Ottawa has earmarked $920-million over the next five years to help ease the way for immigrants settling in Ontario.
The agreement, announced Monday, is the first between the federal and provincial governments and is intended to “help more newcomers reach their full potential in Ontario,” the federal government said.
The money will be spent helping immigrants in the province more easily settle in Ontario and better integrate into the province’s communities. It also promises improved language training, with an eye to ensuring that newcomers are better prepared to enter the work force or continue their education.
“This is a significant milestone, laying a foundation for the governments of Canada and Ontario to work together in collaboration with municipalities and official language minority communities to improve the social and economic integration of immigrants in the province,” Immigration Minister Joe Volpe said.
Roughly 125,000 new immigrants come to Ontario annually, accounting for about half of new comers to Canada. According to the 2001 census, about 27 per cent of Ontario residents and 42 per cent of people living in Toronto were born outside Canada.
Under Monday’s agreement, existing federal and provincial settlement services will be “better co-ordinated” with a joint strategy being established so that “organizations providing settlement services can help newcomers more easily locate and access community services such as orientation, information, referrals, assessment and job-search assistance.”
In terms of language help, the two levels of government said they will work to expand language training, with the agreement calling for English-as-a-second-language classes to include “occupation-specific” training to help immigrants reach levels required for work or to enroll post-secondary education.
The plan also calls for municipalities to be involved in immigration planning and discussions “to make sure programs are in place to meet the needs of immigrants in regions and municipalities across Ontario.”
For Toronto, which receives about 30 per cent of Canada’s immigrants, all three levels of government are to meet within the next nine months to discuss issues related to that city.
Ontario will also develop a “nominee program” to help the province “identify newcomers who will help meet its economic priorities and labour market objectives.” Similar programs are already in place in a number of other provinces.
As well, the province is slated to launch a Web site for potential newcomers to offer information on communities, labour markets and accreditation programs.
However, critics argued Monday that immigrants in the province need a deal tying federal funds to specific jobs needed in the province.
A Canada-Ontario labour market development agreement had been expected in late spring but still has not been announced. That separate deal would provide funding to train Ontario’s unemployed to work in specific fields where there are shortages of workers—such as welders and tool-and-die makers.
Provincial New Democrat Marilyn Churley charged that the lack of a labour market agreement represents a “huge missing piece” in the overall picture.
Provincial Conservative immigration critic Frank Klees also argued the impact of Monday’s announcement will be too slow in coming.
“Why has this minister signed an agreement that’s going to take five years to phase in,” he said.
“It’s couched with waffle words that mean nothing to the fathers and the mothers who are desperate today for an opportunity to earn an income and to work in their professions.”