By Moira Warburton
(Reuters) – Quebec will require immigrants seeking permanent residency in the Canadian province to pass a “values” test to ensure they understand its new secularism law, the provincial government said on Wednesday.
The test is being implemented by Premier François Legault’s Coalition d’avenir Quebec (CAQ) government. CAQ, a nationalist center-right party, won a majority government in 2018’s provincial election, soundly defeating the province’s two establishment parties.
CAQ ran on a platform including cutting immigration to the predominantly French-speaking province. Quebec is allowed some leeway by the federal government to set its own immigration levels, to protect its distinct identity within the country.
Legault’s government has come under fire internationally for implementing a ban on public employees in positions of authority wearing religious symbols such as Muslim hijabs and Jewish kippahs to work.
It is that law the test is intended to make sure that potential immigrants understand, Legault told reporters on Wednesday.
“I think it’s important in Quebec because we are a nation, we are a distinct society, we have our values, we have our charter,” he said.
The ban is being challenged in court by civil rights groups, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the recent federal election campaign he would consider a federal challenge to it.
Legault described the test as similar to one that exists at the federal level, where individuals applying for Canadian citizenship must pass a test on Canada’s history and laws, among other topics.
An individual must score at least 75% to pass the test that covers “democratic values and the Québec values expressed by (Quebec’s) Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms,” the government’s official publication said.
The test would only apply to economic immigrants and their families, not refugees.
Legault’s government also raised the immigration target in 2020 to between 43,000 and 44,500, from 40,000 in 2019. Quebec is Canada’s largest province by area and the second biggest by population, behind Ontario.
The Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ), the major business lobby in the province, said in August the province would need about 60,000 immigrants annually to meet current labour shortages.
The lobby said it was disappointed in the immigration measures announced.
“We were clear and loquacious about the needs of businesses in the face of labour shortages,” Stéphane Forget, president and chief executive of the FCCQ, said in a news release in French on Wednesday, adding that one of the solutions to the labour shortage was an increase in immigration levels.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Peter Cooney)