'Ballot question' is whether Quebec should cut number of immigrants, Couillard says

Taking aim at CAQ rival François Legault, Philippe Couillard says Quebec is already facing a serious labour shortage, and reducing the influx of immigrants would make the problem worse.

Liberal leader takes aim at CAQ's François Legault over labour shortage

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard announced the immigration plan Monday in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Taking aim at his rival François Legault, Philippe Couillard said Monday that Quebec is already facing a serious labour shortage, and reducing the influx of immigrants would make the problem worse.

He said the "ballot question" in the Quebec election is whether it's appropriate to cut the number of immigrants coming to the province, as Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec has proposed to do.

Immigration has emerged as one of the key differences between the Couillard Liberals and the CAQ ahead of the Oct. 1 vote.

"With the labour shortage that we're experiencing, is it appropriate to propose a reduction in the number of workers coming from elsewhere? That's the real question," Couillard said.

​The Liberal leader announced new measures Monday aimed at helping new arrivals settle outside Montreal. He said $135 million over five years — including $50 million for municipalities — would be devoted to ensuring new arrivals learn French and find jobs.

The CAQ wants to cut the number of immigrants to 40,000 a year and require them to pass a language and values test, while the Liberals maintain the current levels should remain in place. Last year, Quebec took in 52,388 immigrants. 

Couillard made the announcement in Quebec City, where Mayor Régis Labeaume said last month the province needs to relax the rules for immigrants who have jobs lined up in the province, because his region is struggling with a severe workforce deficit.

Legault, for his part, says the Liberal government's policy is a "failure," and more needs to be done to ensure immigrants can enter the job market before allowing more people in.

Responding to Couillard's comments on Monday, Legault said the Liberal leader can't decide what the "ballot question" is.

"The ballot question will be yes, about immigration, but also about [the] economy, about education, about health care," Legault told reporters.

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée said last week his party would look to limit the number of immigrants to between 35,000 and 40,000 annually.

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