Essais sur le québec contemporain

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O.J. Firestone

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This introductory essay is a penetrating analysis of a vital aspect of the development of the Province of Quebec : how a region, with as bountiful and diverse resources as this province, for many generations led a life of tranquility until, with the beginning of the twentieth century, the powerful forces of new industries on the march began to transform a largely pastoral and commercial economy into a community rapidly advancing in technology and bursting with energy and drive. Far from having spent itself after half a century of industrial expansion, there pulsates today through the width and breadth of Quebec's economy an inbounding vitality and innate creativeness which holds bright promise for greater economic achievements in the next half century.

The authors of this chapter have provided us with a very helpful perspective of Quebec's industrial development. They have pointed to both the strength and weaknesses inherent in Quebec's industrial structure, and thus have given us a sound basis for concluding that Quebec's economic future is bright indeed, notwithstanding the handicaps of ever-changing markets and human attitudes. I would rank this paper as an historical document worthy of Laval's centenary celebration.

The way in which it takes stock of Quebec's economic progress and points to the potentialities that appear to exist reminds me of a set of documents with a similar purpose written close to 300 years ago, about the time when the Seminary from which this University grew was founded : the reports of Jean-Baptiste Talon, one of France's foremost emissaries to the infant colony of New France. He, like many others after him, was greatly impressed by the vast resources that were awaiting development and the great possibilities that appeared open to the enterprising and the imaginative individual. New France might have had a population of only 3,200, but Talon's enthusiasm knew few limits. In trying to fire the imagination of France's rather hard-to-impress Minister of Finance, Colbert, – Ministers of Finance do not seem to change much over the ages – he wrote in October 1665, shortly after his arrival, that New France had foundations upon which might be [p. 39] built, « an empire, or at the least a powerful nation » (free translation). Perhaps, however, even an inveterate optimist like Talon might be surprised to see how his little settlement has flourished.

Perhaps two other general comments might be appropriate. First, industrialization of Quebec is a complex and in certain aspects a controversial subject that, in its economic ramifications, has hitherto been explored only little. By taking a historical-economic approach and by treating the subject in a systematic and particularly lucid manner, Faucher and Lamontagne's paper is in the truest tradition of the high quality of work which over the last decade or more has become so characteristic of the Social Sciences Faculty of Laval under the inspiring leadership of Father Lévesque.

Secondly, Lamontagne and Faucher appear to be keenly aware that an economic assessment of national or regional development requires the setting of certain rigorous criteria, the testing of hypotheses against reality, and the drawing together of salient conclusions into a framework of economic analysis which explains not only the inter-relationship of the forces at work but also the reasons for their existence. The authors have given us a more limited paper, and I think their decision has been a wise one. By giving us a progress report of some of their work and thinking, they make us look forward with keen interest to their next contribution. Also, by concentrating on a qualitative approach rather than by combining it with a quantitative assessment they are opening up a wide field for further research and study that could be particularly constructive and illuminating.

To turn now to the subject-matter of the paper, the authors have brought out very clearly the weaknesses and strengths of Quebec province as an industrial region. One of the principal weaknesses, which is fortunately losing importance, has been the distance from economical supplies of coal and iron and from markets. The principal strengths have been the large labour force and the abundant supplies of non-ferrous metals, timber and waterpower. Advances in technology and the fact that United States supplies of forest products and minerals have not kept pace with the growing demands of that market have brought into play a number of natural advantages of the region. As a result, the industrial development of Quebec has been much more rapid in [p. 40] the years since the beginning of this century than in the preceding period.

Thus Quebec has been carried on changing tides of fortune. It is interesting to recall an earlier period in the seventeen thirties under the « ancien régime » when Quebec even had an iron and steel industry – the St. Maurice Forges. Of course, we are told that the Forges operated at a loss and had to be financed out of the pockets of the King of France. But then we are also told by a contemporary that the manager and staff of the Forges were in very affluent circumstances, so perhaps this was simply an early example of the dangers of nationalized or subsidized industry. At any rate, in time the ample local supplies of bog-iron and charcoal passed and, with them, the Forges.

