OCASI Priorities - Ontario Election 2011

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On October 6, 2011 Ontario voters will elect or re-elect a member of provincial parliament.

The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants calls on each political party to address the following key priorities of immigrants, refugees and racialized individuals in Ontario. The priorities include issues routinely identified by OCASI member agencies as the concerns of communities they serve.

1. Immigrant Settlement and Integration

Ontario remains the destination of choice for the majority of immigrants arriving in Canada. Settlement and integration programs and services play an important role in helping immigrants build a new life in Canada. The majority of investment in programs and services comes from the federal government, through funds provided in the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement. The previous Agreement expired in 2010 and the governments of Canada and Ontario must negotiate a new one.

Federally-funded settlement services are limited only to permanent residents and convention refugees. Separate Ontario funding for immigrant settlement is critically important in making services available to non-eligible residents who have settlement needs, such as immigrants that have acquired citizenship, and immigrants without full resident status. For example, many immigrant women are among those who experience delayed settlement and would need settlement services even after three years when most immigrants typically acquire citizenship. Ontario government funding also allows organizations to leverage funding from other sources, making the maximum use of limited resources.

Economic, social and political inclusion is important in supporting the settlement and integration of immigrants and refugees. Many Permanent Residents live, work and pay taxes in Ontario. But they have no say in the selection of our leaders or in the development of our laws, even at the municipal level, because they are not allowed to vote. New Zealand has already implemented laws that would allow residents, regardless of citizenship status, to vote in local elections.

Click here to see “The municipal franchise and social inclusion in Toronto: Policy and Practice” by Myer Siemiatycki (Policy and Practice Paper, Inclusive Cities. October 2006, Toronto)

OCASI Recommendations:

1.1 Negotiate with the federal government for adequate funding for immigrant settlement programs and services.

1.2 Increase Ontario investment in immigrant settlement services by increasing funds for the Newcomer Settlement Program (NSP); increase the number of organizations funded through NSP.

1.3 Enact legislation that would allow permanent residents to vote in municipal elections.

2. Labour market integration

Almost 25% of Ontario workers earn wages below the poverty line. Racialized communities (people of non-European background or heritage) experience ongoing, disproportionate levels of poverty, and low wages is a major factor. Almost one third of women and racialized workers are low paid, while the number jumps to 38% for racialized women. There is a growing colour-coded wage gap between racialized and non-racialized workers in Canada.

Many workers of racialized background are working in precarious employment that pays minimum wage or less. Ontario's minimum wage lags far behind the low-income cut-off (LICO). Even those working full-time hours are living in a situation of severe poverty and make barely enough to pay for shelter, food and other basic necessities.

Ontario has made strong progress in addressing some of the systemic barriers that internationally trained immigrants face in gaining labour market access in their field by creating the Office of the Fairness Commissioner and investing in bridging programs. Yet many challenges remain such as the lengthy and challenging process to become accredited, cost, lack of opportunities to complete the on-the-job practical component of accreditation, and labour market access.

OCASI Recommendations:

2.1 At a minimum provide employers with an incentive such as a tax credit to hire immigrants, and invest in other measures such as paid internships that will improve job prospects for immigrants.

2.2 Introduce employment equity legislation that would create equitable labour market opportunities for all equity seeking groups.

2.3 Increase or at a minimum, sustain investment in the Fairness Commissioner's office; and invest in paid internships and training that would help internationally trained immigrants to complete credentialing requirements and become employed in their field.

3. Housing

One-third of Ontario's population lives in rental housing, including a smaller proportion in housing co-operatives. Many are immigrants, refugees, racialized and from other equity-seeking groups. Ontario continues to face a serious shortage in affordable rental housing, primarily in larger cities, which is where most immigrants live.

The construction of new housing, renovation of existing housing, making units available at affordable rates to low-income tenant families and individuals can help to increase housing options and reduce homelessness and under-housing. In the long-term, investment in affordable home ownership targeted to low-income Ontarians would help to reduce poverty among low-income families and individuals.

For more information about tenant housing issues in Ontario click here to see materials from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario

OCASI Recommendations:

3.1. Invest in a housing program to create a minimum of 10,000 universally accessible, affordable, regulated, non-profit and co-op developed housing units annually and ensure that at least 50% of these units can provide “rent geared to income” assistance.

3.2 Create an annualized fund to repair and maintain existing and new affordable housing units.

3.3 Ensure that Ontario tenants are better protected from rent gouging and unfair rental practices by landlords.

4. Income Security

Families and individuals from racialized communities, many of them immigrants, are overrepresented among Ontario's poor. Successive provincial budgets have failed to acknowledge the persistence of economic insecurity among thousands of immigrants and refugees, and members of racialized communities. Racialized families are 2 to 4 times more likely than white families to fall below the low income cut-off (LICO).

Cutbacks in social assistance benefits have been accompanied by a reduction in social housing and lack of rent controls leading to increased rental housing costs. Access to affordable childcare is a key poverty-reduction measure, one that would allow parents to pursue labour market opportunities and pursue education and skills

The provincial government made a significant investment in childcare to replace lost federal subsidies, but this is not sufficient to meet the current need for subsidized childcare. Supports for regulated subsidized and affordable daycare have been reduced. Meanwhile in 2009, all parties in the Ontario legislature voted unanimously in support of Bill 152: The Poverty Reduction Act.

Click here to see information from Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change.

OCASI Recommendations:

4.1 Reduce racial disparities and inequities and promote economic equity and justice through the following specific initiatives: introduce an employment equity program that has the strength of legislation and sufficient resources for effective implementation; strengthen enforcement of employment standards and workplace safety regimes.

4.2 Reduce economic insecurity for all Ontario residents, while introducing proactive measures that would redress the colour-coded poverty gap and increase income security. Some useful measures include job creation strategies that are targeted to benefit those who are economically marginalized; increasing the minimum wage at least to low-income cut-off levels; increasing social assistance rates and asset limits for people on social assistance;

5. Health and Dental care

The Ontario government imposes a three-month wait on permanent residents before they can qualify for health care coverage through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), even if immigrants start paying taxes from the time of their arrival in the province. Recent immigrants who need healthcare during the initial three-months of arrival have to pay their own healthcare costs, something that many struggle to do often incurring great financial debt. Others delay seeking medical treatment sometimes with serious and costly long-term consequences for individuals as well as for the province.

Click here to see information from the Right to Healthcare Coalition.

Access to affordable dental care in Ontario is a priority for low-income Ontario residents. The provincial government investment in community-based preventative dental program targeted to children is a good first step. The lack of a preventative dental program for adults, and affordable dental treatment for adults and children has a major negative impact on the quality of life for low-income Ontarians and reduce opportunities for employment, education and training.

OCASI Recommendations:

5.1 Eliminate the three-month wait for OHIP for permanent residents.

5.2 Invest in affordable dental preventative and treatment services targeted to low-income children and adults and ensure that communities that are over-represented among the poor, such as those of racialized background, will have equitable access.

Click here for the complete list of OCASI recommendations.

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For more information contact OCASI:
Amy Casipullai
Policy and Communication Coordinator
Tel: 416.322.4950 ext. 239
[email protected]