Geography Jobs First. In Canada

Job Seeker

My GeographyJobs Login


Featured Article

Resilient cities in uncertain times: the Quebec City miracle

By Jonathan Denis-Jacob
December 21, 2010

While most cities in North America and Europe still struggle to get their economies back on track, others exhibit a particularly striking economic performance. There is perhaps no better example of an unexpected surge than Quebec’s capital city, Quebec City. Long considered as a government-based, civil-servant-dominated urban economy, the "Old Capital" is now rising out of nowhere as one of North America’s most successful metropolitan regions, experiencing full-employment and specializing to a great degree in the knowledge economy. In this article I look at the possible explanations for Quebec City’s recent economic successes.

Quebec’s second largest city is considered as one of North America’s most beautiful because of its well-preserved historic city and its outstanding geographic location. With a population of 750 000 people, it is also Canada’s 7th largest metropolitan area and its most French-speaking. Indeed, 96% of the metropolitan area’s population speaks French as a first language.

Recent figures from Statistics Canada suggest that local employment is going through the roof in spite of the economic downturn. Over the past eight months, 21 000 jobs were created, a growth of about 5.4% of local employment. In September 2010, the city’s unemployment rate was 4.7% whereas the Canadian Average was 8.5%. In addition, Quebec City enjoys an enviable performance on many economic indicators relative to other North American cities, from education attainment and entrepreneurship to per capita income.

Why this outstanding economic performance in Quebec City? Figures from both Canada and the United States suggest that capital cities tend to be recession-proof. But Quebec City’s success is believed not to be merely limited to its provincial capital status.

First, despite its reputation, the city’s economy is well diversified. Quebec City’s does not depend on a particular sector, although government services do play an important role. The region has not inherited a strong industrial legacy. It has been much easier there than elsewhere to move towards a knowledge-based economy. In effect, in recent years local job creation has been mainly driven by service and knowledge-based industries such as government services, insurance as well as optical and life sciences. The presence of one of Canada’s top research universities, Laval University which counts on well-respected medical, engineering and business schools, certainly matters.

Secondly, Quebec City is somewhat of a micro-society in North America and has benefited economically from its cultural difference. By being predominantly French-speaking, Quebec City is less integrated to the North American market than other Canadian cities and its labour force is also less mobile. Local university graduates, professionals and entrepreneurs are less likely to relocate to another city and even less so out of the province. Native Quebeckers tend to remain in their home city to advance their career rather than seeking out opportunities elsewhere. Many decide to start their own business locally rather than relocating to Montreal or Ottawa to find the perfect job. In effect, Quebec City is home of dozens of very successful home-grown companies which dominate the local market but that have not necessarily expand outside the region. Similarly, several large insurance companies are still headquartered in Quebec City – rather than Montreal – precisely because they were originally founded there and resisted the North American wave of mergers and acquisitions of the 1990s and 2000s. Furthermore, its less mobile population keeps labour costs lower than elsewhere. In high-tech and scientific industries, wages tend to be lower in Quebec City than in Montreal or Ottawa because the labour force is less willing to trade-off location for higher wages. This cost advantage is also reflected in real estate prices; the average home values in Quebec City are 20.0% lower than the Canadian Average. As a result, Quebec City remains one of the most affordable cities in North America to do business.

By being an economically and culturally unique community in North America, Quebec City has not suffered much during the financial crisis. Its uniqueness has undoubtedly driven the city’s competitiveness and growth, contributing to making it a genuine resilient city in uncertain times.