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Sun Life packs up in wake of Bill 101

The Story

Quebec's Minister of Finance Jacques Parizeau calls Sun Life Insurance Company the "worst corporate citizen in the province" and "one of the worst exploiters of the Quebec economy." On Jan. 6, 1978, Canada's largest insurance company announces it will move its headquarter from Montreal to Toronto. The company publicly acknowledges the decision is a response to the political instability resulting from Bill 101. Sun Life is one of Montreal's largest sources of white-collar employment. The relocation will affect around 800 employees. The Sun Life Building, the biggest and most prominent office building on Dominion Square, had been a longstanding landmark in downtown Montreal. The relocation is a symbolic and an economic blow for René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois government. 

Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Jan. 6, 1978
Host: Bob Oxley
Reporter: Karen Birchard, Richard Inwood
Duration: 3:41

Did You know?

. Officially, Sun Life said it was motivated by fears of Quebec separatism. Skeptics said it was the company's unwillingness to comply with the "francization" requirements of Bill 101.

. According to a 1978 study released by a Liberal member of the National Assembly, at least 42 major companies moved all or a major part of their head office operations out of Quebec. Some of those blue chip corporations included Allied Chemical Canada Ltd., BP Canada Ltd., MacDonald Tobacco Inc., Standard Brands Ltd. and Redpath Industries.

. According to a study commissioned by the Quebec Committee for Canada (1996), the majority of head office migrations occurred during the PQ's first two terms in office. But the data also suggests that in recent years Montreal has gained almost as many head offices from Toronto as it has lost to that city.

. In March 1996, perhaps the most famous of all Montreal-based enterprises, the Canadian Pacific Railway, announced the relocation of its headquarters to Calgary, citing economic reasons. In contrast to the ruckus caused by the Sun Life episode two decades earlier, there was little public outcry.


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