Hearings on Quebec’s immigration bill stall as politicians hurl mud

Sigh. Should be possible to have agreement on witnesses with a range of views:

The province’s largest employer group says the government has bungled its immigration reform by failing to manage the thousands of applicants already in the hopper who hope to live and work in Quebec.

Without overtly criticizing the government for deciding to shred the files of 18,000 immigration applicants, the normally cautious Conseil du patronat du Québec said Thursday it “deplored” the lack of a transition plan to help people left on the sidelines in Quebec’s zeal to reform the system.

As it is, the Coalition Avenir Québec government has created a climate of uncertainty at a time when the province desperately needs workers and there are 118,000 employment vacancies.

Rather than being seen as an opportunity, the reforms are seen as a threat, the Conseil said in a brief presented to a committee of the legislature studying the CAQ’s immigration reform legislation, Bill 9.

“This undermines Quebec’s credibility on the international stage and reinforces cynicism towards our immigration system,” the Conseil said in its brief.

“The impact for employers has been major,” Conseil president Yves-Thomas Dorval told the committee later. “In reality, we need lots of people.”

Asked by an opposition party MNA if Quebec should have held off on plans to shred the files, Dorval was curt: “Ask the government that question.”

The Conseil’s blast was the least of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette’s troubles Thursday, as hearings into the bill — required by law — almost didn’t get off the ground.

In fact, the committee room was vacant for most of the day as an epic procedural battle — including choice mudslinging — unfolded between the CAQ and the opposition Liberals.

At issue officially was the list of people to be heard by the committee, but the background theme was pent-up mistrust between the two parties that resulted in the legislature being paralyzed for several hours.

Jolin-Barrette lashed out at the same time as saying the government is not trying to muzzle the ample opposition to the bill, which will be before the courts Friday as immigration lawyers seek an injunction to block it.

“The Liberals do not seem to have understood the message sent by the population: put an end to your arrogant ways,” Jolin-Barrette told reporters. “Quebecers sent them to the opposition benches to reflect, so it’s time they sat there and started reflecting.

“They refuse to put a bit of water in their wine to ensure the legislature works.”

Not so fast, responded Liberal interim leader Pierre Arcand, accusing the government of wanting to rig the sessions to avoid hearing from people opposed to the bill.

“We are now embarking into a judicial imbroglio (on the immigration issue), which is harming Quebec’s international image,” Arcand said. “The government can’t act in good faith on this issue because its ideology prevents it.

“It wants to hear from groups saying its bill is good.”

And so the war continued, leading Québec solidaire house leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois to say they were “fighting like cats and dogs.”

“Ludicrous,” added interim Parti Québécois leader Pascal Bérubé.

The list of witnesses had been in flux for days, with clerks handing out update after update all week.

The city of Quebec was supposed to address the committee Thursday morning, only to cancel, saying it did not have time to prepare.

At the last minute, the government tried to replace it with an appearance by the Barreau du Québec, which answered that with 24 hours’ notice they did not have enough time to prepare a brief either.

At 11 a.m. Thursday the two sides were still squabbling — even over when to break for lunch. When Jolin-Barrette proposed a delay to his opening remarks because there were no groups available to appear after him, the Liberals refused.

The committee finally got rolling at 3 p.m., hearing from veteran economist Pierre Fortin, who waded into the issue of how many immigrants Quebec welcomes a year.

He said a massive increase of immigrants will not solve Quebec’s labour shortages, but a more selective process — matching people with jobs in advance — makes sense. The CAQ is proposing just that.

A big influx could be more harmful because it would exceed Quebec’s ability to socially and culturally integrate them, Fortin said: “If we push too far, we fan the flames of intolerance.”

He said a bigger question for companies in Canada is how to put an end to the rampant discrimination when it comes to hiring immigrants.

As if to prove Jolin-Barrette’s point on not muzzling the opposition, the first group appearing before the committee next week is Quebec’s association of immigration lawyers, which is leading the legal challenge to the bill.

Source: Hearings on Quebec’s immigration bill stall as politicians hurl mud

Minister denies immigrants already in Quebec could be expelled with reforms

The practical aspects continue to emerge and the CAQ continues to appear improvising as they emerge:

The immigration minister has moved to calm a storm sparked by his plans to reform the system for new arrivals, saying the government is not about to expel people already living and working in Quebec.

One day after Quebec’s Liberals described the plan to trash 18,000 immigration applications to clear the backlog as inhuman, the government revealed that 3,800 of those requests were filed by people already in Quebec and covered by the Regular Skilled Worker Program.

None of the workers will be expelled because they are working with federally issued worker permits and can have those permits renewed, officials said.

The government is also inviting these individuals — many of whom speak French and have been working here more than 12 months — to apply for entry to the Programme de l’expérience québécoise (PEQ), which is designed for immigrants who have completed higher education programs.

The fact they are already here means they have a better chance of being fast-tracked in that program and issued a Quebec selection certificate allowing them to stay longer or permanently, said Marc-André Gosselin, press aide to Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

As for others already living in Quebec, Gosselin said they have the option of re-applying for entry through the Expression of Interest Program, which Quebec is now promoting aggressively because it matches education and skills with available jobs.

Quebec believes it is the key to ending situations where highly educated immigrants arrive in Quebec only to find there are no jobs in their field and they end up washing dishes or driving taxis.

