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July 21st, 2011

Where are all the Quebec millionaires?

Posted by Joan McGuigan

Sale bares province’s
‘quiet mediocrity’

As private lakefront properties go, John Hooper’s 17,000-square-foot mansion nestled in the trees of Hudson should have been an easy sell.

GRAND ESTATES AUCTION COMPANY John Hooper sold for $3.4 million in a rare open auction with no minimum bid after he put his estate up for sale three years ago for $6.9 million and received no offer on the home, which has eight bedrooms and sits on 5.4 acres.Eight bedrooms on 5.4 acres of land; two-storey indoor pool and spa; guest house; geothermal heating and cooling; even a charming, if clichéd, secret passage behind a bookcase.

So when the founder of Phoenix International Life Sciences Inc. put the estate up for sale three years ago for $6.9 million, he wasn’t ready for the shock he got. There were no takers.

Some people blame the asking price, saying it was set far too high and wasn’t sufficiently reduced. Others note the location scared away buyers – owning a property off the island of Montreal is frequently a commuting nightmare as traffic congestion rises.

Hooper finally sold his home last week for $3.4 million, resorting to a rare open auction with no minimum bid. The whole ordeal laid bare a naked truth: There simply aren’t a lot of people in Quebec with the means to afford a mansion. In fact, there simply aren’t a lot of people in Quebec with the means to afford half a mansion.

Per capita, there are far fewer rich people in this province than in Ontario. Barely 3.9 per cent of taxpayers earn more than $100,000 a year in Quebec compared with 6.3 per cent in Ontario, according to 2008 revenue department statistics, which are the most recent available. The ranks of the truly moneyed are even thinner.

A hangover of its cultural history and values, today that lack of affluence is also one of the starkest symptoms of a larger problem. Many Quebecers have a deep distrust of wealth and wealthy people. And some of Quebec’s leading business leaders warn that if that doesn’t change, Canada’s second-largest province will slowly slip into what Montreal writer Alain Dubuc calls “quiet mediocrity” – a kind of non-ambitious lethargy that will hurt not only itself but the rest of the country.

“We elevate people who like to keep things small. And we decry companies
that are becoming big.”

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