Ottawa pledges $750M for Quebec immigration costs, sets no clear reduction targets

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault met in Quebec City on Monday. Immigration was a major topic of discussion. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault met in Quebec City on Monday. Immigration was a major topic of discussion. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press - image credit)

Ottawa has rejected Quebec's demand for $1 billion in compensation for receiving what Premier François Legault says is over half a million temporary immigrants.

The Legault government has been asking since February that Ottawa reimburse it for spending on social services to support migrants from 2021 to 2023.

The federal government is instead offering the province $750 million to support newcomers.

During a news conference after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Monday in Quebec City, Legault said he was "disappointed" that the federal government did not commit to quantifiable objectives to reduce temporary immigration levels.

He says Quebec is aiming to bring down the number of asylum seekers in the province by 50 per cent within a year.

"I think it's about time that we put targets with figures," Legault said. "The problem is urgent so we cannot say we'll continue working for months and months about the principles."

"We'll take the money, but we'll continue to ask for more," he added.

Quebec has also asked to reduce wait times for issuing work permits to refugee claimants, with the aim of keeping them off social assistance.

Quebec Labour Ministry data shows the province received 80,151 requests for social assistance between March 22 and Nov. 21, 2023, compared to 72,221 for the same period in 2022. That jump in the number of households receiving social assistance is the largest in 25 years.

The monthly average of asylum seekers more than doubled from 2022 to 2023, going from 19,455 adults to just over 40,000, according to the ministry.

Ottawa open to French requirements

However, Legault welcomed that Ottawa is open to imposing French language requirements on certain types of non-permanent residents.

To address Quebec's concerns, the federal government is also considering transferring temporary immigrants to other provinces, tightening the issuance of visas, speeding up process times for refugees and deporting more quickly asylum seekers whose requests were refused.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

"At least the federal government recognizes that there is a problem. It even recognizes that it must act in the short term in a meaningful way, but it refuses to put figures," Legault said.

Quebec is arguing that its public services are being weighed down by 560,000 temporary immigrants in the province — a number the federal government disputes.

Despite relying on Statistics Canada data, the premier says the discrepancy comes from Quebec counting the total number of asylum seekers who entered the province, whether or not their requests were accepted.

When breaking down the impact of their presence in Quebec in the last two years, Legault said the amount of new arrivals requires 120,000 housing units.

"We see that 100 per cent of the housing problem comes from the increase in the number of temporary immigrants," he said.

Quebec says about a third of those non-permanent residents are asylum seekers.

WATCH | Refugee advocate responds to premier's immigration comments:

Immigration fuels Quebec population growth

Data from the Institut de la statistique du Québec (ISQ) in May shows that nearly all Quebec regions experienced population growth between July 2022 and July 2023, particularly in Montreal and Quebec City.

Montreal experienced the strongest growth of all regions, with its population increasing by 89,600 — a 4.3 per cent rise compared to the province's overall 2.3 per cent.

Temporary immigration was the main driver of the province's population growth, according to the ISQ.

Record gains were due to an unprecedented increase in non-permanent residents, such as temporary foreign workers, asylum seekers and international students. And while there was also an increase in permanent residents, it was on a much smaller scale.

Trudeau told reporters that he was waiting for the premier's plan before setting targets. He said Quebec controls more than half of the temporary immigrants in the province. 

"Mr. Legault is talking about targets that he has without a plan to reduce the numbers that are directly controlled by Quebec," he said. "We need to do things that are responsible in a responsible way. That means understanding where the levers are and what each party is willing to do."

In light of the premier saying the number of temporary immigrants was the reason behind Quebec's housing shortage, Trudeau argued that housing, education, health and social services issues across the country cannot simply be blamed on immigrants.

"Quebecers and Canadians know very well that it is not always the best thing to do to target and say that everything is the fault of immigrants," he said. "This is something that some people bank on in their argument, but it is always more complex than that."

Constitutional powers committee not threatening: PM

At the end of the parliamentary session on June 7, the premier entrusted a committee of experts, including lawyers and public finance specialists, with finding strategies to maximize Quebec's autonomy while adhering to Canada's Constitution.

On Monday, Trudeau said the creation of the committee wasn't concerning.

"There's nothing inherently threatening about a province deciding to look at ways of improving our democracy," he said. "I know Mr. Legault is under a fair bit of pressure from the [Parti Québécois] PQ right now, and he'll make the decisions he's focused on."