When Lucien Bouchard put Quebecers in front of the facts in 2006, the shock was brutal. He calls us lazy, we collectively understood, insulted.
The data was unequivocal: Quebecers were less likely to work than elsewhere and their work weeks were shorter. Lucien Bouchard’s words were caricatured in Bye bye 2006 by RBO: “Put away the drink, get outside, work!” Our pride has been stung.
Fifteen years later, the picture has changed considerably. The catching up with English Canada is staggering, both for employment and for earnings. Our working weeks remain shorter than elsewhere, but the gap with the Canadian average has gradually narrowed and is now at a low for about twenty years.
We saw it during the pandemic: a very large number of Quebecers rolled up their sleeves.
On December 3, data from Statistics Canada revealed that the unemployment rate had fallen to the pre-pandemic level at 4.5% in Quebec. This is the lowest rate in Canada (Ontario is 6.4%, Alberta 7.6%).
To measure change, the best indicator is the employment rate, ie the proportion of Quebecers who hold a job. And better still: the employment rate of adults in the prime of life, ie 25-54 year olds.
In October 2021, nearly 87% of Quebecers aged 25 to 54 were employed, i.e. 4 percentage points more than Ontario, 7 points more than Alberta and 10 points more than Newfoundland. and Labrador. No other province comes close to Quebec, not even the dynamic British Columbia (83%).
Above all, Quebec’s growth in this area has been virtually uninterrupted for … 28 years (if we except the confinement of 2020, essentially).
In January 1993, only 68% of 25-54 year olds in Quebec had a job, compared to 87% today!
We must take a look at the long-term charts to better understand the phenomenon compared to other provinces.
It is well known that Pauline Marois’ Quebec daycare program in 1997 played a big role in this trend. Women have entered the labor market in far greater numbers than elsewhere, which has gradually increased our employment rate.
It is not for nothing that the federal Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, wants to reproduce the Quebec model. It also qualifies its low-cost daycare program as a stimulus measure.
But there is more. Quebec began to move up the coast in 1993, benefiting from a growing cohort of well-trained young people, but made “docile” by the recession and unemployment, that of Generation X.
The pace of catching up was especially felt from 1997, as if, once the referendum on independence had passed, Quebecers had concentrated their energy elsewhere. The retirement of civil servants, the fight against the deficit, the economic recovery …
Twenty-five years later, it is clear that our obsession with jobs, with the consequent decisions, has paid off.
Quebec surpassed Ontario for the employment rate in 2009 and Alberta in 2016, after the financial and oil crises. British Columbia follows Quebec more closely, but Quebec continues to dominate.
The usual weeks of work in Quebec? They continue to be smaller than elsewhere, with 37.6 hours, compared to an average of 38.2 hours in Canada. But these 37.6 hours have been stable for a dozen years, which contrasts with the marked drops of the 1970s and 1990s (the week was 40.2 hours in 1976).
The high rate of unionization, recessions and the increase in the proportion of women in the labor market – and therefore couples with children where both parents work – could explain these falls. Can we call it laziness?
Quebec is still the province with the shortest workweek, but beware, our stability over the past decade in this area compares to declines in many other provinces. And today, the weeks worked in Quebec are equivalent to 98.4% of the Canadian average, the highest proportion for 15 years, or even 30 years, depending on the indicator used.
Once again, curves speak louder than words.
Quebec’s advances in employment have obvious repercussions on remuneration. In 2010, Quebecers’ pay was 89% that of Ontarians, compared to nearly 92% today.
The historical comparison with Alberta illustrates very clearly the oil crisis. Before the 2014 crisis, Quebecers received only 73% of Albertans’ compensation, compared to more than 87% today. Nothing beats graphics to fully understand.
The work effort of Quebecers has been remarkable. Some would say that it is rather the economy of the other provinces that has declined. That is. But everything is relative. Quebec’s economic diversity is one of its strengths, which promotes its stability, its progress and its public finances.
Nothing is gained for all that. We must now change our strategy and make productivity (inventiveness) our collective struggle rather than that of employment. We must also encourage people aged 55 and over – who retire much faster than elsewhere – to stay at work, in order to help Quebec address the major problem of labor shortages.