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Constituting 'post-welfare state' welfare arrangements: the role of women's movement service groups in Quebec.

This article retraces the involvement of women's shelters, rape crisis centres and women's centres in the restructuring of health and social services in Quebec over the past two decades. The study shows how women's movement service organizations have contributed to the constitution of new "post-welfare state" welfare arrangements, and to the shaping of a distinct, sectoral path to restructuring that averts the marginalization of feminist activism associated, thus far, with restructuring in Canada. Arguing that "politics matters" and that movements can "make a difference," the author suggests that different versions of restructuring coexist that are contingent on more localized interplays of politics and, thus, have the potential to bear different consequences for the pursuit of feminist politics.

Cet article retrace l'engagement des maisons d'hebergement, CALACS et centres de femmes dans la restructuration de la sante et des services sociaux au Quebec au cours des deux dernieres decennies. L'etude montre comment les groupes de services du mouvement des femmes ont contribue a la constitution de nouveaux arrangements "post-providentiels", ainsi qu'a la formation d'un modele sectoriel de restructuration distinct qui evite la marginalisation de l'action feministe associee jusqu'ici a la restructuration de l'etat Canadien. Affirmant l'importance des luttes politiques et soutenant que l'action des mouvements peut "faire une difference", l'auteure suggere que la restructuration prend des formes diverses, conditionnelles a l'issue de jeux de pouvoir et de rapports politiques plus "localises" dont les consequences pour l'avenir des luttes feministes sont potentiellement variables.

The redefinitions of welfare forms and practices of governance involved in "restructuring" have profoundly altered the relationship between women's movement service organizations and the liberal democratic welfare state. The crisis of the welfare state has prompted governments to explore various avenues for backing away from the central role so far assumed by the Keynesian state in providing for its citizens' welfare. Moving toward "post-welfare state" welfare arrangements has entailed important realignments, notably the carving out of a far greater role for organizations from the voluntary sector, the production of new political discourses legitimating these changing times, and very concrete shifts in the operation of the field of politics.

Restructuring at the federal level, many have noted, has created unfavourable conditions for the pursuit of feminist politics in central areas of concern for Canadian women (Bakker, 1996; Brodie, 1996; Evans and Wekerle, 1997b). Social programs and welfare services have suffered brutal cuts, forcing upon women and their organizations the moral responsibility to "take up the slack" for the state's disengagement. At the same time, programs that funded women's organizations were axed, changed direction, or were withdrawn as part of government cutbacks. Routes for women's representation in the federal state were curtailed. Advocacy and critique on behalf of women and other marginalized populations were discredited in formal politics as the work of "self-interested," unrepresentative "special interest groups." Women's issues and feminist organizations increasingly lost legitimacy in the arenas of political negotiation.(1)

In an influential contribution which analyzes such changes as the passing away of the Keynesian welfare state and of a Canadian tradition of more participatory practices of governance, Janine Brodie (1994a, 1995) has argued that restructuring has eroded the very bases that had hitherto enabled Canadian women's movements' political action. Without making light of Brodie's argument, I would like to suggest here that practices and discourses of restructuring may be nationally less coherent, that is, more uneven among provinces and sectors, and more contingent in their outcomes, than her analysis implies. I argue that diverse, "localized" versions of restructuring coexist that have different implications in terms of the perspectives they open, preserve or foreclose for the pursuit of feminist politics.

There certainly is no shortage today of examples of restructuring as a process on which women's and other progressive organizations have had little or no purchase. Nevertheless, I want to open up the analysis to the possibility that movement politics and struggles may "make a difference" in the shaping of these realignments. The direct and productive involvement of women's movement service groups in the historical unfolding of the politics of restructuring in Quebec's health and social welfare field is a case in point.

Since the end of the 1970s, service groups of the Quebec women's movement have engaged in a protracted battle for recognition and for funding by the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS). Through their provincial associations, they have fought for the inclusion of their issues, and they have pressed doggedly to secure more permanent guarantees for the financing of local women's shelters, rape crisis centres, and women's centres. The timing of these struggles has coincided with a period in which the progressive intensification of the so-called "crisis of the welfare state" has led Quebec governments and the Ministry's officials to experiment with various options for re-composing welfare arrangements in the organization of health and social services. Commentators have agreed that one of the main avenues that has slowly emerged, and that was entrenched in the 1991 law reorganizing health and social services (Gouvernement du Quebec, 1991) is a deliberate recourse to the voluntary sector. In other words, the Ministry has actively pursued a strategy of "communitarization" by establishing institutionalized, state-funded partnerships with Quebec's numerous grassroots and community service organizations, among which women's movement service organizations have figured prominently.

