To get a handle on Canada’s immigration policy, we first need to address two misconceptions surrounding Canadians’ understanding of how their country’s immigration system works.

When the government announces that close to 340,000 immigrants will be admitted1 in a given year, many interpret this to mean 340,000 new arrivals that year. This is the first misconception. The reality, as revealed by a recent OECD study, is that – outside the context of the pandemic – hundreds of thousands of people arrive in Canada each year on a temporary basis, and this pool of people accounts for around 35 per cent of all those in the annual planned immigration total, including close to half of those accorded permanent residence in the economic category.

To be precise, in 2019, of the 341,180 people who obtained permanent resident status in Canada, 120,535 or 35 per cent were already legally in the country with some form of temporary status, broken down in table 1.2 The remainder were outside the country when they obtained their permanent residence visas; most of these were admitted through the family and humanitarian categories (see figures 1 and 2). The result is that many included in the overall immigration numbers are not new arrivals. They have been working or studying in Canada for at least two years and may well be settled with a spouse and children; some of those children are native-born Canadians.

The second misconception is that the standard path to being selected as a permanent resident is through the points system that gives foreigners wishing to reside in Canada an equitable opportunity to do so and ensures that those selected will have all the qualifications necessary to integrate successfully into the workplace and society in Canada. In fact, temporary residents generally are admitted through provincial and federal programs that apply specific criteria thereby fast-tracking their applications and bypassing the traditional selection grid. As a result, a relatively small proportion of total admissions are actually selected through the regular basic points system.

In this two-part article, I examine the two main groups of temporary residents who become permanent Canadian residents – foreign students and temporary workers – and attempt to highlight some of the issues raised by this trend. This first part focuses on international education, and the second part, to be published in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of Inroads, will look at temporary workers. Quebec’s immigration policy situation has its own specific features, which I occasionally describe.

A complex system

I begin with an overview of the complexities of the overall Canadian immigration system. Figure 1 is a schematic of the main permanent immigration categories in Canada. It should be noted that the business class includes various federal and provincial programs for entrepreneurs or self-employed applicants.3 Express Entry is the platform for the reception and processing of almost all applications for permanent residence from foreign workers. There is an exception for those applying to live in Quebec, which has a similar platform called Arrima. This platform receives and processes applications for a Quebec Selection Certificate (known as a CSQ) under the Regular Skilled Worker Program.4 According to a longstanding agreement between the Quebec and federal governments, Canada accords permanent residence to those who have obtained a CSQ from Quebec.

The regular foreign skilled workers programs, Canadian and Quebec, are what most Canadians understand to be the core of the immigration process. Under these programs, applicants, generally living outside the country, complete an online questionnaire indicating their interest in applying for permanent residence. An algorithm searches for the applications that correspond best to Canada’s or Quebec’s needs and are most likely to obtain the necessary points to be selected. Invitations to apply are sent to those people, who then have two months to make a formal application. These requests for permanent residence are subjected to the Canadian or Quebec selection grid, and those who obtain the required number of points are selected to receive a permanent residence visa.

These visas are issued to the principal applicant and also to all accompanying members of the applicant’s family. Inclusion of family members is important to note. Even among those selected by the points system, more than half are family members of a principal applicant. Admissions through the Foreign Skilled Worker Program selection grid in 2019 amounted to 77,800, or 39.6 per cent of the economic category and 22.8 per cent of total admissions. Of these 77,800, roughly half were spouses and dependants. In effect, of all admissions in 2019, about 11 per cent were explicitly selected by the regular basic points system.

Moreover, included in the 77,800 are Quebec CSQs, which include many students and temporary workers already in Quebec. The share of those explicitly admitted via the points system is probably less than 10 per cent of the total. (Temporary residents can apply through the Canadian Experience Class or, in Quebec, through the Programme d’Expérience Québécoise or through various provincial nominee programs which heavily favour people with a valid temporary work permit in the particular province.)

The schematic in figure 2 breaks down immigration via Express Entry into its components. The bright red box represents the admissions explicitly selected through the basic Canadian points grid.

Of the 341,180 people who obtained permanent residence status in Canada in 2019, 120,535 or 35 per cent were already legally in the country with some form of temporary status, broken down in table 1.5

As set out in table 2, all of the above categories of temporary permits are on the rise except the temporary foreign workers subcategory, which requires a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).

Other than asylum seekers, who are also in Canada at the time of obtaining permanent residence, the two main temporary categories generating transitions to permanent status while within Canada are temporary workers and foreign students. Generally, foreign students need to have work experience in Canada as well as a Canadian diploma. Each of these groups raises specific issues, some innocuous, others more consequential. In what follows I concentrate on foreign students.

A significant increase in foreign students

Table 2 shows that, in 2019, there were 27,515 transitions from a postgraduate work permit and 11,565 from a Study Permit6 to permanent residence. These 39,080 transitions are more than double the comparable number in 2015 (10,215 transitions from a postgraduate work permit and 8,565 from a Study Permit). Even more dramatically, by 2019 the overall numbers of the two types of student-related permit holders had grown by 264 per cent since 2009, and the number of postgraduate work permit holders alone was seven times greater.

According to the OECD report on the Canadian immigration system, a survey by the Canadian Bureau for International Education showed that 60 per cent of all international students plan to stay permanently in Canada. While there is good reason to believe that almost all of those eligible who apply are accepted, it is difficult to determine the actual percentage of foreign graduates of Canadian educational institutions who request permanent residence. The numbers who are eligible for the various federal and provincial immigration programs, and are therefore potential applicants, would have to be calculated from data held by each jurisdiction. What we do know, as shown above, is that 825,880 people resided in Canada with either a study permit or an IMP postgraduate work permit on December 31, 2019. That same year, 39,080 people with these types of permits became permanent residents.

This uptake is also evident in enrolment figures. Figures 3 and 4 illustrate the increases in international students as share of all enrolments and new enrolments in colleges and universities over recent years.7

It would be wonderful if these trends were solely linked to the reputation of our institutions of higher learning or to a greater awareness of the academic, scientific and cultural advantages of international education. But that cannot explain the upsurge in new enrolments. A closer examination suggests that international education has become a full-fledged industry. Many stakeholders have a vested interest in the presence of these students. Clearly, the potential of eventual permanent residence and Canadian citizenship is a key selling point above and beyond the value of the education offered.

Across the world, more than half of all international students are Chinese and Indian. The same is true in Canada, with the exception of Quebec where French students are the largest group as a result of specific bilateral favoured-nation agreements signed between the Quebec and French governments. While more study permits are issued to attend university than to attend college, the number of college-level permits is growing faster than the number of university-level ones. Moreover, at the college level Indian students outnumber even Chinese students. The fact that college programs are generally more employment-oriented suggests that enrolment as foreign students is especially immigration-driven among those from India.

The financial incentives

In 2019–20, average undergraduate fees in Canada were more than four times higher for international students ($29,714) than for Canadian students ($6,463).8 Graduate-level fees were a little more than one and a half times higher. Undergraduate fees for domestic students increased by 4 per cent over the past five years, but for international students the increase has been 33 per cent. At the graduate level fees for domestic students increased by 8 per cent and for international students by 22 per cent.

At the same time, provincial government funding of institutions has been declining despite increased enrolment. A recent study points out that for “the first time since the 1950s, public sources are no longer the dominant source of income for Canada’s postsecondary system,” and that “not only do many universities now derive more fee income from international students than domestic ones, many now derive more income from international students than from their provincial governments” (emphasis added).9

This increase in foreign students, paying much higher tuition fees than domestic students, is keeping some smaller universities and colleges from having to close, especially in regions affected by deindustrialization. Two thirds of students at Cape Breton University now come from a country other than Canada (primarily from India and China). Students from France and Africa are helping to assure the survival of some colleges (CÉGEPs) in Quebec, particularly those outside urban centres. This is best illustrated by a linguistic furor arising from an initiative of the francophone CÉGEP in the Gaspé Peninsula.10

After years of unsuccessful begging for increased funding from the Quebec government to maintain local programs, in 2015 the CÉGEP de la Gaspésie et les Îles opened a satellite campus in Montreal offering specific certificate programs in English that targeted largely Indian and some Chinese students. The result was that in 2019, 2,000 international students in Montreal were helping to finance programs in French for 1,200 students at four small campuses in the Gaspé Peninsula, making the college not only self-sufficient but profitable.

Political sensitivities surrounding English-language education for foreign students in Quebec being what they are, the nationalist CAQ government in Quebec City was called upon to intervene. It is a testament to the place that revenues from international education occupy in Quebec that the “intervention” amounted to insisting that the college’s website be bilingual, that it be clear on the site that French is the common language in Quebec, and that French second-language courses be provided for the international students. In the 2019–20 budget the CAQ improved the financing formula for CÉGEPs, favouring smaller regional institutions by introducing criteria sensitive to both the territory covered and the number of students. But like all other governments, it is clearly not prepared to introduce measures that might reduce the number of international students.11

A comparable situation has arisen at St. Clair College in the Windsor-Chatham area of southwestern Ontario. Reporters Isabel Teotonio, Nicholas Keung and Grant LaFleche wrote that the college’s 2019–20 budget

shows for the first time that international student tuition is the largest source of revenue, with a projected $71.8 million. By comparison, operating grants are $41.3 million, and tuition for its budgeted 7,600 domestic students is about $24.3 million. This fall, the college, which has seen its population of international students grow from just about 500 in 2014 to 4,200, increased tuition for new international students by 15 per cent.12

Not all in the academic milieu agree that the increased dependence on foreign students is a good thing. Some agree with Doug Todd’s conclusion in the Vancouver Sun:

The programs have lost their humanitarian ideals, grown into a giant business, largely draw second-tier students, put a disguised burden on taxpayers (especially on health programs) and are leading to declining standards in classrooms, particularly because many foreign students struggle with new languages.13

Educational institutions have been making adjustments in priorities and hiring to attract and accommodate foreign students. Resources are allocated to greeting students at the airport as flights arrive and providing advisers and support staff who offer welcome services to the students. These include helping them to find housing, buy their first groceries, open a bank account, find winter clothing, and learn how rental leases work and what their responsibilities are as tenants. Information on health insurance and driver’s licences and other government services is provided. Workshops explain the cultural specificities of life in Canada, and advice on immigration procedures is provided as well as language lessons to help them master English or French. Occasionally, remedial classes are established to bring students up to minimally necessary levels. Partnerships are established with institutions in other countries to facilitate bilateral mobility. Joint and dual degree programs contribute to attracting international students. Recruitment efforts include promotional costs and often, particularly outside Quebec,14 major contracts to firms that specialize in the field.

The broader economic impact

The federal government justifies such recruitment efforts in these terms:

As a trading nation, Canada must continually expand and diversify not only its customer base, but also its roster of potential exporters. This requires securing markets, as well as encouraging and enabling new exporters. The new strategy contributes to these goals by increasing the diversity of inbound student populations, skill sets and programs, and by fostering people-to-people ties and international networks. This will help build labour markets, spur economic development in target regions and industries, and support diversity at Canada’s educational institutions.

