Civic Participation in Canada: Is Quebec Different?

By Caldwell, Gary; Reed, Paul | Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Annual 1999 | Go to article overview
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Civic Participation in Canada: Is Quebec Different?

Caldwell, Gary, Reed, Paul, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion


A MAJOR SURVEY OF charitable giving, volunteering, and participation in Canada has revealed large provincial variations, with highest levels in Saskatchewan, mid-range levels in Ontario, and the lowest in Quebec.

A comparative analysis of civic participation in these three provinces suggests there is an ethos that fosters civic involvement that occurs in greater measure in some parts of the country than others. The distinctive patterns of civic participation in Quebec give cause for concern.

IN THE 1998 ISSUE OF INROADS, co-author Gary Caldwell described a worrisome decline in civil society in Quebec.(1) By civil society we mean those aspects of social life wholly or largely apart from state and market activities. Civic activity, it appeared, has declined after a period of expansion and ebullience in the 1960s and 1970s.

A few months after the Inroads article appeared, Statistics Canada published a report of initial findings from a national survey on civic participation.(2) This survey asked a sample of Canadians, aged 15 years and older, a set of questions about their charitable giving, volunteer activities, and participation in civic and community organizations during the 12 months preceding the survey. It presented us with a unique opportunity to probe empirically what is happening in contemporary civil society in Canada.(3)

One of the most striking aspects of the survey is the high rate on all three dimensions -- giving, volunteering, and participating -- in Saskatchewan, which has the highest aggregate level of any province, and the markedly lower rates in Quebec, which holds the lowest rank.

For charitable donations, Saskatchewan, with an annual average of $308, is among the leaders; Quebec, with an average of $127, is lowest. Similarly, when it comes to volunteering, Saskatchewan has, at 45 per cent, by far the highest rate, and Quebec, at 22 per cent, the lowest. As for participation in voluntary community or associational activities, Saskatchewan is again ahead of all the other provinces at 60 per cent and Quebec is lowest at 43 per cent.

Contrasting Saskatchewan and Quebec -- the two polar cases among the provinces -- offers an opportunity to understand better what is happening to civic infrastructure in Canada, and more particularly in Quebec. Here we focus on civic participation, and to add perspective to our analysis we include Ontario, an intermediate case. In the survey, a person is considered to have participated if he or she had been a member of, or attended meetings of, any of the seven kinds of organization discussed below, at least once during the 12 months prior to the survey in late November 1997.

To explore the phenomenon of participation more precisely, it is broken down into seven broad categories of organizations in which people can participate: 1) work/union/professional, 2) sports/recreation, 3) religious, 4) civic/ community/school, 5) cultural/educational/ hobby, 6) service/fraternal, and 7) political. We related these seven types of participation, for each of the three provinces, to various social characteristics (35 in all).

Our objective is to share with readers some initial findings, and here we touch only upon those most relevant to questions we posed about the extent and forms of civic participation.

First, we note that the ranking of the overall participation rates for Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan (lowest, intermediate and highest) is maintained in four of the seven categories of civic organizations, as shown in Table 1. It is only in three, work/union/professional, service/fraternal, and political, that the pattern of Quebec's low rate, Ontario's intermediate, and Saskatchewan's high rate is not maintained. The two main exceptions -- work-related and service/fraternal organizations -- bear examination.

Table 1: Civic participation rates in Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan

[Part 1 of 2]

              work                                    civic
              union         sports                  community
           professional   recreation    religious    school

Quebec        18. 

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