safe and secure way possible. It’s one of the reasons why I read about the project at length two years ago. When we put the project into motion, I was already aware that we can do this in a secure way.”

Of course we can. But that’s not really the point. These days, pipelines are symbols of industrial rapacity and environmental carelessness. As such, they are marvelous for galvanizing public opinion against any expansion of the fossil fuel industry, as Maude Barlow, no shrinking violet on the subject, demonstrated last year.    

Regarding the Energy East proposal, the national chairperson for the Council of Canadians, told her interviewer from the North Bay Nugget,  “I want to let communities know not to be pressured to make a decision or risk not getting the benefits of the pipeline. I can tell you there are no benefits. There’s no argument for this pipeline. It’s an export pipeline and we don’t need it. . .We get the risk and (oil companies) get the reward,” adding “I would like to know what are the big jobs, because this pipeline is for export. It’s about greed. They’re playing with a potential environmental catastrophe that environmentalists have been warning about. . .It’s so much more dangerous (than any other oil) and it’s crossing watersheds and many waterways around the Great Lake Region that are already being threatened. We certainly don’t need to add to that threat.”

Naturally, TrabsCanada couldn’t let that go. It responded with its own statement:

“Quebec and New Brunswick currently import more than 700,000 barrels of oil every day – or 86 per cent of their refinery needs – from countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. At current oil prices, this is over $75 million drained out of the Canadian economy – every single day. Energy East proposes to connect Western Canada’s resources to Eastern Canada’s needs. Greater supplies of domestic crude would improve the financial viability of eastern Canadian refineries by giving them access to less-expensive, stable domestic supplies.”

Of course, for Mr. Gallant, it could be worse. He could start talking enthusiastically about shale gas.

Let the protests commence.

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