Minister Christine Melnick
and changes in provincial settlement services
Hon. Christine Melnick, Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism (centre) tackles immigration issues with Pilipino Express columnist, Tito Mike (left) and Assistant Deputy Minister Ben Rempel
In the last two weeks we have been inundated with news about changes to immigration settlement services in the province; accusations of political partisanship and spreading false information; rumour of the end of the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program; and public protest with elected officials all claiming to speak for the people of Manitoba.
The Filipino community has greeted the news with alarm because immigration, especially the MPNP, is one of those fundamental issues that touch us all. In our effort to clarify what is factual on these important issues my editor, Emmie Joaquin and I met face to face with the Manitoba Minister for Immigration and Multiculturalism Christine Melnick and her Assistant Deputy Minister Ben Rempel on April 25. This article is focused on first giving the Minister a chance to address the issues and secondly putting her comments into perspective for the readers.
When asked about how and when Manitoba’s immigration minister was informed of the federal decision to take over settlement services, Minister Melnick said, “two weeks ago we thought that settlement services were safe… On Tuesday after the Easter long weekend my Deputy Minister received a cold call from Ottawa saying that they were unilaterally cancelling the settlement services annex of the Canada-Manitoba Immigration agreement and that they would be making a public announcement on Thursday: no consultation, no discussion, no warning.”
The Canada-Manitoba Agreement has been in place since 1998 and the province and federal government have been in touch from that time discussing immigration levels, such as the cap for nominations by the province set at 5,000 for this year, and the provision of settlement services. The Minister pointed out that the Agreement came about at a time when the provincial government was Progressive Conservative and there was a Liberal government in Ottawa and now there is a NDP provincial government and a PC federal government. She stated that the current issue is not “political partisanship” but rather a “Manitoba” issue. It should be a concern for us all.
The Conservative government and federal Minister Jason Kenny were free to comment on this charge of unilateral action by the Manitoba government but have said nothing to date. Minister Kenny, directly or indirectly through his spokesperson Shelly Glover MP for St. Boniface did not respond specifically to this charge but publicly complained about provincial funding levels, politicization of the issues, and need to standardize settlement services across the country. We are still left wondering why the federal government made a unilateral decision to change things and why did they not forewarn Manitoba.
Manitoba spending on settlement services
Even though there was no indication that provincial officials publicly questioned funding levels, local Tory MP Shelly Glover accused the Manitoba government “misleading Manitobans” about the issues because the federal government provides 97% of the funds for settlement services in the province.
Federal Minister Jason Kenny said during an online interview at the Free Press News Café, “We quadrupled the federal investment in settlement services in Manitoba, going from $8 million to $36 million in the past five years. In that period, Manitoba’s [funding] has basically been frozen at around $1 million to $1.5 million.”
The Manitoba response was swift and to the point. First, the provincial budget dollars quoted are not correct. Minister Kenny has apparently overlooked or simply does not know that Manitoba has made a significant investment in settlement related services separate from what it spends under the joint federal-provincial agreement: - $17.2 million in 2008/09; $18.2 million in 2009/10; $20.3 million 2010/11 and; so far $20.1 million in 2011/2012.
The numbers displayed in a Free Press article show a strong commitment on the part of Manitoba to integrating newcomers into Manitoba. We asked Minister Christine Melnick about the issue of funding and she confirmed the numbers were accurate: Manitoba spent $20.3 million last year and was expected to spend much more this fiscal year. She characterized the federal minister’s emphasis on using the $1 or $1.5 million figure as “inappropriate and incorrect” and concluded: “This is what happens when quick unilateral decisions are made without any opportunity to sit down and discuss delivery concerns, financial concerns.”
Did the province politicize the issue?
A number of elected Concervative party members at both the MP and MLA levels have stated that the Manitoba government politicized the entire issue of settlement funding and they cite a memo from an Assistant Deputy Minister as evidence of this. Yes, ADM Ben Rempel did issue a memo in response to outrage and concern raised by the over 200 grass roots settlement related service agencies throughout the province. Many affected service providers have spoken publicly about their concern for their client group and service delivery model. The ADM did say they could go to the Manitoba legislature to listen to the debate about their futures. Is this political or something we should expect from a responsible civil servant? Is it wrong for concerned workers to know firsthand what is going to happen to their jobs? We can only wonder why this memo received such wide attention. Minister Melnick said that any charges stemming from the release of the memo are missing the point: the issue about settlement service administration in the province is “so much bigger than a courtesy e-mail to let colleagues know what is happening.”
