By Robert Frank
Laval could learn from Paris. Like the capital of France, the city has two faces: It offers tony neighbourhoods for arriviste francophones and has become one of Quebec’s favourite destinations for immigrants, whom the job market spurns, trapping them in crushing poverty.
Last year, The Suburban reported data from the 2011 census, which showed that Laval’s poverty is ghettoized where the greatest concentration of newcomers to the country live.
Sometimes, though, affluence and want live side-by-side, like in Abord à Plouffe, where the shiny condo towers of Île Paton contrast starkly with the district’s low-income tenements.
What’s news is the shocking disparity between Laval’s francophone population and non-francophones described in the poverty data contained in the five-year development plan that the city published last week (see accompanying report).
“Nearly one of every two welfare recipients in Laval is an immigrant,” the plan stated, “or 43.3 percent, in contrast with 28 percent for the entire province of Quebec.”
“These socioeconomic challenges add to the challenge of living together as well as its corollaries, namely: social cohesion, harmonious intercultural relations, sensitizing employers to immigrant workers’ potential and preparing Laval society to welcome and integrate this new population,” page 39 of the plan continued.
In a single paragraph, the city has highlighted a longstanding flaw in Quebec’s approach to immigration.
Laval has highlighted how the province places inordinate pressure on immigrants to assimilate linguistically and culturally, while systemically failing to integrate them into the workforce.
The problem is not unique to Quebec. It was highlighted in the residentially segregated suburbs of Paris in 2005. Unemployment was rife in these ghettoized districts, known to Parisians as banlieues, where immigrant dissatisfaction erupted into widespread violence.
Laval’s immigrant round table has already recognized the problem and has joined with Quebec to take steps to sensitize employers (see accompanying report).
While that’s welcome, all levels of government would do better to lead by example.
The provincial and municipal civil service simply don’t reflect a cross-section of the city’s and the province’s population. They have disproportionately become havens for old-stock Quebecers. The federal civil service in Quebec would also do well to measure the skew of its demographics.
Opening the civil service doors to employing non-francophones would be an excellent start. An affirmative-action program to redress decades of exclusion would be even better.
Gainful employment is the best means to integrate the population. There is little point in exhorting non-francophones to speak flawless French, if they can’t earn a living here.
A decade after Paris, income disparity and unemployment risks rendering Laval a similar tinderbox. Were government to take the lead in integrating immigrants into the workforce, it needn’t be thus.