'We aren't an elective monarchy': Opposition MNAs decry Legault's push to pass immigration, secularism bills

Opposition parties are accusing Quebec's Legault government of trying to run the National Assembly like a business, as they attempt to extend the debate of its two flagship bills 9 and 21.

Members of the National Assembly are sitting this weekend after Premier François Legault announced he would invoke closure to ensure the bills pass before summer.

Both of the proposed laws have been overseen by the province's new immigration minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette.

"We aren't an elective monarchy; François Legault is not the king of the National Assembly and Monsieur Jolin-Barrette is not his prince," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson of the left-wing party Québec Solidaire.

"The government is not a business and Mr. Legault and Mr. Jolin-Barrette are not the bosses here," he added.

Debate over closure

MNAs began a two-hour debate on the use of closure on Saturday. Debate was delayed in the afternoon while the Speaker of the National Assembly reviewed requests by opposition MNAs. 

After the debate, MNAs began discussing Bill 9, the proposed immigration reform, and will continue to do so overnight. It's expected to pass in the early morning hours Sunday.

Legault's decision to invoke closure limits debate at the province's National Assembly over the controversial secularism and immigration bills.

The premier said Friday he has a mandate to act on both issues, which were key planks in the Coalition Avenir Québec's electoral platform last fall.

"What I want Quebecers to understand is that I'm doing exactly what they wanted," Legault said before debates began Saturday.

Bill 9 sets out the framework for a Quebec values test that would-be immigrants will need to pass in order to become a permanent resident.

Bill 21 is a proposed ban on religious symbols in the civil service.

Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC

Opposition parties reacted strongly to the decision to invoke closure.

"If we limit debate time, speaking time, unfortunately, we're going to end up with a government that will want to lead by majority and by authority," said Martin Ouellet of the Parti Québécois.

18,000 immigrants waiting for worker status

"The decision of the government is unjustified, it is useless," said Nadeau-Dubois of Québec Solidaire. "It's a show of force from a government that does not respect the opposition parties and their work."

Opposition parties are trying one last time to convince the Legault government to process the province's more than 18,000 pending applications for skilled immigrant worker status in Quebec. 

The CAQ announced in February it would scrap the files under Bill 9, and make a host of other changes to the province's immigration laws, emphasizing French-language skills and regional labour needs. 

Under the bill, titled, "An Act to increase Quebec's socio-economic prosperity and adequately meet labour market needs through successful immigrant integration," any application prior to Aug. 2, 2018 will be made void. 

Legault's party has said since those applications are included in the previous system, processing them will take a year and a half — time the party is not willing to sacrifice due to the urgency of the province's labour shortage.

Immigration minister seen out for a run during debate

As debate stretched into Saturday evening, Liberal MNA Marc Tanguay accused Jolin-Barrette of going for a run during proceedings. 

"It's scandalous, it's arrogant. We must denounce it," Tanguay said. 


The comment elicited loud chatter in the room as CAQ MNA Sébastien Schneeberger protested that Tanguay was misleading members of the assembly. 

Liberal MNA Sébastien Proulx defended his colleague, pointing to a tweet with pictures of Jolin-Barrette in workout clothes outside Quebec legislature buildings, taken by a TVA reporter. 

Later, Tanguay rose in the National Assembly and complained that CAQ whip Éric Lefebvre had walked up to him, pointing his finger and swore as he said, "You're not allowed to do that," referring to the jogging accusation.

Tanguay called it threatening and intimidating. 

The Speaker, François Paradis, suspended debate soon after and said the parties involved would discuss it outside of the chamber.