It was a strange and troubling weekend for those who worry about growing anti-immigrant sentiment in la belle province.
A major demonstration by the extreme-right groups La Meute and Storm Alliance took place in Quebec City on Saturday. Then, Coalition Avenir Québec leader Francois Legault declared, at his party’s congress on Sunday, that a cap should be imposed on immigration to Quebec and focus placed on encouraging a local baby boom tosolve the province’s labour shortages.
The CAQ, of course, claimed it is not “against immigration” per se. Reading between the lines, however, one can see populism rearing its ugly head as politicians look to see which way the wind is blowing ahead of next year’s elections. “The CAQ is the only political party to offer both economic growth and the preservation of our identity,” asserted party president Stéphane Le Bouyonnec. My response, as a proud Quebecer and a child of immigration, is to ask Le Bouyonnec whose identity, exactly, he thinks he’s preserving.
Tensions flared between the far-right groups and their opponents during the Quebec City demonstrations on Saturday. By the end of the day 44 people had been arrested, the majority of them anti-fascists who had failed to disperse when asked by police. André Turcotte, spokesperson for Quebec City police told the CBC, “We had a very good collaboration with La Meute. They told us their intentions, their itinerary, where they were headed.”
Forgive me for not caring that groups that spout racism and proudly carry banners stating “Le Québec aux Québécois (Quebec for Quebecers)” are apparently law-abiding, cooperative and polite to police. This attempt to normalize racism and anti-immigrant sentiment and render it harmless as just another valid point of view to be debated and analyzed should be deeply disturbing to everyone who has seen what’s happening south of the border and in parts of Europe.
There is also a tendency to complacently equate far-right and far-left violence as two sides of the same coin. In fact, the former represent racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and anti-immigrant views, and the latter represents groups opposed to bigotry and hatred. While violence on either side is to be strongly denounced, describing the two as equally threatening is intellectually dishonest, misleading, and downright dangerous.
Storm Alliance is a group that broke off from the Soldiers of Odin, an openly neo-Nazi group. La Meute and Pegida are openly anti-immigration and anti-Islam. What level of acceptance and “meet them halfway” discussions should we honesty be having here?
While anti-immigrant demonstrations were going on in Quebec City, Legault was busy explaining to Quebecers how they could solve the problem of the province’s overreliance on immigration for its economic prosperity by simply enacting pro-natality legislation to produce allegedly desperately-needed babies. Not only is this eerily reminiscent of the church’s “revenge of the cradle” policy in the past, encouraging French Quebecers to have as many children as possible to increase their numbers and political influence (placing an unfair burden on women in the process), it’s also highly impractical in its implementation.
According to Quebec journalist Michel C. Auger, there are currently between 78,000 to 147,000 jobs that need to be filled in Quebec.
Legault’s plan to encourage French Quebecers to have more children is not only backwards and nationalistic, it’s also quite laughable in its application. A serious and undeniable deficit of workers in the province, due to the double whammy of low birth rates and a rapidly aging population, cannot be rectified by a plan that would only bear fruit (i.e. adult workers) two decades from now.
Lost in all the angst about national identity and language preservation (issues that are not insignificant in and of themselves, yet always manage to bring out the absolute worst protectionist instincts in some) is the obvious solution of increasing immigration. But critics who deem immigration the problem are ultimately unable to see it as the solution.
In reaction to Legault’s comments, Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard stated “All politicians who propose reducing immigration are hurting Quebec’s economic interests.”
This anti-immigrant talk, however, goes beyond any damage inflicted to Quebec’s future economic prosperity. It also legitimizes and emboldens the narrative of those who want Quebecers to fear immigration as something that will weaken and ultimately destroy the very fabric of Québécois identity, culture, and language. Given these fears that many prey on for easy votes, it’s no surprise that far-right groups who warn of multiculturalism as “collective suicide” and consider any religious accommodations (even the most mundane ones) as capitulation and kowtowing to regressive forces have found fertile ground here.
This isn’t unique to Quebec. Anti-immigrant sentiment is frighteningly high across Canada. Inadequate or inaccurate information concerning the treatment of immigrants and refugees in Canada, financial fears, and the rise of hate speech across the border have all contributed to many Canadians’ desire to close the doors to “outsiders”, even if the overwhelming majority are children of immigration themselves.
Quebec, with its complicated relationship with the rest of Canada and its deep-seated and not-always-unfounded fears of cultural and linguistic assimilation, is ripe for anti-immigrant propaganda and a resurgence of hate speech masked as concern for survival.
Large-scale gatherings like the one that took place in Quebec City this past weekend, coupled with politicians extolling the benefits of baby-making as a tool to counteract immigration, should be a concern for all of us. This isn’t the time to be complacent. This is the time to take sides.