Immigration the ‘ballot box’ question in Quebec election, Couillard says

Click to play video: 'Does Quebec need more immigrants?' Does Quebec need more immigrants?
WATCH: Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard says immigration is a ballot box question for voters heading to the polls on Oct. 1. As Global's Raquel Fletcher reports, the Coalition Avenir Québec is calling for fewer immigrants and better integration – but the Liberals say that could harm Quebec’s economy – Sep 10, 2018

Does Quebec need more or less immigration? Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard says this is the ballot box question.

READ MORE: Where do Quebec’s political parties stand on immigration?

In 2014, Couillard promised to create jobs — a quarter of a million of them. Fast forward four years later and now the problem is a lack of workers.

“It’s a radical change in Quebec,” Couillard said during a press conference in Quebec City on Monday. He was presenting his strategy to address concerns about Quebec’s labour shortage.

The Liberals estimate Quebec will have to fill over one million jobs in the next 10 years, with one in five through immigration.

READ MORE: ‘Bring me workers’: Quebec unveils plan to deal with growing labour shortage

Meanwhile, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) still promises to cut immigration levels by 20 per cent. The Liberals say they will increase immigration, although Couillard wouldn’t give an exact number.

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François Legault said it makes no sense to boost the number when Quebec struggles to keep immigrants in the province.

During a press conference on Saturday in Quebec City where he revealed his financial framework, Legault said about his immigration platform: “I repeat — I know that you’re maybe tired to hear this figure, but 26 per cent of new immigrants leave Quebec in the 10 first years, so this is not a success,” he said.

READ MORE: CAQ, Liberals have opposing strategies to labour shortage, immigration

The correlation between immigration and the labour shortage is a complicated one. In this Global News story on the labour shortage in Quebec City, Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon is skeptical immigration is the solution.

A new study from the Business Development Bank of Canada found 39 per cent of small and medium businesses are struggling to find workers, but only 18 percent of them are turning to immigration to fill those jobs.

READ MORE: CAQ says it would expel immigrants who fail to learn French in 3 years

So how can Quebec convince immigrants to move here if employers are reluctant to hire them? And the labour shortage is particularly acute in the regions.

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“It’s up to the regions themselves to mobilize themselves: families, elected officials to greet these people, to make life so interesting in the regions, they will not want to leave. I think we can do this,” Couillard said.

The Parti Québécois proposes maintaining the current immigration levels, as long as newcomers already speak French. On Saturday in Montreal, leader Jean-François Lisée presented his plan to table Bill 202 to toughen French laws.

Québec Solidaire is choosing not to discuss immigration at all during the campaign.

On Sept. 8, co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois tweeted: “I don’t mean to feed the debate on the question of immigration and I hope that the parties and media will be more interested in more pressing issues.”

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