It’s a question I have been asked repeatedly by my friends and colleagues since the launch of my new book about Ontario, the English version of which was launched this week in Toronto under the title of Ontario in Transition: Achievements and Challenges, published by Mosaic Press.
Well, first of all, as the late respected political scientist Léon Dion used to say, Ontario is Quebec’s most significant vis-à-vis. It has been its political partner also for the past 175 years and will be for the predicable future. On both side, there is a need to know the partner. It is not the case today and that needs to change.
Within Canada, we are each other’s primary economic partner. What’s more, Ontario is in the process of becoming the most important destination in the world for the export of goods and services from Quebec. Those exports are currently valued at $40 billion annually, more or less equal to the $42 billion exported to the United States. But while our exports to the U.S. are currently on the decline, exports to Ontario are by contrast on the rise.
As a reflection of the growing importance of this trading relationship, Québec Inc. is now solidly rooted in Ontario, from Desjardins to Bombardier, Quebecor to la Coop Fédérée, Couche Tard to Transcontinental, and Léger Marketing to the Caisse de dépôt et de placement (just to name a few). There are currently 130 commercial flights daily between Montreal and Toronto.
Finally, it’s important to take note of the human relationships, in terms of family and friendships, as well as professional and other associative links, that have long existed between Ontarians and Quebecers. These relationships have been strengthened over the past few decades as a result of the migration de 1.2 million Quebecers to Ontario and 750,000 Ontarians to Quebec.
So there are many reasons to take more of an active interest in Ontario, to get to know it better, and to explore the forces that have transformed our western neighbor in recent decades.
The first of these forces has been demographic. Ontario has 13 million people today. It could have between 16 million and 18 million by 2035, according to projections. Ontario could then account for more than 40 per cent of the Canadian population, and exercise an equivalent political weight in Confederation. The future of the country, then, will not be shaped without Ontario, or against it.
The second force that has shaped modern Ontario has been cultural in nature. A new creative class emerged after the Second World War that was bolstered in size and influence by the arrival of millions of immigrants who have helped transform Ontario society into one of the most diversified cultures in the world.
All of these changes have been made possible by a provincial economy that has been among the most solid sub-national economies in the world — although Ontario has not been immune to the financial and economic upheavals in the United States since 2008, nor by the shift in economic power from Europe and North America toward Asia, on a more global scale. Current efforts in Ontario to restructure its economy have been considerable, and its success in doing so will have a bearing on the future of Quebec, too.
There is also a larger political backdrop in Canada against which we here in Quebec need to pay more attention to Ontario, and our relationship with it. It’s the rise of regionalism in Canada. The western drift of political and economic power in the country means Ontario and Quebec will probably need to think more in terms of partnerships in the future. Is it in the interests of our two central provinces to create a “common economic space” that would bring its influence to bear on the country’s future, and manifest itself on the international stage, as well? My answer to that question is: Yes.