An affront to Quebec? Wait a minute…

And wham in the teeth! Negotiations on immigration between Quebec and Ottawa are taking on the appearance of a boxing match where both players have forgotten the rules of the game.

Stuck in the middle of the ring, tens of thousands of families who have one foot in Quebec and the other abroad are experiencing a nagging wait. Spouses are separated from their lovers. Parents cannot hold their child in their arms. For a year, two years, three years, or even more… It’s not human1.

Last Sunday, the federal Minister of Immigration, Marc Miller, took a dig at his Quebec counterpart, Christine Fréchette. Without warning, he announced that Ottawa was ready to exceed the target set by Quebec for family reunification files.

This target of 10,400 people per year is not enough to meet demand, which has created a bottleneck. With 20,500 applications being rejected, Quebecers must wait 34 months to bring a spouse from abroad, compared to 12 months for residents of other provinces. This situation is as heartbreaking as it is unfair.

By wanting to accelerate the pace – which it has already done in the past, by the way – Ottawa is therefore giving itself the good role… while sending the Quebec government to the wire, which it accuses of negotiating on the public place.

At the end of February, four ministers from the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) came out together to denounce the federal government’s inaction on the asylum seekers issue.

Quebec’s recriminations are legitimate.

The CAQ wants Ottawa to better distribute asylum seekers who flock to Quebec. Despite the closure of Roxham Road, the province still receives 55% of applicants, a disproportionate weight for Quebec, which only makes up 22% of the Canadian population. We want to do our part. But not double.

Quebec also wants to be compensated for welcoming these asylum seekers, as was the case until 2020. But for the last three years, Quebec calculates that the sums provided by the federal government (216 million) do not even cover not a quarter of its expenses (1.05 billion). We are far from the mark, even if we can persist on the details of the invoice.

It is in this high-tension context that Prime Ministers François Legault and Justin Trudeau will meet to discuss immigration on March 15.

The CAQ insists that Minister Miller’s new directive is a “direct affront to Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction.” However, many experts in immigration law do not agree.

If we carefully read the Canada-Quebec Accord, signed in 1991, it is Canada which establishes immigration levels for the entire country, as explained in a brief from the Association québécoise des advocates en immigration law (AQAADI)2. For its part, Quebec is committed to welcoming a number of immigrants corresponding to its demographic weight, with the possibility of exceeding this level of 5%.

For 30 years, Quebec has been well below the target, allowing its weight to melt within Canada, without Ottawa taking any notice. But today, it sticks.

In February, lawyer Maxime Lapointe launched a lawsuit against Minister Fréchette, whom he accuses of creating bottlenecks by setting targets that are too low for family reunification.

Moreover, this bottleneck also exists for refugees: some 36,000 files, although accepted by Quebec, are artificially stuck in the administrative machine, to respect Quebec’s too-low targets (7,200 per year).

In short, we open the door for them, but we don’t let them in. This is a very hypocritical way of managing immigration.

How can we break the deadlock and overcome these bottlenecks?

Repatriate all immigration powers? Don’t count on it… unless you achieve sovereignty. No country will cede powers that affect national issues (e.g., security, borders, international treaties) that cannot be delegated to a province.

Renegotiate the Canada-Quebec Accord? Good luck ! This financially very generous agreement for Quebec makes people elsewhere in the country jealous.

What if Quebec, like Ottawa, examined its conscience?

Ottawa’s unbridled policy of increasing immigration – without planning for necessary housing and services – is leading us into a “growth trap,” economists warn.

And the famous permanent immigration thresholds which monopolize attention are only part of the equation. They do not include temporary immigrants – often less skilled workers – who come to us with no guarantee of being able to stay.

If Quebec is serious when it says it wants “paying jobs,” it could encourage businesses to innovate and invest in their productivity rather than relying on cheap temporary labor.

This would be a guarantee of prosperity for Quebec, which would then have the room to maneuver to reunite families, without having to take out the boxing gloves with the federal government.

1. Read “Two years without being able to hold my son, I can’t take it anymore”

2. Consult the AQAADI brief


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