It may not be time for report cards in school just yet, but when it comes to research, several annual report cards are in. In this edition of Research Watch we take a look at three recently released reports that speak to how immigrants and visible minorities are faring in various aspects of Canadian life from child poverty to employment in the public sector to corporate boards. The overall grade in each instance: F.
Immigrant children getting left behind
Not having lunch at school. Not being able to participate in extracurricular activities. Being made fun of for being on welfare. When asked what poverty feels like, these were some of the responses that some of Ontario’s children provided, in a recently released report administered by Campaign 2000 and Family Services Toronto. And for 50 per cent of the province’s children born to immigrants this feeling is part of daily life, states the report. This is in comparison to the 20 per cent of children overall that live in poverty across Ontario.
The report, which used Statistics Canada data from 2012 income tax returns, brings attention to not only this startling information, but to the fact that in 1989 the federal government put forth a strategic plan to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000. Twenty-five years later, the problem has only increased, particularly for children of new immigrants, with racialized and First Nations children next in line.
“There’s plenty the government could do to end poverty, but I don’t understand why they aren’t doing that,” an anonymous Ontario grade school student says in the report. And the words hold much weight. Essentially, everything the government could, and should, be doing is outlined in the report. Perhaps the most insightful though: “Eradicating child poverty in Ontario requires addressing and dismantling long-standing systemic inequities.” Without this key element, no matter how many tax benefits or increases to social assistance are made (all of which was cited as part of 1989’s plan, then again in 2008 and again in 2014), real change will not be brought about. The various levels of government must address the root causes of this poverty, versus placing bandage solutions on the complex issue.
Along these lines, the report calls on the government to, for example, legislate Employment Equity to remedy discrimination in Canadian workplaces, repeal the three month waiting period for immigrants to receive Ontario Health Insurance coverage, create equity and anti-racism boards to address inequities and take a proactive approach to enforcing employment standards to provide equal protection for people employed under the temporary foreign worker program. These specific recommendations speak to some of the unique challenges facing individuals of immigrant and racialized backgrounds and are in addition to more blanket proposed solutions of raising minimum wage to $15 an hour and ending the deduction of child support and the Ontario Child Benefit from social assistance funds.
“There’s plenty the government could do to end poverty, but I don’t understand why they aren’t doing that,” an anonymous Ontario grade school student says in the report.
Many mitigating factors point out that this issue is only going to get worse if those in power don’t sit up, take notice, and most importantly, take action. The Ontario job market is bleak. Manufacturing jobs, once a major employer for women, racialized and recent immigrant populations, make up only 11 per cent of the market now, in comparison to a previous 18 per cent. Recent legislation, Bill C-583, if passed, may limit access to social assistance for refugee claimants. The generation born since 1989, when the vow of eliminating child poverty was made, is up against more unemployment than ever before, coupled with rising tuition, cost of living and limited affordable housing. Add to that mix being a young person who is of colour, new to the country, suffers from mental health challenges or is homeless and the odds only stack higher. All the while, the gap between the highest and lowest income families continues to widen.
What does all this mean? It means that the time is now for change. However, the most telling aspect of the report may also be the most discouraging. In 2008, a commitment was made to develop tailored solutions to the unique needs of women, racialized communities, newcomers, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal peoples, among others at higher risk of poverty. As of November 2014, while some investments for Aboriginal children and those with disabilities have been made, and some employment programs for newcomers have been implemented, no specific solutions have been outlined or reported, for racialized communities, nor has any commitment to tracking impact in this community been made.
Having set a new goal in 2008, to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent in five years, and still fallen short – as of 2013 the rate had declined just over nine per cent – it is clear the work is far from over, and attention must be paid to Ontario’s most marginalized.
Eradicating child poverty in Ontario requires addressing and dismantling long-standing systemic inequities.
