A More Equitable Economy Exists Right Next Door


| 4/6/2017 12:17:00 PM


Tags: Quebec, Jay Walljasper, Economy,

 Quebec
Photo courtesy Jay Walljasper

  • Business owners gather at an elegant Montreal event center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a large-scale economic partnership.The former chief of Quebec’s largest bank is the guest of honor.
  • Sidewalks bustle with people walking in and out of homes, offices, a bank, a pharmacy, a workout studio and a coffee shop at Montreal’s Technopole Angus — a development that already sports 56 business with 2500 employees and will eventually encompass a million-square-feet of real estate.
  • Morning-shift workers unload barrels of paper onto conveyor belts emptying into giant shredding machines on the shop floor of Recyclage Vanier, a Quebec City firm specializing in secure disposal of confidential documents.
  • A line snakes down the street for a matinee at the Cinema Beaubien, an art deco moviehouse in a quiet Montreal neighborhood. Taxis line up across the street waiting for customers who will soon be getting out of the early show.
  • Leonard Cohen’s gravelly voice rings through the taproom at La Barberie Brewery, located near Quebec City’s business district.Their Belgian-style saisons and bestselling blackberry blanc beers are enjoyed throughout the province. A few blocks away, an 18th century monastery inside Quebec City’s historic walls has recently opened its doors as a hotel and spa.

Welcome to everyday life in Quebec — Canada’s 2nd largest province with 8.2 million people. Yet these scenes of economic activity are different in a notable way from similar ones occurring throughout North America.

Each enterprise involves a cooperative or non-profit organization — which together make up 8-10 percent of the province’s GDP.  More than 7000 of these “social economy” enterprises ring up $17 billion in annual sales and hold $40 billion in assets (Canadian dollars).  They account for about 215,000 jobs across Quebec.

Quebec’s social economy (also translated as “solidarity economy”) extends far beyond the province’s two major cities, and includes manufacturing, agricultural cooperatives, daycare centers, homecare services, affordable housing, social service initiatives, food coops, ecotourism, arts programs, public markets, media and funeral homes. The capital that fuels all this economic activity comes from union pension funds, non-profit loan funds, credit unions, government investment, and philanthropy.

“We always say the social economy is simply the formalization of the commons. It’s social ownership, the goal of which is a sustainable, democratic economy with a market — instead of a market economy,” explains Nancy Neamtan, co-founder of Chantier de l’Economie Sociale, a network of social economy organizations whose anniversary banquet is described above. “Our mission is building a broader vision of what the economy actually is.”

“When Chantier started out, a lot of people said it wouldn’t work. We had unions, women’s organizations, green groups, and many thought it was too diverse,” Neamtan says. “But it does work.” Evidence for her assertion is visible all around — Chantier’s office is tucked into a six story building that takes up most of a city block, all of which is filled with social economy organizations.