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‘I didn’t come here to live this kind of life’: Skilled immigrants on their desperate hunt for jobs in Quebec

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Instead of sparring over how many immigrants Quebec should accept, Abdul Waheed wishes provincial politicians were talking about how to help skilled workers like him get jobs in their field so they could integrate into Quebec society.

Trained as a chemist and armed with two master’s degrees, Waheed abandoned the chance to pursue his PhD studies in Hong Kong to immigrate to Quebec with his wife and three children five years ago.

Originally from Pakistan, Waheed was confident he’d eventually find a job in his field in Quebec — possibly in the pharmaceutical, food or petrochemical industries.

The only job he has found is at a call centre.

Abdul Waheed holds up a certificate he received after completing a seven-week course on how to improve his CV and write a cover letter. The trained chemist has two master’s degrees in science but has gone back to college in the hope of finding a job in his field. (CBC)

He’s scoured countless employment sites and sent out hundreds of CVs, taking almost every job-finding program offered by Emploi Québec and studying French. Nothing has led to a better job.

« I can’t express the feeling of dismay and despair I have because of this, » said Waheed, 39, who lives with his family in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighbourhood.

He says his 11-year-old daughter asks him what’s the point of all his education.

« I feel like a big failure, » said Waheed. « I didn’t come here to live this kind of life. »

Duelling immigration visions

Quebec has an estimated 90,000 unfilled jobs, and municipal leaders, business and employers groups have called on the province to accept more immigrants to fill them.

But immigration has become a political hot potato in this provincial campaign, with Coalition Avenir Québec making cuts to immigration a key plank in its platform.

Both the Liberals and Québec Solidaire say they’d maintain the current quota of immigrants — about 53,000 a year.

The Parti Québécois says it would let the auditor general set the number.

The CAQ wants to slash the number of immigrants by 20 per cent, until Quebec assesses the effectiveness of its programs at retaining and integrating newcomers.

If elected Oct. 1, CAQ Leader François Legault says his party would reduce Quebec’s annual quota of immigrants by 20 per cent. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

CAQ Leader François Legault says far too many immigrants don’t stay in Quebec, citing Immigration Ministry statistics that show 10 years after their arrival, more than a quarter of all immigrants have left.

A more recent Institut du Québec study, released last week, puts the immigration retention rate at 18 per cent, behind Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta but ahead of the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The same study shows that 58 per cent of immigrants arrive without a working knowledge of French, making it difficult for them to integrate into the workforce.

Legault has seized on that point, vowing to compel recent arrivals to take a French exam and a values test within three years of arriving in Quebec — and to refuse to issue those who fail with a Quebec selection certificate, which immigrants need to apply for permanent residency.

The PQ says immigrants should have a sufficient knowledge of French and Quebec values before arriving in the province.

Language, identity politics ‘unsettling’

The political debate is unsettling for many newcomers.

« All of them are fully aware of the importance of French, » says Luis Miguel Cristancho, the director of Bienvenue à Quebec, a welcome centre for new immigrants and refugees in Montreal’s west end.

Bienvenue à NDG helps immigrants integrate with a range of services, including providing French and English courses. (CBC)

As he speaks, two French classes are underway: one for Chinese-speaking seniors, the other for refugees, foreign students and temporary workers who hope to stay in Quebec.

Unfortunately, Cristancho says, some are forced to quit French classes because they have to get jobs to support their families.

He believes the government has to find more ways to offer French-language training beyond the classroom.

« You need to make French accessible in every single corner, » said Cristancho.

« Learning a language is about living a language. It’s about learning French in your workplace, at school, everywhere. »

Programs ‘fragmented,’ ‘underfunded’

Prof. Marie-Thérèse Chicha agrees. An economist at Université de Montréal’s school of industrial relations, Chicha describes Quebec’s efforts as « fragmented » and « underfunded. »

This year alone, Chicha says, Quebec received nearly half a billion dollars in transfer payments for programs such as PRIIME, a provincial subsidy for employers who hire new immigrants, to offset training and integration costs.

