Tuesday, November 29, 2016


For the third part of my inadvertent Propaganda Trilogy... Er... Well, in case you missed it, part one was about how Maclean's Martin Patriquin distorts issues and twists words in order to misinform his readers about Quebec. Part two was on the prezel-like über-twisting of Jean-François Lisée's words by the media as part of their never-ending mission to delegitimize Quebec sovereignists by labeling them as intolerant. And now, in part three, I will look at a bit of propaganda that has been repeated so often that it has practically become dogma. I am referring to the Exodus Myth! This myth has recently been recounted once again in honour the 40th anniversary of the PQ's first election victory:
"The impressive bank towers of the famous Toronto skyline, and the city’s unquestioned standing as the heart of Canada’s financial services industry, owe much to Lévesque and the PQ."
But I think a better telling of this myth can be found in this Globe and Mail article from a few years back:
"After the Second World War, Montreal was undoubtedly the country's premier city. It had the biggest population, the best parties -- Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics -- a lovely historic centre, a vibrant café culture and, most importantly, economic power. With a little effort, it could have buried upstart Toronto. 
Then came Mr. Lévesque's Parti Québécois, with its Draconian language laws and rejection of all things national. The anglo population -- the business class -- took the path of least resistance and fled to Toronto. Large companies, led by Sun Life, followed. Dull, constipated Toronto began to thrive and soon replaced Montreal as Canada's economic and cultural centre, all because of the Montreal diaspora. Toronto should erect a 50-metre statue of Mr. Lévesque in gratitude."
This myth is meant as a cautionary tale. It's the story of a bad little ethnic group that imagined itself to be a nation and thought it could set its own rules, but then all of the money flew away. Poor, stupid little Quebec! The moral of the story is that it's best to keep your head down, go with the flow, and submit to the dominant ideology.

A few facts

It is, of course, a fact that Toronto overtook Montreal as an economic center during the 20th century, but to make the PQ or Quebec nationalism the scapegoat of this economic shift is extremely dishonest.

The first signs of this shift began decades before the PQ came into existence. The Toronto Stock Exchange surpassed Montreal's Stock Exchange in trading volume in the 1930s, and it is a position Toronto never relinquished. Throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s Toronto outgrew Montreal by quite a bit. If you're only looking at the cities themselves then, yes, it looks as though Toronto finally overtook Montreal in the late 1970s, but as an economic unit, Toronto had really been larger than Montreal for many years. This is because Toronto forms the center of a collection of satellite cities and towns, in addition to its suburbs, which is called a "conurbation." Toronto’s conurbation, which curves around the western end of Lake Ontario, has been nicknamed the Golden Horseshoe.

Montreal’s economic growth, on the other hand, was not enough to create a conurbation. It was contained withing the city and its suburbs. That is why it is deceptive to compare population sizes of the two cities and jump to the conclusion that not until the 1970s had they become more or less equal in economic terms. Toronto supplanted Montreal as Canada’s chief economic center considerably before that, probably before 1960. Again, all of this occurred before Mr. Lévesque's Parti Québécois and its "Draconian language laws."

Why did this shift occur? There are many reasons but put simply, Montreal was the gateway to the inner continent and so it became Canada’s economic center. With the development of the inner continent on both sides of the border, the economic center of gravity moved west and Toronto benefited from this. The development of infrastructure like canals, railways and of course the St. Lawrence Seaway made this shift possible. It should be noted that prior to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, all ocean-going vessels had to stop in Montreal to unload goods which were then shipped to the Great Lakes on smaller vessels or by rail. The Seaway made it possible for ocean-going vessels to simply bypass Montreal.

We can also point to other culprits like the Auto Pact which helped the automotive industry supplant the pulp and paper industry as the number one industry in Canada. Most of the jobs that resulted from this pact were created in southern Ontario. And so people flocked to the Golden Horseshoe with an estimated 1,000 a month arriving between 1956 to 1961. Between 1965 and 1971, the Toronto Metropolitan Area alone gained 185,530 Canadian migrants. These people came from all over Canada including Quebec.

It is true that there was a spike in out-migration from Quebec following the election of the PQ in 1976, and many of the people leaving were undoubtedly anglophones heading for Toronto, but demographically they were just a drop in the bucket. Their exodus was definitely not responsible for an economic shift that had been going on for decades, nor can we say that Quebec nationalism was the cause of this shift.

The truth is actually the other way around. It was the economic shift from Montreal to Toronto that made a francophone renaissance in Montreal possible and this lead to a new Québécois nationalism. Had Montreal remained the economic center of Canada, all of the people who flocked to Toronto would have come to Montreal instead making Quebec's metropolis an English city and Quebec culture would have remained a museum piece frozen in time as Jane Jacobs described in her wonderful book The Question of Separatism.

Fraser's creative interpretations

Like all good myths, the details often change in its retelling but the moral of the story is generally the same. 

A few months ago a right-wing propaganda mill, the Fraser Institute, produced a study about the inter-provincial migration patterns of Canadians. For some reason, they decided to make it all about Quebec. Their conclusions, which were uncritically repeated in the media, is that Quebec has lost 600,000 people to other provinces since 1971. In the study itself, the authors don't give a clear explanation as to why people seem to be fleeing but they suggest that something is very wrong with Quebec because as the Fraser Institute explains, "The movement of people from one place to another, migration, can be a powerful indicator of a jurisdiction’s success or failure" In fact, the subtitle of their so-called study is "QUEBECKERS VOTE WITH THEIR FEET."

The problem comes when you actually read their shoddy report because it says the following:
"Quebec experienced the lowest level of total out-migration of any of the provinces over the period from 1971/72 to 2014/15. In 2014/15, Quebec experienced out-migration of 3.9 people per 1,000 population while Ontario experienced out-migration of 5.1 people per 1,000 population. The remaining eight provinces recorded out-migration per 1,000 population of between 9.2 (British Columbia) and 23.5 people (Prince Edward Island)."
"Put simply, Quebec had the most stable domestic population in terms of out-migration among the provinces over the period from 1971/72 to 2014/15."

So there you have it, fewer people have left Quebec than any other province. Is that a sign of our success? Aren't Quebecers voting with their feet by staying? The problem is that "Quebec also recorded the lowest level of in-migration of any province between 1971/72 and 2014/15" and so their is a deficit (with the other provinces). Overall, Quebec's population is growing, of course. 

The population of Quebec was 6,027,765 in 1971 and is 8,294,656 today. On the other hand, the population of Newfoundland went from 522,100 in 1971 to 514,536 in 2011. And it is predicted that province’s population will fall to 482,000 by 2035. In fact, the population of Newfoundland is expected to shrink more over the next two decades than in any other part of Canada. So why didn't the Fraser Institute decide to focus this study on Newfoundland? I get the feeling the authors were intent on making a point specifically about Quebec regardless of anything else.

In interviews with the media, the authors gave what they believe are the reasons for Quebec's inter-provincial migration deficit and it basically boils down to high taxes, an anti-business environment, and a relatively closed society. The most obvious reason, language, was barely mentioned. But the fact is, 42% of Quebecers are bilingual whereas the same is true for only 9% of Canadians from outside of Quebec. So moving to Quebec and living and working in a French-speaking environment is simply not feasible for the vast majority of them, hence, they don't move here. Case closed! Who knows, perhaps the constant anti-Quebec propaganda in the Canadian media is also a factor. 

The Fraser Institute obviously started out with their own right-wing, Quebec bashing conclusions and then tried to make the data fit, but it doesn't really. They must have felt confident that no one in the Canadian media would challenge them on their bullshit... and they were right! These right-wing ideologues loath Quebec's more interventionist model and so they've basically recycled the old Exodus Myth in order to attack it. The moral of the story is essentially the same: a bad little ethnic group thought it could set its own rules with disastrous consequences. It's best to keep your head down, go with the flow, and submit to the dominant ideology.  


  1. Lecture très intéressante comme d'habitude.
    Vous nous faites comprendre bien des choses.
    Merci, et ne lâchez pas!