CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1In Western Europe especially, civic integration “tests” have become prevalent as a means by which states regulate immigrants’ access to citizenship and probe their understanding of and commitment to national discursive and institutional structures (Jacobs and Rea, 2007; Goodman, 2010; Vink and de Groot, 2010). Along with the rise of citizenship oaths and courses designed for newcomers in language, civic orientation, history, and culture, many scholars view this development as evidencing a de-liberalization of citizenship policy and a “thickening” of national identity in many states (Goodman, 2010; Kostakopoulou, 2010a). While much research underscores the “convergence” in civic integration policies (Joppke, 2007a), important cross-national differences exist in the extent to which such policies restrict newcomers’ access to full membership (Joppke, 2007b) and in how they frame the content of nationhood (Michalowski, 2011; Michalowski and van Oers, 2012).

2This paper further unpacks the mechanisms behind — and the implications of — such differences, by examining the unique case of Québec, the majority French-speaking Canadian province, which is home to a large ethno-religiously diverse immigrant population. On January 1st, 2020, a provincial government headed by the nationalist Coalition avenir Québec (hereafter “CAQ”) party implemented a “values test” for prospective immigrants. The test conforms to the “civic integration paradigm” (Kostakopoulou, 2010b: 17) that has taken root in many parts of Europe, in that it requires prospective migrants to demonstrate adherence to a proscribed set of national “values”, through a combination of formal testing and integration classes. Québec’s “values test” is mandatory for all candidates applying for immigration selection through the “economic” selection streams, and probes their views on secularism, same-sex marriage, gender (in)equality, religious symbols, and aspects of Québécois culture. While applicants cannot be denied permanent residency based on this “test”, for reasons I detail below, those who fail a maximum number of times are required to re-apply (Government of Québec, 2019a: 4-5).

3Québec’s “values test” offers an opportunity to examine the determinants and implications of civic integration policy strategies in states — like Canada — where regional governments play an active role in immigrant selection and incorporation. Normative political theorists expect regions like Québec — in which the local cultural and linguistic “majority” constitutes a “minority” at the national level — to be hostile to immigration, based on fears that newcomers will dilute their claims to distinctiveness (Kymlicka, 2003). In contexts in which such claims are validated through a degree of self-government, this tension is expected to result in policies that limit the cultural and political impacts of migration.

4These normative expectations are partly — but not entirely — borne out by Québec’s emerging civic integration policy program. As I will demonstrate, the “values test” proposed by the provincial CAQ government invited significant disapproval and debate from opposition parties. While lacking the majority needed to block the government’s proposals outright, these parties succeeded in wielding the constitutional mechanisms of Canadian federalism to prevent the “test” from becoming a condition for permanent residency. Debates over the “values test” also reveal the effect of multi-level governance structures on ways of framing the content of nationhood through civic integration policy-making. Branding itself the sole legitimate defender of Québécois nationhood, the governing CAQ party insisted on portraying the contents of its “test” in terms of “values” — which convey the particularities of the provincial culture — rather than “rights” — which it feared would be read as universal. While not entirely unique, as other studies in this issue demonstrate, this overt promotion of “values” contributes to evidence that, despite so often being framed by their political advocates as advancing a “liberal” commitment to “rights”, civic integration tests can be venues for the explicit promotion of “thick” and exclusionary notions of national identity.

The Case: Immigration Policy and Ethno-Religious Diversity in Québec

5A former French and subsequently British colony, the Canadian province of Québec has forged a distinct majority French-speaking Nation on the North American continent. After two failed referenda to achieve sovereignty (in 1980 and 1995), its nationalist project has re-focused on the question of how to incorporate a large ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse immigrant population. The surrounding debates are enframed by a federal-provincial governance structure in which, based on its recognized status as a distinct “nation” within Canada, Québec enjoys a level of jurisdiction over immigration and integration that surpasses that of any other province. Signed in 1991, the McDougall/Gagnon-Tremblay Accord grants the provincial Government the power to select all economic immigrants to the province (with the caveat that the federal government can overrule candidates for serious security or medical reasons). [1] Aided by a federal annual grant, Québec also has sole jurisdiction over the delivery of integration and settlement services for new permanent residents (Government of Canada, 1991: Article 12.a, 24-25). These policy mechanisms provide the backdrop for the more recent elaboration of “interculturalism”, a discourse of integration that differs from Canada’s federal multiculturalism policy by emphasizing the need for a “common public culture” centered on the French language (Bouchard, 2011).

