RIPESS, the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy, recently asked the following 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 certain characteristics of the social economy in Québec.
1/ Could you please introduce the Chantier?
The Chantier was created in 1999, and was based on the need for different civil society and social economy actors to work together. The name implies not only a construction site for the Social Economy but also a working group to build strategic links throughout Quebec. We consider ourselves to be an independent non-profit movement that, through its roots in civil society, supports the emergence, development and consolidation of networks of social economy enterprises and organisations in a range of sectors throughout the economy.
Ever since it was created, the Chantier has also worked with the government to encourage the development and implementation of public policies that favour the social economy.
2/ How was the process of co-constructing public policies on the social economy established, especially for the development of the social economy framework legislation? What contribution did the Chantier make?
The history of Québec’s social economy is that of the men and women who have mobilized over the last hundred years to meet the challenges of their period and the needs of their community. Civil society has been responsible for much of the progress made in Québec’s economy, such as the development of natural resources, access to culture, the fight against poverty, community revitalization, access to community services, environmental protection and the retention of young people in rural areas.
The Chantier has received important recognition by elected officials because many different social economy actors have the ability to consult and work together through the network. 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 the social economy. This is how a process of co-construction of public policies between civil society and government has developed in Québec over the last 20+ years. As a result policies like those for early childhood and seniors and programs like social economy enterprise funds have been established.
Similarly, regarding the Social Economy Act, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy who were responsible for developing the draft legislation, carried out consultations with their civil society partners 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 and 20 groups heard, as well as one dissident voice, that of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce.
The regional social economy hubs participated in the drafting of briefs, mobilization, consultation and commission hearings, right up to the adoption of the Act by the National Assembly.
The Chantier de l’économie sociale and the Conseil québécois de la coopération et de la mutualité, the two designated civil society representatives recognized by the Act, have participated actively in the drafting process of the Act and the mobilization around it.
The Chantier de l’économie sociale mobilized their Board in the course of the preparation of the draft Social Economy Act. The Board includes sectoral as well as territorial networks and other social movements that are close to the social economy. An ad hoc committee of researchers and partners was created to examine the important issues that should be included in the Act as well as collecting the points that were important to the different members.
Whenever governments change it is always challenging to maintain what has previously been won. The Act and its action plan enable a framework for formal dialogue with the government, irrespective of changes to strategy caused by elections in Québec.
3/ What are the main lines included in the 2013 law and its action plan?
The first key progress was definitely clarifying and defining social economy. There is no longer any ambiguity and everyone recognizes the social economy under the 6 principles contained in the Act. So the rules that are applicable to enterprises include democratic governance by members based on collective entrepreneurship and the scope of the Act does not extend to private sector enterprises that have a social mission such as “social enterprises”.
Overall, the Act has made it possible to recognize the contribution of the social economy to the socio-economic development of Québec through many different sectors of activity and across the province, to establish the role of government in the social economy, to improve access to support measures and programmes run by the administration, as well as to establish, in 2015, a governmental Social Economy Action Plan.
The key aspects of the action plan include:
- Creating a statistical portrait
- Supporting the capitalisation of enterprises
- Raising public sector awareness on procurement through the social economy
- Supporting social economy hubs
- Supporting collective entrepreneurship as a solution for the next generation
- Responding to the challenges of an aging population
- Encouraging socio-professional integration
Unlike other countries, there is neither a ministry nor a state secretariat for the social economy, which falls under the auspices of the Ministry for the Economy. In other words, the social economy is not considered as marginal, but as 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 the social economy?
Historically the social economy has emerged following periods of crisis. Québecers have turned to the collective voice to find solutions both at the beginning of the 20th century and in 1996, when the second crisis occurred. Desjardins 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 recognized by the public and other institutions and, in this sense, they have fostered a greater recognition for the social economy.
The social economy has become a sector that is far from marginal. It represents around 7,000 enterprises and provides 212,000 jobs. But first and foremost, it represents a new method for development in over 20 different sectors such as tourism, forestry management, agriculture, childcare, culture, housing, food, finance and transportation. In Québec, one in every 20 jobs is linked to the social economy.
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 solutions to be found through government or a few consulting firms. Communities have always been able to come up with solutions and practices to address the problems they face, which in turn strengthens social cohesion, cultural vitality, human dignity and community resilience.
Beyond the various terminologies that are more or less directly associated with the social economy, it is essential to create a shared identity, based on locality and solidarity, to bring actors together and respond to the development of our communities.
Despite the individualistic logic of capitalism, an increasing number of people, especially young people, are turning towards cooperatives rather than developing their own business or working for a multinational corporation. Both co-op members and the community benefit from this, often with more impact than well-intentioned individual initiatives.
At the Chantier, we attach great importance to promoting a model that provides a balance between public authorities, private organizations, and the community. It has been proven that society as a whole is more resilient when there is a good balance between these three pillars.
Béatrice Alain is the Executive Director at the Chantier de l’économie sociale. The Chantier de l’économie sociale has a long tradition of engaging in international dialogue, both to learn from best practices and to share experiences that have made Quebec an internationally recognized ecosystem that enables the development of the social economy. In recent years, Mrs. Alain has been particularly interested in ways and strategies that facilitate dialogue between stakeholders from different sectors and countries in order to strengthen the development of the social economy.
From 2011 to 2016, she helped create and coordinate the RELIESS, an international transfer and liaison center on public policies for the social economy. More recently, she directed the organization of the Global Social Economy Forum-GSEF2016, an international event co-organized by the City of Montreal and the Chantier de l’économie sociale focusing on collaborations between local governments and actors of the social economy that took place in September 2016 and gathered more than 1500 people from 62 countries. Ms. Alain holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science and a master’s degree in international relations.
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