Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

The Quebec Patronat: Proposing a Neo-Liberal Political Economy after All *

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

The Quebec Patronat: Proposing a Neo-Liberal Political Economy after All *

Article excerpt

THE POLITICS OF QUEBEC'S PATRONAT have remained on the periphery of academic attention for at least two decades. Much of the analysis of the patronat has taken the form of classificatory typologies and mapping exercises, sorting and counting organizations based on their characteristics as horizontal and vertical associations, or as business promotion organizations (e.g., Delorme et al., 1994). There are a handful of analyses of the discourse and policy prescriptions of leading employer federations, but most of these have remained as unpublished theses or as working papers (Hudon, 1976; Pratte, 1985; Grignon, 1998). It is worth underlining that the work of the early 1970s that portrayed the Montreal Board of Trade and the Montreal Chamber of Commerce as embodying the rivalry of English Canadian and francophone Quebec capital (e.g., Fournier, 1976) has not been updated to account for the 1992 merger of these institutions (to form the Metropolitan Montreal Chamber of Commerce), although William Coleman and Tim Mau (2002) argue that the defence and promotion of the city in the face of post-1976 capital flight, coupled with the gradual replacement of old-school anglophones by allophone leadership, has closed the ranks of Quebec's francophone and anglophone business communities.

An important exception to this point is the body of work coming out of the UQAM-based CRISES research group, which argues that Quebec's employers' associations have undergone a "modernization" over the past decade. This work argues that Quebec business organizations have jettisoned the close attachment to a neo-liberal strategy of state restructuring put forward in the mid-1980s, and now recognize the benefits of partnership institutions, associational economic development policies, and non-traditional banking institutions (Bourque, 2000; Levesque, 2001; also Guay, 1999). This is an important argument, which challenges conclusions from the comparative political economy literature that would expect Quebec's employers to become even more committed to neo-liberalism over the past decade. It also places Quebec's patronat on a different trajectory from English Canadian employers' associations, and opens the possibility of social democratic or associational development strategies.

This article considers the discourse of the patronat over the past thirty years and argues that it supports an alternative reading. If there has been a change in the patronat's outlook, it occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This change involved the transition from defending profit within the context of full employment and high aggregate demand, to demanding the neo-liberal restructuring of the state. In contrast to the modernization hypothesis, the discourse of the employers' associations has varied little since that time in its embrace of neo-liberalism. While the patronat may in practice have been open to experimenting with forms of concertation, this has not shown up in the project advanced in its discourse. This experimentation may differentiate the Quebec patronat from employers in English Canada and lead to some minor corrections to the comparative political economy literature, but has not shifted the patronat's strategy and outlook in any way comparable to that of the late 1970s.

Defining the Patronat

The very term patronat speaks to a coherent and singular organization of management interests that is imperfectly translated into the term "employers' association." The number and diversity of organizations defining and representing business interests in Quebec nevertheless hinders attempts to operationalize the concept. If one includes local Chambers of Commerce, one can easily claim that there are about 570 organizations representing business interests in Quebec, with roughly 1200 full-time equivalent employees. Even if one excludes the Chambers, one is still left with around 200 associations, including 140 vertical or horizontal employers' associations (Delorme et al. …

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