6Québec’s unofficial “intercultural” framework has been put to the test by a series of highly-politicized debates over minorities’ — particularly Muslims’ — religious signs and practices. Since the 1990s especially, the discourse of laïcité — or secularism — has regularly been invoked by intellectual and political groups in considering whether and how to accommodate such signs and practices in the province (Laxer et al., 2014). This debate came to a head in 2013, when the former Parti Québécois government led by Premier Pauline Marois proposed a Charter of Values, which, among other things, would prohibit all public-sector employees from wearing religious signs on the job. Although this government’s 2014 election defeat prevented its proposal from becoming law, the secularism debate was resuscitated in 2019, when a subsequent provincial government led by the Coalition avenir Québec passed Bill 21, which restricts religious signs among public-servants in positions of authority, including judges, police officers, prison guards, crown prosecutors, and teachers. This bill was condemned by two of Québec’s three opposition parties, and by all major federal party leaders. It was also unanimously opposed by Montreal’s city Councillors and Mayor, and its constitutionality is being questioned through ongoing court challenges.

7The debates surrounding the 2020 “values test” for new immigrants to Québec took place against this discursive and institutional backdrop. Not only has the religious signs issue become a dominant focus of electoral conflict in the province over the last decade. It has also contributed to the emergence of “values” — as opposed to “rights” — as a legitimate frame in articulating the boundaries of Québécois nationhood. Unpacking the effects of this shift for Québec’s emerging civic integration policy program is among the key objectives of this study.

Data and Methods

8As of January 1st, 2020, successful completion of a “values test” is among the conditions that must be met by applicants seeking to qualify for selection through one of Québec’s economic immigration programs. This condition applies to the principal applicant as well as their spouse, partner, and all dependent children aged eighteen and over. The test itself is composed of twenty questions, randomly generated from a bank of questions, of which fifteen must be answered correctly (Government of Québec, 2019a: 4-5). Applicants who fail to achieve this score a specified number of times (which differs depending on the applicant’s current standing) are required to participate in an information session — entitled Objectif Intégration (“Objective Integration”), which is designed to familiarize newcomers with “democratic values” and the “Québécois values expressed by [Québec’s] Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms” (Government of Québec, 2019b). Failure to meet either condition — successful completion of the test or participation in the information session — results in a rejection of the candidate’s application for selection within sixty days (Government of Québec, 2019a: 4-5).

9In order to assess how debates surrounding Québec’s above-described “values test” framed access to, as well as the content of, national membership, I conducted a qualitative analysis of all parliamentary proceedings pertaining to Bill 9, which provided the legislative groundwork for the “test”. Entitled, “An Act to Increase Québec’s Socio-Economic Prosperity and Adequately Meet Labour Market Needs Through Successful Immigrant Integration”, this bill was presented by the governing CAQ party in February 2019 as having three ostensible goals: 1) to better select immigration applicants who meet Québec’s economic needs; 2) to ensure newcomers’ knowledge of the French language and facilitate their successful integration; and 3) to strive for better coordination and follow-up of individual applicants’ success, particularly in the labour market. [2] Despite endorsing Bill 9’s broad economic objectives, and approving a handful of its proposals, all three of Québec’s opposition parties voted against the legislation, citing concerns over the eventual “values test” and protesting the government’s announcement that, as part of its immigration overhaul, it intended to cancel 18,000 active applications for permanent residency.

