Canada’s new immigration minister has only been in the office for a few weeks and he’s already entered into his first clash with Quebec.
For five years, he tried to improve relations between the federal government and indigenous communities. Now, after last month’s cabinet shuffle, Montreal MP Marc Miller has been handed another challenging job as Canada’s new immigration minister.
At his first press conference in that function, he took aim at Quebec’s policy on family reunification.
“Quebec controls a good chunk of its immigration policy, particularly on the family reunification envelope, which is capped at about 10,000 right now,” Miller said. “There’s a backlog of of 30,000 families that want to come here and support their kids, and…Quebec says we need to cut it off.”
Under Premier François Legault, Quebec has been working to gain more and more control over immigration from the federal government. The province does have a say on things like economic immigration and family reunification.
“The cap of 10,000 is not a lot of people,” said immigration lawyer Patrice Brunet. “It’s very alarming because here we’re not in the context of economic immigration, we’re in the context of families waiting to be reunited.“
Brunet says because of Quebec’s family reunification limit, some files are taking two years to be processed, which is nearly double the delay in the rest of Canada.
“Two years to be reunited with your family is absolutely too long. It’s inhumane,” he said, adding he fears delays will only get longer as the backlog grows.
Miller says family reunification is a topic he wants to address with the Legault government.
“We need to have mature conversations with provinces and territories about how we welcome newcomers, and that’s one that I plan to have,” he said.
Political scientist Daniel Béland points out Quebec has been trying to get even more control from the federal over family reunification.
“There is a clear disagreement between Ottawa and Quebec City,” he said. “I don’t expect Ottawa to cave on that really, in terms of powers to Quebec over immigration, but I think some fine tuning is certainly possible.”
In its quest to protect the French language, the Legault government recently announced plans to accept only economic immigrants who can speak French.
Miller says he’s willing to work with Quebec on preserving French.
“I think we have a role as the federal government and I would say primarily that is to make sure we are supporting the diaspora of French-speaking communities outside Quebec, to make sure that they are thriving,” he explained. “French is one of the largest languages in the world, but it is threatened in North America and we have to be vigilant.”
In a statement Quebec’s immigration ministry said it has requested a first meeting with Miller and hopes it takes place quickly so that priority issues can be discussed.