We increased nomination to the federal govt for permanent residence: Ontario Immigration Minister

We increased nomination to the federal govt for permanent residence: Ontario Immigration Minister

India Blooms News Service | 15 May 2017

In an exclusive interview to IBNS Bureau Chief of Canada Suman Das, Ontario Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Laura Albanese highlights the improvement in the immigration status of Ontario. Excerpts of an interview with the minister

You have worked in broadcast journalism spanning over two decades, from 1984 to 2007  at OMNI TV Italian edition in a number of capacities. What motivated you to shift to politics?

It was a gradual change. When I was young I was fascinated with history and was always thinking about how politics can impact one’s life. Life brought me from Italy to Canada and here I followed a very successful career in journalism. For a long time I did not think of going into politics although the thought was always at the back of my mind. Then our local representative resigned from the York region and I sent in my application and was accepted. There were many other factors involved. We had moved to York region and found that this region was underdeveloped and I thought I have a chance to contribute to its improvement.

When you started your political career at a rather mature age, you chose to join the Liberal over other political parties....Why?

I had been asked this question by many people. At that time John F. Kennedy was challenged for being a liberal in United States. He answered that if by being a liberal you mean somebody who looks forward and not backwards, then Yes I am a liberal.  I echo that sentiment and I believe working in a society where all people have the same opportunities irrespective of their backgrounds and that these values are best reflected in the liberal party.
Now you have completed a decade in politics and that too very successfully, after a humble beginning as Liberal candidate from by-election in York region riding. In your early days as MPP you held Parliamentary Assistants positions in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sports in 2011-2012; after that of PA to the Minister of Labour. Then in 2013 PA to our Premier and Deputy Government Whip. Finally in 2016 you were appointed as Minister of Citizenship & Immigration.  Was it your choice or were you appointed by the premier?

I must say, out of the 10 years in politics, I served as parliamentary assistants for different ministries and this had given me the opportunity to learn different legislative procedures. I had experience working in different projects, so different and yet so interesting. For example I was selected to be the chair of a selected media of development services and learnt all about development issues in children and services about it and what the province does for this. I could understand where the needs were and where the gaps were and how I could do a better job and where we can make recommendations.  Most of these recommendations have been implemented by the government. I also had a chance to work as a parliamentary assistant to the ministry of finance where I was given a project to review credit unions. It was a tremendous experience for me to learn all the laws of the credit unions and their importance in rural areas, in the Northern areas and for ethnic communities. From last June I had been appointed by Kathleen Wynne to head the ministry of Immigration and Citizenship and I am very honoured by it. Being an immigrant myself, I feel I can understand and try to improve some areas of the Ministry.

What are the milestones you achieved and challenges you faced in your rise as a minister? 

Regarding the milestone that I reached so far, I have to mention that I am very conscious of the fact that I will be a minister till next June. Then we will have a provincial election and I do not know what the future holds. I have been given a mandate letter by the premier and I have to prove myself to the premier for the next two years. I want to leave the ministry in a better place than when I arrived. The greatest achievement that I have achieved is in modernizing the program called Ontario Immigration Nominee Program (OINP) that allows our province to nominate applicants to the federal government for permanent residence. So we get an allocation from federal government. Last year when I arrived the allocation was 5500 applications a year and we pushed to get an increase and we got an increase of 500 and this year we had an allocation of 6000. So we are hoping the Federal Government would give us greater number in the future. We are modernising the whole system to make the system faster. We have opened the entrepreneur stream, the Internationals students’ stream for master degrees and PhD. programs. The French speaking high skilled workers stream is also opened. Another thing that I am working on with the federal government is signing the new Canada Ontario Accord. Our province has been without a formal agreement with federal government since 2011. This is the project I have been assigned and we are working hard to get it done.

