Once wary of immigrants, Canadian town sends out global labor SOS

After all the fuss over the code and the debates over reasonable accommodation, reality intrudes:

Herouxville, a small town in Canada’s Quebec, hit the headlines 15 years ago when it issued a code of conduct for would-be immigrants, warning them not to stone women or burn them alive, and to only cover their faces at Halloween.

Fast forward to 2022, and it’s actively courting new arrivals.

The town council’s once deep-seated fear over accommodating immigrants at the expense of its French-speaking identify has given way to a more pressing concern: a need for more families to help fill jobs, attend its schools and sustain its population.

Herouxville now wants to be known for its inclusion. It’s considering measures like subsidised housing to lure more immigrants.

“A new family, no matter where they are from, if we can welcome them here we are pleased to do it,” said Bernard Thompson, mayor of the town of 1,300 people in central Quebec. “The needs are huge in the rural areas.” 

Herouxville’s outreach is a response to a wider quandary facing Quebec, Canada and many other countries, to varying degrees, as governments from London and Washington to Canberra and Tokyo balance public and political pressure to curb immigration against crippling labour shortages.

Ageing populations, a surge in workers retiring and Covid travel and business chaos are among factors contributing to the sta! crunch hitting both low-paid and skilled occupations, from hospitality and manufacturing to transport and agriculture.

Canada has the worst labour shortages in the Western world, according to the latest OECD data from late 2021. Its plight has been exacerbated by a record wave of retirements this year. The problem is particularly dire in rural Quebec, o”en overlooked by a limited pool of newcomers who prefer to stay in Montreal.

The latest Canadian census data puts new numbers to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s drive to ramp up immigration to plug the sta! and skills gaps, which economists say are pushing up wages and threaten to drag down productivity.

Immigrants now account for 23 per cent of Canada’s population, up from 21.9 per cent in 2016, with newcomers accounting for 80 per cent of the country’s labour force growth over the last five years, the census released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday showed.

The census also paints a portrait of urban landings, with more than 90 per cent of recent immigrants living in a city, leaving smaller towns and rural areas grappling to attract newcomers to replace aging factory workers, grocery clerks and doctors.


Quebec, a mostly French- speaking province with broad control over its own immigration policy, is resisting change more than elsewhere in Canada. Just 14.6 per cent of its 8.3 million people were born overseas, far below the national average, the new data showed.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government was re-elected this month pledging to cap permanent arrivals at 50,000 a year to safeguard the region’s language and culture. Immigration has been kept flat at around that level for years, even as Canada’s has risen 49 per cent since Trudeau’s Liberals took o!ice in late 2015.

Reflecting torn local sentiment, Quebec Premier Francois Legault has described immigrants as a source of wealth, though has also said

that allowing more people in without ensuring they speak French would be “suicidal”.

But Legault extended an olive branch to immigrants last week, setting a cabinet that included a trilingual immigration minister and a Black anti-racism minister.


Quebec had 246,300 job vacancies as of July 2022 and just 185,100 unemployed people. The labour gap is particularly dire in manufacturing, where the region’s industry association estimating sta! shortages had cost them C$18 billion ($13 billion) in two years.

“Our labour force participation is under more pressure than elsewhere, because we are just not seeing the foreign workers to replace those that are retiring,” said Jimmy Jean, chief economist at financial services firm Desjardins Group in Montreal.

Jean said he expected the Quebec government to come under pressure from businesses to raise the immigration cap, adding that the province risked being le” behind economically by neighbouring Ontario and other large provinces Alberta and British Columbia.

It’s Quebec’s rural towns that are feeling the most acute pain as they have far less migrant pulling power than diverse Montreal, the province’s biggest city, which itself faces deep labour shortages.

That’s why local authorities are taking it upon themselves to roll out the red carpet to newcomers in places like Herouxville, which has long abandoned its code of conduct for immigrants.

Mayor Thompson said the code – unanimously approved by the town council in 2007 – was consigned to the town archives in 2010 by the council that he has run since 2009.

“It was never a legal document … and it is now a historical document,” he added. “It’s been a long time since the citizens and my town put this episode aside.”

Source: Once wary of immigrants, Canadian town sends out global labor SOS

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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