But confusion over the Coalition Avenir Québec government’s reforms persisted with the media filled with stories of immigrants saying their dreams of moving to Quebec have been dashed because the surprise changes to the system will mean they have to start the application process over.

Even if the CAQ government Monday focused its media damage control efforts on the 3,800 cases involving people already here, hundreds of other applications – largely filed from overseas — hang in limbo.

While the government says some of those files date as far back as 2005 and have probably been abandoned by the individuals, most of files in the backlog date in the last three or four years.

The government Monday again steered the blame for problems in the system to the backlog left behind by former Liberal government. Making an announcement in Terrebonne, Premier François Legault said it was the Liberals who “dragged their feet,” allowed the backlog to grow.

“There won’t be any more broken dreams (after the reforms) because people will know what waits for them in Quebec,” added Jolin-Barrette in a TVA interview in reference to the new skills-job matching program.

“What I want to do is ensure that when people arrive in Quebec they always have a job that matches their skills.”

But with the Liberals describing the CAQ’s reform launch as amateurish, the government struggled to explain the reforms it has proposed and which are included in Bill 9 tabled in the legislature last week.

Quebec, for example, changed twice in the same day their estimate of how many people those files actually represent.

And the CAQ government faces trouble getting Ottawa to agree to the reforms which involve both levels of government.

On Friday, federal intergovernmental affairs minister Dominic Leblanc dismissed Quebec’s request that Quebec be allowed to set its own conditions for the granting of permanent Canadian residency to all new arrivals in Quebec.

Legault responded to that statement saying Ottawa will pay a political price for its refusal in the looming federal election campaign.

Source: Minister denies immigrants already in Quebec could be expelled with reforms

Quebec announces reduced immigration targets, fuelling tensions with Ottawa

To watch.

Any reopening of the agreement to provide Quebec a role in family reunification and refugees would need to be accompanied by reopening the block grant of $490 million provided to Quebec (2017-18) for selection and integration (see Chantal Hébert’s earlier column By campaigning to cut immigration, Quebec’s opposition parties are playing politics with their province’s future):

Quebec plans to slash the number of immigrants it accepts next year, delivering on an election promise by Premier François Legault and setting the province on a collision course with Ottawa.

The Quebec government announced targets on Tuesday to reduce the number of newcomers to 40,000 in 2019, 24 per cent fewer than the 53,300 anticipated this year.

The plan is turning into the first major source of tension between the federal Liberals and the new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, just three days before a federal-provincial meeting in Montreal.

While the biggest drop in numbers would occur among qualified workers and other economic immigrants, which are under provincial control, Quebec also wants to cut into two streams of newcomers that fall under federal control: family reunifications involving spouses, children and parents, which would see 2,800 fewer immigrants, and refugees and asylum seekers, which would be cut by 2,450 people.

Groups working with immigrants and refugees called the CAQ plan “cruel” and said it is already stirring panic among families in Quebec who fear they will not be reunited with loved ones abroad.

The CAQ is also facing criticism for the cuts because Quebec is struggling with a chronic manpower shortage.

In Ottawa on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised questions about the timing of the plan.

“What I hear from business people across Quebec is that companies are worried about a labour shortage. I’m not sure that this is the best moment to reduce the intake of newcomers,” he told reporters.

Mr. Legault campaigned on a pledge to reduce immigration, arguing that one in five immigrants ends up leaving Quebec. He has framed the cuts not just in terms of better matching newcomers to the needs of the labour market, but as a way of safeguarding Quebec’s identity, values and French language.

The federal government said it will continue to hold discussions with the Quebec government on the issue, including defending the integrity of the family reunification program.

“We are disappointed,” Dominic LeBlanc, the federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday. “We don’t want a two-tier system in which families in Quebec need more time to bring in their spouses and parents than those in New Brunswick or Ontario. That’s not an ideal situation.”

Mr. LeBlanc added that both the Quebec and Canadian governments should make sure they meet their international obligations in terms of taking in refugees.

Mr. Legault said his government was elected after campaigning on lower immigration levels.

“We have a clear mandate from the population,” he said outside the National Assembly. “The population clearly understood that a CAQ government will reduce the number of immigrants to 40,000. … I trust the good judgment of the federal government.”

Quebec says the reduction will be temporary, with Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette calling it a “transition.”

“Faced with the difficulties of integration for a large number of immigrants, we had to act and have the courage to take the means to favour their long-term settlement in Quebec,” he said at a news conference.

In the legislature, he said: “What we want to do is deploy the resources to ensure each person who chooses Quebec succeeds.”

The government’s plan was denounced by an umbrella organization for groups working with immigrants and refugees in Quebec. The Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes called the plan “cruel” and unprecedented in Quebec’s history of immigration policy.

“This decision of the government is creating a wind of panic among numerous families that we are meeting in our organization,” said Lida Ahgasi, co-president of the Table, in a statement. “It’s a totally counterproductive decision, since we know that successful integration can only be accomplished within the family. If we want to take care of newcomers, we especially have to respect and protect the integrity of their family unit.”

At their first meeting after the Oct. 1 Quebec election, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Legault tried to negotiate a deal on immigration. However, Quebec decided on numbers without informing the federal government of its intentions ahead of time. Under the 1991 Canada-Quebec immigration deal, federal funding to facilitate the integration of immigrants in Quebec will still go up next year, even though the intake numbers will go down.

