Christine Frechette Takes Over From Jean Boulet As Quebec Immigration Minister

Quebec’s Latest Levels Plan Sees Province Hold The Line On Immigration
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New Quebec MNA Christine Fréchette has taken over from Jean Boulet as immigration minister after the Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ’s) landslide victory in the recent provincial election.

In a cabinet shuffle, Premier François Legault picked Fréchette, the trilingual former president of the Chambre de Commerce de l’Est de Montréal, for the Quebec immigration portfolio.

She replaces Boulet, a labour lawyer, who keeps the post of labour minister – that he was doing alongside the immigration job – despite getting himself into hot water on the campaign trail.

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In the final weeks before the election, Boulet slammed immigrants during a debate.

The then-immigration minister for the province said: “Eighty percent of immigrants go to Montreal, do not work, do not speak French or do not adhere to the values of Quebec society.”

Boulet later backtracked on those comments which drew immediate outrage but the damage to his reputation as immigration minister was by then already done.

The very same day those comments came to light, the premier distanced himself from Boulet. It indicated the immigration minister had effectively “disqualified” himself from that ministerial position “for reasons of perception and confidence.”

As a political neophyte, Fréchette has no such baggage and is also an expert in handling the media. 

In addition to her English, French and Spanish-speaking skills, the new immigration minister brings to the role years of public relations expertise.

Her LinkedIn profile indicates she worked for both the Quebec government and the private sector in that capacity for years and also served as an analyst commenting on American politics for Quebec’s francophone media prior to taking the top executive position at the chamber of commerce.

Business Groups Called For Much Higher Immigration, The CAQ Said No

In Quebec, immigration was a hot-button issue this summer with business groups calling for vastly-higher immigration levels during the election campaign to resolve serious labour shortages in the province.

Véronique Proulx, president of the Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec (MEQ) manufacturing and exporting industry association, reportedly called for the province to receive as many as 90,000 immigrants annually ahead of the election.

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“We know the labour shortages cannot be fixed in the blink of an eye and it will take a series of strategies working in tandem to reduce the impact of the lack of workers,” Proulx said in French.

Ahead of the campaign period for the provincial election, MEQ and three other business associations lobbied the province to resolve the labour shortages, including by increasing immigration.

The provincial Liberals picked up on the immigration issue, pressing Legault to dramatically increase the province’s immigration targets.

Liberals Wanted Immigration Levels In Quebec Raised To 70,000 New Permanent Residents Annually

On the campaign trail, provincial Liberal leader Dominique Anglade called for up to 70,000 new permanent residents annually.

“This year, Quebec will on the whole welcome that many,” she reportedly said in French. “This is the policy of François Legault, 70,000 people. If we have the capacity to welcome 70,000 immigrants, I think that we should base ourselves on that figure and we are discussing that in all the regions of Quebec.”

Quebec immigration target for this year is officially 52,500 new permanent residents but the province is expected to welcome as many as 71,275 new permanent residents by allowing applicants who were unable to come during the pandemic to settle into the province this year.

In 2020, Quebec fell short of its allotment by 18,775 new permanent residents. The higher immigration level this year is a one-time thing as Quebec plays catch-up.

That level of immigration, if it materializes, would be more than 41.7 per cent higher than the 50,285 new permanent residents Quebec welcomed last year.

It would also mean 20,990 more new permanent residents to the province this year than in 2021 at a time when the is also expecting an increase in temporary foreign workers from the roughly 30,000 who worked in the province last year.

Legault Says Quebec Already Receives Enough Immigrants, Won’t Raise Immigration Levels

The premier, though, has been adamant that Quebec will not be dramatically increasing its immigration targets anytime soon.

“With 50,000 immigrants per year, we are already one of the few places in the world that receives proportionately as many immigrants,” the premier reportedly said in French in early June.

In the week ahead of the election, he went so far as a controversial comment to describe a substantial increase in immigration to the province as something that would be cultural suicide for the Quebecois culture.

“Until we have stopped the decline of French,” the premier told business leaders, “I think that, for the Quebec nation, which wants to protect French, it would be a bit suicidal to increase (immigration).”

In the Oct. 3 general election, the CAQ crushed the other parties, taking 90 seats and winning a clear majority in the province’s legislative assembly.

The Quebec Liberal Party took 21 seats, Québec Solidaire 11, and the Parti Québécois three. The provincial Conservatives took 12.9 per cent of the popular vote but failed to win a single seat.

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