- As the CAQ struggles with its rules for international students applying to the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ), Cyrille Simard, a mayor in New Brunswick, tells students to make their way to his province as a solution.
- We spoke to Simard about his invitation to Quebec students and what his city has to offer.
Attempts by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) to further restrict immigration to the province has resulted in widespread outcry. This week, Minister of Immigration Simon Jolin-Barette was forced to backtrack on his proposal to tighten rules for international students and young professionals applying to the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ), including with a reduction in the number of qualifying careers and fields of study, after it was met with tearful testimony and online outrage.
Initial plans to reform the PEQ, which many students use to gain a foothold in Quebec and path to permanent residency, would have excluded those already living in the province and undertaking the application process.
The CAQ then lost a motion to abandon Jolin-Barette's plans after only three party members showed up for a vote.
The proposal and subsequent drama left many international students feeling alienated by the provincial government.
Amid the turmoil, one New Brunswick official took to social media to offer an alternative. Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard attracted widespread media attention with his message to foreign students in Quebec: "Look east [...] There's room for you here."
I spoke with Mayor Simard about opportunities in Edmundston for disillusioned Montreal students and young professionals, as well as his thoughts about the message Quebec is sending to its international students.
Translation: I would like to remind the international students of Quebec who find themselves at an impasse that they can look east, especially to New Brunswick and here in Edmundston for opportunities. There's room here for you.
Simard was upfront about the motives behind the post: New Brunswick needs immigration. Indeed, a severe labour and skill shortage have created a precarious economic situation in the province and in the Maritimes as a whole.
He said he wanted to remind foreign students who "feel threatened" by the direction of immigration reform in Quebec that they are opportunities elsewhere in Canada. "It's a good time" for young people to "look around" and think about the quality of life and job prospects they seek, he says.
When asked whether he thinks New Brunswick is more welcoming than Quebec, Simard said that he doesn't believe so, but he does think that "signals from the government" could deter immigrants. He also points to the alienating effects of Bill 21, which bars many Quebec public sector employees from wearing religious symbols while executing their duties.
"We are welcoming here," Simard said of his city of Edmundston, where, he continued, residents can choose from a variety of career opportunities. Though small, the city is a regional centre in need of everything from health and business professionals to engineers.
The mayor says that newcomers can expect "reasonable" salaries and wages, but the city's low cost of living could be especially attractive to young people in Montreal.
"You can get a bungalow for $67,000," he explains.
Indeed, a glance at real estate listings in the town yields several options in the $65,000 to $150,000 price range. This two storey home listed on RE/MAX is just $65,000.
This retro-looking ranch lists for just $175,000.
These prices are sure to entice renters in Montreal, where despite historic affordability, the cost of living continues to climb.
Telecommuting, Simard points out, makes it possible for Montrealers to take advantage of Edmundston's cheap real estate while keeping their jobs in Quebec.
The city even has the same bilingualism as Montreal. 90% of the Edmundston population is Francophone but 70% is bilingual in French and English. The city offers services and education in both languages.
As for the Edmundston lifestyle, expect a "simple life," says Simard.
"There are commuters stuck in traffic on a bridge in Boston or Montreal who need to know that there are other opportunities."
"We just need to make ourselves better known."
For more information on Edmundston, check out the city website here.