The Quebec champion in the fight against poverty

Photo: Michaël Monnier Duty
Poverty has tended to fall in Quebec, mainly due to social policies more generous to families with children.

Quebec is the champion of the fight against poverty in Canada, ” conclude experts from McGill.


Canada has been the theatre of two phenomena that are diametrically opposed to each other since at least twenty years. On one side, various measures to promote poverty have generally followed an upward trajectory over the in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, under the blow of policies promoting the logic of the market and the tightening of public expenditure. On the other side, poverty has tended, on the contrary, back in Quebec, mainly due to social policies more generous to families with children and measures such as the establishment of a network of subsidized childcare, encouraging access to the labour market, reports a team of five experts led by the sociologist from McGill University Axel Van den Berg in a book launched on Monday, entitled : Combating Poverty. Quebec’s Pursuit of a Distinctive Welfare State.


The increasing gap is observed for all measures of poverty, including in its extreme form. Quebec is particularly good for families with children in which both parents work, with only 2 % under the low-income measure, compared to 5% in Ontario and 12 % in Alberta. “Quebec is also good, in this area, that the best countries in Northern Europe “, explained in a telephone interview with the Duty Axel Van den Berg, who also makes the comparison in his book with the United States, France, the netherlands and Finland. “It is well also for single-parent families [13 %], but its advantage is less dramatic. “It happens in the tail of the pack in regards to adults only and no children.


Quebec is also the place in Canada where a family with children who found themselves in poverty has the most chance out of it over the years.


More generous, even after the austerity


This beautiful performance by Quebec is probably best explained by a level of social expenditure much more important than in the other large canadian provinces. Already higher than the other in the 1990s, these expenditures have continued to increase during the twenty years that have followed in proportion to the size of its economy, while they were, moreover, at best, treading water. The public spending on income assistance programs and to support access to the labour market are high, for example, in 2011-2012, the equivalent of 6 % of gross domestic product in Quebec, compared to about 4 % in Ontario, a little less in British Columbia and only 2 % in Alberta.


Once again, this greater “generosity” of québec’s policies is observed, particularly for families with children, recalls Axel Van den Berg. “We seem to have decided one day to aim for a kind of social-democratic model inspired of the nordic countries. “Far from being passive, this help from the State on the principle that paid work is the most effective way out of poverty and pursuing explicitly the aim to encourage return or retention in the labour market.


Based on several data, previously unpublished, the research team of McGill University stops at the beginning of the year 2010. Knowing that the question would immediately arise, the researchers have updated a few of their figures to see if the austerity policies of the quebec government in recent years had come to change the picture of things. “The Quebec that it describes in the book takes the shot, reports Axel Van den Berg. The funding cuts in the government Couillard does not have almost not affected the programs and their results. It is rather logical, when you think about it. There were no major savings to make, in contrast to large items of expenditure, such as health and education. “


A model for the rest of Canada


Busy preparing the launch of his book, the sociologist had not yet had time to take a look at the expert report commissioned by Quebec on the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, and also unveiled Monday. “Our own research shows, in any case, that there may be other effective ways of reducing poverty. “


Some will argue that the higher level of debt of the government of Quebec demonstrates that its model is expensive and may not be sustainable in the long term, as noted by the authors of the book. The other hand, the programs of fight against poverty do not cost so expensive, and the economist quebec Pierre Fortin has shown that the network of subsidized childcare could generate more revenue than expenses.


Familiar to the uniqueness of the case of quebec, the experts from the rest of Canada will be curious to be able to lean on these new data, but should not be too surprised by the broad conclusions to which they arrive, believes Axel Van den Berg. But it is very likely that it be otherwise politicians and the public in general, where Quebec is rarely cited as an example and where the general trend is still strongly marked by the model ” neo-liberal “.


The cases in quebec is still often referred to, in Ottawa, as in other provinces, in particular with respect to its childcare facilities.


“I remain fairly optimistic, said Axel Van den Berg. It is in this way that have built our great social programs in Canada, such as pensions and health insurance. A province is breaking new ground in a field and serves as an example to all others. “

Combating Poverty: Quebec Pursuit of a Distinctive Welfare State

Axel Van den Berg, Charles Plant, Hicham Raïq, Christine Proulx and Sam Faustmann. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2017, 213 pages.

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