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Melnick was doubly wrong

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Last month, Manitoba's ombudsman released a report that revealed that Christine Melnick, Manitoba's immigration minister in 2012, directed a senior civil servant to send a government email to over 500 individuals from various ethnic organizations, immigration-settlement agencies, business and industry groups and language groups to "witness" a resolution on the "federal centralization" of settlement services.

While there has been much discussion as to whether it was appropriate for a cabinet minister to direct a civil servant to send a government email on what could be viewed as a politically partisan matter, the real question is whether the "federal centralization" of settlement services negatively affected Manitoba.

To this question, the answer is no.

When Melnick spoke on this issue in the Manitoba legislature in April 2012, she stated her resolution asking the Canadian government to reverse the cancellation of the settlement agreement was an "extremely important resolution." In addition, she said reversing the cancellation of the agreement was necessary "in order to maintain the successful Manitoba immigration model."

It has now been more than nine months since the Canadian government took back control of immigration settlement in Manitoba. Today, concerns that our "successful Manitoba immigration model" would be negatively affected have not come true.

When Canada cancelled the settlement agreement in 2012, one of the concerns was whether settlement funding to Manitoba would be decreased as had occurred in other provinces. Since the Canadian government took over settlement services last year, however, the amount of settlement funding for Manitoba has increased from approximately $36.5 million to $39.7 million.

More important than the money, there have been no real changes to settlement services offered to individuals immigrating to Manitoba. When the Canadian government took over the administration of settlement services in 2013, many of the same not-for-profit organizations and charities that provided immigration-settlement services when the Manitoba government administered these programs were retained. For new immigrants to Manitoba, there has been no real interruption of services. Today, many of these new immigrants continue to go to the same organizations that provided these services when Manitoba was administering the program.

As well, fears that Manitoba's immigration-settlement program would be administered centrally by Ottawa bureaucrats with no knowledge of our province have not come true. While Citizenship and Immigration Canada is headquartered in Ottawa and its regional office is located in Calgary, Manitoba's settlement programs are administered by Citizenship and Immigration Canada's Manitoba office.

Finally, the cancellation of the settlement agreement seems to have had no effect on the number of immigrants coming to Manitoba under the Provincial Nominee Program. In both 2012 (the last year Manitoba administered immigration-settlement services in Manitoba) and in 2013 (the year the Canadian government took over) the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program has met its 5,000-application target. Manitoba still attracts the same number of immigrants despite the change in which level of government administers immigration-settlement services here.

In a year-end interview with Shelly Glover, Manitoba's senior federal minister, she spoke about the controversy regarding the cancellation of the immigration-settlement agreement and was critical of comments that gave the impression immigrants would be impacted negatively. From the data that have emerged since the Canadian government has taken over immigration-settlement services, it would appear there have been virtually no negative impacts.

When the decision to cancel the immigration-settlement agreement was announced in April 2012, I wrote a column calling the cancellation "distressing" and I wondered aloud whether federal government funding cuts to immigration and settlement organizations elsewhere in Canada would result in similar cuts in Manitoba. Now, 21 months later, it is time for me to issue a mea culpa and admit the sky did not in fact fall.


R. Reis Pagtakhan is a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2014 A6

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