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

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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Published in Commentary

by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

The online reaction to the horrific events in Paris of November 13 has been a wake-up call for those of us who work in the immigration, race relations and multiculturalism sector.

We thought our work was creating citizens who respect those of different cultures and religions. I believe it has, but lying just under the surface is a minority of people looking for opportunities to vent.

The reporting from Paris has given licence to bigots to take to their computers and demonstrate to the world how ill-informed they are. Even those who should know better, such as the Conservative Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, have joined the fray. In the U.S., Republican governors plan to suspend the acceptance of new Syrian refugees.

Their rant is essentially this:  put a halt to the Syrian refugees coming to North America because there may be terrorists among them. And, by the way, all Muslims are terrorists.

Seriously, people?

Confusing issues

The refugees are trying to escape the violence, not create it. Their country is torn by a civil war, made even more complicated by the presence of Islamic State (ISIS), which consists of gangs of thugs who think, in their twisted minds, that what they are doing is in the name of Islam.

In Peterborough, Ontario, the Paris tragedy gave licence to someone to firebomb a mosque. The community, to its credit, has demonstrated its solidarity with its Muslim citizens.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Immigrants and refugees create jobs and their sons and daughters may be our business, cultural and political leaders of tomorrow. Canada is a nation of immigrants.[/quote]

In my city of North Bay, Ontario, an innocuous news article on BayToday.ca November 16 about the status of Syrian refugee families coming to our city brought out the haters with online comments.

Here’s the best one, without alternation to correct for grammatical errors:  “Cannot even believe this. Once these people come over you can be sure I'll be pulling my kids out of school that's for sure. Nowhere (sic) in North Bay let alone Canada will be safe anymore.”

Indeed. Beware of a six-year-old struggling to fit in and learn English.

Overblown rhetoric

The paranoia spread by our previous federal government obviously resonated with some all too willing to believe there is a terrorist hiding behind every tree.

Even some of the educated people I know are questioning why Canada should be accepting Syrian refugees, as though the Paris tragedy and the Syrian refugee crisis are related events. They are not.

Yes, a Syrian passport was found near the remains of one of the terrorists. It may have been his, it may have been someone else’s, or it may have been a forgery.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We need refugees and immigrants in Canada. In Northern Ontario, many cities and towns are looking at declining populations.[/quote]

In any case, the refugees coming to Canada are not those who risked their lives on leaky boats to get to Greece, and then trekked on through country after country to get to Germany. The ones coming to North Bay have been living in Lebanon and have been vetted by the United Nations Refugee Agency and by Canadian immigration officials on the ground.

We are looking at very large families—not single men in their 20s.

Community outpouring

The dozens of people in North Bay and area who have donated $45,000 to date to sponsor refugee families remain committed, despite the backlash. A farming couple from outside the city brought in $1,000 cash and an offer to provide free fresh meat to the families every week.  A hair stylist has offered free haircuts for a year.

There are many good people in our community who don’t bother responding to racist online commentary. They feel it is better to ignore it, rather than fan the flames. In my view, however, there comes a point when you have to call them on it, and we reached that point.

For all you haters, this is directed to you. Stop watching the screaming talking heads on Fox News and CNN and get your news from our good Canadian TV networks. Better yet, pick up a reliable newspaper like the Globe and Mail (and visit this digital platform, NCM).

Informing yourself takes a little more effort than reading your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Do some serious reading before you get on your computer and click the Send button.

We need refugees and immigrants in Canada. In Northern Ontario, many cities and towns are looking at declining populations. Immigrants and refugees create jobs and their sons and daughters may be our business, cultural and political leaders of tomorrow. Canada is a nation of immigrants.

And, for those in Peterborough who firebombed the mosque. You should sit down and have a cup of tea with your new Member of Parliament. She was named to the Trudeau cabinet as Minister of Democratic Institutions. Her name is Maryam Monsef. She came to Canada as a refugee from Afghanistan. She is Muslim.

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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Published in Commentary

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.

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 18:05

Life is Better in Smaller Cities

by Don Curry (@DonDoncurry) in North Bay, Ontario

Increasingly, immigrants are learning what many of us already know. Life can be better in the smaller centres of Canada.

It takes me five minutes to drive to work. I can walk it in 30. After work, my golf course is five minutes from my home. The lake—you can see it from the office. Oh, and we have two of them in the city.

University? College? Vibrant arts scene? Restaurants? Check, check, check, and check.

Politicians readily available for a chat? Look out the office window one way and you see the MP’s office. Turn your head the other way and there’s the MPP’s office. Behind you and a block over? City Hall and the mayor’s office.

Life is just so much easier in a smaller centre.

I am talking about North Bay in Northern Ontario, (population 54,000) but I could be talking about many smaller centres across Canada.

I arrived in North Bay in 1978 to begin teaching journalism at Canadore College. I left the college in 1992 but I never left the city. We like it here too much. I have lived in many large cities. Life here is better.

Back in 1978 the only diversity in the city was provided by residents of Nipissing First Nation, which borders the city. Now, our office, the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre right in the middle of Main Street, is a hub of diversity. There is lots of diversity on the streets.

And it’s seeping into even smaller centres in Northeastern Ontario. We are working with three in particular—the town of Cochrane, an hour east of Timmins; the city of Temiskaming Shores, 90 minutes north of North Bay; and the Central Almaguin area, 40 minutes south of North Bay.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Why should we start attracting immigrants if my son can’t find a job?” is a question we have heard more than once.[/quote]

Local Immigration Partnership

They see what North Bay saw in 2005 when it created a Local Immigration Partnership involving a number of community organizations interested in creating an immigration strategy for the city. They see the demographic trends—baby boomer retirements, low birth rate and youth out-migration.

Increasingly, they see the fixes—tap the increasing aboriginal population for jobs, bring people with disabilities in to the work force, and attract immigrants.

Some communities see it quicker than others. The three communities we are working with are what I call “green lights.” We still have amber light and red light communities in Northern Ontario. They are the ones who don’t get it yet, or resist immigration.

“Why should we start attracting immigrants if my son can’t find a job?” is a question we have heard more than once. If the person’s son is a philosophy major and the town needs skilled tradespeople or medical professionals, the answer is pretty obvious.

What can regions of Canada with little experience attracting immigrants do to get the ball rolling? One strategy is to host an immigration symposium. We have organized two in North Bay, one in Temiskaming Shores and one in Timmins. They create a buzz in the community, generate media coverage, create partnerships and get people excited about the possibilities. Get the hall donated by the municipality, charge for lunch, and you have a symposium at no cost.

Develop a Local Immigration Partnership if you don’t have one already. They are funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and they rally the community behind the immigration cause. Quickly you learn it is not just about attraction. Settlement, integration and creating a welcoming community are even bigger challenges.

Community champions

Find your community champions and let them lead.

Keep coming up with new projects that will enhance immigrant attraction and retention. Work with your local politicians to get them on board. Push them.

Produce materials like our video on why permanent residents should have the right to vote municipally and get it in front of city council. The video, found here, helped produce an 8-2 North Bay City Council vote in favour of asking the Province of Ontario to change legislation to allow permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections.

A recent mid-term evaluation of our project with Timmins, Temiskaming Shores and Central Almaguin by Meyer Burstein of Ottawa and Dr. Michael Haan of Western University referenced project communication, noting it could be improved. While we stressed the goals and strategies in the original information sessions, we neglected to reinforce them as we moved forward and some lost sight of where we were going and why.

Communication is an ongoing challenge. You have to tell the community why you’re doing it and constantly reinforce the message. Many will forget and some will resist. Don’t waste too much time with negative people and work with the green lights. They are much more fun to be around and they get things done.

Don Curry is a journalist and former college journalism teacher. He is the executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, a member of the board of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and a board member of Pathways to Prosperity. 

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Published in Commentary

by Don Curry (@DonDoncurry) in North Bay, Ontario

The North Bay City Council voted last night 8-2 in support of the right of permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections.

Letters will be sent to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the appropriate ministries and Leader of the Opposition to request a change in provincial legislation. The move follows a similar motion by the City of Toronto, and other southern Ontario municipalities are examining the issue as well.

The vote was not an overnight sensation. It was the result of two years of work that culminated with a council presentation and six-minute video presentation that you can see here:

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il3hZVr53uw[/youtube]

The video and council presentation was broadcast live to the community on Cogeco TV. Produced by Canadore College student Chris Robinson for course credit, the video features well-known North Bay residents speaking passionately about the issue.

Throughout the evening, which I found rewarding, Mayor Al McDonald and Councillor Mike Anthony, who moved the motion, had very favourable comments about the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and its partnership with the city.

It was the end of a journey that began with a discussion led by Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) Executive Director Debbie Douglas at one of our OCASI board meetings two years ago.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]While I am thrilled with the vote by North Bay City Council, I realize it doesn’t end there.[/quote]

She spoke about the recent vote in favour by Toronto City Council and mentioned the work of Desmond Cole, who led the charge. On my drive back to North Bay after that OCASI meeting in Toronto, I thought, “Why not North Bay?”

We have a supportive mayor and I thought there would be enough council members that could be persuaded to support the initiative. Douglas got me in touch with Cole and he offered support and guidance the rest of the way.

While I am thrilled with the vote by North Bay City Council, I realize it doesn’t end there. The provincial government has to change the legislation to allow permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections. Municipalities do not have that power, as they are creatures of the province.

While North Bay is the first Northern Ontario municipality to support the initiative, there is support in a number of southern Ontario cities. Outside of Ontario, the City of Halifax passed a similar motion.

The movement is growing and is landing in the laps of provincial governments.

Preventing Voting is ‘Not Right’

The need for change is, in part, being fuelled by recent federal government changes that create barriers to Canadian citizenship. Increasing application fees from $400 to $630, increasing the residence requirements from three of the last four years to four of the last six and the processing backlog all add years to the process.

Changes to the citizenship test have made it harder to pass, with pass rates dropping from 83 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2012. Two of our staff members gave the test to a North Bay service club and half the members failed.

Opponents say that Canada offers dual citizenship, and so it does, but more than 50 countries do not, including two top source countries, China and India. That is a barrier for someone who, for example, needs to return to his/her source country to take care of a dying or sick relative for an extended period.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Preventing [permanent residents] from voting, as retired Nipissing University professor Bill Plumstead says in the video, is not moral, is not ethical, and is not right.[/quote]

Opponents say that the change dilutes the value of Canadian citizenship. Our video points out that it strengthens the value, by providing a first step toward inclusion at the local level.

Permanent residents pay taxes, own homes, own businesses and employ people and have their children in school, but have no say on how their local taxes are spent. Enabling permanent residents to vote municipally, as a first step toward Canadian citizenship and full voting rights, is the smart thing to do to help newcomers integrate in to the community.

Preventing them from voting, as retired Nipissing University professor Bill Plumstead says in the video, is not moral, is not ethical, and is not right.

For more information go to http://cityvote.ca and get your municipality on board with this growing movement.

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 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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