CAQ Leader François Legault on hot seat over proposed French, values tests for newcomers

Click to play video 'Heated exchanges mark first debate between Quebec party leaders' Heated exchanges mark first debate between Quebec party leaders
WATCH: Quebec party leaders took part in a fiery first debate of the provincial election on Thursday. As Global's Raquel Fletcher reports, they all promise to invest more money in health and education – but they also attacked each other's credibility.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault says it would take quite a bit of “bad faith” on the part of newcomers to fail the controversial proposed French and values tests his party could impose on some immigrants.

Legault tried to strike a reassuring tone Friday, a day after Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard accused him of scaring immigrants away from Quebec amid fears of being kicked out if they don’t speak French well enough to meet the standards of a Coalition government test.

READ MORE: Immigration, health take centre stage at Quebec leaders’ debate

The CAQ has promised to impose a values test and a French test on new arrivals after three years if it is elected on Oct. 1.

Those who fail would see their selection certificates revoked, leaving the federal government free to remove them from the country.

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READ MORE: Liberals promise to maintain balanced budget in second term

Legault said it is very unlikely that immigrants would fail after taking three years of free French classes offered by a Coalition government.

“Anyone acting in good faith will pass the French test and values test,” said Legault, who promised leniency for the elderly or those with learning difficulties.

“But if it ever happens that someone is not acting in good faith, we will advise the federal government, as we do in the case of workers whose work permit has expired, and it will be up to the federal government to decide what they will do with this person who is in Quebec illegally.”

WATCH: Quebec’s campaigning political parties have been talking a lot about immigration – but have they been giving Quebecers the whole picture? 

Click to play video 'Fact check: Quebec political parties on immigration' Fact check: Quebec political parties on immigration
Fact check: Quebec political parties on immigration

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée said Legault was clearly in damage control.

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“What he’s saying is everything the CAQ has said about these tests for months, forget about it,” he said in Quebec City. “It won’t have any importance, we bothered you for nothing. Everyone will pass.”

If it makes no difference, then why leave people in suspense, asked Lisée, who wants newcomers to speak French before arriving in the province, thus increasing the likelihood they stay.

“There are people who will refuse to come to Quebec, knowing there’s a test in three years with no certainty they’ll pass,” Lisée said.

The CAQ leader also explained the values portion of the test, which would quiz immigrants about the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Do you think women and men are equal? Do you recognize a secular state and laws come before religion? Do you recognize we have a democratic, non-violent, respectful society? Do you recognize homosexuals have the same rights as others in our society?,” Legault said, listing some examples.

All party leaders were in Quebec City on Friday to meet with Union of Quebec Municipalities members on Day 23 of the campaign.

READ MORE: Quebec political leaders on immigration: reality check

They all pledged to transfer one percentage point of the provincial sales tax to municipalities, who’ve been seeking new sources of revenue to increase their budgets.

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Party leaders in turn were questioned by municipal officials about issues such as labour shortages, immigration and public transit.

Legault also came back on an issue dominating Ontario provincial politics: the size of Toronto city council.

READ MORE: Quebec political parties seek to woo parents, families as school year begins

Legault repeated he believes Montreal has too many elected officials.

“We will work with (Mayor) Valérie (Plante),” Legault said. “There’s a lot (of councillors). Maybe we could reduce, all while coming to an agreement with the City of Montreal, to be more efficient.”