National News

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney held a teleconference to respond to recent criticisms of the federal government's cut of funding of some immigrant settlement groups.

(December 23, 2010)

The teleconference featured an explanation of the rationale for the recent cuts. The Minister also answered questions from reporters drawn from both the maninstream media and the cutlural media. Mosaic Edition was part of the national teleconference and brings you an excerpt.

Hon. Jason Kenney: This is an opportunity for me to answer questions with respect to some changes in settlement funding in Ontario. First let me just set the context. As you know, when our government came to office in 2006, one of our first measures was to cut in half the Liberal right of landing fee from $975 to $490 and since that time, we estimate that we have saved approximately $200 million for immigrants coming to Ontario. At the same time, we tripled funding for settlement services for newcomers, not just to Ontario, but across the country because federal funding for newcomer settlement had been frozen during the 13 years of the previous Liberal government. In fact, in – when we came to office in 2006, the total federal budget for settlement services was under $200 million and this year, it – and next year, it is over $600 million. So this was an enormous increase over a very short period of time to provide faster and better integration to immigrants to Canada.

In Ontario in particular, when we came to office in 2005, the federal government was funding $111 million in settlement services and this year, going forward rather to next fiscal year, to 2011-12, we will be funding over $340 million in settlement services to newcomers in Ontario. So even after the changes that I’m about to detail, that is an enormous increase, more than a threefold increase for settlement services in Ontario. Next year, the amount will be $346.5 million, more than three times greater than the $111 million that we inherited in funding levels from the Liberals.

During that same period of time, we have seen a shift in where immigrants are settling in Canada. It used to be that Ontario received by far the largest share of immigrants. That has come down quite significantly for a number of reasons. One is economic opportunities in other parts of the country and another is the expansion of the provincial nominee programs which have finally allowed us to achieve the longstanding objective of a better distribution of immigrants across the country and so in 2005, Ontario received 145,000 newcomers. Last year, it received 106,000 and we expect that trend to stabilize, but it is a 35,000 fewer people coming to Ontario per year and they are all going somewhere else, mainly to the Atlantic and western provinces.

Now because the increase in settlement funding that we instituted when we came to office five years ago was – it was based on the number of immigrants Ontario was receiving then and so we had to make some adjustments in the funding across Canada to ensure that the – that the money is following the immigrants. So that is – the problem we now have is that in Ontario, currently, we are funding about $3,400, $3,400 per immigrant for settlement services, but in the rest of Canada, outside Quebec, we are funding $2,900 per immigrant.

So Ontario deserves their funding but so do the other – so do the immigrants in other provinces. As a result of this, together with an analysis of the efficiency of our settlement programs, we have made some reallocations and that is resulting in changes for funding for some settlement organizations next year. Now as you know, settlement providing organizations are on – basically they are on contracts with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They are on what is called contribution agreements. Those agreements usually have a duration of one or two years. The organizations have to meet certain performance measurements. They have to serve, you know, a large number of clients. They have to have solid programs, financial accountability, measured outcomes and be responsive to the local needs of their communities they are serving and we assessed that performance on a – on an ongoing basis, because we want to make sure that the organizations spending tax dollars are doing so efficiently and responsibly.

So earlier this year, we sent out a request for proposals for a renewal of settlement funding for organizations in Ontario and across the country. We – our public servants in my ministry analyzed the requests that we received. We also analyzed the performance of these various organizations and we have made funding decisions on the basis of all of that and that is why some organizations have been notified that their contribution agreements will not be renewed.

So I will just close by pointing out that really what we are trying to achieve here is effective and efficient investment in settlement services, so that the taxpayers are getting bang for their buck, and fair funding across the country and indeed across Ontario. I would point out for example that while settlement organizations in Toronto will be receiving slightly less funding next year, but settlement organizations in York region will be receiving an increase of over 30% in funding. Why? That is because the statistics indicate that more immigrants are settling in York region than in Toronto, the city of Toronto proper.

Similarly, we have seen a slight increase in the city of London, the London region because more immigrants are settling there. As well, there would be increases in settlement funding in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick and Quebec and again, that is all based on the fact that there are relatively more immigrants settling in those provinces.

So we think this is a reflection of our government’s responsible investment of tax dollars. I reiterate in closing that our investment in settlement services for immigrants has more than tripled. That continues to be the case. While from time to time, there will be some service provider organizations that do not qualify for contribution agreements because they have not made sufficiently strong proposals, where they have a weak track record, that in no way diminishes the services that we will provide. So any – the bottom line is that any newcomer in Toronto or anywhere else in the country who wants to train in language instruction for newcomers to Canada or other settlement programs will have an opportunity to do so.

Finally what we say here, you recall I made an announcement in Toronto last week or two weeks ago about local immigration partnerships, we are trying to constantly improve the service that we deliver for settlement services and do so more efficiently and we believe the way forward is this idea of local immigration partnerships working with municipal governments, social service organizations, all the various government agencies that provide services to newcomers and trying to bundle together the services and in some cases, that may mean that very small settlement organizations that are providing very limited services to small numbers of clients won’t qualify for funding in the future because we want to provide those programs in a more efficient way.

