Immigration Levels, $15 Mininum Wage


July 2017

Over the past few weeks, my time has been taken up with government relations obligations: consultation with the Federal Minister responsible for immigration; discussions with the Provincial Ministry (of Citizenship and Immigration) and their new Refugee Resettlement Unit; participation on the Global Migration Compact Advisory Committee and my work on the Provincial Working Group charged with developing a roadmap for Income Security Reform.

The latter has been the most instructive in reminding me how much work we still need to do as a society around issues of inclusion, but I’ll come back to that.

The roundtable with Minister Hussen (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) was held to discuss immigration levels, settlement and integration priorities and other issues relating to immigration and refugee protection. It was interesting to experience the discussions held in Toronto with the majority around the table being OCASI members, and to learn how agencies accept or move away (ahead?) from the Council’s policy positions based on other discussions with which they engaged.

The annual levels discussion is a case in point. OCASI proactively promoted the idea that Canada should welcome immigrants and refugees, including Claimants that is equal to one percent of our population per year – which would be approximately just over 366,000 in 2017. This is a position that was taken during the nineteen eighties and gained traction with the then federal Conservative Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Mulroney. Successive governments, both Liberals and Conservatives have indicated to OCASI their support of this position although we haven’t come close to those numbers over the decades. In fact, this current Liberal government has set the highest targets since levels planning began, at 300,000.

Over the past year or so as the government has gone out to speak to businesses, non-profits and other stakeholders, the idea of an aggressive increase in numbers to 450,000 took hold. This came from the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, comprised of 14 Canadian and international business and academic leaders appointed by the government in March 2016.

I was a bit surprised to hear that number put forward by sector leaders in this latest roundtable discussion. My knee-jerk response was ‘oh no, we’ve lost control of the sector policy direction’, but quickly realized that no, this was a reminder, that the leadership on policy must come from the membership and the communities with which we work. So, while the official position of the Council continues to be that the absorptive capacity of the sector won’t support such a significant increase in new arrivals, this experience signalled that we needed to go back out to membership and have them weigh in on this important matter.  In writing this, I’ve come to realize that the policy team at OCASI also supports a change in position to support much higher levels. As we push the government to move to multi-year planning we must all be on the same page so that there is a consistent message from at least the Ontario sector, if not the rest of Canada. So, OCASI members, look out for a brief survey on immigration levels planning from your Council in late fall. Let us know what you think about how many people Canada should aim to take in each year.

Now back to my learning about work still to be done on inclusion. Both my participation on the advisory committee on the Global Migration Compact and the Income Security Working Group has highlighted how significant and complete the erasure of the history of African Canadians has been. There is the collective amnesia of the enslavement of Black people here in Canada (Lower Canada/Quebec); early refugees from the US revolutionary war and the later arrivals pre US civil war through the Underground Railroad. This last is the only acknowledgement of a Black presence in Canada pre our modern immigration system of Black people’s arrival. Not surprising I guess, since it casts Canada and Canadians in a good light and promotes the mythology of Canada as a historically welcoming, non-racist and non-colonized place. A quick review of our laws over the last one hundred and fifty years plus, will certainly tell a more nuanced and complex story.

What is frustrating is the lack of interest or even willingness to listen, which I experienced with the Global Migration Advisory committee, with one colleague reminding when I raised the need to contextualize the discussion within an anti-colonial (Indigenous-centered) and anti-Black racism framework, “This is about migration”. Still shaking my head at that one.

I am glad to be able to report, that the Income Security Reform initiative from its inception paid attention to Indigenous experiences and in fact had two separate tables addressing the specificities of Indigenous realities. And when the issue of the absence of the specificity of the African-Canadian experience was raised, a process was quickly put in place to remedy this oversight by ensuring the inclusion of language that speaks to the experience of Black people and other racialized groups.

While I appreciate the quick non-defensive response to my concerns by Ministry staff and other Working Group members, I wait for the day when I (and other racialized people) won’t have to point out this absence or erasure of our presence, contributions and the inequities we continue to experience.

When we started on this journey of income security reform almost a year ago, I wrote in this space that I’ll share my reflections from time to time (heeding the confidentiality of the discussions of course). I’m pleased to say that the roadmap that we have been developing is one of substance that will truly put Ontario on the path to real income security reform. Stay tuned.

Much positive news to report from our Province: The over haul of Labour laws were welcomed by Ontario workers and advocates as the government moved to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour effective January 1, 2019.

Unfortunate but not surprising is the well-financed pushback by the Ontario business community and their representative organizations against this long overdue increase that at full implementation can make a real difference to thousands living in poverty. As a sector concerned about growing poverty and economic inequities we must educate the public about the benefits of these changes. We must point to the many researches and opinions by economists and advocates alike who make the case of the advantages of having a living wage.

As we head into election mode in Ontario (the Provincial election is less than a year away), we must all add our voices to the ongoing call for labour reform – from questioning the proliferation of Temp Employment Agencies and the rising numbers in precarious work to reform our social assistance and other income support programs. We must support progressive agendas that lead to the creation of the Ontario we all envision.

In Solidarity …