Posted on December 6, 2018

Quebec Confirms Plan to Reduce Immigration by About 20%

Philip Authier, Montreal Gazette, December 4, 2018

Despite a mild rap on the knuckles from Ottawa, Quebec is steaming ahead with its plan to reduce its immigration numbers by about 20 per cent in 2019.

Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled the plan in the National Assembly on Tuesday. It says Quebec will reduce the total number of new arrivals by more than 10,000 a year — from 53,300 in 2018 to between 38,000 and 42,000 in 2019.

The idea, Jolin-Barrette said, is to welcome in fewer but do a better job helping them integrate, find jobs and learn French.

Quebec describes the reduction as temporary, but there is no indication when or if the number will be allowed to grow despite the province’s chronic labour shortages and pleas from employers everywhere for more workers.

No hearings or public consultations into the policy are planned.

The plan arrives even though Quebec and Ottawa have yet to reach an agreement on how it will work. Quebec controls only part of the total number of new arrivals — that is, economic immigrants who seek employment or want to invest here.

Ottawa has full control over the family reunification program and refugees.

But instead of setting the scene for a federal-provincial confrontation, the federal intergovernmental affairs minister Dominic LeBlanc went to pains to say he wants to avoid a confrontation with Quebec’s new Coalition Avenir Québec government.

“We are not surprised,” LeBlanc told reporters in Ottawa. “We are disappointed, however, that the government, faced with a shortage of labour, has decided to reduce the number of immigrants.”

LeBlanc stressed the “constructive relationship,” that exists between Ottawa and Quebec since the signing of the 1991 Canada-Quebec accord on immigration, which gives Quebec the power to select new arrivals.

“You know me well,” LeBlanc said. “I am not someone who wants to get into a fight, I am always in a good mood.”

There was a similar gentle rap on the knuckles from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said Tuesday he thinks Quebec is headed in the wrong direction.

“What I hear across Quebec is that entrepreneurs and businesses are concerned about a lack of labour,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “I am not sure it is the best time to reduce the number of people who come.”

But the comments were no deterrent to Quebec’s majority government. In fact, Premier François Legault appeared ready to call Ottawa’s bluff on the issue by reminding the federal Liberals they, too, have to face Quebec’s voters in 2019 and polls show solid support for the CAQ’s plan.

“I think Mr. Trudeau sees, like everyone else, that the CAQ government has a clear mandate,” Legault told reporters on his way out of daily question period.

Earlier, under questioning from Liberal interim leader Pierre Arcand, Legault said the Liberals should mind their tongue given their dismal record on integrating immigrants over the last 15 years.

“One immigrant in five left Quebec because they didn’t find a decent job,” Legault responded. “So it’s a bit short-sighted to think we will solve Quebec’s labour shortages only with immigration.”

That earned Jolin-Barrette a fresh blast from Liberal immigration critic Dominique Anglade, who accused the CAQ of picking a number out of thin air.

“The one thing that seems clear on the CAQ’s side is that they have picked an arbitrary number based on an ideology,” Anglade said.

‘Proud of the plan’

“I am proud of the plan,” Jolin-Barrette responded. “It is not respectful to tell people still in the country of origin: ‘Come work here in your domain,’ when we don’t necessarily have jobs in their area of expertise.”

According to the government’s document, Quebec wants to cut the number of economic immigrants from 31,200 in 2018 to between 21,700 and 24,300 in 2019.

The total number under the family unification plan, which Ottawa controls, would drop from 11,700 to between 8,900 and 9,400.

The refugee category — also Ottawa’s jurisdiction — falls from 9,400 to between 6,800 and 7.500.

At a news conference, Jolin-Barrette dismissed the idea that Quebec’s decision to table its plan before it has an agreement with Ottawa is a pressure tactic. He said the “mechanics” of the system are such that Quebec has to present its plan first to the legislature.

Batted off questions

And he batted off questions about the values and French language tests the CAQ said it would impose on immigrants.

“They will be developed eventually,” he said.

And despite the warnings from Ottawa, Jolin-Barrette insisted both Quebec and Ottawa are pursuing “the same objectives.”

There was other criticism of the plan, particularly from the business community.

Michel Leblanc, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, said while his organization has been pleading for better integration methods for years, cutting the number of immigrants is a bad idea.

He said instead of cutting to 40,000, Quebec should increase the number to 60,000.

Conseil du patronat ‘regrets’ decision

The province’s largest labour group, the Conseil du patronat, said in a statement that it “regrets” Quebec’s decision to reduce the number of immigrants.

“Even if immigration constitutes only one part of the solution to meet Quebec’s critical labour needs — about 22 per cent of the demand for the next 10 years — it remains an essential pool of labour for the province’s prosperity,” Conseil president Yves-Thomas Dorval said.

“Reducing the number only makes things worse.”

Stéphane Forget, president of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, said if Quebec wants to cut the number of immigrants, it has to compensate businesses by radically speeding up the notoriously slow selection process.

Any reduction in number must be temporary, he said.