Canada-Quebec Immigration Agreements (1971-1991) and Their Impact on Federalism

By Kostov, Chris | American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Canada-Quebec Immigration Agreements (1971-1991) and Their Impact on Federalism


Kostov, Chris, American Review of Canadian Studies


Introduction

In the period 1971-1991, Quebec was the province that constantly pressed and negotiated with the federal government for more provincial rights in the field of immigration. The province signed four immigration agreements with the federal government in the immigration sphere: the Lang-Cloutier Agreement of 1971, the Andras-Bienvenue Agreement of 1975, the Cullen-Couture Agreement of 1978, and the McDougall-Gagnon-Tremblay Agreement, known as the Canada-Quebec Accord of 1991, which is still in effect today. Each new agreement gave the province additional powers and autonomy in this field. The role that the provincial government of Quebec acquired in the selection, recruitment, reception, and settlement processes of new immigrants over those two decades is enormous--well beyond that which any other Canadian province has aspired or managed to accomplish. The main argument used by Quebec to justify its demands has always been that the province is a distinct society and, therefore, needs a special status and autonomy to determine who settles in the province. It has to be noted as well that three of the four immigration agreements cited above were initiated by the provincial Liberal Party and only one by the Parti Quebecois. Thus, the immigration policy of the province of Quebec during the period in question was consistent and essentially followed the same direction, regardless of the political party in power in the province.

This essay will argue that the Canada-Quebec immigration agreements had a crucial effect on the Canadian federal system, because they maintained asymmetrical federal-provincial relations in the immigration policy of Canada. Each new agreement enlarged this asymmetry while additionally undermining the role of the Canadian government in the immigration process. This essay will also examine how Quebec used the immigration autonomy that it obtained as a foundation and incentive for its independence movement. Finally, this essay will analyze the impact that this policy might have had (or might continue to have) on the other Canadian provinces and on the immigrants destined for Quebec, and discuss whether these agreements infringed on the mobility rights of the new permanent residents, as defined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 6.

Asymmetrical Federalism and the Distribution of Powers in the Immigration Policy

A number of Canadian political scientists consider "asymmetry" the term of choice to replace "special status" rhetoric, which is more or less discredited in the ears of many Canadians, particularly those from western Canada. Asymmetrical federalism is "a form of federalism in which one or more constituent units have differing powers and responsibilities." (1) The ideally symmetrical federal system would be a system in which all units are "equal" to each other in regard to factors such as territory, jurisdiction, culture, and history, whereas the ideally asymmetrical system would be a model in which every unit has a unique feature. (2) This is a theoretical definition, of course; in practice, one or a few units need asymmetry in any given federal system. In the Canadian federal system, however, there is only one province--Quebec--which strongly demands asymmetry, and it does so in various areas, including asymmetry in the authority over immigration. There are two extremely different views regarding Quebec's demands. Supporters of such asymmetry argue that it is the best way to retain Quebec in the federation and to satisfy Quebec's needs as a province with a different culture than the rest of Canada. The opponents, however, argue that an asymmetrical system is just a strategy of the provincial government of Quebec in a move toward complete independence. (3)

The alignment of roles between the federal and the provincial governments in the field of immigration is predetermined by the Constitution:

* Section 95 of the British North America (BNA) Act of 1867 defines both the federal and provincial authority over immigration policy. …

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