House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

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(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #188

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Don Valley West.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

March 1st, 2011 / 11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue this debate and to add our concerns to the government's refusal to consider the newcomers to Canada and their need to be ensured of having adequate funding for the settlement services that they both need and deserve.

The fact is that this is not just about newcomers to Canada. It is about ensuring that they have a fair start and have the economic advantage they need to have to contribute to society, but it is also about all Canadians who have a vested interest in the economy, the social fabric of country and to ensure that social cohesion continues.

I want to take us back five or six years to the previous Liberal government which understood that we needed to develop new capacity to help newcomers to this country succeed. The reality is that as the previous government looked at the issue, it recognized that we needed to have new federal-provincial agreements, coast to coast to coast, to ensure that agencies could have the capacity to respond to increasing needs of newcomers to Canada.

We recognized that the numbers of newcomers were increasing but also the newcomers coming to Canada did not have all the language capacity or understand some of the social realities of Canada and needed services to be integrated into the country.

A number of agreements were established. I am obviously most familiar with the one that affects Ontario, the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement, that established some very noble but also ambitious goals to ensure that settlement funding was increased.

That agreement was over a five-year period and it expanded broadly. We recognize that the government did see the legal responsibility and the contractual understanding that we had to make sure that those funds were adequately disbursed.

In Ontario though, as we have analyzed those funds, we do know that the government fell some $207 million short in that agreement for funding that was promised. It said it fell short because it simply did not have the capacity in the agencies to actually spend the money well. We think part of that money should have been spent ensuring the capacity was there.

When the agreement came to an end, when the minister had the first chance, the first ability to actually strike out in new territory in a new and ambitious way, what we heard first was some $53 million would be cut nationally. The minister has stated that this is a rebalancing, a reflecting of the geographic changes in immigration patterns, but that simply does not wash because the whole envelope has been decreased some $53 million. The lion's share of that has been targeted in Ontario and the lion's share of the Ontario target has happened in the GTA. That is a concern.

It is $53 million of the whole envelope that is being dropped and $44 million of that is happening in Ontario. These funding cuts come on the heels of the government announcing the record number of newcomers coming to Canada. Of course we support the record number of newcomers coming to Canada.

We have a situation in Canada with the changing demographics, with an impending labour shortage, and we know that we need the best and the brightest newcomers coming into this country. They also need a chance to ensure that they are going to succeed. That is what settlement funding is about.

The reality is settlement funding, integration, and language training are all key factors in ensuring that newcomers to Canada are integrated and can succeed. Recent statistics are showing that in fact there is a problem that newcomers are still earning less on the dollar than long-established Canadians. We are trying to ensure that does not happen, that people, no matter where they come from, are able to succeed. That is what those settlement programs are doing.

Over the last several months, and it was not new to me, I spent time visiting some of the agencies that are affected. They are often smaller agencies that have lost between 50% and 100% of their funding, targeted by the Conservative government, which is bothersome to us.

This includes the Ethiopian centre in Toronto. I was speaking with its members on Saturday, this past weekend. This whole community of Ethiopians are very concerned about being able to fulfill very niche market targeting that they are attempting to do to ensure that their newcomers, their sisters and brothers, cousins, friends and neighbours who are coming to Canada have adequate support.

I forgot to mention at the beginning of my speech that I will be splitting my time with the member for Parkdale—High Park. I apologize to the House. I also apologize to the hon. member who has taken great pains to be up on the numbers on this issue. He has presented some of his concerns statistically about how to ensure that Toronto, the GTA and all of Ontario are not left behind on this.

Earlier in the week the hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, the member for Beaches—East York and I toured the main facility of COSTI in the west end of Toronto. We were impressed with the classes, the groups, the employment readiness functions that were being offered. It was extremely important that our leader and other caucus members saw the work that is being done on the ground to help newcomers not only survive but flourish.

This story is repeated across the GTA and around the province of Ontario. The reality is that newcomers need every chance they can get to be serviced in a way that will make them succeed.

We are talking about a cut of 10% to newcomer settlement organizations, which will reduce budgets by up to 70% in many cases. The organizations were concentrated in Ontario, but Nova Scotia and British Columbia also took a huge cut. Our concern is not just Ontario-centric, we are also concerned about people outside of the GTA.

I have concern not only about the absolute cuts, the programs that will not be funded and the newcomers who will suffer, but I also have concerns about the government's tendency to bully people in these agencies who might actually raise a concern about the cuts.

