Encyclopedia of Law & Economics - 0370 LAW AND ECONOMICS IN QUEBEC



Frédérick Charette

Research Fellow

University of California, Berkeley

© Copyright 1998 Frédérick Charette


1. Introduction  
2. L&E Education and Research in Law Schools and EconomicsDepartments  
3. Future Prospects  
4. Conclusion  
Bibliography on Law and Economics in Quebec (0370)  
Other References  


Although law & economics has had a definitive impact on legal studies in theUnited States and English-speaking Canada, and continues to make inroads inEurope, the Province of Quebec remains insulated. Not only is institutionalrecognition of the discipline absent, its practitioners are also few and isolated.In this short review, I try to offer an up-to-date picture of the field withinQuebec's law schools as well as some hypotheses that could explain the currentstate of affairs.

JEL classification: K00

Keywords: Canada, Quebec, Research, Education, Teaching, French

1. Introduction  

Writing on the status of law and economics in Quebec has proven to be aworthy challenge. Although the movement has had a definitive impact on legalstudies in the United States and English-speaking Canada, and continues tomake inroads in Europe, the Province of Quebec remains insulated. Not only isinstitutional recognition of the discipline absent, its practitioners are also fewand isolated. In this short review, I will try to offer an up-to-date picture of thefield within Quebec's law schools as well as some hypotheses that could explainthe current state of affairs. We will see that language alone cannot fully accountfor the lack of interest in the field. Finally, I will try and provide some hope forthe future by pointing to the possibility of a wider recognition of the field andto the uniqueness of Quebec's legal system as a potentially rich source forcomparative studies.

2. L&E Education and Research in Law Schools and Economics Departments  

In the introduction to the second edition of their Law and Economics, Cooterand Ulen (1996, p. 2) list ten criteria by which one can measure the impact ofeconomics on law. None of the six Quebec law schools (Laval, McGill, Montreal,Sherbrooke, UQAM, to which I add the civil law section of the University ofOttawa) pass all these tests. There are no Economics Ph.D. programmes in thefaculty of any law school. There is no joint degree program (Ph.D. econ./LL.B.).There are evidently no journals devoted to the field and Quebec law journalsonly exceptionally publish L&E articles. The few articles that were published, arecited only rarely by other Quebec legal scholars, despite their quality. Not onlyis the field often ignored, but only four law schools out of six have an EconomicAnalysis of Law course on their curriculum (McGill and UQAM being theexceptions), and only two of them (Montreal and Laval) have been offering thecourse on a yearly basis since it was added to the curriculum. Finally, there is noprofessional organization in Quebec equivalent to the Canadian Law andEconomics Association (CLEA), in spite of the fact that in most fields there areFrench-speaking organizations in Quebec duplicating the correspondingCanadian organizations.

Contrary to lawyers, Quebec economists fully consider themselves to be partof an international profession. Economics has developed into a trulyinternational field, with a common language and a shared hierarchy of schoolsand departments. Quebec economists are not, contrary to civil lawyers, insulatedfrom foreign influences: they study abroad, candidates for teaching positionscome from all over the world and faculty members engage actively in economicresearch whose quality they expect to be measured by world standards. Hence,economics departments should provide more opportunities for studies in lawand economics. However, the fact remains that, as is the case with legal scholars,most economists do not seem to have expressed any special interest in studyingQuebec law, except perhaps with regard to some special legislation such as theintroduction of the provincial no-fault automobile insurance bill.

Two notable exceptions must be mentioned here. Reuven Brenner, who holdsthe Repap Chair at McGill's Faculty of Management, and Jean-Luc Migué of theEcole Nationale d'Administration Publique (ENAP) are two scholars ofinternational stature whose involvement in L&E must be pointed out. Althoughnot strictly associated with the L&E movement, Pr. Brenner has made adistinctive use of L&E tools throughout his oeuvre to explain why peopleinnovate or gamble on new ideas. Pr. Migué's involvement with L&E has beenmore explicit and more accessible, as he has written in both French and English.His most important contribution must be his studies on the economics oflanguage and the economics of federalism.

Reasons as to why so few scholars have made distinctive contributions tothe field are not readily forthcoming. As is the case with Pr. Brenner, it might bethat the economic papers discussing legal issues are not written in French butin English, and that they could be found in the appropriate section of theencyclopedia. Even with that caveat in mind, one would be hard pressed to findmore than twenty articles published by Quebec scholars in economics reviews.So there is a real puzzle with regard to the lack of involvement in law andeconomics by Quebec scholars, be they legal scholars or economists.

