Tuesday, 30 January 2018 04:07

The Vic Fedeli I Know

Commentary by: Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

Don’t buy Vic Fedeli a yellow tie. He has dozens of them.

That’s his signature trademark, but he is just as well known for his intellect, knack for getting things done, workaholic tendencies, a big smile and a handshake for everyone who crosses his path.

Now interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the 61-year-old aims to be the permanent leader after a leadership convention that has to be held before the end of March to give the party time to campaign before the June provincial election. Underestimate his chances at your peril.

But what does the Nipissing MPP and former mayor of North Bay know about immigration? Quite a bit, actually.

Of Italian immigrant stock and a big supporter of the city’s Davedi Club, as mayor he saw immigration as a key to the future well-being of the city. Northern Ontario has faced youth out-migration, baby boomer retirements and a declining birth rate and does not have an immigration strategy.

Update: Fedeli steps away from leadership race

Fedeli identified the local need as mayor in his first term starting in 2003 when he tasked the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development with getting the city involved in attracting and retaining immigrants. The North Bay Newcomer Network, a Local Immigration Partnership, was formed and it later led to the establishment of an immigrant support agency, the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, in 2008.

Full disclosure, I have known him for almost 40 years. He formed Fedeli Advertising in 1978, the same year I moved to the city to teach journalism at Canadore College. I interviewed him in the early 1980s for a feature article for Northern Ontario Business magazine and our paths have crossed many times since. I would describe him as conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues.

I was part of a delegation from the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) that met with him in his Queen’s Park office to brief him on provincial immigration issues. My OCASI colleagues, perhaps anticipating some pushback from a Conservative, were impressed with his knowledge. I have met with him in his North Bay constituency office to discuss local and regional immigration issues and see that he always does his homework to prepare for the meeting.

I played golf with him at a fundraiser for the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre. I drove the cart and he worked his smart phone to stay in touch with provincial issues. Although we are members of the same golf club, he rarely plays, as his workaholic tendencies continue through the summer. We tried our hands at cricket together with the local cricket club. Club members stifled their laughter.

Fedeli ran for the party’s leadership in 2015 and bowed out of the race to support Christine Elliott. Since then he has been the party’s bulldog in the Legislature as finance critic, holding Premier Kathleen Wynne’s feet to the fire on numerous issues.

He has the unanimous support of the PC provincial caucus and Northern Ontario politicians of more than just Tory persuasions. The North Bay Nugget quoted Mayor Al McDonald, a former MPP himself, saying Mr. Fedeli would be a “great choice” for party leader. He pointed to the need for an immigration strategy for Northern Ontario that Fedeli could champion, plus a rollback of provincial policies that have impaired the potential for development in the north.

The article quoted other North Bay municipal politicians singing Fedeli’s praises. He has also generated excitement province-wide on social media.

He is a proven winner in North Bay. A two-term mayor, he won the 2003 campaign against three challengers, including a former deputy-mayor, earning 75 per cent of the total votes cast. In the 2006 campaign, opposed by a former mayor, he earned more than two-thirds of the votes. Each year he donated his approximately $50,000 salary to a different charity.

His business was a roaring success. It was listed as number 34 of the top 50 Canadian best places to work by Profit, a magazine for small business. He was recognized as one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs in an episode of Money Makers. He sold his business in 1992 for a large profit, and has been a leading philanthropist in the city ever since.

He donated $250,000 to Nipissing University, $100,000 to Canadore College, and then $100,000 more. He donated $250,000 for the Harris Learning Library at Nipissing University and $150,000 for the city’s new hospital.

Prior to taking over the finance critic role in 2013, he was the energy critic and critic of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. He was the main party investigator and agitator over gas plant scandals in Oakville and Mississauga. In 2013, he wrote to the Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner to ask for an investigation of the removal of emails in the Premier’s Office pertaining to the gas plant controversy. The then Premier's chief of staff was recently found guilty.

He also fought the Liberal government on the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, based in North Bay. His efforts were successful and the ONTC is now on sound financial footing.

North Bay is excited. We had a premier from here before – Mike Harris. Could Vic Fedeli be the second from this city of 50,000, just a few hours north of Toronto?

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting. He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now chair of the board of directors.

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 19:22

Entrepreneurs Moving North

by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

Economic development officers in the upper reaches of Northeastern Ontario have noticed a trend in the past few years — as businesses come up for sale the buyers are first generation immigrants to Canada.

They had no idea where the newcomers were coming from, how they found out about the business opportunity, how many businesses they own, how many people they employ, or much else.

Now they do. 

I wrote about this trend for New Canadian Media in December, explaining why municipalities may be better off canvassing for new immigrants from within Canada's borders, rather than launching expensive international campaigns for potential newcomers from other regions of the world. 

Working with the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre through a project sponsored by the Far Northeast Training Board, I travelled to Latchford, Temiskaming Shores, Earlton, Englehart, Kirkland Lake, Matheson, Timmins, Chapleau, Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst in the summer and fall of 2016 to interview as many newcomer business people as possible. The full report is here.

Of a possible 55 business owners identified by economic development officers, 38 were interviewed, or 69 per cent. This extremely high sample number provides very reliable data.

Entrepreneur profiles

So who are they?

