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Quebecers need to realize effect temporary immigration has on services, Legault says


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Premier continues to pressure Ottawa to surrender more powers to Quebec to manage borders and says Quebecers would pass a referendum on the issue.

Quebec Premier François Legault speaks to reporters following his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on March 15, 2024, on the issue of temporary immigration. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

ST-HYACINTHE — Premier François Legault is calling on Quebecers to pay more attention to the effect the presence of thousands of temporary immigrants is having on their own government services and help him pressure Ottawa to reduce the number.

Legault hopes the question becomes a ballot box issue in the next federal election, but refrained on suggesting how he thinks Quebecers should vote.

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Coming full circle on the issue of controlling the use of social media by Quebec youth, Legault now says he is open to the idea of setting a minimum age to have access because youth are becoming dependent on what he called “virtual pushers.”

“Quebecers do not realize the impact of having 560,000 temporary immigrants,” Legault told reporters arriving for a one-day Coalition Avenir Québec general council.  “Quebecers need to see it is urgent, that we put pressure on the federal government to rapidly act because it has has an impact on French, it has an impact on our services.”

Legault repeated with 560,000 temporary immigrants and asylum seekers, Quebec is doing more than its share in Canada to welcome newcomers, but he said that number is taxing Quebec’s health and social service network and fuelling other problems.

“We have a major crisis in housing and a big part of that is coming from the 560,000 temporary immigrants,” Legault said. “I think Quebecers need to know that.”

Legault has upped the pressure on Ottawa to act several times in the last few weeks. Sometime before June 30, he is supposed to sit down, again, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the issue and compel Ottawa to surrender more powers to Quebec to manage borders.

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After their last meeting, in March, Trudeau made it clear Ottawa would not surrender full powers to Quebec, but Legault said Trudeau expressed interest in improving the system.

Legault and his ministers have floated the idea of Quebec holding a referendum specifically on the issue as a way of increasing its bargaining power. Legault said Saturday he is convinced such a vote would pass with the support of 65 per cent of the population.

But, in the short term, Quebecers can help him now.

“If you look at the last federal election, it was not the main issue,” Legault said. “What I want to see, over the coming weeks and months, is it becomes a central issue and Quebecers understand if we want to improve our services in education and health and have housing for all Quebecers, we have to reduce significantly the number of 560,000.

“I hope it (the temporary immigration question) will be solved before the next federal election, but, right now, yes, I would like to see Quebecers put pressure for fast action by all federal parties because it’s an urgency. I think everyone needs to understand and send a clear message to Mr. Trudeau he has to act quickly.”

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Legault did not go so far as to suggest Quebecers pick one federal leader over another. In the 2021 election campaign, Legault urged Quebecers to vote Conservative because at the time it was in favour of surrendering immigration powers to Quebec.

“There are many Quebecers who voted for Mr. Trudeau anyway,” Legault said Saturday.

But the premier said Quebecers need to know what the situation is. Quebec, for example, has had to open an additional 53 schools of 24 classes each to accommodate the influx. One-third of the temporary immigrants speak no French, so that affects the status of French, he said.

Quebec has warned of a humanitarian crisis if Ottawa does not act. It also says the federal government owes Quebec $1 billion to cover additional costs.

Legault made the comments as the council — the first since the CAQ started to slide in the polls — opened with about 700 delegates attending.

Legault was also questioned on the hot issue of the council — the effects of social media on youth. The party’s youth wing is pushing the party to adopt a policy that would have the government restrict access to social media like Facebook and TikTok to youth over 16.

“There are pros, there are cons,” Legault responded when asked where he stands. “I am open.”

He added the government would have to examine how it could act in legal terms. He agreed, however, social media are highly addictive products like alcohol and cannabis.

“The way social media works is to render the readers dependent,” he said. “So it’s as if they were virtual pushers, like drugs and other substances. It scares me. It creates significant mental issues among youth.”

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