Parti Québécois leadership hopeful Pierre Karl Péladeau ​apologized Thursday afternoon for the comments he made on immigration.

During a debate the night before, Péladeau said immigration was hurting the province’s ability to achieve sovereignty.

Péladeau issued an apology on his Facebook page.

"My apologies. I would like to apologize for the unfortunate comments I made yesterday about demographics and immigration. This phrase was inappropriate and does not reflect my beliefs," the post read.

"If I went into politics, it was to make Quebec a country that will continue to be generous to all citizens, whatever their origins."

PQ LEADERSHIP DEBATE 20150318

Parti Québécois leadership candidate Pierre-Karl Peladeau, centre, makes a face as the organizers explain the rules of a leadership debate on Wednesdayat Laval University in Quebec City. Péladeau is flanked by candidates Martine Ouellet, left, and Pierre Céré. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Apology comes day after debate

After the leaders' debate Wednesday night, reporters hammered Péladeau with questions about his remarks during a brief scrum.

"What is unfortunately not strong enough is the way that we welcome people that have decided to come here in Quebec. I completely enjoy the diversity that people who decide to come here to Quebec bring," Péladeau said.

Asked about comparisons between his remarks and former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau’s infamous blaming of "money and the ethnic" vote for the province's 1995 sovereignty referendum result, Péladeau only said, "There’s no relation at all."

When asked if he would apologize or if he regretted the comments, Péladeau brushed past reporters and headed into a caucus meeting.

The perceived front-runner in the contest to lead the separatist provincial party made the comments Wednesday evening in a PQ leadership debate at Laval University in Quebec City.

"We don’t have 25 years ahead of us to achieve it. With demographics, with immigration, we’re definitely losing one riding each year," Péladeau told a room of 350 people.

He said the PQ could be in danger of disappearing if immigrants continue to come to the province in great numbers.

Quebec would love to control immigration, he said, but the PQ should not have any illusions about who really controls the number of newcomers to the province.

"Who’s responsible for the immigrants who come and settle in Quebec? It’s the federal government," Péladeau said.

Liberals pounce

Premier Philippe Couillard slammed Péladeau's comments Thursday morning at Quebec's National Assembly.

barrette talks

Premier Philippe Couillard, right, and Health Minister Gaétan Barrette slammed Péladeau's remarks. (Radio-Canada)

"The PQ has gone off the rails. There are no economic arguments for Quebec separation, so they focus on whatever they can. There’s been a move toward ethnic nationalism since the introduction of the charter of values," Couillard said.

He said even though Péladeau's leadership rivals distanced themselves from the remarks, the PQ should do more to repair the damage.

"The party should have immediately condemned his statement," Couillard said.

'Flagrant lack of judgment'

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette took it a step further, calling Péladeau's remarks "extraordinarily upsetting."

"The PQ is showing its true colours. It’s a sectarian, divisive party. One has the impression they are importing the views of the National Front party from France. It’s a flagrant lack of judgment. As a citizen, I find it deplorable," Barrette said.

All the other leadership candidates took issue with Péladeau's remarks during Wednesday night's debate.

Bernard Drainville, Alexandre Cloutier, Pierre Céré and Martine Ouellet all spoke about the PQ’s need to welcome immigrants and incorporate them into their sovereignty solution by showing them how great Quebec as a country could be.

Echoes of 'money and the ethnic vote'

Many political observers said Péladeau's comments do echo the infamous post-referendum remarks of former premier Parizeau.

The night that the results came in from Quebec's 1995 sovereignty vote, Parizeau blamed "money and the ethnic vote" for the separatists' narrow loss.

Speaking with CBC's Daybreak host Mike Finnerty on Thursday morning, former MNA and co-founder of the Equality Party Robert Libman said Péladeau's remarks turn the PQ's clock back 20 years.

Libman said Péladeau is technically not wrong that support for sovereignty is lower among younger people and new Quebecers, but he said the remarks were hurtful nonetheless. 

"Of course he’s right. But you don’t insult immigrants that way by saying that they’re not part of us, that they're not as important a component of Quebec society as the rest of us. That’s what’s very upsetting and insulting about his remarks."

Ticking time bomb went 'boom'

Also on Daybreak, CBC senior Quebec political analyst Bernard St-Laurent recalled how Parizeau's remarks ultimately led to his resignation as premier.

St-Laurent said he doesn't think the damage will be quite as bad for Péladeau.

"There were not five million people watching on television last night in an emotionally charged state like it was in 1995 with Parizeau. But it’s definitely going to have repercussions," St-Laurent said.

Former PQ leadership hopeful Jean-François Lisée, who dropped out of the race in January, warned PQ supporters that Péladeau as a candidate was a "ticking time bomb." 

St-Laurent said Thursday that Péladeau's pronouncement during the debate definitely qualifies as a "boom."

"There’s a feeling that the more Pierre Karl Péladeau exposes himself, the more of these 'booms' there will be. But this is going to be a big boom," St-Laurent said.