François Legault’s shameless pandering on immigration

Capping immigration won’t do anything to protect the French language


When François Legault launched the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec (CAQ), his all-but-confirmed vessel to re-enter Quebec politics, he addressed the group’s manifesto to “all those who want to change.” “It’s time to get Quebec moving again,” he wrote. Indeed it is.

Even for Legault’s critics, of which there are relatively few these days, it’s hard to find much to quibble with in his mission statement—education should be “the absolute priority”; culture and the protection of the French language are essential; public services should be… well, they should be better; and Quebec should do more to attract investments. As Vincent Marissal points out in this morning’s La Presse, Legault has so far proven himself enormously adept at “surfing on general ideas,” so much so that he’s emerged as the most credible candidate to replace Jean Charest as premier.

Legault’s unveiling of his group’s cultural and linguistic policy was no different in its reliance on popular ideas. It included such pearls of warmed-over conventional wisdom as a plea to Quebecers to speak French as often as possible, a promise to improve French-language education in the province, and a call for more funding for Quebec’s cultural institutions. Boilerplate stuff, all of it, though it’s hard to fault him for having good intentions. On immigration, however, the former PQ minister had a clear opportunity to rise above the politicians he no longer considers peers. Instead, Legault opted to play to the crowd, and proposed capping immigration at 45,000 new arrivals a year for two years, a policy Marissal correctly described as a “crass and populist nod to those once enchanted by Mario Dumont’s politics.”

If Legault was hoping to differentiate himself the Liberals and Parti Québécois, a cap on immigration—the obvious headline-grabber among yesterday’s proposals—is hardly novel. The Charest government has already revealed it intends to lower the number of immigrants entering the province from 54,000 last year to 50,000 per year between 2012 and 2015. And the notion of capping immigration has been floated by virtually every party in the province, most stridently by the ADQ in 2008, who were even more generous than Legault in asking for a cap of 46,000.

Legault says hitting the pause button on immigration is intended to allow the province to find its feet. And it’s certainly true that Quebec has had its fair share of struggles integrating immigrants. An auditor general’s report published last year found the unemployment rate among immigrants (13.7 per cent) was nearly twice that of Quebec-born residents (7.6 per cent). But the problem identified by the auditor general wasn’t the sheer number of immigrants; it was province’s admission criteria, which doesn’t mesh with its economic needs.

Though it’s usually couched in altruistic terms, the immigration debate in Quebec more often than not takes place in the context of linguistic policies, as it did again Monday at Legault’s announcement. “Given the decline in the birth rate,” Legault wrote on the CAQ’s website, “the integration of immigrants into the Francophone community of Quebec is a key factor that will determine the future of the French language in Quebec.” What Legault neglects to mention is there’s no compelling reason to believe immigrants threaten the viability of the French language.

Two recent reports show Quebec has been particularly successful over the past 30 years at ensuring its immigrants are able to function in French. A study released last spring by CIRANO (a multi-university research centre) found that over 60 per cent of the immigrants who settled in Quebec in 2008 spoke French, while 37 per cent spoke both French and English, the two highest rates in Canada. (Nationwide, the percentage of immigrants who could communicate in English stood at 56.6 per cent, while only 10 per cent could speak both French and English.) The research also found that the share of immigrants to Quebec who speak neither French nor English has declined from 53 per cent in 1980 to 20.9 per cent in 2008, nearly 10 points lower than the Canadian average. Similarly, a study done last year by the Institute for Research on Public Policy concluded that, in Quebec, “French is the predominant language among immigrants today, while English is present in the lives of a majority of them. Most immigrants play in both linguistic spheres, but those who seek to integrate into society are incited to use French more than English.”

There’s no doubt there’s a very real fear among francophone Quebecers that the future of the French language is threatened by immigration. A February 2011 survey, for instance, found 66 per cent of francophones in the province consider multiculturalism a threat to the survival of the French language. As a self-described outsider, Legault could have opted to not play on that fear in exchange for support in a make-believe campaign. So far, though, Legault has shown he’s far better at finding the pack than leading it.


François Legault’s shameless pandering on immigration

  1. First thing any populist party does…in any country….blame immigrants.

    • The first thing elitists like yourself do, when the rabble disagree with policies you hold dear–use the ‘P’ word. A non-‘populist’ democracy is an oxymoron, and parties which ignore popular will die at the ballot box…as both the Federal Liberals and Bloc Quebecois did. If voters want to sharply reduce immigration and repeal multiculturalism (a policy introduced by PET 40-odd years ago, and no more ‘Canadian’ than Disco), that is their call.

      • Canada was multicultural before the arrival of the Europeans, and we have become more multicultural over time.  The reality of multiculturalism cannot be changed anymore than the reality of snow in January 2012 in Canada can be changed.  We can’t change what Trudeau has recognized because the facts can’t be changed.  But we can change the Canadian Multiculturalism Act adopted by the Brian Mulroney government.

        •  There was no Canada before the Europeans. The concept hadn’t been
          invented yet. There’s a limit on appropriating the history of other
          nations to make your own older.

          • You would enjoy reading the writings of Jacques Cartier, (Relation Originale Du Voyage de Jacques Cartier Au Canada En 1534 ) who used the word Canada to define the land where he encountered different peoples, including the Iroquois, the Hurons, the Hochelaga.

          • Yes, but in that context “Canada” was meant as a geographic location, not a political or “national” entity. And the French always referred to the aboriginal groups as “nations”, not as one “native” nation with different cultural expressions.

