HAPPY AS A QUEBECER
At the start of my career, when I was a young professor at HEC Montreal, one of the first course I had the pleasure of teaching was on the subject of consumer behaviour. I was taking over the course from Pierre Lefrançois, a public data specialist who worked mainly for Statistics Canada, and Nielsen. He was kind enough to give me guidance in preparing my first courses, and even loaned me his own course notes. This was in the 1980s: a time before laptops, and when PowerPoint wasn’t even a glimmer on the horizon.
Pierre`s course notes made a big impression on me. They showed clear differences between Quebecers and Ontarians in terms of consumption. For instance, he had obtained data from pickle producers and distributors demonstrating that Quebecers consumed three olives for each pickle, while the proportion in Ontario was the opposite. Though somewhat anecdotal, the example was interesting. It showed something of the Latin side of Quebec consumers, as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon side of Ontario consumers.
Durint that time, Quebecers drank more wine and less spirits, particularly gin and scotch, than their Ontario neighbours. Quebecers and Ontarians consumed and equal amount in liters, but Quebecers drank more often and in smaller quantities.
These differences have shifted over time, largely because of migration and the globalization of consumption (particularly among Millennials). But consumption, even at the highest level of granularity, is still and excellent indicator of the sociological difference between Quebecers and Ontarians. That difference can be distilled into a simple one: Quebecers’s joie de vivre versus the Protestant work ethic of Ontarians.
It remains true today that the differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada are clearest in terms of consumption profiles. The most successful marketing strategies take that fact into account, and opt for distinct commercial offerings.
Let’s look more closely. In terms of consumption, Ontario household expenditures averaged $84,406 in 2014, while Quebec household expenditures averaged $69,212. That would seem normal, since the median income for Quebec households was just over $68,000 in 2014, while that of Ontario households was a little more than $85,000. We’ll return later to the question of how expenditures break down for each province. For now, let’s focus on these numbers alone: average expenditures in Ontario vs. Quebec, and median income for each province. Though the figures are well known, they are surprising. Quebecers earn less and therefore spend less. It is these results that prompted Lucien Bourchard, on the LCN television network, to declare that Quebecers aren`t working hard enough.
Ten years after Bouchard`s comments, Jean-Pierre Léger, the owner of St-Hubert restaurant chain, gave an interview to Benoît Dutrisac that aired on TVCogeco, around the time that the company was being sold. Since Quebecers trailed behind the rest of the country in terms of spending, he said they did little to help the restaurant industry thrive. Does that mean Quebecers have a duty to earn more and therefore spend more?
Let`s look more closely. For a very long time, Quebecers have had less of a propensity to become owners of their residence than Ontarians – less than the entire rest of Canada, in fact. While that gap has diminished somewhat since 1970, it’s still significant. In 2013, 72 percent of Ontarians were homeowners, while less than 62 percent of Quebecers were homeowners. However, the value of houses and condos has always been significantly higher in Ontario than in Quebec. the result is predictable. In 2014, Ontarians spend $11,088 on a dwelling belonging to them, $6,160 of which went to repaying a mortgage; for Quebecers, the numbers were $6,666 and $3,535 respectively. Since their income is 25 percent higher, Ontarians therefore spent 83 percent more than Quebecers on dwellings belonging to them.