BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMNEDIA NEWS NOVEMBER 25, 2011
OTTAWA — The federal government is poised to slash another $31.5 million from immigration settlement services in Ontario where community organizations are already reeling from similar cuts last year.
While overall federal funding for things like language, employment and housing support will dip by $6 million, Ontario's loss appears to be the rest of the country's gain as every other province and territory — except Quebec which handles its own immigration program — will get a bigger share of a shrinking settlement funding pie.
Some of the largest increases are coming in Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Saskatchewan.
Rick Dykstra, the parliamentary secretary for immigration, said it's because more and more newcomers are heading to other parts of Canada, particularly the West.
"Ontario's share of immigration has decreased from 64 per cent in 2005 to 52 per cent in 2010, so our goal has always been . . . that the dollars follow where settlement is happening," he said Friday.
"We have to be fair with taxpayer dollars. We're not going to continue to increase funding at the levels of settlement that they were in 2005 and 2006 if those numbers are down dramatically, and they are in Ontario."
Earlier this week, Postmedia News reported that Ontario experienced a significant drop in immigration, to 118,114 in 2010 from 148,640 settlers in 2001. Toronto welcomed 92,185 newcomers in 2010 compared to 125,169 in 2001.
Meanwhile, the number of newcomers settling in Manitoba increased to 15,809 in 2010 from 4,591 in 2001. Saskatchewan saw an increase to 7,615 from 1,704, while Alberta welcomed 32,642 newcomers, up from 16,404 a decade earlier.
According to the figures released Friday, Citizenship and Immigration has earmarked nearly $577 million for settlement services in 2012, compared to $583 million the year before and $622 million in 2010.
Despite a downward trend in recent years, the government boasts it has actually more than tripled settlement funding, which stood at $185 million in 2005 when the Liberals were still in power.
The overall drop is said to be part of a governmentwide strategic review aimed at eliminating duplication and the government says it's actually providing a broader range of services.
It's little consolation to Ontario, however, where as many as 20 groups are bracing for funding cuts as a result of this latest announcement.
Ontario still gets the lion's share of settlement funding — nearly $315 million next year — but the province's immigration minister said the cuts will hurt.
"This decrease of $31 million will hit newcomers in Ontario especially hard at a time when the province could most benefit from the valuable contributions that they bring," Charles Sousa said in an email.
"As a result, these unfair cuts will deny thousands of newcomers access to services that will help them find jobs and learn new skills."
Sousa argued more than 40 per cent of all immigrants to Canada still choose Ontario as their home and thousands more want to, but federal selection programs don't respond to the province's labour market needs. A huge backlog in applicants means many are also waiting seven years just to be considered, he said.
Ontario is also demanding Ottawa pay back some $200 million still owed to the province under the Canada Ontario Immigration Agreement which expired last year.
Sousa said it's "unacceptable" that a new agreement hasn't been struck and that the federal government needs to start working with the province "instead of unilaterally taking steps that determine Ontario's economic recovery, and its economic future."
Dykstra said Ontario had access to the money but never used it. Now that the agreement has lapsed, he said, the feds are off the hook.
Meanwhile, community groups say they too are definitely feeling the pinch.
The Eritrean Canadian Immigration Centre in Toronto saw 100 per cent of its funding cut last year — about $300,000 — and has since cut staff to one full-time and four part-timers from five full-time and two part-timers.
Clients now have to book an appointment to receive services and the centre is only able to handle 25-50 cases a month. Manager Abraha Ghebreslassie said demand for services, however, hasn't dissipated and still stands at 3,000-5,000 people a year.
"Luckily for 2011, the provincial government stepped in and helped us to continue serving the immigrants in a minimal capacity," he said, noting the group received about $65,000 in provincial funding to make up for the loss.
Kripa Sekhar, executive director of the South Asian Women's Centre in Toronto, tells a similar story.
"The cuts were excruciating. The community is feeling it," she said, noting the group lost more than $500,000 in federal funding last year.
"We are still seeing a huge volume in clients although staff are all part-time. It's very hard to help clients. It used to be drop-in, now clients have to make an appointment to receive services."
Audrey Macklin, a University of Toronto law professor specializing in immigration, said the problem with cutting services in Ontario due to fluctuating migration patterns is that proportionally, Ontario still welcomes a greater number of people who actually use integration services, such as refugees and family class immigrants.
"It isn't just a total numbers game in term of where the immigrants are," she said. "It's also where the immigrants are who benefit the most and perhaps have the greatest need for settlement services."
Noting federally funded settlement services are limited to permanent residents, Macklin said the government also needs to consider opening the program up to temporary foreign workers.
She argues the Canadian immigration system has shifted, focusing more on temporary workers who only become eligible for permanent residency after a period of time, rather than skilled workers who enter as permanent residents and often use settlement services to upgrade their credentials.
Immigration settlement funding by the numbers:
Newfoundland/Labrador $2,223,039 $2,512,975
P.E.I. $3,946,142 $5,218,024
Nova Scotia $7,012,146 $7,078,944
New Brunswick $5,179,369 $5,664,069
Ontario $346,521,868 $314,950,874
Manitoba $32,027,618 $36,539,512
Saskatchewan $14,255,519 $17,995,061
Alberta $64,071,989 $74,978,539
British Columbia $105,558,092 $109,813,233
Northwest Territories $672,976 $723,998
Nunavut $463,377 $469,800 Yukon $709,534 $932,632
Note: Figures are not available for Quebec.
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