Quebec’s Francois Legault says more immigration would be ‘suicidal’

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Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who is set to win a landslide victory in next week’s provincial election, told a business audience that increasing immigration levels would be « suicidal » for the French language, foreshadowing what will almost certainly be a flashpoint with employers in his second term.

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« Since we can’t stop the decline of French, I think a large part of the Quebec nation wants to protect the French language, it’s a bit suicidal to increase (the number of immigrants), » said Legault at an event hosted by the Montreal Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

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Few in the audience would have liked to see Legault take such a tough line on an issue that many economists say is vital to Quebec’s economic competitiveness. Among the provinces, Quebec has the second highest job vacancy rate in the country after British Columbia, and given its aging population, many of these jobs will remain vacant without help from outsiders. « If you’re an employer these days, it’s like fishing in an empty lake, » said Karl Blackburn, head of the Conseil du Patronat du Québec, the province’s largest business lobby group. Montreal Gazette earlier this year.

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Legault, who co-founded vacation airline Transat AT Inc. and is outspoken about his desire to narrow the wealth gap between Quebec and Ontario, is seen as a friendly businessman. However, on immigration, Quebec leaders are at odds with the premier, particularly in Montreal, where a vibrant group of tech companies fear language policy will hamper their ability to grow.

“We need new bodies, new brains, new hands,” said Michel Leblanc, president of the Chamber of Commerce, adding that Quebec should not hinder immigration “with all kinds of qualifications,” which will only complicate the task of Montreal businesses. compete with Toronto for rare talent.

Still, that appears to be the path Legault intends to take, and barring a collapse in CAQ popularity in the 11th hour, his program will meet little resistance in Quebec City. “Right now, we cannot increase the 50,000 immigrants per year because that will mean that we will continue to see a drop in the percentage of Quebecers, and especially Montrealers, who speak French,” Legault said.

Instead of attracting more immigrants, Quebec should be more selective when it fills its current quota, while encouraging individuals to work in areas where labor shortages are most acute. Over the next four years, the CAQ has pledged to reduce immigration to 50,000 from the current target of 70,000.

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