Montreal

CAQ loses parliamentary motion on student immigration program despite majority status

Normally such a motion would not pass because the CAQ holds 75 of the National Assembly's 125 seats, but only three CAQ MNAs happened to be there. 

Only 3 CAQ MNAs were in the National Assembly yesterday afternoon, as several more were at a party event

Quebec National Assembly vice-president Marc Picard reminded CAQ MNAs that at least five of them had to be present to postpone a vote. Only three were there, so they lost a Liberal motion calling on the government to cancel its reform to the student immigration program. (National Assembly)

The Coalition Avenir Québec faced an embarrassing loss in the National Assembly Wednesday, after the opposition passed a motion calling on the CAQ to cancel its controversial reform to a student immigration program.

Normally, such a motion would not pass because the CAQ holds 75 of the National Assembly's 125 seats — but only three CAQ MNAs happened to be there at the time. 

Several MNAs, including Premier François Legault, were at a nearby event to support the CAQ candidate in the riding of Jean-Talon, where a byelection is coming up in December.

A minimum of five CAQ MNAs would have had to be in the National Assembly to postpone the vote to the next day. 

Liberal immigration critic Monsef Derraji presented the motion around 5 p.m. after a heated debated about the reform. It calls on the government to "cancel the recent changes and revert to the original eligibility requirements."

Liberal immigration critic Monsef Derraji is the opposition MNA who presented the motion Wednesday shortly before 5 p.m. (National Assembly)

When the motion passed, cheers erupted in the room as National Assembly vice-president Marc Picard appeared surprised of its win. Though the motion is non-binding, Derraji said it was meant to exercise pressure.

Whip to get a 'talking-to'

At the party event in Jean-Talon, in reaction to the vote, Legault said he would be giving the party whip, Arthabaska MNA Éric Lefebvre, a "talking-to." 

It is the whip's responsibility to make sure enough MNAs are present in parliament, especially when a vote happens.

Earlier in the day, the CAQ had backtracked and announced it would allow students already in the province under the immigration program to finish it. 

Created in 2010, the program gave foreign students studying in the province, as well as people working in the province for more than a year on temporary permits, a fast-track toward permanent residency.

But on Nov. 1, the province cut about 300 fields of study from the list of ones eligible for the program, leaving thousands hoping to settle in Quebec without a clear path forward.

The change was widely criticized and a group of tearful students appeared at the National Assembly Tuesday, pleading the government to reconsider. 

The next morning, Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette announced he would create an acquired rights clause to allow them to complete the program. 

Premier François Legault was at a CAQ party for the candidate of an upcoming byelection in the riding of Jean-Talon in Quebec City when the motion was passed in the National Assembly. (Radio-Canada)

Legault said he and his wife were moved by the students' stories and admitted he hadn't had a good day. 

Following Wednesday's motion, Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said he was asking the government to respect it. 

"It has political and moral weight," Nadeau-Dubois said, adding Jolin-Barrette's backtracking on the program reform "demonstrates the extent of the government's improvisation on this issue."

With files from Kamila Hinkson and Radio-Canada's Romain Schué

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