Taking down Quebec's 'Gouvernemaman'

 , National Post · Nov. 30, 2011 | Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2011 3:09 AM ET

In his column last Saturday, Conrad Black surveyed the wreckage of Quebec's sovereigntist movement. He ascribes the recent collapse of the Bloc Québécois and Quebec's shrinking influence in Ottawa to the federal government's steady, patient indulgence of the shiny trappings of independence that have obscured Quebec's ever-deepening financial dependence on the federal government. The cost of separation from Canada is now so ridiculously high, he concludes, that the dream simply cannot be taken seriously by most Quebecers.

The column ends on an optimistic note, with Black noting "the first stirrings of profound reassessment by serious people," amongst them former PQ cabinet minister François Legault and his new party, Coalition Avenir Québec (Coalition for the Future of Quebec), and entrepreneurial telecom mogul Charles Sirois, who may be "awakening Quebec from its somnolent idyll."

Another "serious" Quebecer specializing in wake-up calls is information technology engineer-turned-political-activist Joanne Marcotte. She heads up a group called Réseau Liberté-Québec (Quebec Freedom Network), whose mission is to co-ordinate forces for reform on the political right.

Marcotte's most recent political foray, a follow-up to her 2006 documentary film, L'Illusion Tranquille ("The Quiet Illusion" - a play on The Quiet Revolution), arrives in book form. Pour en finir avec le Gouvernemaman (Doing away with the Nanny State) is a 185-page call to arms. Written in French so clean and direct that any anglophone with intermediate reading skills can trot through it without undue exertion, the book promotes the same theme illuminated in Marcotte's film: The ruinously profligate, interventionist Quebec Model is unsustainable and infantilizing, and the only way out of the economic morass is through a revolution in Quebec's cultural character.

Chapter Six of Marcotte's book is titled "The Biggest Losers" (literally, that's not a translation). In this chapter, she summarizes the causes of Quebec's general malaise:

"We wanted to be part of a proud nation but we are incapable of financial autonomy and we suffer from a pathological aversion to economic development. We profess a deep love for our language but we accept that our academics are dunces in French. We declare ourselves eager to preserve our culture, but we've shrugged off respect for our western values. We made mortgage payments on a three-storey house and we're left with an inheritance of a shed that risks falling down in the slightest breeze."

But even though there is "major generational change" in Canada that is moving us gently rightward as a whole, Marcotte was realistic in an interview about how deeply the new national mood can penetrate into Quebec. "Five years ago," she says, "I thought a great [Quebec] leader, a great program, would change things." But in surveying the political crop at the moment, she is not optimistic. "There is no leader right now," she told me firmly, and she is therefore sceptical of Quebecers' ability to emancipate themselves from their addiction to nannystate entitlements.

Still, there are hopeful signs. The mainstream media, once predominantly liberal, is now more politically mottled. Locally, a strike at Le Journal de Montréal, Montreal's most populist tabloid, saw the departure of old-guardist journalists Lise Payette and Franco Nuovo, and the coming to prominence of such intelligent conservative pundits as Eric Duhaime, Richard Martineau and Christian Dufour.

Marcotte's book ends with an interesting epilogue, "Quebec 2025," in which Marcotte slips the leash from her wishful thoughts, to imagine a future Quebec that has followed a rational course of reform after reaching a tipping point in the state's ability to maintain its infrastructure and serve the health and judicial needs of its citizens.

Her Quebec of 2025 has completely revamped its operations. The centralized state is no more. The reign of the technocrat and the social engineers is over. The astronomical debt has been reduced and stabilized through responsible budgeting. The construction industry has been cleansed. The health system is a cogent mix of private and public. The unions' powers are drastically curtailed. School boards are decentralized and teachers de-unionized.

And French is stronger than ever.

Less than a month after publication, 3,000-plus copies of Marcotte's book have sold - a number that approaches best-sellerdom in Quebec - and Marcotte is fielding opportunities to promote her ideas in other media. Clearly, there is an appetite for change and openness to conservative ideas that used to be anathema in this province.

Pour en finir avec le Gourvernemaman would be a lively, informative read for anglo Canadians. All it needs is an enterprising publisher willing to translate the book into English. Any takers?