Legault says accepting more than 50,000 immigrants in Quebec per year would be 'a bit suicidal'

Quebec's outgoing premier is once again under fire for comments he's made about immigration. Despite that, he reprimanded one of his ministers for remarks of his own.

Legault makes remarks on same day he reprimands CAQ minister for other statement on immigration

A man is standing up and speaking.
On Monday, during an event at the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Coalition Avenir Québec Leader Francois Legault, centre, said welcoming more than 50,000 newcomers per year would be "a bit suicidal" for Quebec. (Ryan Remiorz)

The Coalition Avenir Québec is once again coming under fire for comments about immigration, including party leader François Legault saying that welcoming more than 50,000 immigrants per year would be "a bit suicidal."

Legault made that statement on Monday at the Montreal Chamber of Commerce while alluding to the need to protect the French language.

Although his words drew criticism from his opponents, Legault also reprimanded one of his ministers on Monday for making his own controversial remarks about immigration.

During a local debate on Radio-Canada last week, Jean Boulet — who serves as both the province's labour and immigration minister —  said "80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, don't work, don't speak French or don't adhere to the values of Quebec society."

Boulet then touted his party's efforts to better welcome newcomers and get them speaking French.

Shortly after Radio-Canada reached out to Boulet's team today, he issued an apology on Twitter, saying he misspoke and the statement about immigrants not working and not speaking French "does not reflect what I think."

"I am sorry for having poorly expressed my thoughts," said Boulet, who is seeking re-election in the Trois-Rivières riding. "We must continue to focus on the reception … and integration of immigrants, who are a source of wealth for Quebec." 

Despite the apology, his words appeared to have cost him his immigration portfolio, if the CAQ is re-elected. Legault described Boulet's statement as "unacceptable." He was also asked if Boulet could remain as immigration minister if the CAQ is re-elected.

"Unfortunately, I don't think so," he told Radio-Canada, adding that it's a "question of image, perception and trust."

The CAQ campaign has been marred by controversial comments on immigration.

WATCH | Boulet's comments on immigration, party leaders react :

CAQ under criticism from opponents over immigration comments

1 year ago
Duration 2:22
Featured VideoJean Boulet — who serves as both the province's labour and immigration minister — has since apologized for his comments made last week in a local debate. He says he misspoke and the statement about immigrants not working and not speaking French "does not reflect what I think."

Three weeks ago, Legault apologized for citing the threat of "extremism" and "violence" as well as the need to preserve Quebec's way of life as reasons to limit the number of immigrants to the province.

That same week, he said non-French speaking immigration, if not limited in number, could pose a threat to social cohesion in the province.

Opponents blast Legault's party for 'divisive' message

Opponents of the CAQ blasted the comments made by Legault and Boulet.

During a news conference on Monday, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire said Legault's comments about welcoming more than 50,000 newcomers per year were "hurtful" and "irresponsible."

Reporters also played him audio of Boulet's comments. 

Nadeau-Dubois accused Legault of setting the tone within his party when it came to talking about immigration.

"Since the beginning of the campaign, what Mr. Legault has done is send the signal that when you talk about immigration, you talk about it in a negative way, a divisive way," he said.

A man is speaking
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, said Legault's comments on immigration during the campaign have been divisive. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

"When Mr. Legault sets the tone like that and says that immigration is dangerous for Quebec, it's not only hurting people, it's, I think, deeply not representative of what Quebecers actually think."

During her own news conference, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade described Boulet's comments as "mind-boggling."

"It's dividing Quebecers. It's dividing the population," she said.

Anglade called on Quebecers to put an end to the CAQ's "politics of division."

"There are two options on the table. There's this one option where we've already hit a wall and we keep dividing Quebecers.... And there's another route: the route of the Liberal party where we say we need to unite."

She also said Legault's reference to suicide showed a "flagrant lack of empathy."


Antoni Nerestant has been with CBC Montreal since 2015. He's worked as a video journalist, a sports reporter and a web writer, covering anything from Quebec provincial politics to the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

With files from Matt D'Amours, Simon Nakonechny and Radio-Canada