First, some math: There are about 8.2-million people in Quebec, just over 78 per cent of whom reported French as their mother tongue in the 2016 census.
At current immigration levels (53,000 this year) and assuming demographic forecasts hold true and deaths start to outnumber births by 2034, French-speaking Quebecers won’t become a minority in the province for at least a century.
So why is Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault fretting that "our grandchildren won’t speak French” because of rising immigration?
His election-trail insinuations are a calculated appeal to fear. They are neither becoming of a presumptive premier nor based on observable fact.
Anxiety over la disparition due to immigration is not a new theme among Quebec nationalists. But today Quebec's vibrant French culture is safeguarded by language laws that governments of all stripes view as sacrosanct.
Clearly, the front-running Mr. Legault doesn’t like what he sees in the Parti Québécois’s slight resurgence in the polls. The parties are fighting over the same electorate, primarily suburban and rural francophones, and a majority government hangs in the balance.
Mr. Legault has a point when he says successive governments have let new Quebeckers down. Unemployment rates are substantially higher among immigrants; the province spends less on French classes, skills training and social integration than it did 20 years ago.
But Quebec, like most of the West, faces an inexorable demographic crunch. The province needs immigrants, and will select around 30,000 this year.
The CAQ offers a curious solution: increase available resources by reducing the number of entrants by 20 per cent. It has even floated the preposterous suggestion that immigrants who fail to pass a compulsory French test within three years could be asked to leave. (That's not going to happen, as removals are a federal responsibility.)
Playing the identity card in a close election was perhaps inevitable for Mr. Legault and his party. The question is, at what cost?