Quebec's Premier-elect Pauline Marois signs documents during the swearing-in ceremony for the Parti Quebecois members of the National Assembly (MNA) at the Quebec Legislature in Quebec City, September 17, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/MATHIEU BELANGER
A flag is important only because of what it symbolizes. In and of itself it's merely a piece of cloth, and a relatively cheap one at that. We get worked up about flags because of what they stand for - our country, our values, our society.
That's why Americans are so horrified when someone burns their banner. They view that as attacking American values.
We Canadians, being less jingoistic, tend not to be so quick to anger over perceived slights to our national identity. Still, we have our attachments to the Maple Leaf, such as the way we sew replicas onto backpacks when travelling abroad so people who live in other countries know we're not Americans.
But money, that's not symbolic. That's real. Money has tangible value. So here's my advice to Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, if you can't bear the symbolic presence of Canada in Quebec's National Assembly, the rest of the country is prepared to do you a big favour and put a stop-payment on the cheques we send your province each year.
Don't just stop with the cheap symbolism of removing the Canadian flag from the upper chamber where MNAs and cabinets are sworn in. Put your money where your beliefs are. Stop accepting federal dollars for your provincial treasury. Surely money does far more real harm to your goal of independence than a little pennant. Who ever heard of anyone being bribed with a symbol? Yet people are bought off all the time with cash.
More than a flag, money is corrupting. It can cheapen the receiver and even increase his or her dependence on the giver - and you won't want to increase Quebec's dependence on despicable Canada, now would you Ms. Marois?
Canada sends Quebec $8 billion annually in equalization payments, a door prize simply for belonging to Confederation (and being economically stunted and poorly administered). That sum accounts for about 12% of the province's budget each year.
And the payments don't end with equalization. There are billions to Quebec in federal transfers for health, education and welfare (that, admittedly, all provinces get). Then there is the value of federal assets in Quebec - the military bases, public buildings and infrastructure.
Ottawa is in the process of spending $2 billion - $2 billion! - to replace Montreal's Champlain bridge. I urge Ms. Marois to refuse this federal handout. Imagine, dear lady, how much it will grind your separatist sentiments (and the sentiments of other nationalists), each time you and they are forced to drive over this federalist span. Taxpayers in Grande Prairie and Dartmouth don't need to ante up.
Be truly proud of Quebec. Pay for the bridge yourselves.
The federal government spends a disproportionate amount of its Defence procurement budget in Quebec, too, propping up Quebec manufacturers. And a larger-than-warranted share of federal industrial subsidies go to Quebec firms.
If something as minor as a Canadian flag irritates Ms. Marois so much that she cannot bear to see one, just imagine who incensed she must be knowing all of those tawdry billions are being jammed down her province's throat by we Canadians. Let's spare her this indignity by withholding not only equalization, but any further federal construction money, corporate loans or cultural subsidies.
Over the years, Quebec separatists have convinced themselves their province gets the short end of the fiscal stick from Ottawa - that Quebec and Quebecers pay more into Confederation than they get out. By any measure this is complete lunacy. Yet, this myth is the way many separatists have convinced themselves Quebec would be better off outside Canada.
Well, Ms. Marois, anytime you'd like to, feel free to try things on your own.