André Pratte: Quebec political parties are competing for the worst immigration policy

Pratte captures well the conundrum facing Quebec – increase immigration to match the rest of Canada and maintain its current demographic and political weight, or continue its relative population decline in relation to other provinces and thus face future questioning of its share of MPs.
That being said, governments in the rest of Canada would benefit from greater questioning of the demographic arguments (weak) justifying increased immigration levels:
Week 2 of the Quebec election campaign was dominated by the immigration issue: how many newcomers should the province welcome each year? Premier François Legault’s answer was telling: his models are Switzerland and the Scandinavian states, which he described as “extraordinarily wealthy, dynamic countries.” The problem is that if it excessively limits immigration, Quebec risks becoming a small, relatively poor nation.
Throughout Quebec’s history, immigration has been a sensitive topic. Before 1960, foreigners were seen as a threat to the province’s Catholicism. Since the Quiet Revolution, Quebecers have been concerned about the French language’s future. The latest census data released by Statistics Canada in August appear to confirm that because a significant number of immigrants to Quebec adopt English as their second language, the proportion of French speakers in the province is slowly decreasing.

Source: André Pratte: Quebec political parties are competing for the worst immigration policy

Pratte: Federal gridlock is a threat to national unity

Like most Canadians, Quebecers have relatively few interactions with the federal government. When constituents face difficulties, they usually call their provincial representative, rather than their MP.
Most “close-to-people” government services — health care, schools, day cares, etc. — are delivered by the provincial government, while Ottawa deals with things like passports, customs, immigration and employment insurance. Unfortunately, virtually all the services administered by the Government of Canada are currently broken, despite the fact that the federal government has significantly increased its expenses and its workforce since the pandemic hit.

When Quebecers are thinking about the federal government these days, they are not impressed. How come a G7 country is not able to issue passports in less than three months? Why can’t it deal with an immigration file in months rather than years? How is it that the government can’t ensure there are enough security and customs agents at major airports to process travellers within an acceptable time frame?

Le Journal de Montréal reported this week that a newly unemployed man has been waiting for close to three months for his first employment insurance cheque. It appears that his file needs to be treated by a “public servant level 2,” which would explain the delay …

Remember the sponsorship scandal, the massive (and corrupt) advertising program developed by the Chrétien government to increase the federal government’s visibility in Quebec? What we are seeing these days is the reverse.

Sovereignist columnist Joseph Facal was quick to highlight the federal government’s “gross incompetence,” and compare it to the Quebec government’s more responsive attitude: “While there is certainly incompetence at the Government of Quebec level, one does not see that lazy indifference, that feeling of distance, of flying way over ordinary people, of living on another planet that coats the federal public service.”

How can the Government of Canada argue that being part of the federation is advantageous if it cannot deliver the basic programs it is responsible for? Even before this latest mess, the proportion of Quebecers who said they think that Canadian federalism has more advantages than disadvantages for Quebec slipped to 43 per cent in 2022, from 51 per cent in 1998, according to Environics’ annual Confederation of Tomorrow survey.

This trend is not unique to Quebec; Canadians from other regions have also become skeptical about the advantages of federalism. Fortunately, other data points from that survey are more encouraging. For example, over the last two years, the percentage of francophone Quebecers who feel “Quebecers only” has dropped to 12 per cent from 22 per cent, while the proportion who feel equally Canadian and Quebecer has increased to 25 per cent from 18 per cent.

The same survey shows that 80 per cent of French-speaking Quebecers feel they are both Quebecers and Canadians to some degree. Quebecers know, for example, the very high value of a Canadian passport in foreign lands — if you can manage to get your hands on one, that is.

The breakdown of the services delivered by the Government of Canada cannot be allowed to continue. It is intolerable for Canadians, who carry a heavy load of taxes to receive those services in an efficient and timely manner. It is bad for the country, because it weakens the trust that Canadians have in their national government.

Because of this, and because repairing the large machine of government is obviously a complex undertaking, that should be priority number 1 for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet. It’s fine to issue statements and tweets about Ukraine and abortion in the United States, but when your government cannot deliver passports or unemployment cheques, it is your responsibility and your duty to come back from your worldly travels and get to work.

As long as the bureaucracy does not feel the pressure coming from the prime minister himself, this frustrating situation will continue. Members of cabinet like to show up at airports when refugees arrive; why don’t they show up at airports and passport offices now?

