Opinion: Amid Quebec labour crunch, Legault spurns business demands for more immigrants

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Generations of Quebecers were once forced to leave home for work, fleeing to Ontario or New England for jobs, as their native province grapples with a chronic unemployment problem.

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By the end of the century, Quebec’s unemployment rate remained constant. exceeded Canadians average several percentage points. The spread was up to five points with Ontario in the 1980s and never dropped below three points before 2000.

it was then. Falling birth rates, a rapidly aging population, and low immigration levels compared to the rest of Canada have combined to make Quebec’s labor market the country’s second strictest after British Columbia.

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Quebec’s unemployment rate was 5.6% In October, compared to 7 percent in Ontario and 6.7 percent nationally. At 3.8 percent, the unemployment rate in Quebec City was the lowest of any census metropolitan area in the country.

Premier François Legault considers this a good problem.

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“You have to admit it’s good news [Quebec’s] 4.5 million employees because it puts upward pressure — and we’ve seen this for the past three years — on pay,” Premier said Last week. “I have a shortage of workers rather than a lack of jobs.”

However, Quebec businesses don’t see it that way. They describe an acute labor shortage – there are currently more than 220,000 job vacancies in the province – as the biggest obstacle to economic growth. Manufacturers in the province have given up $18 billion in revenue over the past two years because they could not find enough workers to fill orders. Many businesses are shutting down due to staff shortage.

Last week, five of Quebec’s main business groups joined forces with the Union des Municipalities du Québec Demand Mr Legault’s coalition Avenir Quebec government boosted immigration levels to prevent the current labor shortage from getting worse. In addition to working with the federal government to expedite the application process for temporary foreign workers, the groups want the province to permanently boost the number of permanent residents each year and allow new people to settle outside the greater Montreal area. Do more for remote areas where labor shortage has reached crisis levels.

Carl Blackburn, head of the province’s main employers group, Le Conseil du Patron du Québec (CPQ), called the province’s labor shortage “an economic catastrophe” and called on Finance Minister Eric Girard to introduce new measures to address the labor crisis. called upon. In next week’s fall economic statement.

Mr Legault, who was elected in 2018 on a signature promise to temporarily cut immigration levels, has been backing down against such demands. The premier last week emphasized automation, job training and digitization and outlined his government’s strategy to address labor shortages and increase productivity.

Mr Legault has made closing the wealth gap between his province and Ontario – Quebec’s per capita GDP lower by about 13 per cent – his government’s top economic priority. As a result, he has insisted that bringing in more immigrants, who typically start out making less than the average full-time salary of $56,000, will only make the task harder.

“Immigration may be part of the solution, but we have to realize that, at 50,000 [immigrants] In a year, we have reached our potential for integration,” Mr. Legault said. “There is a limit to the number of immigrants we can accept if we want the next generation to continue to speak French.”

Under a decades-old agreement with Ottawa, Quebec establishes its own immigration targets and selects economic immigrants. The federal government is responsible for selecting new people who come to the province as refugees or as part of a family reunification program.

Mr Legault’s government recently announced that it would seek to bring in 70,000 immigrants in 2022. But the one-time incentive will be only to meet the shortage of newcomers experienced in 2020 and this year due to the pandemic. Despite the one-time increase, Quebec will continue to receive far fewer immigrants relative to its population than Ontario, BC and Alberta.

To keep pace with the rest of the country, Quebec, which accounts for 22.5 percent of Canada’s population, will need to increase the number of immigrants to 90,000 starting this year, and increase annually thereafter.

In 2019, Quebec only accepted 40,565 Immigrants, or 11.9 percent of the 341,180 permanent residents admitted to Canada that year. Its share is set to rise tentatively to 17 percent next year, but will drop below 12 percent again in 2023 as Ottawa pushes the national immigration target to 421,000.

Beyond the current labor crisis, CAQ’s immigration policy will leave the province even less equipped to cope with budgetary pressures caused by an aging population. Feather 19.7 percentThe proportion of Quebecers over the age of 65 exceeded the national average of 18 percent in 2020. Quebec also has fewer residents under the age of 20 than the rest of Canada, while the size of its working-aged population is shrinking.

Mr Legault, who is up for re-election in 2022, continues to portray immigration as a threat to Quebec’s distinctive culture. But his policies are hurting his province’s economic prospects and reducing its political influence within Canada. How can this be good for the cultural existence of Quebec?

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