Published on: Oct 14, 2019
Ahead of the October 21 federal election, the six main political party leaders of Canada recently discussed immigration into Quebec. The province wishes to extend its control over immigration beyond the Economic Class selection.
Conducted in French, the meeting saw all leaders asked about their stance on Quebec receiving more powers than at present. Quebec is unlike other provinces in that it has the authority to choose all of its Economic Class immigrants and specify immigration numbers.
Coming to power in the fall of 2018, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government lead by Francois Legault has been looking to reduce the number of immigrants settling in the province, as well as assess their skills and values to make sure they will integrate well into society.
The CAQ has also pushed the government to grant it more control over Family and Refugee class admissions. The six party leaders at the meeting agreed they would negotiate with the CAQ, without committing 100% to Quebec having more immigration autonomy. The QAC party leader has made it clear he hopes the other leaders will agree to his plans for the proper integration of immigrants.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, confirmed that the federal government had worked towards giving Quebec greater control over immigration since he was elected in 2015. He acknowledged the province's rights on the matter of immigration, justifying the necessity of these for protecting its unique French identity and language. The Prime Minister added that he was happy for Quebec to introduce a values assessment for immigrants but that wouldn't apply to Canadian citizenship as a whole.
Conservative Party leader, Andrew Scheer, said he was happy to collaborate with Legault to grant Quebec more immigration autonomy. Speaking about Quebec’s immigration levels, Scheer stated he was more concerned about the province's labor shortage. The province's business groups have criticized the CAQ’s moves to reduce immigration when there's already a workforce shortage.
Maxime Bernier, leader of the new far-right People’s Party of Canada, questioned Scheer’s commitment to work with Legault, saying that Sheer didn't actually agree with Legault's wishes to interview each immigrant and take them through a values test.
Bernier also criticized Scheer’s plan to stop the surge of refugees seeking asylum at unauthorized crossing point on the U.S-Quebec border. Thousands have crossed into Canada at this point. The Safe Third Party Agreement (STCA) between the U.S and Canada limits those claiming asylum at official land border crossings without including unofficial crossing points.
Scheer has put forward the idea of extending the STCA to cover official and unofficial crossings into Canada. However, this would involve renegotiating the agreement with the U.S, which would be complicated and not guaranteed to be successful.
Trudeau also came under fire for the government’s approach to controlling the flow of asylum seekers at the unofficial Roxham Road crossing.
Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, criticized Trudeau's government for burying legislation in 400 or so pages of an omnibus budget bill to remove the right to asylum in Canada when a claimant had already filed an application in the U.S.
May said the government had promised never to hide a law in an omnibus budget, thereby violating the rights of refugees and the human rights of those looking for a life in safe Canada.
In defense of the legislation, Trudeau said that Canadians wanted a fair and strong immigration system that applies to all. He stated that the norms were all being followed setting an international standard for the protection of human rights.
Jagmeet Singh, the New Democratic Party leader, stated his intention to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement if in power, suggesting that Trudeau lacked the courage to stand up to Donald Trump, the U.S President.
In response, Trudeau said a good relationship with the U.S was paramount, giving Canada the potential to successfully renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. He confirmed that there was indeed a problem of unofficial crossings with asylum seekers entering with no Canada visa, Canada ETA, or official paperwork, but said it was important to remember that there are 65 million displaced people all over the world who are looking for safety.
He also said that the government acknowledged the responsibility for passing these individuals through the system while maintaining its integrity. In addition, Trudeau reaffirmed that there was no free pass at the border and that everyone who crosses, whether by regular or irregular means, would go through security vetting and the official processess of Canada immigration.