Pauline Marois – the incoming separatist premier of the Canadian province of Quebec – has sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding that the national government provide every Quebec resident with a free supply of gasoline for life.
The 28 page document explains that her government considers access to fuel “a fundamental human right” and plans on giving away 1000 liters of gasoline every year to every man, woman and child in the largely French speaking province.
If the national government cannot pay for the program, Marois says she will have no choice but to call for a referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
A Nous de Choisir, A Vous de Payer
Quebec sovereignty has been a difficult issue in Canadian politics for decades, with separation from Canada narrowly defeated in referendums in 1980 and 1995. Yet recent opnion polls show a larger majority of Quebecers against independence.
Marois will be the first Quebec Premier from the separatist Parti Quebecois in nine years. However, her victory is widely seen as a rebuke to the outgoing Liberal leader Jean Charest, rather than an embrace of Quebec nationalism.
Nevertheless the threat of succession has proven to be a useful bargaining chip with the central government in Ottawa, which has become a vital financial lifeline for the provincial government as Quebec’s economy has fallen behind those of its neighbors.
It is this moribund economy that Marois seeks to revive with her ambitious program, predicated on the idea that if consumers did not have to pay for their gasoline they would be free to spend on other things.
Independent economists estimate the cost of such a program at C$9.4 billion annually, which the Quebec goverment can ill-afford on its own. As the letter explains:
“Unfortunately the Province of Quebec is not in a financial position to to ensure access to this essential government service. We are therefore requesting assistance from our Canadian friends and neighbors – particularly those – such as Alberta – with large unused oil reserves.”
“Individual Quebecers are asked to pay for their own mortgages, thier own automobiles, and – cruelly – even their own groceries. The least Alberta could do was send free gasoline. They already have so much.”
Vive Le Québec Gratuit
Canada does indeed have the second largest oil reserves in the world. However most of Canada’s oil is in the form of tar sands, which are difficult to extract and expensive to refine.
And the oil fields are located thousands of kilometers from Quebec, making pipeline transport through the United States extremely expensive.
But Marois is betting that the specter of another referendum on independence will force Ottawa’s hand. The transitional Quebec government is already renting large storage drums in the Montreal area to begin receiving and storing the shipments of refined fuel.
Marois says she expects the government to act quickly on her request:
“The Prime Minister has until 12pm Tuesday night to begin the transfers. I trust he will make the right choice.”