      • Actually ‘populism’ is a specific kind of ideology…and not the same as ‘representative democracy’ which we have


        It’s more like ‘mob rule’.

        Canada is an immigrant country, and that’s not going to change.

        • I have to agree with the populism thing.  Unfortunately, it’s just another of those terms that get thrown around in political debate without anyone really knowing what it means.  (Kind of like “conservative” and “liberal” . . . )  You’d think they’d introduce the concept of dictionary in J-school.

          IMHO Canadian media uses “populist” to describe any sudden upswing in popularity for an idea or party that catches them by surprise.  Both NDP & Conservative support frequently gets labelled as populist.

  2. “Instead, Legault opted to play to the crowd, and proposed capping
    immigration at 45,000 new arrivals a year for two years, a policy
    Marissal correctly described as a “crass and populist nod to those once
    enchanted by Mario Dumont’s politics.””

    In case the author hasn’t noticed, ‘populism’ is the cornerstone of democracy–the system we have in Quebec and the Rest Of Canada. Immigration policy has never been put to debate. Rather, Canada’s absurdly high immigration intake was the work of lobbying from business groups (banking and real estate sectors) and ethnic lobbies. Apparently, Canadians were never considered ‘stakeholders’ in the immigration policy of their own country. And elitists in the media, such as Mr Gohier, are ready to pounce on any criticism of Canada’s current immigration intake as some sort of hate libel.

    Fortunately, there is now a survey on immigration, proporting to ask ‘ordinary’ Canadians what they think of their country’s immigration policies. Please take the time to respond to it:


  3. Totally agree with ACSial on this one, the Legault opts to play the crowd is only the writer’s interpretation. we are talking about a decrease in the intake , which is already at historically high levels, of about 10 % , hardly playing to the crowd.

    Does the author believe that immigration is important to Quebec society and as such is a fair debating subject. Or do we have to merrily keep on accapting higher and higher levels because its his  opinion that its the morally correct thing to do ?

    • Even Jason Kenney admits we need a million immigrants a year.

    • Here’s a third option: that it’s fine to talk about immigration, but that the discussion shouldn’t be linked to the preservation of the French language since no compelling evidence exists to support such a link.

      • Manitoba was  once totally French speaking until high levels of immigration virtually turned the French community there into a tiny minority. And immigration will always be linked to the preservation of  the French majority in Quebec. Before Bill 101, 90 % of immigrants were integrating the English system in Quebec, or are you too young to remember?

        • Manitoba’s a pretty distinct province in terms of ethnicity & multi-culturalism.  I don’t think any particular ethnic group has ever reached more than 20% of the population since Rupert’s Land became part of Canada.

          Manitoba’s been officially bilingual since 1870 (although this law was ignored for quite a long time).  I’m not sure how dominant French ever was outside of St. Boniface & the Metis community, but the population of Manitoba at the beginning of the population boom (around 1900) was less than three percent of Quebec’s current population, and the total immigration rate was about a third of what Quebec is looking at presently.  I think it would take an immigration rate of a quarter to a half million a year with zero French-language support for immigrants to look at the same kind of upheaval Manitoba went through in that period.

          Being one of those Canadians of neither English nor French descent, I’m kind of leery of government deciding what language minorities are allowed to speak.  My grandfather’s entirely extended family was frequently beaten and narrowly escaped being killed several times (well, most of them escaped being killed) because they were caught not speaking the official language, which is why they left Russia and came to Canada.  Government legislating language is always going to seem Stalinesque to me.  Offering positive incentives and support for learning French is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned, and Quebec does this well, probably better than most provinces do with English.

          I suspect a lot of current & recent immigrants to Canada also come from places where they faced persecution for being the wrong ethnic group and for speaking the wrong language.

          I’m also curious how much of the pre-101 favouratism for English schools had to do with the fact that the English community in Montreal had a lot of old-money families and had more $$$ to throw into their education system, while the French-language schools were still recovering from the decades of neglect they suffered prior to the Revolution Tranquil, and that even in Quebec, the universities with the highest international recognition were English, and the percentage of students who went to English-speaking universities was much higher than the percentage of English-speakers in the province.  (And yes, this is part of what 101 was supposed to fix.

  4. There was no Canada before the Europeans. The concept hadn’t been
    invented yet. There’s a limit on appropriating the history of other
    nations to make your own older. 

  5. Who says any part of Canada needs immigration these days?  Much as the immigration lobby and its many foreign backers want to shut down all debate, the time is long overdue for Canada to end all immigration so we can sort ourselves out as a nation and train our people for the jobs of the future. Why does the mass immigration/cheap labour agenda have to take precedence over all other priorities?  This country is crawling with politicians and union leaders who know perfectly well that immigration is hurting prospects for Canadian workers but who keep silent to please their friends in the immigration lobby and/or foreign gov’ts.  Enough is enough.  There is no need to turn Canada into another overpopulated failed state.   

  6. I think a lot of people in Quebec have trouble accepting the possibility that Quebec’s future as a francophone nation (sic) in a bilingual country may depend on immigrants from countries like Morocco, Senegal and Haiti. However, many Quebecers have trouble accepting immigrants who choose to wear the naqba and the chador, whether they speak French or English.

    Separatist leaders like Gilles Duseppe, Pauline Marois and François Legault are hopelessly out of touch, as evidenced by the big gains by the Tories and New Democrats in Quebec at the expense of the Bloc as well as the Liberals in the last election. 

    I don’t think Quebecers are as worried about the future of the Language Law as the Bloc Québécois and the Parti Québécois seem to think. They are worried about jobs and the economy.

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