A welcoming community for immigrants

Mayor Ford made headlines in the recent municipal campaign when he said “enough’s enough” to a question on Tamil immigrants, citing official plan’s projected growth of another million residents in Toronto within the next ten years.

(A quick reality check: Our slowed population growth of 0.9% between the 2001 and 2006 censuses led to total growth of only 22,000 more people. The number of Canadian newcomers choosing to settle in Toronto has slowed dramatically.)

However, many Ontario communities are strategizing how to attract more immigrants, seeing their skills and numbers as an aid to their smaller city centres.

Funded through Citizenship Immigration Canada, Local Immigration Partnerships have emerged in 34 communities, aimed at creating more effective strategies and welcoming environments for Canadian newcomers. (Conflict of interest declaration: I am managing one neighbourhood-based LIP here in Toronto.)

Municipal governments, school boards, United Ways, and community agencies have begun meeting in North Bay, Thunder Bay, London, Windsor, Hamilton, Kingston and Ottawa, among others. They describe the work as a necessary effort for population renewal to boost their economies, fill labour needs, and slow population decline.

Vicky Esses, a professor at University of Western Ontario, is leading a project to define what works to “optimize social, cultural and political integration.” In a recent presentation to the Centre for Excellence in Research in Immigrant Studies (CERIS),  Esses suggested the following key elements are needed:

1. Employment Opportunities

2. Fostering of Social Capital

3. Affordable and Suitable Housing

4. Positive Attitudes toward Immigrants, Cultural Diversity, and the Presence of Newcomers

5. Presence of Newcomer-Serving Agencies

6. Links between Main Actors

7. Municipal Features and Services Sensitive to the Presence and Needs of Newcomers

8. Educational Opportunities

9. Accessible and Suitable Health Care

10.Available and Accessible Public Transit

11. Presence of Diverse Religious Organizations

12. Social Engagement Opportunities

13. Political Participation Opportunities

14. Positive Relationships with the Police and the Justice System

15. Safety

16. Opportunities for Use of Public Space and Recreation Facilities

17. Favourable Media Coverage

Together with Professor Livianna Tossutti, Esses’ work will now prioritize these parts of public life and develop ways to measure the health of them.

The Welcoming Communities Initiative, of which Esses and Tossutti’s work is a part, will be looking at the success of these projects across the small and medium cities in the province. It may well have lessons for Toronto as well.

In fact, Citizenship Immigration Canada is now funding a city-wide LIP in Toronto, which has among other parts, undertaken to develop a Toronto Newcomer Strategy.

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