Although discovering the virtues of the voluntary sector can hardly be seen as an original restructuring strategy, it would be a mistake to ascribe all such transformations in the welfare mix to state "disengagement" or to privatization. The sociopolitical meaning of these changes, as Evers and Wintersberger (1990) have argued, is shaped by the interplay of power relations. The role of movement organizations and other civil society actors, they add, is one which can yield more "protest-oriented" outcomes. In the politics of "post-welfare state" welfare arrangements, the story of women's movement service groups' changing relationship with the Ministry of Health and Social Services provides an example of movement organizations contributing to "make a difference," for themselves and for the people they represent.(2)

Women's services: self-organizing for women's welfare

Among the most important developments in the Quebec women's movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, was the identification of a variety of "women's" issues, rights and needs within discourses which stressed situations of gender inequality and called for women to mobilize "as women" within a politics of emancipation. The creation of "women's services," from the beginning of the 1970s onwards, occurred in this context. Organized as women-defined, women-controlled resources, they were established as "women's responses" to what were seen as problems and needs that were specific to "women." Among these, the urgent need to gain public recognition for battery and rape and to fill in the gaps left by the inadequacies of state services in dealing with abused women figured prominently, as did the need for women to organize locally around their own issues. Conventionally, the category of "women's services" encompasses women's shelters, rape crisis centres and women's centres, as well as health centres and groups helping women to re-enter the job market(3) (CSF, 1986). Because of their much larger numbers and of their leadership in battling with the MSSS, this article concerns itself with the first three.(4)

The emergence of women's services also took place in a broader context in which a variety of community-controlled services were being created in Quebec in reaction to the state's unresponsiveness to the interests, demands, needs and rights of marginalized populations. Posing themselves as "the alternative," these self-organizing experiments embodied a strong critique of the patriarchal and techno-bureaucratic character of public provision. They were also characterized by a "twin demand for democratization" (Belanger et Levesque, 1992; Hamel 1991), that is to say, by a demand that combined claims for citizens' participation in decisions over state welfare provision, and for the recognition of community-controlled services as legitimate organizers of social rights and needs that were not being met by the welfare state. Women's service groups and other community-controlled services thus came to occupy a growing place in the voluntary sector -- a terrain which had been left somewhat vacant as the historical process of welfare state formation in Quebec sidelined the philanthropic and religious organizations that previously dominated it.

Women's service groups of the 1970s relied on a combination of volunteer or militant labour, of time-consuming self-financing campaigns, and of state funding originating from short-term federal and provincial employment programs. It rapidly became obvious that these sources were insufficient to ensure the stability and continuity of women's initiatives. In 1979, 19 shelters and six rape crisis centres founded the Regroupement provincial des maisons d'hebergement and the Regroupement quebecois des CALACS,(5) respectively, in order to press the state for support. The Ministry of Health and Social Services (then the Ministry of Social Affairs) became their target.

From a political perspective, this move occurred at an opportune moment. With the creation of the Conseil du statut de la femme in 1973, the Quebec government had committed itself to improve the status of women. Quebec's 1978 Politique d'ensemble de la condition feminine, drafted by the Conseil, pressed the Ministry of Social Affairs to implement its recommendations regarding violence against women. Among these recommendations were the "permanent funding" of existing women's service groups and support to facilitate their expansion across the province (Gouvernement du Quebec, 1978, pp. 134-136).

The two Regroupements launched a series of public declarations and political lobbying efforts. Requests for funding were accompanied by demands for the public recognition of issues of violence against women. They were also associated with demands for the incorporation by the Ministry of new "women's rights," understood as women's rights to safety and to adequate help, and of women's needs for the type of response already provided by shelters and rape crisis centres. In so doing, the Regroupements staked claims on the ways these rights and needs were to be defined and satisfied, and explicitly linked the legitimacy and authority of this interpretive process to "women's control."

The Ministry's first response was to establish the eligibility of shelters and rape crisis centres for assistance under its "Community Organizations" funding program (or SOC(6)), a small program doling out $1.5 million to a mere 50 organizations at the end of the 1970s. This response fell short of the Regroupements' demands on both counts of funding and recognition: the funds were meager and were to be granted on an annual, case-by-case basis, without the official guarantees requested by the Regroupements; moreover, the program did not fund shelters and rape crisis centres as "women's services," but under the broad label of "volunteer groups." Controls, however, were minimal and the vagueness of its funding guidelines made the program open to a wide variety of approaches and practices.

In the first half of the 1980s, the Ministry granted access to the SOC program to a few more shelters, rape crisis centres, and local women's centres each year. In the absence of a clear course of action for dealing with women's services and the issues they represented, the Ministry also made a series of attempts to formalize its relationship with women's service groups in ways that could only be strongly opposed by shelters and rape crisis centres. In 1979 for instance, a working paper geared toward accommodating shelters' demands rewrote les femmes battues (battered women) as "mesadaptees sociales" -- i.e., social misfits. It also suggested integrating the shelters within the network of the Ministry's institutions, a move which would have virtually transformed women's shelters into state agencies under full financial, administrative, and policy control by the Ministry. These proposals were actively rejected by the shelters, although discussions to integrate shelters continued until 1985. Rape crisis centres, for their part, lost their funding in 1980 when the Ministry decided unilaterally that shelters could address both "battering" and "rape." Political lobbying by rape crisis centres and the shelters' principled refusal to undermine rape crisis centres' work by taking on issues of sexual assault eventually blocked the Ministry's scheme. Rape crisis centres' funding was reinstated in 1982.

