Public and Civic Leisure in Quebec: Dynamic, Democratic, Passion-driven, and Fragile

Public and Civic Leisure in Quebec: Dynamic, Democratic, Passion-driven, and Fragile

by Andree Thibault


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9782760515758
Publisher: Presses de l'Universite du Quebec
Publication date: 09/01/2008
Pages: 234
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

André Thibault, Ph. D., est professeur-chercheur au Département d'études en loisir, culture et tourisme à l'Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières et directeur de l'Observatoire québécois du loisir.

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Public and Civil Leisure in Quebec

Dynamic, Democratic, Passion-Driven, and Fragile

By Andre Thibault

Presses de l'Université du Québec

Copyright © 2008 Presses de l'Université du Québec
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-2-7605-1575-8


Québec and Quebecers

Quebecers inhabit a territory three times the size of France, but occupy an ever-smaller portion of it. However, they increasingly use their leisure time to explore this land. They are city dwellers living in what resembles urban villages — Montréal was once described as a city of 43 villages — where they like to gather, play, and celebrate together, organizing their leisure activities through a multitude of organizations. Over time, these urban villagers have come in contact with Quebecers from neighboring villages, developing affinities and creating new groups less closely tied to a specific territory. They have also manifested their growing independence by expressing a sense of ownership of their municipalities and provincial government, calling upon them to support their initiatives and, in doing so, creating a form of partnership-based leisure governance. Contemporary Québec is changing. It is aging. Its young people, who are in a minority, are trying as best they can to make a place for themselves. The population is diversifying. The pace of life is accelerating, and everyone talks about how little time they have. Families are constantly on the run as children are shuttled between the homes of divorced parents and school or daycare. To save time, residents, that is to say the parishioners of yore, are increasingly urged to view themselves as consumers and clients. The Québec of today has an impact on the very foundations of the Québec model, which by turns grows stronger and more fragile. One thing is certain: the model is in flux. To understand the model today and get a glimpse of what it may look like tomorrow, it is Québec we must look at first.


Québec's current population (2008) is 7.7 million, nearly one-quarter of the Canadian total. The population density is 4.5 per square kilometer, but nearly 80% of Quebecers live in a corridor running along the St. Lawrence River.

Québec is a vast territory, and Quebecers use it for a wide variety of leisure activities that occasionally require harmonization. Administratively, Québec is divided into 17 regions and hundreds of municipalities grouped together in regional county municipalities (RCMs). As in many countries, Québec is experiencing significant outmigration from its rural communities, which have to respond differently to individual and collective leisure needs than cities do.

Public lands make up 92% of Québec's surface area; they are mainly located in the central and northern regions of the province and are sparsely populated. They constitute a major heritage, an outstanding natural environment, and a source of natural resources vital to Québec's socioeconomic development.

In Québec, nearly 45,000 citizens and private or public organizations have a right to use public land: nearly 42,000 are lessees (28,000 for recreational purposes, 11,000 for shelter, and 3,000 for commercial, tourism, or other purposes); about 3,000 have another type of right to use public land, such as rights-of-way or authorizations to develop trails.

Public land is used for multiple purposes, including natural resource development (forestry, mining, energy, wildlife), parks and protected areas (recreation and conservation parks, ecological reserves, wildlife reserves and habitat), construction of industrial and public service infrastructures, and recreational and vacation property purposes.

The diversity of uses creates harmonization challenges given the increasing economic, recreational, and environmental demands on the land.

North of the 55th parallel, the Act respecting Northern villages and the Kativik Regional Government (R. S. Q. c. V-6.1) established a municipal system in 1978 encompassing an area almost as large as France, and covering two-thirds (over 500,000 km) of Québec's territory. This area is home to 14 villages with populations that vary between 191 and 1,910 people, most of them Inuit. These villages are grouped under the Kativik Regional Government.

In the south, the population is divided among 1,139 municipalities: 3.5 million Quebecers (46.9%) live in the nine cities with populations over 100,000, and 66.6% live in metropolitan areas. One-quarter of the population lives in rural areas in municipalities of 10,000 people or less. This proportion has reversed itself in the space of a few generations. In the early 20th century, 80% of Quebecers were rural dwellers.

In the early 2000s, Québec underwent a major municipal restructuring when 213 municipalities and parts thereof amalgamated to form 42 new municipalities. In several large cities, boroughs were created and entrusted with front-line responsibility for leisure, culture, and social development. Legislators considered that leisure was a matter for the most local level of government.

