Demographic urgency | From “job thieves” to rescuers

Coupled with a labor shortage, Québec could live to see the end of the natural growth of its population and see the deaths replacing the births of the past ten years, never seen in its history. Is there a solution without immigration?

Published Nov 14. 2021

Nicolas Bérubé

Nicolas Bérubé
La Presse

What growth without births?


Without the contribution of immigration, Quebec is doomed to see its population dwindle. “Look at the overcrowded villages of Abbitibi, North Coast. Who wants such a destination for Quebec?” Asks an expert.

Having children is even more difficult. Nutrition, housing, transportation: all the most expensive. Modern life distances us from the conditions required to have large families, and therefore births will continue to decline.

These are the conclusions of an alarming report published in 1930 by Swedish researchers Gunnar and Alva Myrdal. She was an economist, she was a sociologist. They would later each win a Nobel Prize for their work.

Their recommendations? The government should help families in providing them with the services they need.

“Free education, health care and, most recently, subsidized care to allow women to work: all this goes back to this fear of seeing the population decline due to a drop in the birth rate,” explains Benoit Laplante, a professor at Center for Urbanization and Culture, Society of the National Institute of Scientific Research in Montreal. “This is the birth of the Swedish model. »


Benoit Laplante, professor at the Center for Urbanization and Culture, Society of the National Institute of Scientific Research in Montreal

Nearly a century later, the birth rate is more critical than ever, especially in developed countries. In Quebec, the number of deaths could exceed the number of births in a decade.

At the same time, labor shortages make the cuffs stick out almost every day.

At least 55 % of entrepreneurs in the country have difficulty recruiting the employees they need, who force them to work longer hours and report or refuse orders, reports a recent analysis by the Development Bank of Canada (BDC).

Formerly denounced as “job thieves,” immigrants have seen their image make a 180 -degree shift in the popular image: they are now considered part of the solution to this demographic emergency. This morning, Québec is looking to recruit more than 4,000 health workers abroad, especially nurses – figures you’ve never seen so far.


Victor Piché, Honorary Professor in the Department of Demography at the University of Montreal

More than 1.4 million posts will be held in Quebec by 2028, according to data from the most recent Immigration Summit held in Quebec in October, notes Victor Piché, an honorary professor in the department of demographics at the University of Montreal.

It is obvious that immigration has a role to play. The decline of birth is there, and there is no politics that seems to work to reverse the trend. If immigration could reduce labor costs by 20 to 25 %, it would already be huge.

Victor Piché, Honorary Professor in the Department of Demography at the University of Montreal

Nationalism against immigration

The company has made two fundamental choices, says Victor Piché: she has decided to have fewer children, and she has decided to plant an economic model that rests on growth.

“Those who want to reduce the immigration thresholds in order to preserve Québec’s” Canadian-French “ethnicity must explain to us which economic model they intend to adopt, because the largely dominant model in Quebec society is contradictory.” dit-il.

To see how a company works with fewer residents and fewer workers, it is enough to look at the Abbitibi side or the North Coast, notes Mr. Piché.

“Villages that are overcrowded because they have no future in place for young people. This is the future of a company that sees its population and economic growth diminish. Who wants such a destiny for Quebec? I have never heard anyone defend such an idea. »

To those who believe that immigration will change the fundamental composition of society, the demographics answer that they were right. “And it’s already done, anyway. Even if immigration is stopped today, this diversity is there, and it will stay. »


Mia Homsy, president-director general of the Institute of Quebec

According to Mia Homsy, president-director general of the Institute of Québec (IDQ), the notion of immigrants being competitors in organized jobs no longer holds the road.

Data shows us that immigrants do not take up Quebec jobs: the employment rate among people born in Canada has increased in recent years. Immigrants do not take jobs: they allow the economy to grow.

Mia Homsy, president-director general at the Institute of Quebec

This does not mean that the immigration thresholds must be dramatically raised, because there is still higher unemployment among immigrants than among natives, notes Mia Homsy, adding that it is impossible to completely abolish the ‘effect of the decline of births in Quebec.

“The best that can be done is to seize the effects of the most demanding in some sectors for essential services, with immigration, and also with the fact that older people can work … And again, that it’s going to take over the organization, it’s not going to do everything alone. »

Administrative deadlines

Until they were 30 or 40 years old, immigrants were considered as workers who came to give a helping hand in periods of economic boom. “It was punctual, it was the logic behind immigration,” notes Benoit Laplante. Today, that’s not all anymore. »

There is now a “political battle” over immigration to Canada, and even more so to Quebec, because of the linguistic situation, he said.