In other words, internationalizing educational institutions is basically a matter of money. Just prior to the 2019 election, the Canadian government proudly announced that young people coming to study in Canada spent approximately $21.6 billion on tuition, housing and other costs in 2018, and that their presence had supported nearly 170,000 jobs for Canadians in 2016. It concluded that this spending had a greater impact on the Canadian economy than exports of auto parts, lumber or aircraft. Canada is hardly alone in seeking to attract foreign students. Australia has calculated that international education is its “largest service export, contributing $37.6 billion to the Australian economy last year and supporting 240,000 jobs.”15

Since there are not many bursary programs available to international students, many are dependent not only on family support but also on part-time and summer work. Moreover, the various immigration programs geared toward international graduates of Canadian universities require six months to a year of Canadian work experience on top of their diploma. They and their spouses are eligible for work permits for up to three years. Working under revocable visas makes them ripe for exploitation, especially given the strong family pressure to succeed in their studies, their work and their immigration applications.

In India, sending a young person to study abroad is often an important investment supported by the extended family. There are reports of marriage scams in India and China in which a family wanting their son to emigrate will offer to pay all expenses for a girl capable of passing the required English tests to marry the young man. The wife will pursue her studies in Canada while he works, sending home remittances to his family. Once permanent residence is acquired, the young people undertake the process of bringing family members to Canada through family reunification, even if the marriage is dissolved.

Through their work and that of their spouses, these students send money to their country of origin. India and China are the biggest recipients of such funds from around the world. Stories abound of their exploitation by employers, sometimes members of the same community, as a reliable source of low-paid labour. The exploitation of Indian students recruited into the trucking industry has been recorded several times. The example of this industry is also significant for jurisdictional reasons (see below).

Some (though fewer and fewer, it would seem) raise the “brain drain” ethical argument – that this rush to recruit foreign students, often from developing countries, deprives the poorer countries of needed educated population. According to Doug Todd, “Indian education officials, especially in the Punjab, are complaining about losing students to Canada.” There are allegations that “many of the foreign students are being exploited by unscrupulous immigration agents and English-language trainers in India, as well as by money-hungry colleges and universities, landlords and South Asian business owners in Canada.”16

When I raised this issue (in writing) with an expert in international education in Quebec, he replied,

Young people want to be educated abroad so that they can benefit from the training they feel is of higher quality than they could get at home. They want access to better-paying jobs that allow them to realize their full potential, which their home country is not necessarily able to provide. Forcing them to return home would have a major demobilization effect and would contribute to a drastic drop in the number of international students in Canada … International students from developing countries who choose to settle in Canada will continue to support their families back home through remittances. They will thus help their families to educate their children, support the start-up of a business or income-generating activities. Ultimately, they will have made a concrete contribution to the development of their country, even if on a small scale, something that they may not have been able to do by staying at home.17

Agencies and consulting firms offer recruitment services. Educational institutions often pay commissions for such services, but the students’ families are also often charged in return for a promise to secure permanent residence and citizenship for the family member sent abroad. The recruiters direct international students to programs and institutions most likely to meet immigration criteria. As Mark Stobbe describes in the accompanying article, this results in students in courses that don’t interest them in the slightest, doing the minimum to obtain the required diploma or certificate, which can make life miserable in the classroom. These recruiters have also been known to facilitate the production of false language tests or other types of fraud.

Other worrying situations have been reported. In Australia young Chinese students have been identified as acting as agents of their government to infiltrate sensitive scientific research projects, while some Chinese students in the United States have reported on compatriots who dare to criticize the Chinese government through participation in human rights activities or protests.

The jurisdictional tangle

While international education started out as – and thankfully largely remains – an academic and research initiative fostering cross-border sharing of knowledge and cultural experience, the trend in recent years toward an immigration-driven project has significant repercussions for public policy. Constitutionally, education is a provincial responsibility, foreign policy and citizenship are federal, and immigration is a shared responsibility. Both the provinces and the federal government intervene in matters of language and integration, not to mention the economy, security, employment and labour.

Hence there are multiple actors involved at each level of government. When the federal government made public its five-year international education strategy in August 2019, three ministers attended: the Minister of International Trade Diversification; the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour; and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Other departments come into play as well, such as those responsible for security or finance.

At the provincial level, the departments involved are those responsible for education, immigration, immigrant integration, labour, employment and finance. In Quebec, the departments responsible for international affairs and the French Language Charter are involved as well.

It is difficult at the best of times to ensure interministerial collaboration on a single policy issue. In Quebec in late 2019, the Minister of Immigration decided to change the criteria of a program for foreign students designed to provide a fast track to a CSQ for foreign students. The changes would have restricted access and reduced the number of students eligible. The uproar was instantaneous from all sides – educational institutions, immigrant lobby groups and the students themselves. Internal divisions came to light when it became apparent that the minister had not thoroughly consulted his own cabinet colleagues, including the Minister of Higher Education. The government ended up scrapping the proposed changes within three days, and several months later brought out a modified version of the reform.

If interministerial collaboration is complex at one level, ensuring coherent policy decisions when both federal and provincial levels are involved is more than doubly complex. Indian-owned trucking companies in Canada provide a concrete example. If such a company is engaging in local hauling within a single province, provincial labour laws and protections apply; if it is doing interprovincial hauling, federal labour laws apply. How are the many students from India hired by these companies to understand their rights in such a morass of legislation?

To sum up: international education has become a major industry, far beyond its original educational, cultural and research objectives. So much so that governments have become more and more explicit in dangling the carrot of citizenship. The students so attracted are pawns more than beneficiaries.

But another Canadian policy stalwart, planned immigration, could also be losing out in the process. As we can see with regard to foreign students (and, as will be discussed in the second part of this article, with regard to temporary workers), the short-term needs of the universities and colleges and the marketplace are guiding the selection of these new immigrants, not a points system based on long-term social and economic priorities.

Continue reading “How Immigration Really Works in Canada”

The political consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are easy to see in Quebec, notably with regard to the Parti Québécois leadership race that was officially launched on February 1, with results to be announced on June 19. Like so much else, plans had to be changed after the pandemic struck. But first, we need to set the stage.

