MONTREAL — Despite his widely denounced comments about immigrants, Quebec Immigration Minister Jean Boulet could keep a seat in cabinet if the Coalition Avenir Québec is re-elected Monday, leader François Legault said Thursday.
Boulet, who is also the province's labour minister, said last week at a candidates debate that most immigrants to Quebec "don't work, don't speak French or don't adhere to the values of Quebec society."
While Legault has said that Boulet's comments disqualify him from remaining immigration minister after the provincial election, he wouldn't rule out moving Boulet to a different portfolio.
"I spoke to Mr. Boulet yesterday and he's so sad about what he said," Legault told reporters in Rouyn-Noranda, Que. "Like I said, he won't be able to be minister of immigration, but still, the guy is a bright guy and he did a good job for the last four years."
While Legault described Boulet's comments as unacceptable, he said Boulet knows what he said isn't true.
"All the people who know Jean Boulet know that it's not him, what he said," Legault said.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said Thursday that Boulet should be immediately removed as a cabinet minister, but she didn't go as far as Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime, who called for Boulet to withdraw his candidacy altogether.
Anglade said Boulet's comments are a reflection of the tone set by Legault — who has made controversial comments of his own about immigrants.
"He's the one creating this environment, he's the one saying that immigration should be compared to violence, he used the word 'suicidal' when he talked about an increase in immigration," Anglade told reporters in the Montreal suburb of Brossard.
On Wednesday, the CAQ leader said it would be "suicidal" for the Quebec nation to accept more than 50,000 immigrants per year, and previously he has apologized for comments that were seen as linking immigration with violence.
During a campaign stop in St-Marc-des-Carrières, near Quebec City, Duhaime said he doesn't understand how Legault can describe Boulet as being disqualified while allowing him to continue running in the riding of Trois-Rivières.
"When someone is disqualified, they don't get to keep running in the race .... Is he trying to say that (Boulet's) comments are unacceptable for a minister but are acceptable for a CAQ candidate or the member for Trois-Rivières?" he said.
Asked about the comments, federal Justice Minister David Lametti, who represents a Montreal riding, said he is the son of immigrants who came to Canada in search of a better life, worked hard and made sacrifices. "That's the case of my parents and it's the case for a large portion of immigrants," he told reporters in Ottawa.
Bloc Québécois Yves-François Blanchet told reporters in Ottawa he was shocked by Boulet's comments.
While he has concerns about integrating immigrants into Quebec society — and the large proportion of immigrants who settle in the Montreal region — he said "stigmatization by a clumsy and inaccurate number is a serious error by the minister."
Meanwhile, the Parti Québécois has raised more money since the beginning of Quebec's election campaign than any other party.
Élections Québec said the sovereigntist party raised $354,175 from 3,852 donors between the start of the campaign on Aug. 28 and Sept. 21.
Polls in late August put the PQ in fifth place, with support below 10 per cent.
But the PQ is now polling in the mid-teens and is in a statistical tie with the three other main opposition parties — all far behind the incumbent Coalition Avenir Québec.
Québec solidaire was in second place in fundraising since the beginning of the campaign, having raised $180,305, while the CAQ is in third with $170,548 in donations.
The CAQ has collected the most money since the beginning of 2022, however, having raised almost $1.15 million, almost $200,000 more than the PQ.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.
— With files from Michel Saba in Ottawa
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press