A project of the Center for Community Change

Quebec- US must embrace immigrants

Macrocosm – Microcosm

What happens on a small scale often replicates what happens on a major scale.

America – Quebec

We may not often put these two locations on the same continuum but a recent story in the NY Times highlights the similarities and connections between these two places. Quebec used to have one of the highest birthrates in Canada. But as Quebec’s birthrate has plummeted in only one generation, the region can no longer survive on it’s native born population and its industries, society, and politics must embrace immigrants who are increasingly supporting the infrastructure of the community.

Recent reports in the US have reported exactly the same phenomenon in both major urban areas where, without immigrant communities, population growth would have been negative over the last decade, AND in rural communities where immigrants open thriving small businesses and can often increase the wages of workers and tax income of counties.

Immigrants throughout the West are supporting the economies and cultures of numerous states and countries in a trend that cannot be denied by Numbers USA or any other anti-immigrant association.

Read more baout Quebec’s demographic shifts:

VERDUN, Quebec — As cultural coordinator for a resource center for new Quebecers, Gabriel Garcia is leading an effort to bridge the gap between the growing number of immigrants here and the mostly French-speaking society into which they have moved.

But one issue is proving to be a bridge too far for the province’s first-generation immigrant population: the long struggle for independence. “I realize it is important for many,” said Mr. Garcia, who mainly works with people from Central and South America, voicing a sentiment shared by almost all the recent immigrants. “But for me, sovereignty is not my primary passion.”

The number of immigrants entering Quebec each year has nearly doubled since the last referendum on independence in 1995 failed by a razor-thin margin, and immigrants now represent more than 10 percent of the electorate.

That rapidly expanding demographic consists of people who have no historical stake in the traditional French-English divide. The evolving society is one of many challenges facing the political vehicle of the separatist movement, the Parti Québécois, after the resignation on May 8 of the party’s leader, André Boisclair.

Mr. Boisclair, 41, became increasingly unpopular during his 18 months at the party’s helm, especially after elections in March when the Parti Québécois finished in third place, its worst showing in more than 30 years.

Although French-speaking Quebecers continue to form a clear majority of the population, the growing number of immigrants, along with a greatly reduced birthrate, point to a shift that is forcing political parties, separatist and federalist, to rethink their political foundations.

“Immigrants who come from outside during their adult life choose Canada,” said Pierre Martin, a political scientist at the University of Montreal. “They’ve immigrated to Canada, and those who choose sovereignty are a relatively limited number.”

One such immigrant is Aymar Missakila. He came to Quebec from the Congo Republic in 1994, just as tensions were building in the period before a referendum on independence the next year.

Having come from a politically unstable country, Mr. Missakila said that at the time he did not understand why a province whose economy and social programs seemed strong would want to separate from the rest of Canada.

“I understand fighting for a bigger role for Quebec, but I don’t believe sovereignty is the issue,” said Mr. Missakila, 35, who works at a race-relations organization in Montreal. “Many immigrants think a sovereign Quebec would not be good for the economy, the health care system and immigrant issues.”

But economists say Quebec has little choice but to embrace the immigrants because of a plummeting native birthrate that would otherwise reduce economic growth. Even with a birthrate well below the rate of replacement, Quebec’s population grew 4.3 percent from 2001 to 2006, to 7.5 million.

“Quebec has gone from having the highest birthrate in the country to one of the lowest in one generation, so any growth in the work force is going to come from new Quebecers,” said Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a nonprofit group in Ottawa. “How far is Quebec willing to go to accommodate those new to Quebec?”

Some contend that replacing Mr. Boisclair will allow the Parti Québécois to revive itself. But changing demographics and more accepting attitudes toward the rest of Canada suggest that the Parti Québécois will have a difficult time swaying a majority of voters in favor of independence.

“We may be finding that the P.Q. was the party of a generation,” said Jocelyn Létourneau, a professor at Laval University in Quebec and the author of “What Do the Québécois Really Want?”

“Those who grew up in the 1960s,” she said, “they had this project, independence, which they now have a hard time selling to the majority of Quebecers.”

Instead, an upstart party, the Action Démocratique du Québec, emerged in the March election, making an ambiguous promise of greater autonomy for Quebec within Canada. That pledge, paired with a mostly right-wing platform, pushed the party into second place, close behind the provincial governing party, the federalist Liberal Party.

The reshaped political landscape poses an interesting situation for the conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper. A weakened independence movement and a possible ally in the Action Démocratique du Québec mean that, for the first time, federalist politicians in Ottawa have a potential alliance of parties in Quebec to counter the Parti Québécois.

“We have a federalist government in Quebec City, and we have an official opposition that doesn’t want a referendum,” Mr. Harper told reporters. “So obviously we will look forward to working with the government of Quebec.”

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