Marie-Thérèse Chicha, a professor of industrial relations at Université de Montréal, describes the province’s integration efforts as ‘fragmented.’ (CBC)

Last year, that program helped fewer than 1,500 immigrants.

« That’s small compared to the number of immigrants who arrive in Quebec and are highly skilled, » said Chicha.

French no job guarantee

The CAQ has pointed out that the unemployment rate is 15.8 per cent among immigrants who have been here for five years or less — nearly 10 points higher than the general population.

However, Chicha points out one of the highest levels of unemployment is among North African immigrants from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, who all speak French fluently.

« There are other obstacles, » she said — namely, discrimination.

Sherbrooke resident Aida Chebbi fears that is what is behind her husband’s struggle to find a job.

Chebbi and her husband, Reffaat Bouzid, immigrated to Quebec from Tunisia with their two young children in 2013.

« Our whole project to come here was based on my husband being able to work as an architect, » said Chebbi.

It took Reffaat Bouzid three years to have his credentials recognized by Quebec’s Order of Architects. Bouzid, seen here with his family, received his permit to practice in June 2017 but still can’t find work as an architect.

Bouzid earned his degree in France and has more than 30 years’ international experience, designing everything from houses to hotels.

But once here, it took three years to have his credentials recognized. 

He finally got his permit to practice in June 2017 but still can’t land a job. 

He’s only had one job interview — where he was told, at 56, he was too old.

« Without a doubt, our origins are behind this refusal, » said Chebbi.

The family has had to borrow money to make ends meet, and Bouzid has taken small jobs as a cleaner. Recently, he’s had health problems which Chebbi blames on stress.

Chebbi is wrapping up a master’s degree in biomechanical engineering and will soon be looking for a job herself, but she’s bracing herself for disappointment.

« I’m prepared to leave Quebec if I’m offered an opportunity elsewhere, » said Chebbi.

« We moved here to have a better life, and that starts with jobs. »

Discrimination an obstacle

Chicha says Quebec’s labour shortage means the province can’t afford to reduce the number of immigrants, and those who frame immigration as a threat are using it as « an excuse not to act. »

She says if the next government wants to avoid more immigrants giving up on Quebec, it has to admit systemic discrimination exists.

One tangible way of tackling it, she said, is by expanding employment equity programs.

All employers should be required, by law, to hire a certain percentage of skilled visible minorities, Chicha said.

Bienvenue à NDG’s director, Luis Miguel Cristancho, says the government needs to do more to promote the benefits of hiring immigrants. (CBC)

That would strengthen their social and professional networks and help them integrate, said Chicha.

Right now, Chicha says, the blame too often falls on immigrants if they have trouble learning French or finding a job in their field.

« In fact, it’s other actors who have a large responsibility — employers and the government, » said Chicha.

Bienvenue à Quebec’s Cristancho agrees.

« It’s this society that really needs to open up to these newcomers, » he said. He’d like to see more awareness programs about the benefits of hiring immigrants.

‘I want them to be proud of me’

Abdul Waheed just wants the chance to prove what he can do as a chemist.

In 2016, seeing no other option, he headed back to school.

He’ll soon graduate with a diploma in laboratory technology and analytical chemistry from Dawson College.

Waheed hopes a CEGEP certificate plus the connections he’s made there are enough to finally get him a job in his field.

« If not, I’ll be left with no other option but to relocate, » said Waheed, although he fervently hopes to stay in Quebec, where his family is now settled.

His daughter and son chatter away in French effortlessly now. Arriving home from school, his daughter shows off an award she got that day.

« Of course, I am proud of my kids, » said Waheed.

« I want them to be proud of me. »

The Pakistani chemist came to Montreal with his wife and three children five years ago, but despite having two master’s degrees, he can only find work in a call centre. 1:58

Want the latest from the campaign trail? Sign up for CBC Montreal’s election newsletter at cbc.ca/ballotbrief

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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