Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault says incumbent Immigration Minister Jean Boulet is no longer qualified to hold that job after Boulet said the majority of immigrants to the province "don't work."

Legault on Wednesday was forced to confront the statement Boulet made during a Sept. 21 election debate. The premier held a series of media interviews during which he said Boulet would no longer be immigration minister if the CAQ wins the Oct. 3 election.

Earlier in the day, Legault distanced himself from Boulet's comments and told reporters his minister made a "serious error."

"I regret that and I think Mr. Boulet regrets that," Legault said. "It's unacceptable … it's not true what he said and he understands that it's not true."

During the debate last week in his riding of Trois-Rivieres, located between Montreal and Quebec City, Boulet said, "80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, don't work, don't speak French, or don't adhere to the values of Quebec society."

Boulet apologized on Twitter Wednesday for his comments, a recording of which circulated widely on social media. "The excerpt broadcast does not reflect what I think." Immigrants, he said, "are a source of wealth for Quebec."

Meanwhile, Legault on Wednesday was also forced to defend comments he made earlier in the day during an exchange on labour shortages with the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.

The premier said it would be "suicidal" for the Quebec nation if more than 50,000 immigrants settled in Quebec every year, because it would be impossible to properly integrate newcomers and teach them French.

Legault told reporters later that the term "suicidal" used in that context is a French-language expression meant to describe something that is detrimental. "I think the vast majority of people, they understand that we have to have a balance between economy and protecting French and that's what I explained," Legault said.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade set aside her plans to discuss labour shortages on Wednesday and instead used her news conference to condemn the "dangerous" and "divisive" comments made by Legault and his immigration minister.

"At some point, it's enough, the apologies," Anglade said. "It's not just about apologizing each time, but to reflect about the words you use in the context of an election campaign."

Legault's comments on immigration have caused a stir throughout the campaign.

Legault clumsily tied immigration to "violence" and "extremism" -- comments he walked back -- and days later he told a campaign crowd that non-French-speaking immigration is a threat to "national cohesion" in the province. And during the first leaders debate, he warned that if Quebec doesn't gain more powers over immigration, it could end up like Sweden, which is struggling with a crime wave linked to immigration.

Anglade said, "When you have used all these words, they are no longer errors, they are deliberate choices that he makes. He deliberately chooses … division, because it serves him politically."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.