CAQ’s Legault partially right on immigration issue, but mostly wrong

Sep 1 2016, 6:38 pm

Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault has managed to make waves (and headlines) again with his latest declaration. Under a CAQ plan, Quebec would permit 20 percent fewer immigrants, meaning only 40,000 new arrivals would be allowed in per year, as opposed to the current number of 51,000.

The reasons Legault cited for this are twofold. One is that immigration budgets have not kept up with the number of immigrants being accepted, and second, that too many immigrants are a threat to the French language and identity.

I actually agree with the first part of his reasoning. When he points out that the Liberal government has increased the number of immigrants by 25 percent but the budgets have only increased by 5 percent, he’s identifying a real problem. Immigration without an adequate budget to efficiently integrate immigrants is a half-baked policy –and not that efficient.

The government’s (both provincial and federal) lack of leadership on this particular issue is troublesome. We keep saying we need more immigrants, but we don’t really know what to do with them once they’re here and we don’t have the money to properly train, integrate, and utilize them.

Countless studies have demonstrated that, although educational credentials among recent immigrants are higher on average than those of Canada’s native-born workforce and are rising, the trends in immigrants’ employment and earnings are downward. This clearly suggests that the real problem isn’t their skill levels, but rather the extent to which these skills are accepted and effectively utilized in our workplace. Racism has a lot to do with this also, but that’s another topic for another day.

The 2001 census revealed that among recent immigrants with a university degree, at least one in four had a job requiring no more than a high-school education. This is telling. And it’s no different in Quebec. Radio-Canada’s Michel Auger recently wrote about how among the immigrants chosen by Quebec (and yes, we choose our immigrants, not the big, bad ROC) 79 percent of them have 14 years or more of education, and 44 percent have more than 17. He also wisely points out that a good chunk of immigrants admitted eventually leave Quebec for other Canadian provinces, bringing the total of foreign-born Quebecers down significantly and not even close to that 40,000 Legault wants to establish as a maximum number.

Basically, I see his point about inadequate integration of immigrants and if maxing out the number to 40,000 for a few years means we can reinvest in better integration and retention programs for the ones who do arrive, it’s a discussion worth having.

A discussion not worth having, however, is the identity and fear-mongering card he’s decided to play. This one needs to be seen for what it is and thrown out with the trash.

The brilliant Chris Hedges recently wrote an essay on the dumbing down of political campaigns. He was referring to Donald Trump and the current US presidential campaign, but the lessons apply here too.

“Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal.”

And here enter citizenship tests…

Quebecers with even a smidgen of an ability to critically analyze their surroundings should be able to utter a big fat old “no” to efforts to manipulate the voting public with identity politics and “collective salvation” from the non-existent threat of the “other”.

And to be fair to Legault (who was just recently branded as the “Trump du Quebec” by QS’s Francoise David (the PQ thinks it’s Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, by the way, making “Trump du Quebec” a trending topic on Twitter last night as the insults flew back and forth), this game isn’t new. It wasn’t that long ago that the Quebec Liberal Party was rambling on about having newcomers sign a “moral commitment” to the province’s core values, behaving as if immigrants who bring their talents, their skills, their drive, and their manual labour, are pledges in a coveted fraternity who have to swear unquestionable servitude and allegiance in order to be let in. I can assure you that, as the daughter of immigrants, immigration is a two-way street; an exchange and an agreement that offers just as much to the host country (or in this case, province) as it does to the immigrant joining it.

This notion that immigrants should be forever grateful and bend over backwards to show their appreciation for the opportunity to live and work here is insulting to the countless of immigrants I know (my parents included) who have busted their butts their entire lives to make a better life for themselves, their families, and the communities they live in. Some of the older generations admittedly speak broken French, but they have added as much to the fabric of this place as the people who were born here.

By the way, immigrants already sign a piece of paper agreeing to respect and value their new home. It’s called the Déclaration sur les valeurs communes de la société québécoise and I bet you most home-grown Quebecers don’t even know it exists. But there it is. And it solves nothing, because if you look closely at some of the “common values” you’ll notice that many of them have already been manipulated or sacrificed on the altar of political demagoguery and easy votes by our very own political leaders and aspiring leaders-to-be.

The way we here in Quebec receive and integrate immigrants, and the way we will succeed (or not) in utilizing the important skills such a workforce represents will have significant economic, social and political repercussions for this province’s future. With a rapidly aging population and a perilously low birth rate, Quebec can no longer afford to make the wrong decisions. Resorting to fear mongering and silly declarations that immigrants are a threat to the French identity and language is not only counter-productive, but actually allows politicians like Legault (and many others like him) to ride the wave of xenophobia and resentment they themselves create.
That’s sounding a little Trump-ish to me…