Douglas Todd: Quebec gets four times as much as B.C. to settle immigrants; Vancouver Sun

Douglas Todd: Quebec gets four times as much as B.C. to settle immigrants

OPINION: It’s an amazing sweetheart deal for Quebec, unfair to B.C. and Ontario. But few Canadians realize it, since the subject is virtually taboo among politicians.

Published: June 12, 2019 | Author: Douglas Todd; Vancouver Sun
It’s one of the most lopsided distributions of federal money in memory.

Quebec gets roughly four times as many taxpayer dollars from Ottawa to settle each of its immigrants as B.C., Ontario and several other provinces get.

What’s worse, the one-sided gap is growing bigger each year.

That’s because of a deal called the Canada-Quebec immigration accord, which prime minister Brian Mulroney signed in 1991 to give unique immigration powers to francophone provinces, mainly to appease a surging sovereigntist movement.

As a result, Quebec this year is receiving more than $11,600 for each immigrant and refugee it takes in, with the money meant to provide settlements services such as language and job training.

B.C. receives only about $2,400 for each new immigrant or refugee. Saskatchewan gets about $2,500, Ontario receives about $2,600 and Alberta gets about $3,300.

The disparity between Quebec and the other provinces is soon going to grow even more egregious.

That’s in part because the new premier of Quebec, Francois Legault, elected last year, is carrying through on his promise to cut immigration levels to his province by 10,000 newcomers annually. That means Quebec’s immigrant intake will drop to roughly the same as that of B.C. — about 40,000 a year.

Despite Quebec chopping its immigration levels by 20 per cent, the province will continue to get more money based on the generous financial mechanisms built into the Canada-Quebec accord.

It includes an escalator clause, which dictates that Canada is obliged in most years to give more money to Quebec to settle its new permanent residents, but never less than in a previous year.

What it adds up to is that Quebec will get $559 million for 2019-20, while B.C. will get a paltry $100 million — while needing to provide services to virtually the same number of new immigrants and refugees as Quebec.

Ontario, which accepts about 130,000 immigrants a year (by far the largest of any province), will get $340 million. Alberta, which usually takes about the same number as B.C., will receive $129 million.

It is an amazing sweetheart deal for Quebec. And few Canadians realize it, since the subject is virtually taboo among politicians.

“If Quebec takes in one immigrant or 50,000 immigrants, it still gets the same amount of money under the Canada-Quebec accord,” says Stephan Reichholt, who heads the umbrella organization that oversees 150 different settlement agencies in Quebec.

As one of Quebec’s foremost specialists on immigrants and refugees, Reichholt says the vast majority of Canadians have no idea the unbalanced funding is occurring — mainly because the federal government doesn’t want a fight with Quebec and its voters, and because it’s too embarrassed to draw attention to the huge gaps.

“It drives the feds crazy. But they can’t do anything about it. Most Canadians don’t understand the mechanism (of the accord). They don’t know what’s going on in Quebec,” said Reichhold, director general of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.

“Meanwhile, the federal government is ashamed. It’s basically a taboo subject.”

To put it mildly, Quebec has little incentive to call attention to its golden financial immigration goose.

“I’m happy Quebec gets all the money. Eighty per cent of it normally goes into general revenue,” said Reichholt, adding an undetermined portion, which may be about to increase, is distributed to settlement agencies.

The imbalanced payments go back more than 25 years, to when Mulroney was trying to get Quebec premier Robert Bourassa to sign the Meech Lake accord, which was intended to persuade Quebec and other provinces to adopt  constitutional changes. Quebec never signed the Meech Lake deal.

Instead, it agreed to the offer made by Mulroney and then-immigration minister Barbara McDougall to give Quebec more control of its own immigration policy, even as Ottawa promised to foot the bill for the costs.

Mulroney’s deal committed Canadian taxpayers to giving Quebec a proportion of all federal spending, which would escalate when spending rises — and would never go down.  That “incredible formula,” as Reichholt called it, continues no matter how many immigrants Quebec chooses to accept.

Vancouver-based Chris Friesen, who is chair of the umbrella body overseeing all settlement services in Canada, said the Canada-Quebec immigration accord is a “lopsided” agreement that basically cannot be renegotiated.

“What we have is the new premier of Quebec being elected by calling for 10,000 fewer immigrants. Meanwhile he gets more money to settle them. Where do you sign me up (for such a deal)?” said Friesen, who chairs the national Canadian Immigrant Sector Alliance and is also settlement director for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

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