Rhéal Séguin, Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 13, 2008
QUEBEC—The Action Démocratique du Québec wants to stimulate growth by urging women to make more babies and save Quebec from its steady demographic decline.
“If we have more babies, it would bring a lot more prosperity to this nation. It’s a key factor for investors to invest in Quebec,” said Stéphane Le Bouyonnec, president of the ADQ’s policy commission.
“We have to have a nation that will be strong and survive in 20 years. . . . If we don’t change our approach, we will decline as a nation.”
The ADQ has set its sights on increasing the fertility rate from an average of 1.6 to two babies per woman by investing 3 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product into an “ambitious” family policy.
“I have four children, but ideally it would be to make at least two. We are currently at 1.6. We are steadily declining and that’s awful,” said Linda Lapointe, an ADQ member of the National Assembly. “I urge everyone to adhere to this [target] and make babies.”
The policy includes paying a maximum $5,000 baby bonus for a third child, a $100 weekly allowance for preschool children who do not attend daycare and scholarships for stay-at-home mothers to seek degrees and improve their chances of finding work.
The proposals are part of a new program that will be debated at the party convention on the weekend in Laval.
In 2002, Quebec spent 2.4-per-cent of GDP or $6-billion ($3.4-billion from Quebec and $2.4-billion from Ottawa) on family assistance. The ADQ contends the percentage of GDP invested in family assistance hasn’t changed and proposes a combined federal-provincial funding of $9-billion a year.
Immigration policy will also be a central part of the party’s proposed program. Although Quebec faces a shortage of skilled labour, the ADQ contends that immigration must be curbed and the criteria for choosing newcomers revised. The party says too many immigrants are allowed to enter because they speak French without having the proper skills to find jobs. A balanced approach must be achieved to meet labour market demands, the ADQ argues, while giving tax credits to companies that offer French language courses.
“Quebec cannot absorb current levels of immigration. . . . We are importing unemployment. The level of unemployment among immigrants is 25 per cent higher than among non-immigrants,” Mr. Le Bouyonnec said yesterday.
One of the party’s demands is to obtain full control over the federal employment insurance program, saying that it will streamline job training in order to meet Quebec’s specific labour needs.
The ADQ is also proposing more private-sector involvement in health care and public transportation by introducing “healthy competition” in the delivery of services. The party contends that if public services are forced to compete with the private sector it will lead to more efficient and less costly services.
The ADQ also wants a major overhaul of the taxation system that could involve introducing user fees for certain services. It proposes “the establishment of a clear policy on the fixing of rates according to the user-pay principle.”
“We think it is important to motivate people to be more efficient when they use public services and this would save public money,” said Diane Bellemare, the party’s senior economic adviser.
In order to revamp Quebec’s image abroad—viewed as being “too socialistic” because of the “unions whose presence in Quebec businesses is the strongest in North America”—the ADQ proposes to make labour legislation more “flexible.”
“We need to bring together the government, unions and business leaders to modernize our labour laws through negotiations,” Mr. Le Bouyonnec said.
The party has gone to great lengths to eliminate what were considered questionable elements of its program, but potentially embarrassing proposals always seem to find their way onto the floor of the convention. For instance, one riding association proposed that alimony payments be limited to a five-year maximum period to encourage an ex-spouse to attain “economic independence.”