Essais sur le québec contemporain

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This essay was originally expected to answer the question : « What has been the effect of industrialization on agriculture in Quebec ? » Such a question is equivocal. First, it implies that the degree of our industrialization has been such as to affect agriculture. Second, it assumes that the sequence of causality has been in one direction only. The main objective of the following pages will be to examine these two assumptions.

It is of primary importance to determine carefully the actual degree of industrialization, for certain fundamental changes, in agriculture depend on important prerequisites that can not be realized unless the degree of industrialization is relatively high. The second problem, the direction of causality between industry and agriculture, is harder to determine. In general, it can be considered from two different angles. On the one hand, one can assume that, in a given milieu, say the province of Quebec, there has been enough industrialization to bring about agricultural changes but that these were hampered or prevented by factors of a cultural nature – tradition, institutions, religious values, etc. On the other hand, one can assume that cultural factors alone can not, beyond a certain point, prevent the impact of industrialization in farming areas ; consequently, if an agricultural system does not change appreciably over a long period of time, it is because of insufficient industrialization in the adjacent areas. The best approach must probably combine the two views, but for reasons that will presently be shown, the second approach seems to be better suited to a relevant analysis of the Quebec situation.

The study of Lamontagne and Faucher shows that industrialism in the full sense of the term is a recent phenomenon in Quebec and that until recently it has been limited to specific geographical areas. Many of the important developments took place in [p. 56] frontier areas where agricultural land supply was inadequate, as in the St. Maurice valley, or where climatic conditions set a limit to orderly farming production for the market, as in the Abitibi and even in the Lake St. John districts 1. History then strongly supports the hypothesis that the relatively slow progress of agriculture in Quebec is largely due to the belatedness of industrialization. It is the purpose of this paper to analyse the relationships between industry and our agriculture in the light of this hypothesis. The historical account of agricultural development in Quebec is well enough known, thanks particularly to such valuable studies as those of Raoul Blanchard, Marsh and Haythorne, F. Létourneau, L. de G. Fortin, and Esdras Minville 2. All these studies stress two essential features of our agricultural system : the lack of efficiency, the low standard of living.


The net income per farm in Quebec in 1941 was only 87 per cent of the $880 average for the whole country. In 1951, Quebec's farm income averaged about $1,890 as compared to $2,350 for the whole country, so that the net income per farm for Quebec stood then at 80 per cent of the national average 3. The productivity per worker in Quebec and Canada can be compared in the same manner by adding the wage-bill to the aggregate net income, and relating this sum to the total labour force in agriculture (including farm operators, family unpaid labour, year-round hired labour, and an estimate in man-years of seasonal labour). In [p. 57] 1941, the productivity so measured was $438 in Quebec or 79 per cent of the Canadian average 4.

The cash income per farm in Quebec went up from $460 in 1931 to $925 in 1941. If allowance is made for the change in the definition of a « farm », the figures for 1941 and 1951 are $987 and $3,220. These values represent a constant ratio of 75 per cent of the corresponding averages for Canada 5. Even if allowance is made for a difference in the price structure, the discrepancies are great enough to show that real output per farm and per worker is relatively low. Quebec's agriculture is unquestionably characterized by a lack of efficiency. Assuming a simple relation between the standard of living of farm families and the efficiency of the farm enterprise, it follows that the standard of living on the average farm is bound to be lower in Quebec if compared to the country as a whole.

The unavoidable question, then, is : « Is this lack of efficiency due to economic or social factors ? Is it due to an insufficient degree of industrialization or to a lack of response to industrialization ? » To avoid hasty conclusions, let us review the factors that may account for any changes in the output per farm, per worker and per capita. The most important of these are :

a) The demand for agricultural products ;

b) The intensity of use of factors of production in combination with available labour ;

c) The volume of farm population in relation to the type of farming and the size of the labour force.

a) The demand for agricultural products, particularly for food, is related to the consumers' income. Colin Clark reports a study of Allen and Bowley 1 showing that the income elasticity for food for a sample of family budgets in different countries ranges from 0.3 to 0.9. In Canada, while the personal income per capita changed from $427 in 1930 to about $960 in 1950, the aggregate personal expenditures on consumers' goods changed from $4,204,000,000 [p. 58] to $11,862,000,000 during the same period. The proportion of this aggregate spent on food remained stable at about 25 per cent for each year during the two decades 2. If the series is deflated by the cost of living indices 3, the ratio decreases from 25 to 16 per cent during the period. Therefore, with increasing income per capita, the absolute amount of food demanded has increased in Canada at a lower rate than income, but the relative price of agricultural products has improved greatly, so that there is more incentive for the farmer to increase his production for the market.