The typical newcomer business owner in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area is 44, originally from India but moved north from the Greater Toronto Area, owns a restaurant or fast food franchise, motel, convenience store, or gas station, has lived in Canada 13 years, has an average family size of 3.6, loves the beauty and tranquility of the north and plans to stay. The friendly people in the north, the lack of crime and congestion were the other top draws.

Together the 38 people interviewed own and operate 58 businesses, employ 206 people full-time, of whom 56 are family members, 139 part-time, and 20 seasonal. Almost half of them know people from southern Ontario who would move north for the right business opportunity.

Almost half found out about the business opportunity from friends or relatives, with real estate agents, franchise chains and online information cited by others. Two-thirds of those interviewed are originally from India, with the remainder from Pakistan, China, Egypt, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Iran and Belgium.

Twenty own restaurants or fast food franchises, 15 own motels, 10 own convenience stores, seven own gas stations and two own pharmacies. Others owned a landscaping business, nail salon, strip mall and a movie theatre.

Where they come from

Twenty-four of the 38 people interviewed moved north from the GTA. The remainder came from Montreal, Saskatchewan, Windsor, Orillia, India, Kitchener-Waterloo, Gravenhurst, Hamilton, London England, Florida, Vancouver, Fenelon Falls and Belleville. Seventy-nine per cent say they feel connected to the town they live in and plan to stay.

Gejal Gandhi, 35, and her husband Keyur own the Casey’s Restaurant, Esso gas bar and convenience store and the Park Inn Motel in Kapuskasing. They employ 10 full-time and 25 part-time people. They moved to Kapuskasing from Cochrane and lived in Toronto prior to that. They have been in Canada 17 years, are from India, and have two children.

“We bought the Park Inn Motel first,” she says. “We had a motel in Cochrane and sold it. Once we were in Kapuskasing we found the Esso, and then the same thing for the restaurant. There was a sign and we contacted the owner and went through the process.” They have lived in Kapuskasing for four years.

Minesh Prajapati, 44, is originally from India and owns and operates the Subway franchise in Kirkland Lake. In addition he is in partnership with Indian friends in Mattawa who own the Subway there and together they own Subway franchises in Hearst and Englehart.

Change in careers

“I bought the business primarily for my wife,” he says. “She was working in a Subway but was just getting minimum wage. I was a banker doing lending and mortgages. Next year my wife will take over this store and I will be more like managing it. I can go back to banking if I want. They are still calling me.

“Right now, though, the way it is going, I don’t think I’m going back to the bank. Every year we are buying one more Subway.” He has lived in Canada 10 years and moved to Kirkland Lake from Brampton.

With six full-time and two part-time employees in Kirkland Lake, Prajapati says his two part-timers were hired through a special needs program and are doing very well. He says he attends Subway conventions twice a year “and that’s when people spread the news that they would like to sell.”

David Mohamed owns Willis Pharmacy in Matheson, where he is the sole pharmacist. Born in Egypt, he has been in Canada six years and moved to Matheson from Belleville. A couple of friends owned the business and he became a partner recently, after working at the Matheson location for 18 months.

“I decided to purchase because I like working with them and it was a good opportunity in the north,” he says. “Here you are alone in the business and we don’t have any nearby pharmacies.”

Louiz Soliman is also a pharmacist from Egypt. He owns Smallman Pharmacy in Temiskaming Shores. He moved to Haileybury from Montreal to take over the business a year ago. He came to Canada from Greece seven years ago. I asked him if he knew Mr. Mohamed. He said he did not, and asked “where is Matheson?”

If people ask him about moving north to start or purchase a business he says “I would tell them it’s a good area. The people are very polite. It’s a safe area.”

Peter Patel, 67, owns three motels, a restaurant and convenience store in Chapleau, employing 25 to 30 people. He and his partners also own a motel in Fenelon Falls, near Peterborough.

Starting from scratch

Another large employer is Siva Mylvaganam, 49, of Timmins. His is a Canadian success story. He came to Canada as a refugee from Sri Lanka and Siva’s Family Restaurant in Timmins Square now employs 35 people with the restaurant and catering business. In addition, he has a commercial real estate sideline where he employs another one or two people, depending on business activity.

Very well known in Timmins, he started the business from scratch in 1996. “When I came to Canada I had no English so I worked as a dishwasher, and in a car factory. There were layoffs so I worked in a restaurant and became a cook, and then a chef, and then opened my own business. I found this location and I thought Timmins would never be really high, or really low, because it is a mining town.

“I loved smaller towns because I was born and raised in a small village. I lived in Toronto and it wasn’t my place to live. I always go back but I never enjoy it. It’s not like here. People always say ‘Hi Siva, how are you doing?’ and I ask them about their family. It’s not like that in Toronto.”

Amjinber Cheema , ( “the locals call me Ami”) is typical of the younger entrepreneurs from India settling in the north. Only 28, his wife just joined him in Latchford from India. He came to Canada as a student and in his seven years here he lived in Saskatoon, Regina and Toronto before arriving in Latchford to purchase The Dam Depot, a gas station and convenience store.

