Legault defends saying non-French speaking immigration could threaten Quebec cohesion

·3 min read
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault made controversial remarks about the threat of unchecked immigration at a political rally in Drummondville, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault made controversial remarks about the threat of unchecked immigration at a political rally in Drummondville, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault is defending comments he made Sunday when he said that non-French speaking immigration, if not limited in number, could pose a threat to national cohesion in the province.

"Immigration is an asset for Quebec but we have a limited capacity to integrate French, and that's all I'm saying," he said during a campaign stop in Saint-Lazare, Que., on Monday.

"We also have a responsibility to defend the French language, to protect it. That does not mean that immigration is not important … but we have a challenge to take in a number of immigrants that we are able to integrate to protect the French language in the long term."

Speaking to a few hundred supporters and several candidates in Drummondville, Que. on Sunday, Legault stressed the importance of protecting the cohesion of the Quebec nation, which he said is centred around the French language.

"The premier of Quebec, the only head of state in North America who represents a majority of Francophones, has a duty to stop the decline of French in Quebec," he said Sunday.

Asked afterward who represented that threat, Legault pointed to opposition parties like the Liberals and Québec Solidaire who are campaigning on increasing immigration levels if they are elected.

"It's like math. If we want to stop the decline for a while, we have to better integrate newcomers to French," Legault said, whose own party wants to cap immigration at 50,000 per year, with 80 per cent who already speak French.

The Parti Québécois (PQ) would lower those thresholds to 35,000, while the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) would keep them at 70,000 and Québec Solidaire (QS) would cap them at 80,000.

Just last week, Legault stirred controversy with comments that linked immigration to the province with extremism and violence before apologizing. His latest comments were condemned by his opponents.

"The Ukrainians fleeing the bombs, the Italians, the Greeks, the Mexicans, the Portuguese, the Vietnamese, [...] is this a threat to our nation?" Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade responded Sunday.

On Monday, Anglade accused Legault of making "petty" comments on the campaign trail — ones she said hurt her personally as a child of immigrant parents.

"It's your speech, François Legault, that threatens social cohesion."

QS co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois called Sunday's comments on immigration "clumsy" and "hurtful."

"I'm tired of François Legault always talking about immigration as a problem, as a threat, as something that weakens us as a nation," he said.

CBC
CBC

The comments made their way to the federal level on Monday, when Canadian Heritage Minister and Quebec lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez was asked for his reaction.

Rodriguez said it's time to stop dividing Quebecers into "us and them."

"The second a person comes to Quebec, devotes his life to Quebec, raises his kids in Quebec, that person is a Quebecer," he said outside a federal Liberal caucus meeting in St. Andrews, N.B.

The minister told reporters — in fluent French — that he wonders whether Legault would have considered him and his parents threats because they spoke no French when they immigrated to Quebec from Argentina.

Rodriguez asked at what point a person stops being an immigrant and becomes a Quebecer.