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Pauline Marois: Profile of a feminist, mother, and leader of social change

Elections, elections, elections.

We just had the Canadian one, the American one is coming up next week, and then not too long after that we are expecting to go to the polls here in Quebec to elect our next provincial government. This one will be tougher for me. I need to choose between a lackluster party that wants to keep Quebec in Canada and a party led by a woman that I admire so much for everything she has accomplished but that wants Quebec to separate from Canada. Regardless of how I end up voting, Pauline Marois, the leader of the Parti Quebecois deserves a standing ovation for everything she has done for women and families in this province.

Pauline Marois was the Minister responsible for education and families when Quebec introduced its universal $5 dollar a day daycare program (now $7 a day) in 1998. No other province in Canada has managed to introduce a program like it. In fact, according to the CBC:
If you have young children, and you live in Yellowknife, you probably pay about 30 dollars a day for daycare. In Winnipeg, it's about 20. In Toronto, it's as much as 70. But in Quebec, quality day care is just 7 dollars a day.

Marois' plan took the universal federal family allowance and invested it in affordable child-care services within the province. She also gave working parents choice by giving them tax breaks if they chose to keep their children at home with a caregiver or in private daycare centres.

It has been 10 years since the universal day care program was introduced and it, along with other key social programs like paid parental leave of up to a year, have had the following results:

  • Child poverty cut in half in the last decade

  • School scores went from the lowest to the highest in Canada

  • Increasing birth rate

  • Maternal workforce participation went from the lowest in Canada to the highest in Canada

  • Post secondary education enrollment of women is the highest in Canada

  • 1 in 2 dads take paternity leave, compared with 1 in 10 in the rest of the country

How can you argue with results like that?

Seriously, I complain a lot about the fact that women's choices are still restricted and that it is not a true choice for many women with regards to whether they stay home or go back to work. However, in Quebec it is certainly closer to being a true choice than just about anywhere else in the world.  And much of that is thanks to Pauline Marois.

10 years after the introduction of universal daycare, Quebec is still the only province that has it. Other provinces say that it is not possible. But Marois says it is possible if you decide it is a priority. If you say that you have no choice. She explains that we do not choose whether or not to provide schools, whether or not to provide health care, those are requirements and daycare should be too.

So who is Pauline Marois?

She is a 30-year veteran of Quebec politics. She held 15 ministerial positions in several governments, including Minister for the Status of Women and later her key post as Education and Family Minister when she spearheaded the universal daycare program.  She is the first woman to lead a political party in Quebec, having been chosen as the leader of the Parti Quebecois after running for its leadership for the third time in 2007 (persistence!).

She has been clear about not letting people dwell on the things that people so often dwell on with female politicians. Apparently when she entered political office, she bought herself a set of conservative suits and told reporters that she would be wearing those suits and replacing them with similar ones when they needed replacing and told them that was the last they would speak of her wardrobe.

Marois holds a bachelor's degree in social work and a Masters in Business Administration, a combination that seems like such a great fit with the work that she does and that is demonstrated in both her actions and in intelligent statements like this one on CBC's The Current: "When you invest in children, especially those in poor families, you invest in fixing their problems."

Pauline Marois is also a mother of 4 children now in their twenties. Her husband is a businessman and former head of the Société générale de financement du Québec. Her only family life was one that modelled equality and the possibility for both parents to have careers. According to Marois as reported in the Globe and Mail:
"My husband and myself, we decided together to have children, so we decided to take care of them together," she says emphatically, adding that the children spent some time in child-care facilities but were mostly taken care of at home by a nanny. Her husband always pitched in, though. As she explains, with a laugh, "He makes very good sandwich.

Her leadership style is one of feminine strength, not the comabitve pushy arrogance we see so often in male politicians. According to Marois:
I have my leadership style. I am a woman who works in consensus. I am able to delegate responsibility but I am a woman of action.

She also emphasizes the need to work with people that are stricken by a problem when developing a solution. This collaborative approach to policy and program development is one of her strong traits and I think one that is more likely to be present in a female politician than a male one.

She was recently recognized by the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care for her decade of commitment to child care, receiving their inaugural award for Excellence in Advocacy in Toronto last week.

My dilemma. I would love to vote for Pauline Marois because I admire her as a woman, as a feminist, as a mother, as a driver of social change. But I believe her when she says that she will achieve anything she sets out to achieve...so how can I vote for her if she wants to have my province separate from my country? But in all reality, I probably would prefer to live in Pauline Marois' Quebec than in Stephen Harper's Canada.