Harsher winters

“There is value for money in the north,” he says. “The winters are harsher but you get used to it. Compared to the bigger cities like Toronto and Ottawa you get value for your money.” He feels connected to the people of Latchford and laughs that “after I was here for two months they appointed me the honourary Indian ambassador to Latchford. It was in the paper. It was very nice.”

Sam Singh, 24, owns the Mac’s franchise in New Liskeard and is another of the young people from India making their mark in the north.  He also came to Canada as a student and started in his business a year ago. “Young people like me don’t have much opportunity,” he says. “From here I can get a start. I am learning a lot of things. It’s a small community and I get involved. In the future if I am going to buy a bigger business I won’t have a problem. For everyone, a small town is the best place to start a business.”

Roger Gandhi, 58, was born in India but has been in Canada 40 years. He is typical of the older immigrant from India who is now well established. He lives in Earlton and owns and operates the Earlton Motel and Coté’s Variety. In addition he owns the mall where the variety store operates, plus the Regal Motel in Timmins.

Navin Tamakuwala, 67, is another. He owns the Thriflodge and Terry’s Steakhouse in Cochrane and has 14 full-time and five part-time employees there. He lives in Montreal most of the year and owns a Sobey’s grocery store there. Also from India, he has lived in Canada for 44 years.

While North Bay was not part of the study area, it has more than 70 first-generation immigrant-owned businesses. Its cricket team is dominated by young entrepreneurs from India. The same is true of cricket teams in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Timmins. Together they are changing the face of Northern Ontario and investing in its future.

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now chair of the board of directors.

Published in Economy
Tuesday, 20 December 2016 20:26

Brockville, Look to GTA, not India

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay

Municipal councils in Canada’s smaller centres do not appear to be at the forefront in analyzing demographic and diversity trends affecting their communities. They ought to be looking for immigrants closer to home, rather than overseas.

I see it in discussions with municipal politicians from my perch in Northern Ontario, and in a recent Brockville Recorder and Times news article about attracting immigrant entrepreneurs.  The municipality secured a provincial government grant to commission a study on the topic, one in which I am particularly interested.

The population of Canada is rising steadily and is more than 36 million people. Approximately 300,000 immigrants are now arriving annually.

Generally, newcomers to Canada do not emigrate to smaller centres, but to the larger ones, with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver taking the majority. What is becoming more prevalent, however, is secondary migration to smaller centres.

Immigrant-owned businesses

In North Bay, population 54,000, where I live, there are more than 70 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. This is a relatively recent occurrence. Temiskaming Shores, population 10,500, is 90 minutes north of North Bay and it has more than 20 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. There, too, this is a recent occurrence.

The Brockville story that caught the attention of New Canadian Media noted the municipality of 22,000 people could attract immigrant entrepreneurs already in Canada. It was based on a study that contained a number of recommendations to make the municipality more receptive to immigrants.

I completed a study for the Far Northeast Training Board that will be released in January that covers some of the issues that Brockville council was discussing. I interviewed 36 immigrant business owners in 11 municipalities in Northeastern Ontario, the smallest with only 400 people and the largest the City of Timmins, population 43,000.

It supports the conclusion of the Brockville study that you don’t have to recruit internationally for immigrant entrepreneurs — they are already here. I expect to report on it in this space when it is officially released in January.

Moving within Canada

But for now, I can tell you that it shows two-thirds of the immigrant entrepreneurs in the study area were born in India, but did not come to Northern Ontario from there. They came from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Dissatisfied with the high cost of GTA home ownership, high cost to purchase a business, and the congestion of the big city, they looked for alternatives and found them in Northern Ontario. They are just as likely to find them in Brockville, just a few hours down Highway 401, and in other smaller Ontario centres.

For municipal councils and economic development organizations, this is terrific news.  Many smaller centre business owners want to sell their business and retire. Demographers have seen this coming for years, as more baby boomers retire.

In many cases their children have moved to a larger centre, or they are not interested in continuing the family business. In our region, we are seeing immigrant entrepreneurs moving north to fill the void.

Caught up in detail

The municipal council in Brockville, according to the newspaper report, was receptive to the study but reluctant to allocate funds in its budget to make Brockville a more welcoming community for immigrants. That is typical of what I hear in Northern Ontario as well.

Municipal councils, in my experience, spend far too much time on the mundane day-to-day issues that should be the purview of municipal staff members, and far too little time looking at the long-term future of their communities. The large cities in Canada, however, understand the value of putting policies, procedures, and people in place to ensure they are doing all they can to attract and retain immigrants.

Many of the smaller ones still haven’t figured it out. Studies such as the one presented this month in Brockville and next month in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area of a large chunk of Northeastern Ontario should serve as a wakeup call.

While municipal councils in smaller centres spend months poring over budgets, their population may be in decline and they are doing little to reverse the trend. They are preoccupied with minutiae.

Now they know it is far easier to recruit people from the GTA than from India. But it will take municipal will to make things happen on a larger scale.

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca). He was the founding executive director the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now the chair of the board of directors.

Published in Policy

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay

Critics are looking at Quebec’s so-called “sweetheart deal” on immigrant investors the wrong way.

Instead of complaining about Quebec other provinces and territories should be demanding equality.

A June 23 article by Peter O’Neil in the Vancouver Sun  noted Quebec struck its deal in 1991, when the sovereignty movement was strong.

