Monday, July 14, 2014

What’s this blog about?

Over the next several years and perhaps decades, I will be keeping track of economic and social progress in Canada’s two largest provinces -- Ontario and Quebec.
I will report on a broad range of indicators:
  • employment
  • personal income
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • population (including outmigration and inmigration within Canada as well as in and out of Canada)
  • happiness/satisfaction (if I can find comparable data)
  • test scores of 15-year-olds in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
  • life expectancy and other population health indicators
  • low-income incidence by age group
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • provincial government revenue and expenditure as a % of GDP (with adjustments for federal government transfers)
  • provincial government bond ratings and interest rates 
Why do I think Ontario vs. Quebec comparisons will be interesting starting with 2014? The provincial governments of Canada’s 2 largest provinces appear to be moving in opposite policy directions. If we look at the socioeconomic outcomes in both provinces over a long period of years with 2014 as the base starting date for comparisons (or 2013 for some calendar year data), perhaps we can learn something about which approach worked best – smaller government in Quebec vs. activist government in Ontario.  

This year the Philippe Couillard government was elected with a strong majority of seats in the Quebec legislature. A few months later, Premier Kathleen Wynne was re-elected in Ontario going from minority status to majority. Both Premiers are now free over the next couple of years to chart courses for their respective provinces that will carry their governments through to the next round of elections in 2018.

Premier Couillard campaigned on pledges that counter in some respects the European-style corporatist approach – often called the Quebec Inc. model -- that has held sway in Quebec since 1960. Premier Wynne promised to govern from the “activist centre”.

In general, I won’t be paying much attention to the rest of Canada. The three westernmost provinces – British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan –have been supercharged over the past several years by high prices for their natural resources just as Texas and other oil-producing states have set the pace in the USA. Comparing the economies of Ontario and 
Quebec with Canada’s western provinces tells us less about the long-term effects of government policy and more about world prices for what’s in the ground.

I should reveal my personal biases. I am a member of the Green Party of Ontario and voted Green in the 2011 Ontario election. If Ontario had a preferential voting system, I would have ranked the Liberals 2nd, Conservatives 3rd and NDP 4th.

I worked for Ontario Finance from 1988 to 1990 and again on contract in 1997 and 1998 as well as for Ontario Education first on contract and then on staff from 2000 to 2007. And, I did some consulting work for Ontario Finance in 2008. I do not think of myself as a disgruntled ex-employee, but am glad to be more gruntled today as an independent consultant. 

My prior hypothesis is that Quebec will start to do better than Ontario in most respects. Premier Couillard and Finance Minister Carlos Leitao accomplished much in their professional careers. While luck and timing affect any politicians' success in government, ability in life before politics may also help. 

Of course, many factors beyond the reach of provincial government policies will affect socioeconomic developments in Ontario and Quebec. No matter what the data show, I won't be able to prove conclusively whether Ontario's activist approach or Quebec's deactivist approach works better. But, Ontario and Quebec are close neighbours and affected similarly by  similar external forces. I do believe Ontario vs. Quebec comparisons will allow us to learn some useful lessons about what works and what doesn't in government policy. 

I will work on this blog as time permits in my professional life as a public policy and financial planning consultant. Feel free to comment on my posts and to suggest possible topics. You can reach me either by commenting on this blog or offline at

Of course, politics may put an end to this blog if Ontario and/or Quebec voters change course in subsequent elections. But, let’s enjoy the Quebec Couillard vs. Ontario Wynne contest while it lasts. May the best Premier win – (bad pun intended). 

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