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Is Quebec also ‘Distinct’ for Communicating about COVID-19?

Silvie Letendre

Quebec’s distinct character within Canada has been a major political issue since even before the country’s founding, causing endless debate.

Whatever the laws might say, the reality is that Quebec is different. Companies, marketers and communicators need to be aware of the differences and take them into consideration in all their planning of any cross-Canada campaign.

Importantly, that doesn’t mean just translating the English campaign into French but adapting it – or even sometimes redoing it entirely – to ensure it is both suitable for and resonates with Quebecers. It’s a step many companies have failed to take in the past, and they have suffered for it.

Communicating through COVID-19

But what about now when we are all living with COVID-19 and its impact? Does Quebec’s distinctness extend to something that seems so universal, like the pandemic?

In important ways, yes. And the same rules still apply for any organization – get to know Quebec and Quebecers before talking to them.

At first glance, it seems like the impact of COVID-19 is much the same in Quebec as in the rest of Canada, or at least like in Ontario. Both provinces have had relatively high numbers (for Canada) of cases and deaths, with a high proportion of those deaths coming in long-term care residences. Quebec, like the rest of Canada, was locked down tightly through the spring and has suffered the economic and social consequences. Like everywhere else, there has been a fair amount of educated guessing by policymakers in taking the steps to reopen the economy and society.

According to a comprehensive poll in July 2020 by the Quebec firm Léger for the Association of Canadian Studies, Quebecers and Ontarians also agree on some important things about the pandemic and its consequences:

But dig a little deeper into the same poll and behind those broad similar findings there lurk some important differences that could and should influence how an organization tailors its communications or marketing to Quebecers.

Where the differences lie

For example, one in three Ontarians (33 per cent) said it has become harder for them to pay monthly expenses and bills, but just one in five Quebecers (20 per cent) said the same. Almost three quarters of Quebecers (73 per cent) said their ability to pay their expenses hasn’t changed but just 59 per cent of Ontarians say that. The potential learning: Quebecers might be more willing than Ontarians to listen to promotions that involve them spending money but a campaign referencing the personal economic consequences of the pandemic might not resonate as well in Quebec as in Ontario.

Returning to school is another big area of difference. The poll shows that while almost three out of four Ontarians (73 per cent) are worried about children going back to school in the fall of 2020, only one in three Quebecers (33 per cent) has the same concern, with 60 per cent of Quebecers not worried versus only 22 per cent of Ontarians. Such a huge difference in opinion on such a key issue should have big ramifications in how any communications related to or referencing education are handled.

What it means for your Quebec campaigns

The relative lack of concern about the impact of COVID-19 extends beyond school. Overall, Quebecers say they are a lot less stressed about leaving their house or being out in public than Ontarians. Only about a third of Quebecers (34 per cent) find such activities stressful compared to more than half of Ontarians (52 per cent). Again, the implications for communications campaigns for activities that involve people having to leave their home are very clear.

So, yes, COVID-19 has affected all Canadians to a large degree. However, as with many things, just don’t assume it’s affected Quebecers the same way it has the rest of Canadians.

Even in the pandemic, the lesson for marketers and communicators is clear: Don’t ignore Quebec’s differences.

To read more about how the Proof family of companies is building trust during COVID-19, read our response from CEO Bruce MacLellan.


Silvie Letendre, APR, FPRS is President and General Manager of Capital-Image, the Quebec partner of Proof.