Macpherson: Electoral reform or not, Montreal loses out

Good look at the impact and likely underlying motives:

“Gerrymandering” is a form of electoral fraud in which the boundaries of constituencies are drawn to advantage — or disadvantage — a particular party or group of voters. Two centuries after the practice was named after a Massachusetts governor named Gerry, it’s still used, notably in some Republican-controlled states to reduce the political influence of minorities.

To achieve a similar purpose here in Quebec, Smiling Frank Legault’s francophone-supremacistgovernment proposes to use not only the electoral map but also the voting system. Let’s call this variation “Frankymandering.”

I’ve already written about how, in the Coalition Avenir Québec government’s proposed new system, what a former nationalist premier notoriously called “ethnic votes,” already underrepresented in the legislature, would control an even smaller proportion of the seats.

There would still be 125 members of the National Assembly, but only 80 would still be elected directly by their constituencies. The other 45 seats would be distributed according to the vote in each region on a second ballot for a party rather than an individual candidate. Those “regional” members would owe their seats more to their party than to the voters.

And since the 80 ridings would generally be larger, the minorities, which are concentrated in the Montreal area, would control proportionately fewer of the 125 total seats.

The government has been far from transparent about how the changes would affect representation, leaving it up to voters to try to figure that out for themselves.

Among other things, Montrealers would lose political clout, not only because they would have fewer MNAs directly accountable to them, but because the island would have fewer MNAs in all.

As reported by La Presse this week, a Université Laval expert on voting systems, Louis Massicotte, found that among other things, the CAQ’s Bill 39 would “substantially” reduce the influence of Montreal Island.

In a brief to an Assembly committee holding a public consultation on the voting legislation, Massicotte wrote that “without the slightest justification,” the island would lose three seats, or 11 per cent of its present representation.

He said that when the bill was presented last September, its drafters “hid” this. The governing CAQ was making a “victim” of a region where it holds only two of the present 27 seats, which he called “obscene.”

In an article published in Le Devoir last December, Massicotte had written that some of the bill’s provisions might be seen as punishing “a region that is demographically important, but ethno-linguistically atypical, for its lack of enthusiasm for the present government.” Montreal, with its minorities, is the stronghold of the Quebec Liberal Party.

The government could hardly dispute Massicotte’s analysis in his brief, since it had a similar one of its own, in a briefing note for the minister responsible for electoral reform, Sonia LeBel. It finally released the note this week, but only because it was forced to do so after Radio-Canada obtained it.

It confirmed that Montreal Island would lose three seats, leaving it underrepresented in the Assembly with 19.2 per cent of the seats for 21.5 per cent of the registered voters for the 2018 general election. It would be left with only 16 riding MNAs compared to the present 27, and eight regional ones.

If Bill 39 is adopted as is, there will be a referendum on the proposed new system at the same time as the next general election, due in 2022. Apparently, the government hopes its own proposal will be rejected.

The CAQ promised a new voting system before the last election, but discovered the advantages of the present one when the Coalition won 59 per cent of the seats with 37 per cent of the vote.

But accidents happen. And just in case the proposal is approved in the referendum, the CAQ has built in a Plan B to weaken the influence of the minorities who now form the core of the remaining electoral base of its Liberal opponents: the Frankymander.


An introduction to the new Quebec nationalism and the tricks it plays on federal leaders

To watch:

Quebec’s Bill 21 was a dominant theme in the first week of the campaign. Here’s why

The opening days of the 2019 election campaign have been marked, above all, by the attempts of federal leaders to navigate the new Quebec nationalism and its most potent expression, a law on secularism.

The main proponent of this resurgent nationalism is the provincial government led by Premier François Legault and his centre-right party, the Coalition Avenir Québec.

And Legault didn’t wait long before giving the federal leaders a taste.

The campaign was barely a few hours old when he demanded they renounce support for legal challenges to the secularism law his government passed in June — not just “for the moment,” as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he would, but forever.

It was a warning to steer well clear of a matter he considers to be solely within his jurisdiction, even though the law has raised constitutional concerns across the country, not to mention within Quebec itself.

“It’s up to Quebecers to choose and Quebecers have chosen,” Legault said Wednesday of a law that bans religious symbols in parts of the civil service.

But the roots of the new Quebec nationalism go well beyond Legault’s sweeping election victory last year.

It’s a political mindset that has displaced sovereignty as the main alternative to federalism and, as the first week of the campaign has already made clear, will define how the leaders court votes in the province this fall.

