On Oct. 1, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) lead by François Legault defeated the incumbent Liberal Party of the Quebec government. This result is a significant and historic win for the CAQ, disrupting nearly two decades of Liberal political dominance in Quebec on a controversial campaign platform. One of the party’s most contentious policies concerns immigration: The CAQ aspires to decrease the annual quota of immigrants entering Quebec by 20 per cent. In addition, they have advocated for establishing a values-and-language test to qualify for immigration and proposed expulsion for those unable to pass within three years. The party has proposed Ottawa as an option for relocating those expelled. It’s difficult to theorize how these policies might materialize, since the CAQ leadership is only in its infancy. Regardless, the party’s discourse on immigration sends a distressing message to prospective McGill students and the international community at large.
Legault’s discussion of immigration policy has featured rhetoric that is staunchly pro-Francophone and supportive of a traditional Québécois identity, stating that the CAQ does not want Quebec citizens who do not accept ‘Quebec values’ or who neglect to learn French. This policy is the product of nationalist dogma that demonizes immigrants as diluting an ideally pure laine—meaning exclusively French-Canadian—population. This standard denies immigrants the opportunity to partake in and contribute to the diversity that Quebec has to offer. For the government to refuse an individual their immigration status because they do not fit a narrow conception of the optimal demographic is both startlingly populist and dangerously ethnocentric.
While the CAQ’s immigration policy poses problems for the province at large, it could have specific and unique effects on McGill students. The university saw its highest number of international students on record enter the school this past academic year. It’s unclear whether this legislation would have a direct effect on McGill, as it is possible that international applicants would be protected by student permits. However, the public image that this political narrative presents is one of Quebec as an inaccessible and intolerant environment for immigrating students. Coming to Montreal, a massive and at times overwhelming city, to attend university is already an intimidating undertaking for an international student. Political rhetoric that paints immigrants as undesirable to the province gives international students an additional reason to look for alternatives to McGill.
Legault’s proposed policy may not affect international students during their studies at McGill, but it certainly would affect their ability to live and work in Quebec after the completion of their degree. McGill is an institution that produces intellectual, progressive, and valuable individuals who contribute both to Quebec’s workforce and its society. The language and value tests Legault proposes are a misguided attempt to preserve French culture and linguistic traditions that are not endangered, but more importantly, they are an incentive for international graduates to take their skills elsewhere upon graduation.
For better or worse, the CAQ’s victory is a pivotal moment in Quebec politics; it remains to be seen whether this will be the case for McGill, as well. If Legault’s immigration policy becomes legislative gospel, then Quebec sends a message of ethnocentrism and xenophobia to the international community. As students of an accepting and cosmopolitan institution, we should not be bystanders to policies that lay their foundation in such archaic ideology. It is imperative that we take whatever steps necessary, whether in the voting booth or in our public messaging, to make sure that everyone knows they are welcome at McGill.