Integration of newcomers takes centre stage as PQ leader unveils his party's immigration plank

The Opposition Parti Québécois wants more immigrants to settle outside Montreal. Premier Philippe Couillard does, too. The Liberal leader says in the regions, he hears: "Bring me workers, from anywhere. Any colour, any religion, any language."

Jean-François Lisée wants more immigrants to settle outside Montreal, calls current system 'total failure'

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-Francois Lisée unveiled his party's immigration policy on Tuesday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Opposition Parti Québécois wants more immigrants to settle outside Montreal and to have a good grasp of the French language before they arrive in Quebec.

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée unveiled his party's immigration policy Tuesday, on the same day Premier Philippe Couillard outlined his government's plans to address the province's labour shortage.

Immigration and the integration of arrivals have emerged as key issues in the lead-up to the Oct. 1 election. The Coalition Avenir Québec made its own immigration policies public last week.

A PQ government, Lisée said, would strive to have at least 25 per cent of new arrivals live in the regions. Currently, only about 10 per cent settle outside the province's largest city, he said.

He said the PQ would put an emphasis on fast-tracking immigrants who have a job offer.

"A path to success is not bringing people in and saying, 'Well, let's see what happens.' A path to success is linking an immigration candidate to a job," he said Tuesday at a news conference in Montreal.

Understanding French key, PQ says

Lisée said a PQ government would also put a greater emphasis on potential immigrants' grasp of French. He pointed to the U.K., Holland and Germany as countries that stress having a knowledge of the local language in their immigration policy.

He said that between 2014 and 2017, up to 45 per cent of immigrants who arrived in Quebec left for other parts of Canada. During the same period, 60 per cent of immigrants to Quebec didn't speak French, and only 40 per cent of those took French courses, he said.

"We know that the people who do not speak the language are the first to leave (for elsewhere in Canada)," he said.

"We will calibrate this request given the complexity of the task. If you're hired to go work at a McDonald's in Val-d'Or — that's a real example — you don't have to have intermediate or advanced French. If you want to go work in computers, you need to have intermediate or advanced French."

Bring me workers, from anywhere. Any colour, any religion, any language. I want workers.- Premier Philippe Couillard, on what he hears in the regions

In an interview later with Radio-Canada, Lisée called the current system under the Liberals a "total failure." He wouldn't set a specific target for immigrants but said it would be less, at least initially, than the 53,000 admitted last year. 

Province needs workers, Couillard says

Couillard, meanwhile, outlined a $1.3-billion, five-year plan to address the province's labour shortage by getting more people into the workforce. Like Lisée, Couillard committed to bringing more immigrants to the regions.

He said he keeps hearing the same message around Quebec: "Bring me workers, from anywhere. Any colour, any religion, any language. I want workers."

"That's what I hear in my region now, and that's far away from Montreal," said Couillard, the MNA for Roberval, on the southwest shore of Lac Saint-Jean.

Couillard commended Lisée for proposing solutions to the labour shortage. He said only one party — the CAQ, which happens to be leading in the polls — isn't taking the issue seriously.

CAQ Leader François Legault says his party would cut the immigration rate to 40,000 per year. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Last week, the CAQ said it would require immigrants to pass a values and language test or face being reported to Canadian immigration officials. 

The party also reiterated its promise to cut the current immigration rate by roughly 20 per cent, to 40,000 per year.

Lisée didn't set a target Tuesday for the number of immigrants a  PQ government would bring in annually.

With files from The Canadian Press


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