In recent years, Quebecers have taken to viewing immigrants as the solution to a surprising number of their problems. Low birth rate ? Bring in more immigrants. Depopulation in the hinterlands ? Send more immigrants out there. Shortage of skilled workers ? Pick and choose among the world’s migrants.
But immigrants have not proven to be the answer to the province’s perennial problems - through no fault of the immigrants.
Given the high unemployment rate among educated French-speaking newcomers, it is not clear that Quebecers are really very enthusiastic about immigrants. Before the Charest government goes ahead with a planned $24-million project to help newcomers learn French, it should pay attention to a new study by Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies.
The findings indicate some rather disturbing trends to light : Across Quebec, among allophones who speak French but not English, the unemployment rate was nearly 10 times as high as among native Quebecers who speak only French, 23 per cent compared to 2.6 per cent. Among French-speaking allophones who live outside the Montreal area, the jobless rate hit 30 per cent.
However, the jobless rate was much lower for allophones who speak both French and English. In Sherbrooke, among residents who know French and English, the unemployment rate was three per cent for francophones, 6.1 per cent for anglophones and 14 per cent for allophones.
The tenaciously-held theory of the Parti Québécois, that all it will take for immigrants to fit seamlessly into Quebec society is knowledge of French, doesn’t hold up, especially given the qualifications and age of the immigrants in question. The group Jedwab studied is university-educated and between the ages of 35 and 44, people in the prime of their lives - people Quebec should know how to put to good use after accepting them.
Yet allophones fared badly in the regions and worse if they didn’t know English. That means that factors other than knowledge of French are at play here. It’s time Quebec gave up on the idea that language is the only impediment of any consequence to allophones’ integration into the Quebec workforce and society. So it is encouraging that language minister Christine St. Pierre is already responding to Jedwab’s findings.
Integration takes place mainly through work. If no one is hiring educated, French-speaking allophones, there’s no point wondering why they aren’t fitting in. They can’t. That $24 million would be better spent telling Quebecers the truth : We have to hire our newcomers, or lose them.