The myth of Quebec's control over immigration.

Author:Meggs, Anne Michele

Quebec has had its own immigration department for more than 50 years, and for almost as many years Quebecers have heard about special agreements between Quebec and Canada under which Quebec "controls" its immigration. It is only natural, it is assumed, that this "distinct society," recognized as a nation by the Parliament of Canada, should be able to develop and implement the policies relating to the number and types of immigrants that it receives, for the benefit of both the new arrivals and their hosts.

But is this really the case? To what extent does Quebec in fact control its immigration? To answer this, we need to look at several aspects that underpin the processes whereby immigrants are selected and welcomed. Immigration is a complex reality, and distinctions need to be made between those who arrive to work permanently in Quebec, those who arrive as refugees, those who present themselves at the border and request asylum, those who are in Quebec temporarily for various reasons and those who come to join their family.

I start from the assumption that immigration policy for Quebec should strive to achieve the goals of a harmonious, fair and just, secure and healthy society, in which French, as the common language, contributes to a shared sense of belonging to a community whose members have well-defined rights and responsibilities. An overview of an integrated immigration policy covering all aspects of migration is provided in box 1.

The Quebec government controls relatively few aspects of such a comprehensive immigration policy. The Canadian government has exclusive control over duration, categories of permanent immigration, conditions relating to temporary immigration, entry, expulsions and citizenship. Except for Quebec's "selection grid" for admitting skilled workers and integration services for newcomers, the policies and procedures of the two governments often overlap and can even be contradictory.

Legal framework

The basis of jurisdiction in immigration matters in Canada is found in section 95 of the British North America Act of 1867:

In each Province the Legislature may make Laws in relation... to Immigration into the Province; and it is hereby declared that the Parliament of Canada may from Time to Time make Laws in relation... to Immigration into all or any of the Provinces; and any Law of the Legislature of a Province relative... to Immigration shall have effect in and for the Province as long and as far only as it is not repugnant to any Act of the Parliament of Canada. It is clear then that both governments may legislate in matters of immigration, but all Quebec laws and regulations in this field must be consistent with all the laws of Canada. In addition, article 91 of the Canadian Constitution states that the Parliament of Canada is solely responsible for "Naturalization and Aliens" which gives it authority over citizenship and the "conditions for entering and remaining in Canada." (1)

The other key document setting out the specific roles of the two governments is the Canada-Quebec Accord Relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens signed in February 1991. It specifies that the integration services offered by Quebec and financed by the Agreement must "correspond in their entirety to those offered by Canada in the rest of the country." In addition, section 29 states that "nothing in this Accord shall be construed as restricting the right of Canada to provide services to Canadian citizens relating to multiculturalism or to promote the maintenance and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians."

Permanent immigration

ANNUAL NUMBER OF ADMISSIONS: Planning for permanent immigration involves the two governments establishing on a multiyear and yearly basis the minimum and maximum number of immigrants to be admitted to their respective territories. Article 7 of the Canada-Quebec Accord stipulates that "Quebec undertakes to pursue an immigration policy that has as an objective the reception by Quebec of a percentage of the total number of immigrants received in Canada equal to the percentage of Quebec's population compared with the population of Canada." According to article 5, Canada takes into consideration Quebec's advice on the number of immigrants that it wishes to receive.

The numbers matter. If Quebec does not receive the number of immigrants corresponding to its share of the Canadian population, the proportion of its population in Canada will decrease. The population of Quebec determines the number of Quebec seats in Parliament and hence the influence of MPs from Quebec, and is a factor in the calculation of certain grants and transfers from Ottawa. So there is not only a legal but also a political and financial incentive for Quebec to maintain relatively high permanent immigration levels.

This being said, Quebec has never reached this threshold. Its admissions have always been 2 to 6 percentage points lower than its share of the population. In 2018, the population of Quebec was 22.7 per cent of that of Canada, but Quebec received barely 16 per cent of immigrants. (2) This is one of the explanations for the fact that Quebec's share of the Canadian population has fallen from 27 per cent in 1976 to less than 23 per cent in 2018. To fulfill its election promise to lower the immigration threshold in 2019 to 40,000 people, admissions to Quebec under the CAQ government in 2019 will be around 12 per cent of Canadian admissions. The Canadian maximum is set at 350,000 and the Quebec maximum at 42,000. (3) The number required for Quebec to reach its share of Canadian immigration in 2019 would be close to 80,000.

CATEGORIES: Applications for Canadian permanent immigration fall into several categories, the three main ones being economic, family reunification and humanitarian. The economic and humanitarian categories are broken down into subcategories. The humanitarian category includes those privately or collectively sponsored, government-assisted refugees selected abroad, and individuals who request asylum after arriving in the country. The economic category is composed of skilled workers and businesspeople. A few years ago, the government of Canada ended its Immigrant Investor Program, but maintained the subcategory, allowing Quebec to continue to accept applications under of its own Investor...

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