Too white, too old, too late? Quebec’s immigration problem

Martin Patriquin on Quebec’s challenges.

However weird logic in citing a Quebec city example and stating the difficulties in getting drivers licences as a major factor, given that theys are administered by the province (the overall rates cited, and differences between francophone and allophone pass rates, are province-wide):

Attracting immigrants to Canada is, above all, a show of demographic pragmatism. The math is simple:

Those of us who have been here longer tend to have fewer babies. Without immigration, the vaunted social safety net designed by young boomers becomes untenable as those very boomers get old and begin to shuffle off to the great Margaritaville in the sky.

Of course, divorcing this simple equation from the stinking politics surrounding it is a nearly impossible task. Visible and linguistic minorities make for fantastic scapegoats for many seeking office, if only because a scared voter is a motivated voter. Tell him that his country is slipping away into a darkening slurry of veiled faces and foreign tongues and he will run, not walk, to the ballot box.

Fortunately, Canadian cities have been relatively successful in attracting immigrants. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all do it with gusto and relative success. Seventy per cent of immigrants who have come to Canada have settled within the boundaries of these three cities, according to Statistics Canada. Again, the math is simple: Those immigrants who settle here create a precedent for others to come.

Then there are places like Quebec City. Located just 260 kilometres to the east of Montreal, Quebec City is about as far from Montreal’s feel-good multiculturalist Babel as it possibly can be.

Quebec City has five universities, a clutch of head offices, proximity to the U.S. border and an international cachet due largely to its tourism industry. Despite all of this, the city of about 530,000 is almost entirely white and — like much of Quebec beyond Montreal’s shores — is rapidly falling behind the demographic curve as a result.

The Chhetri family is a perfect example of why Quebec City — along with Quebec in general — has difficultly attracting and retaining immigrants. As reported by the CBC,this Nepalese family of three arrived in Quebec City eight years ago, joining those 19,000 people living in the city whose mother tongue isn’t English or French. And soon they will move to Ontario, following in the footsteps of an estimated 150 Nepalese families from the city who already have left.

The reason? They can’t get driver’s licenses.

open quote 761b1bDiversity begets diversity, and there simply isn’t much of it in Quebec City. In fact, the city is more culturally and ethnically homogenous now than it was 100 years ago.

According to numbers from the province’s public auto insurance bureau, somewhere between 70 to 80 per cent of francophones passed the ministry’s written driving test between January 2015 to September 2016. Just under 50 per cent of Spanish speakers passed. Arabic speakers had a 38 per cent pass rate. The Chhetri family runs a store that specializes in Nepalese and Asian foods. They believe potential customers don’t shop at their store because they can’t physically get to it — or anywhere else, for that matter.

This cockup is probably bureaucratic, not political; many immigrants say the written exam — available in French, English, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin — is confusing. Family patriarch Saroj Chhetri, who himself passed the test, told the CBC that the translation was dodgy. (The Quebec government is reviewing the test.)

But the end result is the same: Out of frustration or something else, immigrants leave. The province has had a net outmigration of its population to other provinces since at least 1986, according to a Statistiques Québec report published last year. Quebec saw a net outmigration of nearly 15,000 in 2016, the highest in two decades.

The reason why immigrants tend to come to Montreal is a largely one of economic imperative. So why don’t more of them go to Quebec City? The provincial capital is stuck in the Catch-22 faced by many much smaller towns: Diversity begets diversity, and there simply isn’t much of it in Quebec City.

In fact, the city is more culturally and ethnically homogenous now than it was 100 years ago, when it had vibrant Irish and Chinese communities alongside a hearty pack of Scots. Jews were tolerated almost as much as they were in Montreal — which is to say they had a fighting chance to thrive. A century later, almost all have voted with their feet.

There is a predictable end result to all of this. At 43.5, Quebec City has the oldest average age of any city in the country — older than St. John’s, older than Charlottetown — older even than Victoria, that charming retirement community on the country’s left coast.

It’s tempting to blame all of this on the province’s nationalist movement, which has become demonstrably more ethnic in nature over the last two decades. Certainly, that hasn’t helped. But it’s governments that set policy, not opposition parties — and the Liberal party has governed Quebec for all but 18 months of the last 14 years. The Parti Québécois only sees cultural communities as lost causes. For the Liberals, it’s far more insidious: to them, immigrants are guaranteed votes.

Earlier this year, Quebec’s Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil gave a speech at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. It was a 30-minute tribute to the Trudeaupian wet dream of diversity and inclusion, and it would have been fine stump speech had she not been part of a government that has systematically ignored the plight of immigrants within its borders for years.

The Liberals took power in 2003. Since then, the province has seen a net outmigration of over 110,000 people to other provinces. In 2016, Quebec had far and away the highest rate of unemployment among very recent immigrants — at 15 per cent — and tied oil-sick Alberta for highest overall immigrant unemployment rate.

Let’s be clear. Immigration is a lovely show of tolerance and inclusion and diversity and all that. But there is an economic bottom line underlying it. We need immigrants to make babies and generate tax dollars to support and fund this very dream.

It is sad Saroj Chhetri will no longer sell Nepalese goods in Quebec City’s lily-white sea. It’s also sad that Quebec will lose the tax dollars he generates, which are now decamping to Kitchener, Ontario.

Source: Too white, too old, too late? Quebec’s immigration problem

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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