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Immigration ministers clash

Kenney, Melnick at odds over funds

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MANITOBA and Ottawa were locked in a fight Monday over who cares more about immigration based on how much each level spends making it happen.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/04/2012 (3885 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

MANITOBA and Ottawa were locked in a fight Monday over who cares more about immigration based on how much each level spends making it happen.

The first salvo in the spat over dollars and cents came from federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who visited Winnipeg as part of his plan to sell Ottawa’s move to take over settlement services. While Ottawa funded those services, Manitoba has delivered the program that includes language classes and job search skills for more than a decade.

“We quadrupled the federal investment in settlement services in Manitoba, going from $8 million to $36 million in the past five years,” Kenney said during an online interview at the Free Press News Café. “In that period, Manitoba’s (funding) has basically been frozen at around $1 million to $1.5 million.

“We’re funding 97 per cent of the costs of these services in Manitoba. In that period of time, the last five years, we’ve seen Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. all significantly increase their investment in settlement services. If the province (Manitoba) really believes that these are important programs, it’s one thing to say that, it’s quite another to actually prioritize it in terms of their budgetary choices.”

Kenney also said the changes are being made to offer a consistent level of service to immigrants across the country.

“We thought that integration of newcomers is about helping to form new Canadians on their pathway to citizenship,” he said. “This is a nation-building responsibility.”

But Manitoba Immigration Minister Christine Melnick countered, saying Kenney’s numbers are as wrong as his decision.

She said above what the province contributes to the settlement services, it also spends millions each year through various provincial departments on health, education and social services programs aimed at immigrants.

Melnick met with Kenney, where she outlined her concerns and what additional money the province spends each year above settlement services.

“It seemed a bit new to him,” she said, adding both governments will continue discussing the matter. “This is the sort of confusion that can be created when unilateral decisions without consultation are made.”

Melnick said the province only got wind of the federal changes last Tuesday when a federal deputy minister phoned to say Ottawa was pulling out of the Canada-Manitoba Immigration Agreement on settlement services, first negotiated in 1996.

The change, part of the Harper government’s budget cuts, is aimed at reducing duplication of immigration services across the country.

Manitoba’s concern is its own provincial nominee program (PNP) is closely tied with settlement services, and by Ottawa taking it over, the PNP will suffer. Last year, 16,000 PNP applicants and their families came to Manitoba, the highest total admitted to any province.

“The provincial nominee program is the model in Canada and beyond,” Melnick. “If it’s not broken, why are we tinkering with it?”

Kenney also said Ottawa wants a greater role in immigration services to reduce the number of new immigrants who end up unemployed — the rate of unemployment of immigrants is twice as high as the general population — and to bring in a new requirement that newcomers have a basic understanding of English or French.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Province’s investment

BELOW is what the province spends on programs to help immigrants adjust to their new lives in Manitoba.

The following figures are separate from what the province spends on settlement services under the joint federal-provincial program:

2008/09 — $17.2 million

2009/10 — $18.1 million

2010/11 — $20.3 million

$20.1 million (so far in 2011/12 — the final number isn’t in), including:

$7.8 million through Immigration

$11.1 million for English as an additional language for school-aged learners

$1.2 million through Employment Manitoba

— Source: Manitoba government

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