His remarks came when he was speaking to reporters in Victoriaville about what he described as the “challenges of integration” in Quebec and elsewhere on the 11th day of the election campaign Wednesday. Legault said the “type of society we want,” the “values” of that society and “respect” have to be considered when welcoming newcomers.
“Quebecers are peaceful. They don’t like to bicker, they don’t like extremists, they don’t like violence,” he said when asked what type of respect would be threatened.
“We have to ensure that we keep it the way it is right now.”
Legault quickly came under fire for his remarks by other provincial party leaders. Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade accused him of trying to divide Quebecers.
“If you make a link between violence and immigration, I don’t think that sends a very good message,” she told reporters in Laval. “It’s an extremely dangerous conflation.”
The CAQ leader later backtracked on his comments and apologized on social media a few hours later, saying that immigration is an asset to Quebec.
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“Integration will always be a challenge for a French-speaking nation in North America,” Legault wrote on Twitter. “I did not want to link immigration with violence. I’m sorry if my words were confusing. My desire is to unite.”
Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois weighed in on Legault’s apology on Twitter.
“I think François Legault underestimates the impact his words have on people’s lives. In politics, our words have consequences on the real world,” he wrote.
Earlier this week, Legault said he would maintain immigration targets around 50,000 per year if he is re-elected on Oct.3, which he said best matches the province’s “integration capacity.” The CAQ leader believes that cap will also allow his government to safeguard the French language.
Comments haunt Legault on campaign trail
After issuing an online apology, Legault also addressed his remarks in public Thursday on Day 12 of the election campaign.
Speaking to reporters, Legault said he never meant to disparage immigrants when he said a day earlier that he wouldn’t boost immigration because Quebecers don’t like conflict, extremism or violence.
The CAQ leader went on to add that immigration is a source of wealth for the province but that all countries have a challenge to integrate immigrants into a set of values.
“In Quebec, our challenge is really about the language and not about the violence,” he said.
— with files from The Canadian Press