The Ontario government established the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services in 2011 to “provide advice on how to deliver the most efficient and effective public services possible for people and families”. The Commission was tasked with advising the government on how to balance the Budget in less than five years, without increasing taxes. It was led by Chair Don Drummond, and Vice-Chairs Carol Stephenson, Susan Pigott and Dominic Giroux. The Commission released its report on February 16, 2012.
- Ontario's unemployment rate has been higher than the national average for several years, and the average personal income has dropped below the national average. Racialized families and individuals are over-represented among the poor.
- Ontario continues to receive by far the largest number of immigrants to Canada – more than all the Western provinces, all the Atlantic Provinces and the three territories combined. However the rate of arrivals to this province has dropped in the last few years, as compared to previous years and compared to the rate of arrivals in other provinces. Ontario will be losing federal settlement funding as a result, in addition to the cuts of almost $70 million over this year and the coming year.
- Ontario continues to be a significant driver of Canada's economy despite the recent slowdown. Newcomers make up 30 per cent of the labour force and Ontario will continue to rely on immigration for long-term economic growth. However they have fared poorly in the labour market over the last ten years. These declining outcomes have an impact on the successful settlement and integration of immigrants, as well as the economy.
- The settlement needs of immigrants and refugees and integration needs of newcomer communities have shifted and become more complex over the years. The immigrant and refugee-serving sector has developed innovative and creative responses to address ongoing and emerging challenges the immigrants face. The Ontario government has been an important funder and partner in this work.
OCASI expectations of the Ontario government
- Investment in public and community services is important to all Ontario residents, particularly vulnerable and marginalized residents. We recognize that the Ontario government has sustained investment in important public and community services during these difficult economic times.
- We trust that the government will keep these priorities and commitments in mind as it considers the advice provided by the Drummond Commission in its final report.
- We ask that the government hold full, fair and transparent consultations with stakeholders before making and implementing any decisions that will affect Ontario public services.
- Ontario's immigrant and refugee-serving sector is an important stakeholder and partner with the government in the delivery of public services, and we ask the government to include these voices in any decisions that will affect services to immigrants and refugees.
- Our sector is deeply committed to doing our part to build positive outcomes for newcomers, and to build strong communities in Ontario. We trust the Ontario government is committed to doing its part to build a strong province for all residents.
The Report contains 362 recommendations on reforming Ontario's public services in order to balance the books by 2018. Please see below for OCASI comments on immigrant-focused recommendations:
Recommendations on Immigration
- Recommendation 10-1 (develop provincial immigration strategy) – OCASI agrees that Ontario needs an immigration policy and program that is centered on the best economic and social interests and outcomes new Canadians and of the province. Note that the Ontario government created an Expert Roundtable on Immigration. OCASI Executive Director Debbie Douglas is named as a member, as well as OCASI Provincial Director Léonie Tchatat (Executive Director, La Passerelle - Intégration et Développement Économiques).
- Recommendation 10-2 & 10-3 (catalyze national discussion on immigration & expand Provincial Nominee Program) - We agree that Ontario should have a stronger voice in selection that would allow the province to maintain a balance between skilled workers and sponsored family members, a stronger voice on immigration policy at the national table and expansion of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Many stakeholders have expressed concern that the processing of immigration applications to Ontario is seriously backlogged compared to applications to other provinces. They have also said that the list of occupations that are privileged and fast-tracked which tend to be not Ontario industries are limiting the number of potential skilled immigrants to Ontario.
- Recommendation 10-4 (federal government to pay for social service costs for refugees and claimants) - OCASI has frequently encouraged the Ontario government to advocate to the federal government for greater transparency and fairness in the treatment of refugees, as well as adequate investment in services.
- Recommendation 10-5 (undertake a pilot similar to Australian pre-skills assessment) – The Australian model of pre-application skills assessment for potential immigrants has some worthwhile aspects that might be of use in Ontario, particularly in combination with the progress made in credentials recognition, by the Office of the Fairness Commissioner. Meanwhile, effective labour market integration for immigrants would also require addressing the other challenges they face including employer lack of awareness or difficulty in understanding international credentials and experience and employer prejudice and racism. Some of these factors are mentioned in the report “Knocking down barriers faced by new immigrants to Canada” recently released by the TD Bank.
- Recommendation 10-6 (merge settlement and integration programs and Employment Ontario) - Immigrant employment programs are specialized and need to be housed in a Ministry that is focused on immigrant labour market integration. Shifting these services to Employment Ontario (EO) would risk the loss of innovative service delivery models with proven effective results. It would result in the fracturing of relationships and synergies that have developed over the years between the federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration and the provincial Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, the immigrant serving sector and employers. Further, integrating provincially delivered integration and settlement services would result in ignoring or diminishing response to the broader settlement and integration needs of new Canadians, especially those that are not related to employment. At risk would be the effective settlement and integration of new Canadians who are over-represented in vulnerable situations, including refugees, women, sexual minorities and new Canadians with disabilities. (Note: this recommendation is a repeat of Recommendations 8-7 & 9-2).
- Recommendation 10-7 (devolve federal settlement funding and services to the province) - A strong relationship between the federal and provincial governments is important to the governments as well as all stakeholders including immigrants and refugees. OCASI is in favour of a strong agreement that would support effective and equitable immigrant settlement and integration in Ontario.
Other Recommendations of interest
- Recommendation 8-1 (limit social program spending) – Limiting social spending to an increase of 0.5% a year has troubling implications for the growing numbers of low-income Ontarians including the working poor. Racialized residents are over-represented among these numbers. The recommended increase is far below the rate of inflation and will have a significant impact on vulnerable residents who are dependent on social programs for their basic survival as well as other needs.
- Recommendation 8-7 & Recommendation 9-2 (integrate with EO, newcomer services and employment training and services for those on social assistance) – Streamlining and integrating other employment and training services, particularly services for those on social assistance, with EO is a welcome measure that we hope will improve access and improve consistency and equity across all employment services. This would be fully realized only if EO is sufficiently resourced to address existing needs as well as the specialized needs of those on assistance. See Recommendation 10-6 above for concerns regarding merging immigrant settlement and integration with EO.
- Recommendation 8-17 (increase flexibility in funding) – Reforming funding practices in the non-profit sector to increase flexibility, and reduce administrative costs by focusing on measuring outcomes rather than inputs is a long-standing request of nonprofits, including in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector. This is a welcome measure.
- Recommendation 8-18 (single access point for funding) - Provide a single point of access within government for the non-profit sector to improve and broaden relationships across ministries that enter into contracts with the non-profit sector, using a model such as the Open for Business initiative. This too is a welcome measure.
The Ontario Nonprofit Network has developed analysis and resources to help understand implications of the Report for the nonprofit sector. See link:
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives offers analysis of the Report and implications for the Ontario budget. See link:
Report from the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services.