Quebec had the bargaining chips, certainly, but what is stopping other regions of Canada that would benefit from an immigrant investor program -- Northern Ontario, the Maritimes and the territories come to mind -- from opening talks with the federal government?

The federal immigrant investor program had its critics, who called it a “cash for citizenship” scheme, and it was cancelled in 2014. There were also reports of fraud. Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver didn’t need the program but it would be a huge economic and social impetus for the regions mentioned above, that are starving for increased immigration and economic investment.

Surely smart bureaucrats could modify the Quebec program so that it fits the needs of other regions of the country.

Regional development

In Northern Ontario, the region of the country I’m most familiar with, a program that attracts foreign investors for an $800,000 financial commitment, with a $200,000 down payment, would go a long way toward municipal and regional infrastructure programs.

The Ring of Fire project, long dormant but with billions of dollars’ worth of metals sitting in the ground, would benefit significantly as a joint regional economic development project.

We are talking billions in investment through such a program. Two thousand immigrant investors for Northern Ontario at $800,000 each is an awful lot of money. Even if some left Northern Ontario to live elsewhere and forfeited their $200,000 deposit, it is still an awful of money.

Bureaucrats and politicians are saying they can’t force permanent residents to live in specific regions, because once they have that status they can live anywhere in Canada. But what is stopping them from creating incentives to live in designated areas?

That’s how the prairies were settled.

Housing prices

Insane housing prices in Vancouver are partially blamed on Chinese immigrant investors moving from Quebec.

More to the point, the blame can be laid at the feet of the Vancouver real estate industry and its unscrupulous practices, detailed in a Globe and Mail investigation.

Premier Christy Clark, fed up with 10 years of lack of self-regulation in the industry, has created a government oversight body. 

Northern Ontario, to name one region, is being short-changed in the number of immigrants landing here and, as a result, the immigrant settlement funds allocated. While almost half of the immigrants to Canada land in Ontario, one-tenth of one per cent landed in Northern Ontario in 2011-12.

Northern Ontario has a higher population than New Brunswick.  This statistic is from a 2015 study by Western University professor Dr. Michael Haan and Elena Prokopenko, completed for the Far Northeast Training Board, based in Hearst, Ontario.

Declining populations

While the Greater Toronto Area is bursting at the seams, the northern part of Ontario is experiencing population stagnation or decline. An immigrant investor program would provide a significant boost. Immigrants now in Northern Ontario are secondary migrants from the GTA, mainly, or other parts of Canada.

Immigrant investors would be inclined to stay in the north (North Bay and Sudbury are less than a four-hour drive to Toronto) where opportunities abound, there are good schools and no congestion. A recent phenomenon is immigrant entrepreneurs moving to Northern Ontario to purchase businesses. (I will soon be embarking on a research project to document the movement of immigrant entrepreneurs to nine Northeastern Ontario municipalities.)

There are more than 70 first generation immigrant-owned businesses in North Bay, most of them having moved from the GTA. Once they live here, they stay and raise families. A lasting legacy of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who is from North Bay, is a four-lane highway all the way to Toronto.

Call it social engineering if you like, but there has been very little done by the federal government and the provinces to entice immigrants to settle where they are needed. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa continue to dominate the immigration discussion. We are long overdue for change.

Background: Quebec Immigrant Investor Program

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as a board member. 

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 20 April 2016 13:33

Refugee Settlement: Govt Playing Big Brother

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario 

The federal government needs to take off its MTV glasses (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) and resume looking at the rest of this vast country when it makes immigration and refugee decisions.

It used to, but that came to a crashing halt June 1, 2012 when 19 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) offices were closed. The cuts were right across the country — Kelowna, Nanaimo, Prince George, Victoria, Lethbridge, Regina, Barrie, Kingston, Oshawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Trois Rivières, Moncton and Charlottetown.

The cuts saved the government only 67 jobs, but changed the dynamics negatively for those in the regions and, arguably, positively for those in MTV and other large cities that retained their CIC offices. Local knowledge disappeared overnight. Government settlement officers who knew their region and all settlement agencies well, ended up, in some cases, selling cars for a living. There were 238 layoffs across CIC around that time as then minister Jason Kenney did his bit to slash government spending.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Government settlement officers who knew their region and all settlement agencies well, ended up, in some cases, selling cars for a living.[/quote]

Those remaining tried hard to keep up, but if you are working in a government office tower in a large city you may be unaware that North Bay and Thunder Bay are at opposite ends of Northern Ontario. You may have little knowledge of what lies between them. You can’t possibly develop the relationships necessary to identify a strong settlement agency from a mediocre one.

Effect on settlement services

The cuts affected settlement agencies that no longer had a government settlement officer dropping by to check on challenges and successes and sending that information up the line. They affected clients who now had to travel much further to renew a Permanent Resident card or seek another service that only the government could provide.

Clients and settlement agencies were told to use the help line. Try it and clock how long you are put on hold. Then call back later and ask the same question to another call centre employee. It is quite likely you will get a different answer.

I've previously argued that the Syrian refugee crisis has demonstrated that smaller centres across the country can accommodate refugees quite well, perhaps even better than the large centres.

