Over the past 50 years, Québec has developed a professional system that has gradually consolidated its most important orders according to the size of their memberships and the nature of the their acts, which are often exclusive. After the 1837-1838 REBELLION and the 1840 Union Act (seeACT OF UNION), French Canadians could aspire to upward mobility only in the field of professional services, since the English controlled most trade, particularly big business and the public service. Therefore, between 1850 and 1950, the French Canadian elite turned principally to the liberal professions to educate and affirm themselves. The Chambre des NOTAIRES and the College of Physicians and Surgeons were the first two corporations (now called orders) in Québec (1847), and the Bar of LOWER CANADA originated two years later. From then until 1974, 38 groups were set up as professional orders.
This professional valorization corresponds on one hand to the particular socio-economic situation in Québec, and on the other to the social doctrine of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, a dominant force at the time. The Church that wanted to fight the LIBERALISM that was insensitive to inequality, and the socialism that too readily ignored personal freedoms. A third avenue was pursued: the development of professionalism. This was gradually achieved over more than a century, always with a certain inconsistency. Each order by virtue of its legislation enjoys powers (exclusive or not) over a specific sphere of activity. It regulates and possibly questions the conduct of its members and attempts to reconcile its diverse and sometimes incompatible roles of promoting science, defending its interests and those of its members, and protecting the public. As of the 1970s, this legal and regulatory hodgepodge along with conflicting mandates no longer proved acceptable. Moreover, government intervention in health sector called for a clarification of the scope of the various professional orders and a harmonization of their methods of functioning.
The major reform of 1974 imposed on all orders their primary if not unique purpose: protection of the public. The Professional Code defines the participation requirements for the status of a professional order from the different groups, which are divided into two categories: those with exclusive rights to practice, and those with reserved title. Members of the former according to their acts of incorporation benefit from the exclusive rights to perform acts and bear the corresponding titles (e.g. lawyer or dentist). Members of reserved orders alone reserve the right hold the title associated with their professional acts, yet their relevant professional activities can be exercised by any competent person, whether members of the order or not (e.g. psychologists). All orders are overseen by a government agency, l'Office des professions du Québec, which is charged with ensuring that each order guarantees protection of the public and that the system functions smoothly. A second coordinating agency, the Conseil interprofessionnel du Québec, composed of the chair of each order, makes submissions on all pertinent issues to the appropriate minister, either on request or on its own initiative.
Associating 265 000 members, the 44 existing orders in 2000 (24 exclusive, 20 reserved), have powers of self-regulation and self-discipline to fulfil their mission of protecting the public. Each order adopts its own rules, which are, however, submitted to the Office des professions for approval when concerning incidents of public protection. In each order, an trustee monitors compliance of the regulation, particularly the Code of Ethics, and this syndic has the power to carry out an investigation or file a complaint if necessary. A complaint can also entered by any other person and submitted to each order's disciplinary committee which is composed of three members: a lawyer, and two members of the order. Their decision can be brought to appeal before the Tribunal des professions, formed of three judges from the Court of Québec. Penalties range from reprimand, through fines of $600-$6000 per infraction, to provisional or permanent expulsion. Further, in cooperation with the trustee, a Comité d'ínspection professionnelle (professional inspection committee) monitors the professional practice of each order. The committee reports on what it considers deficient in the practice of each member inspected, and in the entire profession.
In 1994, a reform of the professional code intended to enhance the role of public protection entrusted to the orders, namely by increasing the public's role and representation in the system. Moreover, a complaint from the trustee must now demand immediate provisional expulsion when a professional is reprimanded for an act of sexual nature with a client, or when there is misappropriation of funds held in trusteeship. Immediate expulsion is also the case in all situations where the nature of the infraction is such that public protection is compromised should the professional continue to practice.