Pre-crisis situation: A party trying to rebuild

The Parti Québécois came out of the October 1, 2018, election with 17.1 per cent of the popular vote, the lowest percentage in its history. With 10 seats in the National Assembly, it ended up behind the Liberals and tied with tthe more left-leaning sovereigntist Québec Solidaire (QS). However, it lost its status as second opposition party to QS because one PQ MNA quit the party shortly after the election to sit as an independent, leaving the PQ in last place in the National Assembly.

Both the PQ and the Quebec Liberal Party were hurt badly by the backlash against traditional parties and the turn toward more populist parties that has been witnessed in other Western democracies in recent years. The self-styled nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), headed by François Legault, picked up 74 of the 125 seats with 37.4 per cent of the vote. One explanation for the move of many PQ supporters to the CAQ and QS in 2018 lies in the dubious strategy adopted by PQ leader Jean-François Lisée on the national question: a promise to hold a referendum after 2022 once he was elected to a second term. As a result, many left-leaning sovereigntists, especially young people, switched to Québec Solidaire, which was able to win several seats outside its Montreal base. Simultaneously, with independence off the table, it was easy for many francophone nationalists who lean to the right to switch from the PQ to the “anti-establishment” CAQ headed by a popular former PQ cabinet minister. (Non-francophones didn’t trust Legault’s federalist stance and stuck with the Liberals.)

The PQ establishment realized that a serious renewal was called for if the PQ were to climb its way back up to serious party status again. Lisée resigned, an interim leader was named and the leadership race was postponed to allow time for a renewal process to take place. The reasoning was that as a result of this process the leadership candidates would be bound to the will of the party members. Whether that reasoning was sound remains to be seen.

So in the spring of 2019, a special policy convention was called for the fall of that year. The objective of the convention would be to adopt a new “Statement of Principles” and new statutes, restructuring the party. The process was also designed to rally support and reach out to new members. As it turned out, the mobilizing efforts were far from successful. The process got very little media coverage and, with so few ridings represented by PQ MNAs, no adequate organization was in place even to reach existing members effectively.

The convention nevertheless was held in November 2019 and a new Statement of Principles was adopted, as well as new statutes. The statement puts an emphasis on independence (the vocabulary has moved away from sovereignty), without proposing any timeline. The challenges addressed are the permanence of the French language, along with climate change, inequality and trust in democratic institutions.

It lays out in four paragraphs the fundamental values guiding the party:

  • freedom – Quebec will only be free once its citizens are;
  • justice and equity – the health of a society is measured by its level of well-being and quality of life;
  • nationalism – defined by the PQ as a value of openness, inclusion and unity;
  • protection of the inherited environment as an expression of Quebec’s identity.

At least one attempt to add a reference to social democracy to the statement was voted down.

The revised statutes create a new category of “sympathizers” (sympathisants). For $5, anyone can sign up to be a PQ sympathizer and vote for the new leader, without being a party member (party membership costs $10 and allows one to stand for office within the party and be an observer at party meetings that are not in camera). This “sympathizer” category would seem to be largely geared to filling party coffers, but it also makes the outcome of the leadership race more difficult to call for reasons which will be discussed later.

The Campaign Coordinating Committee set a spending limit of $125,000, including a nonrefundable $25,000 payment to the party to get on the leadership ballot. Only donations from individuals eligible to vote in Quebec are accepted, all must go through the office of the Chief Electoral Officer and the maximum individual donation allowed is $500 (in elections, the maximum donation allowed is $100). Finally, each candidate must gather 2,000 signatures of active PQ members from at least 50 ridings and nine regions. The original deadline for submission of applications – including the $25,000 and 2,000 signatures – was April 9, with the results of the vote (online or by phone) to be announced at a big event on June 19, just before Quebec’s national holiday (the Fête Nationale, still commonly referred to by its former name of La Saint-Jean) on June 24.

But it was not to be. The first COVID-19 case in Quebec was detected on February 28. Three weeks later, the deadline for the submission of nomination papers was pushed to April 30, and then it was suspended entirely. The collection of signatures and donations were suspended at the end of March. At the time of writing, announcement of the final vote was scheduled for August 28, which will allow the party to have a new leader before the fall session begins (virtually?) in September.

The ex-minister, the comedian and the others

With all attention focused on dealing with the effects of the virus, no one is much interested in the campaign among the six candidates. The party has had a very difficult time convincing a woman to run. The most obvious female contender, MNA Véronique Hivon, announced early on that she would not be in the race, and it wasn’t until the second week in March that Gloriane Blais announced her candidacy. Blais, however, is a complete unknown outside her Mégantic region, where she ran and lost four times. By mid-April, she had raised $175 according to the Chief Electoral Officer’s website.

One of the five male candidates, Laurent Vézina, is also an unknown, so the contest is among four white francophone men, all between 43 and 51 years of age, which doesn’t do a whole lot to project an image of change.

Sylvain Gaudreault is the only candidate with a long and solid history in the party. He is openly gay, married, an MNA from the Saguenay region for more than 13 years, and a respected former minister in Pauline Marois’s PQ government (2012–14). His website and – more importantly in this campaign so dependent on social media – his Facebook page present concrete proposals linked to coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. He clearly understands the tools of government. His proposal relies heavily on green infrastructure projects and a green economy, including transitional programs to train workers for the new types of jobs this will involve. He even proposes to negotiate full constitutional powers over the environment for Quebec.

