Editorial: Something-for-everyone budget boosts public services

With an obvious eye to the Quebec election scheduled for October, the provincial Liberals have presented a budget that should go a long way toward solidifying their standing among traditional voters and even bolstering support in constituencies where they are weak, among the francophone majority.

Yes, in many cases the Philippe Couillard government is restoring funding that was cut in its so-called austerity budgets, and it must be said that this sort of operation is necessary whenever deficits are judged to be no longer supportable. The bond market, without which our governments cannot function, demands a level of what they see as fiscal responsibility, and the consequences of ignoring these parameters are lower ratings and higher interest rates, resulting in greater long-term debt.

The Quebec economy is growing, unemployment is low, and the timing is right for an expansive budget. The fact that spending on healthcare and social services will increase by 4.6 per cent in the coming year, and 5 per cent in education, is a sign that priorities normally associated with liberal economic policies favouring public services are being restored.

Extending the blue line metro and moving ahead with a light-rail train line to reach Trudeau International Airport combined with the decision of the Valérie Plante administration in Montreal to purchase 300 buses, augurs well for the much needed upgrading of public transit.

More funds to improve hospitals, services for seniors living at home and in senior residences, and hiring more nurses are moves in the right direction. As for the controversy raised by some about wage hikes for medical specialists, this issue neglects the fact that they are merely getting delayed retroactive increases.

Extra years are invested in becoming proficient. For example, doctors train five years after graduating medical school for such specialties as obstetrics and gynecology. The comparisons with Ontario specialists are wrong because they are paid by several sources, while in Quebec it’s all from the government. There are better ways to remunerate physicians than the current one, based on acts performed, rather than fixed salaries. If it turns out that specialists’ remuneration is out of line compared with other provinces, they can always be adjusted when the contracts expire.

Part of the problem with the Couillard government has been the public perception that Health Minister Gaétan Barrette has an arrogant attitude in dealing with journalists and through them the public. He has in past months multiplied public appearances, making good-news announcements, and in that effort has demonstrated that he is learning from his mistakes.

In the countdown to the election, this budget demonstrates that in spite of imperfections, the Liberal team is far preferable to the alternatives. Most readers of this newspaper have no sympathy for the Parti Québécois and its leader Jean-François Lisée. Even if he’s promised not to hold a referendum on sovereignty in the next mandate if he wins power, the return of a PQ government will not boost our economy. It will encourage uncertainty, discourage investment, and contribute to a drain among our most productive younger citizens. These probable developments will not allow them to be any more generous in expanding social democratic policies than the Liberals. With support for sovereignty declining, even as it remains the PQ’s raison d’être, its electoral prospects are poor.

The up-and-coming CAQ – Coalition Avenir Québec – has momentum on its side, but the right-of-centre and nationalist outlook advocated by leader François Legault, a former Péquiste, is worrisome. In his statement, A New Agenda for Quebec Nationalists, dated Nov. 8, 2015, Legault writes that its “main goal” is to increase Quebec’s autonomy and powers within Canada, with a focus on increased powers over language and immigration. The latter, he writes, means he will seek total control of immigration, rather than the current level of almost 70 per cent (except for refugees). And that total includes family reunification. Yes, Legault has signaled he will play the identity politics card in the hope of attracting so-called soft nationalist sentiment. He wants 10,000 fewer immigrants. His plan to compel new immigrants to pass a values and language competency smacks of ethnic nationalism. Who will define so-called Quebec values? How are they different from Western or Judeo-Christian values? If an older member of a family fails a language test, and younger ones succeed, what happens? Since the federal government awards citizenship, will such tests not encourage families to move to another more hospitable province? Quebec needs immigrants to maintain the population and sustain our economy, and it needs to retain them by positive measures such as free French classes and allowing the normal process of acculturation to take effect as they do when children attend French schools. These approaches are far preferable to Legault’s tack, which Couillard has said is akin to “blowing on the flames of intolerance.” We can only hope Legault will stop short of this dangerous path.

It’s shocking that they didn’t know

The ugly yellow-square (carré jaune) demonstration by a handful of Outremont residents to highlight their disapproval of school-bus traffic in densely populated parts of the borough came as a shock. It was targeted at Hasidic families, for whom education is a priority.

In contrast to their neighbours many Hasidic families have eight or nine children, they attend school six days a week, and for safety and security reasons, the younger ones are dropped off near their homes. Many are located in such densely populated streets with row housing.

Instead of contacting community leaders, residents unhappy with the bus traffic chose to wear yellow patches, duplicating the red-squares worn by student protesters in their demonstrations against tuition fee hikes.

The protesters claim they were unaware of its significance to these Jews, many of whom are descended from families murdered during the Holocaust. Jews in occupied Europe were forced to wear the yellow star as part of the Nazi’s campaign to isolate, control, and humiliate Europe’s Jews in preparation for their Final Solution. Such a degree of ignorance is hard to accept.

This poem was published in the 1960 Outremont High yearbook, by 16-year-old Irwin Block:

The yellow patches
The City of Warsaw, ravaged by war,
Torn to pieces, cheerful no more,
Moving through its winding streets,
The yellow patches your eyes do meet,
Yellow, like the faces of their bearers,
Worn thin by the knock of terror.
Hush! The master cometh!
With proud steps and shoulders high,
Marching, marching, marching by.
Drops of liquid on the people’s brow,
For to the master they must bow.
The streets begin to rumble,
The walls begin to shake,
The people with the patches,
Just so much can take.
Like David and Goliath,
Judah and the Greeks,
They struck the blow of freedom:
It lasted a few weeks.
Thor’s mighty hammer,
With one great smashing swing,
Crushed little David,
Took away his sling.
Now the streets of Warsaw,
Ravaged still by war,
Add a few more pieces,
Cry a little more.

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