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Legault says accepting more than 50,000 immigrants in Quebec per year would be ’a bit suicidal'

Legault makes remarks on same day he reprimands CAQ minister for other statement on immigration

Three men in a conference.

On Monday, during an event at the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Coalition Avenir Québec Leader Francois Legault, centre, said welcoming more than 50,000 newcomers per year would be "a bit suicidal" for Quebec.

Photo: (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)


The Coalition Avenir Québec is once again coming under fire for comments about immigration, including party leader François Legault saying that welcoming more than 50,000 immigrants per year would be "a bit suicidal."

Legault made that statement on Monday at the Montreal Chamber of Commerce while alluding to the need to the protect the French language.

Although his words drew criticism from his opponents, Legault also reprimanded one of his ministers on Monday for making his own controversial remarks about immigration.

During a local debate on Radio-Canada last week, Jean Boulet — who serves as both the province's labour and immigration minister —  said 80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, don't work, don't speak French or don't adhere to the values of Quebec society.

Boulet then touted his party's efforts to better welcome newcomers and get them speaking French.

Shortly after Radio-Canada reached out to Boulet's team today, he issued an apology on Twitter, saying he misspoke and the statement about immigrants not working and not speaking French does not reflect what I think.

I am sorry for having poorly expressed my thoughts, said Boulet, who is seeking re-election in the Trois-Rivières riding. We must continue to focus on the reception … and integration of immigrants, who are a source of wealth for Quebec.

Despite the apology, his words appeared to have cost him his immigration portfolio, if the CAQ is re-elected. Legault described Boulet's statement as unacceptable. He was also asked if Boulet could remain as immigration minister if the CAQ is re-elected.

Unfortunately, I don't think so, he told Radio-Canada, adding that it's a question of image, perception and trust.

The CAQ campaign has been marred by controversial comments on immigration.

Jean Boulet in press conference.

Jean Boulet, Quebec's outgoing labour minister, apologized for his comments on Twitter.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Graham Hughes

Three weeks ago, Legault apologized for citing the threat of extremism and violence as well as the need to preserve Quebec's way of life as reasons to limit the number of immigrants to the province.

That same week, he said non-French speaking immigration, if not limited in number, could pose a threat to social cohesion in the province.

Opponents blast Legault's party for 'divisive' message

Opponents of the CAQ blasted the comments made by Legault and Boulet.

During a news conference on Monday, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire said Legault's comments about welcoming more than 50,000 newcomers per year were hurtful and irresponsible.

Reporters also played him audio of Boulet's comments. 

Nadeau-Dubois accused Legault of setting the tone within his party when it came to talking about immigration.

Since the beginning of the campaign, what Mr. Legault has done is send the signal that when you talk about immigration, you talk about it in a negative way, a divisive way, he said.

A man.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, said Legault's comments on immigration during the campaign have been divisive.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Ryan Remiorz

When Mr. Legault sets the tone like that and says that immigration is dangerous for Quebec, it's not only hurting people, it's, I think, deeply not representative of what Quebecers actually think.

During her own news conference, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade described Boulet's comments as mind-boggling.

It's dividing Quebecers. It's dividing the population, she said.

Anglade called on Quebecers to put an end to the CAQ's politics of division.

There are two options on the table. There's this one option where we've already hit a wall and we keep dividing Quebecers.... And there's another route: the route of the Liberal party where we say we need to unite.

She also said Legault's reference to suicide showed a flagrant lack of empathy.


Antoni Nerestant (new window) · CBC News · Journalist

Antoni Nerestant is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from Matt D'Amours, Simon Nakonechny and Radio-Canada