2005 National Host Conference
format, 767 kb
[ Section 2 ]
Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director of The Maytree Foundation and the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council was the keynote speaker at the National Host Conference on February 17, 2005. In her remarks she discusses "the changing face of Canada" and the implications it is having upon the fabric of Canadian society. More specifically Ratna also talks about the importance of immigrants building social capital in order to build a cohesive society. She relates this idea to the success of The Host Program and introduces the Mentorship Partnership- a project of The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.
The Maytree Foundation is a private charitable foundation established in 1982. The Foundation's work rests on our interest in reducing poverty in Canada and we express our interest in different ways. We support the development of social policy, we like to fund leaders who have dreams but also the legs to realize their passion for social change. But we are probably best known in Canada for our work with immigrants and refugees.
Today, there are even sharper reasons that validate to the Foundation that a focus on immigrants and refugees is strategic for the nation because within our lifetimes, Canada will look, sound and feel very different from what it was ten years ago and what it will be ten years from now.
A couple of facts to illustrate my point:
- Canada's population has the second highest proportion of immigrants
in the world after Australia. In the US, immigrants are one of every
ten people, in Canada it is almost one in five or 18.5% of our total
population. This is the highest proportion in Canada since 1931
- 30% of our population is over the age of 50, Canada is an aging country. We are not only aging, but we are not producing as many babies as we should. By 2026 in fact, without immigration, more people in Canada will die than will be born. According to the OECD, the dependency ratio (i.e. the ratio of working vs. non-working members of society) will decline rapidly in Canada. The only solution is population growth, and the only source of population growth is immigration.
- In addition, our labour market relies to a huge extent on immigrant brawn and brain. By 2011, when half of all baby boomers will be 55 years and over, new Canadians will account for virtually all of the country's new workers. The nation will soon loose a large share of its current supply of doctors, nurses, university professors and skilled construction workers.
- Already today, 70% of net labour market growth is provided by immigrants. By 2011, this figure will rise to 100%. As a nation of taxpayers, some say, we need indeed to be grateful that we are nation of immigrants.
- Immigration is a tale of big cities - MTV. 94% of immigrants arriving
in the 1990s went to urban centres in Canada. Immigrants are very much
like 80% of Canadians - they want to live in urban centers.
- In 2001, almost 4 million people in Canada identified themselves as visible minorities. That's 13.4% of the population. Much of this is due to immigration and a shift in source countries. In the 1990s, 73% of immigrants were visible minorities, coming from China, India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Taiwan.
- Visible minorities make up 43% of the City of Toronto. Other satellite cities like Richmond BC, and Markham, Ontario reach visible majority percentages of 59% and 56% respectively. The number of so called ethnic enclaves in Canada's largest cities has risen from six in 1981 to 254 in 2001.
Today, immigration is both good news and a bad news story. The good news is that over time, immigrants, particularly their children participate somewhat effortlessly in creating a new kind of multicultural society that is unique and free from traditional boundaries of race and ethnicity.
But there is bad news as well.
In the 80s immigrants were able to catch up to the Canadian average wage rate within 10 years, in the 90s and 2000s, it is taking longer. Notwithstanding the fact that we are bringing in more and more skilled and educated immigrants, they are in fact taking longer and longer to catch up to Canadian wages. Six of 10 skilled immigrants are forced to make a downwardly mobile shift into a career or job other than the one they are qualified for. 25% of immigrants with university degrees are working in jobs requiring high school or less.
Strangely enough, support for immigration remains high. In other words, we say yes to immigration, but we cannot bring ourselves to say yes to immigrants.
The answers to this dilemma may lie in our attitudes, which have not
changed with time. We continue to think of the immigrant of today in the
image of the immigrant of yesterday. We continue to visualize the current
immigrant experience in the context of a fairly romantic post Second World
War image, which is frozen in time - so we think of the poor, the huddled,
the masses. We continue to say to them: work hard and your children shall
succeed. We continue to sanction implicitly that the first generation
of immigrants will pay for the success of the second. This is after all
the mythology of immigrants. Defer your own dreams so that your children
will realize theirs. Powerful as this argument is, it fails to take into
account two powerful forces of this century - first the changing patterns
of world migration and second the competition for skilled immigrants by
A further manifestation of the discrepancy lies in the faces of our local leaders and champions, who continue to reflect the Old Canada and the old Metropolis. Our institutions still breathe the rarefied air of post-colonial attitudes. The people who sit around the boardrooms of the bastions of power do not reflect the people who live in their communities. Organizations, private and public, that boast great participation in their work force by immigrants and minorities, have made little inroads into sharing management positions with them. Less than 1% of corporate boards have visible minority representation.
A cohesive society is one where you can see yourself reflected in positions of power. Diversity is a strength, but it can quickly become our Achilles heel.
A society that is divided along lines of income, neighbourhoods, work force participation, race and privilege is not a cohesive society. A society that excludes people from opportunities, even when it does so accidentally, cannot hope for long term prosperity.
First we need immigrants, second we need to do better by immigrants to do better for ourselves.
So I propose we find new language, a new business model, new strategies and new partners in this national experiment in nation building.
The new business model would link the settlement industry deliberately with business that needs our talents, with employers who need a new and vibrant work force, with political parties who need our votes, with unions who need our memberships to sustain and grow, with small business that need our investments and with real estate agents who need our downpayments. It would link us with the world of post secondary education because we know that learning and education are key.
