Legault says woman claiming immigrants are 'erasing' Quebec was 'close to racist'

In a one-on-one with CBC's Debra Arbec, Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault admitted a woman who approached him in Rimouski this week asking him to crack down on immigrants who are "erasing" Quebecers was “close to racist.”

In 1-on-1 with CBC's Debra Arbec, François Legault was forced to defend immigration comments

François Legault, leader of the CAQ, spoke with CBC Montreal's Debra Arbec from Dunham, Que. (CBC)

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault has admitted a woman who claimed immigrants are "erasing" Quebecers, was "close to racist."

A video's been circulating since Thursday of Legault's encounter with a woman who approached him in a Rimouski bar this week.

"We have nothing against immigration, nothing at all," she told him. "But we have to think of ourselves first, and then we can allow those in who can go work, who are adaptable, who won't change our customers, who won't erase our Christmases."

"Bring in the Chinese."

At this point, Legault interrupts her.

"So — learn our language and our values," he said.

"The Chinese and the others, immigrants who will adapt to us," she continued. "I have nothing against immigrants, but bring in the good ones, because the ones that are coming right now, they're erasing us."

"Yes," he said, appearing to agree with her. "There are a many who can't find jobs —"

She interjects. "Will you fight for us?" she asks.

"For sure. You've seen, it's made a lot of noise, we've talked a lot about immigration, at the same time, we have to protect what we are as Quebecers," replies Legault.

CAQ Leader François Legault is questioned by a woman inside a bar who claims immigrants are "erasing" Quebec culture. 0:50

Close to racist

When asked about this exchange by CBC News Montreal at 6 anchor Debra Arbec, Legault said the Rimouski woman's language was too strong.

"I never said that I agreed with what she said at the beginning because she was close to being racist," Legault said.

When pressed further about whether it was racist, he said, "I would say almost, yes, in the first part of her sentence."

Legault went on to highlight the main strokes of his immigration plan, reiterating his vow to decrease the number of immigrants from 50,000 to 40,000 per year.

He said the government will focus on integrating immigrants, to avoid out-migration to other provinces.

He said 20 per cent of immigrants leave Quebec to go to other provinces. As recently as last week's English-language leaders debate, Legault said 26 per cent of immigrants were leaving. 

The figure he now cites is closer to the one cited in a new Institut du Québec study, which shows that by 10 years after their arrival, 18.2 per cent of immigrants have left Quebec for other provinces —  a retention rate that lags behind Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta but is ahead of other provinces.

CBC Montreal News at 6 anchor Debra Arbec interviews CAQ Leader François Legault. 10:08

Still plans to abolish school boards

Three days before the election, Legault reiterated a number of his promises, including his plan to abolish school boards.

Legault said he wants to replace school boards with service centres, citing low voter turnout in the school board elections as a reason why.

He said he would rather allocate the cost of the school board elections — roughly $20 million per election — into the education system.

"I would prefer to put this money in school services," he said.

Is abolishing school boards legal?

Under the Canadian Charter Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Quebec's anglophones have the right to govern their own schools. When the Couillard Liberals tabled legislation to abolish school boards in 2015, Quebec's English-language boards announced plans to mount a constitutional challenge.

Bill 86 was quietly dropped the following year.

Legault said he's consulted with his advisors and believes his plan to replace the school boards with service centres respects the Charter provisions.

I'm proud to be a Quebecer. I accept to be in Canada. - François Legault

He said parents will elect their own school committees, so they will maintain control over their children's education.

"When I talk to anglophone parents, they are happy because they will get more power," said Legault. "That's what many parents would like to see."

He also committed to keeping the English-language secretariat, which was set up by the Couillard government last year to advance the anglophone community's interests within the government.

However, Legault added a caveat: the secretariat must be doing something useful.

"I want to make sure that it's not for show, that it's not for marketing," he said.

On federalism

When asked, Legault stopped short of saying he's proud to live in Canada.

"I'm proud to be a Quebecer. I accept to be in Canada," he said.

He said a CAQ government will never hold a referendum to leave Canada. He said he will work to improve the economy of Quebec inside Canada.

"We have potential, especially in economy, and I don't accept that Quebec is not as rich as Ontario or the rest of Canada," he said.

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