My next question is about the point system by which the immigrants are evaluated for migration to Canada. Most preferred destination of Canada is Toronto. How is your department handling the settlement program for the newcomers? We know your ministry runs social programs. What are those and how do the newcomers get the benefit of the program or courses run by your ministry?

It is true the federal government has a point system, I want to be clear that the admission into the country is the responsibility of the federal government. As a provincial Minister, I do not decide to select. We can only nominate, not select. It is the federal government who decides who can come. But we do provide a bulk of programs offered through our ministry: Language programs, newcomers settlement programs; assistance to navigate employment programs, refugees’ programs, economic immigrants etc. Many years ago these programs were not in place. For example, when my family arrived these programs were not there. I believe these are important because if a new comer succeeds, we succeed as a society, the sooner they can get integrated into society and start contributing in the economy, they lead to improvement in our economy.

These immigrants’ settlement programs have a price tag to run this smoothly and successfully. How much Federal funding is Ontario getting and what are the main target areas where you think we need more focus and resources?

This funding should be seen as an investment. The immigrants receive some help: in finding closest the best school, getting them jobs, getting assistance in language, in creating a resume. Ontario in Canada is founded on immigration. Except for indigenous people, we all have come to Canada from different places. The sooner we get integrated and become financially independent, is better for our society and for the aging population which is growing very fast in Canada.

We all know when you educate a girl you educate the whole family. Does your ministry have some special program to enhance the skills for women in particular?

We offer a bulk of programs and some particularly for women which are:  Newcomer settlement program which help new immigrants to navigate and orient themselves in the new country. Then there are language teaching programs. We offer English and French teaching programs through our school boards free of charge. Our ministry spends an average of $60 million a year for this initiative. Another very important program that we offer is: Ontario bridge training program which enables highly skilled immigrants get their licence in their back-home field of study. These programs help the immigrants pursue their career of choice and help them settle down in their community fast. Specific women refugee programs offered are helping them in child bearing while they are pursuing their language training. We have a special ministry to look at the issues of women under the leadership of Indira Naidu- Harris. Currently she serves as Minister of Women's Issues and Minister Responsible for Early Years and Child Care. We also offer programs in child care which is expanding. There are also special agencies in our province which provide counseling to women who had been victims of abuse.

Are there any Immigration and Refugee Board Guidelines about LGBT claimants? On June 2012 Bill C-31 protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act was passed which has amended the Refugee Protection Act, the Balances Refugee Reform Act. Do you think Bill C-31 affected LGBT claimants?

That bill is federal bill and it is their responsibility. Canada is a welcoming country. Ontario, in general believes in giving equal opportunity to everybody.

Canada resettled more than 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 4, 2015 and February 29, 2016. Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s commitment to resettling Syrian refugees to Canada continues in 2017 and as of date under different categories it crosses 40,000. A majority of the refugees from the war ravaged Syria are settling here in Ontario. How is it going and what are the key issues the refugees are facing?

Ontario, as a province,has taken the responsibility of having the biggest number of refugees that the federal government has decided to bring to Canada. We are a welcoming country to people ravaged by poverty, famine, terrorism, war etc. Back in 1970 we had welcomed Vietnamese and Somalian refugees. More recently we have taken the responsibility of Syrian refugees and we had accepted about 17,000 refugees since the end of 2015. We are aware that refugees need extra support. We do not do this only for humanitarian reason. We know that these people would become active people in our society and by helping their integration into the society and orienting them in economic independence would better our own economy. For one year the Canadian government provides them with financial assistance. Under the refugee programs, some arrived with government assistance, while many other refugees from Syria were privately sponsored. We offer a unique model in these programs and the rest of the world is trying to follow our initiatives. If after one year, these refugees fail to get any jobs, then they get qualified for social assistance but we give them extra support in providing them with all programs and training so that they become financially independent and start contributing to our economy.

According to Sam Jisri, the executive director of Syrian Active Volunteers, only half of the roughly 5,200 refugees who have settled in the Greater Toronto Area have been able to find work. He said he is concerned about the old refugees in particular. How is your department taking up the employment issues of the Syrian people?

