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L’évolution du professionnalisme au Québec

L’évolution du professionnalisme au Québec

Gilles Dussault

Volume : 33-3 (1978)


The Evolution of Professionnalism in Québec

The adoption of aProfessional Code (L.Q., 1973, C. 43) can become an opportunity for a new study on the evolution of professionalism in Québec. The author concentrates his analysis on the problem of the definition itself of the notion of profession which he sees as made up of two dimensions. The socio-logical dimension must define professions as object of its study and the juridical dimension must determine from which criteria powers of professional autonomy will be give.

The sociology of professions emphasizes the question of the definition of its object. Study of the literature allows to identify three great types of approaches of professions.

1. The study of the proper characteristics of the professions in order to define them in specific categories of occupations.

2. The analysis of the process of professionalism.

3. The definition of professionalism as a form of power.

The author concludes that it is impossible to define the profession as an occupation having specific attributes. Professionalism must be analysed in terms of social control. Professional corporatism — as it developed in Québec — is a control mechanism on certain social activities based on the autonomy of those performing these activities. To be legitimate, this autonomy must be re-cognized by the State but it must also be recognized socially by the professional's customers. This is why professional groups traditionnaly had intense ideological and political activities in order to justify the status that they claim.

Up to 1973, no writing (law, administrative procedures, etc. ...) in Québec has allowed to grant the status of professional corporatism. How then has it been possible for a professional organization to evoluate in the absence of any incorporation policy? The author suggests to divide into five parts the period from 1840 when the first incorporations took place (notaries, doctors) to 1970 when the reform of professions took place:

1. The beginning of professional corporatism (1840-1865).

2. The expansion of liberal professionalism (1865-1910).

3. The stability of professional organization (1910-1940).

4. The development of professions related to liberal professions (1940-1955).

5. The run to professional status (1955-1970).

The evolution of professional structures is as follows: 47 groups were incorporated with powers going from monopoly of a.field of practice (doctors, lawyers, notaries, dentists, pharmacists, engineers, etc.) to the only protection of a professional title (dietetists, psychologists, funeral directors, social workers, etc.). In fact, 23 obtained a control over specific activities from their incorporation or in the following years. After 1940, powers granted were limited for the majority of the 31 incorporations to the privilege of a title.

The author is in the opinion that in the absence of a strict criterium, the obtention of a professional juridical status had to be linked to :

1. A minimal agreement between the values of the group aspiring to professionalism and the ones of the society as a whole.

2. The elaboration of efficient political strategies aiming to make pressure on the legislator on one hand, and on the other groups already working in the same field on the other hand.

This is why the author seeks to put back the numerous incorporations in their general social context and to spot the strategies he calls forth.

The adoption of aProfessional Code (ratified on July 6th, 1973) modifies the rules of the game in incorporation. The law creates two categories of professional corporations : the exclusive corporation whose members have the monopoly of certain activities and the corporations with reserved titles whose members are the only ones who can use the professional title without having the monopoly of practice. In 1973, the legislator formed 21 exclusive corporations and 17 corporations with reserved titles. Out of these 38 professional corporations, 9 did not exist before.

As far as the future corporations are concerned, the Code defines the criteria that will guide the legislator when will come the time to grant or refuse a professional status (art. 25) :

« To determine if a professional corporation should or should not be incorporated, account shall be taken particularly of the following factors :

1. the knowledge required to engage in the activities of the persons who would be governed by the corporation which it is proposed to incorporate ;

2. the degree of independence enjoyed by the persons who would be members of the corporation in engaging in the activities concerned, and the difficulty which persons not having the same training and qualifications would have in assessing those activities ;

3. the personal nature of the relationships between such persons and those having recourse to their services, by reason of the special trust which the latter must place in them, particularly be-cause such persons provide them with care or administer their property ;

4. the gravity of the prejudice or damage which might be sustained by those who have recourse to the services of such persons because their competence or intergrity was not supervised by the corporation ;

5. the confidential nature of the information which such persons are called upon to have in practising their profession. »

These general criteria guided the Québec Professions Board, organism of supervision and tutorship for corporations created by the Professional Code, in the elaboration of a development policy of professionalism in Québec. This policy is definitely restrictive; for the Board, the professional status can be granted only when the group asking for it has proven its capacity to protect the public which constitutes the only justification for a professional corporation. Futhermore, the incorporation must appear as the only mechanism available to guarantee protection of the customers of the group asking for a professional status.

The Author thinks that this policy has two main weaknesses. First of all, it doesn't apply to already existing professions; if this were the case, many groups would be unable to justify their status. Thus the Quebec Professions Board will be obliged to recommend to the legislator to refuse incorporation to certain groups whose characteristics differ slightly or not at all of groups already incorporated ; from there arise an important problem of credibility. Its other weakness relies in the ambiguity of the notion of profession with reserved titles. These professions which have only the privilege of a title have the same obligations than the exclusive professions without having the powers of the latters. Membership to these corporations being voluntary, their survival lies in their capacity to recruit and keep their members. In this case, we can say that the legislator entrusted public protection responsibilities to organisms rather fragile. If the legislator did not believe right to grant these groups real powers of control on activities of their members, we can question whether he was convinced that the public needed protection in the fields in which these professionals practise.

Before 1973, in a situation where only strength connections were taken into account, the obtention of a corporation status was linked to the capacity of an occupational group to legitimate its needs of autonomy to his customers, to the other professions of the field, and to the State.

With the new situation created by the Professional Code, the incorporation becomes linked to the criterium which have to be objective and which concern the ability of a group to protect the public by self-managing. These criterium are restrictive and have not been applied to the 38 groups recognized in 1973. Thus, conflicts might arise between the state which wants to limit to its actual level the expansion of professionalism and the many groups which want it.