Common prejudiced views advanced as explanations for this puzzle simplydo not resist a comparative perspective. For example, the language differentialor the presence of a civil code cannot be part of the explanation: most Quebececonomists publish in English, and the language barrier has not preventedGerman and Dutch jurists from applying the economic model to their own civilcode.

A more plausible hypothesis would focus on the lack of competition betweenQuebec universities. Not only is the system completely public with no privateuniversity in operation, but studies are heavily subsidized, with the lowesttuition fees in all of North America, and teachers fully unionized. Because Civillaw schools are so few in number, and because full employment security isprovided after a five year probation period, there is very little movement betweenthe faculties and hence an utter lack of competition. Professors' appointmentfees are exclusively based on experience rather than on performance and thereis consequently a relative uniformity of treatment among faculty members. Chairsare exceedingly rare. Incentives to innovate by researching new fields of studyare mostly indirect.

As in any other field, publications remain paramount for prestige andpromotions. However, in law schools, the criteria of international publicationsis not retained, perhaps because of the civil character of the profession. Thepressure to perform at the international level remains low. As long as this will bethe case, incentives to innovate and excel will be likely to be lower in Quebecthan elsewhere. Because competition leads to a discovery process, its absenceoften explains a lack of entrepreneurship. For the moment, the few steps on theacademic ladder can be easily climbed by producing commentaries on case lawor legislative notes affecting one's field; there is nothing to gain from venturesin new studies far from the comforts of one's home turf.

3. Future Prospects  

Nevertheless, there may be some hope. The expansion of law and economicsinto public law and international law, and especially the economics of federalism,is bound to influence Quebec jurists working in those fields. Contrary to privatelaw, and despite the language barrier, public law in Quebec is traversed byCanadian and American influences. Moreover, funding cuts, declining admissionprospects and a relatively high unemployment rate have forced law schools torequire a doctoral degree as a condition of employment. Aspiring professors arenow more likely to have received training in the US and hence to have beenexposed to L&E. Finally, since there will be growing uncertainty regardingemployment security, it is likely that those new and highly mobile professors willhave to distinguish themselves in order to keep a high profile; the L&E fieldcontinues to offer enormous possibilities in this regard.

Much as L&E might catch on and attract new practitioners in Quebec, thisis still a far cry from becoming a standard part of the curriculum in law schools.One essential step in that direction is the first general introduction to L&E inFrench (in addition to the brief survey of core private law subjects by BertrandLemennicier in his Économie du droit, Paris, Cujas, 1991), currently being writtenby Pr. Ejan Mackaay and the undersigned. Pr. Mackaay, who teaches at theFaculté de droit de l'Université de Montréal, must be considered as one of thepioneers of the field and the leading figure of L&E in Quebec. His writings inFrench, English and Dutch can all be praised for their clarity and soundness.

The book is aimed at the civilian legal community, both in Quebec andelsewhere in the French-speaking world. The publication of this book shouldhelp to establish L&E as an integral part of the legal curriculum in thosecountries. Beyond this upcoming introductory work, however, the prospects forthe development of French language literature on the subject are dim.Economists already publish in English, and new Professors at law schools aremore likely than their seniors to write in English, not only because they haveoften been trained in that language, but especially because they want to keeptheir job options open beyond provincial and national boundaries.

This does not mean that there is no hope for the study of Quebec private lawinstitutions. The recent growth of a distinct comparative L&E field could spurinterest in the unique civil law system of Quebec, and with good reason. First ofall, there is an official English version of all legislative texts, as well as of somecourt decisions and textbooks. Moreover, and contrary to the French system,Quebec's private law has borrowed its civil procedure styles of judicial reasoningfrom British common law and has developed a large body of case law. Finally,Quebec having been more influenced by the European model of the welfare statethan by the American one, it provides a stark contrast to the latter, a usefulbeginning for any comparative study.

4. Conclusion  

All is not gloomy about the state of the field in Quebec. As the followingbibliography will show, there are scholars of great quality in Quebec, and thenew generation of professors will be better trained and more outward lookingthan their predecessors. The development of a body of convincing comparativeand constitutional law and economics studies may be just what is needed to helpQuebec jurists overcome their initial reservations about the field. We may yet beheading for a new quiet revolution.

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© Copyright 1998 Frédérick Charette