In Quebec, income per capita between 1926 and 1950 was at all times smaller than the Canadian average during that period. It stood at 85.3 per cent of the national average in 1926, at 93 per cent in 1930, and at slightly over 80 per cent in the war and postwar years 4. If the set of relations discussed above holds for Quebec, the relatively lower income per capita means a relatively smaller incentive for the farmers to shift from subsistence farming to farming for the domestic market 5.

b) The factors of production, land, labour, and technology, form the second set of variables affecting farm output and efficiency. In order to obtain a bird's-eye view of the way in which these factors of production are combined in Quebec, a comparison can be made between the relative importance of the number of farms to the Canadian total and the relative importance of typical factors on the basis of the 1941 census data.

The number of farms represented 21 per cent of the Canadian total, the farm population, over 25 per cent. While active population, full-time hired workers and family workers represented slightly below 25 per cent of the corresponding Canadian totals, the relative importance of the total labour force, including estimates of seasonal labour in man-years, was smaller at 22.4 per cent. [p. 59] What is more significant, the number of acres in farm land and the number of acres in improved farm land represented only 11.0 and 9.6 per cent respectively. There was as little as 18.1 per cent of the total number of purebred cattle and 3.7 1 per cent of the total number of tractors. Another evidence of the extensive type of agriculture prevailing in Quebec was the high ratio (31.8 per cent for each census category) of « subsistence » and « part-time » farms to the total for the country. In the category « mixed farming », Quebec's share was 26 per cent.

That these characteristics have not changed substantially with the war is made clear by more recent information on specific points. The census of 1951 reveals that the proportion of Quebec farms to the Canadian total is still about 21 per cent. The proportion of acres to the total for all Canadian farms is slightly lower than it was 10 years ago. In 1950, Quebec purchased 22.1 per cent 2 of the total quantity of mixed fertilizers sold on the Canadian market. In 1949, the purchase of farm machinery in Quebec represented as little as 7.7 per cent 3 of the total purchases 4. It is safe to conclude that, on the average and until very recently, the agricultural resources were not used very intensively. This conclusion holds a fortiori for previous decades so that the present features may be considered as reflecting a fundamental tendency. An inadequate combination of production, as well as and perhaps more than the condition of demand accounts for the low productivity of Quebec farms.

c) The figures just mentioned make it clear that the farm population is kept at a maximum in terms of other resources. This, along with the limited supply of arable land 5, explains the small size of farms even in areas of extensive cultivation, i.e. in areas [p. 60] which would require a larger number of acres per farm to provide a fair living for the family 6.”

The rural population of Quebec increased very slowly from 919,000 in 1871 to 1,038,000 in 1911, and from 1,037,000 in 1921 to 1,222,000 in 1941, but its relative importance decreased rapidly : 60.3 per cent of the total population in 1901 and only 36.7 per cent in 1941. There is evidence, however, that farm population has been very stable over time. Hughes isolated a « block of 46 counties in the heart of Quebec » for which the rural population was 705,578 in 1871 and 705,240 in 1931. « Enclosed in this block », writes Hughes, « but not counted because they had a higher increase of rural population are Sherbrooke, Drummond, Chambly, and Champlain. Examination proves that the apparent rural increase in these counties is really a growth of urban centers ». And he adds : « When there is a downward trend, it has not been accompanied by a decline of agricultural production or of the number of people engaged in it 1. »

Haythorne estimates that the total labour force on farms increased only from 204,000 in 1891 to 226,000 in 1931. The family workers numbered 71,500 in 1891, 69,700 is 1921, and 87,900 in 1931 2. Consequently, efficiency or, more specifically, the quantitative ratio describing the output per capita, is not likely to improve through a decrease in farm population and in farm labour which goes with it, except if demand for labour in industries increases rapidly and if the geographical mobility of workers is sufficiently high.