Source: Quebec announces reduced immigration targets, fuelling tensions with Ottawa

Québec ne pourra limiter le nombre de réfugiés reçus, affirme Hussen

Reality intrudes:

Le gouvernement du Québec ne pourra pas limiter le nombre de réfugiés qu’il reçoit chaque année, contrairement à ce qu’avait promis François Legault en campagne électorale.

Dans une entrevue à La Presse canadienne, le ministre fédéral de l’Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, a précisé que l’Accord Canada-Québec permet au gouvernement québécois de choisir le nombre d’immigrants économiques qu’il reçoit annuellement, mais que c’est Ottawa qui détermine combien de réfugiés sont accueillis au pays. Ceux-ci peuvent ensuite s’installer dans la province de leur choix et le Québec doit en accueillir 20 % en 2018.

Le gouvernement fédéral détermine également le nombre d’immigrants issus du programme de réunification familiale.

Le ministre a déposé à la Chambre des communes, mercredi un plan échelonné sur trois ans qui prévoit une augmentation graduelle du nombre d’immigrants chaque année. Ce nombre atteindrait 350 000 en 2021 pour l’ensemble du pays, ce qui correspond à près de 1 % de la population canadienne.

Le ministre a insisté sur le fait qu’une très large proportion de ces immigrants seront admis par l’entremise des programmes économiques existants.

Il s’est toutefois abstenu de se prononcer sur la contradiction entre ce nouveau plan et la promesse du gouvernement caquiste de réduire le nombre d’immigrants accueillis au total au Québec de 50 000 à 40 000 par année, avec des baisses dans les trois catégories, soit les immigrants économiques, les réfugiés et ceux issus du programme de réunification familiale.

« Nous n’avons reçu aucune communication officielle à ce sujet, donc, en ce qui nous concerne, rien ne change jusqu’à ce que nous ayons un autre son de cloche », a affirmé M. Hussen tout en précisant qu’il était prêt à travailler de près avec le Québec.

Source: Québec ne pourra limiter le nombre de réfugiés reçus, affirme Hussen

Signes religieux: le feu sous la cendre

Good commentary:

La mairesse Valérie Plante et le chef de l’opposition à l’Hôtel de Ville de Montréal, Lionel Perez, ont eu la sagesse de refuser de se lancer prématurément dans un débat sur les signes religieux, mais ce n’est que partie remise.

La motion du conseiller indépendant de Snowdon, Marvin Rotrand, qui semble se complaire dans le rôle du boutefeu, était d’ailleurs sans objet. La CAQ n’a jamais évoqué la possibilité d’interdire le port de signes religieux aux élus, que ce soit à l’Assemblée nationale ou au niveau municipal. La charte de la laïcité du gouvernement Marois ne le prévoyait pas non plus.

M. Rotrand soutient avoir obtenu l’assurance que les élus de Projet Montréal et d’Ensemble Montréal auraient appuyé sa motion si celle-ci avait été mise aux voix. Cela est en effet probable, mais quel aurait été l’intérêt d’enfoncer une porte ouverte, sinon d’envenimer un débat qui est déjà suffisamment explosif ?

M. Rotrand n’en est pas à sa première intervention du genre. Au printemps dernier, il avait demandé au Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) d’autoriser ses agents à porter le hidjab ou le turban, comme c’est le cas dans de nombreux corps policiers municipaux ailleurs au Canada, que ce soit à Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary ou Edmonton, ou encore dans la GRC.

Aucun policier en service au Québec n’avait manifesté l’intention d’en porter, mais une jeune étudiante en techniques policières du collège Ahuntsic, Sandos Lamrhari, qui souhaite faire carrière au SPVM ou au Service de police de la Ville de Laval tout en portant le hidjab, avait été érigée en symbole par le premier ministre Couillard, qui voyait en elle l’incarnation d’un Québec confiant dans l’avenir, où tout le monde peut participer.

Là encore, il était permis de s’interroger sur l’opportunité de provoquer ce débat, puisque le gouvernement libéral refusait d’interdire à qui que ce soit de porter des signes religieux, pour autant que le visage soit découvert, contrairement à la recommandation de la commission Bouchard-Taylor. Il entendait plutôt laisser à chaque corps policier le soin d’établir son propre code vestimentaire. Or, la direction du SPVM se disait ouverte à toute demande, tout comme la mairesse Plante.

Le changement de gouvernement rend cependant le débat inévitable. Si le premier ministre Legault n’exclut pas que les enseignants puissent échapper au projet de loi que présentera éventuellement le ministre de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion, Simon Jolin-Barrette, il n’y aura pas de recul dans le cas des agents de l’État exerçant un « pouvoir de coercition », notamment les policiers.

La constitutionnalité du projet sera contestée à coup sûr. M. Jolin-Barrette se dit convaincu que son projet passera le test des tribunaux. Sinon, M. Legault a réitéré dès le lendemain de l’élection qu’il était prêt à invoquer la disposition dérogatoire (« clause nonobstant ») prévue dans les chartes des droits. D’une manière ou d’une autre, l’interdiction du port de signes religieux finira donc par avoir force de loi.

Ce débat risque d’accentuer encore davantage le clivage entre l’île de Montréal et le reste du Québec, dont la dernière élection a donné une illustration spectaculaire. Le feu couve sous la cendre et il ne faut pas sous-estimer le risque de dérapage. Il y a à peine deux semaines, le maire de l’arrondissement de Pierrefonds-Roxboro, Dimitrios Jim Beis, s’en est pris férocement à la CAQ, dont il dénonçait les « politiques perçues comme racistes ».

