CAQ immigration plan sets 3-year deadline on learning French, passing values test

Leader François Legault says ensuring more people "integrate" into Quebec's cultural and labour force will be good for the province, but other parties are critical of the plan.

Critics say plan oversteps Quebec's role in immigration system

Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault said immigration candidates will have three years to complete a French test, a values test and prove they are looking for a job or could find themselves in immigration limbo with the federal government. (Radio-Canada)

The Coalition Avenir Québec wants to give newcomers three years to show they can speak French and conform to Quebec values or they will be flagged to federal immigration authorities. 

"We do not want to keep too many people who do not accept our language, our values and to participate in the workforce," Leader François Legault told Radio-Canada. 

Under the plan, laid out in an "orientation document" made public this week, immigration candidates would receive a temporary three-year permit, referred to as a certificat d'accompagnement transitoire (CAT), and be tested on certain criteria such as knowledge of the French language in order to receive authorization to apply for Canadian residency.

While extensions could be issued for people in difficult circumstances, including parents of young children or those caring for a ill loved one, newcomers who repeatedly fail the tests would not receive the authorization and would be flagged at the federal level as living in Quebec without status.

"If the person does not want to learn French, they will not have their selection certificate, so they will never be a citizen," Legault said.

"They become a person without status and it's up to the federal government to decide what to do with that person."

The CAT would replace a similar selection certificate already in place for temporary foreign workers and temporary foreign students. 

Three criteria to meet

Legault says the aim is to be more selective about which newcomers are allowed into Quebec and to ensure they stay in the province in the long-term and join the workforce. 

He said the majority of immigrants who come to the province do not speak French and that presents a problem when it comes to integration.

"What we are saying is that with a CAQ government, we will have more immigrants integrated into the labour market each year than with the Liberal government," Legault said. 

"Rather than having 50,000 and then losing 20,000, we will take in 40,000 and integrate 40,000."

Legault said newcomers who are in Quebec and have been issued a transitionary certificate would need to meet three criteria within three years: pass a French test, pass a values test and show they are actively looking for a job. 

Legault would not say what questions he believes should be asked in the values test, but said it would conform to the values set out in Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

"I don't think it would be a good idea for a political party to write a values test," he said. "It would be done by the immigration ministry."

Other parties, legal experts critical

The plan was swiftly met by criticism from the leaders of the other provincial parties and legal experts. ​

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard described the proposal as impracticable and said it treats immigrants as problems that need solving.

"This cannot work and it sends the wrong message," he said.

"The fundamental flaw in this policy [is] again [Legault] says we should reduce the number of immigrants in Quebec, which is totally against all the economic messages that we get in Quebec. There's not a single board of trade, there's not a single economic leader that supports that."

Jean-François Lisée, leader of the Parti Québécois, pointed out that it's not up to Quebec to decide who stays and who goes.

Under the current immigration system, Quebec can select who it decides to take in, but Ottawa ultimately determines who becomes a Canadian citizen or has status. 

No judge would allow Quebec to remove someone from Canada.- Immigration lawyer Jean-Sébastien Boudreault

Some of the ideas put forward in the proposal could ultimately prove to be illegal, Jean-Sébastien Boudreault, an immigration lawyer and president of the Quebec association of immigration lawyers, told CBC's Daybreak

"Quebec cannot take away a status, [and] cannot tell the federal government that person doesn't have status to stay in Canada," he said. 

"Once you're a permanent resident, technically you can move from province to province. You have the same rights as you and me who are citizens. The only difference is you cannot vote, but you have the right to be in Canada.... No judge would allow Quebec to remove someone from Canada."

With files from The Canadian Press and Radio-Canada's Mathieu Dion