So I’m happy to take your questions.

Question: Now, I understand the explanation that you have given but what I don’t understand, if there are organizations providing the settlement services and helping others for 20, 30 years, how can you cut their services when their record has been impeccable. I thinking about the South Asian Women Centre here, 14,000 clients last year, they have a full-time staff of 13, dozens and dozens of volunteers. You would say serving 14,000 clients is not enough for them to continue qualifying for the federal government assistance program?

Hon. Jason Kenney: The – an assessment was done of that organization and all of the other settlement providing organizations in Toronto. First of all, let me thank them all for their good work and we respect their efforts to provide services to newcomers, but that organization and a few others did not score very well in the assessment conducted by our department. I want to underscore this is a completely non-political process. I’m not involved and nor are my staff. It is the professional members of the permanent public service who do these assessments based on objective criteria.

So for example, this is all accessible through access to information, that the assessment scores were out of a possible I think – the assessment scores were 133, 102 and 106 for that – in that – in three categories for that organization out of a possible 175 points and there were areas of concern expressed in terms of identifying gaps in service, immediate and long-term benefits not described clearly. Lack of logical relationship between projects and activities, related streams and expected results were not demonstrated. The value to the client was not identified. Results, results output was not identified and achievable result is not identified. Expected outputs and deliverables are not – were not measurable. The projects did not clearly support one of the priorities in the settlement program. Proposed activities in the proposal were not described in sufficient details and the – required supporting documentation was not provided.

So that just gives you an example of the analysis of that particular organization. That is not to say they do bad work, but that, as we constantly strive to ensure a high level of performance, unfortunately that particular organization and a few others did not meet the criteria laid out by the ministry and assessed by our public servants.

Question: My question can you give us a number, how many agencies in Ontario and Toronto have received fund, you know, cutting and how many have, you know, stopped the renewal of their program?

Hon. Jason Kenney: Well, I believe not all of the funding decisions have been taken by the public servants who are responsible for this. What I can tell you is that the overall reduction in the Toronto area will be about 8% and that means that, you know, 92% of the services will continue to be provided. In fact, most of the – this is for a number of reasons, but that is to say that most programs will be unaffected or very modestly affected by these funding changes. On the other hand, as I mentioned before, York region will be seeing about a 30% increase. So in due course, I think by – within a couple of months, all of the funding decisions will have been taken and that information will be available and we will provide it to you.

Question: So the total funding is basically not – other than the proposed shifting of the – the demographic reason is due in Toronto?

Hon. Jason Kenney: Yes, yes. Question: It is not – it is not some kind of key – funding cutting action?

Hon. Jason Kenney: Well, overall in the Toronto area, there will be a reduction of about 8% of our budget for settlement purposes and that money gets reallocated to other regions where there has been more newcomers, but that is to say 92% is intact and you are right, some of the – some of the money that was going to organizations that no longer qualify will be going to larger organizations that have a very strong track record.

Question: Well, minister, I was wondering if you could direct your officials to provide a list today of all settlement organizations that will be getting federal funding in the next fiscal year as well as groups that will no longer be getting such dollars and insofar as decisions have been made because I understand that some are pending?

Hon. Jason Kenney: That relates back to my comment two questions ago. I don’t believe all the decisions have been made. I will look into – I will explore right away with my officials what information is available, but you will understand that we provide funding to hundreds of organizations across the country and it is a complicated process. I don’t believe all of the information was yet available, but we will see what is available and we will get back to you later today.

Question: Is it released to all the media or just to the Globe and Mail because we also want to get that information?

Hon. Jason Kenney: Okay, well I will have to talk to my ministry officials to find out what information is available and whether anything more can be released today. If it is released, we will – we will contact anyone who is on this call to make you aware of it.

Question: I just talked to a staff who will lose her job because of the cut and she said that she has, you know, worked – exceeded the target and her Chinese clients are upset about it. So what will you say to those who will lose their job or will lose the services from these organizations?

Hon. Jason Kenney: Well, that I’m – I’m sorry that they – that there are going to be changes that affect individuals employees. That is never pleasant, but you know, the reality is that the services are going to continue to be provided by different organizations who had better assessment, better scores in terms of their performance and you know, we can’t continue to fund organizations that are not meeting our objectives or standards just because we never want to make any difficult decisions. That would be irresponsible.

You know, ten years ago, the auditor general of Canada issued a major report on grants and contributions to non-profit organizations and she discovered that there was a huge failure to report on the programs being delivered by organizations including service – immigrant service providing organizations and that there was very little follow-up, very little performance measurements, assessment of the – of the effectiveness of these organizations and it became quite a huge scandal. It was dubbed by the media at the time the billion-dollar boondoggle because really no one knew where the – how the money was being spent.

