Quebec government rejects Trudeau's immigration plan, fears decline of French

Quebec politicians are pushing back against a federal immigration plan to welcome 500,000 immigrants per year.  (CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Quebec politicians are pushing back against a federal immigration plan to welcome 500,000 immigrants per year. (CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Canada's plan to increase immigration is raising fears among Quebec's political class, who say the changes would reduce the province's influence in the country and make it harder to protect French.

Provincial legislature members on Wednesday adopted a motion declaring Canada's plan — to welcome 500,000 permanent immigrants a year by 2025 — incompatible with the protection of French in Quebec. The motion also states "it is up to Quebec alone to make its own choices" in immigration matters.

Premier François Legault said Tuesday there is "no question" of Quebec accepting a huge rise in immigration because of the need to properly integrate, house and educate newcomers.

"We're different than the rest of North America," Legault said. "And it's important to protect French in the future to make sure that newcomers speak French, because there will always be a strong incentive for people in Quebec to learn English."

He said his government also opposes the mission of lobby group Century Initiative, which hopes to increase Canada's population to 100 million by 2100.

Necessary for economy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has maintained that his government's immigration plan is necessary to ease labour shortages and to create growth. Canada welcomed 405,000 permanent immigrants in 2021 and 437,000 in 2022.

Quebec has limited its annual target to about 50,000 permanent immigrants per year. And while Legault has said new targets would be announced in the coming weeks, he has repeatedly said the province couldn't welcome more immigrants and also protect French.

But Quebec's position on immigration puts the province in a bind: politicians and pundits are raising alarm that Quebec's influence in the federation would inevitably decline if its population fails to grow at the same rate as the rest of the country's.

On Wednesday, Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon challenged Legault on what he would do about a new federal migration policy that would "either accelerate the decline of French and the housing crisis, or else melt away Quebec's political weight — probably both."

Legault has said his priority is to ensure immigrants to Quebec all speak French and that his government would present legislation to that effect.

"The urgency, in the short term, is to protect French in Quebec," he said Tuesday, adding, "but we will continue to fight to protect Quebec's political weight in Canada."

He also repeated his longstanding demand that the federal government transfer more power over immigration to the province, including in the temporary worker and family reunification streams.

Quebec's immigration number set at 50,000 per year

Trudeau on Wednesday ducked a question about whether Quebec's political clout could decline with its decreasing share of the Canadian population.

"Everyone has the right to make the decisions they want within their immigration threshold in Quebec, but we will be encouraging economic growth and the creation of good jobs across the country," Trudeau said in Ottawa as he headed to a caucus meeting.

While Legault is tangling with Ottawa over immigration powers, the premier was also facing criticism at home over soaring numbers of temporary immigrants who aren't included in provincial targets.

Quebec's official immigration number is set at around 50,000 people a year, but the opposition parties have noted the real number is much higher due to rising numbers of people who enter the province as temporary foreign workers, skilled workers or students.

Legault has not responded to opposition demands that he include the numbers of temporary workers in the province's official immigration plans but has said his government was looking at different solutions to ensure these workers have a knowledge of French.