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.