Monday, October 22, 2007

Quebec citizenship draws political fire

Kevin Dougherty, The Gazette

QUEBEC - The ruling Liberals and the Parti Quebecois traded claims today that the other party was creating two classes of citizens.

The Liberals charged that Bill 195, a PQ bill to establish Quebec citizenship, would create two types of Quebecers.

The PQ, citing Liberal plans to reduce the immigration department payroll, said the government is creating two kinds of newcomers.

PQ members have been on the defensive over Bill 195 which states that Quebec citizenshipwould be required to run for school board, municipal or National Assembly elections.

Canadian citizenship alone, however, would still be sufficient to vote in those same elections.

Today the PQ seized on a report that the immigration department is cutting its staff by 11 per cent, at the same time that it has proposed welcoming an additional 10,000 immigrants a year.

"By reducing the budget of the department destined to better integrate and francize immigrants, the Charest government is creating two classes of citizens, those who speak French and those who don't," said PQ immigration critic Martin Lemay.

Bill 195 would make all Canadian citizens living in the province Quebec citizens as well when it is passed, independent of their ability to speak French.

But newcomers - from another country or another province - could only become Quebec citizens by demonstrating three years after arriving their capacity to get by in French.

The PQ, with 35 MNAs, is the third party in the assembly and Bill 195 has no chance of becoming law. But Bill 195 has shifted the spotlight away from Action democratique du Quebec leader Mario Dumont and on to PQ leader Pauline Marois.

"We don't take it seriously," said Catherine Morissette, the ADQ immigration critic.

"We have the impression it was written on the corner of a table to have something to propose to the presidents of the (PQ) riding associations."

PQ leader Pauline Marois presented Bill 195 on the eve of a weekend meeting of her party's riding and regional presidents.

Morissette also questioned how serious the government is about welcoming new immigrants.

"The immigration budget comes from the federal government," Morissette said. Under a federal-Quebec agreement on immigration, the province will get $224 million from Ottawa this year.

But Quebec's immigration budget totals $110 million, Morissette said.

Immigration Minister Yolande James summoned reporters, before a ceremony to welcome new citizens, to say that only 32 administrative positions have been eliminated in her department as part of an ongoing process to reduce the size of government.

James insisted that services to immigrants would not be reduced. "The hours worked will be the same," she said.

To counter the PQ's position, she added that the PQ citizenship proposal would reduce from five to three years the time immigrants have to learn French.

The Liberal government offers French courses for five years, she noted.