5 questions to Béatrice Alain, recently appointed Director of the Chantier de l’économie sociale, to better understand the co-construction of public policies and some SE specificities in Quebec

1/ Could you please introduce the Chantier?

The Chantier was created in 1999, and was based on the need for different civil society actors and social economy to work together. The very name implies not only a construction site for Social Economy, but also a working group. It is aimed at building strategic links throughout Quebec. We therefore consider ourselves as an autonomous non-profit movement that is anchored in civil society, supports the emergence, development and consolidation of networks of social economy companies and organisations in all sectors of the economy.

The Chantier has also worked with the government ever since it was created to encourage the development and implementation of public policies that favour social economy.

2) How was the process of co-construction of public policies on SE established, especially in terms of preparing the framework legislation on SE? And what contribution did the Chantier make?

The history of social economy in Quebec is grounded in that of the men and women who have mobilised over the last hundred years to meet the challenges of their period and needs of society. Much of the progress made in the economic sector of Quebec is the result of civil society. This is the case of showcasing natural resources, access to culture, the fight against poverty, the revitalisation of communities, access to local services, environmental protection and helping rural youth stay in their home areas.

The ability of different actors to consult and work together in SE has resulted in important recognition for the Chantier by the elected officials. Ever since it was created, the Chantier has constantly worked with the government to encourage the introduction of public policies that favour the development of SE. This is how a process of co-construction of public policies has developed in Quebec over more than 20 years between civil society and the governments. Policy for young children and the elderly and programmes such as funds for social economy enterprises were thus established.

Similarly, on the law on social economy, the Ministry for Municipal Affairs, the regional and Territorial Occupation (MAMROT) who were responsible for developing the draft legislation, carried out consultations with their partners and civil society and other ministries, which is how such processes generally take place.

The Commission for Territorial Planning was officially responsible for the consultation following the submission of the draft legislation; they collected the input from the different actors and held public hearings with the stakeholders. Almost 40 different submissions were made, 20 groups were heard, with a single dissident voice, that of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce.

The regional poles of social economy participated in drafting the briefs, in mobilising and advocating, consulting and commission hearings right up to when the law was adopted by the National Assembly.

The Chantier for social economy and the Quebec Council for cooperation and mutuality were the two designated recognised civil society bodies recognised by the law. They participated actively in the drafting process of the law and mobilisation around this process.

The Chantier de l’économie sociale mobilised their Board in the course of the preparation of the draft law on social economy. The Board includes sectorial as well as territorial networks and other social movements that are close to social economy. An ad hoc committee was created; it consisted of researchers and partners, and its aim was to examine the important issues that should be included in the law as well as collecting the points that were important to the different members.

It is always challenging to maintain what has previous been won when governments change. The law and its action plan enable a framework for formal dialogue with the government, irrespective of changes to strategy caused by national elections.

3/ What are the main lines included in the 2013 law and its action plan?

The first key progress was definitely the clarification and definition of social economy. There is no longer any ambiguity and everyone recognises SE under the 6 principles contained in the law. Thus the rules that are applicable to enterprises include democratic governance by members based on collective entrepreneurship and the scope of the law does not extend to the private sector enterprises that have a social mission such as “social enterprises”.

Globally the law enabled recognition for the contribution of SE to socio-economic development in Quebec in many different sectors of activity and throughout Quebec as well as establishing the role of government in questions of social economy. It also improved access to support measures and programmes run by the Administration as well as establishing a governmental Action Plan for Social Economy (PAGES). This was implemented in May 2015.

The key aspects of the action plan include:

  • Document a statistical picture
  • Support the capitalisation of companies
  • Raise public sector awareness on the possibilities of procurement from SE sources
  • Support social economy parks
  • Support collective entrepreneurship as a solution for the next generation
  • Meet the challenge of an aging population
  • Encourage socio-professional inclusion

Unlike other countries, there is neither a ministry nor a State Secretariat for Social Economy, which falls under the auspices of the Ministry for Economy. In other words, social economy is not considered as marginal, but an integral part of the “real” economy.

4/ The Desjardins movement and agricultural cooperatives are two pillars of the social economy movement in Quebec. How have they evolved and contributed to the development of SE?

The historical emergence of SE is linked to periods of crisis. At the beginning of the 2àth century and in 1996, when the second crisis occurred and Quebecois turned to the collective to find solutions. The Dejsardins and agricultural cooperatives and social solidarity economy in general emerged and developed as a response to these crises and to meet specific needs.

They both grew to become important organisations that are widely recognised by the public and institutions and have thus favoured a greater recognition for SE.

SE has thus become a sector that is far from marginal. It represents around 7000 enterprises and provides 212,000 jobs. But first and foremost, it represents a new development concept in over 20 different sectors such as tourism, forestry management, agriculture, nurseries, culture, housing, food, finance and transport. In Quebec, one in every 20 jobs is linked to SE.

5/ The eco-system in Quebec stands out because of the very strong collective principles. Could you tell us a little more?

Today’s society is too complex for government or some consultancies to provide solutions. Communities have always come up with the solutions and practices to deal with the problems they are facing and strengthen social cohesion, cultural vitality, human dignity and community resilience.

Over and above the different terminologies that are more or less directly associated with SE, it is essential to create a shared identity that is based on local aspects and solidarity, that brings the actors together and provides a response to the way our communities have developed.

In spite of the individualistic logic of capitalism, there are an increasing number of people, and especially young people, who rather than wanting to develop their own business or work for a multinational corporation, are interested in working in cooperatives. The members and the community all benefit from this, and there are often far greater impacts than from individual initiatives, no matter how well-intentioned these might be.

At the Chantier, we attach great importance to promoting a model that provides a balance between public bodies and private organisations and the community. There is proof that society as a whole is more resilient when there is good balance between these three pillars.