The latest announcement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC, the new name for CIC) is that it will now include Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay as temporary sites for the settlement of Government Assisted Refugees.

The fact that there was a request for proposals was not well known or many other centres would have applied. And what is this temporary status all about? Is it big brother saying we’ll let you do it for a while but then we revert to the big cities that know what they’re doing?

If IRCC still had eyes and ears on the ground across Canada the decision would have been more inclusive. There would have been more applications and the government people in the regions would have known which settlement agencies had the capacity to succeed and which did not.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Is it big brother saying we’ll let you do it for a while but then we revert to the big cities that know what they’re doing?[/quote]

Clogging the system

Congratulations to Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay, but common sense and personal knowledge tells me there are many more cities across Canada capable and eager to become settlement centres for Government Assisted Refugees.

Many Syrian refugees landing in MTV are clogging the system, stuck in hotels with no access to language classes, and this is happening in cities such as Ottawa as well.

We have a new, and in my view, more enlightened federal government that is doing a pretty good job with resettling Syrian refugees. But it could do so much better by doubling or tripling the number of cities across Canada that accept Government Assisted Refugees.

Smaller centres need population growth and larger centres are bursting at the seams. A little social engineering on the part of the federal government would be a good thing.

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as a board member. 

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Published in Commentary

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay

Like a Northern Ontario lake in January, the cracks are starting to show in the Syrian refugee housing strategy.

It was to be expected, given the federal government’s desire to act swiftly, but there are lessons to be learned.

Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto have run out of housing, temporarily, for Government Assisted Refugees (GARs). Immigrant serving agencies in these three cities have asked the government to stop sending families until they can clear the housing backlog. 

Meanwhile, sponsorship groups in cities across the nation have homes ready to go and no refugee families in sight.

Refugees arrivals lag in smaller cities

In a previous commentary I took Chris Friesen, Director of Settlement Services with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., to task for saying small cities can’t handle refugees. His view is it should be left to the big boys: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa.

Well, as everyone knows, those cities are congested and housing is way too expensive. 

So why is the federal government not redirecting refugee families to where homes are ready to go and sponsorship groups are eager to help?

The government should be quickly readjusting the numbers in the three refugee programs: GARs, private sponsorships and blended sponsorships. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Sponsorship groups in cities across the nation have homes ready to go and no refugee families in sight.[/quote]

The blended program has hit some snags. Our group in North Bay Ontario has been ready to go since November and the first family we were matched with through the Mennonite Central Committee of Ontario, a mother and nine children, has yet to arrive. 

We don’t know why and no one will say. We have signed on for a second family, but there’s still no trace of the first one. 

The same is true for other sponsorship groups. Former Toronto Mayor John Sewell was quoted in the Toronto media as saying the sponsorship group he chairs has been ready to go since mid-December but has not received an offer of a refugee family to sponsor.

He said his group is one of 18 affiliated with Rosedale United Church and none are receiving referrals.

Issues with the selection process

The problem is the federal government chooses its refugee families first. The remaining qualified families are then put in a pool of profiles that are shared with the 100 faith and community groups that have sponsorship agreements with Ottawa. 

The GARs are funded 100 per cent by the taxpayers for the first year while the taxpayers cover only about 40 per cent in the blended program. In the private sponsorship program they cover nothing. 

So why not change the selection system to put the private and blended sponsorships at the front of the queue?

Brian Dyck, chair of the Sponsorship Agreement Holders’ Association, was quoted saying 300 Syrian refugee profiles have been posted since the beginning of January and they were quickly snapped up. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We have signed on for a second family, but there’s still no trace of the first one.[/quote]

“The matching system was designed for small-scale sponsorship interest. To adapt it to the current public interest is a big challenge,” he said.

It doesn’t appear that big to me. The Syrian refugee families don’t care what category they're in. They just want to leave.

How difficult can it be to redirect enough GARs to where there are willing sponsorship groups?

While the government is at it, why doesn’t it re-examine its GAR system, which settles refugees in a few select cities across Canada, and open it up to many more cities? Spread the work, spread the housing challenges and send refugees to communities seeking to grow their populations.

Canada must capitalize on its capacity

Many military bases are at less than full capacity and could be used to house GARs temporarily in communities until more suitable housing is found. We have one in North Bay and we have a city that has raised a lot of money and is receptive to newcomers. We are but one of many similar communities across Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Minister John McCallum wants to bring in many more refugees. The government's new emphasis on refugees is evident in the word being placed in his title. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Syrian refugee families don’t care what category they're in. They just want to leave.[/quote]

If we’re in for significantly increased numbers of refugees for the long term, it’s time to make some changes to the programs that were designed for much smaller numbers.

Let’s spread refugees across Canada to the many willing cities and towns. The big cities do not have a monopoly on settlement and integration expertise. 

If the federal government spent more resources on immigrant settlement agencies in the smaller centres, a settlement worker here and a settlement worker there, their capacity would increase and they could settle larger numbers of newcomers.

The hiccups in the present system present an opportunity for change.

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting, a company providing immigration solutions for rural and northern Canada. He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and served in that capacity for eight years. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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Published in Commentary

 Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay

Look at any online newspaper or magazine story about Syrian refugees and then read the comment section—if you dare. The comments range from sarcastic to racist and accuracy is not a prerequisite for participation.

