QUEBEC — Simon Jolin-Barrette no longer has the necessary credibility to continue as Quebec’s immigration minister, interim Liberal leader Pierre Arcand said Tuesday.
Three days after Jolin-Barrette beat a hasty retreat from much contested reforms to the Quebec Experience Program (QEP), Arcand said it is not the first time the minister has had to back track.
Premier François Legault has let him off the hook in the past but that won’t fly any more, Arcand said, calling on the premier to move him off the file.
“There are serious doubts about the minister of immigration’s ability to exercise his duty,” Arcand told reporters at the legislature. “It’s clear after the events of the last days that the premier should withdraw the immigration file from Simon Jolin-Barrette.
“On several occasions the premier looked the other way, because Mr. Jolin-Barrette has made a few gaffes. I think he can no longer look the other way.”
Arcand stopped short of calling on Legault to eject Jolin-Barrette — who is also the Coalition Avenir Québec government house leader — from cabinet.
“Not necessarily be put out of cabinet but it’s clear that on the immigration issue he does not have the credibility to continue,” Arcand said.
His comments came after Jolin-Barrette’s decision late Friday to suspend plans to reform the QEP, which is used by international students as a fast track to obtaining a Quebec immigration selection certificate.
The reforms would have cut 300 fields of academic study from the QEP’s eligibility list, effective immediately.
International students staged a tearful news conference in the lobby of the National Assembly demanding that the government back down, but for days it stood its ground.
The one concession was to announce plans to grandfather the rights of students already in the program but even that did not sit well. By Friday, the protests grew to include Quebec’s university and CEGEP network and the business lobby.
Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon and Labour Minister Jean Boulet were unable to name a single economic ally in favour of the reforms.
Legault initially responded, saying the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal Michel Leblanc wants to keep immigration levels high because they represent a pool of cheap labour for the companies in his association.
Jolin-Barrrette has not spoken to the media since his back track but will face questions Tuesday afternoon when the legislature resumes sitting.
The opposition parties say they are ready with questions for him and Legault.
“Yes,” was all Legault answered Monday when asked by TVA if he still has confidence in his embattled minister.
But he has also been forced to concede the list Jolin-Barrette was using to decide which academic disciplines would be eligible was out of date and had been drafted two years earlier. Many of the disciplines on the list do not even exist any more.
That fact shows the whole government was not prepared to launch such reforms, interim Parti Québécois leader Pascal Bérubé said Tuesday describing the Coalition Avenir Québec government as a bunch of incompetent amateurs.
“This was an error committed by the whole government including the premier who defended this reform tooth-and-nail right up to the last minute,” Bérubé said. “It’s really embarrassing.”
“After all the bungling we’ve seen and the lack of sensitivity on the issue of immigration, we have been saying for a while that he (Jolin-Barrette) should be taken off this file,” added Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Massé.