Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems "insensitive" to Quebec's specific immigration needs and its special position within Canada to ensure the future of French, according to Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette.

Fréchette was quick to respond Tuesday to Trudeau's comments in an interview with The Canadian Press. He said Quebec should look at the possibility of taking in up to 112,000 immigrants a year, mostly French speakers. He said this would allow Quebec to maintain its political weight within Canada. This is, in his view, "a reflection" that the Quebec government "can and should undertake."

The Legault government though, visibly annoyed by the Canadian prime minister's remarks, does not share this vision at all.

"It is up to Quebec, and Quebec alone, to determine its immigration thresholds," Fréchette said in a written statement to The Canadian Press commenting on Trudeau's remarks in this area. She was not available for an interview Tuesday.

"Quebec has a twofold challenge, which is unique in Canada: to reduce the labour shortage, while curbing the decline of the French language, which Mr. Trudeau seems to remain insensitive to," according to the minister. She recalled that for some 30 years, Quebec and Ottawa have agreed on an arrangement that grants certain powers to the Quebec government in immigration matters.

The Legault government does not intend to increase its target for 2023, which is to receive a maximum of 50,000 permanent immigrants, less than half of the 112,000 mentioned during the interview with Trudeau.

Instead of interfering in the debate on immigration thresholds in Quebec, Trudeau should instead "solve concrete problems, such as tackling the still-too-high refusal rate of French-speaking African students and compensating Quebec for the massive arrivals through Roxham Road," she said.

Quebec now wants to welcome 100 per cent French-speaking immigration by 2026, Premier François Legault recently said. Currently, the proportion is around 60 per cent. The immigration minister later qualified her remarks by talking about francophone or ‘francotropic’ immigration, meaning people whose language is compatible with the French language.

The subject of the future of French in Quebec will be on the agenda of the meeting between Legault and Trudeau on Friday in Montreal.

In the opposition ranks in Quebec City, Trudeau's statement did not go unnoticed either.

The official opposition Liberal immigration critic, Filomena Rotiroti, also reaffirmed that "it is up to Quebec to determine its immigration thresholds.

But the Liberals also believe that the Legault government should increase its immigration thresholds, "to slow the decline in our weight in Canada and to help alleviate the effects of the labour shortage.”

They believe that Quebec could easily receive up to 70,000 immigrants per year.

Québec Solidaire immigration spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla also noted that "it is up to Quebecers to decide how many immigrants they want to receive, which we could do in an independent Quebec by setting targets according to our needs and by ensuring that we favour permanent immigration. Instead, Quebec is losing control of its immigration with the increasing arrival of temporary workers, since the federal government admits them. Ottawa must consider the particular reality of Quebec and let us select the temporary workers for Quebec ourselves," he said. Québec Solidaire said it is ready to accept 60,000 to 80,000 immigrants per year.

Far from advocating an increase in the thresholds, the Parti Québécois (PQ) believes that they should be reduced to ensure the survival of French in Quebec. The PQ believes that Quebec should not let in more than 35,000 new immigrants per year.

The party's leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, reacted to Trudeau's comments on social networks to say that "the Canadian government is turning a deaf ear to Quebec's linguistic and demographic situation and is still trying to impose its Trudeauist vision of immigration.”

He asked Legault to assert himself, questioning whether the Quebec government would hold "its referendum on the repatriation of full powers in immigration.”

Under the agreement with Ottawa, Quebec can select immigrants in the economic class, which is about 65 per cent of its total immigration. The federal government manages family reunification cases, refugees and temporary workers. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 13, 2022.