Pauline Marois was recently interviewed on CBC's The Current. To listen to the segment, go to The Current's Podcast for October 27, 2008 and listen to Part 3 (note: her interview starts at 6:45 into Part 3).  She was also profiled in the Globe and Mail article Pauline Marois: The softer, gentler face of Quebec sovereignty.

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Reader Comments (8)

[...] in is one where women have achieved a great deal of equality, partly with thanks to leaders like Pauline Marois and her [...]

November 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRaising a Feminist « PhD

[...] in is one where women have achieved a great deal of equality, partly with thanks to leaders like Pauline Marois and her [...]

[...] I think it is important in this day and age, especially in Quebec, where the study was done where 1 in 2 fathers take parental leave, to also assess the impact of paternal depression and anxiety on [...]

September 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChildhood Anxiety

Sorry, I know this is an old post but I just had to comment. I recently discovered your blog and have been reading it avidly and have enjoyed most of what I've read so far. However, I must say that I've found this post quite disconcerting, especially coming from an AP advocate.

I live in Quebec and 7$/day daycare has not given us a choice as far as returning to work is concerned, quite the opposite. It is now assumed that all women will return to work after the one year of paid maternity leave. Those of us who choose to be SAHMs are quickly labelled as lazy as there is no longer any tangible reasons to stay home (for most "mainstream" parents). The general consensus is now that children need to go to daycare in order to be socialized, put on a strict schedule and prepared for school. It is literally viewed as bad for the child to be home with mom as he will be an outcast once he gets to school since all the other children will have gone to daycare.

In fact, since daycare is so cheap most moms continue sending their older child(ren) to daycare full time while on maternity leave with their newborn. Also, most prefer the larger impersonal daycares with many different caregivers as a lot of moms do not want their child to become attached to another woman. Having multiple caregivers guarantees the child will not become attached to anyone else.

I find the situation to be quite sad and definitely not an ideal to be upheld. 7$/day daycare was not instated to help out families in need, the only objective was to have more moms going back to work sooner and paying more $$$ in income tax. If the intention was truly to help out families in need a “salary” or tax break could have been given to SAHMs, or even to all families with young children. With the current situation a tax break is given to households with two incomes and nothing for those with only one income. It is often argued that if a woman can afford to be a SAHM she doesn't need a tax break whereas dual income families do. Yes some single income families possibly earn more than some dual income families, but a lot of SAHMs make big financial sacrifices in order to do what we feel is best for our children.

I'm not saying that all daycare is bad, however, I strongly feel it's best, when possible, for the child to be with his mom/parents as much as possible. Everything should be done to encourage this when possible, not discourage it as is the case right now in Quebec.

September 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterValerie

Thank you for your comment Valerie.

I am a strong feminist and an http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/08/30/choice/" rel="nofollow">advocate of choice. I believe that http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/10/09/sah-or-woh-how-can-we-stop-restricting-mothers-choices/" rel="nofollow">both stay-at-home and work-out-of-home parents should be supported in their decisions.

We did not feel that day care was the right environment for our children. I took 3 months of maternity leave with my son and 6 months of maternity leave with my daughter. As the main wage earner in our family, we could not afford for me to take more time off. However, my husband was able to stay home and that was best for our family. I worked from home a lot when the kids were really little, so that I could be there to nurse them as needed. But when I did go to work, I pumped so that my husband could feed them breast milk.

While there may be certain pockets of society in Quebec that encourage parents to put their kids in day care, I don't think that is the fault of the $7/day daycare. I see that same pressure for "socialization" on message boards that are filled primarily with Americans.

I think part of the reason that moms continue sending their older children to day care full time while on maternity leave is that they would otherwise lose the space. That is unfortunate and I think it should be changed (i.e. being able to take a "leave of absence" from the day care without giving up your spot permanently).

I think more could be done to encourage a parent to stay home (I don't think it needs to be the mother), such as greater tax benefits for single wage families. But I am a strong advocate of the $7/day day care option.

September 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Pauline Marois... Smart woman, terrible motivations. Hell bent on sovereignty. Meanwhile, her kids went to American universities.... while over here she's blabbing on and on about bill 101.

December 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertom

[...] frontrunner in meeting the needs of our families and our children and promoting choice the way that Quebec did with its day care program. [...]

[...] Whether I’m talking about our health care system, our maternity and parental leave programs, feminist leaders, or other topics close to my heart, my country usually makes me proud (even if it isn’t [...]

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