The term Quebec Inc. refers to both francophone companies and to the Quebec state economic policies resulting from the Quiet Revolution. The Quebec Inc. development model is characterized by consultation between the Quebec government and the major players in Quebec society regarding the economic issues of concern to them. It is based on an alliance between the public and private sectors.
Initial Government Interventions (1960–1976)
Quebec Inc. developed as part of a growing francophone business class which had existed in Quebec from the early 19th century, but which was still under-represented in the heavy industry sectors. Toward the middle of the 20th century, the business community wanted to encourage the growth of a francophone business class. This gave rise to the idea of a Quebec business bank and was the backdrop against which the Liberal government of Jean Lesage was elected in Quebec on 22 June 1960. His government took on the task of recovering such economic powers as those being used by the federal government in the development of Ontario. It also advocated consultation with representatives from private enterprise and the various socioeconomic communities to develop the Quebec economy. Its plan was to support a mixed economy, where the State would provide support to the private sector. In 1962, the Quebec government established the Société générale de financement to help Quebec businesses avoid difficulties in the event of a change in senior management and to help them remain in the province. The creation of Crown corporations would remain a major economic policy instrument for subsequent Quebec governments until at least the mid-1980s.
This model was not unanimously supported. The sweeping nationalization of the electricity sector, beginning in 1963, was criticized by some francophone businessmen because it meant increased state control over the economy. Such an increase was also seen in the creation of a state steel industry in 1964. In 1969, under the government of Jean-Jacques Bertrand ’s Union nationale, the Study Committee on Financial Institutions, chaired by Jacques Parizeau, recommended the merger of Quebec companies to resist foreign competition. During the decade that followed, the government would transfer massive amounts of capital from Crown corporations to support the development of Quebec companies.
Evolution of the Model (1976–1985)
Quebec Inc. gradually came under scrutiny from the business community, notably in the Descoteaux report (1974), due to its cost to the public and the State’s prominent role in the economy. Members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions began to criticize the State as being a vassal to private enterprise and the capitalist employer. The language disputes, the October Crisis, and the various Common Front Strikes helped cement the doubts regarding state support for the aspirations of the Quiet Revolution. The first Parti Québécois government headed by René Lévesque (1976–1980), initially supportive of the cooperatives, quickly drew closer to private enterprise. This approach was confirmed in the economic action plan entitled Bâtir le Québec (1978). With a view to a referendum on Quebec sovereignty, the government organized major “economic summits” and offered state support to Quebec companies, notably to publishing houses, and toward facilitating industrial development. While continuing to fund major public projects, such as the building of hydroelectric dams, the extension of the Montreal subway and the construction of facilities for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the Quebec state tended to more highly value the role played in the economy by private companies. This was especially true of the governments following the return to power of Robert Bourassa (1985–1994).
Further Examination (since 1985)
The mid-1980s marked the beginning of an increased importance of private sector managers in Quebec politics. With respect to the economy, a number of them promoted state disengagement, privatization, deregulation, and the growth of the private sector. For example, the Quebecair airline company, which was established in 1953 and in which the Quebec state became the major shareholder in 1981, was privatized by the government of Robert Bourassa in 1986. This valorisation of private enterprise was in keeping with the policies of the federal government under Brian Mulroney (1984–1993), as well as with those of the governments of United States president Ronald Reagan (1981–1989) and United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher (1979–1990). It was also in step with the globalization of trade, at a time when Canada was concluding the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (in 1987) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (in 1992). The privatization of Crown corporations acquired by Quebec companies, such as the purchase of Canadair by Bombardier in 1986, did, however, allow Quebec companies to expand their range of activities.
Sociologist François L’Italien theorized that, subsequent to the 1995 Quebec Referendum, the economic policy of the Quebec state transitioned from Quebec Inc. to what he called Quebec Capital. Due to the failure of the independence option, the objective of economic sovereignty behind Quebec Inc. tended, according to L’Italien, to leave the door open for financial speculation in the management of Crown corporations. Since the economic crisis of 2008, the concept of Quebec Inc. has been the target if renewed criticism. For example, in 2008, Jacques Parizeau felt that, rather than focusing on the stimulation of the Québec economy, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec had become overly preoccupied with its returns. From 2017, the advantages granted to Bombardier by the Quebec state were also the subject of heated debates. The relationships established between the State and the Quebec companies in the context of national economic development thus continue to evolve and raise questions regarding the concept of Quebec Inc.