Since that time, the government has really tightened up its assessment of how non-profit organizations spend money through contribution agreements and we have quite a rigorous process in place. It can quite frankly be quite burdensome for very small organizations, but this is a direct result of the – frankly the irresponsibility of the previous government around the year 2000 when we didn’t really know how this money was being spent and so we have tightened things up and quite frankly, I’m sorry to anyone who is being negatively affected here, but we have – our first responsibility is to Canadian taxpayers to ensure that their money is being spent with as much efficiency and effectiveness as possible and that is why we do these periodic reviews of the performance of organizations. That is why from time to time, some organizations won’t qualify.

Any organization that enters into a contribution agreement to provide services with my ministry or any other Canadian government department needs to know that they do not have a permanent right to public funding and these contribution agreements are for limited periods of time and we will continue to ensure that the money is being spent appropriately, with as much effectiveness as possible. Having said that, it is important to underscore that the vast majority of settlement provider organizations in Ontario and across Canada and the vast majority of people who work in those agencies will not be negatively affected by these changes.

Question: What do I understand from all this is that actual money is not being touched, but redistributed. Is it so?

Hon. Jason Kenney: Well, the – there are some reductions in the overall investment in settlement services from 2010 to 2011, but overall, the funding is up by 300%, by over 300% since 2005. So it really depends on when – when you look at the start time. Most of the organizations we are talking about have seen a doubling, tripling of quadrupling in their funds since our government took office, because of the huge increase in settlement funding. So overall, since we have come to office, more than tripling of settlement funding. There is a slight reduction from 2010 to 2011 but – and that – there is also the reallocation following those parts of the country where there are a larger number of immigrants settling.

Question: Minister Kenney, how will the agencies that continue to be funded made accountable? Who is – you know, who is monitoring the effectiveness of these – this management of funds?

Hon. Jason Kenney: Thank you. It is the settlement directorate with – which is a branch of the – of Citizenship and Immigration Canada that is responsible for recommending contribution agreements and then tracking the performance of agencies who have signed contribution agreements with us. So essentially, in this case, we have – we have of course a regional office in Toronto and they have ongoing monitoring over the – the programs being delivered by these organizations.

You know that from time to time, we do have problems with some settlement provide organizations. We have had problems of a lack of financial accountability, sometimes cases of financial fraud and I think our officials have been very – very alert to issues of that nature and have – typically what they do when they see problems like that is they will ask for remedial action on the part of the agency. They will ask for, you know, additional financial information or a plan to fix the problems and if the agencies fail to comply, then eventually the officials recommend that the agencies be – that the program – the contribution agreements be wrapped up.

Now I’m not saying that about the groups that are affected today. This is a different process. Instead here, we did an assessment based on objective criteria on three categories of the performance. We also – we also invited them to make requests for – excuse me, to submit proposals for future contribution agreements. All of those things were assessed by our regional settlement officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada in the Toronto region.

Question: I talked about with agencies from Chinese communities about this funding cut. Some of them have shown a little bit of concern, even though they mention a little bit about this assessment process provides a fair and reasonable platform for all the parties involved, but they – they – some of them are concerned that no matter how old or brand-new the settlement organization is, if they provide very strong paperwork, no matter how, they are going to get funding for next year. How do you respond for this opinion? Thank you.

Hon. Jason Kenney: Well, I think the process is fair and objective. I can understand that some individuals or groups won’t always agree with the outcomes or the recommendations of our public servants, but we try to be as objective about this as possible. As I say, there is actually a scoring system, a certain number of points that we attribute to the proposals that they submit and their performance in the past. And it is not – it is not like our officials just walk in and they have a subjective opinion about how the organization is doing. They sit down, they go over the books, they review their reporting. They look very closely at the proposals that have come in. There is a very detailed and serious analysis that is done and it – and it is done on the form of a dialogue. Our officials do talk to these settlement organizations. They seek more information, they expressed concern.

So a lot of information is shared going back and forth and we can understand that again, some organizations may be displeased with the outcome, but you know, in the private sector, this happens every single day, in the marketplace where consumers make an assessment of the value being provided by a business and they don’t take their business there anymore if they – if they are not doing a great job and so we are trying to have the same kind of responsiveness here in money that is being spent by the government. We are trying to make sure that we are getting bang for the buck for taxpayers and that the best possible services are being provided for newcomers and that is our objective.

Question: Yes, please could you address the perception in some quarters that the agencies or organizations that are affected are located where your opponents’ ridings are?

Hon. Jason Kenney: You know, I actually have no idea where these agencies are located. You know, insofar as agencies in Toronto are being affected, I think all of the constituencies in Toronto proper are opposition constituencies. So that is just a function of the political geography of the region. It has nothing to do with – you know, we are not making these funding assessments based on politics. You know, neither – neither I or m y staff are involved in the assessment process. We – the department goes through this rigorous process and at the end of the process, they show me the results and these are professional non-partisan members of the permanent public service who make these assessments.

There is not – there is no politics whatsoever involved in this and so, that is really all I can say. I mean if you look at for example – just to give you an example, Manitoba has a New Democratic Party government. They continue to receive increases in settlement funding for – why? Because there are more immigrants who go in there. It is just that simple.

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