Urgent need to address four major challenges facing Quebec society -
debt, productivity, education and aging population
MONTREAL, June 4 /CNW/ - Quebec has always been at its best when rallying
behind a major social project that calls on all its citizens to prepare an
enviable future for their children. That is the call to action sent out today
to all Quebecers by L. Jacques Ménard, President of BMO Financial Group,
Quebec, in a speech given at the Canadian Club of Montreal.
Looking ahead to 2025
Mr. Ménard began by inviting his audience to join him on a trip through
time to the year 2025. "We land in Montreal, a beautiful city, one of the most
dynamic in North America. A clean city, a city that's great to live in. A city
with efficient infrastructures that attract delegations from around the world
who marvel at the progress we've accomplished in such a short time. A city
whose population is growing, where young people have access to high-quality
jobs networked with the world's best in the most cutting-edge fields. A city
where poverty is nearly nonexistent. A thriving city because its businesses
are integrated with the world leaders in value creation. Montreal, the dynamic
metropolis of a Quebec whose population is highly educated, whose health care
services are highly effective and whose productivity is such that two workers
easily manage to provide service support for a senior age 65 or older." That
is the vision Mr. Ménard shared with Canadian Club members.
Four major challenges
To realize this project for the future, Mr. Menard stressed the urgent
need to address four major challenges facing Quebec society. These are:
- the provincial debt, interest payments on which are the third largest
item of expenditure in the Quebec government's budget and which
prevents us from taking effective action in the main areas on which
our future depends;
- the demographic imperative faced by Quebec, one of the most rapidly
aging societies in the world;
- low productivity, which has placed Quebec at the back of the growth-
rate pack of Canadian provinces in the last decade and far behind the
- the education system, which produces too many dropouts, functional
illiterates and young people poorly equipped to deal with the demands
of today's society.
"I'm not laying blame. I'm simply noting that this is where our dream
runs the greatest risk of turning into a nightmare," Mr. Ménard said, adding
that we should "remain positive and not throw in the towel."
Young people's opinions
Mr. Ménard was curious about the opinions of 18 to 34-year olds,
specifically their attitudes and expectations with respect to work, their
assessment of the main models for society and their positions on key issues,
in particular the unfreezing of tuition fees. To provide answers, a CROP
survey of young Quebecers and an Angus Reid survey of young Canadians were
"Young Quebecers have expectations and attitudes that are fundamentally
compatible with our project for the 2025 time horizon. Their responses to the
survey allow us to conclude that they would have a hard time if we left them
an economically weakened society while also asking them to pay our bills-and
that's especially true with respect to health care. They are prepared to work
at full capacity in an ethical, innovative and borderless society," Mr. Ménard
noted. "Young Quebecers hope to have a job that leaves them with free time
while providing both autonomy and guidance. They know exactly what they want.
They seek significant challenges that draw on their creativity. The younger
among them hope to work with a large group of people that changes frequently,
and they are open to working outside Quebec and Canada. Networking-working in
groups-especially appeals to them, more than, say, a desk job."
Incidentally, 44 per cent of the Quebec survey respondents said they were
in favour of a gradual unfreezing of university tuition fees that would bring
them into line with the Canadian average over a five-year period.
Moreover, the results from the Angus Reid survey show that young
Quebecers and young Canadians share the same basic values toward work, family,
leisure time and the preferred type of society. That said, a number of
significant differences where found:
- young Quebecers' target income level is lower than young Canadians';
- fewer young Quebecers are inclined to extend their studies;
- young Quebecers are more worried about the aging of the population;
- young Quebecers are more open to the involvement of the private sector
in the delivery of health care services;
- more young Quebecers are opposed to raising income taxes in order to
fund public services in the context of an aging society.
Mr. Ménard suggested eight avenues that should be explored in order to
achieve his proposed social project by 2025. "I am convinced we can succeed,
provided we don't delude ourselves by rearranging the deckchairs on the
Titanic in order to appease our conscience," he said.
The eight avenues are:
1) Make education our top priority, as have the world's most competitive
2) Join forces in conducting a major campaign to raise citizens'
awareness of the financial, fiscal and demographic issues facing
3) Establish conditions conducive to wealth creation like other
countries have done and draw inspiration from the positive
experiences in societies that are comparable to our own and share our
4) Modify our tax system for businesses and individuals so that we tax
the wealth created and not the efforts to create it.
5) Focus on paying down the debt by making strategic use of sales of
electricity, our main natural resource.
6) Create a reserve to cover the costs related to loss of independence
by members of the aging population and avoid creating an unacceptable
intergenerational inequity by passing the bill onto subsequent
7) Create the conditions necessary to increase our productivity.
8) Strengthen the job market by favouring more productive, longer work
lives in synch with young people's values, in particular those
related to the family.
According to Mr. Ménard, all of these points have one thing in common;
they are essential conditions for building an innovative society while being
completely compatible with the values expressed by our young people. It is
through an enhanced ability to innovate that Quebec will succeed in joining
the ranks of the world's most competitive societies.
"For our young people, the future is now," Mr. Ménard concluded.
For further information:
For further information: Ronald Monet, Montreal, email@example.com,
(514) 877-1873 or (514) 594-2501; Internet: www.bmo.com