Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

The just-concluded National Metropolis Conference is an annual forum for researchers, policy makers and immigrant-service organizations. This year the conference was held in Montreal.

Here are some of the themes covered and my take on them:

Integration – The Search for a New Metaphor: This session, prompted by the Canadian Index for Measuring Integration (CIMI) discussions on the meaning and definition of integration (and my Integration and multiculturalism: Finding a new metaphor – Policy Options) drew a good crowd (60-70 persons).

I opened with my critique of the “two-way street” metaphor by emphasizing that it did not capture the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of immigration, presenting my preferred metaphor, harmony/jazz, where harmony represents the underlying framework of laws and institutions, and jazz the improvisation involved in resolving accommodation demands.

Mort Weinfeld of McGill University drew from the personal experience of his parents and talking to cab drivers, noting that integration of the second generation is key. His preferred metaphor is the roundabout, with multiple points of entry and exit, with traffic moving smoothly.

Richard Bourhis of UQAM provided a Quebec perspective, looking at how Quebec language policies were characteristic of an assimilationist approach.

Elke Winter of the University of Ottawa drew from her analysis of European policies and practices and noted a third dimensions, that of outside actors and transnational forces (e.g., other countries, home communities of immigrants), and that integration was more a three-way than two-way process.

The presentations prompted considerable discussion, although no one jumped to the defence of the ‘two-way street.’

Thinking about next year, this is a topic that merits further exploration, perhaps involving some literary descriptions or metaphors.

Citizenship – Factors Underlying a Declining Naturalization Rate: In the only session on citizenship, Prof. WInter opened the workshop with an overview of how Canadian citizenship has evolved over the last 150 years, setting out four phases: colonized citizenship (pre-1947), nationalizing citizenship (1947-76), de-ethnicising citizenship (1977-2008) and re-nationalizing citizenship (2009-15) with a possible fifth phase emerging under the Liberal government. She presented some preliminary findings from an interview-based study.

I followed with my usual presentation of citizenship statistics, showing the impact of previous policy and administrative changes along with an assessment of the 2014 Conservative changes and Liberal partial repeal of these changes (currently in the Senate).

Jessica Merolli of Sheridan presented the key MIPEX naturalization indicators and data from the European Social Survey comparing immigrant/non-immigrant attitudes on issues such as self-sufficiency, interests in politics, LGBT acceptance and others and how over time in the country of immigration differences declined. The most striking exception was with respect to interest in politics, where immigrants, no matter how short or long the time, were more interested than non-immigrants.

Questions of note included do we need a citizenship knowledge test given that it presents barriers for some groups, and the impact that the  physical presence requirement has on families when one parent has to work abroad given difficulties in obtaining well-paying work in Canada.

Minority Voice, Identity and Inclusion – Media and Literary Expressions: A mix of a case study (Punjabi media by Syeda Bukhari where she noted the ethnic media was getting more sophisticated in comparing what politicians said to English and ethnic media and thus holding them to account) and the overall contribution ethnic media provides to integration (Madeline Ziniak, current chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA)).

Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University gave a fascinating presentation regarding the person and poetry of Julian Tuwin, a Polish Jew (or Jewish Pole) whose loyalty and identity were attacked by both sides.

Negotiating “fit” – Connections Between Employer Mindsets/Practices and Labour Market Success of Newcomers: Kelly Thomson of York University provided an overview of the issue of “fit” and presented a case study of foreign-trained accountants. Aamna Ashraf of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group (near Toronto) presented the results of a study on soft barriers, with focused and practical recommendations. Madeline Ng of Autodata and Nancy Moulday of TD Bank presented how their respective organizations encourage and facilitate diversity in their workforces.

Fitting In: Identity and belonging among second generation Canadians: Elizabeth Burgess-Pinto of MacEwan University organized  this roundtable discussion focussing on the second generation. A number of second generation (and generation 1.5) participants shared their experiences, challenges and identities.

Andrew Griffith is the author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). This commentary was adapted slightly from his blog post on the conference. He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad.

