Quebec’s economic performance in the early days of Canada

In my most recent book, I document how economic growth (on a per capita basis) was slightly slower (or at best, it was on par) in Quebec than it was in Ontario from 1900 to 1940. I showed that living standards remained roughly 25% to 30% inferior in Quebec. I also argued that productivity growth was also considerably slower in Quebec which contributed to this disappointing performance.

But what about Quebec’s first days in the Canadian confederation? I have had the chance to stumble on an article by Kris Inwood and Jim Irwin (2002) in Acadiensis which estimates, roughly, provincial incomes from 1871 to 1891 which I can combine to the existing estimates by Alan Green (1971) and Morris Altman (1988). Sadly, price indexes are not available for each province for such a long period. However, as one can see below, the trends all point in the same direction: Quebec suffers from an economic decline relative to Ontario regardless of the statistical series used from 1870 to 1910.


This table is heavy in implications. First of all, it means that economically, Quebec initially declined relative to the rest of Canada up to the First World War. Secondly, it means that at best, Quebec stagnated relative to Ontario during the interwar period. At worst, it continued to decline in relative terms but at a slightly slower pace than before. Third, this means that the rapid economic growth of Quebec from 1945 to 1960 that I document (faster than elsewhere in Canada, including Ontario) is a complete break from past trends. Had I known of the existence of the Inwood-Irwin dataset, I believe I would have added this table to my book. But now, it is said and it will be added to the “book section” of this blog in order to provide readers with “follow-ups”.


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