Quebec's Gatineau is wealthy,
why not the Pontiac?

Posted 10.06.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | September 2010 data from Statistics Canada indicates that Gatineau has the highest family incomes in Quebec. This is of interest to the Pontiac because right next door to Quebec's highest incomes is Quebec's poorest region -- us.

Huge income differences dividing rich and poor usually indicate a failed state. Are we are living a failure?

Is our local society unequal, unjust, uneducated, and likely stuck in patterns or arrangements that perpetuate income disparities? Such income differences would mean exactly that in other parts of the world. Yet this is not how we see our Pontiac, Quebec, and Canada.

These stats will move some leaders to press government to do more for the Pontiac, to declare us a special case, which isn't news. These stats lend more force to our requests for funding for job- and business-creation projects like the abattoir, pellet mill, commuter train, etc.

These same stats also signal an opportunity, not the disaster they first seem to be. The opportunity is that our agricultural and touristic Pontiac is right next to the wealthiest market in Quebec, even Canada.

Specifically, Gatineau's mean family income is $77,740. Quebec City is about $4,000 less, and Montreal is almost $12,000 less, per year. Canada's mean family income is $68,860. No figures were released for rural areas like the Pontiac.

The two opposite reactions to this information are like a half-empty or half-full interpretation.

Both are partially true, as usual. Pontiac has been all-of-Quebec's poor cousin for as long as I can remember. This has not moved governments to effectively address Pontiac's chronic unemployment and lack of investment in the past. Why would we now expect change?

There are people here, including some municipal leaders, who believe our poverty is a good thing, that it brings government funding for experimental projects and other benefits which we would not otherwise get.

Given that the modest special treatment has yielded relatively nothing in terms of jobs and business investment, we have to ask why are these people kidding themselves.

This may finally be time to put that "oh, poor us" song-sheet to rest. We've learned over the decades, and despite every politician's grand declarations, that nobody much cares.

In fact, if Pontiac could somehow erode down the Ottawa River and disappear, Quebec might be relieved. The feds wouldn't send in the army to stop the erosion. We saw during several painful referenda that the feds are not about to stand behind Pontiac's federalist majority. (If we were all able to call ourselves aboriginal peoples, the feds might defend us, but the idiocy of that idea -- becoming aboriginals -- underlines how alone we are in Canada and Quebec's political future.)

The conclusion this yields us is that we have no choice but to be half-full, rather than half-empty.

Our kids' futures depend entirely on their own efforts, on us, and not on absent government. That means seeing our proximity to high-income Gatineau and the national capital region as our way out of Quebec's poverty basement. These statistics are a boost, not a downer.

There have been consultations and ‘colloques’ on Pontiac's future, on tapping nearby urban markets. That's the right track. We do have models -- Bryson Farms is supplying that upscale market, Esprit Rafting is servicing that population, Shawville Ford, Coronation Hall, and many more -- but now it's time for a serious mobilization. All our efforts should be to assisting job-creating businesses - non-productive projects like a new MRC building, TNO bridges, or highway repairs take our eyes off the target.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/10.10