The most pressing problem for the future of Canada is the question of Quebec's independence. A significant percentage of the Canadian economy is centered in Quebec. Independence for Quebec would raise a variety of problems since it would require a division of the assets of the federal government and require Quebec to assume part of the federal debt. Since the 1980s, there have been repeated efforts to reach some sort of permanent solution to the problem. However, the Bloc Québécois continues to push for independence. In 1998, the nation's Supreme Court ruled that a unilateral declaration of independence by Quebec would be illegal, but if a majority of the residents of Quebec vote for separation, then the federal government has to negotiate eventual independence. The English-speaking residents of Quebec and the province's native peoples both oppose independence and have expressed their wish to remain part of Canada if Quebec gains its independence.
Another problem facing the Canadian economy is the high level of taxation. On the positive side, these taxes provide the basis for the nation's very generous social benefits, including health care and education. On the negative side, taxes increase the cost of living for average Canadians and increase the costs of business for companies. In addition, even with the high level of taxation, the government has been forced to deficit spend in order to pay for services. As a result, the nation's debt increased substantially during the 1990s and only recently has the government begun to pay down the debt. The most pressing problem related to the high level of taxation is the aforementioned brain drain. Many younger Canadians who are highly skilled and/or educated are moving to the United States where they can earn much higher wages while paying lower taxes. Canada's tax burden is also blamed for the continuing unemployment levels of around 7 percent (while the American unemployment has been around 4 percent for several years).
Canada's pursuit of free and open trade has led it to join a number of international organizations. Membership in these organizations has allowed the country to take advantage of international trade so that it now contributes a significant portion of the Canadian economy. Much of the country's future growth is dependent on trade. Because of this dependence, Canada is particularly sensitive to downturns in the economies of its major trade partners, especially the United States.