Reaction to the federal government's immigration target of 500,000 immigrants a year by 2025 could not have been more different across the Ontario-Quebec border.
"We're really supportive of the federal government's immigration levels," said Monte McNaughton, Ontario's minister of labour and immigration, on Wednesday.
He's already called his federal immigration counterpart, Sean Fraser, to express his support for the targets. But what he really wants, he said, is for applications to be approved more quickly and for his province to have a bigger share of the allotment of economic immigrants designated for provincial nominee programs.
Meanwhile, in Quebec City, Quebec Premier François Legault was telling reporters that the previous target of 400,000 immigrants was already a problem.
“At 500,000, more so,” he said, noting Quebec’s share could be about 100,000, double the number he wants to see.
Legault’s concern with higher immigration numbers is that Quebec’s French character could be overwhelmed by newcomers speaking English. To this end, he has capped Quebec’s immigration intake at 50,000 annually — a central part of his recent successful election campaign.
Both Ontario and Quebec have labour shortages.
Legault acknowledged that and said he understands the economic objectives of more immigration. "But it remains that we have a special challenge in Quebec to keep and protect French and to ensure that the percentage of francophones does not continue to diminish," he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the issue as well, saying the federal government is planning to support francophone immigration across the country.
"Quebec has had the ability for a long time to increase its immigration thresholds, and I know that every time I speak to business owners in Montreal or in the regions, they point out how important it is to counter the labour shortage. We know that immigration, done the right way, is a response to that, so we will always be there to help Mr. Legault if he wants to create more economic growth in Quebec."
Economists and some opposition politicians in Quebec argue that Quebec's housing crisis and strains on its health care and school systems could be exacerbated by higher immigration numbers. Ontario faces similar pressures.
Asked about this, Trudeau said, "On the contrary. We know there are many construction companies with a lack of personnel, of workers. With our approach on immigration, we count on adding to these skills and these jobs that now are unfilled.
"But we know that we are going to create economic growth, we are going to build houses and we are going to overcome the labour shortage with more immigrants."
If the population of Quebec declines relative to Ontario and the rest of Canada, Quebec could lose some of its power in the House of Commons.
“Quebec is a distinct society, a nation,” Legault said, adding that Quebec should have a guarantee that its weight in Parliament is not diminished, despite population growth lower than Canada as a whole.
“We should preserve that.”
With files from Charlie Pinkerton.