Federal plan to standardize settlement services
The federal government is quite adamant about their right to take over settlement services. MP Shelly Glover spoke strongly about removing the “middle man” (Manitoba) from the equation. She and the federal Minister have spoken at length about having a standardized service across the country. There may be justification for such a view, however, like the funding mentioned earlier, it was not tabled for discussion with the provincial authorities but imposed on provinces such as Manitoba and British Columbia.
Minister Melnick expressed her real concern about ending the unique and highly successful Manitoba settlement service model and replacing it with a “cookie cutter,” fits-all-provinces model.
“There will be absolutely no impact on immigrants in Manitoba” concludes MP Glover displaying an obvious lack of empathy or awareness that Manitoba’s model was the envy of the country. Even the federal immigration department acknowledges that Manitoba has been leading the entire country in the provision of quality, innovative settlement services. Several other provinces have requested a funding model based on Manitoba in the last year only to be refused by the federal government.
Things will change but not for the better. It looks like Manitoba is losing its control because the province has been too successful and proved to all doubters that immigration works. Minister Melnick and her ADM said that the Manitoba approach is based upon a continuum from pre-arrival to settlement and integration – all parts are connected and all parts complimentary. They cited the example of a 2009 initiative to bring in 100 registered nurses from the Philippines to rural hospital authorities. The initiative was not only well received but as a result of the settlement supports, these arrivals had the highest pass rate on the RN examinations and have for the most part remained with their rural employers.
We in Manitoba know too well that the economic growth and success experienced by our province in recent years has been significantly impacted by our aggressive nomination program and supportive innovative settlement services. We have a growing Filipino population of 60,000 plus to show for the provincial efforts. Minister Melnick’s concludes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
As an aside, I could not help but wonder about the way PC members united to defend the proposed changes in settlement services. I was one of the federal immigration employees in the late 1990s who administered settlement services before their devolution to the province of Manitoba and I know firsthand that the services delivered by the provinces are more effective and widely respected across the country. I also know that that my former federal colleagues, who might have provided the services under the new federal plan, lost their jobs in the last two weeks. The CIC regional office at the Forks is being closed and their responsibilities transferred to CIC Calgary. Can MPs Shelly Glover, Joy Smith, Candice Hoeppner and James Bezan, who came in person to the Manitoba legislature, explain to us how we are better served as a province by losing the Winnipeg regional office and having Calgary-based staff, with no connection to Manitoba, administer settlement services? The change does not have anything to do with the fact that Jason Kenny and Steven Harper were both elected from Calgary ridings, or does it? We should remind such elected Manitoba MLAs and MPs that they were elected by voters in Manitoba to represent our interests not those of Calgary.
What about the Provincial Nominee Program?
The Conservative politicians from MP Shelly Glover down to the provincial caucus have united in their condemnation of persons who say that our nominee program is threatened. “Today the MPs are coming in to straighten the story out” said MP Joy Smith. First, it is true that the federal announcement did not reference the MPNP, but is the program threatened? Our provincial nominee program is only one part of the Canada-Manitoba Immigration Agreement, which is the focus of not just this article but of the entire issue. Minister Melnick, however, is quick to remind us all about the “two halves that make up the whole. First, the very successful Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program” and the “other is the settlement services. They are integral. They are not separate from each other.”
The Manitoba experience can be seen not only in the 100,000 plus persons who have arrived in the province because of MPNP but also in the quick, sometimes seamless integration, of newcomers into the economy and life of the province. If the federal government can unilaterally cancel one half of the Canada-Manitoba Immigration Agreement without any forewarning, what about the other half? MP Glover’s assurance that “the proposed administrative change has nothing to do with the Manitoba PNP” rings rather hollow given her government’s disregard for their Manitoba immigration partner. If the federal government can arbitrarily take back settlement services without consultation what is going to stop them from taking back the entire provincial nomination process? Minister Melnick who appears to be still recovering from the less than 48-hour notice she received regarding the cancellation of the annex to the Canada-Manitoba Agreement had this response to my question: “You ask me if the PNP is safe I can’t tell you that. I can just tell you what happened two weeks ago.”
What can we do about the changes?
It is important that our community becomes more aware of the issues and puts pressure on our elected members to ensure that our successful provincial immigration programs do not end. MPNP and its complimentary settlement services, with language training, job finding, professional re-entry etc., are worth fighting for. I agree with Minister Melnick that the issue is not one of “political partisanship” but a “Manitoba issue.” She said her door is open to Minister Kenny and, like our Premier Greg Selinger, I hope that cooler heads will prevail. In the meantime watch for announcements regarding an information meeting for community members being convened by Minister of Culture, Heritage and Citizenship Flor Marcelino. See you there.
Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: email@example.com