QUEBEC — Early Sunday morning, the Coalition Avenir Quebec government forced through one of two contentious bills it promised to pass into law this weekend, in a 62 to 42 vote on legislation that reforms the province’s immigration system.
About five hours later, members were back in the legislature at 9 a.m. for debate on the second bill, which seeks to prohibit many public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.
The government is applying the legislative mechanism of closure, allowing it to end debate and use its majority to force a vote.
Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette’s Bill 9 gives the province more authority over who receives permanent residency in the province. The government says the new selection criteria will permit it to fast-track newcomers who better meet the needs of employers. Applicants in the old system were selected on a first-come, first-served basis.
The bill is controversial because it creates a legal framework that allows the government to force newly arrived immigrants to pass a French-language and so-called values test before becoming eligible for permanent residency.
While specific wording on the two proposed tests isn’t included in the bill, the legislation permits the province to institute the tests by way of regulation.
Also contentious is the provision in Bill 9 permitting the government to cancel roughly 18,000 immigration applications — some from people who have waited in limbo for years as their files languished under the old system. Those applicants will have to start the process over again.
Including the applicants’ families, the fates of some 50,000 people wishing to emigrate to Quebec were at stake.
‘No credible explanation’ to cancel applications
Opponents to the bill, including the provincial Liberals, said the Coalition Avenir Quebec government has provided “no credible explanation” to eliminate the applications.
The federation of Quebec’s chambers of commerce saluted the bill’s passing early Sunday.
“The concerted efforts of the government will lead to a better link between the skills of immigrants and those required for positions to fill in Quebec companies,” the federation’s president, Stephane Forget, said in a statement.
“These changes will have a very important impact to facilitate the recruitment of future employees ... and therefore, better integration of immigrants. ”
Before breaking for the summer, the legislature is slated to continue sitting Sunday to debate and adopt Bill 21. The legislation bans public servants including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards from wearing religious symbols on the job.
The legislation has been criticized by human rights groups, academics and organizations representing minorities, who say the legislation targets the most vulnerable in society and violates their fundamental freedoms.
The government says the bill is the natural extension of the Quebecois nation’s drive since the 1960′s to separate church and state.
Also on HuffPost: