Monday, July 9, 2007

Quebec's productivity gap - pay up sucker!

Janet Bagnall writes for the Montreal Gazette, and in a piece published in today’s Ottawa Citizen she discusses the so-called productivity gap between the population of Quebec and the rest of Canada.

This is the same productivity gap that Lucien Bouchard was referring to when he raised the hackles of les Québécoises last summer by pointing out the fact that the average Quebecer works approximately 32 hours per week compared to 34 in Ontario and 37 in the US. Bagnall goes on to state that “Quebecers have, on average, 16.2 paid vacation days a year” compared to 12.2 in Alberta. Now some will argue that hours worked is only one measure of productivity, but learned economists are also quoted who have estimated that “62 per cent of the prosperity gap between Quebec and the rest of Canada is explained by the fewer hours worked here.

Then you hit the last paragraph of her piece: “Quebecers have chosen, often primarily for social reasons, to work fewer hours. We must accept the fact that that decision has economic consequences. If we’re willing to pay them, fine. If not, well, it’s something we’ll have to act on – maybe even before we’ve used up our 16.2 days off.

The problem here is that the economic consequences of which she speaks are not borne by Quebecers alone. If they were, fine – I kind of like the idea of a shorter work week myself – but reduced productivity in Quebec results in a greater prosperity gap, which lowers the fiscal capacity of the province, which results in higher transfers from the federal treasury. Bottom line – we in the rest of Canada are funding the average Quebecer’s desire to work less and, presumably, play more.

Kind of makes you wonder why everyone is moving to Alberta. Instead let’s all head to Quebec where we can work less and enjoy the same (or better) benefits than we’d get pretty much anywhere else in Canada. We’re all paying for it anyway, so why not take advantage?

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