The Quiet Bienvenue

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Politicians in Quebec usually use secession from the federal union of Canada as a wedge issue when seeking votes. Incumbent Québécois Premier Francois Legault, however, opted to forgo talk of breaking from the rest of the country for the provincial elections on Oct. 3. Instead, he enlarged his Coalition Avenir Québec’s share of parliament by condemning immigration on the campaign trail.

Proposing a cap of 50,000 immigrants into the province annually in order to prevent the dilution of French-speaking residents, Legault told the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal in late September that more newcomers into the province would be “suicide,” according to the National Post.

Using nameless foreigners rather than English-speaking Canadians as a threat was a surprising twist on the usual Québécois politicians’ approach of appealing to their constituents’ unique French-speaking identity, especially in a country that has an unusual consensus on the need to welcome immigrants, with most complaining that entry is too hard, VOA reported.

“Eighty percent of immigrants go to Montreal, don’t work, don’t speak French or don’t accept the values of Quebec society,” said Quebec’s Immigration Minister Jean Boulet before the election. He later apologized for his remarks.

Meanwhile, Legault signed a law compelling Quebec’s municipalities with few English-speaking residents to only provide services in French, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported, even though businesses have raised concerns about how such a move would harm the economy as it comes into effect in the next few years.

He also signed a law that forbids civil servants, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols. The law might appear to infringe on people’s civil rights but a Canadian court upheld it, added the BBC.

This month’s election appeared to be another step in the 65-year-old former businessman’s campaign to address the wrongs that he sees in the province’s society, the New York Times wrote. And voters embraced him. His party went from 76 seats in the 125-member National Assembly to 90. The two groups that traditionally dominate Quebec’s politics, the pro-business, pro-union Liberal Party and Parti Québécois, a social democratic party that supports independence, came in second and fourth.

The Economist summed up why the party which he founded in 2011 appeals to voters: “The party appeals to Quebeckers’ comfort zone by not requiring them to make a difficult decision,” Jean-François Lisée, a Parti Québécois political strategist, told the British magazine. “It says to them, ‘You don’t have to love Canada but you don’t have to leave it either.’”

Oddly, Legault has presided over an explosion in temporary foreign worker permits, which increased from around 13,000 in 2017 to more than 30,000 last year. The permits reflect how the province is in desperate need of workers, reported the Toronto Star. Retirements among the province’s aging population are expected to make matters much worse in the coming years, added the Montreal Gazette.

Legault appears to have found a balance to the conundrum of needing to attract more people while exploiting them for votes. Canada will see the effects of his approach over the next few years.

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