10Bill 9 contained a total twenty-one individual articles. Yet, only four of these directly addressed — and elicited significant debate around — the eventual “values test”. Article 1 set the stage for the “test” by proposing to amend section 2 of the Act Respecting the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion. The amended text would specify that any “guidelines or policies on immigration” adopted by the Québec government must be “in keeping with democratic values and the Québec values expressed by the Charter of human rights and freedoms (changes in italics) (National Assembly of Québec, 2019: Article 1)”. A second relevant article — Article 4 — proposed to further amend the Act by establishing the government’s right to collect information on immigrants’ “level of knowledge of French and their integration into the labour market” and to “develop and implement programs, guidelines and policies, to monitor and assess their relevance and effectiveness” (National Assembly of Québec, 2019: Article 4.6). A third focal point in the debate over the “values test” was Article 6, which proposed an added paragraph to Québec’s Immigration Act specifying that among that Act’s key objectives would thereafter be to “promote the integration of immigrants, in particular through their learning French and learning about democratic values and the Québec values expressed by the Charter of human rights and freedoms” (National Assembly of Québec, 2019: Article 6). The final article to elicit debate over the “values test” was Article 9, which added a new section to the Immigration Act enabling the Minister to “impose conditions” on foreign nationals affecting their permanent residency in order to ensure, among other things, their “linguistic, social or economic integration” (National Assembly of Québec, 2019: Article 9).

11Focusing on debates concerning these four articles, I used Nvivo to code the twenty-six parliamentary hearings in which Bill 9 was discussed between 9  February 2019 — the date the bill was introduced in the National Assembly — and 15 June 2019 — the date on which it was adopted by a vote of sixty-two to forty-two. During this four-month period, legislators also heard testimony from nineteen civil society organizations, including human rights advocacy groups, employer organizations, and lobby groups focusing on municipal issues. Where relevant, I draw from these testimonies to showcase their relevance to parties’ positioning around the “values test”. Coding was conducted inductively, beginning with open-coding to identify broad themes in the parliamentary debates, followed by focused coding, which centered on the framing of access to, versus the content of, national membership. [3]

12Based on this analysis, I show below that discussion of the four articles most relevant to the eventual “values test” activated latent tensions over Québec’s immigration project and resuscitated deeply-rooted partisan debates over the province’s position in Canada. The results were twofold. First, I argue, by wielding the constitutional instruments of federalism, opponents of Bill 9 managed to prevent the “values test” from becoming a condition for access to permanent residency. Second, I demonstrate that, using the “values test” as an opportunity to advance their differing nationalist agendas, parties constructed the meanings of “rights” and “values” in competing ways, with key implications for ways of defining the content of national membership in Québec.

Negotiating Access: Conflicts over Provincial-Federal Jurisdiction and Constitutional Rights in Québec’s “Values Test” Debate

13From the outset, parliamentary debates over Bill 9 focused centrally on questions of procedure and jurisdiction, specifically whether Québec has the right to establish immigrant selection and integration measures that restrict newcomers’ access to permanent residency. The bill itself did not clearly establish how language proficiency or values might be evaluated. It simply laid the groundwork for such evaluation, without specifying which institutional bodies would administer an eventual “test”, of whom it would be required, and with what effect. [4] Bill 9 also did not indicate whether immigration applicants would be expected to adhere to — or simply be able to cite — Québécois values. [5] As I show below, conflict over these issues punctuated several parliamentary sessions, occasionally broadening into a debate over Québec’s jurisdictional autonomy within Canada, in which parties’ stances reinforced their positions along an established axis of electoral competition. By wielding the instruments of Canadian federalism, moreover, those in opposition succeeded in preventing the eventual “values test” from becoming a condition for accessing permanent residency.

