Immigration and the political dilemma

JAMES ARCHIBALD | Parti Québécois immigration minister André Boisclair has drafted a plan to position Quebec in the world market as a pluralistic, North American French-speaking society. In so doing, Boisclair has had to deal not only with his party's nationalist agenda, but also with the demographics of a shrinking population of native French speakers in an Anglo-American sea.

Struggling to come to grips with a near impossible task, the Minister has put forward a proposal to stem the tide. He will use Quebec's powers under the immigration agreement reached with Canada to build the type of society his government envisages for the new millennium.

These powers focus specifically on the selection of independent workers, business people and professionals whom the Quebec government will be able to recruit both within the country and offshore. To grasp the magnitude of Boisclair's ambition, the total number of independents will move from 11,246 in 1996 to a maximum of 14,000 in 1998, 15,200 in 1999 and 15,800 in 2000, increases respectively of 24.5% (over the 1996 actual), 8.6% and 3.9%.

This compares with recent yearly increases of 1.7% (1996) and 4.9% (projected for 1997). The huge jump in 1998, Boisclair claims, will be the result of Quebec's energetic assertion of its autonomy in this area of immigration.

Who will these new Quebecers be? They will have to be people who reflect the core values of Quebec society as it is planned to evolve from now into the 21st century. Boisclair's planning document gives us a glimpse of the Quebec value system to be promoted.

Firstly, new Quebecers will be family men and women who will establish links with the larger Quebec family and contribute through their adaptable family units to an expanding Quebec economy. This view is hardly revolutionary and reflects the current thinking on immigration patterns.

Joel Millman, a journalist and former editor of Forbes magazine, has written extensively on the impact of immigration in the U.S., and in his recently published book, The Other Americans, identifies the family as the main economic engine in immigrant societies.

Secondly, the new Quebecers will believe in a human family which extends beyond the confines of one polity; consequently, in keeping with Quebec's policies of internationalization, these new immigrants will be able to build human bridges to the world outside.

Given the purposeful selection of educated professionals, these new links will have economic value as new Quebecers build international networks of family, friends and potential investors who will hear of the opportunities Quebec offers for people to build economic and personal security in this new society.

Thirdly, new Quebecers will be a broad-minded lot, open to others and convinced of the value of a pluralistic society like Quebec in today's world fraught by dissension, racism and xenophobia. The Quebec of the year 2000 and beyond will be a safe haven in this maelstrom, a veritable model of interracial and inter-ethnic harmony.

Fourthly, the new Quebecer will have a clean record when it comes to discrimination against visible minorities, because Boisclair recognizes that a record of past discrimination is most likely the best predictor of future discrimination, and it is his intention to build a society free of discrimination against identifiable groups, something which is anathema to the Quebec ethos.

Fifthly, the new Quebecer will be a democrat, a person who firmly believes that democracy is the only form of governance for the type of dynamic, family-oriented, humane, pluralistic, non-discriminatory society that the Parti Québécois government wants to build for the future children of today's citizenry and those of a new class of independent immigrants who will adapt to life among us.

Most important of all, however, is the fact that the new Quebecer will be French speaking, francizable (francisable), capable of becoming a francophone (francophonisable) or franco-tropic (francotrope, a new term coined by Boisclair, referring to a person who moves instinctively toward a source of attraction, the source of attraction being, of course, a French-speaking society which functions in the North American context).

This is a sine qua non of the new immigration policy, because in order to build this French-speaking society in North America, independent immigrants who succeed will meld into French-speaking family life, set up businesses and professional practices where French will be the common language of work, maintain cultural identities in private while participating in the French language culture of Quebec society in general, and foster a nondiscriminatory work environment whereby anyone with a working knowledge of French could not be the object of racist or xenophobic practices.

The managers of Quebec's selection process will fan out from offices in New York, Mexico, Hong Kong, Damascus and Vienna to sweep up the masses of French speakers and those who are francizable, capable of becoming francophones or francotropes, clambering to throw their lot in with the Quebecers of old stock whose reproductive verve has all but waned.

Feeling in an expansionist mood, Boisclair even announced in September the imminent opening of a Quebec office in Sao Paulo; yet, the French-Canadian diaspora continues to be seen as a lost cause.

As with all marketing plans, one should of course ask what would happen if Quebec were to actually carry off the mission and welcome some 4,200 new independent immigrants over the next three years. This would be in addition to refugees, family members coming to Canada through family reunification and others. How will we integrate this new flow of highly educated immigrants and satisfy the ambitions that they will surely have?

There will be opportunities and pressures. Many of these will be felt by educational institutions. Given the high priority accorded to francization at a relatively sophisticated level, one wonders if Quebec is really ready to cope with cresting immigration patterns in 1998 and 1999.

Since the francization of professional and economic immigrants will be a priority, the government will have to foster the development of initiatives such as the one taken by McGill in 1996-97 to offer a graduate-level program in French for business and the professions.

The integration of immigrants into professional orders will become an even hotter issue than it is today; institutions of higher learning will have to develop bridging programs in close cooperation with Quebec's professional regulatory board, the professional orders themselves and the Ministry of Higher Education.

This has not to date been an area of success boasting high satisfaction levels among present-day immigrants. If Quebec heightens expectations, it will also have to enhance performance on the part of all these institutions. In addition, the Office de la langue française will have to be brought on board to cooperate with educational institutions to recognize, adapt and develop instruments more adequate than today's for identifying those immigrants who will be able to adapt to a French-speaking workplace.

This is why we at McGill, Laval and Université du Québec à Chicoutimi have already started to cooperate with the Chambre de Commerce du Québec, the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris and the Centre international d'études pédagogiques (Sèvres) in order to devise instruments which will be of real use in these new circumstances.

Boisclair's policy is framed in a form of political discourse which is far removed from reality; yet, unless there is a radical sea change in Quebec City, the direction is set whether the captain is a Liberal or a PQ adherent. Further, Boisclair recognizes that the means which Quebec has at its disposal are anemic, and he probably will not be able to deliver despite the rhetoric.

This surreal, paleonationalist policy will lead to a real political dilemma, which Pierre-Étienne Laporte, the Quebec Liberal Party's language and culture critic, has characterized as the "Quebec dilemma" and a paradox of political life. As such, it affects each of us. So in the end, the "Quebec dilemma" will be yours and mine.

James Archibald is director of the Department of Language and Translation in McGill's Centre for Continuing Education.