Protesters gathered in the Montreal neighbourhood of La Petite-Patrie on Saturday afternoon to voice their opposition to Quebec's Bill 31 and the province's housing minister.
If adopted, the housing bill would allow landlords to reject any request for a lease transfer — which some tenants see as a way of limiting rent increases — without specifying why, and then cancel the lease.
"Tenants in Quebec are suffocating," said Cédric Dussault, spokesperson for Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ), the group representing tenant associations in Quebec that organized Saturday's protest.
"We asked that there be a government and a housing minister to respond to the growing distress of tenants," he said.
"[But] we end up with exactly the opposite, a bill that takes rights away from tenants."
The RCLALQ also called for the resignation of Quebec's housing minister, France-Élaine Duranceau, whom they say sides with real estate speculators instead of tenants.
Sweaters comparing the minister to former French monarch Marie Antoinette were being sold to demonstrators.
Sweaters for sale at the protest compared Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau to former French monarch Marie Antoinette. (Alexis-Gacon/Radio-Canada)
In December, Quebec's ethics commissioner ruled that Duranceau, a former real estate developer, breached the code of ethics for members of the National Assembly when she met with a longtime friend and business partner, giving her preferential treatment and eroding trust in public institutions.
In a statement, the office of the housing minister told Radio-Canada that the goal of the bill is to "restore the balance between tenants and owners."
But although the lease transfer provision of the bill may be one of the most controversial, the bill also contains other provisions the government says protect tenants, such as payments to those who are evicted.
The government says the burden of proof for evictions would also shift from tenants to landlords under the new law.
In December, Quebec's ethics commissioner ruled that Duranceau, a former real estate developer, breached the code of ethics for members of the National Assembly when she met with a longtime friend and business partner. (Maya Arseneau/Radio-Canada)
Immigrants scapegoated, RCLALQ says
The RCLALQ also denounced recent statements by Quebec politicians who drew links between waves of immigration and the housing crisis.
"Blaming asylum seekers for a housing crisis that has been taking root across Quebec for several years is more than dishonest and irresponsible: it's pathetic," the group wrote in a press release.
"All the data shows that the shortage is even more [serious] and that rents are soaring even more quickly in regions which receive very little immigration."
According to a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report released this week, the province's rental vacancy rate fell from 1.7 per cent in 2022 to 1.3 per cent in 2023, the lowest level in two decades.
The construction of rental housing dropped by 13 per cent in 2022 and 28 per cent last year, the report said.