The decision by women's service groups to seek permanent funding guarantees from the Ministry was not a naive one. Rather, it was a calculated gamble that lobbying and political pressure could establish a balance of forces strong enough to withstand attempts to override their commitment to self-determination. From this perspective, women's organizations have all asserted their right to "specificity and autonomy" in their negotiations with the Ministry. Shelters, for example, have spelled out their own "funding conditions" along the following lines(7):

* Funding from the Ministry should respect shelters' organizational autonomy, and particularly the control of shelters by women of the community. It should also respect the diversity of local shelters' orientations.

* Funding from the Ministry should not impinge on shelters' autonomy in financial, administrative and policy decisions. In particular, shelters' principles of no-charge access and confidentiality should be protected, and their control on admissions, hiring, training, intervention and the type and range of services offered should be preserved.

* Funding from the Ministry should be "global," that is, it should encompass not only "sheltering" but all aspects of shelters' work, including community education and advocacy. Funding should be based on the "model budget" prepared by the Regroupement.(8)

By 1984-85, a new "welfare mix" had slowly taken shape in the field of health and social services. Shelters, rape crisis centres and women's centres had carved out a space in the voluntary sector of welfare provision to articulate women's interests in very practical terms, by providing direct assistance to women in need and by developing their own approaches to services. They had also gained some degree of financial support from MSSS while at the same time succeeding, not without a few major battles, in protecting the specificity and autonomy of their organizations from direct interference by the Ministry. Yet, the relationship between the state and women's services was still very much ad hoc, a situation that could not satisfy the Regroupements' demands for official recognition of women's groups as legitimate and autonomous actors in the health and social welfare arena, as well as for the issues, needs and rights they had identified.

Institutionalizing the new mix: a partnership-in-welfare

The adoption, in 1985, of the Ministry's Politique d'aide aux femmes violentees (A Policy for Helping Abused Women) revealed the significant impact of the Regroupements' combined claims for "inclusion and autonomy." The Politique d'aide (MAS, 1985) was developed in consultation with the Regroupements, as well as with individual shelters and rape crisis centres, thus achieving a degree of legitimation for these groups in the policy-making process. More importantly perhaps, this inclusion had an effect on the content of the policy. A feminist analysis of "violence against women" -- rather than more therapeutic versions of family violence -- was incorporated in the policy's text. The policy also crystallized the Ministry's inclusion of new rights, framed around the issue of preserving the integrity of women's bodies. Entitlement to services was linked to women's right to "security and protection," which was to be ensured by both the state and women's groups. Although some feminist scholars have analyzed such protective provisions as the expression of "collective patriarchy," others such as O'Connor (1993) and Orloff (1993) have argued more aptly that the state's guaranteeing of "women's body rights" is a central element in the accession of women to full citizenship. From this perspective, the 1985 Politique d'aide did mark an extension of Quebec women's citizenship rights.

From the moment the Ministry admitted that violence against women is a serious, widespread phenomenon that falls within the proper scope of public action, its direct and comprehensive involvement was mandatory. The Politique d'aide consecrated the acceptance by the Ministry of a new responsibility in providing emergency, midterm, and preventive services for abused women through its own agencies and institutions. This development of a new welfare mandate is an indication of the persistence of a process of welfare state formation well into the 1980s, and of its coexistence with other efforts, already under way, to curb the development of state-provided health and social services. Yet, in an important departure from the monopoly situation that had characterized state intervention in health and social services from 1971 onwards, delivery of services to abused women would no longer be the responsibility of the Ministry alone. Acknowledging the role of women's groups in identifying women's need for help, as well as in developing appropriate forms of aid and analyzing the causes of violence, the Politique d'aide affirmed the necessity of concerted action between the main actors involved and enrolled women's service groups as partners-in-women's-welfare.

By bringing the Ministry's network of agencies into a domain that had thus far been occupied by women's service groups alone and by inscribing this joint venture into policy, the Politique d'aide both formalized and transformed the welfare mix that had emerged through the initiative of women's groups. Allocating responsibilities to the different "partners," this new, institutionalized version of the mix placed women's services under the coordination of the Ministry. However, in a kind of balancing act, the policy clarified what had been a tacit rule of SOC funding by officially granting the status of "autonomous bodies" to women's and community organizations, and by committing the Ministry to "respecting their autonomy" (MAS, 1985, pp. 33, 53). Accordingly, the mix established in the Politique d'aide took the shape of a co-provision of services, with state funding to women's groups taking the form of an operational grant -- rather than forcing women's groups into subsidiary provision, or into contracting their services. The policy gave specific instructions to the Ministry's agencies as to the way their services were to be organized, but preserved the status quo in the case of women's services: they were to continue their work. The service package to be provided by women's groups was not prescribed, their practices were not regulated, their client base was not imposed. Admissions, discharges, service standards and client progress were not monitored. One of the main characteristics of the Politique d'aide is to have recognized and institutionalized the coexistence, alongside state-based provision, of women's shelters, rape crisis centres, and more marginally of women's centres, as a parallel network of autonomous providers in women's welfare.

