Immigrating: The New Deal for Newcomers

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This article is Dated. Published March 2005. Rob Ford is the current mayor of Toronto.

Ever since Toronto came together as one big city in 1998, politicians have been saying that Toronto needs a “new deal.”

Usually, the deal they talk about is about money. The Canadian (federal) and Ontario (provincial) governments need to give money to Toronto, to pay for buses and subways and housing.

That makes sense because Toronto needs hundreds of millions of dollars just to keep these things in good shape and the city has nowhere to get that money on its own.

That is because Toronto and other cities and towns are not allowed to take tax from anywhere but houses and businesses in the city. Without help from governments that can take tax money from income and sales, Toronto is in trouble, and that is why both Canada ‘s and Ontario ‘s governments have promised to give Toronto a part of the gasoline tax this past year.

But that is only part of the New Deal. Toronto Mayor David Miller and the federal and provincial governments are talking about another New Deal — on immigration.

This new deal is not about money.

Miller told Canadian Newcomer that the city needs to have what he calls “a seat at the table” when the federal government is deciding how people are settled here.

“We’re the largest single receptor (host) of newcomers in Canada,” said Miller. “Many of the services we provide help them settle here, the agencies we fund or partner with help them do that. So we have requested to have a seat at the table on immigration issues. It’s a longstanding request.”

Miller is right to say that. Toronto is the first stop for the most newcomers. More than half of the people who come to Canada come here first. Some of those newcomers are refugees and need help with everything but many more need at least some help. And providing that help is often the job of the city.

Because of that, Miller said the city needs to be seen as what it is — a government.

“On immigration it’s important that we’re recognized as a partner rather than the traditional federal view of municipalities, that we’re a non-profit organization,” he says.

Toronto and every other city and town are often called “creatures of the province.” That is because cities and towns (also called municipalities) are not talked about in the Canadian Constitution. Toronto only exists in provincial legislation (law), in an act called The City of Toronto Act.

That legislation tells Toronto how to do everything: how many city councillors sit on the Council, what kind of tax the city can raise from people who live and work here, and how many things that Council can do with that tax.

Changing that act is another part of the New Deal. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has promised to change the Act, and Toronto is asking for more powers.

If the city gets its way, then it will be easier to deal directly with the federal government because Toronto will have real powers.

But even without those changes, the city can come to an agreement with the federal government to manage immigration better.

“What it means to people and newcomers is we have a chance to influence settlement policies so newcomers can more successfully adapt when they come to Toronto,” said Miller. “Secondly we would have an opportunity to influence policies around employment.”

For Miller, that means making it easier for professional people like doctors and engineers to work in their profession here in Canada.

“It’s an enormous issue to tens of thousands of Torontonians that they can’t use their foreign skills experience to get appropriate levels of employment here,” he said. “It’s a loss to them, to their families and the city as a whole. If a highly-qualified engineer comes here from Saudi Arabia we’re much better off with that engineer being an engineer. We need that skill and expertise.”

Miller said that part of the New Deal on immigration is making sure that Toronto continues to be a city where newcomers want to settle.

“I want to see newcomers continue to be welcomed to Toronto,” says Miller. “I want to see newcomers established much more rapidly in terms of language training, employment, affordable housing and being part of the community. I think we’ve got a proud tradition in Toronto — it’s made our city, no question — but it’s slipping.”

Miller is worried about statistics showing that newcomers are having a harder time making enough money.

“The statistics show that 10 to 15 years ago, newcomers in terms of family income reached the level of native born Canadians after seven years and exceeded it,” he said. “Now it takes 12 to 15 years. It’s almost doubled. My goal would be to see that trend reversed and seeing people being able to be economically and socially established much faster.”

Most of the New Deal involves the City talking to the provincial and federal government. When the governments are talking about immigration, all three are still involved but the federal government is the most important because immigration is a federal responsibility.

The federal and city governments have been working on what is called a “memorandum of understanding” — an agreement — for the past year.

That work has slowed down after a scandal forced Immigration Minister Judy Sgro to resign, but Miller says he wants to get the memorandum signed by the end of the year.

What would that memorandum contain?

“We’re talking about things like the federal government language training program — how it’s delivered, who delivers it,” he said. “That matters to us. We need an agreement about basic settlement assistance that newcomers get. We’re looking for funding to community agencies that deal with settlement. I think we also have to deal with the broad issues of how the city services support newcomers. Schools play an important role in that to, as do city community centres. I’d like to try to eliminate user fees for children. We’d go from those to things that the federal government considers to be settlement policies, like housing policies. What I hear from newcomers as often as I hear about employment is housing.”

One area where Miller would like to see money from the federal government is in dealing with refugees.

“The federal government needs to make more of a commitment to support refugees who are often housed in the city’s shelter system (which also houses people who are living on the street),” he said.

Miller would like to see the federal government plan its spending using the city’s knowledge of its needs as a guide. And that is what he is looking for in the memorandum of understanding.

“The key is we need a way to articulate what’s happening in real peoples’ lives, because we know that best, and in the formulation of policy of all kinds in immigration. If we’re able to be there letting people know what the impact of that policy really is in the streets and homes of Toronto, we’ll be able to have a direct impact on peoples’ successful adaptation and welcome to the city,” he said.

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