Skilled immigrants missing in civil servant jobs
It’s somewhat ironic. Multiculturalism and diversity are often promoted as two of Canada’s most redeeming qualities. But within its own three levels of government there is a gap in employment diversity that needs to be addressed says a recent study released by ALLIES (a Maytree affiliated organization). That gap is one of skilled immigrants – noticeably underrepresented in public sector jobs. Titled Government as Employer of Skilled Immigrants, the study aims to encourage government to become leaders in the area of hiring immigrants, while providing context to the challenges and conditions at play within the current work force. This isn’t just of utmost importance because the public sector represents a huge job market – the government currently employs 3.6 million people at its varying levels – but authors Sarah Wayland and Dan Sheffield write that it is also worth paying attention to because the government holds great influence over the rest of the market. Whether public or private, if other employers see the government taking greater strides to purposely hire skilled immigrants, they just may follow suit.
“By bringing in fresh perspectives whether from youth or immigrants or others, there is labour force advantage to be gained,” said Susan Brown, an employee of City of Toronto, in the report. “Moreover with an aging workforce, governments need new employees, even if overall numbers continue to decline. Prioritizing immigrants into the future gives us a great opportunity to diversify our workforce and address imbalances.”
This only makes sense for a country that has made a commitment to increasing focus on immigrants as skilled workers – in fact, it is expected that over the next 10 years, close to 100,000 recent immigrants will be added to the labour market annually. Not only will these individuals add to the diversity of the government bodies, bringing with them international perspectives and connections, but they also bring an element of lived experience which is beneficial in serving the immigrant population, which generally represents 20 per cent (in some areas much higher) of Canadian society.
The report cites several barriers that stand in the way of recent immigrants gaining employment with the government (the rates increase the longer individuals are in Canada), including lack of supports in smaller communities, bilingual and citizenship qualification criteria, seniority and a lack of data focused on the immigrant experience in the application, interview, hiring and retention stages of employment.
“By bringing in fresh perspectives whether from youth or immigrants or others, there is labour force advantage to be gained,” said Susan Brown, an employee of City of Toronto, in the report.
Some organizations are more intentional with efforts to hire immigrants, than others, according to the report. Leading the pack is the City of Ottawa, recognized as one of the Best Diversity Employers in Canada in 2013, which has an active plan in the works to include immigrants in its organization as an effort to better reflect the community it serves. Using a strategy coined the Equity and Inclusion Lens since 2009, the City of Ottawa is proactively taking steps such as providing training to city councillors and staff, to remove systemic barriers and promote inclusion internally.
As it stands overall, while a shift in hiring culture is being cultivated in some areas across the country, immigrants are half as likely as their Canadian-born counterparts to land a job in public administration, but far more likely than Canadian-born residents to be working in manufacturing, accommodation and food service. In order for this to change, the report indicates it is crucial for a government organization to embed diversity into its day-to-day culture instead of having it as an “add-on”.
Minorities barely visible on corporate boards
The country’s corporate boards are in need of some more diversity – visible diversity that is. It seems that while there have been positive increases in the area of women sitting on corporate boards, visible minority representation is at an all-time low. This is according to The Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC) annual report card, released this month.
In 2010, when the council was established, the percentage of visible minorities sitting on the boards of the companies studied, which range in industry from Finance and Insurance, Utilities and Retail/Trade to Manufacturing and Mining/Oil/Gas, was just over five. This year, visible minorities clocked in at less than half of that – two per cent.
Part of the underlying problem – when board members retire or step down, the remaining members tend to look to personal circles to fill the positions, and well, if visible minorities, Aboriginal people or people with disabilities aren’t in their circles, they lose out.
While the report indicates that the majority of directors surveyed believed diversity was important on boards, it also stated that many groups feel they are already diverse, and only a quarter of the boards in most industries have diversity policies in place. This, of course, is indicative of a broad definition of diversity. It seems the boards studied have substantial diversity in areas of expertise and education, moderate levels of diversity in areas of age, gender and geographic location, but are significantly lacking in areas of diversity relating to visible minority and Aboriginal populations and those with disabilities.
Part of the underlying problem – when board members retire or step down, the remaining members tend to look to personal circles to fill the positions, and well, if visible minorities, Aboriginal people or people with disabilities aren’t in their circles, they lose out. The CBDC has put together a database, Diversity 50, to help counter this. The database, which now has 150 individuals listed, includes the names and faces of eligible board members. Come this time next year, we will see if the database effectively helps more visible minorities into those board seats, or not.