... Hucksterism and Accumulated Debt...
Christopher C. Goodfellow
November 27 1998

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines huckster as pedlar, hawker; mercenary person.

What hucksters hate most is the reality of real figures. The last thing the huckster wants as he is about to close the sale is for someone to step forward and question the false reality he has constructed.

The Montreal Gazette editorial on November 26th is quite to the point. Nothing Sticks.

But reality is reality. In the barnyard, something will stick. It's a simple fact of life we understand in the country.

How about $120,000.

But before we explain that figure let's just recapitulate the excellent state of affairs in Quebec 3 days before this election:

Record levels of government debt.

Record levels of consumer debt.

Record direct and indirect taxation levels.

High and persistent unemployment.

A declining standard of living.

A declining disposable income.

Government and bureaucratic expansion into all aspects of life.

Use of public funds for political ends.

The decline of permanent well-paid jobs.

The decline of personal responsibility.

Over 50% of the children are born out of marriage.

Family disintegration.

The over 50% drop out rate in secondary schools.

Record emigration of talented professionals.

Record numbers driven to an underground economy.

A crumbling public infrastructure.

All the signs of a society in trouble. It would seem that an electorate faced with this list would rise up and say enough!

But the most astounding boast of this entire election campaign is that the budget has been balanced as if this alone magically solves all our problems. In reality, much of what has transpired is that costs have been off-loaded to municpalities and school boards. It is a financial shuffle worthy of the best huckster.

It is a manipulation of the reality of the situation into something completely different as the Gazette quite rightly points out.

But reality is reality and there really is a hook in all of this.

The accumulated public debt.

Many Quebeckers are totally oblivious to the accumulated debt load of their government. It means nothing to most of us and few have any real understanding what part this played in raising their standard of living over the past 30 years...and the party is clearly over.

The Quebec government has an accumulated direct debt as of March 31, 1998 of $80 Billion. The total accumulated public debt that the Quebec government guarantees is $150 Billion - this includes the debt of municpal, hospital and public institutions.

Combine this with Quebec's roughly 25% share of Canada's federal debt of $600 Billion and we arrive at an accumulated debt of $300 Billion that in effect must be supported by the Gross Domestic Product of Quebec should Quebec separate.

Try walking down the yellow brick road with $300 Billion plus of accumulated debt and see what bond rating services do. No wonder Mr. Parizeau is quoted as saying "we must milk Canada for as much as we can...."

Just what does this mean to us as individuals. The workforce in Quebec in April 1998 was 3,313,400. Divide this into $300 Billion and you arrive at working Quebecker's per capita share of this debt. $90,500.

But the reality is even worse. About a million Quebeckers work in the public sector leaving for argument's sake 2.5 million private sector Quebeckers to carry this debt as it is really the private sector that generates the income stream to finance the public sector. One then arrives at the figure of $120,000 per private sector worker.

The average wage is approximately $31,000/year in Quebec.

It is an impossible debt load.

Quebeckers, in an independent state, would be the most indebted people in the world...by a mile.

The bombast of electioneering and the freewheeling abandonment of reality that elections seem to evoke here in Quebec simply cannot erase the truth carried in this simple figure. The huckster is trapped in the pit he alone has dug. The lobsters can leave anytime. It will be many years before true prosperity returns in Quebec and when all this sinks in I suppose the population may well then rise up and opt for change.

Alice in Wonderland really does live in Quebec.

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