Funding cut a bad idea

[attach]3363[/attach]Happy New Year, and all the very best for 2011. I hope that everyone was able to spend some time with friends and family over the holidays. Unfortunately, not everyone had good news over Christmas.

Just before the holidays, the Conservative government announced cuts of more than $50 million from vital settlement services for new immigrants across Canada, with even deeper cuts expected in future years. Ontario will see a cut of nearly $44 million — 85 percent of the total — most of that in the GTA.

Several highly effective settlement agencies were informed, just before Christmas, that they would be forced either to close their doors for good, or adapt to cuts of 50 to 100 percent of their federal government funding. Dozens of dedicated staff will be laid off and thousands of vulnerable new immigrants will be left without support services.

This is of real concern to many people in Willowdale. Our communities consist entirely of immigrants, many newly arrived, some whose families arrived generations before. Virtually everyone here, or a family member or a friend, has experienced challenges in settling, due to language, cultural or other differences. Many have overcome those barriers and been extraordinarily successful. Many need an initial hand up to be able to provide for their families and to become contributing members of the community.

These funding cuts come on the heels of five years of the Conservative government reneging on promised investments in settlement services in Ontario under the Canada Ontario Immigration Agreement, negotiated by the previous Liberal government. As of this fall, the Conservative government has held back an estimated $207 million of money that was to flow into Ontario over the last five years.
We need those settlement services and agencies that are being closed.

Indeed, we need more.

I have long advocated that language is one of the biggest barriers to new Canadians being able to work, become self-sufficient, and not to be a drain on society. I have long advocated for more funding to provide much-needed language and other skills to newcomers, not less. Yet this government is choosing to cut back. Why?

At a time when billions of dollars are being allocated to unnecessary corporate tax breaks, billions more are to be spent on an untendered purchase of stealth fighter attack jets, and billions more will go to U.S.-style mega-prisons (which have been proven time and time again only to make crime problems worse). Where are the Canadian government’s priorities?

In terms of crime, despite the fear-mongering by the government, crime in Canada, including violent crime, has gone down steadily over the last 25 years. This is because successive policies have recognized that prevention is far more cost-effective than punishment.

We all believe in law and order, but to prevent crime from happening in the first place, we must be tough on the causes of crime: poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of community engagement.

So why cut back on settlement services for newcomers, particularly when we know the challenges faced by so many?

We should be investing more, not less, on helping newcomers settle and become self-sufficient.

If you have any information on settlement agency cuts or closures affecting your neighbourhood or community, or you simply want to tell us your thoughts, please contact my office at [email][/email] or 416-223-2858.