Telling our Stories from the Frontline: Adverse Institutional Impacts of Cuts to Immigrant Settlement Funding in Ontario
This report came about because agencies in Ontario’s immigrant and refugee serving sector wanted to tell their stories about how funding cuts had started to affect the sector and the clients they serve. The cuts created uncertainty, fear, and concern for immigrants and refugees. Agencies were determined to continue to serve all their clients despite the cuts. By telling these stories from the frontlines of refugee and immigrant settlement work, we hope to let the rest of Canada hear first-hand about the impact on refugees and immigrants through the experience of sector agencies.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)—presently renamed Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada (IRCC)—began applying the national immigrant settlement funding formula to Ontario in 2012/13 (following the conclusion of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement on March 31, 2011). The formula is based on a three year rolling average of permanent resident arrivals in each province. Ontario’s share of permanent residents began decreasing, from 53.6% in 2005 down to 36.8% in 2014. Given the trend of decreasing permanent resident arrivals in Ontario, the immigrant settlement funding allocation to the province was cut. In 2012/13 alone, the funding allocation to Ontario was cut by 9% from the previous year . The current funding formula fails to adequately consider important indicators like variations in vulnerability levels and service needs based on differences in the categories of immigrants settling in different provinces. The percentage of permanent residents arriving under refugees, family class, and spouses and dependents categories in Ontario has been steadily increasing since 2010. Compared to permanent residents from economic categories (e.g., Skilled Worker, Provincial Nominee), those who come under refugee, family sponsorship and parents and grandparents tend to have higher settlement needs for longer period of time that require additional programs, resources and institutional effort.
Ontario has been subject to series of budget cuts in the previous years. In December 2010, thirteen immigrant and refugee-serving organizations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) were informed their contract with CIC would not be renewed, effectively defunding them. Many other organizations were informed that their budgets would be reduced, by an average of 20%-30%. These cuts in settlement funding are a result of a Strategic Review that sought to cut 5% from CIC's national budget – amounting to almost $44 million in Ontario. Another $6 million in Strategic Review cuts were expected in 2012-13, in addition to cuts resulting from the application of the immigrant settlement funding formula.
The period 2015-2016 saw yet another cut in the immigrant settlement funding allocation for Ontario. OCASI undertook to document the experiences of CIC-funded organizations in Ontario that provide services to immigrants and refugees, on the consequences and implications of the budget cuts. This report examines evidence on the scope and scale of the impacts. The findings of this report are based on the online survey collected between July 20, 2015 and August 18, 2015, with a total of 68 responses that were considered for analysis.
- A total of 47 organizations across Ontario reported CIC funding cuts for the Fiscal Year 2015-2016.
- Organizations had no choice but to take immediate measures such as employee layoffs and salary cuts in the form of decreased work hours, which caused increased workloads and heightened stress in the workplace. Of the 47 organizations whose CIC funding was cut, more than half (55%) of organizations laid off employees (including experienced long-time employees) and 36% of organizations reduced the working hours of some employees while significantly increasing the case load for others. Part-time employees were disproportionately affected by the funding cuts. The cuts entrenched precarious employment in the sector in multiple ways. These cuts also immediately preceded the arrival of over 10,000 Syrian refugees in Ontario within a very short period of time, a massive number by any measure which tested the limits of organizations serving immigrants and refugees.
- Organizations were forced to make operational changes in order to absorb CIC’s funding cuts, which caused organizational restructuring and altered programming operations. In addition, the funding cuts had an impact on programs, such as a reduction in hours of service and a reduction or shrinking of the types of services offered. Many valuable settlement programs such as LINC, SWIS and JSW had to be cut or reduced.
- Clients were affected starting the first few months since the funding cuts. There were substantial cuts to the summer language training delivery and there were high dropout rates among students who were unable to adjust to the longer travel times and inconvenience of scheduling. Moreover, long waitlists for childminding services prevented newcomers with children from obtaining services even when there were spots in the programs for themselves. Women and vulnerable clients were most affected by these cuts.
- Organizations serving racialized communities perceived that they received a disproportionately higher burden of cuts, which further undermined their efforts as a result of limited resources.
- CIC’s relationship with sector agencies reflected the power imbalance between the two parties. The communication and implementation of the cuts by CIC lacked transparency and was very top-down and heavy handed. The majority of the affected organizations were not consulted or included in the decision making process around what programs to reduce or cut.
- The federal government has an enduring role in facilitating the settlement and integration of immigrants and refugees. This role must be fulfilled through sustained and comprehensive investment in settlement services for immigrants and refugees. It requires sustained investment in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector so that service quality and reliability is assured through the stability of sector organizations.
- CIC should reform the national funding formula for immigrant settlement services. The formula should be based on settlement and integration needs, equity and quality of services rather than just on landing numbers. It should reflect real costs and take into consideration indicators such as categories and vulnerability levels of immigrants and refugees settling in different provinces. Impacts of funding cuts on clients should be considered as well. Moreover, higher costs for service delivery in Northern Ontario should be reflected in CIC’s funding allocation and decisions.
- Multi-year funding contracts with organizations should be honoured thereby providing agencies with predictable multi-year long-term funds. At present, funding to agencies is still the subject of cuts, despite such contracts. This report shows that the settlement funding formula makes multi-year agreements virtually insignificant.
- CIC’s approach, relationship and communication with organizations should be based on mutual respect, trust, and transparency. Organizations need to be meaningfully engaged and consulted in decision making on programs, including decisions on cuts and reductions.
- The service needs of Francophones should be better addressed through sustained targeted funding allocations.
- The government of Ontario should begin to invest a fair share in resourcing settlement and integration services for refugees, immigrants and migrant workers.
- Given the funding trends identified in this report, the sector should continue to diversify its sources of funding.
Many of these recommendations have been made previously by OCASI as well as our sister umbrella organizations. The Parliamentary Standing Committee also made almost the same recommendations in its review of settlement services in 2003, to which the government provided a formal response. Another report regarding government funding is the Blue Ribbon Panel on Grants and Contributions. The report therefore calls on the government to implement these recommendations in order to address the longstanding funding challenges experienced by agencies serving immigrants and refugees.
 Facts and Figures 2014 – Immigration overview: Permanent and temporary residents. Available at: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2014/index.asp
 Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2011. Backgrounder — Government of Canada 2012-13 Settlement Funding Allocations. Available at: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2011/2011-11-25.asp
 OCASI Position on the 2011 CIC cuts to Ontario Settlement Funding. Available at: http://www.ocasi.org/ocasi-position-2011-cic-cuts-ontario-settlement-funding
 LINC stands for Language Instruction for Newcomers.
 SWIS stands for Settlement Workers in Schools.
 JSW stands for Job Search Workshops.
 Travel times of clients increased in some instances because when languages classes were closed in some locations, clients had to go to other agencies where the classes were still offered.
 Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, House of Commons Canada, 2003. Settlement and Integration: A Sense of Belonging "Feeling at Home". Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Available at:http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=e&Mode=1&Parl=37&Ses=2&DocId=1032308&File=0
 Government of Canada, 2003. Government Response to the Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Settlement and Integration: A Sense of Belonging--"Feeling at Home". Available at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=e&Mode=1&Parl=37&Ses=2&DocId=1117617