14Among the key challenges waged by opposition parties in the debate over Bill 9 was that the CAQ’s proposed “values test” overstepped the boundaries of provincial jurisdiction and violated Canadian law. In constructing the first argument, individual members drew on the testimony of Stéphane Handfield, of the Québec Bar Association. Appearing before the National Assembly on 28 February 2019, Handfield maintained that Québec lacks the authority to make permanent residency conditional on values or language “tests” for two reasons. First, while Québec has sole jurisdiction over the selection of economic immigrants, the province does not have the power to impose criteria for permanent residency, which remains in the hands of the federal government (Government of Canada, 1991: Article 12.a.). Second, any attempt to restrict residency based on a “test” would be in direct conflict with the citizenship “test” currently executed by the federal government. While it determines access to citizenship, failure to pass the federal test does not result in a revocation of permanent residency, as would the “values test” proposed in the original version of Bill 9. [6]

15Legislators concerned by the “values test’s” infringement of basic human rights turned to the testimony of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de le jeunesse (Commission for Human and Youth Rights, hereafter “CDPDJ”), a government agency tasked with promoting the principles of Québec’s 1975 Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and protecting the rights of children. According to CDPDJ representatives, the “values test” violates individuals’ right to cultural and religious expression protected by both this provincial Charter and the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. [7]

16The objections cited by constitutional experts became the cornerstones of opposition parties’ challenge against the “values test” as a requirement for accessing permanent residency. [8] As the key defender of federalism in Québec electoral politics, the Liberal Party of Québec asserted on several occasions that rendering permanent residency conditional on a “values test” would be incongruent with the larger Canadian immigration system. [9] Taking a similar oppositional stance was Québec Solidaire, a small separatist party with a strong track record on social justice issues. Members of this party maintained that, given the subjective and differing ways they might be imagined by diverse communities, “values” must not be cited as bases for allocating “rights” to full membership. [10]

17These objections, and the responses they elicited from the government, speak to the structuring effect of a nation-centred electoral system on party positioning around civic integration in Québec. I have argued elsewhere (Laxer, 2019) that the focusing of electoral debate around the “national question” in the province has led parties to take widely differing stances on secularism and religious signs. A similar effect was evident in the “values test” debate. Reacting to concerns over the constitutional viability of its bill, for example, the CAQ deployed a strategy characteristic of nationalist parties in Québec: that of discrediting the opposition as insufficiently concerned with safeguarding the province’s cultural, linguistic, and political future. Levelling this attack at the Liberal Party in particular, the CAQ Minister in charge of sponsoring Bill 9, Simon Jolin-Barette, asserted that “given the [party’s] multicultural spirit, it has an absolute desire to attach itself to what is done federally. They don’t want to defend Québec values. They don’t want to defend the specificities of the Québécois nation. That is the Liberal Party of Québec”. [11] While they could not deflect the broader constitutional challenge to Bill 9, statements such as this one did serve to tarnish the Liberal Party position as anti-nationalist.

18In response, and hoping to demonstrate its own dedication to Québec’s national interest, the Liberal Party proposed to amend Article 6 such that it refer specifically to the need to promote immigrants’ full participation in a community life “in French”. [12] Though approved, this amendment failed to generate confidence in the Liberals’ nationalist credentials. For instance, Jolin-Barette said:


“Madam President, I will tell you a personal story. Between 2014 and 2018, when I was a member of the National Assembly under a Liberal government, one would not have thought the Liberal Party believed that Québec constitutes a nation. Honestly, I think the change in their discourse is very positive, Madam President. Honestly, I find that encouraging. I should send them flowers.” [13]

20The irony in this statement — which is predicated on an ostensibly shared belief that the Liberals lack commitment to Québécois nationhood — speaks to the impact of established partisan structures in shaping party positioning on the “values test”.

21When the Liberal Party veered back to criticizing Bill 9, warning that it might reduce the attractiveness of Québec to the most desirable immigrants, [14] it was once against excoriated by the government as anti-nationalist. Resuming his earlier reproach, Jolin-Barette remarked:


“I thought the […] Liberal Party was becoming nationalist, was becoming sensitive to the need to defend Québec’s interests. Yet, Madam President, given the position taken by the member from Bourassa-Sauvé today, I’ve concluded that to the contrary, and including in the press conference this week, that is not the case. As it turns out, she does not seem quite so at ease with nationalism.” [15]

23CAQ members’ repeated underscoring of partisan divides reveals the extent to which the debate over the “values test”, and immigrant integration generally, hinged on disparate and conflicting understandings of the province’s quasi-nation-state status within Canada.

