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  • The Social Origins of the Welfare State: Quebec Families, Compulsory Education, and Family Allowances, 1940-1955
  • Suzanne Morton
The Social Origins of the Welfare State: Quebec Families, Compulsory Education, and Family Allowances, 1940-1955. By Dominique Marshall, translated by Nicola Doone Danby (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006. xvii plus 277 pp. $32.95).

The Social Origins of the Welfare State: Quebec Families, Compulsory Education, and Family Allowances, 1940-1955 is an English-language translation of Dominique Marshall's 1998 prizewinning book, Aux origines sociales de l'Etat-providence: Familles québécoises, obligation scolaire et allocations familiales 1940-1955. In the English translation of this book, which began as a thesis in the late 1980s, Marshall brings this important work to a larger English-language readership. She argues convincingly that two Second World War Quebec and Canadian Federal government programs were a "turning point in the history of the State" (x) and helped to foster a sense of entitlement among all citizens for expanded state provisions and services and encouraged demands for more programs which would foster social equality.

This study of the negotiation, introduction, impact, and responses to provincial and federal wartime social policy initiatives directed at children and families focuses on two particular case studies. The first piece of provincial legislation addressed Quebec's anomalous position as the only Canadian jurisdiction in the twentieth century not to require compulsory school attendance. In 1943, Quebec Liberal Premier Adélard Godbout introduced provincial legislation, ending a long struggle between conservative and liberal Catholic arguments about the potential religious skeptism which might accompany mass education versus the harm created by a lack of education in perpetuating the economic and political exclusion of French Canadians from their province and the purported role of low education levels in encouraging out migration to the United States. New legislation made school free and compulsory until the age of fourteen or grade seven and correspondingly changed child labour practices as children less than 15 could only work by special permit.

The second new policy explored was the 1944 federal government's introduction of Family Allowance payments. This was Canada's first universal social program and made monthly payments to the mothers of all children less than sixteen attending school. (As Marshall noted the universality of this program did not apply to all First Nations families and the unique relationship between these families and the State requires further studies.) Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King intervened into a provincial jurisdiction to the protest of the new Union Nationale Premier of Quebec, conservative Maurice Duplessis, and to the positive reception of most Quebec families who welcomed monthly cash payments. Family allowance became the pillar of the Canadian welfare state, albeit one that did not keep up with the cost of living, until 1992 when it was replaced with non-universal tax credits.

Marshall takes seriously the importance of various class and gender positions for families, politicians and clerical elites and the ways in which Family Allowances payments and compulsory education had particular impacts on the experience of those living in large cities such as Montreal compared to those based in rural and small-town Quebec. Too rarely do studies on the impact of [End Page 223] state family policy look simultaneously at farm families, businesses and the urban working class. While Marshall's orientation is primarily political, her profound knowledge of other historical subfields such as family history, result in a rich, sophisticated and contextualized analysis. Even if contemporary policy makers failed to notice, Marshall never treats families as a unit with undifferentiated shared interests for all family members.

After nearly ten years from its initial publication the book remains the standard account of these two policy initiatives in Quebec. While its explanation of policy narrative is useful, the book's exploration of elite, political and popular responses to compulsory schooling and family allowances continues to be particularly compelling and original. Marshall not only considers the ideas and aspirations behind those promoting these new initiatives but also explores the motives parents had for accepting these new policies and the ways in which they used new schooling legislation and family allowances to further their own particular ends...


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