The federal government has rejected a proposal from the Quebec government to apply conditions before immigrants to that province obtain the status of permanent residents.
The provincial government tabled a bill on Thursday that would impose new conditions on foreign nationals who come to the province, including where they live and work. The bill would attempt to ensure that immigrants learn French and integrate into Quebec society before they can obtain permanent residence, which is an interim step to becoming a Canadian citizen.
The draft law proposes new powers to “accompany and verify” learning of the language and Quebec values, and would link permanent residency status to a commitment to live in regions outside Montreal.
However, the legal power to award permanent residence to newcomers belongs to the federal government under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which means Quebec would need Ottawa’s help to enact its plan.
Federal officials contacted their provincial counterparts on Thursday to reject the Quebec proposal. In a statement on Friday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said his government is “not favourable to … a conditional permanent residency.”
Mr. LeBlanc added that Ottawa and Quebec City should focus on solving the province’s labour shortage, pointing to more than 100,000 unfilled jobs.
The number of disputes has been growing between the federal Liberal government and the recently elected Coalition Avenir Québec government of François Legault, which has vowed to temporarily reduce immigration levels to the province by 20 per cent.
As is the case with a proposal from the province that Ottawa harmonize its income-tax regime with that of Quebec, the Conservative Party is siding with the Legault government in its call for greater powers over immigration.
“We are open to having discussions instead of simply closing the door,” Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said.
Mr. Paul-Hus said it is too early to decide exactly which parts of the proposal a Conservative government would accept, but he said his party “is ready to hold talks on the issue of immigration with the Quebec government.”
Ottawa’s quick dismissal of the demand for new powers over immigration is another “slap in the face” for the Quebec government, Mr. Paul-Hus said.
Tabled on Thursday, the Quebec government’s Bill 9 would reset the province’s immigration system by cancelling a backlog of 18,000 applications and creating a system to match more immigrants to job demands.
“Right now, too many immigrants do not answer employment needs in Quebec. Too many immigrants don’t speak French,” Mr. Legault said. “They’ll have free French classes and then they’ll have a test, a test that will also be in line with the Quebec Bill of Rights and Freedoms.”
Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the goal is less about punitive measures and more about addressing labour-market and regional needs. In an ideal world, the co-ordination among regions, employers and immigrants would resemble the Tinder dating app to match interests swiftly, Mr. Jolin-Barrette said.
The 18,000 files that would be thrown out fall under Quebec’s qualified workers program. The system currently treats the applications on a first-come, first-served basis. Mr. Jolin-Barrette wants to start fresh with matching immigrants with labour-market needs the priority.
“This legacy of the old system is an obstacle when Quebec has a labour shortage in various sectors and regions,” Mr. Jolin-Barrette said.