He is inclusive in his approach to what it means to be a Quebecer and decidedly leans to the left of the political spectrum. He supports the idea of a referendum during the first mandate, while recognizing that it is an uphill battle. He has so far the public support of two current and three former PQ MNAs and, interestingly, that of Lucie Papineau, former MNA and riding president for Prévost where rival Paul St-Pierre Plamondon ran in 2018. While he is a competent and articulate speaker, as evidenced in his videos, and sets out his position well, his often acknowledged lack of charisma could be his biggest drawback, given that he is running against a professional stage performer (see below). He had raised over $42,000 by mid-April, perhaps a sign that his experience and party networks are working in his favour.

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, at 43 the youngest of the candidates, has raised only slightly less money than Gaudreault. He is a lawyer who joined the PQ and started contributing to it financially in 2016, when he entered the leadership race after the resignation of Pierre-Karl Péladeau. While he sought to take advantage of his network as cofounder of Génération d’Idées, whose mission was to encourage young Quebecers to become politically and socially involved, his ambition to enter party politics did not go over especially well. After his results on the first ballot were in the single digits, he threw his support, such as it was, to Jean-François Lisée. This was enough to get Lisée over the finish line, and PSPP, as he is known, was rewarded with a contract to prepare a report on how to widen the party’s base, particularly among young people, but the recommendations were not very well received by a party composed largely of boomers.

PSPP notes that he has lived and studied in Sweden but avoids identifying Sweden as any kind of model, instead staying very safe in his positions: pro-environment, pro–equality for women, pro-independence – nothing that would allow him to be identified to the right or the left. His platform, which ignores the diversity dimension, targets suburban rather than urban voters. He proposes a referendum in his first mandate and lowering immigration levels by close to 30 per cent to protect the French language.

Frédéric Bastien, a historian who teaches at Montreal’s anglophone Dawson College, has little to say except on matters of identity politics. There are two pillars to his platform: constitutional confrontation and cutting immigration levels by half. A fervent defender of the secularism legislation adopted by the current Legault government, he has “outed” judges he feels are too biased in favour of multiculturalism to ensure they change their behaviour or recuse themselves from rendering decisions on the legislation. He does this by checking which organizations they have agreed to speak to publicly. His has gleefully filled his Facebook page with media stories about the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision not to hear an appeal to suspend the secularism legislation and about the problems Hasidic Jews are having with the pandemic.

On the question of a referendum on independence, unlike the other candidates he would wait for his second term. Note that when Lisée took this position in 2018, Bastien published a book severely criticizing Lisée’s campaign and complaining that Lisée had not listened to him. He has nevertheless gained a high profile, which probably explains why he has managed to raise $23,000, almost enough to cover the amount he will need to recover the deposit required to get on the ballot.

A significant complicating factor in the race is the entry of standup comic Guy Nantel, who joined the party in order to run. While the candidate the most in a hurry to have a referendum, to be held within two years of his being elected, he suggested in an interview with Le Devoir that it be on a form of sovereignty-association, a proposal effectively rejected by the party after the unsuccessful 1980 referendum on that question. In a book published in 2017, Nantel sets out a number of his political positions, from appealing to anglophones by declaring English a national minority language and adding an English symbol to the Quebec flag to a National Assembly made up of 200 MNAs – 100 elected on a purely proportional basis and another 100 picked lottery-style from a list of interested citizens. And, to his credit, he holds that immigration is a plus for Quebec. He devotes much effort to breaking down in lay terms the figures on equalization and other federal programs, to demonstrate that Canada gets more from Quebec than Quebec gets from Canada.

Much of Nantel’s humour is socially and politically based, but it is largely mockery, including of politicians and political parties in general. Aside from his standup shows, he has made quite a name doing short “person-on-the-street” videos for YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, designed to illustrate the low level of political and general knowledge of Quebecers. During the campaign, he has on an almost daily basis been producing six- to seven-minute videos on various subjects, including policies to put in place after the pandemic linked to energy or food self-sufficiency. Others, though, have mocked people he feels go overboard with social distancing.

Still, he cannot be discounted given his prominence – he has 80,000 Facebook fans – and the fact that he has some well-known party organizers behind him. While he had raised less than $15,000 by mid-April, he started at the top among respondents who identified as PQ voters in the only poll published so far (in mid-February) with 38 per cent, compared to 16 per cent for Gaudreault, 5 per cent for PSPP and 4 per cent for Bastien, with 36 per cent undecided.

But it is only PQ members and sympathizers who will be voting. In the context of Quebec’s having to deal with the pandemic and its consequences, could they prefer a comedian over the more sober and experienced Gaudreault? At this point the deadline for recruiting members and sympathizers for voting purposes is August 1. The campaign was officially paused at the end of March, and little recruiting is taking place – although it is possible to sign up on the party website. The wild card is whether Guy Nantel’s fans will actually go to the trouble of signing up as sympathizers.

The pandemic crisis and beyond

As noted, any messages the candidates are managing to get out are carried strictly on social media. None of the mainstream media are picking up on the campaign. So it will probably be some time before any more polling is done. With no party events, it became impossible to gather original signatures, so the party changed the rules to allow for scanned handwritten signatures. Then the process was suspended on March 30. As it stands, when the decision is taken to start up again, the candidates will be allowed to resume fundraising and will have three weeks to collect signatures. A preliminary voters’ list will be provided to the official candidates within five days, but all emails to the voters will be channelled through the party. The rules now allow for the two debates before August 20 to be held by video streaming, with voting to take place August 24 to 28.

Parties normally count on leadership campaigns to boost membership and finances and to whip up some enthusiasm through publicly attended debates and a rousing final announcement event with as many party members as possible squeezed into a limited space. But in the spring and, presumably, summer of 2020, attention is elsewhere. With the pandemic upending democratic processes in Quebec as elsewhere, how many will even bother to vote? It is hard not to wonder what difference it makes who the PQ leader is when the current Premier, like many other heads of government, has popularity ratings off the charts.

