It’s an election already being written off as “boring” by political pundits but the choice of which political party will get to form the next government in Quebec after the polls close on Oct. 3 could have profound implications on future immigration to La Belle Province.
Premier François Legault has made himself clear. He’s dead set against increasing immigration to Quebec to 58,000 new permanent residents per year.
“With 50,000 immigrants per year, we are already one of the few places in the world that receives proportionately as many immigrants,” the premier reportedly said in French in early June.
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Early polls gave Legault’s ruling Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) a wide lead, putting it on track to not only win this election but to do so with an even more significant majority than in 2018.
Poll aggregator Qc125.com (Canada338) estimated on the day the writ was dropped the CAQ would win between 82 and 106 seats and the Liberal Party of Quebec only between 10 and 24.
Québec Solidaire was then thought to only be likely to get between five and 14 seats, the Parti Québécois six or less and the Conservative Party of Quebec four or less.
Unless the Liberals pull off a major reversal during the campaign, immigration policy in Quebec will likely continue to be set by the CAQ.
But the Liberals are much more bullish on immigration than the ruling party.
In mid-May, provincial Liberal leader Dominique Anglade called for a massive increase in immigration to Quebec, up to 70,000 new permanent residents annually.
“This year, Quebec will on the whole welcome that many,” she reportedly said in French. “This is the policy of François Legault, 70,000 people. If we have the capacity to welcome 70,000 immigrants, I think that we should base ourselves on that figure and we are discussing that in all the regions of Quebec.”
Quebec Wants To Welcome Up To 71,275 New Permanent Residents This Year Only
In May, Quebec announced it was going to welcome up to 71,275 new permanent residents this year, up more than 41.7 per cent from the 50,285 last year, in a bid to make up for immigrants who were unable to come to the province at the height of the pandemic.
Provincial Immigration Minister Jean Boulet, though, downplayed the boost in immigration this year in an interview with the French-language Radio-Canada television network earlier this year.
He was then – and still is – under pressure from business and industry groups to vastly increase Quebec’s immigration targets but Boulet explained away this year’s increase in immigration as nothing more than the province catching up for losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The limit on the number of immigrants allowed, based on the multi-year plan, limits new permanent residents to Quebec to 52,500 per year,” said Boulet in French.
In 2020, though, Quebec was unable to welcome the 44,000 new permanent residents which it was then allowed under that multi-year plan. Instead, only 25,225 new permanent residents came to Quebec that year.
The 18,775 shortfalls in permanent residents between those expected under the 2020 immigration target and those who actually came that year are now being added to Quebec’s allotment for this year.
Business Groups Welcoming Temporary Boost In Quebec Immigration This Year
That’s pushing immigration to Quebec to a record high because the previous shortfall is now being added to the 52,500 allotments for this year under the multi-year plan.
That level of immigration to Quebec – if it materializes – will mean 20,990 more new permanent residents to the province this year than in 2021.
The boost in immigration to Quebec comes as the province is also expecting an increase in temporary foreign workers from the roughly 30,000 who worked in the province last year.
“With the simplified applications and the addition of several occupations, trades that will benefit from fast-track processing for temporary immigration, there will certainly be more (temporary foreign workers in Quebec) to meet the demands of Quebec businesses,” said Boulet.
That extra immigration is music to the ears of the province’s business community.
Michel Leblanc, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, is blaming the acute labour shortage in the region for upward pressure on wages, unmet contracts, and a lower quality of service by businesses in Greater Montreal.
“The issue of the availability of workers is the No. 1 issue invoked by businesses when they’re asked about the risks or obstacles to their growth and even the risks for the eventual survival of the business,” the chamber of commerce president reportedly told the Canadian Press earlier this month.
Business groups in the province want Quebec to welcome at least 64,000 new permanent residents per year, or 21.9 per cent higher than its current allotment set by Ottawa.
Business, Industry Groups Want As Many As 90,000 New Permanent Residents Annually
Other business organizations want immigration levels to be increased even more. The reported consensus among industry groups is for Quebec to welcome 80,000 immigrants every year.
Véronique Proulx, president of the Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec (MEQ) manufacturing and exporting industry association, has reportedly called for the province to receive as many as 90,000 immigrants annually.
“We know the labour shortages cannot be fixed in the blink of an eye and it will take a series of strategies working in tandem to reduce the impact of the lack of workers,” Proulx said in a statement in French.
Ahead of the campaign period for the provincial election, MEQ and three other business associations, the Conseil du Patronat du Québec (CPQ) employers’ group, the Fédération des Chambres de Commerce du Québec (FCCQ) association of chambers of commerce, and the Fédération Canadienne de l’Entreprise Indépendante (FCEI) association of independent businesses, lobbied the provincial political parties to take a series of measures to resolve the labour shortages.
Immigration was among them.
“With a Quebec provincial election, it is important for us to inform political parties about the need to put in place solid strategies to grow the pool of workers and maintain Quebec’s competitive advantage,” said Proulx.
Dwindling Percentage Of Quebec Households Speak French At Home
Boosting immigration is a tough sell to Quebeckers, though, in the wake of a report by Statistics Canada which shows the use of French at home declining as a percentage of the population due to immigration in Quebec despite the actual number of people speaking French going up in that province from 2016 through to 2021.
“From 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadians who spoke predominantly French at home rose in Quebec, British Columbia and Yukon, but decreased in the other provinces and territories,” reports Statistics Canada.
“The proportion of Canadians who spoke predominantly French at home decreased in all the provinces and territories, except Yukon.”
That has stoked fears among Quebeckers that their traditional Quebecois culture may be in peril – and it has led to most political parties in the province shying away from any talk of boosting immigration there during this election.
In the provincial legislature earlier this year, the Parti Québécois (PQ) opposed any sort of massive increase in immigration.
PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon has instead demanded a debate on immigration “based on science and not on ideology or false premises.”
“The simple fact of asking questions about raising immigration quotas raises implications about the intolerance of those bringing them up, which creates an atmosphere that is not serene,” he reportedly said.
PQ Leader Tried To Put The Brakes On Immigration To Quebec
Quebec society must make its own decisions about immigration and answer for itself whether or not more immigration will in fact create more wealth and raise the per capita GDP, he said.
The PQ leader also tried to put the brakes on immigration to the province in February.
When the federal government released its 2022-2024 Levels Plan in which it revealed Ottawa wants to welcome 431,645 permanent residents this year, 447,055 next year, and 451,000 in 2024, St-Pierre Plamondon fired off a letter to the premier asking him if the province had been consulted about Canada’s new immigration targets.
In that letter, the PQ leader warned that higher levels of immigration to the rest of Canada could cut Quebec’s clout on the national political scene.
“Quebec is already in the position of being politically insignificant in the sense that to become prime minister of Canada, one no longer has to win over Quebec,” the leader of the separatist party reportedly said.
“Given the fragile state of francophones in North America, being part of a political structure that no longer needs to consider our interests to wield power, in view of the history of imperialism and colonialism in Canada towards francophones and indigenous people, the future is bleak for us if we remain a part of Canada.”
The Conservative Party of Quebec’s approach to immigration in this election is to simply avoid the topic altogether. The party’s platform is completely silent on immigration.
The sovereigntist Québec Solidaire is mum on increasing or decreasing immigration levels overall but has come out in favour of boosting immigration for refugees fleeing their homes due to climate change or other humanitarian reasons.
“We want to make Quebec a sanctuary and a truly welcoming place while making it easy to gain citizenship for those already here,” the party’s platform states in French.
The party is also proposing to boost settlement services and French-language instruction for immigrants in all regions of the province.