The 1985 Politique d'aide announced the Ministry's intent to consolidate its financial support for women's service organizations. It did not offer much, however, in terms of financial commitments beyond officializing the existing funding practices of the SOC program. Shelters and rape crisis centres continued to press for a funding policy, and were soon joined by the newly created provincial association of women's centres, L'R des centres de femmes du Quebec (1985). In 1987, a revised version of the policy eventually granted shelters a three-year, standardized funding plan, providing an average of $200,000 annually for each of the more than 40 members of the Regroupement, as well as for roughly 20 other shelters for battered women and for "women in difficulty."(9)

Securing a funding policy did not mean that the fight for funding was over for the Regroupement of shelters. The 1987 offer met only 50 percent of its financial claims. Quebec's decision, in 1988, to take advantage of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) led shelters into a series of negotiations with MSSS to guarantee the protection of the free, universal and confidential nature of their services, and of their "unlimited stay" policy.(10) These guarantees were obtained, but MSSS did not substantially increase its funding to shelters following the 1990-91 federal-provincial agreement over CAP transfers. Nor was the fight over for rape crisis centres or women's centres. The latter two Regroupements launched "visibility campaigns" in 1988. Intense political lobbying on the part of women's centres and a public demonstration in front of the Quebec Parliament were instrumental in obtaining a three-year funding plan in 1989. The plan granted yearly amounts ranging from $15,000 for the first year of operation to $40,000 for "optimum functioning" to each of the 75 member centres of L'R des centres de femmes. Another three-year funding plan, on a scale of $25,000 to $65,000, was finally granted in 1990-91 to the 17 members of the Regroupement quebecois des CALACS and to five unaffiliated rape crisis centres.

The gradual entrenchment and standardizing of women's service organizations' funding over the 1980s is integral to what can be seen, retrospectively, as the progressive unfolding of the "turn toward the voluntary sector" at MSSS. Until the 1991 reform, this "turn" revealed itself mostly through a substantial growth in the SOC budgets -- from $1.5 million for about 50 organizations in 1977-78 to $25.7 million for 955 organizations in 1986-87, to $51 million in 1991-92.(11) It is worth mentioning that organizations from the women's sector (about 200) were reaping 40 percent of this last figure.(12) This increase in state funding for voluntary sector welfare provision was not "written in the stars," Vaillancourt remarks, adding that the program came close to disappearing in 1986-87 (1994, p. 237). Nor was the form of partnership experienced by women's groups in the Politique d'aide to be pursued without further struggles.

The reform et MSSS: uncertainties and opportunities in restructuring

From 1985 onwards, the battle for recognition, funding, and autonomy led by women's service groups became increasingly inseparable from a more general and intense mobilization of the community sector around the Quebec government's project of restructuring health and social services. The second half of the 1980s was marked by a widespread sense of uncertainty and unpredictability regarding the fate of women's organizations and of the community sector as a whole, the transformations of their role in welfare, and their relationship to the state. Moratoriums, program reorientations and cuts to Federal Employment Programmes, to the Secretary of State's Women's Programme, and to the Quebec Ministry of Education's OVEP(13) Programme were threatening women's and community organizations' precarious funding conditions.(14) At MSSS, to the contrary, SOC budgets were on the rise. Yet, a major reform was under way in which talks of state disengagement and subcontracting to the community sector jostled uneasily with a defence of the welfare role of the state, and the affirmation of the autonomy of women's and community organizations.

The 1982 recession and perceptions of a "crisis in public finances" led to a decision to reorganize a system representing close to a quarter of the Province's budget. In June of 1985, a Commission d'enquete sur les services de sante et les services sociaux (referred to as the Rochon Commission) was formed with the objective of establishing a broad "social consensus" on the directions for a comprehensive reform of Quebec's health and social service provision. A central feature of the work of the Commission, which lasted from January 1986 to December 1987, was an extensive public consultation process. The Commission's hearings set the stage for a major political debate on "restructuring" in which a variety of actors participated. More than 800 briefs were presented to the hearings, 300 of which originated from women's and community organizations.

Published in 1988, the report of the Commission (MSSS, 1988) illustrated the ambiguities and compromises arising out of such "consensual" efforts at restructuring. The report, as many commentators have noted, reaf-firmed universality and accessibility as the main tenets of the organization of health and social services. It moved away from centralized welfare, however, to include proposals for a democratization of the system through a regionalization of decision-making mechanisms. The Commission expressed a certain degree of resistance to neo-liberal strategies, in particular through its refusal to impose user fees or to privatize public services (Lamoureux, 1988; Lesemann, 1988). Yet, it also promoted "program management" of "target" and "at risk" populations, approaches which have been analyzed by Brodie (1998) as central elements of neoliberal governance. Articulated within this somewhat contradictory context, the report recommended official recognition of women and community organizations, their "association" with public welfare provision in the form of program-based "partnerships," and their representation on the new Regional Boards it proposed.

