Legault: immigrants have to learn French in three years, or leave

Language politics surfaced on the Quebec campaign trail Friday as the leader of the CAQ promised his government would force new immigrants to leave the province if they don't learn French within three years.

After two weeks of campaigning nearly devoid of language talk, François Legault said new immigrants would be given a temporary permit upon entry and then have three years to take language courses and pass a basic French-language test.

Those who fail would not be granted permission to stay and would be considered to be in the country illegally, he said.

While claiming the test would be simple enough that anyone "in good faith'' should have no trouble passing it, he added he was open to offering an extension or exemption to seniors or those with learning disabilities.

"I will be open to accommodations, if someone has learning difficulties,'' he told reporters. "Of course we won't ask them for the same,'' he told reporters in Montreal.

"I want to be human, I don't want to ask them to do something that is impossible.''

Legault said more than 50 per cent of immigrants who arrive in the province don't speak French and that many of those end up leaving or facing high levels of unemployment.

He warned that under present conditions, the use of French will gradually disappear.

"If year after year we accept 50,000 immigrants and most don't speak French, it's a matter of time,'' he said.

"It might take one, two, three generations but it's a matter of time before we stop speaking French in Montreal and that's not what I want.''

The CAQ has already proposed lowering the number of immigrants to the province to 40,000 a year from the current 50,000.

Lisée: Bill 202's coming

The PQ's Jean-François Lisée, meantime, responded to that a little later on in the morning, saying Legault isn't going far enough to protect French.

He reiterated his intention to table, within 101 days of his swearing in, an updated version of Bill 101, called Bill 202.

Among other things, a beefed-up language law would force newcomers, and their spouses, to have an intermediate knowledge of French before they get here.

The new legislation would also force businesses with fewer than 100 employees, and federally-regulated businesses, to obtain francization certificates.

-CJAD 800's Richard Deschamps contributed to this report.