When the crisis began in Syria, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada announced an open policy of allowing a big number of Syrian refugees to come to Canada, these refuges arrived very fast. Our provincial ministry collaborated with other ministries at the provincial level as well as with the Syrian refugees’ secretariat. In fact, 11 ministries got together to help these refugees in settlement programs like with education, health, housing etc. But we have learnt some important lessons. Next time this situation arises we should share some data like what was their backgrounds, what jobs they were doing earlier etc.  We have to learn what do you know and how to do? This would help us to provide suitable programs in their own field of interest to enable their settlement in the society and making them financially independent. These Syrian refugees were mostly younger people 25 years of age or younger. For senior refugees, we have to be more patient. We have allocated, in our recent budget, total of $22.2 million for seniors and for the youth and many are finding their ways.

Please throw light on the different kinds of visas such as student visa, business visa etc., under which people from across the world apply for coming to Canada.

Granting of visas is under the federal jurisdiction. But we have an OINP program. Through this program province can give some points to those seeking immigration in Canada, the final decision is by the federal government. We also have express entry skilled workers scheme in which we, as a province can only nominate but the final decision is by the federal government. Granting of visas, and security checks is the federal responsibility while all programs are offered by our province.

We all know Donald Trump put a travel ban on certain Muslim nations and there is growing discrimination by U.S. administration for people under different visa categories or illegal immigrants. Those people are now flocking towards Canada and recently CBSF intercepted those people crossing our borders and claiming refugee status here. How is Ontario affected so far with this sudden influx of refugees from South of border? Are we working in close tandem with the Federal Immigration Refugee Minister and CBSA?

It is the federal government which provides us with the data who is coming in. Process is same for everyone, whether they come by plane, train, or by foot. Federal government does not send back. After entering Canada these people do not automatically become refugees. They have to undergo some security checking. Canada Border Services are the first to interview them and then they can file their claim for refugee status. Their claims go through the tribunal, who would determine if they would be given a refugee status or they need to be sent back. This is the process for everybody. Before Syrians arrived in Canada they already had the refugee status and were staying in the refugee camps. But all the security check procedures and their legitimization in the country were, nevertheless the same.

This year 2017 Federal budget focused mainly on infrastructure development, jobs and immigration and refugee settlement, your opinion about it.

I am very encouraged that for the first time in a decade Ontario budget is balanced and this is a milestone. We can make more investment, affordability of life has become better, all prescriptions drugs are free for 24 & younger. Postsecondary educations to children who want to pursue their studies are provided close to free regardless of the economic backgrounds of their parents. We are building new schools in the communities.
More funding has been allocated for hospitals, long-term cares, nursing homes and home cares. The concern of dementia in our province is being taken care of more seriously than in the past and our budget has included $100 million for the dementia strategy. Youth are provided training and for their first Canadian experiences they are being offered jobs by Canadian private sectors and private businesses.

A new multicultural community grant is available targeted to multicultural non-profit organizations. Nearly six million dollar in the recent budget has been allocated for this new initiative. We are aware of the importance of our multicultural media in providing us with the right information.

On a lighter note, you hold such an important ministerial portfolio but at the end of the day you are also a woman and have a family. How do you balance your work life and family life

Sometimes it is very difficult for me to balance my career with my personal life. I have two grand kids and whenever I get a chance I enjoy with them. My family is very cooperative and understanding and during my busy time they let me go.

What will be your advice for those aspiring ladies who want to pursue a dynamic career like you, be it in business, politics or social service?

My advice to all the women is that they should get themselves fully involved in politics to be more aware of the happenings in the society and how they can contribute.

(Interview taken by Suman Das and Asha Bajaj)


We increased nomination to the federal govt for permanent residence: Ontario Immigration Minister

India Blooms News Service
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