Since early December 2010, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, OCASI, has been working with its CIC-funded members and other funders on strategies to mitigate, as much as possible, the impact of the significant reduction in funds to the Ontario region.
The leadership of the council believes its priority in this situation has to be one of monetary impacts and being responsive to requests for support from members; providing accurate information to members, media, funders, and other stakeholders; and developing practical strategies to support the legal and other responsibilities of those members who find that they have been placed in this difficult situation.
We therefore thank you for this opportunity to present to you on the many issues facing the sector and to share with you some of the demands that, if accepted, will go a long way to minimizing the negative fallout from this unexpected situation.
This presentation by OCASI is informed by the experience of our member agencies over the past couple of months.
Funding for immigrant settlement services, including in Ontario, has remained stagnant for over a decade, during the period of 1993 through 2005. This chronic underfunding was particularly difficult for the Ontario sector, which experienced increasing service demands and a growing complexity of services needed. This unfair situation was acknowledged and remedied by the federal government through negotiation of the first Canada-Ontario immigration agreement, COIA.
The increase in overall funding for the national program and the significant increase in funding of $920 million over the life of the agreement for Ontario acknowledged the importance of immigrant settlement and integration services, acknowledged that the immigrant- and refugee-serving sector had been starved for resources for more than a decade, recognized that labour market integration was an important part of the settlement process, and acknowledged the historical trend in underfunding, particularly in real program delivery costs in areas such as overhead, program costs, and workers' salaries.
It also recognized the need to ensure increased accountability through building sector capacity. A strong and stable sector would lead to better programming, better accountability, and better outputs and outcomes.
In late August 2010, the provincial ministers of immigration and OCASI, among others, were informed by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration that it had undertaken a strategic review. The review resulted in a 5% reduction to the settlement and integration funding envelope across Canada. We were also told that this worked out to $53 million in 2011-12 and an additional $6 million to be cut in 2012-13. As we now know, more than 80% of the cuts, representing $43 million plus, came out of the Ontario allocation. At the same time, the decision was made to implement the new settlement allocation model, which is based on permanent resident landing numbers, with some acknowledgement of refugee numbers.
The leadership of OCASI discussed the potential impact of the cuts on the sector and communicated to CIC that every effort should be made to minimize the impact on direct services. CIC agreed with this approach. The council was operating under the following assumptions.
The Ontario allocation for 2010-11 was $428 million. This comes from $320 million allocated to the last year of the COIA agreement, plus $108 million, representing the base Ontario allocation for settlement and integration. We assumed the cuts would be taken from this total, and given that Ontario region had underspent by a cumulative $200 million or so, the council expected the impact of the cuts to be minimal.
However, Citizenship and Immigration Canada did not calculate the cuts on $428 million but on $388 million, which is $40 million less. By applying the cuts to a smaller funding envelope, there has been a much larger impact on programs and agencies, particularly in the Toronto area. We realize that the department, like all other federal departments, was being asked to find efficiencies amounting to 5% as part of the government's deficit reduction plan. However, we believed that the government would honour the funding commitment of year five of COIA.
For Ontario's immigrant- and refugee-serving sector, the depth of the cuts was completely unexpected. We were not unaware of the impact of the recession on the national budget, on our economy and our communities. In fact, our member agencies were seeing it first-hand in the work they did, trying to help immigrants and refugees to deal with job loss, cutbacks in hours, and cuts in wages.
In March of last year, CIC issued its first CFP under the new modernization approach in Ontario. The sector, in partnership with the department, had spent the previous three years consulting on the need for a new approach to better respond to the growing diversity and complexity of immigrant settlement and integration needs and greater accountability demands from government.
The CFP encouraged applicants to submit new and creative approaches to settlement programming. It was intended to do away with program silos, increase accountability, and adopt a holistic approach to programming. It recognized the scope and scale of effective settlement work through specific themes, including community connections and support services. The latter provided child-minding support, assistance for clients with disabilities, and more, which unfortunately were among the first areas to be lost as a result of the cuts.
The message from CIC at that time was that the department was responsive to the real experiences and challenges of settlement, and it signalled a willingness to work with agencies to arrive at the mutually desirable goal of building meaningful immigrant settlement outcomes.
We work together with CIC Ontario region to facilitate information sessions around the CFP where applications were able to ask and receive answers to questions about the modernized approach. Applicants heard that they should dream big; they should think outside the box.
In summary, potential applicants, including current agreement holders, went away with the assurance that immigrant settlement and integration remained an important priority for government, and they invested countless hours planning, coordinating with partners, writing and submitting proposals. There was a real sense of partnership with the department, a sense that we were all working together to build sector capacity, to strengthen accountability and program delivery.
I must say that we haven't lost hope that this will continue, despite recent events. There is absolutely no sense of impending funding cuts on the part of the sector and, we believe, on the part of departmental officials--