Quebec alone will determine immigration levels, Premier Legault says

Legault says Quebec has to make sure to protect its French language and culture before opening the doors wider.

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QUEBEC — Premier François Legault says Quebec will never accept the same massive influx of permanent immigrants that the rest of the provinces seem to want to welcome in the future.

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And it will soon outline new measures to ensure the current soaring numbers of temporary foreign workers learn French so they do not contribute to the anglicization of Quebec, Legault said. The category of permanent immigrants tagged economic, which Quebec controls, will also soon have to learn French.

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“I want to be very clear,” Legault told reporters on his way into question period at the legislature. “It is out of the question for Quebec to experience such an increase in immigration in the coming years.

“It is this way and must stay this way: Quebec alone must decide on the number of permanent immigrants it receives each year.”

While Legault repeated the issue on the table is the survival of the French language and culture and the province’s demographic clout in Canada, he did not repeat past remarks in which he said a massive increase could lead to Quebec becoming a kind of Louisiana, where French has almost disappeared.

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Legault made the remarks following a front-page article in the Journal de Montréal warning that Quebec could emerge as the big loser as Canada charges ahead with the Century Initiative, a plan created by an influential pressure group that believes it is necessary to increase the population of Canada to 100 million by 2100.

Canada’s current population is about 39 million. The federal government has said the scheme is not government policy but it is making waves in the provincial capital for the first time.

Legault stressed the issue of permanent and temporary immigration are different but noted there are many temporary immigrants including foreign students and he has asked various ministers to examine ways to boost their use of French in the short term.

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“The urgency in the short term is to protect French,” Legault said. “But we will also continue fighting to protect Quebec’s demographic weight within Canada and we must continue to increase Quebec’s autonomy as we did with Bill 21 on religious symbols, as we did with Bill 96.”

He noted federal MPs adopted a motion recognizing Quebec as a nation and as a result will continue to defend its autonomy on issues of identity.

But even if he did not repeat the comment on Louisiana, Legault repeated that Quebec’s ultimate goal is still to assume full jurisdiction over immigration from Ottawa.

A resolution up for debate at this coming weekend’s Coalition Avenir Québec policy convention in Sherbrooke, however, only calls for the province to take over the program covering temporary foreign workers.

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One of the first politicians to hop on the Century Initiative story was Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, leader of the Parti Québecois, who said he warned Legault in a letter in February 2022 that the plan would be bad news for Quebec.

Reading a letter he wrote to Legault then, St-Pierre Plamondon said he called on him to denounce the scheme because nobody had consulted Quebec. He said that is a violation of the 1991 federal-Quebec agreement giving Quebec more powers to select immigrants, which stipulates that Quebec has to be consulted on such matters.

He said the only reason Legault seems to have reacted is because the story made big headlines in the weekend press.

Later, the PQ sponsored a motion calling on Quebec to officially oppose the Century Initiative. The motion was adopted.

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The issue came up against the backdrop of a raging debate in Quebec over the growing number of temporary foreign workers. On Monday, the minister responsible for the French language, Jean-François Roberge, said while such workers can help Quebec employers meet temporary needs, they cannot become part of an anglicization problem because they don’t speak French.

Temporary immigration has soared in Quebec over the last decade as employers scramble to find workers. Quebec had about 290,000 non-permanent workers in July 2022. The figure now is now 346,000.

Quebec’s Liberals Tuesday called for a debate on the real number of immigrants Quebec receives a year. The government’s official total is 50,000 a year.

Liberal immigration critic Monsef Derraji called that number “the big CAQ lie,” because the number of temporary workers has exploded.

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