Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Distinct Metropolis for a Distinct Society? the Economic Restructuring of Montreal in the Canadian Context

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Distinct Metropolis for a Distinct Society? the Economic Restructuring of Montreal in the Canadian Context

Article excerpt

A current point of cultural and constitutional contention in Canada concerns the status of the Province of Quebec as a "distinct society". While a comprehensive treatment of this issue is beyond our scholarly competence (and also beyond the finite limits of our energy), we note that there exists an interesting parallel between this question and an important debate situated within our own field of regional science. Much of the past and current literature on the economic structure and performance of Montreal, Quebec's largest (and Canada's second largest) metropolitan area, suggests that, in one way or another, Montreal has been, and remains, substantially different from the nation's other large census metropolitan areas (CMAs). Certain researchers (e.g. Chung 1974; Higgins 1986; Cote 1991) have written that Montreal is characterised by an out-moded economic structure based largely upon traditional industries ("structurally challenged" would be the politically correct description of this condition). The well-documented economic decline of Montreal, particularly in relation to Toronto, the argument runs, is thus principally structural in its antecedents. The logical extension of this line of reasoning is that if Montreal's economic structure can be modernised, its decline can be reversed. On the other hand, a more recent theme in the literature (e.g. Lapointe and Fortin 1998) suggests that Montreal remains different from the other large Canadian CMAs, but now because it has become one of North America's emerging high technology centres. The implication of this school of thought is that Montreal may be well on its way to correcting its "structural defects" and, thus, reversing its decline.

In this article we critically examine the notion that, in terms of its economic structure and performance, Montreal is somehow distinct. Our basis of comparison is specifically Toronto; more generally, however, we also include the aggregated group of Canada's eight largest CMAs: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa-Hull, Edmonton, Calgary, Quebec and Winnipeg. The empirical analysis that we present, which covers the period 1981 to 1996, is based upon three indicators of economic structure: sector, function and occupation. The present research is the most recent in a long line of analyses by ourselves (e.g., Coffey and Polese 1989, 1993; Polese 1990) and others (see, for example, the authors cited above) that have sought to examine the Montreal economy and, in particular, its position relative to Toronto.

The following section describes the data that we employ and defines the concepts of sectoral, functional and occupational structure. Next, we present our empirical analysis, based upon these three concepts. Finally, we integrate our results into a discussion concerning the current economic role of Montreal in the Canadian context.

Data and Definitions

The analyses presented here utilise employment by place of residence data, collected by the 1981 and 1996 Censuses of Canada. The basic concept underlying these data is that of the "employed labour force": those persons who held a remunerated job during the week immediately preceding Census Day of the relevant year. The 1981 and 1996 data have been standardised to control for changes in sectoral definitions that occurred between the 1981 and 1996 Censuses. The comparison of occupational data between 1981 and 1996 is, however, problematic. Unlike changes to the sectoral definitions (the Standard Industrial Classification), where detailed classes of activities have been generally kept together and moved from one major group to another -- thus permitting equivalences to be easily established, the 1991 modification to the Standard Occupational Classification (which applies to the 1996 data only) has often divided detailed occupational classes and reapportioned these fragments among several major occupational groups. It thus becomes impossible to establish an exact correspondence between the occupational definitions employed in 1981 and 1996. …

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