A word from the chairman
This is a true story of a solidly rooted company whose founding and early years were certainly momentous. The bulk of the story took place not so long ago: indeed, most of the action dates back to the 1940s and 1950s.
Some readers will undoubtedly be familiar with the socio-political climate of yesteryear, while those from a younger generation may be surprised to realize how different contemporary Quebec society is, in all respects, from the picture provided in these pages.
SSQ developed during an era of profound transformation. The major pieces of Quebec’s social legislation, including hospitalization/health insurance and the provincial pension plan, were all adopted within a single decade. It is easy to understand why these changes had such an impact on a company whose stability was never guaranteed. More so than any other company, SSQ was particularly vulnerable to these state-sponsored initiatives, which overlapped with the services provided under its insurance plans.
Readers of this book are sure to come away with a wide range of impressions. In my view, the most striking thing is the realization that men and women from all walks of life and backgrounds with almost non-existent financial resources but who were united by the same ideals could reach their stated goals. Their determination, generosity and belief in cooperative principles were the keys to their success. In the end, these same qualities, underpinned by a deep-seated desire to help their fellow citizens, were enough to overcome the obstacles they encountered.
For members of the extended SSQ family, this book provides an opportunity to relive key events which they witnessed or brought about directly and which led to the birth and growth of a company in which we take such pride today. For all those who now work for SSQ, this book serves as an invitation to write the pages of a future that is true to the promise of these early years.
On behalf of all our members, I would like to express my warmest gratitude to SSQ’s pioneers while reiterating our hope and confidence in the standard-bearers of the future.
Jacques de la Chevrotière
Chairman of the Board
We would like to take this opportunity to provide some useful information designed to simplify the reading process and to reconcile a number of apparent contradictions.
Founding year: 1944 or 1946?
The Coopérative de Santé de Québec [Quebec City health cooperative] was officially founded on May 9, 1944. However, its first financial results date back to 1945, with a total of $431.59 in revenues for the year. In December 1945, a new name was adopted: Les Services de Santé de Québec [Quebec City health services]; in that same year, paid staff replaced the volunteers who had initially filled the ranks. In June 1946, the company extended its area of operations to include the entire province of Quebec and hired its first advertising manager. That same year, it filed its first duly completed annual financial report. For that reason, 1946 is regarded as the company’s official founding year (this has not always been the case: it celebrated its 25th anniversary in October 1969!). In December 1949, the company changed its name to Les Services de Santé du Québec.
Les Services de Santé de Québec et ses successeurs…
Between 1944 and 1949, the company had three different names. In fact, the name adopted in 1949 remains its legal name today! For practical reasons, two business names were used instead of the legal name: La Mutuelle SSQ (1963-1979) and SSQ, Mutuelle d’assurance-groupe (post 1979).
Truth be told, the public much prefers the abbreviation “SSQ”, which we have used throughout to simplify the reading process.
Chapter VII covers the 1973-1982 period while some statistical information extends until 1985. It is our wish, tempered by a sense of caution, to present the facts without delving into the underlying trends. The passage of time will provide the necessary distance for the next generation of writers.
SSQ, Mutual Insurance Group, one of Quebec’s leading insurance companies, came into being between 1944 and 1946 in Saint-Sauveur, a working-class district of Quebec City. The company’s genesis occurred against the backdrop of a province in transition: the Great Depression of the 1930s slowly faded as the war effort intensified, although memories of poverty, fuelled by ideas that upended the established order can still be felt today. Furthermore, the issue of conscription unleashed a wave of nationalist sentiment that contributed to the defeat of Adélard Godbout’s Liberal government. The 15-year Duplessis regime, which began in 1944, is now regarded as an era of social and economic conservatism, during which the agents of change operated quietly behind the scenes. But they continued to exert whatever pressure they could; this influence was felt most strongly in the cooperative movement.