Civic vs ethnic nationalism

The nationalism that currently holds sway is conservative. It is based on a holistic conception of Quebec society that prioritizes the historical experience of francophones.

It’s mainly worried that the combination of immigration and official multiculturalism will make francophone Quebec culture more vulnerable in an increasingly interconnected world where English is the lingua franca.

No surprise then that cutting immigration levels and protecting Quebec’s secular identity were the chief highlights of Legault’s first year in office.

He has sworn off sovereignty since his days in the Parti Québécois, but the origins of the conservative nationalism that his government espouses can nevertheless be traced to the movement’s most decisive moment: the night of the second referendum.

That night, Jacques Parizeau, the PQ premier, opted to improvise his concession speech. “We are beaten, it is true,” he said. “But by what, basically? By money and ethnic votes.”

Already in crisis following the narrow defeat, the sovereignty movement was split in its reaction to Parizeau’s comments.

There were those who were horrified and spent the ensuing years trying to expunge the movement of any hint of ethnic nationalism; trying to promote a more inclusive, civic-style nationalism instead.

And there were those who believed Parizeau was right, and sought to emphasize the history of French-Canadians in their version of Quebec nationalism.

At the outset, the civic nationalists had the upper-hand.

“After 1995, because of Mr. Parizeau’s comments, there was a tendency within the sovereigntist milieu to adhere to a Trudeauist conception of society,” said Éric Bédard, a prominent Quebec historian whose writings helped spark the revival of conservative nationalism.

“Why claim a special status, maybe even Quebec sovereignty, if fundamentally we adhere to the spirit of Canadian multiculturalism?”

But the reasonable accommodation crisis, which lasted roughly between 2006 and 2008, tipped the scales in the other direction.

The rise of the conservative nationalists

As debate raged in the province about whether minority cultural practices represented a threat to Quebec’s secular society, conservative nationalists mounted a fierce attack on multiculturalism.

Bédard and others argued the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its application by federally appointed judges, was too accommodating of minorities, at the expense of a historically rooted Québécois culture.

According to a conservative nationalist reading of the past, this culture is defined by the solidarity forged among francophones fighting for their survival. And the legacy of this solidarity is a willingness to value collective rights over individual ones.

That, they said, is what a secularism law could do: protect the collective rights of Quebecers to live in a secular society against individuals who use the charter to carve out space for their religious practices.

This argument eventually found a sympathetic ear in PQ leader Pauline Marois, who was desperate to restore her party’s fortunes after a disastrous performance in the 2007 election.

Marois brought several conservative nationalists, including Bédard, into her inner circle.

It was a collaboration that ultimately produced the Charter of Values, a proposed secularism law that would have banned religious symbols from large parts of the civil service.

The charter died on the order paper when the PQ lost the 2014 election. But conservative nationalists didn’t blame the charter for the loss. They blamed Marois’s focus on sovereignty.

The CAQ’s successful 2018 election campaign was based on a similar reading of the political climate in the province.

“The CAQ is in the process of fostering a nationalism without sovereignty. And that’s the winning formula at the moment,” said Jacques Beauchemin, a sociologist and former adviser to Marois whose writings also played a big role in the nationalist revival.

“They are proposing a nationalism that suits Quebec of today; a nationalism that is not afraid of affirming things, like with Bill 21 (the secularism law).”

Of obstacles and opportunities

The federal election campaign thus opens in Quebec at a moment of deep suspicion about federal institutions.

Legault, and other defenders of Bill 21, have actively sought to delegitimize the charter and the court system charged with upholding it, fearing their power to strike down the law.

His government, moreover, seeks not simply to defend provincial jurisdiction, but expand it in key areas, like immigration.

In the meantime, multiculturalism, as both a policy and a value, is cast in ever darker terms by government officials and popular columnists.

The grid laid down by the new Quebec nationalism offers different opportunities and obstacles to the three main contenders in the province.

It helps explain why, when launching his campaign, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet began with a paean to the nationalism of the CAQ government. Sovereignty received only a second-order mention.

It also provides an explanation for why Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been more timid than Justin Trudeau in his criticism of Bill 21.

Now that conservative nationalism has been shorn of its sovereigntist trappings, the Tories are trying to win over voters who once backed the Bloc.

There is, however, only so much Scheer can offer without departing from his federalist bedrock and alienating supporters in the West.

Of the three then, the Liberals would seem to have the most to lose from the present configuration.