Relatively few Quebecers celebrated Canada Day yesterday. For most of us, the true national holiday is June 24, the Fête nationale. This does not mean Quebecers don’t feel some connection with Canada. But nowadays, the prevalent feeling is indifference — which could easily turn to anger if the Trudeau government does not tackle the current bureaucratic disarray head-on.

Source: Federal gridlock is a threat to national unity

André Pratte: How to prevent Quebec’s immigration sabre rattling from turning into a full-blown separatist crisis

Worth reading and thinking about, given the massive shift towards temporary immigration, many of course who transition to permanent residency.

The vast majority of temporary residents in Quebec are international students, 85 percent in 2021, but couldn’t easily find the breakdown between French and English language institutions (where much of the controversy lies).

Still, one can question just how important temporary workers, whether IMP or TFWP, are really that important in the broader scheme of things.

And of course, any agreement should avoid the failure of the Canada-Quebec accord, which guaranteed Quebec funding for immigration and integration based on the overall percentage increase in federal integration spending, largely independent of the number of immigrants. As a result, as Canada increases the number of immigrants to the rest of Canada, the imbalance between Quebec and rest of Canada increases:

Four months before voting day in Quebec’s provincial election on Oct. 3, Premier François Legault launched his de facto campaign, using the closing speech at his party’s convention last Sunday to announce what he would like to be the central theme of the election: immigration.

Legault explained that he will be seeking a strong mandate to convince the federal government to cede its jurisdiction over immigration to the province. “It’s a question of survival for our nation,” he asserted in his speech.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the premier went so far as to say that if the provincial government did not get full jurisdiction over immigration, “in a matter of time, we could become a Louisiana.” In other words, French could practically disappear from Quebec.

The prediction, of course, is laughable. French is alive and well in Quebec, where 80 per cent of the population have French as their first language, while only two per cent of the residents of Louisiana still speak French. The premier’s apocalyptic scenario was ridiculed by most commentators. “Louisiana? Come on!” headlined La Presse’s editorial page.

But in the following days, Legault insisted that, “If no one is left speaking French at home, this means that French will eventually disappear.” His minister for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, relayed the government’s view that if nothing is done, “the situation could become similar to that of Louisiana.”

It is difficult to know how Quebecers will react to this obvious ploy to create a crisis where none exists. We do know that a majority of them are convinced that the French language is at risk; this is why support for Bill 96 is so high. But do Quebecers think that French will disappear in short order? Hopefully, most of us are confident enough in our ability to keep our distinct culture alive.

However, one thing is certain: every time there is a jurisdictional squabble between the governments of Quebec and Canada, Quebecers side with their provincial government, even more so when the conflict regards an issue as sensitive as immigration.

Reacting to Legault’s demands, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal government would not cede its jurisdiction over immigration.

With both sides entrenched in their respective positions, and Legault sailing towards a sweeping victory on Oct. 3, what will the former separatist do when faced with what will be perceived as intransigence on the part of the federal government? Since this issue is now deemed to be essential to the French language’s survival in Quebec, what will his next step be if Ottawa continues to say no?

Some federalists are convinced that Legault will bring back to life the idea of Quebec’s independence. “Look at him go: he will say that he has no other choice but to hold a referendum on separation,” a prominent federalist told me.

The federalists’ fear is the separatists’ hope. “Quietly, before our eyes, a little more each day, the indestructible national question raises its head and recomposes itself,” wrote former Parti Québécois minister Joseph Facal, now a columnist at the Journal de Montréal.

For my part, I doubt that Legault is secretly planning a referendum on separation. On Thursday, he said: “I am a nationalist inside Canada.” Up until now, most Quebecers have supported the premier and his Coalition Avenir Québec government because they offered nationalist policies without the risk of separation. Would they follow him if he went as far as to propose Quebec’s sovereignty? I doubt it.

Nevertheless, the threat of separatism is back. What can Canada do to defuse the menace while not caving in to Quebec’s demands? It’s quite simple, really. Instead of shutting the door on negotiations with Legault, Trudeau should say that he is open to discussing amendments to the 1991 Quebec-Ottawa agreement on immigration.