However, these popularity figures may well fall dramatically before the next election in 2022, when the economic fallout of the pandemic sinks in. Will the independence movement and its leaders be able to take advantage of the current drive toward self-sufficiency? Will they gain traction in reminding the population of how many important decisions were dependent on another level of government, or will it be the federalists who gain from pointing to the collaborative initiatives taken with the federal government and other provinces to get through the crisis? A lot will depend on how François Legault, himself a former PQ minister, chooses to present himself and his party in the runup to the 2022 election. Stay tuned.

Quebec has had its own immigration department for more than 50 years, and for almost as many years Quebecers have heard about special agreements between Quebec and Canada under which Quebec “controls” its immigration. It is only natural, it is assumed, that this “distinct society,” recognized as a nation by the Parliament of Canada, should be able to develop and implement the policies relating to the number and types of immigrants that it receives, for the benefit of both the new arrivals and their hosts.

But is this really the case? To what extent does Quebec in fact control its immigration? To answer this, we need to look at several aspects that underpin the processes whereby immigrants are selected and welcomed. Immigration is a complex reality, and distinctions need to be made between those who arrive to work permanently in Quebec, those who arrive as refugees, those who present themselves at the border and request asylum, those who are in Quebec temporarily for various reasons and those who come to join their family.

I start from the assumption that immigration policy for Quebec should strive to achieve the goals of a harmonious, fair and just, secure and healthy society, in which French, as the common language, contributes to a shared sense of belonging to a community whose members have well-defined rights and responsibilities. An overview of an integrated immigration policy covering all aspects of migration is provided in box 1.

The Quebec government controls relatively few aspects of such a comprehensive immigration policy. The Canadian government has exclusive control over duration, categories of permanent immigration, conditions relating to temporary immigration, entry, expulsions and citizenship. Except for Quebec’s “selection grid” for admitting skilled workers and integration services for newcomers, the policies and procedures of the two governments often overlap and can even be contradictory.

Legal Framework

The basis of jurisdiction in immigration matters in Canada is found in section 95 of the British North America Act of 1867:

In each Province the Legislature may make Laws in relation … to Immigration into the Province; and it is hereby declared that the Parliament of Canada may from Time to Time make Laws in relation … to Immigration into all or any of the Provinces; and any Law of the Legislature of a Province relative … to Immigration shall have effect in and for the Province as long and as far only as it is not repugnant to any Act of the Parliament of Canada.

It is clear then that both governments may legislate in matters of immigration, but all Quebec laws and regulations in this field must be consistent with all the laws of Canada. In addition, article 91 of the Canadian Constitution states that the Parliament of Canada is solely responsible for “Naturalization and Aliens” which gives it authority over citizenship and the “conditions for entering and remaining in Canada.”1

The other key document setting out the specific roles of the two governments is the Canada-Quebec Accord Relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens signed in February 1991. It specifies that the integration services offered by Quebec and financed by the Agreement must “correspond in their entirety to those offered by Canada in the rest of the country.” In addition, section 29 states that “nothing in this Accord shall be construed as restricting the right of Canada to provide services to Canadian citizens relating to multiculturalism or to promote the maintenance and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”

Permanent Immigration

Annual number of admissions: Planning for permanent immigration involves the two governments establishing on a multiyear and yearly basis the minimum and maximum number of immigrants to be admitted to their respective territories. Article 7 of the Canada-Quebec Accord stipulates that “Québec undertakes to pursue an immigration policy that has as an objective the reception by Québec of a percentage of the total number of immigrants received in Canada equal to the percentage of Québec’s population compared with the population of Canada.” According to article 5, Canada takes into consideration Quebec’s advice on the number of immigrants that it wishes to receive.

The numbers matter. If Quebec does not receive the number of immigrants corresponding to its share of the Canadian population, the proportion of its population in Canada will decrease. The population of Quebec determines the number of Quebec seats in Parliament and hence the influence of MPs from Quebec, and is a factor in the calculation of certain grants and transfers from Ottawa. So there is not only a legal but also a political and financial incentive for Quebec to maintain relatively high permanent immigration levels.

This being said, Quebec has never reached this threshold. Its admissions have always been 2 to 6 percentage points lower than its share of the population. In 2018, the population of Quebec was 22.7 per cent of that of Canada, but Quebec received barely 16 per cent of immigrants.2 This is one of the explanations for the fact that Quebec’s share of the Canadian population has fallen from 27 per cent in 1976 to less than 23 per cent in 2018. To fulfill its election promise to lower the immigration threshold in 2019 to 40,000 people, admissions to Quebec under the CAQ government in 2019 will be around 12 per cent of Canadian admissions. The Canadian maximum is set at 350,000 and the Quebec maximum at 42,000.3 The number required for Quebec to reach its share of Canadian immigration in 2019 would be close to 80,000.

Categories: Applications for Canadian permanent immigration fall into several categories, the three main ones being economic, family reunification and humanitarian. The economic and humanitarian categories are broken down into subcategories. The humanitarian category includes those privately or collectively sponsored, government-assisted refugees selected abroad, and individuals who request asylum after arriving in the country. The economic category is composed of skilled workers and businesspeople. A few years ago, the government of Canada ended its Immigrant Investor Program, but maintained the subcategory, allowing Quebec to continue to accept applications under of its own Investor Program (box 2).

According to article 14 of the Canada-Quebec Agreement, “Canada has sole responsibility for the establishment of selection criteria for family class immigrants and Québec shall be responsible for the application of those criteria, if any, with respect to such immigrants destined to Québec.” The role of Quebec comes down to an assessment of the sponsor’s capacity to support the family member.

As for the humanitarian category, Canada defines refugee in accordance with its international obligations and the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. (Because of its provincial status, Quebec does not participate in the international forums which adopt these conventions and obligations.) Quebec reviews the undertakings of private group sponsors and signs funding agreements with organizations that help settle government-assisted refugees. As for those from abroad who claim refugee status once on Canadian soil, commonly called asylum seekers, article 20 of the agreement is very clear: “Where permanent resident status is granted to a person already in Québec who is recognized as a refugee, Québec’s consent shall not be required.”