Trudeau is seeking a delicate balance with his position on Bill 21, trying to present his pro-charter federalism as no immediate threat to the law without forsaking a document that’s at the core of his party’s identity.

But the Liberals, it bears recalling, have maintained a healthy lead in Quebec polls since the last election. Conservative nationalism may be ascendant in the province; it’s not yet hegemonic.

Source: An introduction to the new Quebec nationalism and the tricks it plays on federal leaders

And PM Trudeau’s carefully worded not closing the door on challenging the Bill 21 in court:

Pour sa première journée de campagne en sol québécois, le chef du Parti libéral, Justin Trudeau, est allé un peu plus loin au sujet d’une possible contestation judiciaire de la Loi 21 sur la laïcité de l’État en affirmant qu’il serait « irresponsable » pour un gouvernement fédéral de « fermer à tout jamais la porte » sur la question.

« Nous ne fermons pas la porte à une intervention éventuelle parce que ce serait irresponsable qu’un gouvernement ferme la porte à tout jamais sur une question de droits fondamentaux », a admis le premier ministre sortant, talonné par les journalistes après avoir annoncé une série d’incitatifs pour les entrepreneurs, à Trois-Rivières.

Justin Trudeau, quelques minutes après le coup d’envoi de la 43e élection générale fédérale mercredi, avait affirmé qu’il jugeait qu’il serait « contre-productif » de s’engager « pour l’instant » dans une démarche judiciaire pour contester la Loi 21.

Sa position a rapidement été entendue à l’Assemblée nationale alors que le premier ministre, François Legault, a bien averti les chefs politiques fédéraux de ne pas s’aventurer dans cette voie. Le chef du Parti conservateur, Andrew Scheer, a déjà fait savoir qu’il n’a pas l’intention d’intervenir dans le débat et qu’il ne contesterait pas la loi.

Loi 21 : Justin Trudeau persiste et signe


Quebec MNA wants French classes to be mandatory for immigrants

An illustration of the range of views in the CAQ caucus, this one on the more hardline side:

The more MNA Claire Samson is calling on the Quebec government to make French language courses mandatory for immigrants.

Samson, a member of the governing Coalition Avenir Québec who represents Iberville riding, was her party’s culture critic when in the opposition.

In 2016, she produced a report on language and immigration calling for compulsory French classes for immigrants and to make their immigration status conditional on passing a language test.

In an interview with Presse canadienne, Samson said her party campaigned on the report and now it needs to follow up.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette announced Friday that the government would spend an additional $70 million on French classes for immigrants.

But Samson said the government has not gone far enough, and she intends to lobby for more aggressive measures to force newcomers to learn French when the National Assembly resumes in the fall.

French in Quebec is threatened in the very short term and the situation could become irreversible within 15 years, she said.

“It would be difficult to turn it around if there is too much laxity and there is no follow-up,” she said.

Quebec needs to impose the French language on immigrants to counterbalance to the powerful attraction of English, she said.

“It must be done now, because eventually it may be too late,” she warned.

Samson said she has recovered from the health problems that had prevented her from attending the National Assembly regularly since November.

Samson considered quitting politics last fall after she was bypassed for a cabinet post. At the time, she attributed her health problems partly to being left out of cabinet. In March, she attended a meeting in a daycare centre, where constituents complained that she was rude and arrogant. She later apologized.

Source: MNA wants French classes to be mandatory for immigrants

The Legault government is dividing Quebec: Excluding Montreal and Millenials

A bit of a rant but some merit to the distinction between Montreal and the rest of Quebec as well as millennials and older generations:

For the first time in the history of Quebec, the provincial government has no senior ministers and only two elected representatives from the island of Montreal, and it shows.

Nothing makes this more evident than Bill 21, the secularism law proposed by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government that is especially contentious for banning certain public workers from wearing religious symbols. Notable among them are teachers and school principals, police officers, judges, Crown prosecutors and prison guards.

In an attempt to pre-empt litigation, the government has invoked the notwithstanding clause that allows the Government of Quebec to override portions of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Putting a lid on debate on the bill, the CAQ limited public hearings to six days, ending May 16, 2019. The CAQ indicated it would use closure to limit debate in the legislature, in hopes of speedy adoption by June 15th at the latest.

On April 15, 2019, Montreal City Council in rare unanimity adopted a resolution condemning Bill 21. The resolution was introduced by Lionel Perez, who wears a kippa and is the leader of the opposition Ensemble Montreal. Perez said he is as Québécois as any other resident of Quebec and was warmly applauded by council members. Shortly before the meeting, Mayor Valérie Plante and Perez held a joint press conference to present their common position.