24Having undermined the opposition in this way, the CAQ pressed ahead in framing its proposed use of the “values test” as a way to maximize Québec’s jurisdictional autonomy in the domain of immigration:


“What happened within the Liberal Party to evacuate all forms of nationalism, to evacuate all desire to defend Québec’s interests, to avoid ensuring that the Québec state and nation dispose of the maximum level for deciding, for selecting immigrants, Madam President? […] Honestly, Madam President, as members of the National Assembly, we have the obligation to always ensure that Québec’s powers are maximized.” [16]

26Further conveying the significance of a nation-centred partisan structure to the debate, this statement reveals how federal-provincial jurisdictional structures impact legislators’ perceptions of civic integration policy in Québec. It is clear from the excerpt that maximizing political power in the context of federalism was a key objective of the CAQ’s “values test”.

27Jurisdictional obstacles enshrined in the 1991 Canada-Québec Accord ultimately prevented the CAQ government from requiring successful completion of the “values test” as a condition for permanent residency. Yet, as I showed above, this did not prevent the question of access from becoming the focus of virulent debates, in which parties’ disparate positions mapped onto and reinforced established partisan divides within an electoral system centred on the “national question”. In the next section, I argue that these divides became even more significant to the debates over the content of nationhood, with the CAQ taking aim at federalism by privileging “values” over “rights” in its framing of civic integration.

Debating the Content of Nationhood: The Discursive Construction of Rights vs Values

28While the structures of Canadian federalism, and the partisan nationalist dynamics they entail, were thus key in preventing the “values test” from becoming a condition for accessing membership, those very same dynamics fostered a complex debate over the content of Québécois national identity, in which “thick” and exclusionary discourses loomed large. In this section, I examine this crucial aspect of the parliamentary debates over Bill 9, and argue that those debates served as a site in which politicians on opposite sides battled over the meanings of — and interplay between — “rights” and “values” as vehicles of national belonging. I show that the position of the governing CAQ party was informed by a discursive strategy of framing “rights” — such as gender equality — as “values”, and that in this regard, the party’s efforts were relatively successful.

29In framing “rights” as “values” during the debates over Bill 9, the CAQ party utilized a discursive strategy developed during Québec’s religious signs debate. A key moment in that debate occurred in 2013, when the separatist Parti Québécois proposed a Charter of Values, which included a plan to prohibit religious signs in all public-sector employment. Although it did not become law, the Charter and its surrounding debate rendered “values” a legitimate frame in articulating the secular boundaries of the state and nation. In advertising its plan, for instance, the Parti Québécois government declared:


“Churches, synagogues and mosques are sacred. The religious neutrality of the state and the equality of men and women are also sacred. We believe in our values.” [17]

31By placing gender equality in the realm of “values” rather than “rights,” this quote signaled that the Parti Québécois intended to frame the content of national belonging in political (and therefore value-laden) — rather than legal (and thus rights-centred) — terms.

32The CAQ government further inscribed this slippage from “rights” to “values” in its promotion of the “values test”. I noted forty-two separate occasions in which prominent members of this party either articulated a very close association between these two concepts, or used them interchangeably in their advocacy of Bill 9. The conflation of “rights” and “values” that marked the CAQ strategy was further outlined in its “practical guide” to new immigration applicants. The guide states:


“In Québec, values are expressed by the rights and responsibilities of citizens. They dictate the rules and the social codes that make Québec society what it is. These values will therefore serve as landmarks allowing you to fully participate, in French, in your new society.” (Government of Québec, 2019a: 6 [18])

34This slippage from “rights and responsibilities” to “rules”, “social codes”, and “values” speaks to the CAQ’s position as a nationalist — though not explicitly separatist — party in Québec’s political system. As I showed in the above section, the CAQ framed its promotion of the “values test” as a condition for accessing permanent residency as part of a project to protect Québec’s distinctiveness. Party members were similarly keen to underscore the nationalist imperatives behind their framing of nationhood’s content. This became especially clear in discussions about the particular, versus universal, underpinnings of “values” like gender equality. According to Jolin-Barette:


“[…] We take for granted that the equality of men and women is a universal value, but it is not, because in certain states, they have not inscribed it, nor do they respect it. We say: in […] the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, it is present. Therefore, it is expressed in that Charter, and that makes it a Québécois value.” [19]

36This statement illustrates how the slippage from “rights” to “values” at the heart of the CAQ’s framing of the “values test” contributed to a larger strategy of particularizing the universal aspects of nationhood in order to tap into nationalist votes and sentiment. From this party’s vantage point, categorizing gender equality as a “universal” right undermines the nationalist character of the legislation. As a result, its members opted to underscore Québec’s “particular” commitment to women’s equality as a “value”. Yet, “rights” did not fall out of the frame entirely. Instead, the CAQ preserved aspects of the “rights” framework when legitimating its proposals as consistent with Québec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

37Statements such as the one by Jolin-Barette elicited strong criticism from the Liberal Party and Québec Solidaire, and to a lesser extent the Parti Québécois. Concerned by the downplaying of “rights” in the CAQ’s approach, these parties’ members confronted the government with the following key questions: How did it conceive the relationship between “democratic rights” and “Québécois values”? Were these two sides of the same coin or did they differ in meaningful ways? Speaking to these themes, Liberal member Robitaille said:


“So, ‘democratic values’ are juxtaposed against ‘Québécois values expressed by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms’ So, what I understand from the Minister is that these values don’t refer to pork pâté, or to the ceinture fléchée[20], or to the Montreal Canadians. It’s much more. It’s obviously much more. It’s universal rights, it’s the Charter. […] Is that right?” [21]

39This statement underscores a problematic ambiguity at the heart of Bill 9: if, as the government claimed, “values” simply “express” what is in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, why bother referring to such “values” at all? Robitaille’s colleagues took this criticism further, raising the possibility that the CAQ had intentionally chosen the term “values” as a way to elicit “thicker”, more exclusionary notions of identity. According to the Liberal member, Anglade:


“You’ve told us two different things. The first thing you said is: Québécois values are equal to the sum of the rights and principles expressed by the Charter. […] My question is, if values are notably made up of [rights and freedoms] what are the other values included? Unless you establish a clear rule that Québécois values equal the sum of rights and freedoms. What I’m trying to determine is: are Québécois values equal to the sum of the principles expressed by the Charter? I just want to know if, for you, the two are the same.” [22]

41Frustrated by repeated efforts to force its hand, the CAQ responded by accusing its opposition of getting mired in semantics, and purposely detracting attention from the stated goals of the bill. [23]

42Far from benign, opposition members warned that the slippage from “rights” to “values” embodied by the “values test” contributes to an exclusionary framing of the content of national belonging. Speaking to this concern Québec Solidaire member Fontecilla maintained:


“It is eminently dangerous to assimilate a value… to label it ‘Québécois’. It assimilates it to a majority. And that majority, by the very fact of being a majority, is automatically right. And that, from the perceptive of defending minority rights, is hugely problematic.” [24]

44In working to dislodge the CAQ government’s value-centred framework, therefore, opposition parties tried to re-assert a rights-based understanding of citizenship and integration.

45As in the debate over the “values test” as a mechanism of access, established partisan structures shaped parties’ stances on the content of belonging in Québec. For instance, responding to a proposal by Québec Solidaire to render the project more inclusive by removing the word “Québécois” before “values”, CAQ member Poulin said:


“I think we should be at ease, as parliamentarians, as legislators, with standing behind ‘Québec values’ and to describe them as such. The goal is not to be protectionist. The goal is not to forge opposition amongst groups. But, when you’re a legislator in Québec, when you firmly believe also in the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, when you firmly believe in the laws that govern us, I don’t think there should be any discomfort with having the word “Québec” in our laws…” [25]

