Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to say that I have the honour and pleasure of sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Vancouver East.
Today we are seized with a motion that opens up a debate, which is clearly necessary and could very well be done for any public policy. A discussion of immigration, immigration levels, integration capacity, language, living together and living in harmony is always welcome, just as we would talk about public policies on health, the environment, international trade, and so on.
However, as La Presse columnist Rima Elkouri says, approach is everything. That is the point I want to make. Beyond the specific language it contains, this opposition motion is part of a wider political context where the issues of immigration and integration are being used as political tools.
Before I go into those details, however, I would like to read my colleagues a poem. I do not do this sort of thing every day, but I would like to read a short poem by Gérald Godin, one of Quebec's great poets. I really enjoy his work. This poem was transformed into urban art near the Mont‑Royal metro station, not far from my riding and my home. I would like everyone to keep these words in mind:
at 7:30 a.m. the Montreal Metro
is full of immigrants
are up early
are they the reason
the city's aging heart
the city's worn and aging heart
it has every reason in the world
to give up
I see this tribute to immigrants, who get up early to go to work, every day and every week in the Montreal Metro in my riding, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
Last weekend, I had the honour of participating in a graduation ceremony for a social integration enterprise called PROPRET. The graduates, 90% of them immigrants, most of them women, went through housekeeping training and follow-up. Many of the people in the program also get French training. Diplomas were awarded to 67 people who have been through tough times but who work very, very hard and often struggle. However, they were proud of what they accomplished and of their successful integration into the labour market in French. It was wonderful to see.
I think we need to highlight these successes and this reality on the ground. This is what is really happening. The disaster that had been predicted by some news media has not happened. They like to light fires to get attention and clicks and thus make a profit.
It also reminds me of a documentary called Essentiels, by Sonia Djelidi and journalist Sarah Champagne, about temporary foreign workers. There are several beautiful stories in that documentary, but also some painful ones, because we really need these temporary foreign workers, which the Premier of Quebec seems to have just realized.
Edyn, a Latin American man, said that he worked 10 hours a day, had to take care of his two children who were going to school and cook for them, and that his wife had remained in their country of origin, with children as well. He said he did not know when he would have time to take French classes. He had tried to fit them into his schedule, but it had been difficult and he had failed several times.
Edyn eventually graduated, but the reality on the ground is that people have two or three jobs and work 60 or 70 hours a week to be able to make ends meet. They are told they just have to learn French, but it is not that easy. It makes for a good slogan on a leaflet or a button but, in the real world, these people are just trying to survive.
I also want to talk about Mamadou. People called him a guardian angel while he worked in long-term care facilities during the pandemic. He caught COVID‑19. Despite all his work and his knowledge of French, he is now threatened with deportation. That is the kind of case we see in our offices. That is the reality on the ground.
That is why the debate on immigration levels to Quebec has become a bit toxic and unhealthy, because there is a lot of vocabulary being used to divide people, namely, us, the old-stock Quebeckers, the historical majority, versus them, the newcomers who are being singled out. That is really unfortunate. There is not a lot of that kind of rhetoric in today's motion, but that is why I am saying that we need to pay attention to the context, which has been ongoing for many years.
We have had reasonable accommodation, the charter of values, very closed-off and discriminatory secularism, and negative language that has led to all kinds of problems. These are not just empty words.
In the most recent Quebec election campaign, candidate and minister Jean Boulet claimed that 80% of immigrants do not work and do not speak French. He said that during the election campaign, when he was minister. However, it is completely false. According to statistics from the Institut de la statistique du Québec, in 2021, close to 75% of immigrants spoke French.
I have said it before in the House, but we need to stop talking about how a mother tongue is such an important indicator of the health of French in Quebec. The purpose of Bill 101 was and still is to ensure that the mother tongue indicator no longer makes any difference. The idea behind Bill 101 is to ensure that, even if first-generation immigrants do not speak French and are unable to learn it, their children will learn it and integrate into our Quebec society. That has been a success. There are a lot of children of Bill 101 in my circle, and one of them lives with me.
We also have to be serious when we talk about whether Quebec is receiving the funds it needs to integrate immigrants into French-speaking society. Once again, the reality in the field contradicts what some, like Coalition Avenir Québec, are saying. In an article published last year in La Presse, journalist Joël‑Denis Bellavance wrote that, of the $697 million that the federal government sends to Quebec for teaching immigrants French, 75% was used for purposes other than French courses.
Instead of complaining and saying that its integration capacity is stretched to the limit and that the federal government is not doing its fair share, maybe the Quebec government should do some soul-searching and consider spending this $700 million on French courses for immigrants who want to learn French but are being forced to wait a long time.
Minister Boulet was not the only one to speak this way. Premier Legault calls immigration an existential threat. He warns that Quebec will become the Louisiana of the north and says that recklessly raising the number of immigrants would be suicidal. Those are weighty words. They taint the whole debate around integration capacity, immigration rates and Quebec's levels. I would point specifically to the front page of last Saturday's Journal de Montréal, with a headline that translates to “Quebec is caught in a trap”, followed by subheadings such as “French forced into decline”, “They want to assimilate us” and “Two worst-case scenarios”. One columnist, Mathieu Bock-Côté, talks about “demographic drowning”, echoing certain satirical cartoons that show a massive wave of immigration. That is tantamount to saying that we are being invaded.
I do not know the semantic difference between demographic drowning and replacement theory, but we hear about a lot it from figures on France's far right, including Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. They evoke the spectre of the disappearance of the Quebec people under the threat of immigration, when we should be using more positive language to refer to newcomers, in the spirit of dialogue and openness. Instead, they play on insecurities and fear, including the fear of the other. Fear of the other leads to insular attitudes and close‑mindedness, division in our society between the original population, a concept that leaves out indigenous peoples, and our capacity for integration.
I do think we need to be vigilant. French is a minority in North America and always will be. We need to make an effort to protect and promote French. We need to pay attention to social cohesion and our capacity for integration. However, social cohesion comes with open arms, openness, support, not demeaning attitudes, finger-pointing and viewing immigrants as a threat to the Quebec people or the French language.
I am rather dismayed that, after all these years, we are having a debate that is extremely toxic and negative. Quebec is fully capable of working with the municipalities and the federal government to welcome people properly, make them future Quebeckers and stop seeing them as threats to Quebec culture and identity that need to be rejected out of hand. It is an extremely dangerous slippery slope. With this type of motion, at this time, in the current political context, I think we need to cross our t's and dot our i's.