QUEBEC - The Quebec government, in the midst of a heated debate about minority accommodation, says it will lower its immigration targets so it can better integrate newcomers and ensure they are able to function in French.
Immigration Minister Diane De Courcy announced the reductions as she made public the government's immigration plan for the coming year.
The previous Liberal government had already started to trim levels before the debate over the values charter, a still-unadopted plan to ban civil service employees from wearing obvious religious symbols such as the hijab.
About 55,000 immigrants came to Quebec in 2012, which the government of Premier Pauline Marois now believes is too many.
The target for 2014 has been set between 49,000 and 52,500 and will be reduced the following year to between 48,500 and 51,500 people.
The province struck a deal with the federal government decades ago to gain some control over its immigration programs.
More recently, the Charest Liberal government had planned to stabilize immigration levels around 50,000 new arrivals per year, a target that was regularly exceeded. It did close some valves leading to a decline in immgrants from Africa.
Now Quebec's fiscal and demographic pressures raise the question of whether the province might actually be taking in too few immigrants — not too many.
In recent years Quebec has actually been taking in a slightly higher share of immigrants to Canada — at 21.3 per cent last year, from a low of less than 13 per cent in the two years leading up to the 1995 referendum.
But that has not stopped the province's demographic clout from dropping within Canada.
The province has gone from having 29 per cent of the national population in 1951 to 24 per cent in 2011, as Quebec lagged behind some other provinces in population growth.
Quebec has also announced that it will spend an additional $13.5 million per year during the next three years to teach immigrants French.
De Courcy said the government wants to modernize the provincial Immigration Act, particularly to address the selection of applicants with the best chance of finding jobs.
A public consultation is planned to help revise guidelines and set desirable immigration levels for the future.