Accueil » 46-4 ( 1991) » Historique des interventions du gouvernement du Québec dans le domaine de la main-d'oeuvre: une politique en panne

Historique des interventions du gouvernement du Québec dans le domaine de la main-d'oeuvre: une politique en panne

Lise Poulin Simon et Judith Carroll


L'objet de cette étude est de mettre en lumière l'évolution historique des interventions du gouvernement du Québec dans le domaine de la main-d'oeuvre à partir du début du XXe siècle. La démarche historique permet d'une part de dégager la rationalité économique de ces interventions et d'autre part d'offrir des explications à l'avortement des multiples tentatives du gouvernement du Québec de se doter d'une politique active du marché du travail.


Since the beginning of the twentieth century, and under the pressure of the fluctuating economic situation, the Quebec Government has gradually adopted a series of measures and created several institutions which are directly associated to the labour market or manpower policy. Furthermore, since the beginning of the 1960s, different Quebec governments have manifested their intent to implement a comprehensive labour market policy, specifically aimed towards Quebec's needs.

However, all attempts made at achieving such a policy have falled. Belanger mentions that the Manpower and Income Security Department acknowledged, before the Beaudry Commission in 1985, having renounced all hopes of publishing a manpower policy, and would restrict its program of action to a small number of specific objectives. Sexton has reached the same conclusion. This paper traces the evolution of these labour market measures since the beginning of the century. It also looks at the economic rationality of the Quebec government's interventions and at the crucial disparities between government discourse and action in the labour market. This paper also tries to explain the repeated fallure of projects aimed at implementing a comprehensive labour market policy for Quebec.

The historical aspect shows that the Quebec government's action was motivated by three main objectives: to protect manpower from exploitation; to protect labour ethics; and to protect Quebec's jurisdiction within its competence, and not trying to improve labour market activities. This is more like a defensive rather than pro-active approach. On the other hand, from 1960 onwards, the several policy documents issued from either public administration or commissions of inquiry suggest that the Quebec legislator adopts an active labour market policy. These recommendations have always remained unheard. The governments which succeeded Lesage's Government in the 1960's have not been able to propose their orientations on the subject neither to the population nor to their economic partners, as was the case in some other Canadian provinces.

Various economic and political causes can explain this chronic fallure, among which two appear particularly important:

- Firstly, all orientation documents issued from the Quebec public administration maintain, that an active labour market policy must be aimed at a maximal exploitation of human resources. However, neither Quebec nor the other Canadian governments have committed themselves to the development of an economic strategy aimed at the pursuit of full employment. Besides, beginning in the 1940s Quebec, together with the other provincial governments and municipalities, has agreed to let the federal government be responsible for employment policies. As a result, Quebec's labour market has experienced a lack of common policy orientations as well as a competition between federal and provincial governments. The financial capacity and the exclusive responsibility of the federal government toward employment and unemployment insurance have proved the predominance of the federal

strategies, at the expense of constant political conflicts. Quebec Government gradually confined itself to defensive actions in order to protect its constitutional authority. The lack of priority towards full employment and the competition between federal and provincial governments appear to be the main causes for the government's inability to implement a comprehensive labour market policy. The same applies to the federal government.

- Secondly, following the Second World War, the choice made by the Canadian government to focus on income security programs rather than on employment stabilization as part of a strategy to stabilize the economy and the division of responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments, as far as unemployment insurance and welfare are concerned, contributed to the division of labour oriented interventions according to these two clienteles. From 1970 onwards, chronic unemployment affects the financing of income security programs and forces the Quebec Government to develop a labour policy centered mainly on welfare. This resulted in the recent reform of welfare. It thus appears that the disparity between government discourse and action on labour market policy will not disappear without a reappraisal of both the economic and political aspects of governement action.