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The European rural model

[ Index ]


Rural development, the European model
and the LEADER Initiative:

4 views from the outside


Quebec (Canada):
"Americanising" the European rural
development model

Solidarité rurale du Québec


"Solidarité rurale du Québec" was created in 1991 as a response to the "États généraux du monde rural" / "States General of the Rural World" attended by 1 200 delegates. Solidarité rurale is a coalition of twenty democratic national bodies present throughout Quebec, a hundred odd regional bodies and dozens of municipalities and militants. Its mission is to promote the regeneration and development of the rural world, its regions and its towns and villages in order to reverse the downward spiral of decline and destruction in the Quebec countryside.

Rural Quebec covers 1.6 million km2, or 16% of Canadian territory. The area is 10% fresh water, or one third of Canada's water reserve and the equivalent of half the water reserve of the United States. The 7.1 million people living in Quebec are concentrated in 0.7% of its territory, essentially along the Saint Lawrence river. A little over half the area (51%) is wooded. Public forests cover more than 500 000 km2. Private forests account for more or less 71 000 km2. Only 1.4% of the land is suitable for farming. Forestry, fishing and agriculture provide jobs for less than 10% of the rural working population. People in rural Quebec are less educated than those in urban areas. Their wages are lower, they are more often unemployed, they are generally older and for the most part do not work in the village.


First rural policy

In October 2000, the government of Quebec is expected to adopt its first rural development policy[1]. Following the "Conference on the social and economic future of Quebec" (1996), the government set up a working group chaired by Solidarité rurale du Québec to study prosperous villages. The purpose of the study was to identify the conditions that have enabled a certain number of villages to reach a point of development where they have too many jobs. In its conclusions, the study recommended in particular that the government appoint a minister of rurality, devise a rural development policy and set up a Council of Rurality. In 1997, the minister responsible for the development of the regions responded to some of these recommendations in the "Policy for the support of local and regional development". Among the measures planned, the policy provided for the introduction of a financial aid programme to promote the hiring of rural development workers and made Solidarité rurale du Québec an advisory board of the Quebec government for rural development matters.

The first task given to the advisory board was to advise the government on the content of a rural development policy. In order to satisfy this request, Solidarité rurale du Québec adopted a three- pronged approach. First the board went on a tour of rural areas to hear what citizens and representatives of rural development bodies had to say about a policy of this kind. Then, the members of the governing body of the coalition were invited to present papers on rural development. Finally, the advisory board commissioned some universities to do a study in order to obtain a picture of the role of certain governments in rural development, and the board also went on a study mission in Europe. The "Avis pour une politique gouvernementale de développement rural" / "Opinion for a government policy on rural development" was presented in February 1999. It is available in French on the Internet site:


European model

Claude Lafleur, secretary general of the Coopérative Fédérée de Québec, a member organisation of Solidarité rurale du Québec, believes that the coalition "defends a European model of development" for Quebec's rural areas. This idea is appealing because it gives expression to Solidarité rurale's firm determination to see the world differently. However, in our work, we focus our attention on the rural world of the rich and heavily industrialised Western countries where statements like "I'm a member of the planet and my village" take on all their meaning.

The observer will note that on the continent of Céline Dion and Bill Gates, it is rather uncommon to be interested in rurality in terms of identity, lifestyle and native soil. Yet, it is from that angle that we approach rural development at Solidarité rurale.

On the one hand, we are encouraged to do so by the fact that the rural world of Quebec is not homogenous, since it may be a world of agriculture, forestry, mining or fishing. Over 200 villages depend on forestry for their livelihood. On average, one person out of ten in rural Quebec works in agriculture. On the other hand, we are obliged to do so, because rural Quebec enjoys the best of three worlds: American Indian, European and American. Finally, at a time of economic globalisation, international trade and urban concentration, we reject the idea that the rural world is an anachronism or a holiday destination.

Convinced that local development holds promise for rural communities, the coalition has from the very start geared its work towards understanding rural areas and ensuring their representation vis-à-vis the authorities. Following many papers and opinions and much public support for rural people where we have always promoted an alternative vision, we won in 1996 the status of advisory board of the government of Quebec for rural development.

Today, we are a hybrid body, because we are at the same time a lobby for rural people, a research centre, a training centre for rural development agents and a debate forum for our members. Also, as far as ideas go, we are iconoclasts because we are attempting to Americanise the European rural development model.

For example, at a time when Europe is discussing multifunctional agriculture, we prefer to talk about the multifunctional rural world. The reason is that we see multifunctional agriculture as essentially relating to the induced and structuring effects of an economic activity on the social, economic, political and cultural structure. The multifunctional rural world, on the other hand, offers a holistic vision of rural areas that takes into account all the activities present in the area while questioning the relationship between State and village, between supranational and local.

What is more, for Solidarité rurale du Québec, the contemporary rural world is no longer defined and determined by agriculture. As everyone knows, in the end, we are talking here about international trade, government aid, billions of euros and too few dollars.

Although Europe lost the battle over mass food in Geneva[2], one has the impression that it wants to win in the hearts of all Westerners the battle over typical regional foods. In this respect, Quebec is powerless, unless its countryside is able to find and exploit its own strengths. That is the challenge: to invent a Quebec countryside that has transformed itself and holds on firmly to its identity. Out of this reaffirmed identity will emerge products capable of supporting rural people. That is why we adhere to the very European idea that the work will first have to begin at the grassroots level with the communities.


        Jacques Proulx is a farmer in Estrie. Former President-General of the Union of Farm Producers of Quebec, former Vice-President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and founding President of Solidarité rurale du Québec, he is well acquainted with the European rural development model.



[1] Ed.: at the time of going to press
(10 October 2000), the terms of this policy
were not yet known.

[2] Headquarters of the World Trade Organisation (Ed.).


source: LEADER Magazine nr.25 - Winter 2000/2001

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