Referendum on sovereignty would be 'irresponsible,' Quebec premier says

Quebec Premier François Legault says he isn't ruling out holding a referendum on a new constitution for Quebec. But he said he is convinced that most Quebecers aren't in support of sovereignty.

For him, "the worst thing that could happen is losing a third referendum on sovereignty."

"The national emergency is to halve the number of temporary immigrants," he told Radio-Canada's Patrice Roy in an interview Monday.

He said holding another referendum on sovereignty would be "irresponsible."

The interview comes two months after the premier hinted at the possibility of triggering a referendum to repatriate immigration powers if the federal government refuses to reduce the number of non-permanent residents by 50 per cent.

Legault, who confirmed his intentions to run again in the next Quebec election, doubled down on his previous comments about "100 per cent of the housing crisis problem" being due to the increase in the number of temporary immigrants.

He underlined that in two years, Quebec has seen that number grow by 270,000 people.

"If tomorrow morning we didn't have these 270,000 [temporary immigrants], there wouldn't be a housing crisis anymore," he said.

At the end of 2023, Quebec had a total of 560,000 non-permanent residents in the province. Legault emphasized that Ottawa is responsible for two-thirds of them.

Despite the premier's wish to considerably reduce the number of temporary immigrants, Radio-Canada reported Monday that no government in the history of Quebec has made as much effort to recruit temporary workers abroad as the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government.

Since 2018, the CAQ has increased recruitment sessions abroad at a cost of nearly $1.4 million.

Legault says the programs are necessary and are not the source of the problem.

"They're programs where there is still a limited number [of temporary workers] in sectors where we really need them," he said.

The premier also said that the government plans to decrease the number of temporary students, but that most of the reductions to non-permanent residents must be made by Ottawa, particularly among asylum seekers.

"It is not normal that Quebec, which represents 22 per cent of the population [of Canada], receives 50 per cent," he insisted.

"In Quebec, we have always been welcoming," said the premier. "But when we increase by 270,000 [people] in two years, it's just impossible."

Legault said he believes that the time needed to study files and verify asylum seekers' claims must be lessened. He also discussed the idea of requiring visas for several countries.

New bridge for Quebec City

The government announced last week that it was committed to building a bridge east of Quebec City and Lévis, despite the report from the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ Infra) casting doubt on its effectiveness.

The premier said the issue is "not all black and white" and that his decision was not about winning votes.

"It's not serious, for a city the size of Quebec City, to say there is no alternative bridge," he said. "It's an enormous risk to say that if the [Pierre-Laporte] Bridge closes, all the trucks would have to pass through Trois-Rivières. It's unreasonable."

He added that experts have already ruled out the idea of lowering the deck of the Quebec Bridge as an alternative solution to the third highway link, as federal Public Services and Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos suggested.

"Experts from the Transport Ministry are telling us that this is not feasible," Legault said.

For him, there is no conflict between the tramway project and the construction of a new bridge, since his government intends to do both. That's why, Legault says, he is ready to work with the prime minister, regardless of who is in power when the projects come to fruition.

Radio-Canada's Patrice Roy interviewed Premier François Legault on June 17, 2024.
Radio-Canada's Patrice Roy interviewed Premier François Legault on June 17, 2024. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

He is aware that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not in favour of the third highway link and that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre does not intend to invest in a tramway.

"My hope is to be able to convince either Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Poilievre that we need both projects," he said. "I want to tell the two leaders that both projects are important."

Legault said he is confident in moving the project forward between now and the next provincial election.

A fight with family doctors

The premier says he intends to support Health Minister Christian Dubé and Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel to "resist" family doctors, who he says must see more patients.

"We will never be able to significantly improve the health network if we do not have real care from family doctors," he said.

Legault said he is aware that the family doctors' union is "powerful" and that it has "brought premiers, including [his predecessor] Philippe Couillard, to their knees."

"I know it's going to take several months [and that] it's going to be difficult," he said.

Legault added that he has no plans to carry out a cabinet reshuffle and that he is "satisfied" with his team.