Under Canada’s Constitution, responsibility for immigration is shared among the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Traditionally, provinces and territories have entered into comprehensive agreements with the federal government (Citizen and Immigration Canada or CIC) that cover a wide range of immigration issues. Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have or have had this kind of agreement with CIC at one point
Additionally, in recent years, various provinces and territories have secured agreements that cover more specific issues, in response to their respective needs. For example, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories and Yukon have signed Provincial Nominee agreements, which allow them to nominate immigrants to meet specific labour market needs.
In both cases, a central element necessary to fulfill these agreements were the local settlement offices that were supported and/or staffed by CIC. These offices were crucial to performing the work necessary to carry out the agreements and ensured that the provincial and territorial immigration departments were aligned in encouraging and informing newcomers of the possibilities and opportunities that existed in mid-size urban municipalities across the country outside of the larger metropolitan centres.
Unfortunately, Budget 2012 outlined significant reductions in the funding necessary to operate these regional settlement offices and programs. The CIC budget is to be cut by $29.8 million in 2012-13, which will increase to a cumulative $65 million in 2013-14, and $85 million in 2014-15. This represents only 3 per cent of the budget.
This decrease in funding will certainly affect nearly every organization that provides settlement services across the country — including language training, employment counselling, help finding housing or youth programs.
The federal government maintains that CIC has been moving diligently towards an increasingly integrated, modernized, and centralized working environment; they point to technology allowing CIC to process applicants anywhere and in a more effective manner and are merging 7 regions (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, Northern Territories, British Columbia and Yukon) into 5 regions.
So far, the government has only identified two of the five regions included in this amalgamation; the eastern region which will include Québec and the Atlantic provinces with regional headquarters in Montreal; and one western region amalgamating BC, Yukon, Prairies, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Altogether, nineteen CIC offices will be closed or consolidated and services will be relocated to other offices or moved to on-line services. The list of the offices being closed include:
• BC – Nanaimo, Prince George, Kelowna, Victoria
• AB – Lethbridge
• SK – Regina
• ON – Thunder Bay, Barrie, Oshawa, Sudbury, Sault St. Marie, Kingston
• QC – Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Trois Rivières, Québec
• NB – Saint John, Moncton
• PE – Charlottetown
This will create an absence of localized, stand-alone service staff in each region and compel clients and applicants to access settlement services at a centrally managed location which may be hundreds of kilometres from their city.
Despite assurances from the federal government that this consolidation will increase efficiency and assist in the creation of common service standards, the new model and funding reduction will affect the ability of mid-sized urban municipalities to attract and retain skilled immigrants.
Furthermore, an increasingly older population and a declining birth rate have bequeathed Canada with a labour shortage. This is now affecting all sectors of the economy and the closure of regional settlement offices will only work to limit the ability of the smaller and mid-sized communities to seek out, encourage and retain individuals seeking to settle and find gainful employment
In the end, the Canadian immigration experience has unfairly relied on the large, urban centres that dot the county; predisposed by their possession of an international airport with CIC and Customs services, they are precisely the communities and regions that require lesser amounts of CIC attention and funding. In these places, vibrant newcomer settlement services are operating outside direct CIC contribution. More important, they demonstrate large existing immigrant bases that can support newcomers.
That the federal government:
1. Ensure that there is a regional strategy to apply fairly the resources required to meet settlement needs for newcomers in all regions of the country.
2. Enforce the current level of service in the new structure so that all areas of the country are able to access skilled employees.
SUBMITTED BY THE GREATER SUDBURY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE