Good afternoon. My name is Dustin Mymko, and I serve as the Community Development Officer for the Roblin-Cartwright Community Development Corporation.
Since the federal government took over the settlement services program in Manitoba—in 2013, I believe—we've held the contribution agreements with CIC and IRCC to administer the Cartwright Killarney Boissevain Settlement Services for the communities of Cartwright, Killarney and Boissevain and the surrounding areas.
I act as the community development officer and oversee and deliver settlement services as a part-time, single-person office.
Settlement services are of the utmost importance in our rural communities, and this is especially so in Cartwright and the surrounding Cartwright-Roblin municipality. Our municipality has approximately 1,300 residents, with about 350 of those residing in what was formerly known as the Village of Cartwright.
As with most rural Canadian communities, Cartwright has experienced its share of challenges over the years, but an incredibly strong community spirit, coupled with an intense desire to maintain the viability of our rural life, has led Cartwright to keep its population steady.
The majority of individuals in our community are tied into either agriculture or manufacturing, but our real pride and joy rests with the school. Cartwright has fought over the years to keep our school going, and we are now in our 27th year of funding Cartwright Community Independent School, which allows our students to graduate at home.
The community continually prioritizes the school, and we know that if it were to shut down, it would be the first step towards the decline of our community. The population and tax base would drop, the services would begin to be cut and life as we know it would become that much more difficult to maintain.
As of September 2018, the start of our current school year, our K-to-12 school had 97 students, up from the low 60s a couple of years ago. Forty-eight of those students, or 50% of them, have parents who were not born in Canada.
I fully believe that immigration has been the single biggest factor in the success of our community, and that the provision of settlement services to those newcomers has been extremely beneficial.
Our organization is contracted to provide only the most basic of settlement services: Information and orientation sessions and needs and assessment referrals. Newcomers arrive and we help them get their feet on the ground. We show them how to obtain social insurance numbers, we help them obtain a post office box and set up a bank account, and we introduce them to potential employers and community groups. We assist them in their applications to Manitoba Health and the Canada child benefit program. We get the children enrolled in school and make sure they know about the local English classes.
Once they have all of that out of the way, we're here to assist in overcoming any of the other obstacles they face as they adapt to life in rural Manitoba.
We began our contracts with about 16 hours per week of funding to cover the three communities, which are separated by about 70 kilometres in total. Over the years those hours have been cut back to the 11.25 we have been able to negotiate for this fiscal year. The continual reduction in service hours and overall funding is very challenging and very concerning. We've learned first-hand, many times over, that once services leave our rural communities, they very rarely return.
Recent direction from IRCC ahead of the call for proposals for 2019 is that single-person offices such as ours are no longer a part of the model. We've been urged to pursue partnerships with larger organizations. This initially caused a lot of consternation throughout the sector, especially in our rural communities. There are about seven of us operating as single-person offices in Manitoba, and we felt initial reactions of impending job losses and sudden itinerant service delivery.
Upon further consideration, however, this appears to be an excellent model going forward. The Roblin-Cartwright CDC board weighed our options and we are currently in discussion with Westman Immigrant Services in Brandon to try to carve a new path forward.
This will allow us to reduce our administrative burden, build capacity in our settlement services organization and raise our overall level of service. There are hopes of expanding our services to include the settlement workers in schools program, to bring language training and settlement under one banner, and to add new programming such as conversation circles and mentoring partnerships.
While in a general sense these partnerships are a step in the right direction, there are still some areas that could drastically use improvement, from my experience. The definition of an eligible client, being a person with permanent residency, seems woefully inadequate on both ends of the spectrum.
Our community has seen an increase in temporary foreign workers, both through need from local agricultural producers and manufacturers using the program and through choice. We have immigration consultants who are assisting people in obtaining case type 58 work permits as their pathway into Canada. They're here, they intend to stay permanently, but they don't have the status. On the other hand, once a permanent resident becomes a Canadian citizen, they no longer qualify for the services. They have passed the test, acquired their citizenship and now they're on their own.
Expanding the definition of eligible clients to include temporary foreign workers, who need help as much as and sometimes more than permanent residents, and moving the end point past the arbitrary cut-off of citizenship would go a long way to helping our newcomers, especially in rural communities where other secondary supports like cultural communities are rare.
Another issue facing rural settlement service provision is training and assistance. The single-person offices have very few places to turn when needing to find answers to newcomers issues. Every newcomer comes in the door with a different problem, and sometimes they are wildly specific. As one individual with no manual on hand, the only place to turn has been the IRCC hotline, and it has long been functionally obsolete. Attempting to call that number to help obtain answers for a client's ultra-specific immigration issue has long led to nothing but frustration and defeat.
For years now, rural Manitoba settlement service providers have had to lean on one another for assistance, advice and support. lt works in a pinch, but it really shouldn't have to. Establishing a service-provider-only hotline, where settlement service providers could be advised on how to interpret a certain government form or immigration process, would raise the level of service nationwide.
We are lucky in Cartwright that our member of Parliament has very knowledgeable and very helpful staff who are happy to assist and really are invaluable to the services we provide, but, from speaking to my colleagues, I know that not everybody is in that same position.
ln conclusion, l would like to say that I realize that the cost per client in rural settings is going to be higher than in urban centres, but l would offer that the amount is well spent. Retaining newcomers in rural communities truly is the way to ensure the longevity of these communities. Providing these folks with the supports they need, which they can't get elsewhere, is a big step towards that goal.