Hot! Immigration funding: Tory spin doesn’t add up

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Sun Dec 26 2010.

Returns of defective Christmas gifts typically aren’t allowed on Boxing Day, but this would be a good time for the Conservative government to rescind a muddled decision that will shortchange Ontario’s ethnic communities and hobble the provincial economy.

A whopping $43 million in federal funding is being cut from resettlement services offered in Canada’s most populous and diverse province. The news has generated a sense of panic and foreboding among the volunteers and staff at agencies that provide vital language training and other support skills for migrants.

Ontario is bearing the brunt of cutbacks across Canada, absorbing more than 80 per cent of the funding reductions, while other provinces — notably Alberta, which just happens to have heavy representation on the government benches — will come out ahead. Quebec, too, will largely escape the budget axe. The big losers will be ethnic communities in Toronto that rely heavily on agencies that lay the groundwork for integration and citizenship among newcomers.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney claims the decisions were apolitical, taking into account new settlement trends in other provinces and reviewing which agencies delivered the best value for money or had the biggest caseloads.

But cabinet ministers are elected to bring a sense of real-world sensitivity to what can sometimes be an arcane bureaucratic process. It defies credibility to choke off Ontario’s hard-won funding, which was historically far below Quebec’s level but caught up in recent years, with an argument that other provinces need help more. Toronto remains an immigration hub — not only for those who first land here but also for people who relocate from other provinces. To apply a rigid formula in such a draconian matter threatens to set back integration efforts at a time when newcomers are finding it harder than ever to get ahead.

Kenney’s bureaucratic process appears to have been cavalier in cutting off at least 10 Greater Toronto agencies, such as the South Asian Women’s Centre, established in 1982. The group served 14,000 clients last year, mostly South Asian women, with the help of 140 volunteers — surely a cost-effective way to leverage federal funds. Speaking to reporters last week, Kenney got bogged down in gobbledygook, describing a process that rewards agencies most adept at filling out bureaucratic forms rather than those with a human touch and a track record for getting things done.

Kenney is always eager to attend the annual dinners and fundraising affairs organized by ethnic groups in the Toronto area. He has seen the vibrancy of these communities as they achieve new successes. But before his next dinner toast where he touts the Conservative government’s track record, there is time to reflect on how immigrant success stories depend on the first vital step of language training and integration. He should reconsider and reverse the cutbacks announced last week.

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