Today, the pendulum is swinging back again and Quebec is on the verge of becoming a major producer of iron ore, and I think one of the questions we will want to ask ourselves is whether this may become the basis of a steel industry. I am looking forward to an interesting discussion on this point because I know one of our authors has some pretty strong views on the subject 1.

There is another important aspect of Quebec's industrial growth and that is its inter-relationship with and contribution to Canadian economic development. Lamontagne and Faucher emphasize that the new trend towards rapid industrial development became apparent in the Province of Quebec at the beginning of this century, and that progress was particularly marked after 1911. The authors make the point that the initial impetus for this development is to be found in the natural resources pattern of the province, which assumed new meaning after 1900 because it provided the raw materials and power needed to service the growing North American and overseas markets and to meet the requirements of technological advances which the Atlantic nations were achieving with remarkable persistence and speed. Looking at industrial development in its broadest sense, most of us will probably agree that these were two of the major factors.

These influences, however, were operative also in other regions of Canada even though they were affecting economic development of the various parts of the country to a different degree, at times [p. 41] one region pushing ahead of another, or one industry overtaking another. This competitive race between regions and industries was facilitated greatly by an economic climate encouraging free enterprise and individual initiative which resulted in many new discoveries, new wants and new production techniques. These endeavours were assisted by government economic policies which for the most part played a supplementary role to private endeavour.

The period that our authors describe as the time in which Quebec's industrial revolution occurred coincides with the period of most rapid economic expansion of Canada as a whole. To this national development Quebec has made a major contribution, but equally the industrial boom in this province has drawn a great deal of strength from the growth of the Canadian market and the ability of Quebec's industries to provide in both peace and war many of the strategic materials and manufactured products which this country and its principal trading partners required.

By 1900, Quebec's population of about 1.6 million comprised about 30 per cent of Canada's total and this proportion has changed little over the last fifty years. But economic development since the turn of the century was rapid not only in Quebec but particularly so in the western parts of the country. In fact, in relative terms, the growth of the Prairies and British Columbia was much more rapid than that experienced in the more settled regions of the central and Atlantic provinces. The reaction of the wheat economy in the Prairies and the mixed forestry, mineral, hydro power and fishing economy of British Columbia meant not only a great deal of wealth for these parts of Canada, but also increasing opportunities for established business in the eastern parts of the country.

While Quebec was about able to maintain its position, simply by growing as rapidly as the rest of the country, Ontario was not able to match this rate of expansion. The growth of the West has meant that Ontario, which had 41 per cent of Canada's population in 1900, now makes up only 33 per cent of the total, or just 4 per cent more than Quebec. Thus the shift to the West has been an historical force whose course has not been altered over the last fifty years even by the attractive economic opportunities that developped in Ontario, Canada's most industrialized province.

In response to the need to serve the Canadian and regional markets which are now 3½ times what they were population wise [p. 42] in 1900 and perhaps over 5 times in terms of real purchasing power, Quebec's industries expanded tremendously. Briefly, industrial establishments today have doubled in number, but what is more important, many of them are now vast arsenals using mass production methods and large amounts of intricate capital equipment against the small workshops of 1900 which used traditional production methods that had changed little over the centuries. The industrial labour force is now 3½ times what it was fifty years ago, and it produces an output 6 times greater in real terms. At the same time, workers in Quebec have been able to reduce hours worked per week from an average of about 61 hours to some 43 hours, or by close to 30 per cent.

Output per man-hour per industrial worker in manufacturing has risen on an average by 3 per cent per annum in Quebec over the last fifty years but, because of the decline in hours worked, the output per man-year has only risen by something like 1½ per cent. Comparable average increases for Canada as a whole are approximately 3¼ per cent per man hour and 2 per cent per man year. The obvious question is : Why the difference ?