That agreement gave Quebec the power to choose about 70 per cent of the immigrants coming into the province — mostly economic immigrants. Armed with this new power, Quebec has been able to choose a majority of newcomers who already speak French or are more susceptible to learning it.

The problem is that the number of immigrants still selected according to federal criteria — e.g., temporary workers and foreign students — has been increasing steadily in recent years. Most of those people do not speak French. This is what is perceived as a threat to Quebec’s culture — not the fact that they are immigrants, but the fact that, when they become permanent residents, they will grow the ranks of the English-speaking minority.

In other words, since the agreement was signed 31 years ago, the composition of immigration to Quebec has changed. The agreement is in need of an update to reflect the new reality, while continuing to affirm the federal government’s jurisdiction over the parts of the immigration system that are crucial for the protection of Canada’s interests and security.

If both parties were of good faith, a new deal could be reached in a matter of months, and there would be no need for grandstanding. In the current circumstances, however, this is a big “if.”

Source: André Pratte: How to prevent Quebec’s immigration sabre rattling from turning into a full-blown separatist crisis

Pratte: Opinion: Questioning whether French is in decline should not be heresy

A very good example of how to analyze language data in a comprehensive and nuanced manner, using the wide range of language measures in the census and the Rapport sur l’évolution de la situation linguistique au Québec (mother tongue, language most spoken at home, language most spoken at work, language of instruction):

In the wake of a question from MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos that included quotation marks, Minister of Official Languages Mélanie Joly said she was “stunned” and maintained that “we cannot deny at this time that there is a decline in the French language in Montreal and across the country. The statistics show it.”

The decline of French would thus have become an absolute truth, statistical dogma that cannot be contested without risking excommunication — a punishment that was, as a matter of fact, administered to Lambropoulos.

However, the reality is much more complex. In its latest Rapport sur l’évolution de la situation linguistique au Québec, published last year (125 pages of statistics!), the Office québécois de la langue française paints a very nuanced picture of the situation.

Is there a decline? Some data suggest that there is, but several other figures show either stability or progress for francophones, particularly since the francization of immigrant children introduced by Bill 101.

In terms of mother tongue, for example, it is true that the proportion of French speakers slipped from 80.9 per cent to 77 per cent between 1996 and 2016. However, the proportion of anglophones also decreased, from 8.3 per cent to 7.5 per cent. No, the shift from French as a mother tongue has been toward “other” languages, that is, the mother tongues of immigrants. Their children, on the other hand, will go to French school, and French will slowly establish itself from one generation to the next.

Moreover, unlike previous generations, the majority (75 per cent) of recent immigrants who speak a language other than their mother tongue at home adopt French. According to this indicator, within the immigrant population, French is not declining at all, it is on the rise.

Data on language of work and language of instruction provide an equally nuanced picture. For example, on the island of Montreal, the number of children entitled to English-language education under Bill 101 dropped by one-third, from 75,256 to 50,416 students between 1986 and 2015.

Where the problem lies is in the language used in downtown retailers. The survey published by Le Journal de Montréal a few days ago confirms the data collected by the Office, according to which the proportion of stores in downtown Montreal where customers are greeted in French decreased sharply from 2010 to 2017, from 86.2 per cent to 72 per cent for stores in shopping centres, and from 89.5 per cent to 73.6 per cent for stores fronting on the street. These drops occurred in favour of English and of Bonjour-Hi. That said, once past the initial greeting, service in French was available in 96 per cent of cases, a proportion that has not changed since 2010.

We cannot therefore speak of a general decline in French. It all depends on what exactly we’re talking about. The government — and Quebec society in general — must certainly act to ensure that customers are received in stores first and foremost in French. It must be clearly indicated that the main language in Quebec is French.

However, the problems with how customers are greeted in stores do not justify an all-out linguistic offensive, even though such a policy would be popular. We will have to think twice, for example, before imposing Bill 101 on businesses under federal jurisdiction, when there is nothing to indicate that the problem of the “decline” of French is rooted in this sector, which accounts for less than four per cent of the province’s workers. It is surprising, moreover, that the government of Canada has not categorically rejected this blatant intrusion into its jurisdiction.

In short, one cannot speak of a decline of French in Quebec without putting a lot of nuances into it. We can say this while affirming that the situation of French in Quebec will always remain fragile and that, consequently, vigilance is required. However, in order to ensure that policies in this area continue to be well informed, it is absolutely necessary to authorize and encourage debate and questioning, even accompanied by quotation marks.