It was reported in the Toronto Star that one particular organization had received a recommendation, or perhaps advice, or perhaps stronger words, to not raise this issue while it was in negotiations. Did it fear being critical of the government and having its services cut?

From the agency standpoint this is not criticism of the government. It is a positive expression of concern from the clients these agencies are attempting to serve and that means being critical of a government that is cutting funding, that is failing to respond to newcomers' needs in large and small cities alike.

This is not just about Toronto and Ontario. This is also about places like Guelph. At committee we heard of an agency in Guelph that is losing all its funding. These are smaller centres that do not necessarily have natural organic organizations that flow to help newcomers in Canada, to help people get acclimatized to Canada. That funding is intrinsic in making sure that people are linked up with others and with services.

The Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services and the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office are two significant agencies in my riding. FNS put in an application on this last round and received zero funding. It would have been a new agency responding to changing immigration patterns in that community. Flemingdon is a priority neighbourhood in Toronto.

Some 12 or 13 neighbourhoods in Toronto have been identified as having high poverty rates and relatively high crime rates. These neighbourhoods try to ensure that newcomers have a chance. Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services is a small but efficient organization that multiplies its dollars to help. Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, still in negotiations on this, is an equally large organization which responds to newcomers mainly from South Asia. It needs to expand its programs, not have them threatened.

The government needs to stop boasting about huge immigration numbers while cutting away at the edges. The Conservatives claim that newcomers are not coming to Ontario in the same numbers but that is not the case. Ontario is in fact still receiving a significant number of newcomers and Toronto is still particularly underfunded in doing this work.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, if the member opposite and his party believe so strongly in the importance of settlement services, could he explain to us why, after 13 years in office, after 5 governments under 2 prime ministers, the total amount of federal Liberal government funding for settlement services in Canada was $200 million frozen over 13 years? It was barely over $100 million for Ontario.

Does the member not think that the current budget for 2011-12 compares rather favourably to that, a budget of $600 million federally and $346.5 million in Ontario? Why is he criticizing a government that has tripled the settlement funding levels that were provided by his government?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to take the minister back in history to 13 years of Liberal government when we inherited the largest deficit in Canadian history. Finance Minister Paul Martin and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien took 11 years first and two more years to clean up the mess the Conservatives left behind.

There were of course cuts that were made in that time that were significant and important, but there were also tax cuts that were made in that time to ready ourselves to do the work. At the end of that period of time, there was a rapid expanding of investment in people, whether it was the Kelowna accord for first nations or the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement to make sure that funding was in place.

We put our house in order. We did the work we had to do and we will have to do it again after a record $56 billion deficit that these bandits will leave.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I would urge all members to be judicious in their choice of words, if I heard correctly.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, yes, the immigrants services funding was frozen for 13 years and it has been increased since 2006, but there is no good reason in this year, in 2011, when we have a record number of immigrants coming into this country, to have the kind of meanspirited cuts we have seen of $53 million.

Has the member seen a transition plan, so that the thousands and thousands of newcomers in Ontario who have now been thrown out on the street as of March 31, where newcomers would continue to find services, whether settlement, adaptation, language training, finding homes or finding jobs. I do not notice a transition plan, but perhaps the member has.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina both for her hard work on this issue and also for the question.

I see no transition plan in place. I see a scrambling at the end of the last calendar year, right at the end of December, where the government had to give three months' notice, but that does not allow people in agencies to actually have an effective transition.

What I am seeing is a government that makes a decision almost by accident, it appears, or perhaps not. Perhaps some of these cuts have been targeted in communities that have traditionally been less able to express their concerns or less able to be active, while they are finding their voice.

I notice in my constituency office that kind of work is happening more, that we are having to do settlement work that would normally be done, graciously funded by the taxpayers of Canada, to make sure that work is done in agencies that are specialists in this kind of work.

I see no transition plan. I see no assistance, except I do need to note that the minister in Ontario responsible for immigration has announced one-time funding of about $500,000, I believe, to help ease some of that transition, so Ontario is stepping up to the plate. British Columbia is also attempting to step up to the plate. That is simply a downloading of services. It is an offloading on to the provinces, which is of equal concern to me.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, this is perhaps one of the most callous, calculating acts the government has yet shown us, revealing its character, taking advantage of people who are, by definition, the most vulnerable, new Canadians who are not yet official Canadians, people who do not belong to the economic class to which the government wishes to talk.

Just before the holiday season, the government snuck in these cuts. It handed some agencies their walking papers after 25 years in business. It is effectively shutting down 33 agencies with no fair evaluation. None of the information has been released to justify the cuts. On one hand, the government brags that immigration is up. On the other hand, it quietly cuts the money to help new immigrants to become successful.

It is incredible that the minister opposite does not have the temerity, the class or the character to stand behind what he has done. He will not release the information to show how much money he has cut, what agencies will lose and what kind of replacement plan is in place to help people.

The 78,000 people, in the course of following the path that every family represented in the House has followed, require some level of support to go forward. These are not benefits or money in their pockets. This is language training, assistance to connect and be successful.

Suddenly the party in power, faced with the choice of wanting to look like phony good managers at the time of the budget, has decided to go after these people, to take away their language training and their chance to become successful in our country. There is no champion over there. No one over there will stand up for people's right to be part of our country. The same advantages that they, their families and earlier generations had are being denied these people. There are 78,000 people in the GTA alone who will lose services and no one in the government will stand up for them.

The government has come forward with cuts that are compounding an earlier bias it has had. The character of the government resonates through what it has put forward. It took away the money that was put forward by the previous government. The Canada-Ontario immigration agreement, a five-year agreement, forced the government to increase funding and the first chance it had, it cut that funding.

Even worse, when the Conservatives had the money, they decided to funnel it to their own ridings. They decided not to be fair with people, not to help people but to help themselves. In the analysis available, their own figures, we see that the dollars going to the city of Toronto are 40% less than the rest of Ontario because the electoral fortunes of the government always outweigh the interests of average Canadians, every time.

There is 23% less money going to the city of Toronto than the rest of Canada. That is before these cuts. Then the Conservatives have the gall, the callousness to cut these agencies off, in summary fashion, just before Christmas. About 1,000 settlement workers were laid off, many of them representing communities, having earned the trust of people to help them pull themselves together and become self-supporting.

The unemployment rate in Toronto, because of new immigrants, is 19%. It has almost doubled in the last year. We can all understand that people who have recently arrived often get the new jobs, last hired and first fired. The government, the minister and that group of people, who will not take up any accountability or responsibility for their actions, are pulling the rug out from under these people. It is the most callous thing possible and it is utterly unfair. There is no way to justify taking money away, shuttering the doors of these agencies, firing 1,000 people and cutting off the routes for success for people. This hand up for people has been taken away.

Advanced language training so engineers can get out of cabs and start helping to build this country, doctors, nurses and other professionals receiving this help are going to be kicked out of classes on March 31, and every member opposite is going to sit there and do nothing about it. No government member will speak up for this ahead of the budget and will not speak up today for the very idea of Canada having an official welcome that stands up to scrutiny.

It is not generosity. It is not money from the dresser or the pockets of the people opposite. This is what we provide in our country. It is respect. It is to let people know they do not struggle by themselves. They can come to this country, even if they have a different language or need educational equivalency, and we will help them because it makes sense to do that.

There is a big divide opening up between the party that runs the government today and other people in the House, and certainly our party. We believe people, with a little help, can make it tremendously well on their own. The people opposite believe there are some people blessed and some people who are not. It is a fundamental issue.

There is an absence of sincerity. When the Conservatives come forward to say that they want to do something for new immigrants, they mean the new immigrants they will get to vote for them. However, the Ethiopians, Eritreans, South Asian women and other agencies are carefully selected by the government as the agencies to be defunded.

There are some 1,300 or 1,500 Afghan translators who supported our troops in pursuit of their mission. They will be coming to Canada because it is not safe for them in Afghanistan. They are supposed to be acclimatized to Canada largely by the Afghan Association of Ontario. On the one hand, this is what the government says it is going to be doing. On the other hand, it is cutting almost all of the funding to the Afghan Association of Ontario.

There is only one way out for the government and that is to cancel these cuts and follow the intent of this motion. If the Conservatives have strength of conviction, if they believe they can justify this, then postpone the cuts for three months. Let us see if the government can justify ripping the heart out of immigrant services in the city of Toronto.

The message the government is sending is not just to the people who live in the 416 or 905 areas, where Conservatives put out press releases from candidates before the last election saying that they would put welcome programs into the Peel School Board. Now the government is ripping them out and has decided it is better to look like a big fiscal manager.

The government is taking away the language programs for parents and their kids. One of the smartest things is to expose children and their parents to the English language before they go to school. That was being done and the government is taking them away from people.

I challenge the minister and any member opposite to stand and show where those 80,000 people will go for their services. Do they just end up in confusion and get pushed onto other levels of government, social assistance and endure personal suffering simply because the government has its priorities wrong?

The Conservatives thought they could get away with it. They think new immigrants will be quiet and complacent. However, I have news for them. Those new immigrants are people who want to build Canada. They have a sense of themselves. They are the ones who set up a website at www.rewindthecuts.ca where everyone can see the damage that has been done to our communities. All people are asking for is a fair start for new immigrants to succeed. This has been widely supported. It has gone from the small immigrant groups to the larger immigrant groups and I think pretty soon it will go to the mainstream.

The government is showing its character. It is not something that is done in front of the cameras when people are watching. It is what it does when no one is watching. Just before Christmas the government showed its character by cutting funding to the groups that help some of the most vulnerable, and it cannot justify that. It took money from parts of the country where it was needed to fund its electoral fortunes in other parts of the country. The government will be exposed for that because there is no other answer.

I would be happy to table, for the benefit of all members of the House, the figures, the cuts, that are happening in the city of Toronto. Again, I challenge anyone opposite to table anything that contradicts this. Every figure comes from the government. Every fact is what the government put forward, and it is devastating to see.

The government had an opportunity to show if it stood for a fair start and a hand up for new immigrants, or just propaganda. Instead it made the choice against the success of the wide swath of people coming forward.

People chose Canada and we selected them to come. That is a contract. That is a trust. What is happening today is a breach of trust. It is taking away from that.

There are perhaps two or three weeks left to the budget and we intend to make the government come to terms with the character it has shown in its reckless attack on people who it thinks cannot speak for themselves. It is the quiet noises that matter—

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member's time has elapsed.

Questions and comments, the hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I congratulate the member for maintaining his consistent reputation in his demagogic tone.

He said that the first thing this government did was to undercut newcomers. In point of fact, the first thing this government did, with respect to newcomers, was to cut in half the $1,000 right of landing fee that had been imposed upon all new permanent residents by the previous government, a decision which has subsequently saved newcomers more than $340 million, cumulatively.

The second thing this government did, with respect to newcomers, was to more than triple the federal investment and settlement services so that next year we will be investing $600 million nationally, as opposed to $200 million under the previous Liberal government, and we will be funding $345 million, as opposed to $109 million under the previous Liberal government.

Did the member ever express this feigned indignation about a lack of settlement services five years ago when the funding levels were one-third their current level?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, I was very proud to be part of an Ontario cabinet that sat down with a federal Liberal government and arranged the very increases for which the member has the temerity to stand in the House and try to take credit. He had nothing to do with the extra money coming, and he knows it, yet still he stands there with that fake kind of responsibility taking.

I want the minister to take the responsibility for his decisions. Yes, I helped to negotiate that and, yes, we helped to bring that about, but there was a willing government that knew we should not have to pay for all the settlement services as we did in the past before the Mike Harris government cut them in Ontario. The Conservatives take away services for new immigrants. The first chance he had to make a difference is now, when that agreement with the Liberal government of Ontario and the Liberal government in Ottawa expired. What did he do? He cut the money and—

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Questions and comments, The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, we know immigrants settle well when they go to services that are neighbourhood-based and that provide a comprehensive approach. It is not just about language training and about finding a job; it is also about establishing connections and putting roots into a community.

We know those kinds of services are the best kind and that a lot of them come about through the voluntary services of immigrant settlement workers. Of all the settlement service agencies that I know, I do not know of one that does not use a large number of volunteers.

Could the member describe the kind of impact that has when an agency closes its door and lays off its staff? What happens to all the volunteers who have helped newcomers settle into their neighbourhoods?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, the consequences of the decision are a mess because it is not only volunteers, but it is expertise and trust relationships as well. For example, the South Asian women have a co-operative for sewing. They have managed to get all kinds of community volunteers to donate sewing machines. They have actually created an employability level among women, in particular, who are unable to be part of the workforce. That will all disappear.

The volunteers will try to fill the gap and the government will try to take advantage of that. The relatively small amounts of money work out to be $250 to $400. While the government talks about much larger numbers, it is really only for the first three years that people are here. Those things are going to disappear. It is truly a foolhardy decision from an economic standpoint.