Canadian municipalities and services for immigrants: A Toronto case study.

Author:Rose, Janine


The formal role of municipal governments in decision-making about immigration and settlement policies is limited. The Canada Ontario Immigration Agreement (COIA) represented an important step toward more effective collaboration between federal, municipal and provincial governments in this policy area. We investigate the circumstances that led to the inclusion of the City of Toronto as a signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in COIA as well as how this tripartite agreement affected intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder partnerships. Although the MOU encouraged interaction between federal, provincial and municipal governments; the municipal role remained consultative. Our analysis suggests that the incorporation of municipalities in decision-making about settlement policies is limited by the practices of Canadian federalism and planning ideologies that emphasize municipal responsibility for an undifferentiated public.

Keywords: municipalities, immigrants, settlement, policy, intergovernmental relations, COIA


Le role officiel des gouvernements municipaux concernant la prise de decisions au sujet de l'immigration et des politiques d'etablissement est limitee. LAccord Canada-Ontario sur l'immigration (ACOI) represente un pas important vers une collaboration plus efficace entre le gouvernement federal, les gouvernements municipaux et provinciaux. L'article examine les circonstances qui ont mene a l'inclusion de la ville de Toronto en tant que signataire du protocole d'entente (PE) de cet accord ainsi que l'impact de cet accord tripartite sur les organisations intergouvernementales et les multiples partenariats. Bien que le PE encourage l'interaction entre le gouvernement federal et les gouvernements provinciaux et municipaux; le role des municipalites demeure consultatif. Notre analyse suggere que l'integration des municipalites dans la prise de decisions au sujet des politiques d'etablissement est limitee par les pratiques du federalisme canadien et des ideologies de planification qui met l'emphase sur la responsabilite des municipalites pour un public indifferencie.

Mots cles: les municipalites, les immigrants, politique detablissement, relations intergouvernementales, COIA

Canadian Municipalities and Services for Immigrants: A Toronto Case Study

Municipalities play a key role in immigrant settlement in Canada. Immigrants selected by the federal and provincial governments settle in Canadian cities that benefit when immigrants succeed but deal with the fallout when they struggle to find jobs commensurate with their qualifications, have difficulties locating affordable housing, and encounter challenges settling family members. Despite municipalities' significant part in successful settlement, decision-making about services such as language training and mentoring that are intended to smooth immigrants' progress, is largely the prerogative of the federal and provincial governments. The Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement, COIA, promised to create new relationships among federal, provincial and municipal governments through memoranda of understanding concerning the provision of settlement services that were signed by the City of Toronto, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the two senior levels of government (1). Building on previous research (Andrew and Hima 2011; Stasiulis, Hughes, and Amery 2011), we investigate the partnerships that resulted from the Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Toronto, Canada's major gateway city where almost half the population is foreign-born. The case study of Toronto focuses on governance, the relationships between government, civil society agencies and actors (Andrew and Hima 2011), allowing us to investigate how the MOU influenced municipal involvement in services for immigrants. Although the findings refer specifically to Toronto, with its unique history of immigration and municipal involvement in services for immigrants, the case study provides insight into the circumstances that affect cooperation concerning immigrant services among Canadian municipalities and provincial and federal governments.

Services for Immigrants in Canadian Municipalities

All migrants accepted as permanent residents in Canada are eligible for some publicly funded services however entitlement to specific services varies, depending especially on immigration class and citizenship status (Hawkins 1991; Leitner and Preston 2011; Omidvar and Richmond 2004; Tolley and Young 2011). Diverse non-profit, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), (2) use federal and provincial funds to deliver services (Richmond and Shields 2005; Landolt, Goldring, and Bernhard 2009; Andrew and Hima 2011). While delegating responsibility for delivering services, the federal and provincial governments retain control through the accountability and reporting requirements that accompany funding (Poirier 2006; Stasiulis, Hughes, and Amery 2011). For example, federally funded language training is only available to permanent residents before they become Canadian citizens and it is funded per student hour of class. Organizations must fund language training for citizens, temporary residents and other migrants from provincial and other sources (Rajkumar et al. 2012). This strategy, often described as roll-out neoliberalism (Peck, 2008; Peck and Tickell, 2002), disempowers municipal governments and NGOs. Federal and provincial governments influence the activities of service providers and their municipal partners by specifying eligibility rules and the types and formats of services that will be funded. Despite their intimate knowledge of immigrants' needs, municipal governments and NGOs must comply with federal and provincial policies to receive funding (Richmond and Shields 2005; Leitner and Preston 2011; Stasiulis, Hughes, and Amery 2011).

The governance of services for immigrants highlights the subordinate role of municipalities within the Canadian federation. Municipalities are creatures of the provinces, with powers and responsibilities that are circumscribed by provincial legislation (Frisken 2007; Good 2009; Leo and Martine 2009; Tolley and Young 2011; Young 2012). Current constitutional arrangements mandate little official involvement for municipalities in immigration and settlement policies. Despite recent federal recognition that these policies should be tailored to local circumstances with which municipal governments are more familiar than any other level of government (Burr 2011), cooperation among federal, provincial and municipal governments has proved challenging perhaps because the conditions for successful intergovernmental cooperation are demanding and difficult to sustain. Cooperation is more likely when leadership is persistent and focused, there are sustained coordinating institutions, and all parties demonstrate mutual respect for the fiscal capacity of each level of government and a commitment to cooperative rather than unilateral decision-making (Bradford 2008; Andrew and Hima 2011; Vineberg 2012).

Municipal involvement in services for immigrants is also influenced by urban planning ideologies that often overlook the ethnic and racial diversity of urban populations. Municipal policies that recognize the needs of specific residents such as immigrants challenge municipal mandates to serve all residents (Wallace and Frisken 2000; Sandercock 2003: Good 2009). Wallace and Frisken (2000) reported that in large and small municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area, only a few planners recommended policies and programs to address the specific needs of immigrants. Some municipal policies such as Toronto's neighbourhood improvement areas (NIA) targeted locations where immigrants were concentrated, however the size and needs of the immigrant population were not explicit criteria for designation as a NIA (Doolittle 2014). In large metropolitan areas with long histories of immigration (Good 2009; Sandercock 2003), such planning practices have been criticized as failing to respond to the diverse needs of urban residents. The MOU that was signed in September, 2006 by the federal government, Ontario, and the City of Toronto provided an opportunity to develop new relationships that would better serve the city's diverse population (Andrew and Hima 2011; Stasiulis, Hughes, and Amery 2011).

Drawing on information available by 2011, we evaluate how the partnerships between the city, the other two levels of government and NGOS evolved during the life of the MOU. Information about the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement was obtained from policy documents available from municipal, provincial, and federal departments. An examination of Ontario and federal parliamentary records (3) that identified documents about COIA and other immigration agreements was supplemented with a detailed review of City Council minutes to locate relevant documents about implementation of the MOU (City of Toronto 2008, 2010). Documentary information was complemented by interviews with three provincial and federal officials who were Assistant Deputy Ministers and Directors charged with the provision of settlement services, five current and former municipal bureaucrats responsible for negotiating and implementing the Memorandum of Understanding and three executives from NGOs that advocate for immigrants and immigrant-serving agencies in Toronto. Each interview is identified by a sector and participant number. In addition to asking about the history of COIA, the City of Toronto's involvement in the MOU, and its impact on settlement services, participants were also asked to comment on the nature and success of partnerships in the immigrant-serving sector in 2011. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and interpreted through content analysis through a search for key terms such as municipality, local, Toronto, and Local Immigration Partnership and the identification of...

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