DETERRING BEST AND BRIGHTEST
Quebec has an immigrant problem, but it's not the one the government and some media commentators have been focusing on lately. If you listened to Premier François Legault on the election campaign trail last fall, accepting too many immigrants — 50,000, he said at the time — would be “suicidal,” posing a threat to social cohesion and successful integration.
If you read Le Journal de Montréal, you'll find dire warnings that the federal government's target of taking in 500,000 immigrants a year (and a Toronto think tank's proposal that Canada boost its population to 100 million by 2100) would “drown” Quebec's demographic and political clout, not to mention diminish the French language, culture and people.
But politicians and public opinion leaders have been so busy scapegoating immigrants (and anglophones) for the decline of French that they've ignored the fact Quebec needs more people from outside the country to work in understaffed hospitals, teach children, conduct cutting edge research, develop state-ofthe-art pharmaceuticals, care for the elderly, or transport goods over long distances.
In a white paper on immigration published a year ago, the Conseil du patronat — Quebec's largest employers group — warned 1.4 million jobs will need to be filled by 2026 because of a rapidly aging population and a chronic worker shortage, but only 78 per cent can be met with the local labour pool.
“To bridge the gap, immigration is at once unavoidable and fully necessary,” it states, while also noting that old stereotypes about immigrants arriving here without jobs or French skills are “no longer reflective of the reality.”
The Quebec government may finally be paying attention to the business community. Last week, Immigration Minister Christine Frechette did an about-face and announced Quebec is opening the door to accepting up to 60,000 immigrants a year by 2027.
“Immigration remains part of the answer to the sociolinguistic, demographic and labour force issues facing Quebec,” she noted.
But at the same time as Quebec is ready to welcome more newcomers, it's also raising the bar on selection criteria for many categories of applicants.
The government will soon unveil new rules requiring skilled economic class immigrants like engineers, professors, teachers and nurses to have a Level 7, or advanced intermediate, grasp of French before coming here. Less skilled, but just as urgently needed positions like hospital orderlies and truck drivers, will have to demonstrate intermediate oral French proficiency, or Level 5 knowledge.
The aim is to ensure that 96 per cent of newcomers have a high level of French before arrival, up from 88 per cent currently.
Frechette also announced that applicants through the Programme Experience Québec, a fast-track to selection for candidates getting a higher education here, can have studied only in French or at francophone colleges and universities.
However, after the botched and heartless attempts to reform the popular PEQ stream in 2019, applications have plummeted from 8,000 a year to 2,000. La Presse reported many prospective skilled and highly educated immigrants are avoiding Quebec because of its track record for moving the goalposts.
Meanwhile, new rules kicked in June 1 under Bill 96, Quebec's tough new language law, giving immigrants just six months grace before they must communicate with the government solely in French.
So now Quebec's immigrant problem is that ugly rhetoric, shifting policies and tough new requirements are deterring the best and brightest — as well as the skilled workers who are most needed — from wanting to settle here.