Immigration agreement with feds extended

By RON FANFAIR

Rather than rush into a long-term agreement that isn’t fully beneficial to Ontario, the province has signed a one-year extension to the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement (COIA).

Under the inaugural deal signed on November 21, 2005, the federal government was expected to provide the province with $920 million in new immigration funding over five years to help newcomers successfully assimilate into Ontario’s communities and achieve their full potential.

Former Ontario Citizenship and Immigration Minister Michael Chan made it clear last year that the deal, which expired on March 31, 2010, was not working in favour of the province. He said the government had only received $407 million and federal Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney had informed him the federal government was diverting $90 million of the funds originally promised to Ontario, into other programs and provinces.

Chan’s successor, Dr. Eric Hoskins, wants to make sure Ontario — which attracts the majority of the newcomers to Canada — gets the best deal.

“We are in the process of renegotiating a new five-year agreement and this one-year extension is really to give us the time and space to properly enter into negotiations,” he told Share. “We have a concern that the federal government under-spent the agreement by $193 million in the first four years. “Hopefully, we can get their commitment to invest those funds as well so that that shortfall is made up. We have built it into the interim agreement so that issue can be addressed.”

Each year, nearly 125,000 newcomers – about half of all the new arrivals to Canada – come to Ontario. By next year, immigration is expected to account for 100 per cent of the net labour market growth.

Ontario is seeking a deal that would allow the federal government to transfer the funds directly to the province so that it can develop and deliver a comprehensive and coordinated set of programs.

“Ontario is asking for a couple of things that are a bit different,” Hoskins said. “We are hoping to gain devolution when it comes to choosing and the implementation of programs for our newcomers and immigrants. We believe we can provide these services more efficiently. We also believe we have a better understanding of the newcomers’ requirements and needs in our province and I think we can save money on the administrative side and make sure we fill any gaps as well.”

In addition to the annual settlement funding of $108 million, a total of $320 million has been allocated to Ontario in the interim agreement.

Kenney said the federal government, by extending the COIA, is showing its commitment to continue to collaborate to attract, retain and integrate immigrants into Ontario’s communities while exploring new ways to improve immigrant outcomes.

“The extension of this agreement prolongs our support for immigrant settlement programs, including language training and programs for newcomers,” he added.

The deal also covers the provincial nominee program, the temporary foreign workers agreement and the Ontario Immigration Web Portal.

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