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Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) leader Francois Legault (L), Liberal leader Jean Charest (C) and Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois talk before a Quebec leaders' debate in Montreal August 19, 2012. Quebec voters will go to the polls in a provincial election on September 4.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

Whatever her intention, Pauline Marois's proposed secular charter is bound to worsen the immigration crisis in Quebec.

The province is committing slow-motion demographic suicide. Year after year it fails to bring in enough newcomers to replenish the diminishing ranks of the native-born.

The Parti Québécois Leader's proposed law banning the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols, such as turbans, skullcaps or other head coverings, by provincial employees – while permitting a discreet crucifix on a necklace – will only make the problem worse.

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The PQ is not alone. Jean Charest's Liberals introduced a bill banning face coverings whenever Quebec citizens interact with the provincial government. It died, possibly of embarrassment, on the order paper.

CAQ Leader François Legault, in a compliment of sorts, said Quebec students should mimic their more industrious Asian counterparts. His comments only succeeded in reinforcing racial stereotypes, while highlighting the supposed gulf between Quebec culture and the culture of Canadian immigrants.

Demographic decline is the greatest problem afflicting Quebec society. Not enough babies are being born to sustain the population. The average age in Quebec is older than in any province to its west. Without young, skilled immigrants to fill vacant jobs, pay taxes that sustain social programs and contribute to pension funds for older folk, those jobs, programs and pensions will eventually disappear.

What is the solution that Quebec politicians propose? Deter, restrict and insult immigrants.

The Quebec government is responsible for selecting most of the immigrants who come to Quebec. It doesn't do a very good job.

In 2011, Quebec represented 23 per cent of Canada's population. But over the past five years, the province has been responsible, on average, for only 19 per cent of the annual intake of permanent residents, according to Statistics Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada data.

In the business class, Quebec has a selection target of 9,000 to 10,000 immigrants a year, but only brings in 2,500 to 2,700.

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Quebec's French-language requirement ensures that many of the immigrants who do arrive in that province come from poorer parts of the globe, where new arrivals are less likely to have the education and skills needed to contribute.

In 2010, for example, 50 per cent of immigrants to Ontario came from Asia or the Pacific, with the emerging economic powerhouses of China and India being two of the biggest source countries. But not many of them speak, or want to learn, French.

That may explain why, in that same year, Quebec drew only 15 per cent of its intake from Asia and the Pacific. Instead, 41 per cent of new arrivals came from Africa and the Middle East, and 19 per cent from the Caribbean and Latin America. The two regions are home to some of the world's most impoverished states. But in many of the countries there, such as Haiti and Morocco, people at least speak French.

Many of those who do immigrate to Quebec promptly leave. Data is thin here, but the Quebec government did recently report that a paltry 10 per cent of investor-class immigrants selected by the province between 1999 and 2008 were still living in the province in 2010.

"Citizenship and Immigration Canada is concerned with statistics showing low rates of investors selected by Quebec actually arriving or remaining in the province," a spokeswoman for the department stated in an e-mail.

So Quebec is unable to attract sufficient immigrants; many of those who do arrive come from some of the poorest places on earth, and many of the more affluent head straight to another province.

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You might think that, faced with such grim realities, Quebeckers and their political leaders would be debating how to attract and keep more immigrants, especially those who can bring needed skills and resources to the province.

Instead, they compete over who will more vehemently promote and defend their shared cultural heritage, even as the population ages and stagnates.

It may be good politics, but it's slow-motion suicide just the same.

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