« La CAQ instrumentalise la laïcité comme un cheval de Troie pour la mise en oeuvre de politiques d’exclusion et de division. Aucun Québécois ne devrait avoir à choisir entre sa carrière et sa foi », écrivait-il sur Facebook. Des propos qui avaient un désagréable accent de déjà entendu.

On peut légitimement plaider que, dans une ville aussi multiethnique que Montréal, la population fera davantage confiance à son corps policier si sa composition reflète la diversité ambiante. La commission Bouchard-Taylor avait pris cet argument en compte, mais avait néanmoins conclu que la nécessité d’incarner pleinement la neutralité de l’État l’emportait dans le cas des policiers.

À l’Hôtel de Ville de Montréal, on trouvera sans doute cette interdiction excessive, même si le projet de loi de M. Jolin-Barrette sera nettement moins contraignant que l’était celui de Bernard Drainville, qui visait, au terme d’une période de transition, l’ensemble des employés d’une municipalité.

Le gouvernement Couillard accordait aux divers corps policiers, donc aux municipalités, le droit de définir leurs propres règles. On ne parle cependant pas ici d’aménagement urbain, mais d’un principe directeur applicable à toute la société québécoise. L’expression de la neutralité de l’État ne peut pas être à géométrie variable. Que cela leur plaise ou non, il n’appartient pas aux municipalités d’en fixer les paramètres, mais au gouvernement élu par l’ensemble de la population du Québec.

Source: Signes religieux: le feu sous la cendre

Quebec wants to expand religious symbol ban, blocking Muslim garments in civil service

The 2011 National Household Survey, indicated a very small number of Muslim Quebecois in the public service (along with other religious minorities):

Quebec’s new government is planning to block Muslim women who work in the civil service from wearing the chador, a shawl-like piece of clothing that covers the head and body, and the niqab, which also covers the face.

Coalition Avenir Québec ​Premier François Legault has already made clear his intention to prohibit those who hold positions of authority including teachers from wearing religious symbols, such as the hijab, a Muslim headscarf.

The ban on the chador and niqab, however, would extend to all employees in the public sector. A representative from the CAQ couldn’t say how many people such a ban would affect.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the government’s point person when it comes to ensuring the secularism of the state, said Wednesday the government plans to “move quickly” to introduce a law.

“It was always our position to prohibit the chador in the public service,” said Jolin-Barrette, in response to questions following a report in the Journal de Montréal about the government’s stance.

There is no mention of banning the garments in the CAQ’s online platform, but the party has played up its commitment to such a policy in the past.

In 2016, the CAQ said on Twitter that it would “defend Quebec values” by banning the chador, unlike its rivals, the Liberals and the Parti Québécois.

Jolin-Barrette said it was too early to provide details on exactly how and when the law would be implemented.

Later on Wednesday, Legault said a law prohibiting religious symbols isn’t “a priority” for the CAQ, which created some confusion about the issue.

“One important value is equality between men and women, so we want to protect that. Now, is this a priority? No,” he said.

‘Surreal’ debate

Montreal lawyer Shahad Salman, who wears a hijab, said she is discouraged the new government — and the media —  continues to focus on identity issues “rather than talking about real issues.”

“It’s so surreal that we’re talking about this again, honestly,” she said. Salman said such debates are counterproductive if politicians want minorities to become more integrated into Quebec society.

As it stands, when it comes to minorities in Quebec’s civil service, the percentage doesn’t reflect the overall population.

Visible minorities made up 9.4 per cent of the province’s public workforce in 2017, although they constitute 13 per cent of the overall population, according to a study by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques,

The chador, which covers the head and body but leaves the face exposed, is a garment commonly worn in Iran, where this photograph was taken. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/Associated Press)

The CAQ’s planned ban on religious symbols has been criticized by civil rights advocates who contend the policy will further marginalize vulnerable minorities.

Charles Taylor, author of a landmark 2008 report on the accommodation of religious minorities in the province, called the proposal “either very ignorant or very intellectually dishonest.”

In a recent interview, he pointed out that his report explicitly recommended against including teachers in a ban on the wearing of religious garb.

“We meant it to apply only to people with functions that we called ‘coercive authority’ — police and judges. Functions that can put you in jail,” Taylor said.

Lacking ‘coherent plan,’ Liberals say

The CAQ won a decisive majority in the Quebec election earlier this month, beating out Philippe Couillard’s Liberals.

Pierre Arcand, the interim leader for the Liberals, said the CAQ doesn’t appear to have a “coherent plan” when it comes to religious symbols.

The new government appears to be floating a new trial balloon every day, he said.

Arcand said he would reserve comment until a bill is tabled.

Source: Quebec wants to expand religious symbol ban, blocking Muslim garments in civil service

Seuils d’immigration: le Québec aura moins de poids, prévient Ottawa

While I don’t advocate for more immigration for immigration’s sake, the overall demographic and eventual political impact of the Legault government’s reduced immigration levels is clear:

Le gouvernement Legault risque d’accélérer la chute du poids démographique du Québec au sein de la fédération canadienne – et, par ricochet, son poids politique – en voulant réduire le nombre d’immigrants qui s’installent au Québec.

