Legault government’s immigration stance flies in the face of labour shortage

‘The economic consequences are significant,’ warns Conseil du Patronat’s Karl Blackburn

The CEO of the Quebec business community’s most influential employers’ lobby group says he doesn’t disagree that the Coalition Avenir Québec government seems motivated lately more by political and electoral priorities – rather than Quebec’s economic well-being.

Still, Karl Blackburn of the Conseil du Patronat du Québec, which represents more than 70,000 Quebec employers, says he and the CPQ stand firmly behind most of the elements in the controversial Bill 96 language law.

A growing labour crisis

Conseil du Patronat du Québec CEO Karl Blackburn, right, met with Laval mayor Stéphane Boyer last week and Duvernay-Viau city councillor Christine Poirier (who is an economic development adviser to Boyer) to discuss common issues.

However, the CPQ disagrees with the Legault government’s ongoing policy of keeping immigration in Quebec at a relatively low level, with a noticeable impact on the province’s economic performance.

“The first priority for our employers, and for city councils also because city councils also are employers, concerns the labour shortage,” Blackburn said in an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia after he met with Laval mayor Stéphane Boyer to discuss common issues.

“The impact of the labour shortage affects them [cities] and their organizations, and this is why we need to address that situation.”

Immigration must rise, says CPQ

On May 16, the CPQ released a “white paper” on immigration, in which the council maintained that the provincial government needs to increase the number of immigrants entering Quebec to 80,000 per year for the next four years in order to meet economic development targets.

This goes against a statement issued by Quebec Immigration Minister Jean Boulet that same day, to the effect that the CAQ government will be holding the immigration level at no higher than 50,000 new arrivals annually over the same time period.

Getting the gov’t to agree

In addition to the suggested higher immigration level, the CPQ has also tabled a range of recommendations to encourage the government to allow in more immigrants. They include improved recognition of the professional and trade qualifications of immigrants, prioritizing immigrants who are French-speaking, and implementing a temporary work permit program for certain immigrants.

Blackburn noted that between now and the year 2026, 1.4 million Quebecers currently in the work force are expected to retire, increasing the necessity to find a solution for the current labour shortage before it becomes an acute crisis.

Processing slow in Quebec

Besides the relatively low level of immigration allowed in Quebec, the CPQ is also critical of the provincial government for its slowness to process immigrants, compared to other regions in the country.

“The delays are longer here in Quebec than everywhere else in Canada,” he said. “The bureaucracy and the capacity to address specific issues are very, very complicated in Quebec.”

Blackburn pointed out that according to the former Liberal government’s estimates in 2017, an annual immigration rate of at least 64,000 new arrivals would have been necessary to meet job demands in the province.

Detrimental to the economy

While he was reluctant to agree that the government’s current policy for immigration appears to be motivated primarily by political considerations, he conceded that the CAQ’s reasoning is “debatable” and “I can question the arguments made by the government,” he said.

‘I can question the arguments made by the government,’ CPQ CEO Karl Blackburn says of the CAQ’s policy of deliberately holding back immigration

When we suggested that the government appears to be courting the support of nationalist voters by holding back immigration to the detriment of the province’s economy, Blackburn added, “Exactly – one could certainly arrive at that conclusion.”

With an election set to take place in October, Blackburn said it was his hope the campaign would cause the worker deficit issue to be brought forth and debated by all the political parties, including the one that currently forms the government.

General support for Bill 96

“Because this is not good news, being in the midst of a labour shortage,” he said. “On the contrary, it is very bad news and the economic consequences are significant.”

Regarding Bill 96, Blackburn said the CPQ’s membership stands behind most of the legislation, except for a relative minority of members who are owners of businesses with 20 to 50 employees.

Under Bill 96, these companies are being asked to comply with new legislative measures to reinforce use of the French language in the work place, and they feel ill-equipped to do so with the limited human resources at their disposal, Blackburn said.