Most of Quebec’s influence in the selection of newcomers is found in the economic category, and particularly the subcategory of skilled workers who are subject to the Quebec point system. The factors that make it feasible to accumulate points on the Quebec grid are similar to those found on the Canadian grid: training, work experience, age, language skills, prior stay or family in Quebec (a factor designed to gauge the potential of the candidate to adapt to Quebec society), and verified job offer.

Quebec establishes its grid according to its specific needs. Points awarded for training and experience are based on Quebec labour-market demand. Quebec gives more weight to French-language skills under the skilled workers subcategory, which makes it possible to ensure that overall admissions in general include a majority with a knowledge of French. Language skills are not a criterion in the family reunification or humanitarian categories.

Quebec selects individuals with characteristics that allow them to settle into and contribute to Quebec society fairly quickly with a minimum of government intervention. Typically they are well educated, have work experience, are trained in fields in demand in Quebec, are of working age and, often, have young children, which encourages long-term residence. They are therefore well placed to contribute to the ongoing development of Quebec, as well as to the sustainability of the French language.

The goal of the Quebec government is to ensure that a large majority of total admissions are in the economic category. However, Quebec does not entirely control the number of admissions in the categories controlled by the federal government. If Ottawa decides to undertake a blitz to process a backlog of requests for family reunification in Quebec or if, as a result of external pressures, it makes a commitment to welcoming a larger number of refugees or asylum seekers than originally planned, these increases will force a decrease in the proportion of admissions to the economic category so as to respect the total admission threshold established by Quebec.

The effects of this interconnection among the categories can be readily observed. In 2015, 66.6 per cent of admissions to Quebec were in the economic category; this share dropped to 57.1 per cent in 2018. The percentage of people admitted who had a knowledge of French was lower as a result. In 2014, 75 per cent of admissions in the skilled workers subcategory declared that they had French skills, so the percentage of francophones among all admissions reached 58.6 per cent. In 2018, the percentage of francophones among skilled workers declined to 65.4 per cent, but the percentage of admissions in the economic category also went down, resulting in an overall proportion of French speakers admitted that year of only 48 per cent.

Admission and arrival of immigrants: It is also important to look at what happens at the moment newcomers arrive in the country. How are they welcomed and informed about their rights and responsibilities and the government services available to them, as well as how to access them?

In other provinces, this service is typically offered by a local organization subsidized by the Canadian government at a counter space in international airports. In Quebec, there is a small, little-known team of Quebec officials that provides a reception service at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. This team welcomes people who have obtained their permanent residence visa irrespective of category. It provides basic information on government services and even offers to set up appointments for integration services, enrolment in French-language courses offered by the Quebec immigration department and application for their health insurance card. It also updates the personal file of people already in the Quebec immigration ministry information system.

The Quebec government has recently announced the expansion of this service to include domestic flights (since many immigrants destined for Quebec arrive first at Vancouver or Toronto) and to assign an immigration agent to accompany the newcomer in his or her first steps towards integration. Expansion of this service will depend on signing an agreement with the relevant federal agencies, since airports are a federal responsibility.

Quebec’s limited resources do not allow this service to be offered at other airports or to those arriving by land, nor is it available to temporary workers. An effort is made to welcome foreign students, but given the mass arrivals in August it is usually offered in a group setting rather than individually. The result is that while every newcomer arriving in Canada interacts with the Canadian government at customs and immigration, where they receive their permanent or temporary visa and security clearance, the Quebec government is able to welcome on arrival only a minority of those coming to Quebec.

A word about administrative data: The first of the 23 goals of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 19, 2018 by 152 countries, reads as follows: “Collect and utilize accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies.”4

The importance of such comprehensive and reliable data cannot be overstated. Depersonalized data are an invaluable source of information about the processing of requests (processing times, acceptances, refusals, application inventories, etc. ), the numbers admitted and their characteristics (status and category, age, occupation, mother tongue, country of birth and origin, gender, city of destination, city of residence five or ten years after arrival), employment rates of native-born Canadians and immigrants, the demand for skills and training, the language of work and study, and government, community and private resources available for the integration of newcomers.

In addition, nominalized data are important to be able to follow the progress of the immigrants after arrival. Through their email addresses the government can contact the newcomers with regard to their satisfaction with the services received and their needs and expectations, and to provide information on new services. All this information helps to improve planning for the number of people to select and the services required to meet their needs.

The British North America Act states in section 91 that the Census and Statistics are under the sole purview of the Canadian government. In addition, in matters of immigration, only the Canadian government can collect data on entries to the country and the characteristics and status of people crossing Canada’s international borders. With the exception of the data derived from requests processed by its immigration ministry, Quebec is dependent on Canada for all information on admissions. Except for those who stop at its counter at the Montreal airport, Quebec has no information on when people actually arrive, which makes it very difficult to reach many newcomers at the right time with the right information.


Knowledge of the common language is the main requirement for rapid and harmonious integration. In this area, messages from Canada and Quebec conflict. English and French are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and reinforced by the federal Official Languages Act, while the Charter of the French Language declares French the only official language in Quebec. As specified in the Canada-Quebec Accord, in return for Canada withdrawing from offering socioeconomic and linguistic integration services in Quebec and offering equivalent financial compensation, Quebec must offer services that, when considered in their entirety, correspond to the services offered by Canada in the rest of the country. Moreover, as a result of their many contacts with the Canadian government, newcomers often assume that Quebec has two official languages.