Telle est la mise en garde qu’a poliment lancée le gouvernement Trudeau à de proches collaborateurs du nouveau premier ministre du Québec, François Legault, au cours des derniers jours, alors que le gouvernement de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) a officiellement pris les commandes de l’État jeudi.

Selon des informations obtenues par La Presse, le gouvernement Trudeau a entrepris de sensibiliser le gouvernement caquiste aux répercussions possibles de son intention de réduire le nombre d’immigrants qui élisent domicile au Québec sur le poids démographique de la province au sein de la fédération. Au lendemain des élections québécoises, qui ont vu la CAQ remporter 74 des 125 sièges à l’Assemblée nationale, François Legault a réitéré la promesse électorale de son parti de faire passer le nombre d’immigrants de quelque 50 000 à 40 000 dès 2019.

Le nouveau ministre de l’Immigration du gouvernement caquiste, Simon Jolin-Barrette, a obtenu le mandat de réaliser cette promesse qui a suscité de vifs débats durant la campagne électorale, d’autant plus que le gouvernement fédéral a son mot à dire en matière d’immigration et que les entreprises doivent composer avec une pénurie de main-d’oeuvre au Québec.

Rappelons que le gouvernement fédéral, quant à lui, s’est donné pour objectif d’accueillir 310 000 immigrants en 2018, 330 000 en 2019 et 340 000 en 2020.

Durant les trois premiers mois de 2018, l’Ontario a accueilli presque autant d’immigrants que la cible annuelle que propose François Legault dès l’an prochain, soit 35 222 personnes, selon des données du ministère des Finances de l’Ontario obtenues par La Presse. L’Ontario comptait 14 374 084 habitants au 1er avril 2018 (contre 8,4 millions au Québec) et avait aussi accueilli 44,1 % de tous les nouveaux arrivants au Canada durant le premier trimestre de l’année. En 2017, pas moins de 121 915 immigrants ont installé leurs pénates dans la province la plus populeuse.

Les nouveaux sièges en fonction du poids

Dans les coulisses, on a tenu à rappeler que c’est à partir du poids démographique d’une province que l’on distribue de nouveaux sièges à la Chambre des communes – de plus en plus dominée par l’Ontario, qui détient 121 des 338 sièges. À titre de comparaison, le Québec détient 78 sièges, alors que la Colombie-Britannique (42) et l’Alberta (34), mis ensemble, en ont presque autant (76) depuis la réforme de la carte électorale de 2011.

« Quand on décide de réduire le nombre d’immigrants qui s’installent au Québec, cela va avoir un impact sur le poids démographique du Québec par rapport au reste du pays. Et cela pourrait aussi avoir un impact sur son poids politique à long terme », a-t-on fait valoir dans les rangs libéraux à Ottawa.

Au cours du dernier siècle et plus, le poids démographique du Québec est passé de 30,7 % de la population canadienne en 1901 à 22,6 % en 2018.

Le poids démographique de l’Ontario, lui, s’établit à 38,7 % aujourd’hui. Le gouvernement ontarien prévoit qu’il atteindra 39,8 % en 2026 et qu’il franchira le cap des 40,3 % en 2031 si la tendance actuelle se maintient.

Au cours des dernières années, la population de l’Ontario a donc crû fortement, ce qui lui a permis d’obtenir davantage de sièges à la Chambre des communes et d’augmenter du même coup son influence sur les décisions qui sont prises dans la capitale fédérale.

Des inquiétudes

Dans les coulisses, des députés libéraux fédéraux du Québec ont aussi exprimé leurs inquiétudes quant aux répercussions de la politique du gouvernement caquiste en matière d’immigration. « Je suis un député du Québec et je ne veux pas que le Québec en vienne à perdre de son influence politique à Ottawa au profit de l’Ontario », a résumé un député libéral, qui a requis l’anonymat pour s’exprimer plus candidement sur cette question qui pourrait devenir une pomme de discorde entre les deux capitales.

En 2011, l’ancien gouvernement conservateur de Stephen Harper avait annoncé l’attribution de nouveaux sièges à l’Ontario, à l’Alberta et à la Colombie-Britannique afin de tenir compte de la forte croissance démographique dans ces trois provinces. La Chambre des communes est passée, aux élections de 2015, de 308 à 338 sièges. L’Ontario a obtenu 15 de ces 30 nouveaux sièges, tandis que l’Alberta et la Colombie-Britannique se sont vu donner six nouveaux sièges chacun. Le gouvernement du Québec et le Bloc québécois sont montés au créneau pour décrier la baisse du poids politique du Québec à la Chambre des communes. De proches collaborateurs québécois de Stephen Harper l’ont alors convaincu d’accorder trois nouveaux sièges au Québec, même si la croissance de sa population ne justifiait pas une telle mesure.

Le Québec détient aujourd’hui l’équivalent de 23 % des sièges à la Chambre des communes, soit une proportion plus élevée que son poids démographique (22,6 %).

Signes religieux: le gouvernement élu ouvre la porte à un droit acquis

Starting to face the reality of implementation:

Le gouvernement Legault s’est montré ouvert à assouplir son projet d’interdire les signes religieux aux fonctionnaires en position d’autorité, mardi. Le député Simon Jolin-Barrette a évoqué la possibilité que les employés actuels puissent bénéficier d’un droit acquis.

