The long awaited 2016 census on immigration and the ethno-racial diversity of Canada has been released. The numbers tell an exciting story of a Canada becoming increasingly racially diverse, a provincial nominee program regime that is meeting its overarching goal of destining immigrants (including refugees) away from the three major immigration hubs of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and the promise of younger immigrant and Indigenous populations. The shift in immigration numbers away from Ontario and British Columbia in the five years prior to 2016 also speak to the economic realities of the past decade where (other than the last two to three years) the extractive industries of Alberta and Saskatchewan attracted workers from the rest of Canada, including new immigrants.
The Greater Toronto area, particularly the five municipalities surrounding Toronto and the City itself all posted majority racialized communities. Places like Richmond Hill and Brampton have populations that are over 70 percent racialized with Chinese and South Asians respectively leading in numbers. Over 25 percent of Ontarians identify as a member of a racialized (visible minority) community. This number does not include Indigenous (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) communities that have shown tremendous growth over the past five years across Ontario and the country. In Ontario, Thunder Bay has the largest numbers of Indigenous peoples.
What does this all mean? Does increase in ethno-racial diversity in itself signal greater inclusion? While we all, for the most part, agree that this experimentation in proactive multiculturalism/multiracialism has been successful to a large extent in Canada, we cannot afford to be complacent. We know that we have much work to do in all spheres of our society.
In the City of Toronto, where over half of the population is racialized, one can count the number of elected representatives who are racialized on one hand. We have one South Asian Councillor, two Chinese Councillors and one Black Councillor. I’ll be generous and say we may even have one bi-racial (Asian and European) Councillor, although I’m not certain he identifies that way. Municipal Councils across the GTA aren’t doing much better. Brampton and Mississauga and Richmond Hill may be slightly ahead of Toronto in terms of ethno-racial political representation. Our provincial and federal parliaments are doing better with a number of South Asians (Sikhs primarily) in the federal Liberal caucus and cabinet (there was a quick reality check given to the Prime Minister when he talked about having the most racially diverse cabinet at the beginning of his mandate. It was pointed out that the cabinet was absent Black and Chinese representatives. This has since been somewhat remedied); and an increasingly diverse provincial cabinet with a few key portfolios (education, children and youth, justice) held by racialized MPPs.
And of course, the national New Democratic Party recently elected a South Asian leader.
In terms of economic participation and remuneration, the numbers show that race and immigration status determine how well one is succeeding economically. In spite of an immigration point system that screens for the most educated and most experienced, racialized immigrants are over-represented in poverty numbers, and under/unemployment numbers, and access to their professions and the lack of recognition of their credentials continue to pose significant barriers to economic success. It has been estimated that the under-utilization of the skills and knowledge that immigrants (racialized or White) bring costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars per year.
Indigenous peoples and people of African descent continue to be marginalized with lower incomes, higher numbers in precarious and temporary employment and negligible representation on corporate Boards or in executive leadership positions.
But the numbers also tell a positive story, with racialized, immigrant and Indigenous communities, with a few exceptions, having a younger population. This bodes well for Ontario and Canada’s future as we continue to educate our youth and advocate for progressive policies that will anchor the kind of inclusive society we envision as Canadians.
Talking about progressive policies, there are two being debated or at committee here in Ontario that we must put our advocacy muscle behind.
Bill 148 has been in the media for the past months and is currently at committee. The cornerstone of the Bill – a move to a $15/hr minimum wage on January 1, 2019 is getting much pushback from some business interests including organizations like the powerful Ontario Chamber of Commerce. We cannot allow them to spook the government into making changes that will water down the Bill. We are pleased to note there are businesses that are stepping up to say that lifting the minimum wage to just about ten percent above the poverty line in Ontario is good for business. Working folks earning minimum wage spend locally and this is good for business.
There are places in the Bill that can be strengthened however. One change that we’re promoting is a bit nuanced, but important. Currently the Bill reads that part-time, temporary workers should be paid the same as full-time employees doing the same job. Better language would be for those doing a similar job. This change will narrow a loophole that employers may have to change one element of a job to get away with paying part-time and temporary workers less than their full time counterparts for work that is basically comparable.
Even more important is the definition of ‘seniority’ in the Bill. The proposal is for seniority to be determined by the amount of hours worked rather than date of hire. If this remains, part-time and temporary workers will never be able to catch up to full-time employees. This must be changed before the Bill becomes law.
Various coalitions have formed to advocate for changes which will strengthen the Bill. The Workers Action Centre, an OCASI member agency and the vanguard of workers’ rights and champion of Bill 148 continues to flag concerns about the weakening of the Bill. As Ontarians committed to decent work for all, we must add our voices to the call for legislation that will protect and promote values of equitable and decent employment.
The other progressive public policy that was recently tabled as a private member’s Bill is Bill 164, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017 which would strengthen economic and social rights for all Ontarians by including four new grounds to address discrimination on the bases of immigration status, social condition, police records, and genetic characteristics. This forward looking piece of legislation will expand the grounds of protection for a broader swath of Ontario’s population. It is a policy that OCASI supports and encourages the government and the opposition parties to put their support behind.
2018 is election time in Ontario with the provincial election scheduled for June and the municipal elections for October. As Ontarians concerned about equity and inclusion let’s make sure that those soliciting our votes are speaking and committing to the issues that would advance a progressive and inclusive Ontario.