Quebec has been trying for decades to define its own approach to social cohesion, which in many respects is at odds with Canada’s multicultural approach. The 2019 Act Respecting the Laicity of the State is only the most recent initiative in this regard. Multiculturalism was enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (article 27), but has never been accepted as suiting Quebec. Upon the announcement in 1971 of the new Canadian multiculturalism policy, Quebec’s Liberal Premier at the time, Robert Bourassa, wrote to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as follows:

Concerning the principle of multiculturalism, Quebec does not adopt the approach of your government. Indeed, it appears difficult to align this notion with the Quebec reality where there the predominant population group is linguistically and culturally French … If the federal government assumes overall obligations for all the other cultures to be found in Canada, Quebec must take within its own territory, the role of prime defender of the French language and culture.5

One of the most important tools in the arsenal of a nation-state to create a sense of belonging and loyalty among its immigrant population is naturalization. As every nation does, Canada reinforces the messages of its history and values in the naturalization process, including those of bilingualism and multiculturalism. Quebec offers socioeconomic and linguistic integration services, one aspect of which sets out Quebec values, but these services are voluntary, and Quebec does not have the power to make them mandatory. Given that it does not have the data and personal information needed to reach every immigrant, especially in the family and humanitarian categories or the temporary programs, it lacks the overall resources to effectively counteract messages from the Canadian government which do not jibe with its reality.

Temporary Immigration

Temporary immigration is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Canadian government and covers a wide range of foreigners residing in Quebec. There are three general programs, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), the International Student Program and the International Mobility Program (IMP).

The number of people in Quebec each year with temporary permits is far greater than those admitted as permanent residents. On December 31, 2017, there were 107,310 people with temporary status within Quebec’s borders – 61,565 as international students, 38,535 under the IMP and 7,210 under the TFWP.6 That same year 52,388 people were admitted to Quebec as permanent residents.

According to the Accord, for those in Quebec under the International Student Program (of which the number has been steadily rising since 2012) and the TFWP program, the Quebec government must consent to their admission to the territory. A process of validation of the requests gives rise to the issuance of a Certificat d’Acceptation du Québec. This process results in some, though limited, information being filed in the ministry’s information system. However, people who come through the IMP (more than 35 per cent of temporary workers in Quebec on December 31, 2017) do not need a work permit, in large part because of various international agreements signed by the Canadian government. Quebec has no say in these issues and therefore does not have its own data for them. In fact, a recent OECD report on the Canadian immigration system criticizes the fact that even the Canadian government has no useful data on the people in the country under the IMP program.

For several years, the Quebec government has made significant efforts to increase temporary immigration and to convince people with temporary status (workers or students) to apply for permanent status. A special program, the Programme de l’Expérience Québécoise (PEQ), based loosely on the federal government’s Canadian Experience Category, offers a fast track to permanent selection by Quebec for eligible applicants with temporary status. Applications under the PEQ are processed within a month, and must show proof of French-language skills. In recent years, the vast majority of people selected by Quebec have had a temporary status at the time of their selection. This has been an important goal of the ministry’s strategic plan.

It is not difficult to understand why the government would want to meet its permanent immigration goals with individuals who already have a job in Quebec or a diploma from a Quebec institution of higher education. Temporary immigration applications are processed faster than permanent ones by the Canadian and Quebec governments. Companies can potentially fill positions within a few weeks or months rather than the two or three years required to process permanent immigration applications. In addition, they cost little or nothing in integration or francization services because they are not eligible to receive these services as long as they have a temporary status. Recently, the government announced that certain services will be opened to some temporary workers, but details are sketchy.

There are some disadvantages to this, however. These individuals are not selected using the Quebec point system. They come into Quebec through Canadian government programs and, in the case of TFWP, on the basis of the ebb and flow of the short-term labour market. In this sense, it is effectively private enterprises that are selecting the foreign workers who can come to Quebec. People with temporary status do not need to know French to reside and work in Quebec. Moreover, as already mentioned, the Quebec government has little or no contact with them either on their arrival or afterwards to assist them in finding the services for which they may be eligible.

Another relevant consideration is that temporary immigrants who apply for permanent status in Quebec have been in the province for at least a year, often several years, and during that time, under the French Language Charter, they can enroll their children in English schools. The data reveals that this is a choice more and more of them are making. A recent study by the Office Québécois de la Langue Française presents figures on the numbers of francophones, anglophones and allophones in public preschool, primary and secondary education in Quebec. It shows that between 1990 and 2001, the percentage of children enrolled in the English public schools thanks to their temporary status was 4.8 per cent. This percentage more than doubled to 11.4 per cent for the cohort from 2002 to 2015.7

When these people are selected for permanent status by Québec, this special authorization is no longer available, but data have not been published on the number of exemptions offered by the Ministry of Education to enable these young people to continue their education in the English school system. It is also not known how many have graduated from high school before obtaining permanent status. Moreover, unless and until the issue comes before the courts again, these children pass their eligibility to enter Quebec’s English public-school system to their brothers, sisters and offspring.

Can Quebec Remain a Distinct Francophone Society?

Overall, Quebec’s control over immigration-related policies is not sufficient to ensure its position as a distinct francophone society. It is constrained by international agreements and treaties negotiated unilaterally by the Canadian government within the framework of an immigration system established by it. The Quebec government is unable to adequately receive and thus integrate all foreign nationals arriving on its territory with the powers and resources at its disposal. Much of the data essential to the planning and implementation of a comprehensive immigration policy are collected and controlled by the Canadian government. Finally, the message newcomers receive about Quebec’s historical, cultural, linguistic and economic specificity is blurred by their interactions with a bilingual Canadian government and its ideal of multicultural citizenship.

Is there sufficient room for improvement? Or are these limitations such as to pose the question of whether Quebec, as a province within the Canadian federal system, can hope in the long run to adequately integrate immigrants so as to remain a distinct francophone society?

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