Population policy, nationalism and nation-building in Québec: observations and analyses of the Québec Parental Insurance Plan
Ostertag, Tracy Christine
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This thesis explores the hitherto under-developed relationship between population policy, nationalism and nation-building. It considers how and why the concepts of demography, population and population policy come into play in a sub-state national jurisdiction where the administration of social policy interacts with nation-building objectives as well as other social and political agendas such as support for the family, reduction of poverty, equal opportunities and employment protection. The thesis is designed to provide readers with general observations and preliminary analyses regarding the social and political role of population policy and public discussions thereof in the context of sub-state nationalism in Québec, federal-provincial relations in Canada, and the judicial process that led to the eventual legislation and implementation of Bill 140 An Act Respecting Parental Insurance in Québec. Bill 140, which has come to be known as the Québec Parental Insurance Plan, is a parental leave policy that was legislated in the National Assembly of Québec by two different substate national political parties between the years of 2000 and 2006. It had its origins in the Parti Québécois’ 1996 white paper policies. These family policies, which included affordable day care and the reduction of poverty, especially among women and children, were social democratic in their objectives and were informed by various interest groups. As Bill 140 evolved it developed the explicit objectives of encouraging potential and existing Québécois parents to have children and of providing Quebecers with a provincial parental leave scheme separate from that already administered by the Canadian federal government under the Employment Insurance Act. These objectives, it is argued, differed from those initially set in the province’s 1996 white paper. Bill 140’s attempted implementation in 2001 by the sovereigntist Parti Québécois failed because of unresolved jurisdictional battles with the Canadian federal government but was successfully legislated in 2005 by the federalist Parti Libérale du Québec, after an administrative agreement was struck between the provincial and federal governments. It is the contention of this thesis that the relationship between population policies, nationalism and nation-building objectives is made much more explicit in a sub-state nation where the legislative and administrative boundaries of a political jurisdiction are often contested and jurisdictional battles can serve to highlight issues around national identity and cultural distinctiveness. In Québec, national identity and cultural distinctiveness are most often claimed in the form of linguistic ‘difference.’ This ‘difference,’ furthermore, is often granted public credence in the form of provincially administered social policies that are designed for the purpose of ensuring Québec’s ‘national survival.’ In the context of these broad nation-building objectives, many of which have been the subject of the literature on nations and nationalisms, this thesis explores the extent to which the concepts of population and demography have tended to be overlooked in scholars’ discussions of the reproduction of nationhood. The thesis suggests, therefore, that not only should the reproduction of nations and nationalisms concern us but so too should the policies that concern the reproduction of the nation’s members within a particular national boundary. The thesis concludes by justifying the need for further case studies in this exploratory area of sociology, politics and demography, an area that is currently ripe for further academic investigation.