La Coalition avenir Québec a été élue sur la promesse d’interdire les signes religieux chez les juges, les procureurs et les agents de la paix, tel que le recommandait le rapport Bouchard-Taylor. Le parti de François Legault souhaite aussi élargir cette politique aux enseignants.

M. Legault s’est engagé à légiférer dès la première année de son mandat pour clore cette question une fois pour toutes.

Mais pour y parvenir, le nouveau gouvernement est prêt à mettre de l’eau dans son vin, a indiqué son porte-parole, le député Simon Jolin-Barrette.

«Notre position a toujours été de s’assurer que les personnes en situation d’autorité et les enseignants ne portent pas de signes religieux, a dit M. Jolin-Barrette. Mais très certainement, on veut collaborer avec les partis de l’opposition et on veut s’assurer qu’on puisse passer enfin à autre chose parce que c’est important d’adopter une loi qui va consacrer la laïcité de l’État.»

«Il y a une chose qui est sûre, c’est que le consensus du rapport Bouchard-Taylor est présent au Québec, a-t-il toutefois ajouté. Les Québécois s’attendent à ce que les personnes en situation d’autorité ne portent pas de signes religieux.»

Le gouvernement élu avait envoyé un signal beaucoup plus ferme la semaine dernière. Son autre porte-parole, la députée Geneviève Guilbault, avait prévenu que les récalcitrants pourraient perdre leur emploi s’ils refusent de se soumettre aux nouvelles règles.

Le gouvernement élu n’est pas encore assermenté que, déjà, cet engagement se heurte à de vives résistances. Une manifestation a rassemblé plusieurs centaines de personnes à Montréal en fin de semaine et un conseiller municipal de la métropole a qualifié de «racistes» les politiques caquistes.

Crucifix

S’il se dit prêt à faire preuve de souplesse quant au port des signes religieux, le gouvernement Legault se montre ferme sur le maintien du crucifix à l’Assemblée nationale. Le rapport Bouchard-Taylor recommandait de le retirer du Salon bleu, où les députés légifèrent.

Mais la CAQ s’en tient à sa «position historique»: elle souhaite qu’il reste où il est car il s’agit d’un «objet patrimonial».

«Ce n’est pas dans le cadre des discussions de déplacer le crucifix», a indiqué M. Jolin-Barrette.

Source: Signes religieux: le gouvernement élu ouvre la porte à un droit acquis

La CAQ et la laïcité, ou un début laborieux

A reminder of the more global approach to integration and reasonable accommodation of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, with appropriate caution to the incoming CAQ government:

Lors de son élection, François Legault a promis d’être un premier ministre rassembleur et de sortir le Québec de la polarisation entre souverainistes et fédéralistes qui a marqué le débat politique des cinquante dernières années. Son premier geste fut de ramener à l’avant-plan une polarisation entre la gauche et la droite, d’une part, et entre Montréal et les régions, d’autre part, ce qui sera le trait distinctif de son mandat.

On ne pourra reprocher à M. Legault de manquer de cohérence. Il l’avait promis : il le fera. Le gouvernement caquiste va légiférer pour interdire le port de signes religieux dans la fonction publique pour les personnes en situation d’autorité. Jusque-là, il n’y a pas de quoi s’affoler et crier à la montée de l’intolérance et du populisme au Québec. D’autres nations ont fait le choix assumé de la laïcité dans les relations de l’État avec ses citoyens. Le rapport final de la commission Bouchard-Taylor sur les accommodements raisonnables, rendu public en 2008, recommandait d’ailleurs l’interdiction du port des signes religieux pour les agents de l’État en situation de coercition : juges, procureurs de la Couronne, policiers, gardiens de prison, président et vice-présidents de l’Assemblée nationale.

Le véritable scandale n’est pas qu’un gouvernement élu tente de mettre en application les recommandations d’une commission qui a sillonné le Québec, pour en arriver à une série de recommandations justes et raisonnables afin de concilier l’interculturalisme et la laïcité ouverte distinctive du Québec avec les exigences d’intégration et de francisation des nouveaux arrivants. Le véritable scandale réside dans la procrastination crasse des gouvernements libéraux de Jean Charest et de Philippe Couillard, qui ont négligé pendant de trop nombreuses années de donner suite aux recommandations. Le fait que Charles Taylor se soit dissocié du rapport depuis n’enlève en rien à la lucidité du diagnostic de l’époque et à la pertinence de l’ouvrage. Nous n’en serions pas là, à rejouer dans le vieux film identitaire post-Bouchard-Taylor, si les libéraux avaient accordé un peu plus de poids aux préoccupations de la majorité francophone.

Il y a toutefois un hic dans la démarche de François Legault. Sans en avoir fait un enjeu de fond de la campagne électorale, il s’éloigne de l’esprit et de la lettre du rapport Bouchard-Taylor en voulant désormais interdire le port des signes religieux pour le personnel de l’État en situation d’autorité (et non de coercition), ce qui revient à inclure dans un éventuel projet de loi les enseignants. Qui plus est, M. Legault menace de limoger les fonctionnaires qui ne se conformeront pas à la nouvelle directive, quitte à utiliser la disposition de dérogation au passage. Gérard Bouchard et Charles Taylor ne s’étaient jamais rendus aussi loin dans leurs réflexions.

La proposition caquiste dévie donc du consensus social arraché à la dure en 2008, sans guère de justification. Malgré le passage du temps, Le Devoirsoutient l’application des recommandations du rapport Bouchard-Taylor. Pas plus, pas moins.

