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
Thursday, 27 October 2016 15:15

London’s Poor Diversity Score No Surprise

Commentary by Evelina Silveira in London, Ontario

A recent study published by the Western University's Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations found a severe lack of visible minorities in leadership roles in organizations in London, Ontario. 

While the study made headlines, the findings came as no surprise to me.  I have lived in London all my life, working as a diversity consultant for the 10 years. I would like to offer an explanation as to why inroads have not been made in visible minority leadership in  London, Ontario.

Flashback to about 13 years ago, when I started to work on a business plan for Diversity at Work: I interviewed many leaders in London asking them whether my idea of having a business which promoted hiring and supporting diverse candidates would ever fly.

I will never forget the answer I received from a human resources consultant who had previously held many jobs in the recruitment and leadership fields.  She said:  “Evelina, as long as there are enough white people to fill the jobs, no one will ever consider anyone else, because they don't have to.”

Essentially, she conveyed that there really was no need to change the recruitment process and that it was too much work to do so.

A late joiner

In comparison to other cities, London has lagged behind. Perhaps it is because the jobs could easily be filled as the human resources consultant suggested, or maybe we ignore the ever-growing presence of visible minorities which started in the mid-1980's. 

Some of our largest employers and institutions have only recently developed diversity policies, later than their counterparts in other comparable cities which have a high number of visible minorities and immigrants. I often scan the diversity plans of the public service organizations in London and it would appear that the effort or the kind of approach being used – if at all – are not producing  much in terms of achieving a representative workforce, let alone diversity in leadership. 

My observations are consistent with the findings which indicate a very low level of visible minority participation, notably 5.3 per cent on agencies, boards, and commissions.  Their lack of participation at these levels can have ramifications for how services are delivered, in addition to resource allocation. 

Furthermore, there is a tendency, especially with boards, to recruit people they know, often friends and co-workers, to fill vacancies.  This can perpetuate the lack of representation and the effort to create a more diversified board and committees.

It is startling how many workplaces have not implemented the strategies and best practices that can help mitigate these gaps. How might we explain the disconnect? There are a multitude of reasons why this occurs and this is key to understanding the problem of under-representation in London’s publicly-funded organizations.

Consider these possibilities:

·         Foreign credentials and work experience are not recognized. Generally speaking, if an applicant has not graduated from a leadership program in North America or the U.K , there is a good chance their education in leadership may not be recognized.  Leadership experience from other  parts of the world may not be taken into consideration for a host of reasons, including cultural differences in how we do business and interact with employees.  

·         Effective leadership requires highly developed communication skills:  in person, in writing and over the phone.  An internationally-trained applicant is disadvantaged if they have a pronounced accent and have an indirect style of communication.  Interviewer bias can hamper heavily-accented applicants, who may be mistaken as unqualified because they speak differently.  Across cultures, there are variations in how we conduct meetings, presentations and write reports. The Canadian standards are often learned in school or through work experience.

At civic level: zero

The number of visible minorities and immigrant leaders in municipal organizations is at a glaring zero per cent! 

Given that government organizations are held to a higher standard than the private sector to have a reflective workforce, as well as to meet Employment Equity standards, this represents a failure of implementation and consequently lost opportunities for diversifying the workforce and gaining new skills and perspectives. 

With increasing job insecurity, good benefits and salaries, public service employees are not likely to leave their jobs.  Understandably, this represents fewer opportunities for external applicants to get hired. 

It would be interesting to know if the City of London has an internal mentoring program to assist aspiring leaders.  Research consistently indicates that visible minorities and immigrants find a lack of mentors in the workplace. 

Successful leaders often attest to the significance of mentors throughout their careers.  There have been some attempts over the last few years to develop internships for immigrant professionals at the City of London. However, it is hard to know if this experience translated into permanent employment with the City.

Finally, we cannot overlook bias and racism in the recruitment and selection process, although it does not probably explain the huge disconnect between the population and their representation in the workforce. In my experience, if the leadership in an organization is not familiar with the business benefits of a diverse workforce, they are very unlikely to support and initiate programs which can facilitate the entry and promotion of visible minorities within their organizations.

Evelina Silveira is the President of Diversity at Work in London, a three-time award winning firm which specializes in creating inclusive workplaces and diverse customer bases.  She has co-authored two globally acclaimed books and is the publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly.

Published in Economy

by Our National Correspondent

Prof. April Lindgren (picture at right) of Ryerson University has made a name for herself studying ethnic media in Canada for many years. Late last year, she completed a study focused on  Brampton, titled “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise”, which examined the kind of steps taken by the city to reach out to its immigrant population.

This research was a follow up to a 2007 study that found Brampton unresponsive to the needs of its immigrant community. New Canadian Media first reported on the latest study here – Ethnic Media Demand More from City of Brampton. 

