Premier Francois Legault said on Wednesday that accepting over 50,000 immigrants a year into Quebec would be “a bit suicidal” for French language fluency. 

Legault made the comments while fielding questions from reporters on the decline of Quebeckers who speak French. 

“People say, where did you draw this capacity to integrate (idea) from. The most recent numbers are clear. There is a decline,” said Legault. 

“So if we use the same recipe, it will produce the same cake. What we say is stick with 50,000 but be more demanding on the knowledge of French. But until we have stopped the decline of French, I think that, for the Quebec nation, which wants to protect French, it would be a bit suicidal to increase it.”

Legault’s statements were immediately criticized by the President of Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce Michel Leblanc.

“It’s not suicidal. In our mind, it is not at all suicidal,” said Leblanc. 

“The risk we are living with now is the weakening of companies that want to grow, that want to accept contracts, that want to export and that need (people) to fill these posts. The objective is to integrate them, to make them feel comfortable, to make sure they learn French,” he continued. 

“But we need to have more immigrants. We need to have all the help we can get. That’s the main message from every business, in Montreal but also all across Quebec.”

In defence of his comments, Legault explained that “everybody understands” that he was talking specifically about the decline in the French language. 

“It’s an expression in Quebec to say that if we increase the number of immigrants while French is in decline, it would be a bit suicidal,” said Legault. 

“I think everyone understands what that means. We have to stop the decline (of French). It’s not by increasing immigration that we’ll stop French.”

Opponent and leader of Québec solidaire Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois slammed the premier’s comments as divisive. 

“What is suicide? Suicide is to kill oneself. Is the outgoing premier of Quebec saying that welcoming people to Quebec would bring death to the Quebec nation?” he said.

“What we need in Quebec is a leader who brings people together. Look at what is happening around the world. Look at the rise in conflict and tensions. It seems to me Quebec deserves to be lead by someone who brings Quebecers together no matter what your religion or the colour of your skin or how your name sounds you are a Quebecer. ”

On Tuesday, Quebec Conservative Party leader Eric Duhaime said that while he’s not interested in building a border wall to stop illegal immigration into the province he wouldn’t rule it out as a final option. 

“We should not exclude any option to make sure that we’re standing against Ottawa and telling the federal government that this is not acceptable. Quebec is not going to let in more illegal immigrants to come in than legal immigrants,” said Duhaime.