Proposed law generating tensions

Testifying at legislative hearings on May 14, 2019, Plante made a passionate plea on grounds the law stigmatizes the most vulnerable women in society. She noted that unemployment among female immigrants in Quebec is twice that of other women. She said the bill generates tensions in the province. Plante also said the law would be difficult to apply because it is unclear what is meant by religious symbols. She argued against using the notwithstanding clause, saying the law should be solid enough to withstand challenges in the courts.

Montreal’s largest and most multicultural francophone school board in Quebec, Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), produced a report implying Bill 21 cannot be implemented without creating an unmanageable administrative burden that could not be justified. The board declared that the bill doesn’t correspond with reality in that it has many employees who are not teachers and would not be subject to the legislation. Among them are specialists in learning disabilities and day care service providers. That was echoed at the legislative hearings by Alain Fortier of the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec, (Quebec school board federation).

Jean-Claude Hébert, a criminal lawyer and a familiar face in Quebec francophone media, indicated that jurisprudence is such that the proposed law would be the object of many court battles despite the notwithstanding clause.

Pierre Bosset, a jurist from the Université du Québec à Montréal, noted that while changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms have been based on substantive research and unanimous or near unanimous support in the National Assembly, such is not the case with Bill 21.

At the hearings on May 8, Gérald Bouchard, who co-presided over the 2007 hearings on Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodations, concurred with the City of Montreal that CAQ had not justified the use of the notwithstanding clause. Bouchard argued that the government had offered absolutely no evidence to support assertions by Premier François Legault and Simon Jolin-Barrette, minister of inclusion, diversity and immigration, that the wearing of religious symbols by teachers constitutes religious indoctrination on impressionable children.

Settling accounts with a bygone era

In a response to Bouchard’s testimony at the Parliamentary hearings, Guy Rocher, a 95-year-old sociologist who is well-known in Quebec, insisted that permitting religious symbols in schools would lead to a return to the era of the defunct confessional school systems. In that era school boards were based on either the Catholic or Protestant religions, rather than language, as they are today.

Rocher claimed that Quebec, having experienced an era when highly visible Catholic religious symbols were worn by teachers, must not risk having a dictatorship of minority religions imposed on the majority. But Rocher did not offer any evidence to support his conclusions, saying the methodology and data on this matter do not exist.

Yet many in Quebec’s francophone community share this fear, having had the Church-ridden era embedded in their psyche the way residential schools are ingrained in the memories of Canada’s Aboriginal communities. For many older francophones, Bill 21 is a matter of settling accounts with a bygone Catholic monopoly on the francophone school system. A perverse impact of Bill 21 could be more children going to private confessional schools where the legislation does not apply, despite public subsidies.

Bouchard said the notwithstanding clause should only be used for exceptional situations to better protect rights, such as the language legislation to assure the survival of French as the language of the majority in Quebec, in the North American context. Bill 21 suppresses rights, thus portraying Quebec as disrespectful of a decent democratic society, he said. Evidence of a tarnished international portrait of Quebec is in reports by the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. Bouchard projected that the bill would cultivate tensions between francophone and non-francophone communities.

Bouchard’s analyses of tensions are reflected in an Angus-Reid survey showing that while 64 per cent of Quebecers support the proposed bill, 57 per cent don’t think the ban should be applied to someone wearing a crucifix. By contrast, only seven per cent think that a hijab should be exempt from a ban. This Islamophobia indicator was confirmed by Charles Taylor, of the above noted Bouchard-Taylor Commission and professor emeritus at McGill University. He said Bill 21 has fueled toxic comments about Muslims in social media and warned that studies show hate incidents were encouraged by election campaigns based on ethnic restrictions in France, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Geographical and generational divides

Also, differences in levels of xenophobia are inter-generational, in addition to reflecting a divide between Montreal and other regions of the province.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), one of the largest unions in Québec, expressed opposition at the legislative hearings to applying Bill 21 to teachers. When questioned as to why the CSN supported the 2013 Parti Québécois proposed secular legislation, the Charter of Values, CSN president Jacques Létourneau said it is a generational thing, the new wave of CSN people having replaced older activists. A CROP survey supports this analysis, with support for Bill 21 restrictions on teachers at 55-56 per cent of those older than 55, much higher than the 28 per cent among respondents aged 18-34.

