Harper urged to rethink immigration funding cuts
TORONTO - Federal cuts to immigration settlement agencies will hit the Greater Toronto Area especially hard, Toronto-area MPs said Thursday.
The cuts will disproportionately affect Toronto, where the unemployment rate for new immigrants rose from 13 per cent to 20 per cent over the past year, said Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy.
At a press conference held Thursday, the MPs urged the government to reverse its decision to slash $53 million in funding from agencies that help new immigrants become integrated and self sufficient.
According to Statistics Canada, the third quarter of 2010 saw the highest immigration rates the country has seen in four decades.
Immigrants made up 70 per cent of Ontario's population growth during that period.
Roughly 85 per cent of the cuts -- announced late last year -- will be in Ontario, a total loss of $43 million.
More than 30 agencies will lose their funding entirely, while dozens of others will see their funding decrease, said Kennedy.
Around 78,000 recent immigrants in the GTA are expected to lose the help they need to find jobs, apply for documents or enhance their language skills.
"What we want to do is make sure that this remains a federal issue and doesn't end up becoming something that city council is forced to deal with because of the problems it creates for the City of Toronto," said Kennedy.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has said the cuts will ensure that taxpayer money is used efficiently.
Kenney attributed the funding cuts to shifting immigration patterns.
Newcomers to Canada have been spreading out across the country, with Ontario receiving a slightly smaller share each year.
But the overall number of immigrants in Ontario is still growing, Kennedy argued.
"There are 85,000 more people in the GTA needing help, not less. How does he justify cutting $53 million?" he asked.
"It makes no sense to be taking services away from people at the very point when they need them to succeed as new Canadians."
In 1990, Kripa Sekhar was one of those new Canadians, and turned to the South Asian Women's Centre for help.
Only 20 years later, Sekhar is the centre's executive director, providing services in 17 South Asian languages, as well as to Portuguese, Spanish and Caribbean clients.
The centre will lose all of its funding this March, rendering it nearly incapable of providing services.
"This is definitely going to affect the community and in the long run it will affect Toronto," said Sekhar.
"I think we're going to find more isolation, we're going to find communities that are not going to be well integrated ... you're going to find a lot more people in distress as a result of this."
MPs, settlement agencies and other supporters have launched a campaign called Fair Start, urging Toronto residents to stand up for new Canadians who need help getting settled.
The campaign will include letter writing, a petition and a motion to be introduced to Parliament on Feb. 8.