CAQ’s plan for im­mi­gra­tion about iden­tity

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LI­SON HANES

Last fall, a KFC fran­chise in Lévis had to close down. No, the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion didn’t get sick of the colonel’s se­cret recipe. The own­ers couldn’t find enough work­ers to fry the chicken.

Same story at many a fast-food restau­rant in Que­bec’s re­gions, which have had to shut down tem­po­rar­ily or re­duce oper­at­ing hours. A truck­ing com­pany near Drum­mondville has had to park some of its trucks for lack of driv­ers and a nearby man­u­fac­tur­ing firm is in a con­stant bat­tle to find enough em­ploy­ees.

Some com­pa­nies are so des­per­ate for work­ers, CBC re­cently re­ported, that they’re re­cruit­ing asy­lum seek­ers flood­ing across the border into Que­bec.

As the politi­cians ar­gue over what to do with them and muse about build­ing a fence, YvesThomas Dor­val, the head of the Con­seil du pa­tronat, de­scribes this new pool of labour as “win­win” for busi­ness.

Where, then, is the eco­nomic case for the Coali­tion Avenir Québec’s new im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, ob­tained by L’ac­tu­al­ité? The party now top­ping the polls as an Oct. 1 pro­vin­cial elec­tion nears wants to re­duce the num­ber of im­mi­grants to Que­bec to 40,000 from 50,000 (at least tem­po­rar­ily, it says).

Que­bec is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a labour short­age — the prov­ince’s un­em­ploy­ment rate hit a historic low last year and the econ­omy is fir­ing on all cylin­ders. With an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and a low birthrate typ­i­cal of Western coun­tries, the prob­lems are only go­ing to get worse, ex­perts say.

Un­less we can at­tract more im­mi­grants.

That’s the con­clu­sion of a re­cent study from the In­sti­tut du Québec. It notes that we’re not even keep­ing the 50,000 ar­riv­ing here now. Over the 10-year pe­riod from 2003 to 2013, Que­bec’s re­ten­tion rate was only 75 per cent.

A Con­fer­ence Board of Canada study found that boost­ing im­mi­gra­tion to one per cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion by 2030 is key to main­tain­ing eco­nomic growth in the decades ahead.

And yet, the CAQ wants to make it harder for im­mi­grants to set­tle in Que­bec. It is pledg­ing to is­sue eco­nomic mi­grants cho­sen by the prov­ince a Cer­ti­fi­cat d’ac­com­pa­g­ne­ment tran­si­toire. They would then have three years to ob­tain a job, show their pro­fi­ciency in French and pass a val­ues test in or­der to ob­tain their se­lec­tion cer­tifi­cates from Que­bec, a doc­u­ment they re­quire on the road to ob­tain­ing per­ma­nent res­i­dency from Canada.

Any­one who fails the lan­guage and val­ues tests af­ter a few at­tempts or isn’t on the road to find­ing a job would be deemed per­sona non grata. Of course, Que­bec doesn’t have the author­ity to de­port any­one, the CAQ ad­mits, but they’d nudge Ottawa to do their dirty work for them. Pre­sum­ably, if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­clined to re­move them and Que­bec blocks their path to per­ma­nency, the un­wel­come ones would have lit­tle choice but to move on their own. Au revoir!

Some ob­servers see this plat­form pol­icy, re­cently ap­proved by CAQ MNAs, as a soft­en­ing of the party’s hard line on im­mi­gra­tion, what with its prom­ise of free French-lan­guage cour­ses and ex­cep­tions for refugees, the sick, sin­gle par­ents and new ar­rivals with small chil­dren. But it is sure not putting out the wel­come mat.

In fact, the CAQ is mak­ing it abun­dantly clear: This is not a pol­icy based on eco­nomic ar­gu­ments; this is all about iden­tity.

The CAQ, as we know, has been mer­rily beat­ing the drum of iden­tity pol­i­tics dur­ing the last few years, help­ing feed fears of “the other” and rile up the pub­lic an­tipa­thy for im­mi­grants with pop­ulist tropes.

We’re now see­ing this rhetoric crys­tal­lize in plat­form poli­cies based on as­sert­ing the Que­bec iden­tity. Want to stay here? Bet­ter con­form to our val­ues (what­ever they are. We can only imag­ine the ques­tions on such a test based on CAQ Leader François Le­gault’s past com­ments. He once sug­gested wear­ing a full-body bathing suit could con­sti­tute grounds for dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.).

Yes, Canada ad­min­is­ters a test to im­mi­grants ob­tain­ing their citizenship. It’s a knowl­edge test — about the coun­try’s so­cial and cul­tural his­tory, democ­racy, ge­og­ra­phy, as well as po­lit­i­cal rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. You can study for it, and ac­cord­ing to L’ac­tu­al­ité, the pass rate on the first try is 92 per cent. The worst penalty for re­peated fail­ures is not at­tain­ing the right to vote and not ob­tain­ing full citizenship.

If the CAQ’s test was just that — a primer on Que­bec his­tory and cul­ture — maybe it wouldn’t seem so dis­taste­ful. But fram­ing it as a gauge of one’s val­ues, as a test of one’s moral fi­bre, is re­pug­nant. It seems de­signed to draw a line be­tween us and them. It sets cer­tain peo­ple up to fail, not on their skills or abil­i­ties, but on their opin­ions and be­liefs. It sends the not-so-sub­tle mes­sage “it’s not us, it’s you.” In­te­gra­tion is a one-way street.

The re­quire­ment that all im­mi­grants have a job or be in the process of find­ing one af­ter three years seems rea­son­able enough until you con­sider the dif­fi­culty any­one whose last name isn’t Trem­blay or Bouchard has in find­ing work in Que­bec. A new study by a re­searcher at l’Univer­sité Laval echoed the find­ings of one con­ducted by the Que­bec Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion eight years ago: Re­sumés with iden­ti­cal cre­den­tials sent out by job hunters with foreign names get call­backs half as of­ten as those with Québé­cois names.

Re­search by the In­sti­tut de recherche et d’in­for­ma­tions so­cio-économiques (IRIS) un­sur­pris­ingly found that mi­nori­ties are badly un­der-rep­re­sented in Que­bec’s pub­lic sec­tor. While 13 per cent of Que­be­cers iden­tify as vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties, ac­cord­ing to 2016 cen­sus data, only 4.4 per cent of Hy­dro- Québec em­ploy­ees and 4.3 per cent of Mon­treal school board em­ploy­ees meet this de­scrip­tion. Even the city of Mon­treal, where a third of the pop­u­la­tion comes from dif­fer­ent eth­nic and cul­tural back­grounds, fails to re­flect its di­ver­sity, an is­sue Mayor Valérie Plante has formed a task force to ex­am­ine. Keep in mind the la­bel ‘vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity’ does not nec­es­sar­ily mean im­mi­grant. Many of those fail­ing to get job interviews or be hired by pub­lic or­ga­ni­za­tions were born here, so what chance do new­com­ers have?

The CAQ pol­icy notes that the un­em­ploy­ment rate for im­mi­grants af­ter five years is 15 per cent. But is it them? Or is it us?

Im­mi­grants don’t need to fail the CAQ’s val­ues test for many to feel un­wel­come in Que­bec. But at a time we should be rolling out the red car­pet to new­com­ers for the sake of our con­tin­ued pros­per­ity and growth, the CAQ wants to show them the door.


François Le­gault’s CAQ has been mer­rily beat­ing the drum of iden­tity pol­i­tics, writes Al­li­son Hanes.


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