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Quebec Second Opposition Leader Francois Legault questions the government over imigrants, during question period Tuesday, March 17, 2015 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

When François Legault founded the Coalition Avenir Québec, the new party offered a hope of reasonable centrism in Quebec politics. It was not to be. His proposal on Monday to change the immigration agreement between the federal government and Quebec veers into demagoguery.

Now, applicants for permanent residence go through a rigorous process to determine their suitability, before they settle in Canada. In addition to that, Mr. Legault would put newcomers to Quebec under probation for three years, at the end of which they could be "returned to sender" – or taken back as if to a department store under a return policy, if the customers have changed their mind.

After the three years, the CAQ government would assess the quality of the immigrants' French, their employability and their understanding of "Quebec values" – the murkiest and most indeterminate of the three criteria. The CAQ's immigration critic, Simon Joli-Barrette, was a little more accommodating, suggesting there could be a second test a year later.

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This "new pact" with immigrants would be accompanied by a Law on Interculturalism, whatever that means. Half a dozen years ago, the philosopher Charles Taylor said that interculturalism and multiculturalism are really the same thing; the prevailing Quebec ideology, however, insists that there is some distinction.

Mr. Legault is invoking the fear of "radicalization" and "preachers who would denigrate fundamental values." Similarly last month, while foolishly raising alarm over a project for a mosque in Shawinigan, he called for the creation of a new agency that would scrutinize proposed new religious institutions. The goal is to block any Muslim applicants who "denigrate Quebec values."

All this, curiously, is accompanied by a worry, among Mr. Legault and others, that immigrants who settle in Quebec have a low rate of actually staying: Only three-quarters of those who came between 2003 and 2012 are still there. Why not welcome them more warmly, rather than spread panic about their religious practices?

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