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Parables of War

Interview with Dominique Marshall, translated by Nicola Doone Danby

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What role did poor families play in the formation of the welfare state?

Poor families helped to keep alive universal promises made by elites during elections at the very end of the depression and during the war, and during work conflicts, which would have been abandoned quickly afterwards. They used a language of rights that made for an exceptional degree of collaboration with some members of the middle class, experts, teachers, members of parliament, and social workers.

What was particular about the political and social situation of Quebec families?

The majority of voters of French and Catholic descent were presented with an exceptional variety of ideas during the war and it immediate aftermath. For four years, the provincial government of the Godbout Liberals allowed for the creation of more democratic institutions. These helped universal ideas to survive during the more democratic institutions. These helped universal ideas to survive during the following fifteen years of conservative rule by Duplessis. They also exerted a relatively heavy influence on federal politics, and the new universal programs strengthened their allegiance to central institutions in many ways. Family ideals associated with French Canadian nationalism such as pro-natalism, a more conservative role for women, or the importance of institutional care for dependent children, still marked social programs. But the rules and the institutions related to these laws also offered places where new arrangements were worked out, by progressive elements of the church, new professionals, workers’ associations and women’s groups, and individual citizens.

How did the status of children change with family allowances and compulsory schooling?

The material benefits of these laws primarily helped teenage boys who worked on their family farm and girls who stayed home to help in domestic duties, youth who had been especially disadvantaged in the province until then although the promises of a minimum of welfare and of education for all were by no means completely fulfilled, they helped to uncover the existence of deep family poverty. By signalling further problems in student transportation, and in the unequal access of children from different classes to schooling, they prepared for the reforms in high school education, funding, and grants for universities of the next generation. By depicting children of both sexes in similar ways, laws for compulsory schooling and family allowances kept alive, in matters of childhood, the more egalitarian language of the war, which faded from other sectors of society. In this way, these laws may have prepared for the feminist claims of later decades.