Once again, the immigration debate has reared its head in Quebec. In many regards, that is a good thing. As evidenced by the ghettoizing of ethnic minorities and ensuing racial tensions throughout much of Europe, there are hazards in mouthing platitudes about the benefits of immigration without pausing to consider how well it is working. A wave of recent North American studies, including one by famed U.S. political scientist Robert Putnam, suggests that rather than integrating, many immigrants on this continent are retreating into isolated communities. Other research has suggested that whereas immigrants once quickly attained the economic status of other Canadians, today they are taking much longer to do so.
In Quebec, where a distinct culture and a nationalist bent make it susceptible to the tensions that have plagued Europe, it is responsible to ask the tough questions. Are we doing enough to integrate immigrants? Are we choosing the right people to come into the country? And just what level of immigration is the right one? But there are right ways and wrong ways to go about answering those questions - and both of them are currently on display.
The right way is the one chosen by Jean Charest's Liberal government, which appointed a commission co-chaired by sociologist Gerard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor. After five months of research and preparations, they are setting out to conduct hearings and town hall meetings aimed at gauging Quebeckers' opinions on the "reasonable accommodation" debate.
The wrong way, to put it mildly, is the one favoured by Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont. Following up on a theme he exploited during this year's election campaign, Mr. Dumont is attempting to build support among nationalists by railing against immigrants. In an interview published in La Presse last weekend, he suggested it is time for Quebec to close the door on immigration because "your number of immigrants should not exceed your capacity to welcome them and integrate them."
Mr. Dumont is playing to the Hérouxville crowd - the sorts of people whose irrational fears of immigrants lead them to impose insulting rules against them. In so doing, all he will achieve is to exacerbate the tensions he claims to be concerned about. Thankfully, the province has a premier who is interested in doing more than pandering to Quebeckers' worst instincts.