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John Ibbitson

Quebec must fix its lack of diversity Add to ...

For proof that Quebec is headed for a demographic reckoning, you need only cross the Alexandra Bridge.

Ottawa and Gatineau are inseparable: bound by their history, their bridges and their shared role as national capital.

But while 19 per cent of Ottawa residents belong to a visible minority, according to a Statistics Canada report released this week, in Gatineau the figure is 6 per cent.

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Lack of diversity means lack of immigrants; almost all of Canada's immigrants are visible minorities.

Because women throughout the developed world aren't having enough children to sustain their populations, places that don't attract immigrants must decline in the decades to come.

Quebec faces that decline.

The province is seized with a furor over a woman who has been expelled from language-training classes because she refuses to remove the veil that covers her face.

Integrating immigrants is a challenge everywhere in Canada, but it is a particular problem in Quebec, which is the least diverse of Canada's big provinces.

“There is a divide between immigration policy and integration policy,” says Marie-Thérèse Chicha, an economist who specializes in immigration and diversity issues at the University of Montreal. The province, she says, encourages immigration, but then lacks the funding or policy coherence to help new arrivals integrate into the Quebec economy.

And chicken-becoming-egg, that economy then weakens, further deterring immigrants and making the province less and less diverse, compared to the country's major growth centres.

Analysts often refer to Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal as hubs of diversity. This is false. Montreal does not even begin to compare with Toronto and Vancouver, has fallen behind Calgary and is matched by Edmonton.

Forty-three per cent of Toronto's population was non-white in 2006; in Vancouver the figure was 42 per cent. In Calgary, the number was 22 per cent; in Edmonton, 17 per cent and in Montreal, 16 per cent. By 2031, people of European background will be a minority in both Toronto and Vancouver. Four in 10 Calgarians will be non-white. In Edmonton and Montreal, it will still be only three in 10.

Uniquely among provinces, Quebec is responsible for selecting its immigrants. Not surprisingly, the province places an emphasis on people who speak French and who are willing and able to integrate within the Quebec nation.

But more than half of all Canadian immigrants come from India, China or countries nearby. They are vastly more likely to know English, or to be willing to learn it, than French.

China and India boast vibrant if still developing economies. Many countries in the Caribbean, northern Africa and other parts of the Third World where French is spoken are considerably poorer. Quebec's language policies deter immigrants from the most vibrant regions, while favouring some of the most impoverished places on Earth.

Outside the biggest cities, the situation in Quebec is particularly bleak, compared to elsewhere. Vancouver is bringing in large number of immigrants, but so is nearby Abbotsford. Even Victoria, that most English of Canadian cities, will be nearly 20 per cent “viz-min” by 2031. Visible minorities will make up between a quarter and a third of the populations of all the major cities in Southern Ontario, from Hamilton to Windsor.

But apart from Montreal, Quebec remains virtually devoid of new arrivals. Only 2 per cent of Quebec City's population was a visible minority in 2006; over 20 years, it will swell to 5 per cent. Saguenay will go from 1 per cent to 2 per cent. Sherbrooke will reach 10 per cent and Trois-Rivières, 4 per cent. These cities will all be dying, for lack of new arrivals.

The province has had some limited success in encouraging larger families through subsidies and government programs. But no developed country has succeeded in convincing women that they should have families large enough to make the population self-sustaining.

Quebec has successfully preserved its language and culture, despite enormous pressures. This is a remarkable achievement. Now Quebeckers must ask a very difficult question: How are they to preserve that language and culture while attracting sufficient immigrants who are willing and able to sustain it?

The survival of the French fact in North America hangs on the answer.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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