Put Samuel Johnson’s observation in the past tense, my friend Tim Knight suggested: patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels—now, nationalism, it’s vulgar cousin, usually comes first.
In the US, Republican governors claim that state-based healthcare programs are innovative and that federal healthcare programs are bureaucratic socialism. In Canada, separatists claim that Quebec can be more efficient and expressive by simply by not playing politics within the Canadian federation.
In the United States and in Western Europe, the left remains very squeamish about nationalist claims: historically those claims have separated workers, sheltered privilege, distracted the weak and lead to violence.
In Canada, the left is rather ambivalent: it now embraces Canadian nationalism and, consequently, concedes that there’s something admirable about Quebec’s more intense nationalist spirit. For instance, it’s considered plain good manners to accept that the leaders of the Parti Quebecois are social democrats in good standing, as well as soveriegntists.
Why, however, should we accept that they would govern faithfully in the interest of Quebec workers, even if their ultimate aim is a pipe dream?
We’re told that they’re pragmatists; they’ll prepare the ground for Quebec independence by launching a series of popular campaigns to capture individual powers from “Harper’s Canada”; Stephen Harper, naturally, will resist and further weaken the case for a federal Canada. Clever allegedly, but would it be in the interest of Quebec workers? Would Quebec workers buy it?
The PQ’s most significant opening proposal—pulling Quebec out of the Canadian Unemployment Insurance Program—certainly is not.
For over half a century the UI fund—the multi-billion dollar pool of contributions by all employed Canadians—has been a significant net benefit to unemployed Quebec workers and a significant net benefit to employed Quebecers as well.
Sure, along with their allies in Eastern Canada and elsewhere, they’ve have to keep fighting to protect seasonal unemployment benefits that especially benefit high unemployment regions across Canada. Consequently, on their own, with their own Quebec fund, they would be entirely free to increase or simply not change the present cross-subsidization of seasonal unemployed workers in Quebec.
However, no matter how close they then decide to respect or stretched the insurance principles of unemployment insurance, Quebec workers would be left to pay the whole shot without the help they presently receive from the all-Canadian worker-funded UI program.
Defending the cross-Canada pooling of worker income insurance, as a cross-Canada social benefit should be a no-brainer for real social democrats as well as federalists in Quebec and elsewhere.
It’s a tribute to the amazing credibility of nationalism and the confused state of the left in Canada that the PQ that would offer such a reckless proposal as the front-runner in the present Quebec election.
Heh, if Harper is just a brute from Alberta, he might just accept the idea.