The politics of immigrants and identity

Quebec Votes on October 1

Egbert Gaye

On October 1, Quebecers will decide whether to give Premier Phillipe Couillard and the Quebec Liberal Party another term in office after almost 15 years in power since 2003.
But it doesn’t look good for Couillard who took over the leadership of the party in 2013. Because poll after poll shows that voters are signaling their appetite for change and many are leaning towards the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and its leader François Legault, especially in the rural regions of the province and in the Quebec City area.
However, with more than a month left in the campaign, the massive Liberal election machine is hoping that it can turn its prospects around by shifting the focus to its track record, especially on the economy and on other issues that will shake their image of a time-weary government.
In our community as it is in other minority communities across the province, the prospect of a CAQ government comes with a certain amount of uneasiness in the face of Legault’s narrow nationalist posturing and his outright pronouncements against immigration.
It goes way beyond Legault’s promise to lower the number of immigrants Quebec accepts every year from 50,000 to 40,000, and it’s more about the underlying side-effects that comes with demonizing newcomers and adding a little fuel to already incendiary issue of identity politics in Quebec.
He is quite aware of the potential impact of his message that comes packaged to tap into the heart of the average Quebecer: “more jobs, less immigrants.”
He has also gone as far as threatening to have them sent away from Quebec if they cannot achieve a certain level of proficiency in French by a certain time.
Frighteningly, other political leaders running against Legault are quite aware of the potentially negative impact of his attitude and words, but they are strangled by the demons of political expediency that wouldn’t allow them to speak out strongly against them.
You see they also have to appease the latent racists and anti-immigration clique that make up a sizeable chunk of the voting population in Quebec, at least 20 percent by some estimates.
That’s why the Parti Quebecois is also positioning itself close to the CAQ’s policy on the number of newcomers Quebec can accept and ask that they know some level of French when they get here.
As well, the PQ would ensure that at least a quarter of all immigrants coming to the province will be settled in the hinterland.
Walking as softly as it can around the issue, the Liberals promises to maintain an average of 50,000 and to invest a few million dollars in getting them to learn French as well as settle in rural communities.
Only the more progressive Québec Solidaire which recognizes some of the real issues on the immigration file promises to create a network of immigrant resource centres to ensure easier access to information about opportunities in Quebec and to simplify the recognition of foreign credentials.
Legault and the CAQ are just as hawkish on the issue of identity and society and promises to up the ante of the Liberal’s Bill 62, which basically bans the wearing of Hijabs and wearing religious symbols in the reception and delivery of public services.