Quebec Launches Consultation on Immigrants and Social Diversity

January 26, 2015

The provincial government of Quebec is preparing to launch a consultation paper later in January that will ask citizens in the province what their opinions are on immigration, diversity and inclusion. The far-reaching public consultation in the French-speaking region of Canada will delve into many areas of life, including the issue of immigration. The measure comes as the provincial authorities prepare to undertake an overhaul of the immigration policy that Quebec has been running in the context of the wider federal government framework which covers the whole of the country.

“Successful integration into the workforce of the province, along with proper recognition of professional competencies is important to many,” said Quebec's Immigration Minister, Kathleen Weil. “That is always the number one issue with voters and it is the first issue that we would want to address,” she added. Speaking to the Canadian press, Ms Weil, who has been returned to the National Assembly of Quebec for the Liberal Party since 2008, said that it will be a high priority for the province's authorities to recognise the credentials of all people, no matter if those credentials are foreign or native. “It remains a very great frustration for migrants who come to the area from other countries,” she said. Referring to certain newcomers who came with what she called “quality baggage”, Weil went on to say that the community needs to be better at finding a way for such people to contribute.

Speaking about the importance of the consultation from the point of view of the immigrant population, Weil said that if new people from overseas cannot find work, then they tend to feel shut out and – in some cases - excluded from Quebec's society. Therefore, the Quebec authorities have decided that it is essential that employers in the province should be involved in the discussions that surround the formation of any new immigration policy. According to the provincial government, the second generation of many immigrant families to Quebec have not always found it straightforward to obtain jobs at the level of competency that they might expect from their academic and professional qualifications. “This may be because they are from visible minorities or their names simply don’t resonate with the French speakers who make up the majority,” Weil claimed. Seeking to improve that situation - in common with some English-speaking province in Canada - Weil said that it is important that Quebec's government and industry leaders develop measures together that will address those issues into a coherent plan of action, hence the need for consultation. 

Population Drivers

The population growth of Quebec has gone down significantly over the past few years, leading many to call for more immigration. The challenge for Weil - and others in the provincial government - is to make the province as attractive to newcomers from overseas as other areas in North America, especially when language barriers can be an issue, depending on the origins of the immigrant community. According to Quebec’s statistics bureau, the province's population increased by about 63,000 in 2013, which is healthy enough. However, the problem is that that figure represents a drop of 10,000 people compared with the year before. 2014 was the fourth consecutive year of slowed population. The Institute of Statistics in Quebec said that the most likely reason for the slowing rate of population growth was because fewer people were choosing to immigrate there. When you realise that between 2012 and 2013, the number of births and deaths was even in the province, immigration does appear to be the key to the population numbers.

Although some politicians in Quebec have called for the consultation to also include a public debate about the province's secular charter, the government are keen that this is kept separate from the issues of immigration and social diversity. In words that will be likely to appeal to many would-be immigrants of faith, Weil said that the people of Quebec have to talk about “les vraies affaires” or the real issues. “A charter of values should not be seen as this,” she stated. “People do not want a debate that is divisive - they want a responsible discussion.”

Despite the internal politics that accompany any sort of public consultation on immigration, there can be little doubt that Quebec is making strides to improve its economy by attracting more skilled workers and professional people to it. From the latest figures available, in the region of 55,000 people moved to Quebec in 2012 although, by 2013, the number had fallen to 52,000. As might be expected, the bulk of Quebec’s immigrants come from Francophone regions of the world, such as Algeria and even France itself. However, immigrants from China also head to the province in significant numbers, too.

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