Immigration Policy in Quebec-Canada as a Case Study of Incrementalism

By Gagnon, Alexandre Couture | Canadian Public Administration, June 2020 | Go to article overview

Immigration Policy in Quebec-Canada as a Case Study of Incrementalism


Gagnon, Alexandre Couture, Canadian Public Administration


Introduction

More than 79% of Quebec's population reports speaking French as its mother-tongue, while the proportion drops to 4% in the rest of Canada (Statistics Canada 2016). In 2016, 18% of Quebec's population was of foreign origin (MIDI 2016). The Quebec government's expressed concern is that if immigrants are not selected on the basis of their knowledge of French prior to their arrival, they will likely integrate or assimilate to the Canadian Anglophone identity and eventually attenuate Quebec's distinctiveness (Seymour 2000). Indeed, Quebec's immigration policy is an important element of its overall strategy to prevent this assimilation (Paquet 2016).

Since the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens (the 1991 Agreement), Quebec has had more powers over immigration policy than any other Canadian province (Becklumb 2008). A civil servant employed at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) stated that it is customary for CIC, the department in charge of immigration policy at the federal level, to consult Quebec before other provinces on most topics. Quebec is also the only province that receives a federal grant for "settlement services, resettlement of refugees and administration" (CIC 2011). The 1991 Agreement has been notably generous to Quebec in comparison to other provinces. In 2017-2018, Quebec administered a grant of CAD $490. (3) million. In all other provinces and territories, CIC has been managing immigrant settlement allocations since 2014 or before (CIC 2011; CIC 2012). (1) The contributions for the settlement program and resettlement assistance (for refugees outside Quebec) in the same year totalled CAD $853. (4) million (Canada 2018: s.13, author's calculations). Thus, Quebec received, in 2017-2018, a grant that amounted to more than 36% of the sums allocated by CIC to provinces for immigrants' integration, while welcoming 18% of the country's immigrants in 2017 (ISQ 2018: 84). Thanks to the 1991 Agreement, Quebec selects more than 74% of its immigrants (MIDI 2016), while Ottawa remains responsible for humanitarian cases. One civil servant described this as a formal and delineated process, carefully followed and to which both governments refer as part of their daily interactions--she even called the agreement "the Bible."

The nationalist movement in Quebec and the stipulation in the 1867 British North America Act (BNA Act) that immigration is of shared jurisdiction between provinces and the federal government has played a major role in the powers the Quebec government has gained in immigration policy. The nationalist movement was cited by provincial Minister Bienvenue as a negotiating argument in immigration policy as early as 1974, before the Parti Quebecois (PQ)'s 1976 election victory (Assemblee nationale du

Quebec 1974). Starting in the 1960s, almost every federal document related to immigration policy explicitly acknowledged concern over Quebec's demographic weight within Canada (and its corollary, Canada's unity), as well as the constitutional stipulation that immigration is a shared jurisdiction (Manpower and Immigration Canada 1966). Yet, the dark cloud of separation and the constitutional mandate are not enough to explain the relatively expansive powers that the Quebec government possesses in immigration policy, and the federal government's consent to these. Language is also a field of shared jurisdiction (Supreme Court 1988). It is generally admitted that culture is a field of provincial jurisdiction, although the federal has spending power in culture, as in other fields (Dunsmuir 1991). In foreign affairs, a 1937 judgment by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London (Canada's highest tribunal until 1949) stated that provinces could act in foreign affairs in their fields of jurisdiction. Compared with immigration policy (shared jurisdiction), these fields have endured the same separatist threat and, yet, have similar (language and foreign affairs policies are shared jurisdictions) or higher (cultural policy is provincial jurisdiction) constitutional protection. …

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