Immigration services cuts wrong

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has done such a thorough job of fostering new ties with the conservative element in this country’s many new immigrant communities that his recent announcement of a $53-million cut to immigrant service organizations has found support where the strongest objections might otherwise have been expected.

It has therefore been left to federal Liberals like Bob Rae and provincial Liberals like Ontario’s Immigration Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins to decry the funding cuts.

And, as if Toronto has not had enough of a bruising from the feds’ decision to hold the G20 Summit here last June, the bulk of the announced cuts, $43-million, will affect immigrant services in Toronto such as Tropicana and the Eritrean Canadian Community Centre. Locally, it means an 85 per cent cut in funding for such services. This is a mind boggling decision given that Toronto remains a primary destination for newcomers.

Liberal ministers, expressing “shock and disappointment”, have rightly called on the immigration minister to reverse the planned cuts.

In his announcement, Kenney used the usual buzzwords of efficiency and saving taxpayers money. He explained that the decision was made in consideration of recent movements in settlement in other provinces and after reviewing which agencies delivered the best value for money or had the biggest caseloads.

That Kenney characterized the decision as apolitical is at best disingenuous, since the federal Conservatives do little without political motive.

This decision, announced just before Christmas, will play to one kind of immigrant over another and is another in the line of divide and rule politics the Harper Conservatives have found so useful in the past. Such was the case with the attempt to end the long-gun registry and discontinuation of the long-form census.

This time, the Conservatives are playing for the votes of immigrants who don’t need help with settlement and integration – for example, the business class and the well-heeled – while dismissing the more needy immigrants and refugees. (Under the Harper government, refugees are now an objectionable group.) Kenney has made it his mission to foster relations with that new entrepreneurial class of immigrants, who are not the ‘Trudeau immigrants’ of decades past, but instead find affinity with conservative values.

What the Conservatives are doing by cutting funding to Toronto immigration support services is wrong. It has only been recently that funding for immigrant services here has come near or equal to the funding levels that Quebec had been receiving for decades, and now new immigrants arriving in Toronto as well as those already here are again going to be left wanting.

What this could mean is that integration services will fall to people prepared to take advantage of the arriving immigrants’ lack of knowledge of the new culture and system, as was the case with unregulated immigration services that too often cheated people seeking permanent residency.

Another consideration is that with the feds seeking ways to control their deficit, they are looking at all possible cuts. If they can save some money and pit immigrant groups against each other then they will have achieved two goals in one strategic move. Immigrants speaking in support of cutting funding to immigrant services means the Conservatives won’t have to defend themselves against any criticism that they are anti-immigrant or racist, not if immigrants are doing the job for them.

This is a cynical move by the Conservatives, yet it fits with their long-range plans of limiting government services while reshaping the social and political landscape of this country into a much more conservative one and away from the liberal ethos that had prevailed for the better part of the last century.

Immigration levels will remain at about 250,000 annually so the reality is that some immigrants will require help in adjusting to a new culture, new language and new way of life. In their interest, Kenney must rethink these cuts.

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