47This statement speaks to the role of nationalist imperatives in generating support for the explicit promotion of “values” in Québec’s integration policy. Underscoring the particularities of these “values”, according to the CAQ, should be a core objective of provincial legislators. Reacting to the implication that their own proposals defied this objective, opposition members tried to expose the government’s partisan motivations. This effort came through, for instance, when Liberal Party members claimed that promoting an exclusionary value-system was the marque de commerce (“political brand”), of the CAQ party. [26]


48Québec’s “values test” affords an opportunity to examine whether and how the mechanisms behind — and ultimate implications of — civic integration policy differ in states where regional governments exert significant control over immigration and integration. I have argued that multi-level governance structures, and the partisan debates they elicit, significantly shape how access to — and the content of — nationhood are defined through the civic integration strategies of regional governments, like Québec’s, who represent a cultural and linguistic “majority” that constitutes a “minority” within the larger federal state. Yet, these effects are complex and work in two different directions.

49On the one hand, the Québec case revealed that, at least in Canada, federal legal structures can provide opponents of civic integration “tests” with the tools to limit state projects to restrict access to membership. Although Québec possesses significant control over immigrant selection and incorporation, it lacks jurisdiction over the allocation of permanent residency, which lies with the federal government. Legislators in the province are also beholden to the rights frameworks enshrined in both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Québec’s own Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Citing supportive expert testimony, opposition parties in Québec’s National Assembly were able to wield these instruments to prevent the “values test” from becoming a means by which to restrict access to permanent residency.

50On the other hand, to the extent that they obstruct the nationalist projects of governments representing regional “majorities” who are national “minorities”, multi-level governance structures may also give rise to the explicit promotion of “values” by such governments, as they seek greater control over the content of nationhood. In the wake of two failed referenda to achieve sovereignty, and with the decline in separatist sentiment threatening the raison d’être of the major nationalist parties (Mahéo and Bélanger, 2018), the “national question” has shifted in focus from language politics to the impacts of ethno-religious diversity. Some — though not all — nationalist parties have responded by advancing assimilationist policies and a restrictive secularism. In the context of the “values test” debate, these efforts led the governing party to advance a value-laden, rather than rights-based, articulation of the content of Québécois nationhood.

51Besides specifying the impact of multi-level governance structures and nationalist partisan dynamics on civic integration policy-making, the Québec case can shed light on normative debates about the extent to which integration “tests” meet the requirements of — or undermine — “liberal” citizenship. These debates have been most vociferous in the public discourse, but they also feature in academic scholarship, with some declaring that the very notion of a “test” is “illiberal” (Carens, 2010), while others maintain that, depending on how they are administered, integration “tests” can serve as “reasonable” gateways to liberal-democratic citizenship (Hansen, 2010; Joppke, 2010). Yet, even those broadly in favour of civic integration “tests” from a liberal standpoint insist there is a threshold at which such measures become “illiberal”. For Joppke (2010: 2), this threshold is surpassed when “tests” inquire about individuals’ values and beliefs. Yet, as the Québec “values test” aptly demonstrates, this threshold is, in practice, difficult to identify. Indeed, the debates surrounding that “test” reveal that politicians advancing a value-laden approach to citizenship can avoid meeting the threshold of “illiberalism” by blurring the boundary between “rights” and “values”. Future research should pay attention to this strategy of particularizing the universal, and assess whether it informs civic integration policy approaches in and beyond Europe.


