There are weeks when the news floods you from all sides. Not earth-shattering drama. Just the kind of troubling brews of failure that you know will affect our lives for the worse. Last week was such a week.
Our staff was kept hopping. Like geysers spewing up from under asphalt, as soon as you thought one was covered another popped up, and nobody seemed to have any answers. Well, we’ll try and provide some here with common sense.
In the poem “The Second Coming” Ireland’s national poet William Butler Yeats wrote the following immortal lines, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart,the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed....” We have to confront the possibility that our centre may not hold.
The biggest problem this week is that Finance Minister Girard reported in his economic update that Quebec’s deficit will be $15 billion. Considerably more than previously announced. He sees a “stabilization” in the third quarter of 2022 — in time for the election ironically — but sees “normalization” only by the second quarter of 2023.
The cause of all this is an economy artificially shut down as all others in the west. Forty per cent is still below capacity or closed. Restaurants are one such industry with 112,000 people out of work. Tax revenues have dropped while spending has increased to keep people going. Clearly this has compromised our ability to pay for essential services.
That was evidenced by Premier Legault’s call the same day for Ottawa to increase health transfer payments from the current 22% to 35% for a Quebec population representing 23.5% of the country. Nurses have worked for over a year without a contract and started 15 minute walkouts last week. There are rumours they may start rotating strikes. Not only would that compromise our most essential service, but if the financial situation deteriorates bond markets will degrade Quebec’s debt leading to higher taxes.
The solution is to open up more of the economy. Quickly. It was never clear why restaurants for instance were closed since Public Health Director Arruda said on Sept. 25th that restaurants were not a source of spread and Health Ministry spokesperson Marie-Claude Harvey confirmed last week that restaurants had accounted for only some 400 positive tests, “since the pandemic began.” We have to, open restaurants and theatres for a start. We need normalcy and revenue flow. Prudence yes. But inaction would be disastrous.
In Montreal, City Hall announced that revenues are so weak that the City wants to consider certain ways to save money. One of the suggestions that the city is floating is to cut garbage pickups to only twice a month. This is ludicrous and in any sane administration would be a non-starter. Several days later, Montreal blue-collar workers voted 97% for a strike mandate. They too have been without a contract for over a year.
The solution to Montreal’s continuous crisis is also obvious to anyone with common sense. Clearly the answer is not to give in to all union demands. But at the same time, the Mayor’s green agenda and her war on cars have to be stopped. Just two projects — the purchase of thousands of hectares of land in Pierrefonds to make “the biggest park in Canada” and her reduction of St. Catherine St. to one traffic lane — have cost taxpayers almost $400 million. That would go a long way to restoring union peace and essential services like garbage pickup. Montreal has also been threatened with ratings reduction by the debt agencies. We can’t afford that. Her St. Catherine project has also had a disastrous effect on revenues forcing many businesses trying to reopen to close because customers can’t get there since 2000 parking spaces have been eliminated.
The situation here is grave as elsewhere. But there is still time for common sense to make the centre hold. We need not let things fall completely apart.