A Quebec Family Portrait

There is a very important cautionary tale in a report from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada this week. The report, A Quebec Family Portrait, shows that, although the province has broken new ground in family and social policy, it faces severe challenges in the areas of economics, and demographics and social capital.
One statistic in particular jumps out: 63.1 per cent of children in Quebec were born outside of marriage in 2010. That must be about the highest in the world. Many of the parents will be living together, but without marital commitment these relationships tend to be unstable.
The report begins:

Starting with the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, Québec has embarked on a radical experiment in social and economic transformation, which has changed the face and character of that province forever. In just half a century, Québec has gone from a traditional, religiously- oriented society with an economy largely reliant on agriculture and natural resource extraction, to a modern, secular, social-democratic state modeled upon Western European lines with a highly diversified and increasingly high-tech economy.

Changing the very soul of a province is not an easy task, since not everyone can be expected to welcome the creation of such a “brave new world.” So early on, Québec reformers concluded that, if they were to succeed, they would need a powerful institution capable of driving their agenda. The result was the creation of a large and highly-interventionist state that reaches into all aspects of society and impacts virtually all aspects of economic and personal life.1  Some admirers in the rest of Canada (if not elsewhere) want to take Quebec as a model, but the authors warn that is not advisable. It is true that the province’s fertility rate is rising -- up to 1.74 in 2008 after sinking to a low of 1.48 in 2004 -- and some of its education outcomes have been good. It also weathered the recession better than other provinces. But, there are worrisome trends:

Tax rates are high: A single income family with two children between the ages of six and 17 earning $60,000 a year will have a tax bill of $15,437 in Québec—compared to $12,429 in Ontario and $11,193 in Alberta. The difference becomes even more pronounced for a similar family making $80,000—which would have to pay $23,164 in Québec, compared to $19,055 in Ontario and $17,593 in Alberta.

Marriage rates are low: Canada’s marriage rate (the number of marriages per 1000 people) was 4.4 in 2008, as compared to 2.9 in Québec.

Cohabitation rates are high relative to other provinces and countries: For example, in Canada, 18.4% of all couples living together are not married compared to 34.6% of Québec couples.

Québecers are increasingly dependent on government to raise their children: The creation of a provincial daycare system created a spike in children who are in institutional daycare from just above 10% in 1994 to over 50% in 2006.

A “demographic winter” is coming: Québec is ageing more quickly than other Canadian provinces. Estimates show that by 2031, each Québec dependent will be supported by only 1.6 people in the active age group (between 15 and 64).  A day of reckoning is coming -- the dreaded A-word that has Greece in turmoil these days springs to mind. Quebec may have to cut back on social benefits, and without a strong marriage culture many people will lack a social safety net. The double-whammy of a fiscal deficit and marriage deficit could bring a lot of hardship and suffering.
As somebody once said, A government that can give you everything can also take everything from you. Or words to that effect.


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