Urbanization has also affected farm population both from within and from without. Enid Charles has shown that natural fertility was declining for two successive generations of women at the census of 1941. Although the level of fertility in absolute terms was comparatively high for the rural women of Quebec, the rate of decrease from one generation to the next was the great-[p. 61] est in terms of any classification. Enid Charles attributes this change to the « spread of urban ways of living 3 ». Urbanization also provided a labour market which could at least absorb the surplus population of the rural areas, although the opportunities were mainly in cheap labour industries, and the demand was for unskilled trades 4. Notwithstanding the constant emigration from the country and the consequent stability of the total volume of farm population in Quebec, this agricultural labour force is paradoxically still too high, at least in terms of high farming productivity. It would have required a further reduction of the farm population to stimulate technical improvement and more intense production.

To sum up, three main sets of factors are associated with the low productivity of our agriculture : a low level of consumers' demand, extensive and subsistence farming, a relatively high volume of farm population.


Although our industrial progress was limited to particular areas, it had, indeed, some indirect beneficial effects on our total economy. The price mechanism was not completely inoperative and there was certainly some « multiplier » effect which contributed to an increase in income in every sector of our economic life, including agriculture. There were also some mobility and some tendencies towards equalization of factor prices between sectors, but this indirect impact of industrialization was limited. This is made clear by a consideration of regional differences in agricultural production.

[p. 62]

J. E. Lattimer 1 published in 1946 a regional analysis which permits to visualize the association between the purchasing power of consumers (measured in terms of yearly earnings per wage-earner in 1940) and the economic status of farms on a regional basis. The setting of this analysis consists in arranging all the counties in four groups by decreasing average earnings per capita. The average earning per wage-earner was over $1,000 in four counties only : Montreal and Jesus Islands, Chambly, Abitibi and Temiskaming. It ranged from $800 to $1,000 in 13 counties, from $600 to $800 in 25 counties, and was below $600 in 24 counties. Except for group I with the highest average earning, there was a positive relationship between the purchasing power and either the net return per farm or the net return per farm worker. In general, in regions where the purchasing power was the highest the resources were used more intensively, as evidenced by the positive relationship between the average earnings per wage-earner and the percentage of farms reporting tractors or the yield per cow. Another indication of the association between purchasing power and the intensity of cultivation was the increasing size of farms with decreasing average earnings per wage-earner.

This regional study indicates a general association between the purchasing power of the community and the economic performance on farms. However, there may be some other limitational factors preventing the purchasing power to affect the farm. Suffice it to point out that in Abitibi and Temiskaming districts, a survey made in 1947 attributes the difficulties of farmers to two causes : the climatic conditions, especially the seasonal character of certain agricultural productions, and, secondly, the institutional arrangement in communications favouring exchanges of agricultural products with Ontario and the Prairies 2. The latter condition, it may be added, depends in turn on the particular technological relationship of the industrial sector of this area with Ontario and this relationship itself is a direct result of past economic development. Lattimer's study shows clearly that adequate demand and a high purchasing power, though [p. 63] not a sufficient condition, are nevertheless prerequisites to economic progress on farms. If industrial development had been more diffused, the prosperity of agriculture would have been more general, other conditions permitting.

In the first section of this paper, the characteristics of Quebec farms were expressed in terms of a single average describing the sector globally. G. L. Burton 1 has analyzed the relation between types of farming and productivity in terms of gross sales per farm. In 1940, 31.8 per cent of the total number of subsistence farms in Canada were in the province of Quebec. Of the total number of full-time farms within the province, 44 per cent were subsistence farms. The corresponding ratio for Canada was 28 per cent only. While this 28 per cent of Canadian subsistence farms sold only 8 per cent of the total gross sales of full-time farms, in Quebec the 44 per cent of subsistence farms sold as much as 22 per cent of the provincial gross sales. In both cases, i.e. for Canada and Quebec, subsistence farms were much less productive than non-subsistence farms. For the entire country, the average gross sales per farm for each group was $285 and $1,229 respectively. But while the average of gross sales per non-subsistence farm for Quebec was 26 per cent lower than the Canadian average and 31 per cent lower than the Ontario average, the average for subsistence farms was at about the same level at $328 in both provinces, or 15 per cent higher than in Canada. This would mean that there is room in Quebec for some improvement in efficiency, even on non-subsistence farms. In other words, the lack of efficiency in Quebec cannot be attributed only to the high proportion of subsistence farming, unless it is assumed that a great deal of the handicaps facing the non-subsistence farms are precisely due to competition by subsistence farms.


