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Quebec asks Ottawa for full power over immigration, Trudeau says no

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, attends a bilateral meeting with Quebec Premier Francois Legault in Montreal, Friday March 15, 2024.  (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, attends a bilateral meeting with Quebec Premier Francois Legault in Montreal, Friday March 15, 2024. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Quebec will not get full power over which immigrants it takes in, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday after meeting with Premier François Legault.

At the meeting in Montreal, Legault, who has said Quebec cannot take in more asylum seekers, asked Trudeau for the federal government to transfer all immigration powers to Quebec.

But, speaking to reporters afterward, Trudeau said he had declined Legault's request.

"No, we're not going to give more powers (to Quebec) in immigration," Trudeau said in French. "It's not a question of jurisdiction, it's a question of finding solutions."

But Legault told reporters after Trudeau's appearance that the prime minister had demonstrated some openness to his requests.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media following a bilateral meeting with Quebec Premier Francois Legault in Montreal, Friday March 15, 2024.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media following a bilateral meeting with Quebec Premier Francois Legault in Montreal, Friday March 15, 2024.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media following a bilateral meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault in Montreal, Friday March 15, 2024. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau seemed willing to transfer some powers to Quebec, such as the ability to admit some temporary workers, previously a federal responsibility, Legault said.

Pointing to a graph showing a steep increase in the number of asylum seekers and temporary immigrants in Quebec over the past two years, Legault said Quebec is, essentially, full.

"Our capacity to welcome them has been surpassed," he said. "We lack teachers, we lack nurses, we lack housing and it poses a real problem for the future of French in Quebec."

Quebec and Canada have an agreement that allows the province to keep some measure of control over the number of immigrants it accepts. But the federal government is responsible for national standards related to immigration and the admission and control of visitors.

Legault pointed to the sharp rise in asylum seekers in recent years as something that has placed too much pressure on Quebec's ability to integrate and provide services for newcomers.

His government has asked Ottawa to reimburse $1 billion in funding that Quebec says it has spent providing services for asylum seekers.

As of Dec. 31, 56 per cent of asylum seekers currently residing in Canada — 160,651 people out of 289,047 — are in Quebec.

Trudeau said he recognized that Quebec was doing "more than its share" concerning asylum seekers. He said his government had worked to slow the tide of asylum seekers by working with the U.S. government to close the Roxham Road illegal border crossing and, more recently, reimposing visa requirements for Mexican visitors.

On Thursday at the National Assembly, Legault faced pressure from Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon over immigration and said he would ask Trudeau for Quebec to achieve full control over its immigration system.