(Quebec) Barely out of an election campaign where the issue of immigration followed him like a ball and chain, François Legault must once again defend his promise that Quebec will welcome 50,000 immigrants a year at most, even if the federal government plans to open the country’s doors to 500,000 newcomers in 2025.
When he arrived in Parliament on Wednesday, the Prime Minister once again affirmed that he had set the bar at 50,000 in order to “ensure that we stop seeing the percentage of Francophones decrease in Quebec”.
“It’s going to take [Justin] Trudeau, [Pablo] Rodriguez and then the people in Ottawa understand that we have a challenge and that we want to keep French for the long term,” said Mr. Legault. Shortly after his scrum, The Press revealed that the government of Quebec used a tiny part of the funds transferred to it by Ottawa each year to francize and integrate immigrants on its territory.
During the 2021-2022 fiscal year, $697 million was paid by the federal government to Quebec under the Quebec-Canada Immigration Agreement. The Legault government invested 168.2 million of this sum (paid unconditionally) for francization services, according to its last fiscal year.
Quebec destined for demographic decline?
If Ottawa increases immigration to 500,000 newcomers in 2025, but Quebec does not follow this growth in terms of its own thresholds, Quebec’s demographic weight in the country will decrease. Will this result in the province’s political weight decreasing over time in the House of Commons?
To this specific question, Mr. Legault and his new Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette, cited “safeguards”, without clearly specifying them, which would exist to counter this consequence.
“There are ways to prevent that. However, there are safeguards that exist. We should probably add more, but we must continue to recognize that Quebec is a distinct society, it is a nation and in that sense, there are significant powers that we have and that we must keep, and we have to add more, ”said Mr. Legault.
“We rely on a commitment from the Prime Minister of Canada on this need to ensure stable representation of Quebec in the House of Commons. That’s what we rely on. […] Oppositions [à Ottawa] are also in this perspective. For us, it’s reassuring,” said Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette later.
Ottawa legislated last spring by adopting Bill C-14 which establishes that the number of members allocated to a province in the House of Commons “cannot be less than the number of members allocated to it”. Quebec will therefore not lose seats at the end of each census, but the provinces whose demographic weight is increasing would have new ones.
The question of the threshold
For her first press scrum as Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette on Wednesday defended the threshold of 50,000 immigrants per year established by the government of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ). If there is no study to establish what the real reception capacity of Quebec is, Mme Fréchette explained that this figure was chosen based on the province’s francization capacity, particularly in the regions, and the available housing.
“It’s based on our ability to support people in terms of francization, in particular. […] We know that there are also real estate issues. We have to make sure that we can house the immigrants we receive. We also want to regionalize our immigration and we have to ensure that we have adequate intake capacity in the regions,” said Ms.me Frechette.
The Legault government, which is demanding more powers from Ottawa in terms of immigration, intends to “use all possible levers to ensure that the maximum percentage of our immigrants who are French-speaking is reached,” added the minister. As for the federal government, she hopes that her counterpart, Minister Sean Fraser, has a plan to demonstrate how he intends to welcome 500,000 newcomers without reducing the weight of French in Canada.
“I felt last week with Minister Fraser an important sensitivity for the French fact. He had also taken French lessons in the last few months. [et] we exchanged entirely in French during our meeting. I hope that this sensitivity will also be reflected in the action plan that the Canadian government will present to us to ensure that we have enough francophone immigrants. […] I can’t wait to see the plan,” said M.me Frechette.
François Legault for his part recalled on Wednesday that Québec solidaire (QS) is the party which proposed the highest immigration threshold during the last election campaign, at 80,000 newcomers per year. “There, if you do a little calculation, 23% of 500,000, we would be almost double what the party that offers the most represents,” he said.
At a press conference in Montreal, the new Finance Critic for the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), Frédéric Beauchemin, recalled that his party was in favor of welcoming up to 70,000 immigrants, then establishing this threshold according to market needs, particularly in the regions.
Admittedly, his party is worried about seeing the demographic weight of Quebec diminishing within Canada, but his spokesperson on employment, Madwa-Nika Cadet, judges that “any party that thinks it is necessary to lower the thresholds [d’immigration] disqualifies itself when it comes to responding to labor shortages”.
” Absolutely [ça nous inquiète], [mais] Due to the labor shortage, we have always found it important to raise our thresholds. But the question is who should make this decision, and we think that it is up to Quebec to make this decision, ”she then explained.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his part affirmed that “Quebec has long had the capacity to increase its immigration thresholds”.
“I know that every time I speak to business owners in Montreal or in the regions, they emphasize how important it is to counter the labor shortage,” he said.
“I understand that there are economic objectives and that employers would be open to that, but the fact remains that here, we have a special challenge in Quebec [qui est de] keep and promote French and make sure that we stop seeing the percentage of Francophones decrease in Quebec,” replied Mr. Legault from Quebec.
With Vincent Larin, The Press