The Quebec election is months away, but it’s already shaping up to be a battle fought almost entirely on immigration. Leading in the polls is the right leaning Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which wants immigrants wishing to settle in the province to pass a French proficiency test, a test affirming their knowledge of Quebec values and have a job, or at least be able to demonstrate that they have tried to get one.
Like all Canadian provinces, Quebec does not have the power to expel immigrants from its territory. So the party says it would be up to the federal government to decide the fate of those who fail these tests, or anyone who refuses to comply with these requirements.
If elected, the CAQ also plans to admit 10,000 fewer immigrants a year into the province, dropping from 50,000 to 40,000.
The party’s electoral platform on immigration was revealed Monday by the magazine L'actualité and approved by the caucus two weeks ago. Here’s how it breaks down.
What is changing
To settle in Quebec, so-called "economic" immigrants - those who do not apply for refugee status and who do not arrive under the family reunification program - would first have to obtain a certificate the CAQ calls the “Certificat d’accompagnement transitoire”, or CAT, which would be valid for three years.
Prospective immigrants would then have three years have to demonstrate their knowledge of French, of Quebec values, their occupation or how they have tried to get a job.
If they pass the test, the government will give these newcomers a selection certificate, which is already required to apply for permanent residence, and later for Canadian citizenship.
What happens if they fail
Prospective immigrants who fail either the French or the values test may have their CAT extended for another year.
If they fail either one a second time, or if the candidate refuses to meet the requirements, "the Government of Quebec will send an official notice to the federal government to inform it of the presence in Canada of a person without status," reports L'actualité. It would then be Canada's choice to relocate or expel the candidate.
In an interview with Radio-Canada, CAQ leader François Legault was asked about what he wanted to happen to the immigrant at that time.
“If this person is in bad faith, refuses to learn French, refuses our values, refuses to look for a job, I do not think it's someone the federal government will want to keep,” he said.
Legault insisted that he is not working towards “expelling people”.
“What we want is for people to learn French, learn our values. They are given three years to do it… We do not want to keep too many people who do not accept our language, our values and to participate in the workforce."
The CAQ specifies that the program would be more flexible for people in precarious situations, such as single-parent families, or those living with a person who is seriously ill or has a disability. They would be given “all the time and help to pass their exams,” it states.
L'actualité notes that the federal government does not currently expel immigrants based on the success of their integration. However, to become Canadian citizens, immigrants must pass an English or French test, as well as a citizenship examination that examines “Canadian values”. If someone fails that test, the person is not expelled from the country, but can be denied citizenship.
The CAQ wants to earmark more resources for French-language education for immigrants, increasing the envelope from $74-million to $200-million over four years. Individuals who fail a French test would be monitored by the immigration department. They would also be encouraged to "enroll in full-time French language courses", which could last up to a year and a half. An allowance will also be offered to incentivize people take the course. The party hasn’t specified how much it’s allocating for this, but it would be the largest part of the $200 million budget. They also plan to accelerate and facilitate the recognition of foreign diplomas.