A coalition composed of the three Regroupements and various provincial women's organizations responded to the report (FFQ et al., 1988). On the one hand, this coalition expressed its satisfaction that the Commission had recognized the importance of the contribution of the women's movement to Quebec women's health and social welfare. The report's renewed commitment to principles of universality and accessibility to welfare, as well as the better funding conditions it advocated for the community sector, were applauded. On the other hand, deep concerns were voiced regarding program funding and its negative consequences for the specificity and autonomy of women's services, and of the community sector as a whole.

As a further "Directions" document (MSSS, 1989) and the 1990 White Paper (MSSS, 1990) brought little change to the Commission's recommendations regarding the issues community and women's organizations had underscored, the latter were compelled to make stronger claims. In 1990, a committee composed of eight provincial associations of women's services presented MSSS with demands for five major changes to the proposed reorganization (Comite de travail, 1990).

First, the committee condemned MSSS' silence on women's specific health and social welfare needs and requested a formal recognition of this specificity in the reform's priorities. It asked that guidelines defining funding to women's service organizations be negotiated on a regular basis between the MSSS and representatives of provincial associations. Opposing the dilution of provincial standards regarding women's health and social service issues, and the erosion of feminism's political leverage they feared would follow the displacement of the political terrain to regional boards, the committee recommended that central funding by MSSS be maintained, and that funds for the "women's sector" be left out of the regionalization process.

Second, the committee echoed the demands of other community coalitions for the right to autonomy, a recommendation of the Rochon report and the "Directions" document that was conspicuously absent from the White Paper. If the notion of "partnership" was to make any real sense in the proposed reform, the committee argued, community organizations' fundamental freedom to define their orientations, their policies, and their approaches, had to be inscribed in the upcoming law. Women's groups opposed the Rochon report's marginalization of "public awareness" and advocacy-oriented organizations and activities (FFQ et al., 1988). The committee defended these dimensions as essential to the efforts of women's groups to enhance women's personal and collective autonomy. "In our organizations, women are not simply consumers of services," it claimed, "nous agissons ailleurs et autrement" (we act elsewhere and in other ways).

Third, the committee firmly rejected the "program funding" that was the centrepiece of the proposed new relationship between the public and the community sector. Funding for women's and community organizations was to be tied to their participation in "regional service plans," known in Quebec as PROS (Plans regionaux d'organisation de services). These were to be drafted by the new Regional Boards within a framework articulating regional specificities to the broader policies and programs defined by the Ministry. Women's groups and other community "partners" would be forced into these plans to get funding, and only the related portion of their activities and services would be financed. Understandably, the committee opposed the restrictions on women's groups' activities potentially entailed by the PROS and their "service contracts." Defining "women's needs" and the action of women's groups, they argued, was not to be dictated by the Ministry or by Regional Boards. The committee demanded, rather, that core funding be maintained, substantially augmented, and guaranteed outside the PROS. It also strongly denounced the narrow view of women's health and social welfare needs promoted by the Ministry's program approach. "Women," they affirmed, "are part of a discriminated social group," not discrete entities to be conveniently slotted into whatever "problematiques," "target populations" or "groups-at-risk" might suit the Ministry and the Regional Boards.

Fourth, there was the issue of the funding of provincial associations. Under the rationale that the reform would transfer budget allocation to regional political arenas, the "Directions" document had indicated the Ministry's intent to stop funding provincial associations of women's and community organizations (MSSS, 1989, p. 84). Withdrawal of support to these associations would have delivered a major blow to the political base that had so far sustained the ability of women's and community organizations to have an impact at the provincial level. Moreover, regionalization was shifting the space of politics toward terrains -- the regions -- where collective organizing was seriously lacking. Arguing the indispensable role of women's provincial associations in Quebec's democratic politics, the committee demanded that not only central funding for all provincial associations be maintained, but that new political spaces be created to ensure the effective representation of women's and other community interests at the provincial level.

Finally, the Ministry's proposed partnership included the evaluation of women's and community organizations' "results" according to "measurable and quantifiable objectives." Countering by affirming the essentially qualitative nature of the objectives pursued by women's groups, the women's committee demanded that the Ministry continue to use its existing methods of evaluation which were based on the presentation of annual activity and financial reports to the SOC bureau. Judging the adequacy of the work of women's groups, they added, was women's prerogative, not the Ministry's, and should remain first and foremost in the hands of the groups' users and participants.

The strategy pursued by the three Regroupements and the other provincial women's associations rallied a wide variety of women's groups behind claims which, for the most part, were also articulated and defended through a larger provincial coalition of women's and community organizations, coalesced into the Table des regroupements provinciaux d'organismes communautaires et benevoles (TRPOCB).(15) This strategy of collaboration and the unification of claims and actors it produced, yielded important gains which altered, in an important manner, the nature of the proposed partnership between the Ministry and the community sector.

Significantly, the 1991 reform of Quebec's health and social services (Gouvernement du Quebec, 1991) directly incorporated some of the main demands of women's and community organizations. Respect for the autonomy of the community sector was recognized and was written into the legislation in the very terms advocated by the provincial Table (i.e., freedom for organizations to define their own directions, policies and approaches -- art. 335). The law reinstated eligibility for funding of organizations privileging public awareness and rights promotion activities (art. 336). Funding for provincial Regroupements of women's services and other provincial associations was also maintained. In addition, the Minister agreed to develop evaluation grids through joint committee work with representatives of the Table (TRPOCB, 1992; Panet-Raymond, 1994). In 1997 this committee produced guidelines for the regional negotiation of evaluation formulas (MSSS, 1997), thus creating the possibility of more participatory, negotiated settlements (TRPOCB, 1997).

