Quebec’s campaigning political parties have been talking a lot about immigration and debating whether Quebec needs more or fewer immigrants.
Have they been giving Quebecers the whole picture?
“Political leaders have big ideas, but none of them know what it’s like on the ground,” said Quebec City bakery owner Denis Barrot.
Barrot moved to Quebec from France 24 years ago and has been the owner of Au Péché Mignon for 15.
“Working conditions were more human here than in France,” he says, explaining why he decided to stay in Quebec. “And then I met my wife.”
Now a Canadian citizen, he knows many immigrants are eager to integrate into Quebec society. With the province’s labour shortage, Barrot is looking for personnel abroad. He tried to hire someone from France, but his request was refused.
He said the government told him that he didn’t look hard enough for Canadian employees first.
This week, the Liberal Party unveiled its plan to fix the labour shortage, concentrating heavily on immigration.
However, Barrot says even francophones wanting to move here face “administrative barriers.”
“There are people who are francophones, who want to integrate, and we don’t make it easy for them to come here,” he said.
Reducing immigration by 20 per cent
Laval University political science professor Thierry Giasson said even politicians do not appear to have a strong understanding of how the system works. “Some politicians are confused about the issue,” he said.
“I think they want to address it because they know there’s fear or misunderstanding, or even xenophobia, and they want to play with that. And I think it’s a very dangerous game,” he added.
One example is the Coalition Avenir Québec proposal to cut down on all types of immigration by 20 per cent.
“Then they realized they couldn’t do that because they obviously didn’t know their law,” Giasson explained, noting that immigration is a federal responsibility as well as a provincial one.
The CAQ now says it will only cut down the number of economic immigrants, a revision to their policy that Giasson says “causes confusion in the population.”
Despite the labour shortage, the CAQ says it’s necessary to cut down on immigration because too many newcomers are leaving the province. Fewer immigrants, the CAQ says, but better integration and retention.
Does the argument add up? Not for Giasson.
“I think it’s really odd math for them to say that. I think the solution is to invest in better integration programs, programs to help immigrants learn French.”
He added: “They’re spending left and right on social programs, on tax cuts, on dental care, every one of them. Yet none of (the political parties) except for the Liberals have committed to investing more into immigrant integration.”
The Parti Québécois says it will only accommodate French-speaking immigrants.
Will that lead to better integration? Giasson also has his doubts. Language, he says, isn’t always the reason immigrants choose to stay.
“A quarter to 40 per cent of French immigrants from France are leaving,” he said, citing both cultural and economic reasons.
Giasson said French in Quebec is not threatened. More than 94 per cent of Quebecers speak French.
“Coming from someone like François Legault, who claims he’s a nationalist … He’s an advocate of Bill 101, I think he’s always been one. To say that immigration is a threat to French society is not recognizing the impact that Bill 101 has had on the preservation of French in our society,” he said.
Are Quebec’s politicians purposely playing on the public’s fear?
“We don’t have a homegrown Donald Trump. François Legault is not Donald Trump,” Giasson said.
However, he said the CAQ and PQ stances might be attractive to a certain part of the population.
“They will never say it publicly that they do that to bring in ultra-nationalists or xenophobic or fascist votes to their camp, but these people vote … and they’re listening to what the parties are saying right now,” he said.