Quebec should significantly boost planned immigration levels and soften French-language requirements for newcomers in order to better meet the needs of the labour market, a major business lobby group said Monday.
The province needs about 60,000 immigrants annually — 20,000 more than the government plans on accepting in 2019 — if it hopes to reduce labour shortages across the province and spur economic growth, according to the Federation des chambres de commerce du Quebec.
But Quebec's Coalition Avenir Quebec government is planning on going in the opposite direction. Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette has said Quebec will accept 40,000 immigrants in 2019, a 20 per cent drop from last year. Newcomers will also be required to pass a French-language test if they hope to receive permanent residency.
The minister announced in June that Quebec would aim to welcome about 52,000 immigrants annually by 2022. But Jolin-Barrette told reporters Monday the numbers could still change.
A legislature committee is holding public consultations at the legislature on Quebec's 2020-22 immigration policy. They began Monday and run until Thursday.
The federation is presenting its brief Wednesday but gave an advance copy to The Canadian Press. Alexandre Gagnon, head of labour and work safety with the federation, said companies across Quebec have already started rejecting contracts and cutting back hours of operation because they can't find people to do the work.
"Our provincial neighbours and the United States, they are consistently growing their populations," he said in an interview. "We are losing our capacity to compete."
The federation's presentation notes Quebec has 120,000 jobs that need to be filled, "at a time when Quebec has never had a smaller number of people available for a job since 1976."
Moreover, the report says the only reason Quebec has seen an increase in the active working population of people aged 25-54 years old, between 2006-2018, is due to the growth in the number of immigrants in the labour market.
Gagnon also says Quebec's strict French-language requirements for economic immigrants are counterproductive and prevent otherwise strong candidates from being selected. He said Quebec shouldn't penalize potential immigrants if their knowledge of French isn't particularly strong.
"The requirements should be less stringent," he said. "We want to avoid a situation where someone is eliminated, because they know French a little less well, but who has the desire to learn it."
During last year's provincial election campaign, the Coalition Avenir Quebec promised to reduce immigration. The party's platform stated unemployment levels for newcomers were too high and too few immigrants spoke French.
But the minister told reporters before the start of public consultations Monday that his government's 2020-22 immigration plan was merely a proposal.
"We are in consultations all week," Jolin-Barrette said. "We are in listening mode. We are open."