18,000 immigration applicants denied as CAQ invokes closure on Bill 9
The CAQ government is invoking closure to pass sweeping changes to immigration law in Quebec, using its majority to rush the adoption of legislation in a marathon session.
Opposition parties have called the measure extreme and anti-democratic, while the Premier insists he did the right thing.
"What I want Quebecers to understand is that I'm exactly doing what they wanted," said Francois Legault on Saturday.
Bill 9 scraps immigration applications from 18,000 skilled workers and refunds their fees, forcing them to start over in a new process.
The official opposition said the move is extremely damaging to Quebec's reputation.
"We are trying to attract the best talent in the world. We are a welcoming society and with this we are sending a very wrong message, and they're underestimating the impact long-term," said Liberal MNA Dominique Anglade.
Forcing it through in a rush before MNAs take a summer vacation is even worse, according to her.
"There's no necessity for us to be here on Bill 9, and it's deplorable," she said.
That sentiment was echoed by every opposition party in the house, with Quebec Solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois saying it "is unjustified, it is useless, it's a show of force."
The CAQ has repeatedly blamed the Liberal party for stalling on the bill by excessively questioning its measures, but that had other parties coming to the Liberal's defence.
Nadeau-Dubois showed reporters charts of previous debates that went on much longer before invoking closure.
"We are not here to write birthday cards. We are here to write laws that will change people's lives. So it's normal to take some time," said Nadeau-Dubois.
The Parti Quebecois's Meganne Perry Melancon said that Simon Jolin-Barrette, the Immigration Minister, was at fault for failing to answer basic questions about the bill.
"I've heard the minister saying that the Liberals are killing time just for fun, but we don't have any response, any clarifications," said Perry Melancon.
The final debate on Bill 9 began at 3 p.m. Saturday, following hours of procedural argument about how the closure was being enforced.
New selection criteria
Legault said the new legislation will revamp Quebec's immigration process and make sure that newcomers are able to adapt to Quebec society.
"We change the criteria and put in place a new Arrima system that is making sure that the immigrants we choose are the ones we need in companies of the different regions in Quebec," said Legault.
"Everything that needs to be said has been said."
The CAQ has been using that argument on many bills, including Bill 21, which will also be rammed through the house this weekend.
The previous immigration process dealt with newcomers on a first-come, first-served system.
Under the new "Arrima" system, people will skillsets in demand in rural Quebec will be processed first, with the government hoping more immigrants will move to rural Quebec, instead of concentrating in Montreal.
Legault also wants to see the application process time drop from an average of three years to six months.
Supporters of immigrants said the main reason newcomers stay in the metropolis is that they face systemic discrimination elsewhere -- something that the Legault government refuses to believe exists.
The CAQ hopes that by adopting a jobs-first immigration process, the unemployment rate for immigrants, which is typically higher than for native-born Quebecers, will decrease.
The government had also faced questions about French-language tests, values tests, and other processes that it wanted to conduct after immigrants had earned their citizenship.
Jolin-Barrette later said those discussions will have to happen in the future as part of a negotiation with the federal government.
Maya Johnson contributed to this report