But, so far, the argument often evoked by a lack of use of French does not question Victor Piché.

“The latest statistics from the Office of the French Language are nothing alarming. We want a society where the French dominate in the public sphere, and that is the reality. For example, the language spoken by people at home is not a good indicator to measure the status of the French. It is certain that non-francophones will speak a language other than French at home. It’s math. Will people be able to learn and speak French? The answer is yes. Working in French? The answer is yes. And bilingualism, for me, is not a negative. French is not threatened because people are bilingual. Once again, on this surface, one is painted in the corner. »

On this subject, Mia Homsy notes that the Legault government “has a slightly more nationalist discourse” and has campaigned on the idea of ​​reducing immigration, while in fact, the actions it has taken are not very different from those of the government that preceded it.

“The current government is setting a threshold of 50,000 immigrants a year. If we add the crackdown on delays taken during the pandemic, the increase in temporary immigration and the number of international students, we see that the government is already working to implement the solution. »

The problem is found rather in the area of ​​administrative deadlines, which are beginning to have a significant impact on people’s decisions to stay in Quebec or go elsewhere in Canada. “It’s been so long that international students recruited abroad have been to Ontario, British Columbia. That’s where the problem is.” »

Not treated to their true value

Also, many immigrants do not work for their true value in Quebec, and are striking a chord in the labor market than in the world of education, where their degrees and experience are not recognized, laments Victor Piché.

“When we talk about the notorious systemic discrimination, that’s part of it. Employment mechanisms do not give full measure to immigrants. The impact of immigration could be much more positive if this manual is used better. »

There is also a lot of talk these days about the importance of making part-time workers come. Mr. Piché notes that he would have to offer these workers a way that would allow them to access permanent residence.

“It’s as if they said, ‘We need more of you, but we don’t want you to stay.'” A two -speed immigration policy is being created. Less qualified workers, if they were allowed to circulate inside the labor market, they could fill enormous needs, while for the time being, we do not allow them, because they are tied to a single employer, and not can work here only for four years. Employers themselves complain about this system, which is limited. There is work to be done on this side. »

Family policies, a failure?


In a report entitled Birth and public interventions published in 2004, the Quebec Ministry of Employment, Social Solidarity and the Family concluded that “public interventions can influence the realization of a child’s desire.”

The report would suggest the Scandinavian government be inspired for its family policies, particularly in the area of ​​parental leave and subsidized care.

The fertility index was then 1.4 children per family in Quebec. Fifteen years later, after a slight climb, he is 1.5, and seems to be on a descending slope. In any case, we are far from the index of 2.1 children per family, or the threshold of population renewal.

Should we conclude that the programs implemented since have been a failure? Not at all, says Benoit Laplante, professor at the Center for Urbanization and Culture Société of the National Institute for Scientific Research in Montreal.

“Since the beginning of the introduction of family policy measures in Quebec, in 1997, Quebec has surpassed Ontario in terms of fertility and women’s activity rates. So it works, ”he says, adding that family policies are meant to help families, and not for the purpose of raising the birth rate.

The pessimism shown by the finger

Since the 2008 economic crisis, developed countries have experienced a fall in fertility, and Quebec is no exception.

It goes down everywhere in the Nordic countries. It really falls.

Benoit Laplante, professor at the Center for Urbanization and Culture Société of the National Institute of Scientific Research in Montreal, on fertility

The hypothesis that has been blowing in the wings at the demographers, he said, is only from 2008, a pessimism regarding the role of the state, from the perspective of improving economic conditions and the precedent was established in the West.

“This is a hypothesis, it is very difficult to verify, but research is underway, especially in Finland. Finland has a birth rate of 1.35, one of the lowest in the developed world.

All the reasoning behind family policies rests on the idea that people want to have children, and that society gives them the means to have it by reducing costs.

“The big question, now, is:“ Do people still want to have children? And how much? ” We are there. Research projects on the question are more necessary than ever. »

Some numbers

8 575 950

This is the population of Quebec at 1er January 2021, or a growth of 19,300 compared to the same date a year earlier, compared to almost 110,000 people in 2019, a reduction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

81 850

Provisional number of births in 2020, or 224 births per day

74 550

Provisional death toll in 2020, or 204 deaths per day

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