Q.  What was the goal of this study?

Research that was done about a decade ago found that Brampton was quite unresponsive to the needs of its increasingly diverse population. But in 2015 City Council approved an ethnic media pilot project that was probably the most pro-active in the country. This study investigates the reasons for the dramatic shift in approach.

Q.  What were your main findings?

Over the years the City of Brampton did make some limited attempts to use ethnic media to reach out to its newest residents, the vast majority of whom are Punjabi-speaking immigrants. In 2007, for instance, it began including ethnic media outlets on its list of media the receive the municipality’s English-language press releases. Our research concluded that this approach didn’t have much of an impact. When we looked at the content of the Brampton-based Punjabi Post daily newspaper over three weeks in 2011, only three of the 157 articles dealing with Brampton had anything to do with City Hall-related issues.

In 2013, the city made another attempt to get municipal news and information out to residents via ethnic media by hiring a specialty media coordinator who speaks and reads Punjabi. Then in 2015 things changed dramatically. That’s when City Councillors approved significant funding to translate Brampton’s media releases into French as well as the three most commonly spoken languages after English –  Punjabi, Urdu and Portuguese.

There were a number of reasons for this shift. First, there was growing evidence of tension between long-term residents and the city’s rapidly expanding Punjabi-speaking population. This pointed to the need for better intercultural understanding. In terms of reaching out to immigrants, improving the availability of city news and information through ethnic media is one way to help people – particularly people who aren’t fluent in English – to better understand what is going on in the city as a whole. It’s also a way to help people understand the values and priorities of their adopted place.

The election of a new mayor and many new Councillors during the 2014 municipal election was the second important reason for the shift in attitude. Unlike their predecessors, these municipal politicians thought the City did have an important role to play in reaching out to newcomers and making them feel part of the city.

The jury is still out on whether ethnic media will carry more City Hall related news now that the press releases are being translated. The pilot project is ongoing and the results will be of great interest to other municipalities. In the interim, though, I argue that the very act of reaching out to news outlets that cover ethnic communities is symbolically important for Brampton’s multicultural population. It acknowledges the importance of those media outlets as community institutions and it recognizes the city’s obligation to communicate decisions and policies to all citizens.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In the interim, though, I argue that the very act of reaching out to news outlets that cover ethnic communities is symbolically important for Brampton’s multicultural population.[/quote]

Q.  Your study on Brampton specifically points to several limitations and drawbacks in the way ethnic media go about the profession of journalism. How do we as a multicultural society address this?

Brampton City officials ran into situations over the years where some ethnic media publishers linked the amount of City Hall coverage they were willing to publish to the amount of advertising the City purchased. This is obviously an ethical issue that compromises the integrity of news coverage. In some cases the problem is that publishers may not have a lot of background in journalism and therefore they don’t realize how such practices potentially undermine confidence in their publications. This is a situation where education and professional training can probably make at least some difference. This education and training should make the point that the long-term survival of any news media outlet depends on public faith in the integrity of the news coverage.

QYour content analysis suggests that ethnic media have a different "news agenda" than the mainstream media. Can you elaborate on this?

Ethnic media often do have a different news agenda and rightly so. Their competitive advantage is in telling stories about people, places and events in their community that are not covered by mainstream news media. I would argue, though, that ethnic news outlets could and should cast a wider net, that is, they should be covering more general news in a way that is relevant and useful to their audiences. Is the city planning to increase property taxes? That affects new immigrant homeowners too. Why not talk to them about the planned increase and provide a forum for their voices to be heard? In this way, newcomers get to participate in the city-wide debate. Coverage of this sort will also increase the odds that local politicians pay attention. In this way immigrant/newcomer communities can influence municipal decisions that affect them.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ethnic media often do have a different news agenda and rightly so.[/quote]

Q.  Based on this comprehensive study of ethnic media in an immigrant-rich market such as Brampton, how do you think ethnic media can better serve readers/viewers while still making a profit by keeping editorial costs down?

There is no silver bullet or single solution. One strategy would be to invite citizen experts from the ethnic community to write or talk about issues that affect people in that immigrant group. During tax season, for instance, why not ask a tax expert from the ethnic community you cover to do a newspaper Q and A or appear on a radio call-in show to talk about income tax filing? Ask a teacher from the community to write about why it’s important for parents to attend parent-teacher meetings and what happens at these meetings. Recruit a young, recent immigrant to recount what it’s like to navigate a Canadian high school or university. Highlighting community voices and providing useful, interesting information of this sort is a way to turn the media outlet into essential viewing, listening or reading – in other words it can build audience. And the bigger the audience the more attractive the media outlet is to advertisers.

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Published in Top Stories

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved