Trudeau rejects Quebec premier's request for full powers over immigration

  • Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday rejected Quebec’s request for additional powers over immigration, saying the province has more control over newcomers than any other Canadian jurisdiction.

In response, Premier François Legault said Quebec would "study all its options" to quickly reduce the number of asylum seekers and temporary foreign workers in the province, which currently stands at more than 500,000 people.

Trudeau made the comments to reporters after a meeting with Legault at the premier’s request in Montreal. The prime minister’s statement is a rebuke to Legault, who on Thursday said he would use the meeting to ask Trudeau for full control over immigration.

"No, we won’t give more powers over immigration," Trudeau told reporters. "Quebec already has more power over immigration than any other province, because it’s very important to protect French."

Trudeau said he is more interested in finding ways of making the system work better rather than discussing jurisdiction.

"It’s not a question of who has control of what," he said. "We’re there to collaborate, to work together."

Shortly after, Legault held a separate news conference, during which he said it was "too soon" to give details on how the province would consider rapidly reducing the number of asylum seekers and temporary foreign workers in Quebec.

"The Quebec people have always been welcoming, but now we have surpassed our capacity," the premier said.

Quebec already controls the number of economic immigrants to the province, but it shares responsibility with Ottawa over refugees, newcomers who arrive through the family reunification stream, and temporary foreign workers.

However, despite Trudeau’s refusal, Legault said the prime minister showed a significant amount of "openness" on other matters related to immigration.

The premier said Trudeau was open to requiring temporary foreign workers to be approved by Quebec before they can move to the province. Trudeau, he said, agreed to consider imposing more travel visas, like Ottawa recently did on Mexican nationals. As well, the prime minister also said he was open to accelerating the treatment of asylum seeker claims, from 18 months to six months.

Finally, Legault said, the two governments would create a working group to analyze Quebec’s demand for $1 billion in compensation from Ottawa for the money it said it spent on asylum seekers in the past three years.

Legault has said that Quebec has already accepted more than its share of refugee claimants in recent years, and that the province doesn’t have enough teachers, nurses and housing to accept more newcomers than it already does.

Trudeau says, however, that Ottawa has taken action to reduce asylum claims by closing down Roxham Road, which was used as an unofficial crossing for refugee claimants coming into the province through the United States, and by reimposing visa requirements for Mexican nationals. He said the federal government is reviewing the international student program and is willing to discuss limiting temporary workers where needed.

"I am hearing very clearly from Premier Legault and from different Quebecers that they want to see the number of temporary workers go down across Quebec, and we’re there to work hand in hand with Quebec in a collaborative way," he said, while adding that many industries rely heavily on international workers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2024.

Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press