All these changes were considered an important victory by the provincial Table in which women's Regroupements participate (TRPOCB, 1992). The coexistence, alongside the public sector, of a community sector whose "specific identity" was seen as tied to its "distinct philosophy of intervention" (FFQ et al., 1988) was now entrenched in terms that could be invoked against eventual interference by Regional Boards. Moreover, a major menace had been fended off that threatened not only the financial capacity, but the very legitimacy of the provincial base of organizing that women's and community organizations had constituted over the past two decades. In this sense, entrenching the funding of provincial associations in the 1991 legislation also worked to maintain a political space for collective representation at the provincial level despite, and alongside, the regionalization of decision-making planned by the Ministry. This space proved crucial in the years that were to follow, as the three Regroupements of women's services and the provincial Table kept pressuring the Ministry for changes even while the law was implemented.

Program funding and contractual agreements within regional service plans (PROS) had remained the main device through which the "partnership" of women's and community organizations with the public sector was to be articulated. This issue was crucial for all groups concerned. At stake for women's service organizations was no less than the preservation of their "global approach" to action and to women's needs.(16) Compulsory participation in the PROS was unacceptable; core funding from a protected and non-regionalized "women's sector" had to be upheld.

Answering individual and collective protests from Quebec's provincial associations, MSSS Minister Marc-Yvan Cote conceded, in 1992, to a critical de-linking of funding from the PROS. Protected envelopes of operational grants for the existing SOC sectors -- including the "women's sector" -- would be maintained. This important decision transformed the "partnerships" planned in the 1991 reform: it brought them back to a form much closer to what had been experimented with women's groups in the Politique d'aide. It also meant that, in its application, the reform -- that is to say the restructuring of Quebec's health and social services -- would combine a greater diversity of welfare practices and forms than the program-based "service contracts" had entailed.

Managing the SOC budget -- and with it the funds for the women's sector -- would nevertheless be handed down to the regions, a devolution to which the Regroupements were opposed and for which they demanded -- and obtained -- a moratorium until April 1995. Although the three-year funding plans won by women's Regroupements were terminated at that date, SOC's "women's sector" endured as the main structure regulating the funding relationship between shelters, rape crisis centres, women's centres and the Regional Boards. In addition, a new governmental Politique d'intervention en matiere de violence conjugale (i.e., a policy regarding conjugal violence) was adopted in 1995 (Gouvernement du Quebec, 1995). Both the Regroupement of shelters and the Federation des ressources d'hebergement pour femmes violentees et en difficulte(17) were associated with the development of this policy, which retained a feminist analysis of violence against women and was considered, despite some shortcomings, a gain for shelters and for women (Regroupement provincial, 1996). Since 1997, the Regroupement of CALACS has been similarly involved in the process of developing a policy on sexual assault at the MSSS. As these examples show, regionalization has not entailed doing away with provincial policy-making.

Since the regionalization of the SOC, one of the most important issues has been the development of a uniform funding scale for the operational grants to be allocated by the regions, and of funding criteria protecting local service groups' approaches and practices. The provincial Table has produced such guidelines (Tables regionales, 1997), and these have been used for negotiating funding regionally. Despite support from the Ministry's Liaison Committee, however, the partial autonomy of the Regional Boards has meant that the results of such attempts have varied greatly. They have also been hampered by budgetary limitations decreed by the Ministry itself. Having retained, despite regionalization, extended powers in terms of financial and political decisions, MSSS was to become once more the target of concerted pressures from the regional and provincial Tables of women's and community groups in the Fall of 1999.(18)


In the course of their long and largely unpredictable journey through the politics of restructuring, women's service organizations have engaged with the MSSS in an interactive and productive way.(19) They have succeeded in having some of their main demands and representations incorporated in policy. They have sought and obtained the institutionalization of their funding while preserving the diverse facets of their activities, and they have maintained control over their practices of services. They have been able to maintain routes and resources for provincial representation while striving to organize regionally for the continued ability to make claims on behalf of women. Successful experiments in self-managed welfare and collective pressure by strong, provincially-organized Regroupements have been a condition for the ability of women's services to achieve inclusion and autonomy at MSSS. Alliances between the Regroupements and a broader constituency of women's and community organizations have further proved instrumental in establishing a political balance of forces that transformed the "community sector" into a collectivity of actors to be reckoned with. Highlighting the twists and turns, as well as the outcomes of their struggles, helps render visible the role of women's movement service groups and their allies in the progressive definition of the specific forms taken by the new "post-welfare state" welfare arrangements in Quebec's health and social services field. To show in such a way that "politics matters"(20) is also to suggest that restructuring is not a straightforward, nor a teleological process, but a complex, contingent, and often messy phenomenon that can take various paths and result in different outcomes for women's organizations and for the pursuit of feminist politics.

