Wednesday, 04 June 2014 15:10

Leaders Debate Fails Immigrants in Ontario

by Maryann D’Souza in Toronto

Am I the only one in Ontario who feels as if immigrant issues have been cast aside in favour of the same old rhetoric? Before the Toronto debate, polls indicated that 38 per cent of voters were still undecided and I suspect that many newcomers figure among them. Why am I not surprised?

Although a flash poll conducted by Ipsos after Tuesday’s debate indicated that only 10 per cent of viewers doubted who the winner was, in my opinion, the three-way encounter brought little clarity on any of the issues, let alone addressing the concerns of new Canadians. Presented with the dark reality of no-confidence in any of the parties and their leaders, I am almost tempted to decline my ballot (as suggested by host Steve Paikin in the dying moments of the debate).

While the parties fall over themselves to court the various ethnic communities at any opportunity they get, the debate between the three premier hopefuls in Toronto was loudly silent on immigrant issues. It almost seems like we can expect more of the same no matter who occupies the premier’s chair: a continuing struggle to find the right jobs among the many opportunities the candidates were promising to create.  One immigrant I met at the gym yesterday perhaps echoed what many feel, “What’s the point of voting?”  

A matter of trust

At the heart of the race is trust. I was delighted to see a visible-minority voter by the name of "Suresh Naik" speak up so eloquently and almost frame the debate with the first question thrown at the three contenders. He cut to the chase when he asked, 'How can I trust the Liberals with my retirement money in light of the gas plants scandal?' (see video below). To that I might add, or ‘any other government?’ Immigrants have often been accused of not being involved. Apathy, though, may not be the only reason. Perhaps it is the continual neglect of issues that are of critical importance to them.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Apathy, though, may not be the only reason. Perhaps it is the continual neglect of issues that are of critical importance to them.[/quote]

It is critical to engage immigrants given their low turnout rate at elections. And, this is done not just by fielding ethnic candidates to get their votes but by building trust, which comes from making them feel “heard” and listened to. Education, healthcare and energy bills are high priorities for all Ontarians, especially struggling immigrants, but what is hurting immigrants most right now is jobs: the lack of opportunity to use their skills and experience in the right way; to be able to earn enough money to afford higher education for their kids and pay those energy bills. Not surprisingly, none of the job creation plans had a concrete strategy to resolve this problem.

The Liberals may claim to have created jobs, but unfortunately more and more of these employment opportunities are turning out to be part-time. As a result, many newcomers are working two and three jobs just to be able to survive. With their previous credentials not recognized and the lack of “Canadian experience” they are often forced into low-paying jobs and find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous employers who are ever willing to exploit the situation.

Promises galore

Less than three weeks ago, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak was courting new immigrants by promising to create jobs in Ontario and make it their No. 1 destination (something that the NDP touted way back in 2012). “I want to cut the red tape holding back new Canadians from putting their professional experience to work," he said. That gave me some “hope”. I thought that perhaps he had a real plan to have their job skills and credentials recognized. But just like his million jobs promise, Hudak failed to back it up with any concrete roadmap of how he would go about doing this. I’m inclined to agree with Horwath, who said during the debate that Hudak has little to show from his leadership over the last three years.

Kathleen Wynne was not to be left behind, and fought back with her “One Ontario,” plan which would include a “number of initiatives” to attract skilled immigrants to the province, provide more culturally appropriate health care, invest in bridge training programs that help integrate new Canadians into the workforce. A glimmer of hope once again and new Canadians were waiting to hear more on how she was going to integrate them into the fold. Unfortunately, just like Hudak, that was all she was willing (or had) to say.

Perhaps, I thought, NDP leader Andrea Horwath was the most honest in her lack of promises to new immigrants. Or, is this a preview of what is to come if she becomes Ontario’s premier? Can we look forward to the day when parties formulate policies based on the needs of the people and their demands, rather than undoing what has been done by the previous government.

Survival jobs

Politicians ought to realize that few immigrants have the stomach for local politics or community issues mainly because many of them are struggling to keep their heads above water. Fielding ethnic candidates who do no more than mouths the lines already overused by their leaders certainly strikes a chord, but perhaps not the way they are intended. They encourage divisive, personality-based politics that cement newcomer bonds to the "home country," instead of helping them assimilate and truly accept Canada as their country. Without 100 per cent buy-in from immigrants, Ontario can hardly hope to move ahead or thrive.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Without 100 per cent buy-in from immigrants, Ontario can hardly hope to move ahead or thrive.[/quote]                                    

The talk of increasing immigration and attracting newcomers to Ontario might seem attractive, but only to Hudak and Wynne. The results from CBC's Vote Compass two weeks ago indicated just 16 per cent of respondents support increased immigration to the province. Even newcomers would have trouble wrapping their heads around letting in more immigrants in a shrinking job market.

Let’s be realistic. Can any of these politicians really create jobs? Can they stop companies from outsourcing to be more competitive, even viable?

Tim Hudak says “hope is on the way.” Andrea Horwath promises to “invest tax dollars in your priorities.” And Premier Wynne claims she will “invest in people and skills” to move Ontario forward. They sound to me like empty promises to win power. Immigrants tend to be a lot more cynical. Their vote might cost two of these politicians the election.

Maryann D’Souza is a Toronto-based journalist who has been in Canada for 10 years.

You can watch the full televized debate here.

Published in Commentary
by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
The 2014 Liberal Plan for “One Ontario” will include a number of initiatives to attract skilled immigrants to the province, provide more culturally appropriate health care, invest in bridge training programs that help integrate new Canadians into the workforce and help more local companies win business outside Canada.
 
Outlining her party’s plan at a media briefing over the weekend in the build-up to the June 12 provincial elections, Premier Kathleen Wynne said “One Ontario” is at the core of her value system. “We are going to stand up for diversity because we believe in One Ontario. New Canadians deserve the same opportunities and the same protections as those who were born here,” Wynne said. “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects our rights no matter who we are or what we believe. That is an important principle in Ontario and across Canada, and it is what makes us stronger.”
 
She said the Liberal government has taken several measures to ensure Ontario’s diversity continues to be its strength, including:
• Passing the Accepting Schools Act, which promotes a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting, regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.
• The Provincial Nominee Program that helps Ontario employers attract and retain the skilled workers they need for today’s knowledge-based economy.
• Covering refugee health care when the federal government walked away from its responsibilities.
• Passing a motion in the legislature re-affirming Ontario’s commitment to respect diversity. The motion opposes any bills that would restrict people’s freedom of expression and religion in public places.
 
Global trade strategy
Elaborating on the Liberal economic plan that will be of interest to immigrants, Wynne said if re-elected her government will expand its Going Global Trade Strategy by investing $5 million a year over the next two years in the Global Growth Fund, which will help more Ontario companies win business outside of Canada.
 
With so many people from around the world choosing to call Ontario home, there is tremendous opportunity for Ontario-based businesses to expand the reach of their exports, she said. “By partnering with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, local chambers, and chambers representing Ontario’s diverse ethnic communities, businesses will be able to tap into Ontario’s diverse population to access international markets and showcase their goods and services to international buyers.”
 
Taking a swipe at her opponents, Wynne said the Andrea Horwath-led NDP (New Democratic Party), by choosing not to support her government’s Budget for the year put the expansion of the global trade strategy and newcomer programs at risk.
 
The Premier said the approach of the Tim Hudak-led Progressive Conservatives in supporting the newest Canadians would be to fire 100,000 public sector workers that would result in a cut to programs and services that they rely on, such as settlement programs and bridge training programs.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Premier said the approach of the Tim Hudak-led Progressive Conservatives in supporting our newest Canadians would be to fire 100,000 public sector workers that would result in a cut to programs and services that they rely on, such as settlement programs and bridge training programs.[/quote]
 
On the issue of bills that have ‘died on the Order Paper,’ (i.e., did not become law) as a result of the current election, the Premier said if re-elected her government will re-introduce them, including the Ontario Immigration Act “to ensure we attract skilled immigrants to fill labour market needs.”

‘Referendum on the economy’

A re-elected Liberal government will continue to invest in the talent and skills of Ontarians through initiatives like the 30 per cent Off Tuition grant, she said. The tuition grant will help up to 260,000 low- and middle-income university students save up to $1,780 per school year. Students attending college can save up to $820 per school year, as part of the grant. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, students who receive the full grant amount will be paying less in net tuition than students 10 years ago, Wynne said. Hudak’s PCs have promised to cancel the tuition grant immediately, increasing the cost of a university degree by at least $7,120 per student, she pointed out.

Listing out the achievements of the Liberal government, she said Ontario has been recognized as the top place in North America for foreign direct investment and had created 459,000 net new jobs since June 2009.
 
Face off with Hudak and Horwath
 
Wynne said Ontario raises $11 billion more in federal revenue than is invested back into the province. Stating that this year Ontario will receive $641 million less in major transfers from the federal government, she said while the Harper Conservatives continue to invest in regional economic opportunities elsewhere in Canada, they have refused to invest in the development of the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario that would create jobs and make Ontario one of the major world producers of chromite.
 
On the Ontario PC's accusing her government of secretly approving $317-million to bail out a real estate development for a downtown Toronto research centre, Wynne said the deal was confidential because it isn’t finalized and would actually save taxpayers money in the long run.
 
She said the MaRS transaction is good for the government, as it will allow the consolidation of several offices in one place. The government helped the organization get the project started with a loan and a grant. But when it became apparent MaRS couldn’t make the completed tower viable, the government agreed to buy it instead. Wynne said she has not discussed the details of the deal, saying it is not yet final.
She charged that the leaked cabinet documents is being used by the PC's to deflect attention from Hudak’s Million Job Plan that has been derided by eminent economists from across Canada as “an absolute disaster that needs to be redrafted.”
 
Apart from the MaRS transaction, Wynne will be defending a slew of other questionable dealings by the Liberal government when she faces off with Hudak and Horwath at 6:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday (June 3) for the only televised debate ahead of the election. It could be a turning point.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 09 February 2014 15:17

Tamils emerge from the shadows

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
If an immigrant community’s coming-of-age needs to be gauged in Canada, the way it is courted by politicians is a good indicator. Leaders of all hues, from the federal to the municipal level, put on an unabashed display last month at the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) gala held in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving Day.
 
Those present to woo the 300,000-strong community concentrated mostly in the GTA included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario PC and Official Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.  The pride of place at the event, however, went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Heralded as the “future prime minister,” the gathering gave him a standing ovation. Seemingly carried away by the adulation, Mr Trudeau briefly showed off his Bollywood dance moves and regretted not coming dressed in a traditional South Asian outfit.
 
“Thirty years ago, there were a handful of Tamils in Canada, but today this country is home to tens of thousands of them who have established themselves with their values of hard work and determination,” he said. “These are not Tamil values; these are Canadian values,’’ he said amid rounds of applause.
 
Seeking international investigations into human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the last phases of the ethnic war in 2009, the Liberal leader said Canada would stand by the Tamil community in seeking justice on global platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month. This sentiment was echoed by Mr Alexander, who said “Canada will be at the forefront to ensure that accountability comes.”
 
Both the federal politicians were on cue as the session in Geneva is of huge importance to the community. The Canadian Tamil Congress, as part of its advocacy work, will be sending a delegation to Geneva and wants the UN to take decisive action against the Sri Lankan government for violating human rights.
 
Poll calculations
 
While Ms. Wynne said the strides made by the Tamils are “a great Canadian story,” Mr. Alexander said the community has been “a huge success for the Canada’s immigration program.”  That’s a big shift in stance by the Conservative Party, which has been trying hard to undo the harm done by its anti-Tamil rhetoric during the 2011 federal election after two ship loads of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka came ashore on the B.C. coast. Canada’s recent boycott of the Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo was seen by many as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favour with the Tamils.  
 
Its need to garner support of the community along with that of other immigrant groups in the GTA has grown in importance as the 2015 election nears. The area, dubbed as the “905” after the telephone code that sets it apart from Toronto city, is expected to be a major battleground for votes.  The 905 is believed to have helped the Conservatives form a majority government despite the party doing badly in Québec. Significantly, both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have also stepped up their efforts in the area.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent opinion poll has suggested that the going will not be easy for the eight Conservative MPs from the area if an election were held right now. The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Technologies and released exclusively to iPolitics, said three could lose their seats and the five others could find themselves in tough battles.[/quote]
 
“It’s not surprising that given the national popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party currently that these numbers are showing this, that there is a Liberal resurgence for sure,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, was quoted as saying. “On the other side, it doesn’t show a complete Conservative collapse as well. The Conservative base is alive and well in Peel region [consisting of Brampton and Mississauga].”
 
Tamil Heritage Month
 
At the CTC gala, almost all the leaders competed to promote Tamil culture. Mr. Hudak said he would be reintroducing a bill in the Ontario legislature to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River riding, said she would be pressing ahead with her private bill, C-471, to designate the month as such across Canada. She said this month is celebrated throughout the country by Canadians of Tamil heritage, “as we recognize the cultural, political and economic contributions of Tamil Canadians in our communities.”
 
Ms Sitsabaiesan made no mention of her alleged intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities during her recent visit to the island. Her fellow NDP MP from the Toronto area, Prof. Craig Scott, was honoured with the “Leaders for Change” award at the event for his role as the founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
 
 
Apart from this gesture, the Tamil community has been trying hard to reach out to the mainstream. As in the past four years, the CTC once again raised money through its annual walk-a-thon for a Canadian charity. With the cheque for $65,000 presented to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the organization has raised over a quarter-million dollars for five charities in the past five years. Only time will tell whether this is yet another sign of an immigrant group emerging from the shadows to gain the “good immigrants” moniker as suggested by Premier Wynne and Minister Alexander or a cynical attempt to gain political clout.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in South Asia
Sunday, 09 February 2014 03:50

Tamils emerge from the shadows

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
If an immigrant community’s coming-of-age needs to be gauged in Canada, the way it is courted by politicians is a good indicator. Leaders of all hues, from the federal to the municipal level, put on an unabashed display last month at the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) gala held in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving Day.
 
Those present to woo the 300,000-strong community concentrated mostly in the GTA included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario PC and Official Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.  The pride of place at the event, however, went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Heralded as the “future prime minister,” the gathering gave him a standing ovation. Seemingly carried away by the adulation, Mr Trudeau briefly showed off his Bollywood dance moves and regretted not coming dressed in a traditional South Asian outfit.
 
“Thirty years ago, there were a handful of Tamils in Canada, but today this country is home to tens of thousands of them who have established themselves with their values of hard work and determination,” he said. “These are not Tamil values; these are Canadian values,’’ he said amid rounds of applause.
 
Seeking international investigations into human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the last phases of the ethnic war in 2009, the Liberal leader said Canada would stand by the Tamil community in seeking justice on global platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month. This sentiment was echoed by Mr Alexander, who said “Canada will be at the forefront to ensure that accountability comes.”
 
Both the federal politicians were on cue as the session in Geneva is of huge importance to the community. The Canadian Tamil Congress, as part of its advocacy work, will be sending a delegation to Geneva and wants the UN to take decisive action against the Sri Lankan government for violating human rights.
 
Poll calculations
 
While Ms. Wynne said the strides made by the Tamils are “a great Canadian story,” Mr. Alexander said the community has been “a huge success for the Canada’s immigration program.”  That’s a big shift in stance by the Conservative Party, which has been trying hard to undo the harm done by its anti-Tamil rhetoric during the 2011 federal election after two ship loads of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka came ashore on the B.C. coast. Canada’s recent boycott of the Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo was seen by many as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favour with the Tamils.  
 
Its need to garner support of the community along with that of other immigrant groups in the GTA has grown in importance as the 2015 election nears. The area, dubbed as the “905” after the telephone code that sets it apart from Toronto city, is expected to be a major battleground for votes.  The 905 is believed to have helped the Conservatives form a majority government despite the party doing badly in Québec. Significantly, both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have also stepped up their efforts in the area.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent opinion poll has suggested that the going will not be easy for the eight Conservative MPs from the area if an election were held right now. The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Technologies and released exclusively to iPolitics, said three could lose their seats and the five others could find themselves in tough battles.[/quote]
 
“It’s not surprising that given the national popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party currently that these numbers are showing this, that there is a Liberal resurgence for sure,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, was quoted as saying. “On the other side, it doesn’t show a complete Conservative collapse as well. The Conservative base is alive and well in Peel region [consisting of Brampton and Mississauga].”
 
Tamil Heritage Month
 
At the CTC gala, almost all the leaders competed to promote Tamil culture. Mr. Hudak said he would be reintroducing a bill in the Ontario legislature to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River riding, said she would be pressing ahead with her private bill, C-471, to designate the month as such across Canada. She said this month is celebrated throughout the country by Canadians of Tamil heritage, “as we recognize the cultural, political and economic contributions of Tamil Canadians in our communities.”
 
Ms Sitsabaiesan made no mention of her alleged intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities during her recent visit to the island. Her fellow NDP MP from the Toronto area, Prof. Craig Scott, was honoured with the “Leaders for Change” award at the event for his role as the founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
 
 
Apart from this gesture, the Tamil community has been trying hard to reach out to the mainstream. As in the past four years, the CTC once again raised money through its annual walk-a-thon for a Canadian charity. With the cheque for $65,000 presented to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the organization has raised over a quarter-million dollars for five charities in the past five years. Only time will tell whether this is yet another sign of an immigrant group emerging from the shadows to gain the “good immigrants” moniker as suggested by Premier Wynne and Minister Alexander or a cynical attempt to gain political clout.
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 13 February 2013 01:45

Wynner takes 'em all

New Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s first day on the job seemed sanguine enough. She came across as someone keen on consensus building. As she herself said, Cabinet making is tough and striking a balance between the various compulsions – especially heading a minority government that has to be election ready at all times – makes the matchmaking even more onerous. From our perspective, she’s got it right, for where else will we have an India-born (Harinder Takhar) and a Pakistan-born (Yasir Naqvi) at the same Cabinet table?

No wonder Naqvi’s appointment was big news in the Frontier Post and Takhar’s re-appointment to the Cabinet – he has had a berth there since Dalton McGuinty’s first days in office – met with derision in the Toronto Star. Such is the lot of politicians from immigrant backgrounds who don’t quite know how to play ball with star columnists, as we have already observed during the Liberal leadership campaign.

All of this might just be window-dressing and tokenism as Ontario faces hard realities with a yawning budget deficit, much-needed infrastructure upgrades and a popular feeling that McGuinty lost his sense of purpose somewhere along his long years in office.  The Education Premier has left parents caught between unruly teachers and their children who have been shut out from extracurricular activities. The classroom should be sacred ground. Children should never be exposed to this sort of brinkmanship and we wonder if the teachers will ever regain the respect of this generation of Ontario grade-school students.

Her new education minister Liz Sandals surely brings the right credentials to the job, although her first interviews didn’t inspire much confidence with her repeated use of the word “stakeholders” – as if students were just widgets in some grand bargain. We cannot over-emphasize how important the task of restoring tranquility in the classroom is and Sandals is right when she says the public is long past caring who is to blame. They want this stalemate fixed. Period.

Wynne’s gender and orientation are largely irrelevant to the challenges facing the province.

It will be interesting to see if her government brings back the incentive floated during the last elections to encourage employers to hire more newcomers, who could definitely use a leg up in these uncertain times. That suggestion turned into a lightning rod when the Opposition leader Tim Hudak confused immigrants with “foreigners” and came out strongly against it. 

The new premier clearly struck the right note when she said, “Our dreams may be articulated in English or in French or in Mohawk or in Cree or in Urdu, but they speak to a collective vision that must be celebrated and pursued.” She must know that her province is home to the largest number of immigrants, for many of whom the promise of Ontario and Canada remains a distant dream. - New Canadian Media

Published in Commentary

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