Quebec to get 10 times more than B.C. and Ontario to settle immigrants; Vancouver Sun

Author: Douglas Todd | Publishing date: Apr 22, 2021 | Vancouver Sun
Read the article online by clicking here.

Opinion: The pandemic is further distorting an already lopsided and increasingly bizarre three-decade-old Quebec accord with Ottawa, which dramatically shortchanges the other provinces.

Quebec will be handed roughly 10 times more taxpayer dollars from Ottawa to settle each one of its immigrants than B.C., Ontario, Alberta and the other provinces.

The pandemic is further distorting an already lopsided and increasingly bizarre three-decade-old accord with Ottawa that this year will provide Quebec with roughly $20,000 to support each new permanent resident to the province.

Meanwhile, each new permanent resident set to move to B.C. will be allocated only about $1,800 in settlement services, which include language training, assistance with housing and job counselling.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada settlement allocations show, in addition, that Ontario will be handed about $2,000 this year to support each of its new immigrants.

“If I were the other provinces, I would be really, really angry about it,” says Stephan Reichhold, who heads the umbrella organization that oversees 150 settlement agencies in Quebec.

“The other provinces can complain. They can make public statements that it’s not fair,” Reichhold said, explaining that the ever-widening transfer disparity is rooted in a funding formula embedded in the 1991 Canada-Quebec immigration accord.

The upshot of the accord is that Quebec, despite reducing its immigration levels two years ago, will nevertheless be handed a whopping $650 million to help settle the 30,000 to 35,000 new permanent residents it expects in 2021.

Meanwhile, the settlement allocations show all the other provinces and territories combined are this year scheduled to receive $741 million to help integrate about 370,000 new permanent residents, based on Ottawa’s target, which is a record 401,000 immigrants for 2021.

B.C. is set to receive only about $109 million, even while it is projected to take in more than 65,000 new permanent residents, about twice as many as Quebec.

Ontario, which normally takes in 45 per cent of all immigrants to Canada, will be transferred just $372 million, far less than Quebec.

It all adds up to mean, said Reichhold, that Quebec, which accepts only one-tenth of the country’s new immigrants, will receive almost as much transfer money as the other nine provinces and three territories combined.

Vancouver-based Chris Friesen, chair of a national umbrella association that represents immigrant serving agencies across the country, said the gross imbalance in immigrant-support payments is yet another reason he and others are calling for a national dialogue, possibly a royal commission, into the country’s immigration policies.

Friesen, who is also director of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. that supports refugees, said the Quebec-Canada formula constantly escalates the proportion of transfer funds going to Quebec. As a result the province will actually receive $58 million more to settle permanent residents this year than last year — despite taking in fewer  immigrants than it did in 2019 and 2020.

Even though the provinces have a moral right to protest their poor treatment, Quebec’s Reichhold doubted it would do much good.

That’s because the Canada-Quebec immigration accord, which prime minister Brian Mulroney signed in 1991, gave unique immigration powers and generous transfer payments to the province, mainly to appease a then-surging sovereigntist movement. The other provinces do not have anywhere near the same level of influence over immigration, which is constitutionally in the hands of Ottawa.

Quebec, because of the accord, has long raked in more money per immigrant from Ottawa than the other provinces. In 2019, Quebec received about $11,000 for each of the roughly 40,000 permanent residents it accepted. That compared to about $2,400 each for immigrants to B.C. and Ontario.

This year, because of both COVID-19 border restrictions and Premier Francois Legault’s campaign promise to further reduce immigration levels, the money gap continues to grow wider than ever. Quebec expects only about 30,000 to 35,000 new permanent residents in the province this year, said Reichhold, who noted that Legault’s government announced Wednesday it is considering upping its target to 50,000 in 2022.

Despite the unfairness of the transfer system, Reichhold said Quebec can always use the federal money. And he was pleased to see that Legault is directing two to three times more of Ottawa’s funding into immigration services than the previous Liberal premier, Philippe Couillard, who mostly shovelled it into general revenue.

“Legault has really raised the amount that goes into language training and other resources,” said Reichhold. Asked if he thought other provinces should get as much money per capita as Quebec for settlement services, Reichhold laughed and said, “Can you imagine the amount? It would cost three to four billion dollars.”

Quebec’s immigration program is unique in the world in the way it gives so much control to a regional jurisdiction, Reichhold said.

Quebec also has its own distinct immigrant-investor program, which had for years been bringing in about 4,000 rich newcomers from around the world, mostly Asia. Nine out of 10 don’t stay in Quebec, but instead move to Toronto or Vancouver. Reichold said the program, which critics call a “cash-for-passport scheme,” is not taking new applicants, as it deals with a backlog.

The media outside Quebec don’t often look at how the immigration system works, or its dramatic anomalies, because most English-language journalists show little interest in francophone Quebec, said Reichhold. For that matter, he said, most Quebeckers don’t understand immigration policy either.

The public’s overall ignorance is one of the reasons Friesen, along with Jean McRae of Victoria, B.C., and Victoria Esses of London, Ont., are calling for a national inquiry into Canada’s convoluted immigration policies, which are produced closed doors. That includes Ottawa’s announcement in October that its objective is to admit over 1.2 million new permanent residents between 2021 and 2023, the most ever.

Although a recent poll found Canadians are among the most welcoming people in the world to immigrants, Friesen, MacRae and Esses said the public’s “lack of control and generalized uncertainty can easily stoke anti-immigrant and anti-immigration sentiments. Involving Canadians in an informed consideration of how Canada’s  future immigration programs and policies should be structured will work to dampen these effects.”

It may be possible to forgive Canadians for not comprehending what’s actually going on in Quebec or elsewhere in regard to immigration policy. Still, it would be prudent to avoid being naive.

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