Les fondements du « vivre-ensemble » n’étaient guère menacés à l’époque. Ils ne le sont pas plus aujourd’hui. François Legault s’apprête à légiférer pour régler un « problème » par anticipation, soit l’émergence d’un contingent de femmes voilées dans l’appareil d’État. Disons-le, la femme voilée est encore la mère de tous les maux dans ce débat politique à géométrie variable sur la laïcité. Qu’adviendra-t-il du crucifix à l’Assemblée nationale ? Celui-là semble bénéficier d’une clause de droits acquis.

Le gouvernement Legault rouvre des blessures mal cicatrisées. Déjà, le président de la Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, Sylvain Mallette, a indiqué que les écoles publiques n’avaient nullement besoin de ce nouveau « psychodrame ». « Interdire le port de signes religieux, ça ne donne pas plus de services aux élèves », a-t-il dit. La démarche du gouvernement Legault accentuera à coup sûr le clivage entre Montréal et le reste du Québec, la métropole se trouvant dans une situation unique en matière de diversité et de cohabitation. Des groupuscules de gauche ont déjà fait leur nid, avec bien des maladresses et des raccourcis intellectuels : la CAQ est raciste, liberticide, antiféministe. Un danger social dénoncé avec véhémence lors d’une manifestation contre le racisme dimanche à Montréal.

Dans ce climat de polarisation exacerbée, que vaut encore le rapport Bouchard-Taylor ? Cet ouvrage mesuré assoyait la légitimité de l’interculturalisme dont se réclame François Legault, tout en ratissant plus large. Les nationalistes contemporains ont réduit le débat au port de signes religieux, alors que MM. Bouchard et Taylor élargissaient la réflexion sur les accommodements raisonnables à l’intégration des nouveaux arrivants au marché du travail, à la francisation, à la régionalisation de l’immigration, à la reconnaissance des diplômes et à la lutte contre les inégalités et la discrimination.

Vivement cette approche holistique, réalisée avec doigté et pondération en lieu et place de la précipitation et de l’approximation. À moins de vouloir à tout prix un nouveau psychodrame.

Source: La CAQ et la laïcité, ou un début laborieux

Coyne and Yakabuski contrasting views on the CAQ and the notwithstanding clause in relation to religious symbols

Two very different takes, starting with Andrew Coyne:

Be careful what you wish for. Quebec’s election may have signalled a turning away from separatism — the mad, doomed project to wrench apart the country on linguistic and ethnic lines that consumed so much of the province’s energy and wealth over the last 50-odd years. But it has been accompanied by a turning toward other forms of zealotry and intolerance.

The Liberal Party and Parti Québécois may have gone down to their worst defeats in their respective histories, dispatched by voters tired of the ancient existential stalemate and the entrenched/corrupt elites that thrived upon it. But into the vacuum have surged parties peddling other fantasies.

Quebec Solidaire campaigned on a platform that might have been stolen from a student union at one of the less prestigious universities, and probably was. It was rewarded with a doubling of its share of the popular vote and a tripling of its seats in the assembly.

And the “conservative” Coalition Avenir Quebec surged to power on a mix of unfunded tax cuts, warmed-over 1970s-style dirigisme and enriched daycare subsidies. Oh, and beating up on immigrants.

The party will protest at that description, but it is not for nothing that they were feted with victory congratulations from Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader. The party vows not only to slash immigration to Quebec — this at a time of growing labour shortages, in a province where population aging is a particular concern — but to expel those who fail a test of “values” and French language proficiency after three years.

How it would do so, or where they would be deported to, or under whose constitutional authority are among the many questions raised by this odious proposal, to say nothing of the obvious Charter issues. Party leader Francois Legault struggled to explain it during the campaign. But when a voter in Rimouski asked him whether he would fight for “us” against “these immigrants who are erasing us,” Legault was quick enough to reply: “Bien oui!”

If deporting thousands of immigrants was too much for the other parties, on the other great question of the day, whether members of religiously observant minorities should be allowed to work in the public sector, the parties were more in accord than otherwise.

While the Liberals’ Bill 62 would have banned, in the name of “religious neutrality,” covering one’s face, not only for providers but recipients of public services — those wishing to attend school, say, or ride the bus — the other parties would in some ways have gone further.

The CAQ, for example, proposes to ban anyone in a position of authority — police officers, judges, even teachers — from wearing any “conspicuous” religious symbol at work. The party has been admirably clear about what this means: those whose faith requires them to wear such symbols will not only be precluded from being hired for these jobs, but dismissed from such positions as they currently hold.

So to go with mass expulsions of ethnic minorities, add mass firings of religious minorities: the platform, not of some creepy fringe party, but of the newly elected government of Quebec. If Canadians outside Quebec think they can look the other way at this latest manifestation of the province’s famous distinctness, as they did earlier measures banning the display of English in public, they should think again. For it is about to explode in all of our faces.

Bill 62 was already tied up in the courts, the ban on face coverings suspended while its constitutionality is under review. The CAQ’s more sweeping religious bar, should it be passed into law, will quite certainly meet the same fate. But while the Liberals had never indicated they would do anything but accept the courts’ findings, the CAQ leader has again been clear: it will invoke the notwithstanding clause to override any Charter objections.