Many of Québec's rural municipalities face significant challenges. Their per capita spending is only half that of their larger urban counterparts, as shown in Table 1.1. Gone are the days when the difference between rural and urban budgets was made up through Québec government funding. Rural communities now have to rely on other means and other partners. Current government efforts, notably in the wake of the Rural Pact, tend more toward providing (partial) financial assistance for local initiatives than to covering deficits. New "models" are emerging, most of them born of cooperation between public institutions and citizen associations that leave municipalities with a more limited role.

Population breakdown by municipality provides important data for understanding the Québec leisure model because municipal corporations are the main public bodies with jurisdiction over leisure. With a total annual budget of over $1.2 billion for nearly ten years now, municipalities have a central responsibility for leisure and play a key role at the local level, as set forth in the 1979 leisure policy.

CASE 1.1


From Municipal to Community Coordinationa

Located in the Mauricie region, Mékinac regional county municipality (pop. 12,000) encompasses 10 municipalities. The community faces major problems of poverty, unemployment, high dropout rates, and youth outmigration and is the poorest RCM in the Mauricie region. Local communities clearly understood that they had to take action. The RCM normally devotes itself to five traditional spheres of activity: property assessment, land use planning, public safety (emergency measures, fire service), waste management, and economic development (Bill 34) as well as cultural and tourism development, which is considered part of economic development. As is frequently the case, municipal cooperation is a strain. The mayors of the RCM often have their own axe to grind and end up dividing budgetary resources equally between themselves without taking common challenges they face into account. There is no overall analysis of leisure needs and the mayors make sure they get their share of the pie. There is only one recreation director — in Saint-Tite (pop. 3,872) — and he has no role in the other municipalities. Saint-Tite has the most recreation facilities, with an arena, soccer fields, and schools with gymnasiums. The municipality is often the focal point where people gather.

In examining things, the Saint-Tite recreation department, Social Services, the early childhood center (CPE), and the Mauricie regional sport and recreation unit noted that playground leaders in the RCM were often left to their own devices.

Take care of 40 kids with 2 balls and 2 hoops, and keep them entertained. Good luck and see you at the end of the summer.

On the strength of this observation, these three local organizations took a first step and put together a training program for playground leaders. Today there are eleven projects, including regular and CPR training for playground leaders and day camp counselors, a workshop for municipal representatives, day camp manager training, access to assistance from the Psychosocial Department at CSSS Vallée-de-laBatiscan, a Summer Olympics event ( "Mes Premiers Jeux"), Mékin'art, intermunicipal activities, the Journées de la culture event, and a leadership and activity training program. In short, a network has formed. As local workers put it,

The strength of the network can be explained by the fact that we're not all from a municipal background, but also from the community, sports, and health fields. Volunteers don't have to handle clerical responsibilities. Permanent staff at the four organizations do that. Nathalie, who is a volunteer, doesn't have time to take care of these duties in addition to her recreation committee in her municipality. Getting organizations that share an interest in developing sports and recreation to work together to that end is a winning formula. Why are we successful? Because we've switched from seeing the municipality as responsible for coordinating leisure to seeing the community as coordinator. We bring together community organizations in all our fields of action. Schools, municipalities, and health services mobilize around shared concerns and contribute resources to improve our collective well-being. For example, at a meeting, the CPE representative said that if nobody could handle a certain project, the CPE would take it on even it wasn't part of its mission. That is quite an impressive level of involvement.

This is an example of how a community and local institutions, most of which have little normal involvement in leisure activities, took action on a problem and gradually built a network that stepped in in place of municipal leaders, getting the villages on board in the process. Perhaps this is a potential avenue for rural revitalization.

a Based on an interview and documents collected during research on emerging models in rural Québec. Laboratoire en loisir et vie communautaire, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, report forthcoming in 2008.


People are staying in school longer. And those with higher levels of education get more involved in their communities, ask for better quality services, and attend libraries and cultural events more frequently, even if they are short on time.

In Québec, education levels lagged behind those in the rest of Canada for many years. In 1951, 61.2% of the population 15 years old and under had less than 9 years of education, compared to 51.9% in Canada as a whole, and 46.9% in the neighboring province of Ontario. Education was one of the main objectives of the reforms introduced during the Quiet Revolution.