There is no doubt that restructuring in Quebec's health and social services has considerably, and sometimes cruelly, affected women, be it as workers (as indicated by the illegal strike of Quebec nurses in the summer of 1999), as beneficiaries, as patients, and as part, willing or unwilling, of the latter's support system (AFEAS et al., 1998; Andrew, 1998). Yet, with respect to the fate of women's movement organizations, and partly as a consequence of their politics, the path to restructuring at MSSS has taken a different direction than the one espoused at the federal level. Rather than a disengagement of the state relying on the "charitable inclinations" of the voluntary sector, the current "shift in the welfare mix" (Evers and Wintersberger, 1990) at MSSS entails a new sharing of responsibilities with the "third sector," in which the state retains a definite welfare role and in which service provision is ensured by parallel networks of state agencies and autonomous women's and community groups. Rather than taking an axe to the resources of women's service groups, restructuring has involved the progressive institutionalization of state funding for the Ministry's partners-in-welfare. Although funding levels themselves remain the object of contention, core funding has been maintained alongside the service contracts approach. Finally, in stark contrast to the situation depicted by Brodie (1994a, 1995), Phillips (1995) and Jenson and Phillips (1996), discourses and practices of restructuring at MSSS have not included attacks on the legitimacy of advocacy groups and the marginalization of women's movement actors. The "consensus seeking" stance of the Rochon Commission, the entrenched participation (20 percent of the seats) of women's and community organizations on the Regional Boards, and the ongoing negotiations between the Ministry and the provincial Regroupements and associations of women's and community groups all testify of a move toward more inclusive forms of political representation.

More broadly, Quebec women's organizations have not suffered the same political marginalization than has befallen their more federally-oriented counterparts in the Canadian women's movement.(21) The particular context of Quebec politics, in which attempts at redefining the role of the state have been embroiled in the issue of sovereignty for both leading parties, has translated into a search for a "social consensus" that has lent leverage to an already strong and well-organized women's movement. A greater political inclusion of women's organizations and women's issues has been part of governmental strategies in the 1990s, especially under the mandate of pequiste Lucien Bouchard. For instance, at the "socioeconomic summit" held in the Fall of 1996, the Federation des femmes du Quebec(22) (FFQ) was called upon, alongside representatives of government, businesses, unions, and community groups, to negotiate and bargain over the directions of social and economic reorganizations. Including women's organizations as participants in new, regionalized decision-making processes and as partners in program delivery has also been part of the 1990s restructuring at the Ministries of Regional Development, and of Manpower and Income Security (see Cote et al., 1995 for details). In addition, new political structures have been set up to support "l'economie sociale" (the social economy) that include formal representation by women's organizations. Such structures were created as a response to Quebec women's Bread and Roses March Against Poverty in June 1995, and to the movement's demands for the development of "social infrastructures" (community resources) and sustainable employment for women.(23)

Besides lending credence to the argument that "politics matters," one of the theoretical implications of the case presented in this article is that it is important to develop an understanding of restructuring that does not erase the singularity of particular sectoral and provincial versions of these new configurations. As I have tried to show with this example, restructuring in Canada is something more complex and more heterogeneous than most analyses have thus far implied. More "local" analyses are imperative, especially as the current devolution of powers and programs from central to lower levels of government not only erodes national standards but bears the potential for increased differentiation in restructuring politics and its outcomes. I suggest that we need to start comparing these variants, and to develop a better appreciation of their differential impact on feminist struggles.

Restructuring, it must be further contended, is a paradoxical business that simultaneously implies risks and opportunities. The new conditions created by restructuring at MSSS and in Quebec are not all rosy, and they do present definite difficulties and dangers for women's organizations (Cote, 1995). Yet these conditions also provide resources, legitimacy and political routes for women's organizations to pursue their feminist agendas, and to make women's voices heard in the arenas of Quebec politics. The complexity, the variety and the contradictions involved in restructuring all suggest that we cannot simply dismiss the new order as just another avatar of a regressive neoliberalism.

Developing a better understanding of the composite, multi-layered and political nature of restructuring should direct scholars and activists to an "exploration of the possibilities that would enhance social justice and collective well-being" (Lamer, 1998, p. 16) that remain, or are yet to be seized in the new welfare arrangements, political spaces and practices of governance that have been taking shape over the past decade.


The research on which this article is based was made possible by a doctoral scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I would like to thank Caroline Andrew, Alexandra Dobrowolski, Alan Hunt, Rianne Mahon and Trevor Purvis, as well as the anonymous reviewers of this paper, for their substantive comments and editorial suggestions. Thanks also to provincial activists from the Table and the Regroupements for contributing some of their precious time to updating me on the current state of the negotiations with MSSS in the summer of 1999.


(1.) For more detailed accounts of these changes see Brodie (1994a), Phillips (1995), Jenson and Phillips (1996).

(2.) Unless otherwise indicated, all the information on the Quebec women's movement and women's service groups presented in this paper draws upon my Ph.D. dissertation on the feminist politics of state-funded shelters, rape crisis centres, and women's centres in Quebec (Masson, 1998). A list of primary sources and a comprehensive inventory of references on Quebec women's movement organizing can be found in its bibliography.

