Quebec presses forward with cuts to immigration, despite Trudeau's concerns

Quebec is moving forward with its plan to cut the number of immigrants by more than 20 per cent next year, despite concerns raised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

New government plans to reduce number of newcomers even as province faces labour shortage

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says the CAQ government has a clear mandate to go ahead with its cuts. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec is moving forward with its plan to cut the number of immigrants by more than 20 per cent next year, despite concerns raised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government tabled details of its policy on Tuesday, confirming it will go ahead with a campaign promise to reduce the number of immigrants to 40,000 in 2019, down from more than 50,000 this year.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the government wants to make sure those who are coming will be better integrated into the workforce. 

"What we want is to use our resources so that every person that chooses Quebec has a chance at success," he said in the National Assembly.

At a news conference, Jolin-Barrette didn't offer details about how the government will ensure more immigrants find jobs.

He also said a French language and values test, a contentious proposal put forward during the campaign, is still in the works. 

Earlier Tuesday, Trudeau suggested Quebec should rethink its plan to cut back on the number of immigrants it accepts each year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he's heard from businesses owners who are concerned about Quebec's labour shortage. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Trudeau said he's heard from businesses owners who are concerned about the province's labour shortage.

"I'm not sure this is the best time to reduce the number of people who are coming," he told reporters in Ottawa, speaking in French. 

Federal, municipal concerns about labour shortage

The CAQ requires co-operation from the federal government to follow through on its campaign promise.

Quebec only has jurisdiction over economic immigration, while the family reunification and refugees programs are overseen by the federal government.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, the federal government's point person on the issue, said the federal government will study Quebec's plan. 

He said he wants to make sure the province fulfils its duties — outlined in the existing Ottawa-Quebec immigration agreement — to take in refugees and immigrants who already have family living in the province.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante also raised concerns Tuesday about the impact the CAQ plan will have on labour shortages in the province's largest city.

Quebec's unemployment rate reached a historic low of 6.1 per cent last year. The CAQ's economic update, released Monday, noted the tightening labour market could slow economic growth.

The Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ), a major employers group that promotes business interests in the province, agreed.

It released a statement Tuesday evening saying that immigration is essential to the province's prosperity.

"Reducing the volume only makes the situation worse," said Yves-Thomas Dorval, the president of CPQ.

The CPQ said it hopes the government will now increase the number of temporary foreign workers to help meet labour demands. 

In defending his immigration policy, Premier François Legault has repeatedly pointed out the unemployment rate is 15 per cent among immigrants who have been in the province for five years or less.

Trudeau said discussions about the quotas with the province are ongoing. Ottawa, meanwhile, has signalled its intention to increase the number of immigrants across the country.

The Quebec Liberals wanted to have a debate about the CAQ's immigration plan but no debate, nor vote among members of the National Assembly, is required to set the annual quota.

Liberal immigration critic Dominique Anglade said the government's target number is arbitrary, and a decrease in newcomers won't necessarily mean they will be better integrated.

"And if it's not based on facts, what else is it based on other than ideology?" she said.


Benjamin Shingler is a senior writer based in Montreal, covering climate change, health and social issues. He previously worked at The Canadian Press and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.