Perhaps, in the event, we will be treated to the same circus as surrounded Ontario’s recent flirtation with suspending constitutional rights: squadrons of law professors explaining again that this latest demonstration of the clause’s malevolent potential should not be held against it; elderly veterans of the constitutional wars re-emerging to protest that this was not what they intended, either; people who’ve never liked the Charter pointing out, as if it were either new or relevant, that the Charter override is in fact part of the Charter; and so on.

But in one crucial respect this time cannot fail to be different. The federal government could afford to take a pass on the Ontario fight: the override threat came in response to a particularly wonky court decision, soon set aside by an appeals court, after which it was withdrawn; it was far from clear how far the law in question, redrawing municipal election boundaries, offended against rights, as opposed to common sense; and the use of the clause was opposed by every opposition party — and, polls showed, wildly unpopular.

None of these are likely to apply in the present case. The threat to rights is obvious, and serious; it involves no arcane dispute between different levels of government, but blatant discrimination against vulnerable minorities; and yet it is likely to have the support of at least three of the four parties — and perhaps a majority of the Quebec public.

Can the federal government stay out of this? The immediate response from the prime minister was not encouraging. Invoking the notwithstanding clause, he said, is “not something that should be done lightly.” To suppress “the fundamental rights of Canadians” is “something one should be very careful about.” Stop, or I’ll shout ‘stop’ again.

No, sorry, that will not do. The question he will have to confront, the question confronting us all, is this: do we want to live in a country in which people can be fired from their jobs because of their religious beliefs? In which important positions in the public service are off limits to members of religious minorities? How can we possibly?

Source: Andrew Coyne: Quebec situation is too serious for Trudeau to stay out of notwithstanding debate

In contrast, Konrad Yakabuski is downplays the initial language and says wait to see the actual legislation:

The international headlines referencing Monday’s Quebec election left little to the imagination.

In France, where Quebec politics get more attention than anywhere outside Canada, Le Monde spoke of a “crushing victory by the right.” At the more downmarket Le Parisien, the verdict was even more sensational: Quebec Elects a Nationalist and Anti-immigration Government.

The beleaguered Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s truly anti-immigration Rassemblement national, could hardly believe her luck. She tweeted that Quebeckers had “voted for less immigration,” demonstrating “lucidity and firmness in the face of the migration challenge.”

That is hardly the message premier-designate François Legault hoped his victory would send to the four corners of the globe. But Mr. Legault is learning the hard way that what he says now carries repercussions far beyond the tiny bubble of Quebec politics and can influence his province’s reputation not just in the rest of Canada, but around the world.

For a seasoned politician, Mr. Legault was shockingly undisciplined on the campaign trail. His daily press conferences could go on ad infinitum and Mr. Legault would venture answers to reporters’ questions that a more scripted politician would not touch with a 10-foot pole. It got him into plenty of trouble and, were it not for Quebeckers’ overwhelming desire to punish the Liberals and Parti Québécois alike, it might have cost him the election.

So, it is mind-boggling why Mr. Legault chose to waste his first postvictory news conference on Tuesday by answering a double-hypothetical question about what he would do if courts strike down a law that his government is in no hurry to pass. He should have known that nothing productive could come of his outburst, which left exactly the opposite impression that he intended to make.

While the official program of the Coalition Avenir Québec that Mr. Legault leads favours prohibiting persons in a position of authority from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, passing legislation giving effect to this policy is not high on Mr. Legault’s agenda.

Yet, on Tuesday, the premier-designate was already musing about invoking the notwithstanding clause to override a non-existent court decision that nullifies the currently non-existent legislation, whose shape and form remains a matter of pure conjecture.

This is not to say some form of legislation regulating religious symbols in the public sphere won’t eventually show up on the order paper of a CAQ government. The issue of religious accommodation has dogged successive Quebec governments for more than a decade, as rising Muslim immigration has forced the province to grapple with questions of religious diversity.

Francophone Quebeckers’ idea of state secularism may not correspond with the dictionary definition of the concept, given their desire to grandfather the blatantly Catholic symbols of their past, right up to the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly. But that doesn’t mean the new CAQ government will be able to indefinitely ignore demands to regulate other religious symbols.

There is a large consensus among Quebec’s political class that the best way to settle the debate once and for all is to follow the recommendations of the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor commission on religious accommodation. The commission, led by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, concluded that “agents of the state” (such as judges, Crown prosecutors and police officers) should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols.

In 2017, Prof. Taylor dropped his support for the proposal, saying that it had been misunderstood. Indeed, the Bouchard-Taylor report explicitly excluded teachers, civil servants and health-care professionals from the list of public employees it said should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols. But that detail seemed to have been lost on many politicians.

The official CAQ policy would include teachers among those banned from wearing the Muslim hijab or Jewish kippa. But whether a CAQ government would legislate to include teachers in the mix remains highly speculative. What’s more, any legislation regulating when and where police officers or judges could or could not wear religious symbols would likely be limited in scope.

On Wednesday, the CAQ MNA who served as the party’s justice critic in opposition moved to clean up the damage Mr. Legault created on Tuesday. Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted that the new government intends to ensure that any future legislation on religious accommodation would stand up in the courts. He added that invoking the notwithstanding clause, while an option, would never be the CAQ’s first course of action.

The CAQ has brought in Carl Vallée, who served as a press secretary to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, to help the new government find its communications footing. It likely signals tighter messaging and less freelancing by Mr. Legault in the future.

After all, those headlines outside Quebec can be killers.