What Francois Legault talks about when he talks about immigration

It can be difficult to ascertain what François Legault actually thinks about immigration.

The issue was not central to his early campaigns as leader of the Avenir Quebec Alliance, the party he co-founded with a billionaire friend.

After a few mediocre election results in 2012 and 2014, Legault began increasing immigration at an ever-increasing pace. His proposal to lower immigration levels and impose a valuable test on newcomers was central to the party platform in 2018, for example, when he came to power with a masked majority.

But then, as now, when Legault talks about immigration, he is likely to utter lies or contradictions or flirt with outright xenophobia—often before he has corrected himself.

And now immigration is once again at the forefront of the CAQ as it campaigns for another term in government, ahead of regional elections on October 3. And again it was a legault Make comments that I am forced to correct.

He apologized earlier this month after noting that higher levels of immigration would come with “extremism” and “violence”.

Immigrants swear an oath to become Canadian citizens during a virtual citizenship ceremony, broadcast live on Canada Day, July 1. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Just a few days later, during a speech to his supporters in Drummondville, Legault said it was Quebec’s tight-knit community that had allowed it to get through the worst of the pandemic.

But he cautioned that this cohesion sometimes vibrates and needs to be protected. Next, reporters asked him which rivals pose the biggest threat to social cohesion.

Legault responded by pointing to the higher levels of immigration proposed by Quebec liberals and Quebec Solidere, and by invoking the decline of French in the province.

Many have concluded that it means that non-French-speaking immigrants threaten social cohesion in Quebec.

As opponents, columnists, and the federal government minister expressed their disapproval, Legault sought to clarify what he meant.

Of course, in French, he said, “Immigration enriches Quebec. But we have a limited ability to integrate in French.”

Left to right, Conservative Party leader Eric Duhemy, Liberal leader Dominique Engled, Quebec Solidere spokesperson Gabriel Nadu Dubois, Party Quebec leader Paul Saint-Pierre Blamondon, Lego and moderator Pierre Brunei stand on the group before the leaders debate in Montreal, on the 15th September. (Martin Chevalier/Paul/The Canadian Press)

Legault is campaigning based on a promise to limit immigration to 50,000 people per year, a number it is meant to maintain The status quo, though, business groups say more is needed to tackle the acute labor shortage.

But his tendency to back off raises questions about his real motive for the freeze.

Sometimes, he says, it is necessary to limit immigration to protect the French language. At other times, he says it’s to protect the murkier concept of Quebec values.

Nevertheless, it may be possible to compile a more complete understanding of Legault’s views on immigration from the history of his comments.

Duty to protect this community

Legault has long preserved the cultural practices of immigrants, particularly from Muslim countries, which pose a threat to Quebec’s values.

In 2016, with his party third in opinion polls, Legault said immigrants who support the burkini – a bathing suit designed for Muslim women – should not be granted citizenship.

People take part in a demonstration after a court ruling on Bill 21, Quebec’s law for secularism, in Montreal on April 20, 2021. (Paul Chiason/The Canadian Press)

It also became part of his party’s plan at the time to force immigrants to pass a values ​​test or be expelled from the county.

Defending the idea in 2018, Legault said, “I’m proud of the kind of community our ancestors left us and I believe we have a duty to protect that community.”

As prime minister, Legault implemented the values ​​test, although the consequences of obtaining a failing grade were mitigated when he was forced to admit that Quebec had no jurisdiction over deportations.

His government also passed legislation banning religious symbols in large parts of the civil service, which Legault sometimes justified as a message to newcomers that “in Quebec, this is the way we live.”

More recently, Legault has linked immigration to the decline of the French language.

In a speech in May, he insisted that Quebec needed more control over the stream of family reunification of immigration in order to limit the number of non-French people the province accepted each year.

A pregnant woman and a young man confront a police officer who raises his hand wrapped in a medical glove.
An RCMP officer greets two young adults on Roxham Road, on June 28. Tens of thousands of people have entered Quebec from the United States in recent years through the unofficial border crossing. (Evano Demers/Radio Canada)

Without those added powers, Legault said, Quebec would be as French-speaking as Louisiana. Language experts said that while French is still fragile in Quebec, Legault was exaggerating, given that 94 percent of the population can hold a conversation in French, according to Statistics Canada.

But then Legault expressed his disdain for the family reunion program in Ottawa before.

He told Le Devoir in 2017, “It has become such that it is no longer just about the children of the parents, uncles, aunts, cousins… they come without conditions. And the majority don’t speak French.”

Legault’s description resembles what anti-immigration politicians in the United States call “chain immigration,” often when criticizing more liberal policies that immigrants are allegedly misusing.

But Legault’s statement was wrong. Only spouses and direct grandchildren are generally eligible for the family reunification program, which already has a long list of conditions.

Later that year, he began using the term “illegal immigrants” to refer to asylum seekers crossing Roxham Road, an unofficial border crossing where tens of thousands have entered Quebec from the United States in recent years.

Legault, who continues to call for Ottawa to close the crossing, has warned of political consequences if steps are not taken to limit the number of refugees arriving in Quebec.

“The attitude of generosity and solidarity on behalf of Quebecers towards refugees has been shaken,” Legault said in 2017. “If political officials do not change their position, we can expect a backlash.”

Following the example of Switzerland

From this set of data, a common theme appears to emerge.

Whether talking about values, language or absolute numbers, immigration appears to be connected in Legault’s mind with a force that can destabilize Quebec society – a potential problem that needs to be managed, as opposed to resources that can be exploited.

In recent days, he has given two more examples of his thinking.

Earlier this week, while trying to explain why he is so concerned about social cohesion, Legault cited Sweden and Germany as countries struggling to integrate immigrants.

A taxi carrying asylum seekers from El Salvador waits at the Canadian border in Fort Erie, Ontario, July 5, 2017. (Chris Hellgren/Reuters)

He declined to elaborate on why he mentioned those countries in particular, but both saw a rise in the popularity of anti-immigrant parties as they took in large numbers of refugees from Muslim countries.

On the other hand, Legault said that Switzerland is the model that Quebec should follow.

This country, which has roughly the same population as Quebec, has some of the strictest citizenship requirements in Europe.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: