Quebec finances not too rosy; an independent Quebec’s potentially even worse

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

If one week of the Quebec election campaign has taught us anything, it's that the sovereignty debate is alive and well in la belle province.

Interestingly, one thing the separatists in that province often seem to disregard is how an independent Quebec might fair with regard to its finances.

A series of Fraser Institute reports, this week, is shedding some light on that.

The studies collectively titled "The State of Quebec Indebtedness" claim that the province owes $175.5 billion (as of 2012-13), representing 49 per cent of Quebec’s GDP and the highest level of debt in the country.

"The failure of successive Quebec governments to control spending has added significantly to the province’s debt load and today saddles Quebec taxpayers with more than $9 billion in interest payments," Filip Palda, Fraser Institute senior fellow and professor at the École nationale d'administration publique, noted in a press release accompanying the study.

"That’s money unavailable for health care, education or other social services."

[ Related: Is Pierre Karl Péladeau the next Lucien Bouchard? ]

The pro free-market think-tank also compared Quebec's indebtedness to other jurisdictions in North America. Not surprisingly, they don't fair very well: When compared to the 24 benchmark states in the United States, including New York, they finish dead last.

And, the 'story' gets worse.

It's widely assumed that, if Quebec does separate, they would have to take-on their share of the federal debt. According to the Fraser Institute, that share is estimated at $121.2 billion.

"Combining Quebec's estimated share of federal net direct debt with the provincial amount ($175.5 billion) results in a total federal-provincial net direct debt of $296.7 billion which equals 82.9 per cent of provincial GDP," notes the report.

82.9 per cent?

That would put Quebec in the upper-echelon of indebted 'countries' in the world.

[ Related: Gilles Duceppe eyes future sovereignty vote in Quebec ]

And finally, on the revenue side, an independent Quebec wouldn't have the luxury of federal equalization payments.

Equalization was introduced in 1957 as a way to promote comparable public services in all 10 provinces. Essentially, the program takes federal tax dollars and distributes them to "have-not" provinces with lower per-capita revenue.

According to a recent Sun News report, Quebec is poised to receive $9.3 billion from the Canadian taxpayer next year.

In fact, Quebec has been a "have-not" province for decades.

Separatists will tell you that they can do better if they had control of the proverbial purse strings.

The evidence suggests otherwise.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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