The new strategy for going forward would rest on the creation of social
capital. For newcomers, social capital - having it or not having it -
takes on a very sharp meaning. We know that the presence or absence of
connections and networks plays a huge role in the success or failure of
For example, without a Canadian work reference it is difficult to land a job; without a guarantor it is difficult to get a loan; without a reference it may be difficult to rent your first home.
The absence of social capital is made so much sharper by the evidence
and presence of so much capital - that we have little or no share of and
can only view with some envy from the outside.
The Host Program addresses this issue head on - you create the human
bonds between people and communities. Your client is not only the immigrant
or refugee but also the host. As much as you are helping the immigrant,
you are also creating acceptance, awareness and understanding with the
host. And herein lies your magic - because of all the programs - national,
provincial, local or otherwise, yours is the one that recognizes that
settlement is a process that involves not just the new or soon to be Canadian,
but the old Canadian as well. Whether by accident or design, you have
arrived at a most useful and practical manifestation of building a cohesive
society. Because when people get to know each other on a personal level,
that is when they realize, that human beings are the same.
The Host Program deserves to be expanded in different ways to meet different needs. And we have learnt from you and adapted from you to create a movement of mentoring in Toronto.
At The Maytree Foundation, we have been working on this issue from a
local perspective. We helped to establish the Toronto Region Immigrant
Employment Council - TRIEC - in September 2003 with the goal of finding
and implementing local solutions that would lead to more effective and
efficient labour market integration of immigrants.
To achieve this goal, TRIEC is focusing on three objectives:
- Increasing access and availability of value added services that support
labour market integration of skilled immigrants - things like internship
programs and information that is clear, honest and easy to access;
- Changing the way stakeholders value and work with skilled immigrants
- working with employers to help them see the value immigrants bring
to the workforce, and how they can better recruit, retain and promote
this skilled workforce; and
- Changing the way governments relate to one another in planning and
programming around this issue - trying to get them out of their silos,
and into a space where they collaborate.
Within TRIEC we have focused one initiative specifically on building social capital among skilled immigrants through occupation specific mentoring.
Strong ties are the people who are closest to you, like your family,
your friends, and close coworkers. Weak ties are the people that are outside
this circle, people you know by name perhaps in a professional capacity
but you don't know very well. 80% of the jobs are found through weak tie
content, somebody that knows somebody. But an immigrant comes to this
country, doesn't know anyone in Toronto - at most he or she has ties within
their own community. So, for him or her, the network challenge is huge,
and mentors can help in bridging this challenge and helping him to get
to places where they can value his skills.
So we have created in the GTA the mentoring partnership, a partnership
between employers, agencies and immigrants. Its objective is to create
vibrant networks for skilled immigrants, networks without which it is
difficult if not impossible to reach the 80% of unadvertised jobs. We
have learnt from the Host model and from other mentoring models in the
community. We know that programs need to be carefully structured to focus
on a very close link with occupations - the finer the match, the better
Our objective is to create 1000 mentoring matches within one year in
the city region. We have focused deliberately on a high-end marketing
strategy because a key to success will be a ready and trained supply of
mentors. To that end, we have recruited high profile - champions - who
are the public spokespersons for our project.
The program is supported by a network of agencies - roughly nine in the
GTA who all have staff who work to specific standards of recruitment,
matching and supporting. The centralized functions include marketing and
promotion and the development of partnerships with major corporations
to ensure a steady and enthusiastic supply of mentors.
It is our objective to grow these successes until we have created a mentoring movement, which should become just as natural to our residents and citizens as buying Girl Guide cookies.
The model for HOST can be adapted and expanded in many different ways
to many different communities - it can be delivered before an immigrant
arrives, online, it can be used in schools to create a peer mentoring
system. It can be very effectively used within the world of organized
school sports, it can be used with seniors, with new mothers, and it can
be used in groups. It can be used in the occupational context.
Doing things in the same way is not an option for Canada any longer. We need to strengthen the bonds and bridges between people, between neighbours and between communities. The Host Program should grow. It is the one settlement program that involves the nation in nation-building.
Panel: Newcomers and Host Volunteers
Manager, Settlement Programs, Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Louise Crandall Host Volunteer
Sabry Belhovchet Newcomer
Tracy Azlyn Host Volunteer
Sukru Akyuz Host Volunteer
Gergana Alzeer Newcomer
Wael Daher Host Volunteer
Bonny Wong-Fortin introduced the panellists and welcomed them to the first National Host Conference.
Each panellist shared their experiences as participants in the Host Program
and how it provided a meaningful tool to integration while at the same
time contributing to Canada's multicultural fabric. The concept of the
Host Program was seen as quite unique and brings together people from
diverse cultures, religions, linguistic profiles and backgrounds to explore
its common elements.
The panel presented a powerful reminder of what the Host Program is meant to achieve.
Recommendations from the Panellists:
- Increase Host Program promotion through different media. People need to be aware of the program.
- Increase the volunteer base by potentially adopting a model where each volunteer recruits other volunteers to the program.
- Pre-arrival information - provide information on the Host Program and other settlement services to newcomers prior to their arrival in Canada.
Table of Contents Next...