Beginning in the Duplessis era, the cooperative movement, torn between the memory of an idealized past and the appeal of an as-yet-unconquered future, sought and gained its second wind. At Quebec City’s Université Laval, a group led by Father Georges-Henri Lévesque coalesced around the Faculty of Social Sciences’ Chair of Cooperation. A debt is owed to the Faculty’s professors and graduates for their tireless efforts to promote the principles of cooperation in new fields of endeavour, particularly the consumer sector. Founded in 1942, the Conseil supérieur de la coopération [senior cooperation council] monitored the purity of cooperative principles and compliance therewith. But what were these principles? They included freedom of association, democracy (one person, one vote) and redistribution of surpluses.
Nationalism and religion
Above and beyond these specifically cooperative principles, cooperators in Quebec had a strong sense of national solidarity. Along with growing awareness of the precarious situation facing workers, strong support for the French- Canadian nation began to emerge. Nationalist sentiment extended well beyond the confines of the cooperative movement; indeed, it eventually became a point of convergence for many different organizations and movements (e.g., Ordre de Jacques-Cartier, Société Saint-JeanBaptiste, Action catholique, École sociale populaire, etc.). These groups operated from different vantage points and at very different levels to “save” the French-Canadian people. They also facilitated contacts between clergy members, cooperators, academics, business people, civil servants and workers, among others. In so doing, they also paved the way for concerted action shaped by nationalism.
Most of these groups drew inspiration from the same source: social Catholicism. In those years, how many wellinformed people had not read the papal encyclicals “Quadragesimo Anno” and “Rerum Novarum”? Meanwhile, the clergy preached about the fight against socialism and against subservience to capitalist society. They also extolled the virtues of collaboration between the social classes. But this clerically-tinged nationalistic ideology also demanded its due: any reforms or new policies would have to take the prevailing ideology into account, so much so that social goals would necessarily be subordinate to ideology lest they be rejected out of hand. Paradoxically, social conservatives and reformers ended up joining forces on the battlefield of nationalism, where they fought side by side.
Quebec francophones was significantly lower than that of their English-speaking counterparts. In short, Quebec workers were not receiving their fair share of the fruits of economic growth. As a result, unions were increasingly called on to address matters. The means to this end varied: the international union movement and its Catholic offshoot, the Confederation of Catholic Workers of Canada (CTCC), strove for top billing and were seen as agents of social change. The CTCC, hewing to the Church’s social doctrine and supported by the clergy, sought to improve the lives of workers. At the same time, it urged francophone managers at small and mid-sized companies to be wary of large corporations. The growth of unionism undoubtedly contributed to higher wages for workers, as well as to improved benefit packages, which were playing an increasingly important role in contract negotiations. Group insurance plans are a prime example of this.
Paying for other peoples’ risks
Meanwhile, one issue was being raised with increasing clarity: that of collective responsibility for social security. The Depression had led to increased awareness of people’s most pressing needs and how they were unable to afford them. This realization was manifested in any number of government programs. Private initiative, however, remained the main driving force behind social security. Sometimes the Church took action via its institutions and charitable associations; at other times, insurance companies gradually extended their operations to include the brand-new social security sector. In the post-war period, the issue of responsibility sharing between the state and the private sector in the area of social security came into sharper relief. By the 1960s, government intervention increasingly targeted the entire population as the Church’s role faded. By taking on responsibility for social security and by instituting universal programs and financing them directly with tax dollars, the state chipped away at the private sector’s role, sometimes significantly. Nowhere was this more evident than in the insurance sector.
SSQ’s genesis and growth took place against this backdrop of competing forces. The fact that SSQ managed to overcome changing times and various crises along the way shows that its leaders were able to adapt to and even anticipate major changes. The process of adaptation was not always easy, however, and painful compromises had to be made at times in order to reconcile cooperative ideals, not only with the imperatives of survival but also with the demands of a business whose stature had grown amidst intense competition. Despite these adjustments−or perhaps because of them−the company remained faithful to its style, attitudes and philosophy. Indeed, SSQ continues to uphold and will always uphold the objectives and intentions of its founders. It also continues to listen to the voices of all those who oversaw and played a role in the company’s most important decisions.
Next chapter : A man and an idea (1939-1944)