Quebec election proposal on immigration faces roadblock from Canada

MONTREAL/SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (Reuters) - A controversial proposal by the front-runner in Quebec’s October elections seeking to reduce immigration and add French language tests will put the province at odds with Canada’s federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, immigration lawyers and senior federal Quebec Liberals said.

FILE PHOTO: Canadian Liberal leader Justin Trudeau gestures as he speaks with Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) leader Francois Legault (L) during a photo-op at the National Assembly in Quebec City, April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/File Photo

The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), ahead in recent polls before the Canadian province’s October 1 voting, is campaigning on a plan to take in significantly fewer immigrants and expel new residents who fail to pass tests on French and Quebec values within three years.

The issue has ignited fresh debate over immigration and is expected to be a flashpoint during a Quebec first leaders’ televised debate on Thursday night.

Trudeau’s Liberals are hoping to make gains in Quebec to offset expected losses elsewhere during federal election in October 2019.

The proposal, widely dismissed by lawyers as unworkable, has sparked comparisons by rivals with U.S. President Donald Trump’s hard line stance on immigration. François Legault, leader of the center-right CAQ, has said he welcomes newcomers who integrate and has dismissed comparisons with Trump.

Canada Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen was not available for comment, and a spokesman for his department declined to comment on the Quebec elections.

But two senior Quebec federal Liberals said Ottawa, which has authority over Canada’s border services and citizenship policy, would not accept the plan.

“It’s madness. This idea won’t work and they know it,” said one, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “Permanent residents have the right to live anywhere and Ottawa would never allow changes to this system.”

The CAQ plan would initially lower immigration from 50,000 to 40,000 people a year, and seniors would be exempted from taking the tests in three years. Legault has said the plan would better integrate immigrants into the predominantly French-language province.

“If year after year we accept 50,000 immigrants, and most of them don’t speak French then ... it’s a matter of time before we stop speaking French in Montreal,” Legault told reporters this month.

CAQ spokesman Ewan Sauves said his party, if elected, would ask Ottawa to negotiate broader immigration powers for Quebec. Quebec now has certain powers to select skilled immigrants.

“This would create a whole new category of legal immigrant,” said Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, chairman of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers’ Association, which has deemed the plan unfeasible.

Montreal immigration lawyer Jean-Sébastien Boudreault said the plan “would create a lot of headaches for the federal government and it would make Quebec less attractive.”

Reporting By Allison Lampert and David Ljunggren; editing by Bill Berkrot