On a May 6 segment of Le Téléjournal, the Radio-Canada equivalent to the CBC national news, the views of multicultural adolescents in a Montreal francophone school were compared with those of a francophone school in the small municipalitiy of Matane in Eastern Quebec. The Montreal students totally opposed Bill 21 application to teachers while the Matane students were divided. Those against Bill 21 in the Matane group conveyed it is an inter-generational difference of opinion, the older generation fearing a return of confessional schools while the current generation of students have no such fears.

A poll showed differences among the non-francophone minority and the francophone majority. Inclusion of teachers in the religious symbol ban is supported by 69 per cent of francophones but only 22-23 per cent of non-francophones. Only 22 per cent of francophones has a positive opinion on wearing the hijab, whereas 46 per cent of anglophones and 52 of allophones (groups other than francophones and anglophones) share a positive opinion.

A contributing factor to the linguistic contrast is that most of Quebec’s regions are nearly entirely francophone with very few immigrants, while Montreal is multicultural. It is important to make a linguistic clarification here in that francophones in multicultural Montreal are not necessarily aligned with francophones in regions, as is evident in the City of Montreal’s unanimous resolution, by francophone and non-francophone representatives alike, opposing Bill 21.

At the hearings on May 14, the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) pledged to contest the legislation based on a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Mahé v. Alberta. The court ruled that minority education rights are such that, French-language schools in Alberta had full authority to recruit and assign teachers and other personnel, as they see fit. The QESBA argued that the Bill 21 notwithstanding clause would not hold up to article 23 on minority rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This could be a Pandora’s Box that would bring down the law.

Ironically, the law would encourage new arrivals to associate with the anglophone community where they would be more readily accepted as equals. That is, the consequences of implementing Bill 21 could undermine the goals of Quebec parties of all stripes to make Quebec as much a multicultural francophone society where French is the common language of use in a mixed mother-tongue context, as English is the common language of use in multicultural English Canada.

Immigration quotas compound divisions

Compounding the divisiveness, the CAQ wants to reduce the quota of new immigrants received per year by 20 per cent, which Mayor Plante strongly opposes. She highlighted Quebec’s shortage of employees to fill vacant positions as an impediment to economic development. The vast majority of new immigrants to Quebec, 90 per cent, take up residence in the Montreal area. But Labour Minister Jean Boulet prefers to address the matter with incentives for those aged 60 and older, to stay at their job, or return to work from retirement.

Plante is at odds with the CAQ government on transportation too. The first CAQ budget allocated 70 per cent of transport financing to road construction and 30 per cent to public transit. Plante’s position is this ratio should be inverted, similar to that in Ontario. CAQ’s priority is to widen and prolong major highways and add a third link across the St. Lawrence River between Quebec and its southern suburb Lévis.

Regarding the expansion of a planned 67 kilometre light train network, Réseau Express Montréal (REM), the CAQ administration said it will have the last word. The government prefers expansion to the suburbs where CAQ candidates won seats, instead of adhering to a long-term plan of the Montreal regional transport organization made up of elected representatives, l’Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM).

The government position is that the ARTM should have an advisory role only. Plante wants the ARTM to be in charge, having indicated that the CAQ plans would increase overcrowding on the subway network. In her election campaign, Plante proposed a Métro Pink Line, from a station in northwest Montreal to Lachine in the southwest, to relieve saturation on a line from suburban Laval to downtown. Premier Legault dismissed this option, although CAQ may be softening its stance by committing $5 million to study solutions to congestion during peak hours on the eastern Orange Line.

Combining CAQ transport and immigration dividing lines, under Bill 17, CAQ plans to allow anyone to provide a taxi service in Quebec. This initiative would bring an abrupt end to the system of taxi permits which controls the supply of taxis to assure Quebec’s taxi drivers, particularly in Montreal, can make a decent living. As it happens, many Montreal taxi drivers are immigrants.

The Bureau de Taxi de Montréal and the City of Montreal are on the same wavelength against Bill 17, but Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel wants the free market to prevail. And similar to the scenario with Bill 21 on secularism, CAQ offered no evidence to substantiate its position while the government’s own preliminary report concluded Bill 17 would spell the demise of the industry.

When one puts pieces of the puzzle together, it is clear that the CAQ wants to impose its own inward-looking nationalism, dividing Quebec as never before, with multicultural Montreal and millennials to suffer the consequences.

Source: The Legault government is dividing Quebec: Excluding Montreal and Millenials

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