(3.) Some would like to include daycare services within this category. Although daycare is certainly a "women's issue," Quebec feminists never had a monopoly on daycare organizing at the grassroots level. Such organizing was, rather, the work of a sometimes highly conflictual combination of people who variously identified as feminists, leftists, parents, and "popular" or "community" -oriented activists.

(4.) There have never been more than six women's health centres (see Michaud, 1995, for a detailed study). Groups organized around issues of women and work, for their part, were also few. More importantly, the latter were not funded by the MSSS but through the federal and provincial Ministries of Manpower and Immigration (CSF, 1986).

(5.) CALACS: Centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions a caractere sexuel (rape crisis centres).

(6.) "Soutien aux organismes communautaires" (or SOC) is the appellation commonly used to refer to MSSS' Programme de soutien aux organismes prives, benevoles et communautaires sans but lucratif.

(7.) Rape crisis centres and women's centres have adopted similar positions. As Michaud has also noted in her study of Quebec women's health centres (1995, pp. 204-235), preserving women's service groups' autonomy was the main stake in the negotiation of the funding relationship with the Ministry.

(8.) It has been brought to my attention by one of RFR's anonymous reviewers that claims for "global" funding and strategies based on "model budgets" were pioneered in 1979 by the Regroupement des garderies sans but lucratif du Quebec (the provincial association of non-profit daycare centres).

(9.) These shelters were either unaffiliated or members of the Federation des ressources d'hebergement pour femmes violentees et en difficulte. Founded in 1985 (CSF, 1986, p. 20), the Federation was the result of a scission that occurred within the Regroupement when the latter redefined shelters' mission as attending to "battered women" rather than "women in difficulty," in a move toward the reinstatement of CALACS' funding in 1982. A second schismatic factor was the issue of user fees favoured by some shelters versus the no-charge policy adopted by the Regroupement (Demers, 1987, pp. 173-175).

(10.) The Canada Assistance Plan reimbursed 50 percent of the costs of funding shelters to participating provinces. CAP's funding was based on a strictly financial definition of "person-in-need." It required shelters to collect and to disclose financial and personal information about sheltered women. CAP's guidelines demanded a monetary contribution from women who did not meet the criteria of the needs (means) test, and limited its funding to "emergency" shelters for a maximum length of stay of 45 days. Despite the disappearance of the CAP, in 1996, MSSS's amounts of funding to shelters were not affected.

(11.) Sources: 1977-78 in Personnel du SSOC (1986, p. 17), 1986-87 in Vaillancourt (1987, p. 98), 1991-92 in MSSS (1992-93). In accordance with the orientations of the 1991 law, this trend has continued, and SOC budgets reached more than $100 million for the year 1995-96 (MSSS, 1996-97, p. 5).

(12.) My calculations, based on numbers provided by the SOC bureau.

(13.) OVEP: Organismes volontaires d'education populaire. The OVEP program funded "popular education" activities in volunteer, community, and women's organizations from 1973 to 1994.

(14.) I tell the story of these cuts and disappearing programs in Chapter 8 of Masson (1998). On the Women's Programme, see also Jenson and Phillips (1996, pp. 123-124).

(15.) Twelve provincial associations created the Table des regroupements provinciaux d'organismes communautaires et benevoles (TRPOCB) at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1999, the Table had 30 member associations and operated as a coordination centre in the negotiations with the MSSS.

(16.) Quebec women's service organizations typically define their "global approach" as one that includes services, community education and advocacy, as well as one that considers women's needs in their entirety.

(17.) See note 9.

(18.) Source: TRPOCB, personal communication. Changes in the funding for women's organizations in Quebec could also follow from the expected release, in 1999-2000, of a policy for the community sector drafted by the new Secretariat a l'action communautaire autonome (SACA) in collaboration with representatives of women's and community groups.

(19.) The notion that the Canadian women's movement has developed an "interactive and productive relationship" with the state is drawn from Brodie (1994b, p. 55). A growing body of research shows that women's movements and their organizations have been directly implicated in the shaping of welfare states and state policies in various countries (for a review of this scholarship, see Orloff, 1996, and Misra and Akins, 1998). My case shows that women's movements can be similarly involved in shaping "post-welfare state" welfare arrangements.

(20.) This position is characteristic of a new feminist scholarship on the state (see Masson, 1999) and of feminist studies of the welfare state influenced by the "power resources" school (see Orloff, 1993; Evans and Wekerle, 1997a).

(21.) It must be kept in mind that Quebec City, rather than Ottawa, has traditionally been the main interlocutor of the Quebec women's movement. In consequence, the Quebec movement has been less affected by losses of federal funding and routes to representation.

(22.) Founded in 1966, the FFQ is an umbrella organization composed of a wide variety of women's groups and individualso After a period of near eclipse in the 1980s, it increasingly assumed the political leadership of the movement.

(23.) On this topic see Comite d'orientation (1996); for a critical assessment see also La gazette des femmes (1997).


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Author:Masson, Dominique
Publication:Resources for Feminist Research
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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