Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao reflects on life as a young immigrant in the province

Click to play video 'Quebec finance minister Carlos Leitao on life as an immigrant' Quebec finance minister Carlos Leitao on life as an immigrant
WATCH ABOVE: Quebec finance minister Carlos Leitao was an economist for thirty years before jumping into provincial politics. He sat down with Global's Raquel Fletcher to talk about what life was like for a young Portuguese immigrant in the 1970's.

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao was an economist for 30 years before jumping into politics.

Since first being elected in 2014, the McGill University graduate has represented the West Island riding of Robert-Baldwin.

READ MORE: Quebec in good economic shape, says finance minister

He explained his favourite thing about the West Island is how multi-cultural it is, but in a sit-down interview with Global’s Raquel Fletcher, he talks about his frustrations with the dialogue at the National Assembly when it comes to immigration.

WATCH BELOW: Speaking to finance minister Carlos Leitao

RF: What was it like being a newcomer to Montreal in the 1970’s [as a teenager from Portugal]?
Story continues below advertisement

CL: Oh, those were great times, the 1970s, for those who remember.

We had the Olympics [in 1976], so for a young man, that was a wonderful time.

READ MORE: Quebec says it’s on track for $2.2-billion surplus in current fiscal year

That was a great time.

WATCH BELOW: Carlos Leitao on Quebec’s 2016 budget

Click to play video 'Leitao on Quebec 2016 budget' Leitao on Quebec 2016 budget
Leitao on Quebec 2016 budget

RF: As an immigrant, do you have strong feelings about the discussion we’re having in Quebec about immigration – in particular, reducing the number of immigrants in the province?

CL: I do. I feel very strongly about that.

Story continues below advertisement

Often, in the National Assembly I have to bite my lip and hold my thoughts because sometimes I think I’m going to explode and say something I’m going to regret.

READ MORE: Finance Minister Leitao tells opposition to ‘shut up’ in question period

Some of the questions that are being asked, particularly by the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) – if you listen to those questions carefully, there’s a sub tone that I find very distressing.

WATCH BELOW: Carlos Leitao won’t have new shoes for Quebec budget

Click to play video 'Leitao wont’ have new shoes for Quebec budget' Leitao wont’ have new shoes for Quebec budget
Leitao wont’ have new shoes for Quebec budget

RF: What really gets you when you say you want to explode?

CL: The proposition that immigrants are a threat to Quebec, or to Quebec society.

Story continues below advertisement

I even heard the word “virus” and that’s actually the reason why I came into politics back in 2013 when I decided to join.

READ MORE: Quebec Finance Minister forgoes new shoes ahead of provincial budget

At that time, there was this idea, the so-called Charter of Rights and all that, creating this divisiveness among Quebecers.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec boasts an economic surplus

Click to play video 'Quebec economic surplus' Quebec economic surplus
Quebec economic surplus

RF: Have you ever felt, as an immigrant, not accepted in Quebec?

CL: No, no, never.

Sometimes, people say stupid things, but that never bothered me and in general, I never felt set aside or insulted or anything like that.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Finance Minister won’t take sides on controversial new Hydro-Quebec line

Having said that, I realize also that the face of immigration has changed.

Immigration into Quebec, and into Canada, in perhaps the last 20 years has become much more multicultural, much more multi-coloured and that’s bringing new challenges.

WATCH BELOW: Where is your money going?

RF: Are you saying there are racist undertones in this discussion?

CL: We shouldn’t hide from words that sometimes may seem too strong – but yes, when you look at the fact that some recent arrivals can’t find a job and the only reason they can’t even get to an interview is because of their name.

Story continues below advertisement

The head of our youth wing, Jonathan Marleau had a very poignant testimony the other day, when he said, “Listen, when I go to rent an apartment, I always make sure to bring along one of my friends.”

READ MORE: Quebec Finance Minister talks budget with McGill students

Why? Because Jonathan is black and he feels he needs to come with a white friend to make sure the rental goes well. You know, just an example.

All the more reason for us as politicians to make sure that our public attitude and the way we address issues of immigration, that we are careful in how we do it and that we don’t play to the lowest instincts of the populous.