Many of the comments sound something like this: the refugees will be living off the taxpayers and we’ll be paying for them for years to come.

It’s time for a reality check. 

Economic contributions of refugees

A Simon Fraser University study released in December calculated that Syrian refugees coming to B.C. will contribute approximately $563 million in local economic activity over the next 20 years. 

Canadian Business published an article on Sept. 14, 2015 with the headline "Why Canada should welcome more Syrian refugees—a lot more.” Canadian Business isn’t usually on the left of the political spectrum. Its argument is simple: it makes economic sense. 

The article states, “Casting refugees as freeloaders may be politically expedient but it lacks a basis in fact. Between 1979 and 1981, Canada accepted 60,000 “boat people” from Southeast Asia. Within a decade, 86 per cent of those former refugees were working, healthy and spoke English with some proficiency, achieving the basic criteria for success.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Syrian refugees coming to B.C. will contribute approximately $563 million in local economic activity.[/quote]

It also explains that refugees were less likely to use social services and more likely to have jobs than the average Canadian. “They weren’t a drain on the taxpayer—they were taxpayers,” it states.

Carl Nicholson, executive director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa, told me a few months ago that Vietnamese “boat people” in Ottawa — former refugees themselves — are now stepping up to financially support Syrian refugees.

Most refugees aren’t dependent on government support

Other online comments lump all refugees as being in the government-assisted class, and that too requires a reality check.

There are three refugee programs in Canada: government-assisted, private sponsorships, and blended sponsorships.

In the Government Assisted Refugee (GAR) program, the federal government pays the cost. There is no government money in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program and only approximately 40 per cent in the blended program.

The blended program has only been around since 2013 and the Mennonite Central Committee (who organizes much of the related resettlement activity) has worked almost solely with Mennonite churches. With the incoming Syrian refugees, the Committee is swamped.

Over the last months, it has worked with churches of all denominations and groups of citizens unaffiliated with any church who are getting involved in refugee sponsorship for the first time. With this wave of new players, clearly there is room to expand this program.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There is no government money in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program.[/quote]

The Harper government was planning to reduce the GARs’ commitment by about nine per cent, while the new federal government is now talking about increasing the number of Syrian refugees in all three categories from 25,000 by February 29 to 50,000 by December 31, 2016.

The cost of supporting GARs is the equivalent of the provincial welfare rate for an individual or family. That could range from $27,000 to $30,000 for a family of four.

But here’s a little-known fact: any government subsidy ceases immediately upon the refugee securing employment. And, in any event, it lasts for only 12 months.

Until the Syrian refugee crisis, refugees had to repay the cost, with interest, of their airfare to Canada. That has been waived for Syrian refugees and refugee advocates are lobbying to make that standard practice for all refugees. The federal government says it will have new regulations in place by mid-2016.

We must help GARs establish themselves in Canada

More than 50 per cent of PSRs had earnings in their first year in Canada, compared to only 14 per cent in the GAR category. In their second year, the percentage increased to 70 and 42 per cent respectively. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, there’s little difference in employment earnings over time. Data from 2003 showed that a PSR who has been in Canada for 15 years had average employment earnings of $30,885 compared to $28,901 for GARS.

The numbers reflect the fact that PSRs have a network as soon as they arrive, plus the services of government-supported immigrant settlement agencies. GARs have settlement agency assistance alone to help them integrate into the community. This needs to change.

Refugee advocates are pushing the new federal government to capitalize on private sector interest, but not to depend on it. The premise of private sponsorship is to add more refugees to the mix, not to replace the government-sponsored Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With this wave of new players, clearly there is room to expand this program.[/quote]

With communities that have never sponsored refugees now fundraising for Syrian refugees, there's the potential to expand the RAP program to new communities. In North Bay Ontario, we have a Canadian Forces Base with the capacity to house refugees temporarily until they're settled in the community. 

There's similar capacity at bases across Canada and if they were put to use, refugees would be more evenly spread across the country instead of just a few designated communities.

The federal government should capitalize on this new energy sweeping the nation and add capacity to the RAP program by bringing more willing communities into the available pool. 

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting, a company providing immigration solutions for rural and northern Canada. He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and served in that capacity for eight years. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

The email arrived on the evening of Friday, December 4th. Our first Syrian refugee family will be here soon.

The alert came in a mass email from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) through our sponsorship agreement holder, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) of Ontario, and it contained important details.

“Syrian PSRs (Privately Sponsored Refugees) currently in inventory will arrive in Canada through Toronto or Montreal, starting shortly. Sponsoring groups should therefore prepare themselves to start receiving the refugees they have sponsored, since these arrivals are about to start.”

For our North Bay group, that means our first family — a mother with nine children — will be on its way here soon. Fortunately we have secured a five-bedroom home large enough to accommodate them.

Families may arrive at short notice

The email also stated that the usual 10 working days’ notice of arrival may not apply. 

Families will be issued winter clothing by the federal government. They will have Social Insurance Numbers given to them upon arrival in Toronto or Montreal. 

