QUEBEC CITY -- Premier François Legault says Quebec is saying no to the Century Initiative, a plan by an influential lobby group to increase Canada's population to 100 million by 2100.

Legault said Tuesday that he was opposed to the plan, which seems to have the ear of the federal government. A motion was also unanimously adopted in this sense.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government took advantage of this issue to take a firm stance on immigration on a day when the Opposition accused it of a "big Caquist lie" and of cheating on immigration numbers and thresholds.

"It is in Quebec that we decide the number of immigrants in Quebec, and to be very clear, there is no question of following the approach [of the Century Initiative] regarding the growth of immigration," the premier said in Question Period.

He was responding to a question from Parti Québécois (PQ) leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, who believes Quebec must become independent to avoid being erased from Canada.

"Either we choose to raise our immigration thresholds to between 120,000 and 150,000 per year to try to maintain Quebec's proportion [of immigration to Canada], which means the decline of the French language and an acute housing crisis ... or we choose thresholds based on our capacity to receive, which means a significant drop in Quebec's political weight in Canada, possibly below 15 per cent,'' the PQ leader said.

In a press scrum, Legault suggested that he was concerned about the Century Initiative because of the threat it poses to the French reality and Quebec's demographic weight in the federation.

In addition, it would pose "enormous challenges" in the rest of the country regarding housing, health and education services.

A PQ motion was passed unanimously in the National Assembly to say no to the Century Initiative, to ask the Quebec government to express its opposition, and to call for a real democratic debate on the issue.

Legault said his government would soon make an announcement on annual immigration thresholds. The threshold for permanent immigration is currently set at 50,000 per year.

But temporary immigration is a different matter, which the opposition parties are denouncing.

As of Jan. 1, Quebec has already welcomed 346,000 non-permanent residents, according to Statistics Canada data. The Liberal official opposition even spoke of the "great Caquist lie" on Tuesday regarding the Legault government's commitments on immigration.

The government will also begin consultations in the coming weeks on the 2024-2027 multi-year immigration plan.

The premier has indicated that his government will require knowledge of French for the economic immigration category.

The CAQ has previously called for an immigration summit and a sectoral referendum to repatriate all immigration powers, but this is no longer on the agenda.

A proposal submitted to the CAQ's general council next weekend calls for the repatriation of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program managed by Ottawa.

Legault said Tuesday that he wants to "still have all the powers in Ottawa," but that "we have to act gradually."

Also on immigration, the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) will revise its target of 70,000 permanent immigrants per year that it had defended during the election campaign but refused to say whether it would be up or down.

Liberal interim leader Marc Tanguay suggested Tuesday in a scrum in the legislature that the target no longer holds.

"It's clear that the numbers [on the permanent immigration threshold] need to be revised in light of the new reality," said Tanguay. "Is it 70,000? Is it more? Is it less?"

His colleague, MNA Monsef Derraji, first opened the door to having this discussion with party members.

"Yes, with our members, we will have this discussion," he suggested, assuring that during the election campaign, his party did not know that temporary immigration represented such a large pool.

Therefore, the debate on the annual threshold of permanent immigration is "no longer relevant," in his eyes.

"It is "a big Caquist lie" to fixate on a threshold of permanent immigration to 50,000, as advocated by the Legault government, without taking into account the temporary immigration that explodes well beyond the capacity of reception of Quebec," said Derraji.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 9, 2023.