Today 2006 census data shows that 43.7% of the population aged 25 to 64 has a postsecondary education. This is about 3% more than in 2001, and one of the highest rates among the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the medium term, income gaps between different groups impact access to leisure. Québec also has to deal with a high school dropout rate that consistently remains above 25% (see paragraphs on youth).


Historically derived from European immigration, Québec's population continues to diversify under the influence of other cultures that are transforming and broadening leisure practices and needs, and creating a need for new efforts to ensure people live together harmoniously despite differences that can upset established ways.

Québec's population may seem relatively homogenous overall, but the Montréal metropolitan area stands apart. The majority of Quebecers — 83% — speak French at home, while 10% speak English and 6% another language. Over 40% of the population is bilingual in French and English, a rate that attains 57% in Montréal. A significant portion of Quebecers (22%) also speak a third language. Although immigrants make up only 11.5% of the population, 90% of new arrivals (about 40,000 per year) settle in the Montréal area. On the island of Montréal, 28% of the population was born abroad, and there are 120 different ethnic groups. Fully 53% of students in Montreal public schools have at least one parent who is an immigrant. According to 2006 census data, one-third (136/411) of these schools have student populations where over 50% of the children are from nonfrancophone/non-anglophone cultural backgrounds. The vast majority of these schools (125 out of 136) are in the French-language sector. According to a 2005 survey, students at the Montréal school board came from 180 countries and spoke over 150 different mother tongues.

In recent years, many of the media reports of cohabitation problems between various groups were related to leisure, no doubt because it is an area of cultural expression little subject to the constraints and codes of the workplace. Leisure is what people do in their free time. From the frosted windows installed at the YMCA to hide the view from the Hassidic community and soccer fields with different rules about wearing the Islamic headscarf to public parks where the odors of ethnic food cooked by picnicking families bother the neighbors, leisure activities are a space of constant negotiation between the diverging interests and values of a diversified society. For the moment, everyone acts to the best of their knowledge and in good faith to deal with their own particular situations. However, as is undoubtedly the case elsewhere in the world, there is growing public debate around the concept of "living together."

Political and popular discourse would suggest that Québec needs to develop a frame of reference for diversity and unity. In 2007 the Bouchard-Taylor Commission invited the population to debate "interculturalism, immigration, secularism, and the theme of Québec identity":

Most Western nations are facing the same challenge, that of reviewing the major codes governing life together to accommodate ethnocultural differences while respecting rights. None of these societies can claim to have found a quick fix. It is incumbent upon each one of them to elaborate a solution or model that suits it, in keeping with its history, institutions and values and the constraints that it is facing. [...] It is in this spirit that the Commission is conducting its deliberations by focusing on three concrete objectives. Specifically, it is seeking to (a) clarify the existing situation; (b) provide a reference framework to facilitate decision-making among the managers of public and private institutions; and (c) share its reflections and formulate recommendations concerning the future.

In certain parts of Québec, people learned to live with this diversity long ago. The following example is a case in point.

CASE 1.2


A Society of Many Nations

Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension is the second most populous borough in the city of Montréal. Fifty percent of its residents are first-generation immigrants (born outside of Canada), while 12% are second generation, i.e., born in Canada, but with at least one immigrant parent. The two main source countries are Italy (12.5%) and Haiti (14.2%); other countries of origin include Greece, Vietnam, Portugal, India, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Pakistan, and Algeria. Half of the borough's residents speak a language other than French or English. Moreover, 40.7% of households fall in the low-income category. In fact, the lowest income households in the City of Montréal are in the borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

What did the borough do about leisure activities? First, it changed its approach, notably the way the municipal government and its partner organizations communicated with the population. Translation and informal assistance services were provided by residents, participants, and employees of different ethnic origins. Staff were trained to understand certain cultural codes and defuse conflicts caused by ignorance. Steps were taken to accommodate other groups with respect to certain sports (schedules, attire), but consistent with safety rules and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Moreover, the borough affirmed its determination to ensure the integration of immigrants into the community while respecting their differences, and to build bridges between groups and individuals. For example, in the face of plans for a community center for one particular cultural group, public institutions and local associations chose instead to offer the services at facilities used by the borough population as a whole, but adapted to their needs. Montréal does not want to be a city where communities live parallel lives. There is awareness that leisure activities provide an opportunity for cultural affirmation and cohabitation. Striking a balance requires constant vigilance.


Excerpted from Public and Civil Leisure in Quebec by Andre Thibault. Copyright © 2008 Presses de l'Université du Québec. Excerpted by permission of Presses de l'Université du Québec.
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