The cost for transportation to their destinations and medical exams before they leave will be covered by IRCC. Those requiring connecting flights or ground transportation from Toronto or Montreal will be transported to a hotel for overnight stay.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Our first family — a mother with nine children — will be on its way here soon.[/quote]

As the email recipient for our group, I had to let the donations committee know that arrival will be sooner rather than later. Luckily, their website was just about ready. Now they will speed up the process, using a self-populating spreadsheet for donations that will help them collect all the items needed, from furniture to pots and pans to toys.

Members of our community are making efforts to speed up the process as well. The committee secured a large furniture donation from one location and had plans to move it into storage on Monday. However, when I contacted the homeowner on Saturday, he said it was okay to move the furniture straight into the empty home.

Monday we will let the other committees know — health, education, finances and housing. We have a huge team of more than 70 volunteers and we will be expecting a second large family soon after the first one arrives. 

All of a sudden we are not working in the abstract, but in real time. The first family will likely be here before the end of December.

Residents grow excited about new arrivals

The weather in North Bay has been unusually warm for this time of year. Volunteers are hoping it continues so the family is greeted with fall-like conditions instead of snow on the ground. 

There is a buzz throughout Northeastern Ontario and it’s not about the lack of snow. In the past two weeks I attended Immigrant Employers’ Council meetings in Sundridge, south of North Bay, and Temiskaming Shores and Cochrane, both north of North Bay. 

Everyone is talking about Syrian refugees, not only as the humanitarian thing to do, but as an economic development initiative for Northeastern Ontario. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Everyone is talking about Syrian refugees.[/quote]

The children will help fill our classrooms. The parents, eventually, will be in the workforce, making a contribution. 

We have the capacity to take more, and perhaps more families will come in the months and years to come. 

In the catchment area for the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre we have groups raising money to sponsor families in Sundridge, North Bay, West Nipissing, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart and Timmins. All these families will become our clients, taxing the capacity of our tiny settlement worker staff.

Support needed at the federal level

Now is the time for IRCC to reinstate the settlement worker position it cut a couple of years ago. Settlement agencies were stretched pretty thin under the Harper government and we are hopeful that many of those cuts will be addressed. 

We have the best staff in the world but they can’t work seven days a week to meet the new demands. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The children will help fill our classrooms. The parents, eventually, will be in the workforce.[/quote]

We anticipate more groups will pop up to sponsor Syrian families and that will create even more demand on our services. Of course our agency is not alone. The cuts were Ontario-wide and in other provinces as well.

Meanwhile funds in support of the families keep coming in. Every time our local work is featured in the media we get a bump in donations. 

People give Mayor Al McDonald cheques or they drop into our downtown office. We are seeing the most foot traffic we have ever had. 

We passed the $50,000 mark last week and we are well on our way to $60,000. With the blended sponsorship program through the Mennonite Central Committee, (the federal government covers 40 per cent of the cost) we are confident we have the capacity to sponsor two large families in North Bay.

Everyone wants to help. For those of us in the immigrant settlement sector, it's gratifying to see immigration in the public dialogue. It was a long time coming.

Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, and Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative and the Timmins Local Immigration Partnership.

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Friday, 27 November 2015 17:07

Canada Must Resettle Refugees In Small Towns

By Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

If you got all your news from our national TV networks and CBC Radio, you would think that all the refugees are arriving in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. That is not the case.

What the national media is largely missing is the fact that Syrian refugees will also be heading to small and mid-sized centres across Canada.

A few thousand refugees arriving in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver will hardly be noticed, but a family or two arriving in a small centre has the potential to transform that municipality in an extremely positive fashion.

Energizing and transforming Northern Ontario

In North Bay Ontario, where I live, Mayor Al McDonald’s leadership has created a groundswell of support for Syrian refugees. 

With coordination provided by the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, almost $50,000 has been raised and volunteer committees have been formed to ease the transition for two large Syrian refugee families coming to our city. There is a possibility of two more families being sponsored by church groups.

In nearby West Nipissing, more individuals are fundraising to sponsor a family. Up the highway in Temiskaming Shores there is yet another group. The same is happening further north in Englehart and Timmins. The populations of these centres are 54,000, 14,000, 10,400, 1,500 and 43,000, respectively.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A family or two arriving in a small centre has the potential to transform that municipality.[/quote]

Add large Syrian families in to the mix (we’re talking six to 10 children) and they will be noticed. Based on the incredible community support I have witnessed in North Bay, despite the naysayers, these families will be welcomed, supported, mentored and nurtured. While North Bay and Timmins have mosques, these families could well be the first Muslims in the smaller communities.

That can be transformational for the communities. 

Northern Ontario has a challenge with baby boomer retirements, low birth rate and a youth diaspora. Without sustained immigration, jobs will go unfilled and communities will slowly decline.

I had lunch with a prominent immigrant entrepreneur recently and he said we should be bringing 2,000 families to North Bay, not two, or four. I told him we don’t have the capacity to successfully integrate 2,000 at once, but I got his point. Northern Ontario needs people, and Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have too many. 

Resettlement strategies in these communities are vital

Federal and provincial governments have to get their heads around a strategy to settle refugees and immigrants in the smaller centres across Canada. To keep settling newcomers in the big cities when the jobs are elsewhere makes no sense.

Mayors in smaller centres have to embrace immigration and lobby for more resources to support successful integration. I see them doing that in New Brunswick, which demographically bears a lot of similarities to Northern Ontario.