The first reaction might be that Quebec's industries are using less capital than industries in other regions. But interestingly enough, speaking in average terms, this is not the case. Land, buildings and machinery and equipment per employee in manufacturing (book value) is estimated at $6,500 for Quebec in 1950, or about $1,000 higher than the Canadian average. The explanation for this, of course, is the prevalence of such high capital-using industries in the Province of Quebec as pulp and paper, chemicals, and hydro installation forming part of manufacturing operations.

Another explanation that one encounters frequently is that Quebec's industrial worker may be less efficient than workers in other parts of the country. It is difficult to generalize on this subject since usually those making this claim single out an individual operation to support their contention. But the fact remains that many of Quebec's native sons and daughters are now working in other parts of the country, or in the United States for that matter, and that, when language difficulties have stood in the way and have been overcome, their skill and performance will frequently match if not exceed that of their co-workers.

[p. 43]

Perhaps I can suggest two reasons for the slight difference in the long-term rate of output per man hour as between Quebec and other regions. One reason may be the industrial structure of this province, which in some respects is unique in Canada. It combines mass production industries of the first order requiring comparatively little manpower in relation to value of output, such as the large capital-using industries which I have just mentioned, with a number of other industries which require a large labour force in relation to the final value of commodities produced, e.g. textile, leather goods and tobacco industries. How concentrated these last mentioned industries are in the Province of Quebec is indicated by the fact that 87 per cent of workers employed in tobacco production were in Quebec, with the proportion for the boot and shoe industry being 59 per cent and for textiles and clothing about 57 per cent 1.

Secondly, Quebec is the only province in Canada with more females than males. Availability of a large reserve of female workers has encouraged the growth of light manufacturing (and service) industries. Even though the tendency towards equalization of pay for men and women has been growing, some differential still exists and this will be reflected in the gross value of the final product.

There are other reasons for the differences in industrial productivity and some of these are implied in the preceding study. As to the somewhat wider difference in the rise in output per man year, there is, besides the varying rate of hourly productivity, some variation in the trend with respect to the number of hours worked per week. The average Quebec industrial worker works about 43 hours per week, as against the national average of 41½ hours 1. But this gap has been closing steadily. I mentioned earlier that hours worked per week have declined in Quebec by close to 30 per cent since 1900. The national average decline was less, about 25 per cent, and it was still less in a number of other provinces.

There are interesting implications in the difference just reviewed regarding real earnings of industrial workers, their standard of [p. 44] living and the regional market their purchasing power supports. Perhaps the main impression I would like to leave is that I fully agree with the view of the authors of this essay that there are strong economic reasons why the Province of Quebec has such a diverse variety of, and in many respects such basically different industries, ranging all the way from a handicraft enterprise to the most up-to-date and world-competitive mass production concern. Thus, a study of the process of industrialization in Quebec is really a study of contrasts. In fact, if we knew more about the economic impact of the changing structure of Quebec's industries we might find a number of explanations for things that are presently ascribed, for want of more specific knowledge, to « cultural » forces or to « traditional » sentiment.

In conclusion, I might raise three questions which the Faucher and Lamontagne paper brings to mind.

First, how serious a disadvantage has the distance from coal, iron and markets been and does it account as much for the failure of certain industries to locate in Quebec as the authors suggest ? Or are there other factors such as insufficient local initiative and inadequate financial resources ? And when high incomes in the more recent period made it possible to accumulate large savings in the region, have Quebec's peculiarly characteristic investment preferences reduced the availability of native capital for industrial development ?

The second question relates to the influence of non-economic factors on the rate of industrial expansion, which the authors feel should not be over-emphasized. With this I agree. But I wonder whether whatever influence such factors might have had would not also extend to establishing the pattern of Quebec's industries as it has developed over the last half century.

The third question refers to one aspect that has been covered only slightly in the paper : What has been the influence of government economic policies (federal, provincial and municipal) on Quebec's industrial expansion ?


[p. 45]

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