Why Quebec needs more immigrants
The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, May 16, 2016 6:00AM EDT
Last updated Friday, May 13, 2016 5:10PM EDT
Something quite predictable happened when Quebec’s Liberal government recently suggested increasing the number of immigrants the province accepts each year to 60,000 from the current 50,000. The blowback was immediate, the critics apoplectic, and the government’s retreat expeditious.
Quebec’s population is aging faster than anywhere in Canada outside the Atlantic provinces. Its work force is shrinking, creating labour shortages in some sectors. The novelty of policies aimed at getting Quebeckers to have more babies – cheap daycare and generous parental leave – has worn off. Quebec’s birth rate fell for the sixth year in a row in 2015. At 1.6 births per woman of child-bearing age, it’s down from a 2009 peak of 1.73, and now matches the national average.
A recent government white paper warned that maintaining immigration at the current 50,000 annual level would lead to a “marked” decline in the working-age population between 2016 and 2031, putting a damper on economic growth and everything that flows from it. Starting at 60,000 immigrants a year, however, the work force would continue to grow well into the future.
A healthy discussion of immigration thresholds would consider these factors while reviewing the longer-term evidence. Since the adoption of the province’s Bill 101 in 1977, requiring the children of immigrants to attend French-language schools, several cohorts of new Quebeckers have embraced la langue de Molière and successfully integrated into francophone society. The proportion of Quebeckers speaking French at home remained a robust 82.5 per cent in 2011, while almost 95 per cent of all Quebeckers could speak French, according to Statistics Canada.
Yet, despite such reassuring evidence, opposition politicians showed the usual reflexes in denouncing the government for merely raising the possibility of an increase in immigration. Granted, immigration is a touchier subject in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, given francophone Quebeckers’s perception of themselves as a threatened minority within North America. As the debate about the former Parti Québécois government’s Charter of Values demonstrated in 2013, the perceived threat is not merely linguistic, but cultural and religious, as well.