Ottawa short-changing Ontario immigrant programs: province

TheStar.com – News/Ontario
Published On Wed Apr 07 2010.   Richard J. Brennan Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA ––The federal Conservative government has short-changed Ontario at least $193 million in promised money for immigrant settlement programs, the provincial government says.

Ottawa agreed in 2005 to transfer $920 million over five years in new immigration funding to Ontario, ending March 31.

But Ontario Citizenship and Immigration Minister Eric Hoskins says the money the province has received falls short of the original promise.

“The shortfall in funding was $193 million in the first four years of the agreement,” said Hoskins.

The figures for 2009-2010 are not in yet, but Hoskins added the province is concerned the shortfall could increase in the final year.

The agreement entailed a commitment of $50 million in the first year, growing gradually to $320 million in the fifth year.

“The federal government has in our view not lived up to its funding commitment,” Hoskins told the Star Wednesday.

The 2005 deal was reached between the then-federal Liberal government and Premier Dalton McGuinty’s provincial Liberal government following a protracted dispute over whether Ontario was getting its fair share of federal funding for immigrant settlement.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney could not be reached for comment.

The federal immigration department conceded a portion of the promised money has not been spent, but disputed the amount.

“As of 2008-09, there is $183 million in unspent allocations,” an Immigration spokesperson said. “The unspent allocations total for the duration of the original agreement will not be known until actual spending has been determined for the last quarter of fiscal 2009-10,” she said.

Federal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan), the Liberal immigration critic, noted Ontario receives the bulk of immigrants who come to Canada annually.

“They (the Conservative government) are well aware of the challenges that immigrants face. . They need the funding to become better integrated into Canada’s economy and society,” Bevilacqua said.

Ontario gets 140,000 newcomers a year and about half of them settle in Toronto.

Over the past several years, 19 per cent — just under 75,000 — chose Peel as their first home; 8.4 per cent (32,000) chose York, 1.8 per cent (7,000) Halton and 1.5 per cent (5,800) Durham.

Hoskins said whenever the lack of funding has been raised with Kenney the answer was always the same – “that the committed funds would be spent.”

Kenney has previously said that his department has “worked very hard with the settlement sector—the settlement agencies in Ontario in particular, where we have most immigrants—to ensure those funds are responsibly invested.”

The province is currently in negotiations with Ottawa to extend the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement by another year.

The agreement calls for:

A flexible, accessible and coordinated settlement service system that reaches out to newcomers through schools, one-stop newcomer centres, and partnerships with libraries, colleges and organizations.

A comprehensive language system to help newcomers become competent in English or French more quickly, equivalent to high school graduation level, and an occupation-specific language training system through colleges and employment training agencies.

Enhanced partnerships, especially among municipalities, employers and industries.

“I think the important issue here is really that a significant gap in services remain (as a result of the shortfall),” Hoskins said.

“Both of our responsibilities – federal and provincial – is to make sure that the services provided are sufficient to assist our newcomers in integrating economically but also settling into their communities and enjoying all the rights and privileges of being strong Ontario families and individuals,” the minister said.

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