Manitoba’s smaller centres have had successful immigration strategies for years but the remainder of the country needs to wake up. Manitoba normally receives about 1,500 refugees a year, the highest per capita of any province, and is prepared to double that number to up to 3,000 Syrian refugees.

The Syrian refugees coming to Northern Ontario are through the blended sponsorship program supported by the Mennonite Central Committee based in St. Catharines. Private sponsors pay 60 per cent of the cost for the family’s first year in Canada and the federal government pays 40 per cent.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]These families could well be the first Muslims in the smaller communities.[/quote]

The most vulnerable are at the top of the list, so we are not expecting professionals and skilled trades people who can walk right in to an available job. However, the children can learn English quickly, catch up in school and contribute to society in reasonably short order. Success breeds success, and more families could follow.

Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia, has been on the national news regularly as the Syrian refugee situation unfolds. Normally he says all the right things, except for one evening when he was commenting about B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s wishes to have Syrian refugees settled across B.C.—not just in Vancouver and its suburbs.

Friesen said that won’t work because all the necessary services such as language classes, specialized medical care and trauma counselling are not available. In my view, he is just plain wrong.

Those services do exist in smaller centres; where they don’t, they can be accessed remotely. I saw one piece about a refugee waiting seven months to get in to a language class. In North Bay and other smaller centres, we can get them in class in a day.

Volunteers will arrange one-on-one intensive language tutoring and enrol refugees in online Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) training supported by the federal government.

For Friesen to say smaller communities can’t do it is wrong, and good for Premier Clark for telling him so. It’s time for other premiers and mayors to speak out and create support in all provinces for spreading the load of refugee settlement and integration across their entire provinces.

Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, and Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative and the Timmins Local Immigration Partnership.

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by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

Canada’s big city mayors have been vocal in their support for doing more to expedite the process of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada – as they should be.

Large cities have large capacities to do more – to raise more money and sponsor and settle more refugees. What I have not seen reported so far in the national media is the growing support in smaller communities to do more as well.

In our part of Northeastern Ontario we have two small cities, North Bay and Timmins, eager to sponsor refugees, but unfamiliar with the process.

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald started a Facebook campaign to fundraise the approximately $30,000 necessary to sponsor a family for a year and in its first couple of days he had $10,000 in commitments. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Syrian crisis has been going on for years and has been well documented, but this photograph hit a nerve around the world and changed everything.[/quote]

In Timmins, City Councillor Pat Bamford plans to raise the issue at the September 14 city council meeting and propose that the city itself allocate funds toward sponsorship.

Our settlement agency, the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre, will provide guidance and support for both initiatives.

This recent municipal engagement is, of course, a result of the powerful photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Turkey. The Syrian crisis has been going on for years and has been well documented, but this photograph hit a nerve around the world and changed everything.

The small city challenge

Some may question the capacity of immigrant and refugee settlement agencies across Canada to settle and help integrate large numbers of refugees.

What they may not know is that many front-line settlement workers are immigrants or refugees themselves, and have the compassion, knowledge and resources to get the job done.

When I look at the names behind the Toronto group, Lifeline Syria, the ones I know – Ratna Omidvar, Naomi Alboim, Jehad Aliweiwi, Mario Calla, Carolyn Davis – have vast settlement sector knowledge, and I am sure have no doubts about the capacity of the sector to out-perform. Lifeline Syria is in capable hands.

Smaller cities don’t have the wealth of expertise that Lifeline Syria has, but they have knowledgeable leaders in the settlement sector and I hope they are being put to good use across the country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Settling Syrian families in communities where there are no other Syrians will be a challenge.[/quote]

This is a new issue for many smaller city municipal leaders and that’s good for the settlement sector in those cities.

Some settlement agencies in smaller cities have extensive experience settling refugees, while others have little or none. However, they have experience settling newcomers and this is an opportunity for them to provide leadership.

Settling Syrian families in communities where there are no other Syrians will be a challenge.

In North Bay we have none on our client list and in Timmins only one family. However, North Bay has a mosque (a high proportion of Syria’s population is Muslim) and Timmins has a group of Muslims actively trying to create one, so at least there is some religious commonality.

An Anglican minister dropped in to my office to see what she and her church could do to help, and North Bay’s mayor has approached the United Church for support. Ordinary citizens are e-mailing their moral and financial support, so it is gratifying to see communities come together.

Not everyone supportive

On the other hand, online comments about Mayor McDonald’s request for funds to support a family were not all positive.

The online world attracts the ill informed with strident opinions, and they were out in full force. Comments ranged from religion-based to ‘foreigners coming in and taking “our” jobs’ sentiments, and they were neither literate nor enlightened.

It will always be a work in progress to educate people about how immigrants and refugees make Canada a stronger nation. This work has been led by immigrant settlement agencies and local immigration partnerships and now there is an opportunity for others to get involved in the discussion.

Leaders have to lead, whether they are municipal politicians, church leaders, or settlement agencies. It is gratifying to see that in our corner of Canada, and in the big cities, they are doing just that.

Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative, Timmins Local Immigration Partnership and northern region board member for OCASI. He is also a board member of Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research organization.

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