Published in Policy
Friday, 07 December 2012 18:50

Hot Buttons for Week Ending Dec. 8

by Nouveau Canuck

How immigrants in Canada fare compared to a fairly representative sample of world nations, a report on global perceptions of corruption and a rather candid conversation about “ethnic” politics in Ontario make the cut for our scan of headlines this week.

An estimated 214 million people live in nations outside of their country of birth. These international migrants would be the fifth largest nation by population if everybody like me decided to live within the same borders, with International Organization for Migration figures suggesting that one in 33 people are migrants. But, as we know only too well in Canada, immigrant-receiving nations are becoming increasingly careful about who gets in and what they need to do to become desirable candidates. The world is looking for “makers” – not “takers” – who free load the healthcare and social safety net systems.

It is not surprising that Canada fared rather well in the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) first scan of its 34-member nations on how immigrants are doing. The study highlighted two major trends:

1.      That most nations are trying to attract highly-skilled newcomers, but that the job prospects for new citizens have not keep pace with this influx (for e.g., the percentage of the highly qualified among immigrants to Canada grew by 9.5 per cent between 2000 and 2010, while the proportion among native Canadians grew by only 6.1 per cent.)

2.      That the age of children migrating is a good predictor of how they will do in school: teenage immigrant children don’t do too well, while those under six years of age do better, i.e., the younger you are, the better.

Canada had better scores than the OECD average in each of the following criteria: housing, health, native-born offspring of immigrants' education and civic engagement (as measured through naturalization), but did poorly in the areas of income distribution and labour market outcomes (skills matching). Here’s the kicker

·         The immigrant household median income is 21% lower than native-born families.

·         And, 23% of persons living in an immigrant household live with income below the poverty line.

·         On skills matching, we do considerably worse than the OECD average.

None of this a real surprise and presumably the basis for Ottawa’s policy reforms that privilege those who already have a job offer in Canada and those who have studied at Canadian academic institutions. Only time will tell whether these changes will result in better employment for immigrants.

Unemployment is one nightmare in the immigrant experience. The other is corruption in the new nation. Many immigrants are fleeing corrupt regimes and systems that run on bribes greasing the system. From that perspective, Canada is a safe haven. It’s definitely in the top tier, ranking number 9 in the world with a rating of 84 (100 being the cleanest), according to Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index. We do better than the U.S., which is ranked number 19 and has a score of only 73. Let’s give ourselves a pat on our collective backs.

Of course, episodes like the “sponsorship scandal” and the ongoing inquiry in Quebec looking into the awarding of public contracts must sully our reputation. From a newcomer’s perspective, it is heartening to see a heightened sensitivity to even remote hints of corruption, like the humiliation of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford over a relatively minor dollar amount and where it is clear he did not benefit in any way. As in the sponsorship scandal, we can end up spending more money in getting at the truth than the original act of corruption, and we can also get obsessive-compulsive around perceptions of influence-peddling. Yet, it is important that we not allow corruption to corrode our system of governance.

Rounding off our global scan is Tarek Fatah’s hard-hitting opinion in the Toronto Sun headlined “Liberal White Prejudice”. I’ll quote just one section to show how Tarek takes on sacred cows like no other writer in Canada: “This was rich coming from a columnist whose newspaper claims to be liberal, but has made an industry out of promoting the most orthodox and conservative stereotypical images of various ethnic communities.”

He was referring to a column written by Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn accusing Harinder Thakar, a former Ontario cabinet minister, of “playing the ethnic politics card” for strutting his South Asian roots and practising “old style politics”. Tarek hauled Cohn over the coals the way only he can: “Had Cohn done his homework, he would’ve discovered Takhar is hardly the ethnocentric fella he has made him out to be. Takhar, a Sikh Indo-Canadian, has a Muslim Pakistani-Canadian chief of staff. That’s equivalent to a Jewish- Canadian hiring a Palestinian-Canadian as his confidante.”

That kind of plainspeaking is refreshing and should caution other commentators like Cohn who jump to ethnicity-based conclusions rather easily. How often have we heard of the “ethnic vote” during elections, like immigrants were cattle being herded to the polling booths?

Time to put that rather derisive term to rest.

Published in Commentary

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