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French Canadian Families

The State And The Family: Family Policies

What is the Quebec family's future? Undoubtedly, the recent evolution, particularly the low fertility level, has provoked public awareness and debate (Dandurand, R.B.; Lefebvre, P.; and Lamoureux, J.P. 1998). The Quebec government, unlike Canada's English-speaking regions, has developed a family policy in the last two decades, following a European trend. During the last half century, Quebec has moved from being the province with the most hostile attitude towards state intervention in the family to being its greatest advocate. When the federal government introduced family allowances in 1946, the Catholic Church and, to some extent, the Quebec government opposed the measure, both because it favored smaller families and because it questioned paternal authority by paying the allowance directly to mothers.

The 1970s, characterized by an increase in women's rights, saw the first measures aimed at reconciling the demands of work and family life; by the end of the decade, the Quebec government confirmed the principle of governmental responsibility in the provision of day care by adopting the Loi des services de garde à l'enfance (Law for Child Care Services), and creating the Office des services de garde à l'enfance (Office for Child Care Services). In the 1980s, after a broad consultation and years of debates, the government recognized the value of the family to society as a whole and undertook a series of measures to contribute to the cohesion and stability of the family in its diverse forms, and to support parents in their role as the primary caretakers of children. It implemented universal programs of direct financial assistance to families, recognizing the increased needs of larger families, the specific needs of young children, and the equality of all family types. At the end of the decade, measures that favored larger families were included, such as a modest birth allocation for the first and second children and a much more generous one for the third or higher order birth.

However, after years of economic recession and budget cuts as the Quebec government struggled to balance its budget, new legislation adopted in September 1997 changed the face of the programs of direct financial assistance for Quebec families. The dominant universal family policy model was abandoned and replaced by a targeted, selective approach.

Relative to the future of the Quebec family, two questions should be considered in appraising the effects of the family policy: The first addresses the question of promoting a higher birth rate. However, although some studies concluded that the pronatalist measures applied in Quebec in 1988 slightly increased the number of children born (Duclos, E.; Lefebvre, P.; and Merrigan, P. 2002), it remains very difficult to demonstrate without any doubt. The impact of family policy measures on the birth rate remains an open question. The second point concerns the necessity of developing long-lasting measures that complement one another; these measures minimally have to ensure that poor families are supported. At the same time, to the extent that mothers' participation in the labor force is culturally and economically promoted, they have to provide means to reconcile work and family responsibilities.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsFrench Canadian Families - The Quebec Family And Marriage, The Family And Reproduction, Children's New Family Environment