In short, one cannot speak of a decline of French in Quebec without putting a lot of nuances into it. We can say this while affirming that the situation of French in Quebec will always remain fragile and that, consequently, vigilance is required. However, in order to ensure that policies in this area continue to be well informed, it is absolutely necessary to authorize and encourage debate and questioning, even accompanied by quotation marks.

André Pratte, former journalist and former senator, is a principal at Navigator.


More Ottawa Shooting Commentary

Further to yesterday’s round-up of the recent shootings, more of the better commentary or more interesting commentary that has crossed my eye.

Wesley Wark: Reducing the risk of terrorism provides a sober assessment of the ongoing risks and the need neither to over or under act, but learn the lessons from any failures and gaps in security.

In the theme of let’s not get carried away, André Pratte in La réponse and Stephen Maher Time to reflect on the courage of our ancestors remind us to have balance and perspective. Doug Saunders notes how the public space around parliaments the world over has been whittled down by successive security threats in Don’t let the seat of government become a fortress.

On the other side, Journal de Montréal’s Richard Martineau is characteristically alarmist in Terrorisme: appelons les choses par leur nom.

More on the common elements to the two most recent cases of radicalization, Martin Couture-Rouleau  and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau:

Martin Couture-Rouleau et Michael Zehaf-Bibeau partagent plusieurs points en commun : ils étaient jeunes (25 ans et 32 ans), ils s’étaient récemment convertis à l’islam radical, la GRC avait confisqué leur passeport par crainte qu’ils rejoignent le groupe État islamique, et ils auraient agi tels des « loups solitaires ».

Pour les autorités policières, c’est le cauchemar. Les deux jeunes ont agi de leur propre chef, sans même avoir été initiés au combat par des groupes extrémistes à l’étranger. Ils sont difficiles à repérer et à neutraliser.

Un loup solitaire aux motivations inconnues

And further details about the troubled life of the shooter, Zehaf-Bibeau in the Globe in Drugs and religion key themes in Ottawa shooter’s troubled life and in the Post in Details of Zehaf-Bibeau’s life paint picture of a man derailed by homelessness, crime and addiction, detailing his drug addiction, quarrelsome personality and his failed efforts to use his faith to control both.

Canadian Muslims are quick to respond and express outrage in Canadian Muslims denounce recent attacks, fear backlash.

Matt Gurney challenges the military’s decision in Canadian soldiers don’t hide in their own damn country — rescind the order to not wear uniforms in public.

Barbara Kay covers a different angle in The unique anguish of a terrorist’s mother:

If it is inevitable, why feel guilty about these “bad seeds”? And yet, inevitably, parents do. Our sympathetic embrace for the real victims should therefore be wide enough to include their murderers’ collateral damage.

A great deal of favourable commentary on Parliament yesterday, how each leader struck the right tone, the hugs of support, and the deserved standing ovation for Sergeant-at-Arms Vickers starting with Jeffrey Simpson in Tribute, solidarity and back to politics (with some barbs at the difference between Government rhetoric and funding).

Jonathan Kay noted the contrast between this time and 30 years ago, when the then Sergeant-at-Arms was able to talk armed Denis Lortie into surrendering in Two Sergeants-at-Arms, two kinds of heroism.

Rick Salutin, similarly praises Kevin Vickers, but provocatively, and accurately, rubbishes the idea of Canadian innocence in We didn’t lose our innocence. We never had it.

Andrew Coyne, perceptively noted the nuances in the various positions and how that hopefully portended more serious political dialogue and debate in Politics weren’t put aside during the Ottawa hug-out, they were just made over for the occasion:

For Mr. Harper, it was “to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home,” as well as “to work with our allies” in the fight against “the terrorist organizations” abroad who hope “to bring their savagery to our shores.” For Mr. Mulcair, it was “our commitment to each other and to a peaceful world.” For Mr. Trudeau, it was “staying true to our values” of “fairness, justice and the rule of law.”

“We will not be intimidated,” Mr. Harper vowed. “That is not going to happen,” Mr. Mulcair seconded. “We will not be intimidated into changing that,” Mr. Trudeau agreed. But they meant very different things.

