Macpherson: Here's what Quebec's values test accomplishes


Macpherson a compris que le test des valeurs n'était que purement symbolique

The test for would-be immigrants is largely symbolic. It does, however, serve political purposes for the CAQ government.

For a change, let’s be positive: The values test for new immigrants the Legault government announced this week could have been worse. Much worse.

Originally, it was about expelling immigrants; the governing Coalition Avenir Québec party would give them four years after they arrived in the province to pass the test, and have them kicked out of the country if they failed.

So, four years after a family settled here, it could have been uprooted again if, say, a stay-at-home mom failed the test, even if her husband passed it and had a job.

The CAQ plan fell apart, but not because it was inhumane. Rather, it was because the Coalition, after campaigning on it for three years before it came to power last year, realized that Ottawa wouldn’t expel the immigrants for it.

So now, under the policy that will come into effect Jan. 1, 2020, as part of Quebec’s immigrant-selection process, the test will be administered before applicants leave for the province. It will be required of skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors, their spouses aged 16 and over, and their children aged 18 and over.

Theoretically, they can take it an unlimited number of times. If they don’t pass after three tries, they can go back and start the application process over again.

But the test will be so easy to pass that applicants would have to try to fail.

They will have to answer 20 multiple-choice questions, drawn from what Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says are “several hundred” possibilities, in five categories based on the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

For Quebec is a land of many values, several hundred, apparently. Almost all of them are government secrets, however; Jolin-Barrette has released only five of the possible questions as examples. So studying for the test will be difficult.

But the test will be the equivalent of an open-book exam, administered online, with each category of questions preceded by a video suggesting the answers. The would-be immigrants will take the test whenever and wherever they want, without supervision, trusted not to cheat.

And they will be able to get up to five answers wrong, and still pass. So a man who disagrees with gender equality gives wrong answers to the questions in that category? No problem. Welcome to Quebec, sexist.

Some applicants won’t even have to take the test. Foreign graduates of Quebec post-secondary schools and temporary workers already in the province will instead be able to take a course on Quebec values. The course can’t possibly cover all several hundred possibilities, however, since it will last only a total of 24 hours.

And the approximately 40 per cent of all immigrants admitted to the province who aren’t in the “economic” category won’t have to take either the test or the course.

Practically speaking, the test will add little to measures already in place. The government says it will be similar to the Canadian citizenship test.

And since 2008, immigrants selected by Quebec have had to sign a statement containing a non-binding promise to respect the six “common values” mentioned in it.

Like that statement, the Legault government’s new test is largely symbolic. It does, however, serve two political purposes for the CAQ.

It allows the Coalition to cross another election promise off its list, even if the new policy isn’t nearly as tough as the party’s original kick-them-out proposal.

And, like the Legault government’s reduction of immigration levels and adoption of the discriminatory, anti-hijab Bill 21, it implies that immigrants represent a threat, and that the CAQ is the party to defend Quebec against it.

But the Coalition’s fear-mongering may be heard not just by Quebec voters, but by prospective immigrants as well.

And at a time when Quebec needs to compete for skilled immigrants to bolster an aging, shrinking workforce, its policies might encourage them to consider offering their skills instead to a less demanding and more hospitable Canadian province.