Remember Robillard: Rays of reasons for Quebec for all parties

By Beryl Wajsman on August 31, 2018

In an election, all parties look for policies to attract voters. Too often they are ideas at the edges meant not to upset too many. We would suggest that this is a time for big ideas. And lucid ones.

Precisely at this time in 2015 the Robillard Report was released. Lucienne Robillard was the former federal Treasury Board President among other portfolios she handled so well under Prime Minister Chrétien. She was named by Premier Couillard to head a Commission to study ways to reform and improve Quebec governance. Her conclusions pulled no punches. It was the broadest and most wide-ranging agenda of common sense in a generation.

At the time we wrote in this space "Let the joy be unconfined! A ray of reason for Quebec." Full disclosure...I've always been a bit of a fan of Lucienne Robillard. Several of her more important recommandations should be adopted by all parties. Now. They will help all Quebecers, not just special interest groups. The long-time MP for Westmount has always been tough and a straight-talker. No false "I want to be loved by everyone.." piety for her. And she was bloody competent. Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion once said that the only man in his cabinet was Golda Meir. Lucienne is like that. And she always appreciated the story having spent three years on a kibbutz.

She proved the truth of that statement in her Report. The official name of the group she Chaired was the Commission on Government Efficiency. Its four volume "Focus on Performance" may be the most "lucide" evaluation of what ails Quebec since the Quiet Revolution. Among the most stunning - yet long advocated by business and consumer groups - recommendations is that the SAQ should have some private sector competition and that the tax collection responsibilities of Revenue Quebec be transferred to the Canada Revenue Agency which collects taxes for all other provinces. Savings estimated? $400 million. The news clips of Couillard Ministers turning white were too precious. But listen to the language:

“Ending the SAQ’s monopoly will make the sale of wines and spirits more efficient and will benefit consumers directly,” she told reporters. And she didn't stop there, adding, “Is it justifiable that the province of Quebec be involved in the retail sale of wines and spirits? If it’s solely to make a profit, then why not cigarettes or gas? No, the reason is historical; it goes back to Prohibition (…) but I say, rarely have consumers benefited from a monopoly.” That kind of clarity and candour hasn't been heard here for generations. Robillard got it dead to rights.

Robert Gagné Directtor of the HEC Montréal Centre for Productivity and Prosperity and co-author of the report, added: “You have a government operating a chain of hospitals while at the same time operating stores selling alcohol that make people sick. That’s really coherent, bravo.”

On RevQue,Robillard said,“Having a separate revenue agency from the federal government is costing us $400 million a year in tax collection duties.” She added that Revenu Québec’s expenses have ballooned in recent years to the point that its pertinence must be questioned. She stopped short of suggesting its abolition, but the Report does recommend that the collection aspects be transferred to Ottawa which does the job for all the other provinces. And please note that the $400 million figure has gone up since the Report's release in 2015.

Is it possible that Quebec can be fixed? Hard to say. But this very government that appointed the Commission - a Commission that seems to be the only repository of sanity and reason in the province - should back its major recommendations as well as look at the $2.5 billion in suggested cuts to government spending. And frankly so should the pro-business and pro-efficiency CAQ.


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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