And the still and video images of the citizens of Ottawa paying their tribute to fallen soldier Nathan Cirillo (as well as the accounts of those who tried to save him in ‘You’re breathing — keep breathing’), as well as to democratic values, were moving.


Separatism was dealt a blow, but don’t think it was knocked out – The Globe and Mail

Good thoughtful commentary and advice by André Pratte of La Presse (but in the Globe):

That’s where the duty of the rest of Canada, the federal government and Quebec federalists begins. First and foremost, we should resist the temptation to put up the “Mission Accomplished” banner. Second, we have to get French-speaking Quebeckers more involved in national institutions, beginning with the Government of Canada. It is not good for either the province or the country that Quebec is so weakly represented in the federal cabinet as it has been in recent times. And finally, we need to constantly and intelligently promote federalism, so that Quebeckers not only reject independence but embrace the Canadian work-in-progress.

Separatism may not be a threat in the near future. But beware of the sleeping dragon. And in the meantime, we should be careful about the mutual indifference that has come to characterize the relationship between Quebec and the Rest of Canada. That indifference could surreptitiously lead to a de facto separation.

Separatism was dealt a blow, but don’t think it was knocked out – The Globe and Mail.

Don Macpherson of the Gazette reminds us of the risks of raising expectations and constitutional negotiations (Don Macpherson: Only federalists can awaken the sovereignty movement). ButDaniel Weinstock wants to reopen constitutional discussions, as they end up being more polarizing:

If on the other hand, political leaders in the ROC interpret this election (and perhaps also the last federal election, that saw the Quebec electorate reject the Bloc Québécois en masse for a federalist party) as giving rise to an historical opportunity, a main tendue inviting them to complete Canada’s coming to full self-consciousness as a multinational federation united by the political will to affirm the individual rights of all Canadians and the legitimate aspirations to self-determinations of all of its constituent polities (Quebec, to be sure, but also the First Nations with whom we share our land), then, perhaps, the right answer to the question with which I began this post is that the 2014 election will come to be seen as the moment at which the sovereignist movement died.

Now, I concede that there is not much political hay to be made for any party at this historical juncture in Canada in adopting, and in acting on, the latter interpretation. Some political leaders in the ROC are just as depressingly prone as are some of the political leaders in Quebec to give a great deal of weight in their political decision-making to the short-term electoral costs of standing up for minority rights. The mark of the true statesperson is however to look beyond the next election, (I think Kant said that) even if in doing so he or she is looked upon askance by voters.

The Ball is in ROC’s Court | In Due Course.

Conrad Black is equally wanting to stir things up:

Quebec is ready to deal

Quebec Election Editorial Endorsements

Starting with a somewhat tortured editorial by Le Devoir favouring the PQ:

Cette campagne fut difficile pour la première ministre Marois, qui a commis des erreurs dont elle devra tirer des leçons. La réaction des électeurs sur l’enjeu référendaire ne peut être ignorée, tout comme sur la charte sur la laïcité. Sur ce plan, elle a payé pour sa décision de défendre de façon absolutiste ce projet sans écouter ce que pensaient les Québécois, y compris les membres de son parti.

Il est bien possible, si le Parti québécois est réélu, qu’il soit à nouveau minoritaire. La première ministre devra accepter cette situation et gouverner avec les autres partis en recherchant les consensus. Il y a des erreurs à ne pas répéter. Elle nous a dit en campagne que si elle était déterminée, elle savait par ailleurs écouter. Prenons cela comme un engagement.

Le choix du Devoir

André Pratte’s editorial in La Presse favour of the Parti liberal de Québec, citing three reasons: pour un Québec prospère, pour un Québec stable and pour un Québec accueillant

Trois raisons de voter libéral : économie – référendum – Charte | André Pratte.

The Montreal Gazette predictably endorses the Liberals:

A PQ government would continue to play the politics of division that it has pushed while in office, and in this campaign, by proceeding with its discriminatory values charter and repressive language legislation. And, if granted a majority, it would surely try to pick fights with Ottawa to manufacture “winning conditions” for another referendum. All this would be to the further detriment of a sagging provincial economy and fragile social fabric.

That reviving this economy would be the principal focus of a Liberal government, a government also dedicated to harmonious interculturalism and the playing of a constructive role in the Canadian federation, makes the election of a majority Liberal government the optimal outcome of Monday’s election.

Editorial: The Couillard Liberals deserve to govern