So far, evidence has established that our general economic development did not affect agriculture appreciably. This agriculture is characterized by persistence over time of subsistence farming. Non-subsistence farms display a low productivity. The [p. 64] farm enterprise, therefore, does not in general provide a sufficient return to allow for a normal level of living and the latter is attained only because farm income is supplemented by off-farm work, subsidies and transfer payments.

For this reason, a systematic analysis of the standard of living on family farms would have been more directly relevant to the problem under discussion. But statistics published on subsidies, transfer payments, and other pertinent information do not lend themselves to an analysis of farm or rural households, and the case studies available are insufficient to warrant any generalization concerning this standard. I simply intend to draw attention to a few indications concerning household preferences and attitudes that are reported in Miner's recent survey of St. Denis 1 and in two other studies. One of these was published in 1944 following a survey made in 1937-38 by Gosselin and Boucher 2 in the colonization district of north-western Quebec. The other is a sample study by McNaughton, Mann and Blackwood 3 of 85 farm families in the county of Nicolet.

From these studies it seems that, granting a minimum level of income, there is a marked preference for transportation and communication equipment. At St. Denis, the number of telephones increased from 2 to 40 between 1937 and 1949. During the same period, the number of automobiles, trucks or tractors (which, says Miner, were used to go to town) raised from 7 to 37. In Nicolet, « ninety-four per cent of the families had a radio in their homes and they considered that this was an important source of information and entertainment. » The average family budget in Nicolet was low ($1,500), yet « 14 per cent owned an automobile ; 8 per cent owned a truck and 1 per cent owned both an automobile and a truck. » In the northwest settlement, the average budget (only $292 in new colonies and $343 in old colonies) was insufficient to permit such luxuries. However, 11 out of a sample of 54 [p. 65] settlers had automobiles which, incidentally, averaged only $375 in value.

Another point of interest is whether farmers will spend more of an increment of income on farm equipment than on household equipment. Since the household income includes an important proportion of family allowances and since the market for farm products is considered unstable, as Miner observed, it is to be expected that purchases of equipment will be for commodities that directly increase the well-being of the household rather than for those that would primarily contribute to increasing the productivity of the enterprise. In this respect Miner makes the following comment : « One compelling reason for farm families to depart from the old technology is clear. There has been a growing resistance ... to the assuming of the burden of bearing and rearing a family of ten while cooking, housekeeping, gardening, milking, spinning, weaving, making clothes, and helping with the harvests and threshing. »

Such tendencies are significant. They mean that a cyclical change in income is not sufficient to cause any structural change in the farm enterprise. The change in income induced by the intensive development of basic industries located far away from the farm may not be more effective in causing such structural changes 1. On the other hand, the obvious preference for transportation facilities and household equipment which, according to these recent studies, is shown by Quebec farming families, reveals that they are far from allergic to technical progress.


This essay has stressed the fact that Quebec's agriculture has a relatively low degree of efficiency. Our analysis consisted in scrutinizing the three statistical indices that reflect efficiency : the output per farm, the output per agricultural worker, the output per capita in the farming household. These indices themselves were broken down into their component parts, that is, into the factors associated with efficiency : the demand for agricultural [p. 66] products and the intensity of use of agricultural resources, especially of labour. Whenever there was available information, we have considered these factors in the perspective of the general economic development of the province. This analysis was finally followed by a few remarks concerning the standard of living on Quebec farms.

Such an appraisal of the low productivity of our agriculture in terms of economic factors is in contrast with similar studies which generally overemphasize the cultural or the institutional factors. It is true that one can not understand the behaviour of the Quebec farmer without taking into account his mentality, his traditions and the institutions that constitute his culture. On the other hand, one should not forget that these activities of the Quebec farmer as well as the way in which he performs them are conditioned by forces of all sorts, technological, economic, political, that are at play outside of his farm, outside of his area and outside of his province. Relevant agricultural policies depend on a full recognition of these facts. The need for intensive research in this perspective is imperative. Given the considerable postwar industrial boom in Quebec and in Canada, it is urgent that our agricultural system be examined thoroughly, in itself and in its vital relationships with the whole of the Canadian and of the continental economy. On this condition depends the success of future agricultural programmes.


[p. 67]

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