Keys to success in Quebec City: Learn the rules and seize opportunity.
Written byTaylor Ireland
In my debut blog entry I talked about how I arrived in Quebec City, a young man from the prairie province of Saskatchewan, who knew hardly a word of French. Just 11 years later, I own and manage a thriving language training company which employs some 70 people, many of them full-time jobs.
I’d be kidding you if I said success has come easily – it rarely does. In fact, there were times when, to paraphrase a classic song from Canadian rock band Guess Who?, I might have been tempted to go “running back to Saskatoon.”
I was 29 when the language training company where I was working as an English teacher became available for sale. This was during the credit crunch of 2009 and no bank was willing to loan money to a green kid wanting to buy a business badly in need of restructuring. My father, a no-nonsense farmer, made me a loan – since paid back in full – and I was plunged into the adventure of being an entrepreneur in Quebec City.
The thing to understand about the city is it has its unique challenges – and opportunities. I am but one of scores of business people who have come here and made the discovery that if you accept the rules of the game you can succeed as well in Quebec City as in any other place in the world where English is not the majority language.
A history lesson is not necessary to understand Quebec’s language laws. The reality is they are in place to protect French from the powerful pressure of the English language, culture and social media on the province, the only French-speaking jurisdiction in the Western hemisphere. As a Canadian, and particularly one married to a francophone, I understand and respect the importance of the language to Quebecers.
When I first took over the company I was worried that being an anglophone business owner without a francophone business partner would be detrimental to my success. I quickly learned that the local business community is a united supportive group. All the while I was working determinedly to improve my French. Obviously, speaking the local language opens all kinds of doors socially and professionally. For example, I became involved in the Jeune Chambre de commerce de Quebec (JCCQ), an excellent networking vehicle, particularly for someone who offers business English language teaching services. I recall when I first showed up at a JCCQ “meet and greet” shortly after I bought my business. I didn’t know a soul and may have been tempted to make a hasty exit. But no, I was almost literally taken by the hand by a member and made to feel not only welcome, but pride in my story as someone from another world who took a chance on Quebec City. That encounter with Martin Roy, a financial advisor with whom I’ve remained friends, offered the kind of support and encouragement for me at time when I needed it most.
The JCCQ is one of many valuable sources of support in Quebec. I think it’s no exaggeration to say the government of the province makes a special effort to encourage small and medium businesses – you’ll hear the expression PME (petite et moyenne enterprises) a lot in Quebec; it’s the sector that creates by far the most jobs in the province. Various Quebec agencies offer a wide array of subsidies and services to help grow your company – one website mentions more than 420 programs!
Quebec City is a much different place from Montreal, and the two maintain a certain friendly rivalry. While the giant metropolis does have a critical mass of English-speaking population, the business environment is also highly competitive and densely saturated. The Quebec capital, on the other hand, is a relatively open field where opportunities abound. The city is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years making it a very fertile terrain for eager entrepreneurs.
Once you come to understand the advantages of doing business here, you’ll also begin to appreciate the innumerable other attractions of this unique place. Simple things like the variety of food and drink – dare I mention the low price of high quality beer, the ever-present chewy cheese curds and the best french fries in the world? There’s also the first rate health care system and affordable daycare, paid for with taxes that are in line with the rest of the country.
We’ll take a closer look at some of these attractions in coming editions of my blog.