  • [1]
    In Canada’s immigration system, “Québec economic classes” fall under the following four categories: “Québec skilled workers”, “Québec immigrant investor”; “Québec entrepreneur”; and “Québec self-employed persons” (Government of Canada, Québec economic classes, [online]. URL:
  • [2]
    Jolin-Barette, National Assembly, February 21, 2019: 510-511.
  • [3]
    All direct quotes were translated from the original French by the author.
  • [4]
    National Assembly, May 27, 2019: 122-123.
  • [5]
    National Assembly, May 28, 2019:13-14.
  • [6]
    Handfield, National Assembly, February 28, 2019: 39, 47.
  • [7]
    The Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms is a statutory human rights code enacted in 1975. It is older than the constitutionally enshrined Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982. While it is technically only a statute, it is interpreted by the courts as having quasi-constitutional status. It is also symbolically important because Québec never agreed to the 1982 amendment to the federal constitution, which brought about the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the federal constitution nonetheless applies in the province. When litigants challenge Québec legislation under both the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the federal constitution, Canadian courts consider the Québec Charter first. See CDPDJ, National Assembly, February 28, 2019: 146.
  • [8]
    It is appropriate at this juncture to briefly introduce the key legislators, within the CAQ government as well as the opposition, whose engagements in the parliamentary debates significantly shaped the trajectory of the “values test”. Simon Jolin-Barette was the CAQ Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness at the time of the parliamentary debates. He sponsored Bill 9. Samuel Poulin is an elected member of the CAQ. Dominique Anglade, an elected member of the Liberal Party of Québec, was the Official Opposition Critic for Immigration during the period in question. She has been leader of the Liberal Party of Québec since May 11, 2020. Paule Robitaille is an elected member of the Liberal Party of Québec. She was Official Opposition Critic for International Relations and La Francophonie during the period in question. Finally, Andrès Fontecilla is an elected member of Québec Solidaire. At the time of the debate over Bill 9, he was Third Opposition Group Critic for Immigration, Diversity, and Inclusiveness.
  • [9]
    E.g. Robitaille, National Assembly, May 30, 2019: 45-46.
  • [10]
    E.g. Fontecilla, National Assembly, April 10, 2019: 12.
  • [11]
    Jolin-Barette, National Assembly, May 27, 2019: 88.
  • [12]
    Anglade, National Assembly, May 28, 2019: 69.
  • [13]
    Jolin-Barette, National Assembly, May 28, 2019: 76 (emphasis added).
  • [14]
    Robitaille, National Assembly, May 30, 2019: 34-35.
  • [15]
    Jolin-Barette, National Assembly, May 30, 2019: 41-42 (emphasis added).
  • [16]
    Jolin-Barette, National Assembly, May 28, 2019: 52-53.
  • [17]
    Parti Québécois (2013) [online]. URL: (emphasis added).
  • [18]
    Emphasis added.
  • [19]
    Jolin-Barette, National Assembly, April 10, 2019: 29.
  • [20]
    Refers to a 19th century traditional sash worn in Québec.
  • [21]
    Robitaille, National Assembly, April 10, 2019: 22.
  • [22]
    Anglade, National Assembly, April 10, 2019: 45.
  • [23]
    Jolin-Barette, National Assembly, April 10, 2019: 39.
  • [24]
    Fontecilla, National Assembly, April 10, 2019: 12.
  • [25]
    Poulin, National Assembly, April 10, 2019: 78.
  • [26]
    Robitaille, National Assembly, April 11, 2019: 18.

On January 1st, 2020, the majority French-speaking Canadian province of Québec implemented a “values test” for prospective immigrants. Subject to virulent partisan debate for months prior to its introduction, the “test” is mandatory for many newcomers, and probes their views on secularism, same-sex marriage, gender (in)equality, religious symbols, and aspects of Québécois culture. The circumstances surrounding Québec’s new “values test” point to two fruitful avenues for research on civic integration policy. First, most such research focuses on policies developed by Western European nation-states. The Québec case invites new comparative questions. Whether and how the process of defining civic belonging is differing in countries — like Canada — where regional governments seeking to regulate immigrant selection and incorporation must navigate federal institutional and discursive structures? Second, although not entirely unique, the direct reference to “values” in Québec’s new policy demonstrates that, despite so often being framed by their political advocates as advancing a “liberal” commitment to “rights”, civic integration tests are becoming venues for the explicit promotion of “thick” and exclusionary notions of national identity. Based on a qualitative analysis of the parliamentary debates leading up to Québec’s “values test”, this paper unpacks the implications of this case for assessing the determinants and effects of civic integration policy in and beyond Europe.

  • values test
  • national identity
  • civic integration policy


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Emily Laxer
Assistant Professor of Sociology at York University’s Glendon Campus, Département de Sociologie, Collège Glendon, Université York, 2275 Ave Bayview, North York, ON, Canada, M4N 3M6;
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